Michigan Eighth Annual Adoption Day: Fourteen children adopted in Muskegon County

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- Legal News photos by Diana L. Coleman

 

 

Michigan Adoption Day banner greeted families as they entered the 6th floor jury assembly room for a little celebration of the adoptions.

 

By Diana L. Coleman

Legal News

 

It was a banner day for adoptions in Muskegon County on November 23 as the Honorable Neil G. Mullally, Probate Judge, presided over the adoption of 14 children. It was the eighth annual adoption day for Michigan.

 

Adoption day opens adoption finalization hearings to the public so that people may see the final stage of the adoption process.

 

It is the hope of the State Court Administrative Office that opening the proceedings to the public may spur other families to consider adoption.

 

The Eberly family decided to apply for a foster home license several years ago. The biological family consisted of six children, mom and dad. On adoption day, the family immediately zoomed to eleven children as the event finalized the adoption of five siblings who had been placed in their care.

 

After the five siblings had been part of their family for a year, Cheri Eberly said, “We had to ask ourselves the question — not could we keep them, but could we give them up?”

 

The answer was definitely no. The children’s biological parents rights were eventually terminated by the court making way for the Eberlys to petition for the adoption of the five children who had moved into their lives and hearts.

 

On adoption day, the children all received new middle names and their last names were changed to Eberly. The children were so excited. They received bright new T-shirts from a family friend that had “Proud to Be an Eberly” printed on the front.  The children strutted around the jury assembly room, smiling from ear to ear, showing all present they were indeed proud to be part of the Eberly family.

 

It was so touching to see and feel the love in the room that parents, older siblings, and the five new members of the family had for one another. This writer could give you a history of how the family came to be, but Laura Eberly, 19, one of the older sisters, wrote a poignant paper for one of her college classes at Grand Valley State University about how this ragtag, neglected group of siblings became part of her family.

 

(Published with permission of Laura Eberly.)

 

I grew up in a family of six children. I am child number four and daughter number one. My house was a loud place, but it was always full of love no matter what crisis we were dealing with. I never thought about how other families functioned; there was no need to. My family was perfect, like the family in “Leave it to Beaver.” Simple things that I took for granted every day, like hygiene, an education, and especially love, are things that I never thought people lacked, until the night the children came.

 

It was the first Tuesday in February, 2009. We arrived home to find our license to foster children in the mailbox. The excitement radiated throughout the house. It was as if we had just won the lottery. We called our grandparents and close friends to let them know that we were finally approved to foster. My mom commented on how our lives were going to change and would probably never be the same. No one could believe how soon that change would come. Around five o’clock that same day our telephone rang. My Mom answered while we all anxiously listened to the one-sided conversation. We watched as my Mother’s face changed from confusion, to horror, and back to confusion. Later, my mom explained parts of her conversation with the DHS officer: “We understand you’ve been approved to foster sibling groups. We have a group of five children that need a home, and an officer will remove them from their house right now if you are willing to take them,” said the officer. My mom told him that the family needed to talk about it, and that she would call him back.

 

A family meeting followed that life-changing phone conversation. My family sat in the living room and discussed the pros and cons of taking on five more children. The children — James, Alex, Gabrielle, Joseph, and Aaron — ranged from ages 7 to 2. They were suffering from severe neglect, starvation, and sickness. As my family talked together, we asked several questions. “Where will they sleep?” wondered my sister, Anna. “They’re coming tonight?” gasped my sister, Adrielle. Although it was short notice, we knew there was only one answer to give the officer. My mother called him back, and altered the lives of two very different families forever.

 

Our house was accustomed to teenagers and adults; we were not prepared for five children. When the children came to our house, nothing was ready. The beds were still in the garage, and the bedrooms cluttered with storage boxes. Quickly we cleaned out two bedrooms and ran to the store for macaroni and juice. It was disappointing to the family that my dad worked nights and would not be at home when the children arrived. He set up the beds, and then left for work.

 

An hour later, the foster children came wearing only the ratty, faded clothing on their backs. It was the middle of winter and these children were in terribly oversized summer clothing. Aaron was so sick he should have been brought directly to the hospital. We later found out that he had a double ear infection along with an eye infection and a terrible cold. We were in shock. These children had no concept of clean and dirty, or right and wrong. The lies poured out of them like a never-ending fountain. They did not understand about love, or discipline, or anything else that children their age should be learning. Oh, the stories we would hear!

 

The very first story we heard turned out to be more real than a child’s runaway imagination. It was during bath time that first night. As we washed the layers of dirt and grime off their tired little bodies James, the oldest, began to talk. According to James, they had not been washed in weeks because the pipes did not work at their dad’s house. The realization astonished me. I knew there was poverty in the world, but it never hit so close to home. It was unlike my childhood, where water was in abundance and bathing was an everyday occurrence.

 

As the months went on, problems with Aaron, the two-year-old, became evident. He was like a hermit crab. No one could get close to him before he retreated back into his shell. Cuddling and kisses never happened. Although he was only a year behind my nephew in age, he seemed to be multiple years behind in development. The only word he could say was “Ow.” He had trouble walking, and could not use a spoon. We later found out that at their old home, he was still being bottle fed on the days they had food. He is totally blind in one eye, due to lack of care. We put him in daycare, because he was too young for school.

 

When the older children were enrolled into their new school they were confused. School for them meant going whenever their hung-over mother cared enough to shoo them out of the house. Their attendance rate was at 36%, and the older two had been held back a year. They were not held back because they were stupid; time showed that they were held back for never being in school. My whole family was home schooled and my mother was a public school teacher. I could not imagine a life where school was not important and a top priority.

 

As the school year progressed little things made us love our new family even more. James got an A on his spelling test. Gabby loved to be clean, and snuggle. Joseph, the troublemaker, could talk his way out of anything. One day, my dad hooked up a tire swing and the children spent hours swinging and laughing. They also started going to a Bible club that was held after school, and they loved it. Every night as we tucked their little bodies into bed we said a prayer, thanking God for providing a new family for these children. The hearts of both families began to change. In the eyes of the children we became one family that was stitched together.

 

With summer came new adventures for both families. We took the kids to Florida on their first vacation. They swam in a pool for the first time ever, they rode the horses, they went to church, birthdays were celebrated, books were read, hugs were given, but most importantly of all, they were surrounded by love for the first time in their lives. Once a week we were reminded that these children belonged to someone else. They were required to have a two-hour visit with their mother because the goal was reunification. A lot of the time she cancelled the visits and the night would be filled with tears and broken hearts. Gabby would often wake up on these nights with bad dreams. I felt hatred towards their biological parents. I wanted the children to be able to experience everything that they had missed out on during their lifetime.

 

As the holidays approached my parents and siblings discussed how to make Christmas special for the children who had never experienced one before. “We’ve never had a Christmas!” “What’s a Christmas tree?” “What are stockings?” “Will Santa really come here?” Every day we answered and assured the kids that Christmas would be a reality. I could not imagine never having a Christmas. As the children drifted off into quiet slumber on Christmas Eve, we stacked the enormous pile of gifts under the tree and awaited the morning. Remote control cars, piggy banks, clothing, dolls, army guys, and candy were unwrapped from the piles of presents. In all my years I’ve never seen so many toys from Santa. The thought occurred to me that that mountain of gifts was all the gifts that the children have been deprived of for their entire lives.

 

Birthdays were the same as Christmas. Four of the five children had never received a birthday party, a cake, or even a birthday gift. How could a mother and father of five neglect their children and care so little? James, the oldest, was very proud to brag about the tent that his mom had found on the side of the road. It was one of the only gifts he ever received. My mind simply could not, and still cannot, wrap itself around the reality of the situation. I grew up in a family full of love. My birthdays were celebrated; I always had food, and I was trained to respect and obey my elders. These five children knew nothing of respect or love before they came to us because it was never demonstrated in their home. The authority figures these kids had known were seen as playmates. But it was not really play.

 

In the past year I have heard so many stories of abuse and neglect. Tears come to my eyes when I think of what these darling kids endured for years on end while I was sitting in a home with all my needs provided for.

 

The foster children were not the only lives that were being changed. I saw it in my biological family as well. My younger sisters opened their hearts and homes even in the difficult times. For the first few months, Gabby slept in my sister Anna’s room. Gabby suffered from sleep apnea, and very loud snoring. It bothered Anna to have to share her room, but she complained very little. Adrielle, my 14-year-old sister, went from being the youngest of six to one of the eldest of eleven. I’ve seen the most change in her. She is no longer the spoiled child that gets all the attention. She has stepped up and played a huge role in raising these five children. Although my three eldest brothers have all moved out of the house, their lives have changed as well. They are no longer able to stop over and expect undivided attention from our parents. Instead, they spend their time roughhousing with the boys and telling Gabby that she is the most beautiful girl in the world. All six of us have stepped into a parental role to fill the gap that was left by the children’s biological parents.

 

My parents, who have already raised six children, are quickly becoming the parents of five more children. Now that we have had the children for almost a year, the question of adoption is circling us like a swarm of bees. With the possibility of adoption comes fear and apprehension. Can my 49-year-old parents completely start over with five more children? These children have come so far in a simple year. They’ve experienced vacations, discipline, church, and most of all, love. My parents have showered these children with love. To answer the question of adoption, we ask another question. Can we give the children away? The answer, is no. We have become one family that cannot be separated. How many families would have enough room in their hearts to love five additional people? Love is such a simple thing; it is something that I took for granted my entire life. “Our lives are soon going to change,” my mother said on the very first day.

 

Perhaps it was the vacation to the UP where the change took place, or one of the many evenings reading bedtime stories. Maybe it was through all the discipline and timeouts. Whenever it was, we became one family, not two. We are no longer mismatched and patched like a quilt. We fit together. Through all of the trials and complications, the tears and the laughter, the bumps and the bruises, we are a family full of love. “I love you mom,” said Joseph, “can we stay here forever?”

 

There were nine other adoptions completed on November 23. It takes a very special type of person, persons, or family to open their hearts and home to these foster children who often times come to them after being removed from conditions of abuse and neglect, many with severe behavioral problems.

 

There are a large number of children in the foster program that need a loving home. The Department of Human Services hopes that more people will become involved in fostering children. For more information on becoming a foster or adoptive parent, see www.adoptuskids.org or call 1-888-200-4005.