The Blanchard Bunch

The Blanchard Bunch

Sunday, September 25, 2011


The High School Dancers
Today was the 32nd Annual Greek Fest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church here in Knoxville. As we have done for the past 10 years, we took the family there to enjoy some great music, food and dancing. The church members go out of their way to make you feel welcome and encourage you to "Be Greek for a Day!"

The food there is amazing. The church members make all of the pastries by hand and have to make literally thousands of each type in hopes that they have enough for everyone who comes through the pastry line. We got 3 of the last 5 boxes of the assorted pastries this afternoon; last year we were a little too late and had to make our own out of the few pastries that were left. Some of my favorite foods there are the Chicken in a Pocket and Spanakopita (which they sold out of before I could get some today.) :-( The little girls loved their Greek Pizza and Chris wants the recipe for the Greek Fries. The Baklava Sundaes also sold out this afternoon, but the little girls were able to get one before that happened. As much as our family loves to eat, the food was definitely the highlight of the afternoon.

Nick, Amanda, Brittney and Derrick 
Several of Derrick's friends are members of the church and are a part of the Greek dance classes. We always love watching the kids do the traditional Greek dances as well as the ones with a modern twist. It's even better now that we have the hobbits because they are the first ones on the stage when they welcome the crowd to join and dance to their heart's content. That's definitely Little Bit's favorite part of the day. She's half Greek, so it's definitely in her blood. She was too cute today doing some of the belly dances with the adults and looked like a natural out there. Blondie loves being out there, too, but not nearly to the same degree as Little Bit.

Sissy, Little Bit, Me and Blondie
I drug Sissy out there to join the little girls for a dance, but she was having some issues with her flip flops and other people's feet, so she didn't get as much dancing done as she did trying to stop her toes from being stomped to pieces. Derrick's best friend, Nick, was able to get Amanda, Brittney AND Derrick out on the stage today for a little dancing. We've been trying for years to get Derrick out there, but have never had any success until today. Now, he wants to take Greek dance classes at the church. Go figure.

Beautiful girls in authentic Greek costumes
The Agora (Greek Marketplace) is a fabulous place to do a little shopping for yourself or possibly get a little Christmas shopping done. They have authentic Greek merchandise and some absolutely stunning jewelry and decorations. If only I had an unlimited budget...

We bought a CD from the band, The Greek Tycoons ( who are extremely talented and have an awesome sense of humor. They wander through the crowd playing their bouzouki and derbeki and try to snag a little bit of food from unsuspecting Greek ladies. That didn't work out so well today when one of them got his hand smacked! Little Bit couldn't stop dancing to their music, even when she was falling asleep in my or Britt's lap.

Greek for a day!
The little girls got to try on some authentic Greek costumes and had their pictures taken in them. They LOVED that so much! Not only was it dress up time, it was Greek dress up time! They looked so cute dressed as little Greek children. The costumes they got to wear belong to the church's dance instructor, Maria, and were hers when she was a little girl. I think it's pretty cool that there's so much history and culture behind everything you get to see and do at Greek Fest and it's great fun for the whole family.

Amanda was approached by Maria at one point and asked if she was okay and told that they had snacks and water available if she needed them. Apparently, she was scowling so much that they thought there was something seriously wrong with her. Poor Todd wasn't sure how to react to that situation; nothing like having the event organizers zero in on your kid for a not-so-positive reason. Hopefully, she'll do more smiling next year!

Needless to say, we all came home very full, very tired and very happy. Opa, indeed!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Family and Food

OK, I've finally gotten the introductions of all the kids uploaded. I hope everyone enjoys getting to know our kids a little better. I'm sure you'll learn even more about them as time goes on and I'm able to add more stories to the blog. Sissy has requested that I add one about Todd and me, so I suppose I'll be working on that one in the near future.

Todd is going to take a little bit of a break from working on the house tomorrow and we're going to go to Greek Fest at St. George Greek Orthodox Church tomorrow afternoon. The girls LOVED it last year and are so very excited to go again this year. We've not missed a year in a very long time; we look forward all year to the food! The kids love the dancing and looking at all the neat Greek items in the market place. If anyone is in the area, the festival runs from noon to 6 pm tomorrow. Come on out and join us. You just might end up in a photo here on my blog... :-)

Black Ops Specialist, Handy Man, Afraid of Belts

Chris has only officially been with us since September 19th, but he’s been a part of our family since May 25, 2011. He was a rightfully angry young man when he first came to us back in May. His life had been turned upside down and he was desperate for someone to help him make sense of what was happening. We gave him permission to be angry, to grieve for all that he’d lost and a shoulder to cry on. Within 24 hours, we had fallen in love with him and he with us.

Chris fits in very well here. He loves to play practical jokes on his siblings and is very sarcastic. The girls learned very early on to not ask him to get them a drink; there was no telling what flavors he might mix together and “forget” to mention to them. He has the same willingness as Derrick to hide in random spots and scare the daylights out of his sisters. He also gets together family games of hide and seek. I find it amazing how many places the kids can locate to hide inside our house. When the little girls aren’t playing with them, the teens go play outside in the dark. We have an acre and a half of great hiding places, most of which have already been located by Derrick and his friends when they’ve played over the years.

From the first day he arrived, Chris has always been very respectful and helpful, without being asked. He takes pride in the fact that he’s helping Todd build the new addition on the house and is always the first (and sometimes ONLY) one out there helping out. When the other kids started doing their chores right after we were granted custody of him, he wanted to know what his chores were. It really bothered him at first that he had the week off; the other kids think he’s insane.

His favorite video game is Call of Duty: Black Ops and he has withdrawals if he doesn’t get to play at least once a day. Derrick says it’s funny to listen to him play because he censors himself and won’t curse while he’s online playing with others. That’s something we are definitely not used to around here; my children can be potty mouths when they think we’re not listening. J

We’re still working on Chris’ clothing choices. He’s still of the mindset that sagging pants look good. Not sure who lied and told him that, but we’re working on getting him to see the truth. We’re also working on him wearing his undershirts as undershirts and not as outerwear.

He fell right in with the others in wanting to color his hair. He’s kept it pretty neutral so far and has only asked for blonde. I’m sure more colors will be coming in the near future; that just seems to be the way it works around here. He currently has a faux-hawk and Sissy is impatiently waiting for his hair to grow back out. She definitely prefers her brother with longer hair and has even gotten the little girls to tell him he has to let it grow out.

He really wants to get a job so that he can earn his own money to buy the things he really wants. We’re definitely encouraging him to do so, just so long as he keeps up with his school work. As his home school teacher, I’m pretty sure I’ll know if he’s doing everything he’s supposed to or not.

Today marks the 6th day we’ve had him 24/7. He’s seen us at our best and, sadly, our worst in that time. He says he can handle it and there’s nothing we could do that would make him want to walk away from his family. I can’t tell you how much that means to me and how happy I am to have another wonderful son that I love with all my heart.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Night and Day

**Until the little girls are officially adopted, I will be referring to them here as Blondie and Little Bit. After that, it’s full disclosure time…**

Our little girls, Blondie and Little Bit, aka The Hobbits, are as different as night and day. This is true for their physical appearances as well as their personalities. One thing that is the same about both of them is that they are loving, caring little girls who are very attached to their family and can’t wait to have the last name of Blanchard.

The girls are 11 months apart: Blondie will be turning 6 in a few weeks; Little Bit just turned 5 a few weeks ago. Both started Kindergarten this year and absolutely love it! They thoroughly enjoyed pre-school and are even happier now that they get to go to their “new school” for Kindergarten and back to their pre-school for after school care. They have made some really great friends at both places and have developed a sense of independence and accomplishment because of all they have learned and are able to do now.

Physically, our beautiful Blondie is a very pale, blonde (surprise!) little girl. She has some of the most beautiful grey eyes you’ll ever see. She is always smiling and we hear so many comments about how happy she is and how her smile just lights up the room. She has hit a bit of a growth spurt lately and has added several inches to her height. New pants were in order for the first cool day of the year, that’s for sure! She prefers her long hair to be in a ponytail or bun and is always ready for school with a coordinating ponytail holder each morning. Everything about her outfit has to be just so, or her whole day is ruined.

Little Bit, being part Greek, has beautiful olive skin, dark eyes and dark hair. She definitely stands out in our pale family. She hasn’t quite hit her growth spurt, so she’s now a bit shorter than her sister. For a long time, they were exactly the same height and weight, but she now has quite a bit of catching up to do! She is known for wearing every color of the rainbow at the same time. She does not like it when her shoes match, but prefers to wear a different one on each foot. Her ponytails must always have two different colors of holders and they must not match her shirt. If you’re old enough to remember Punky Brewster, you know what I’m talking about. If not, Google it. J

Unless Daddy is outside, Blondie prefers to stay inside and play quietly or work on her toy computer. Little Bit would live outside if we let her. Blondie is definitely the quieter of the two; Little Bit is loud and boisterous and you don’t want to stand too close when she’s telling a story-her hands and arms never stop moving. They both love to play dress up and pretend they are mommies. Little Bit will frequently select a new baby doll as her favorite baby to mother; Blondie’s baby is always her stuffed rabbit, which wears a very pretty pink dress.

Blondie is convinced that Daddy hung the moon and can be found in the dictionary under “Daddy’s girl.” It’s physically painful for her to be away from him when he is home and she follows him everywhere. I call her his shadow and truly believe that if I could sew her on to his feet the way Wendy sewed Peter Pan’s shadow onto him, she would be the happiest girl on the planet. I tell everyone she LOVES her Daddy and tolerates the rest of us…it’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but it really does describe how she feels about him.

Little Bit is completely attached to Sissy; she’s kind of like her Mini-Me, and the feeling is mutual. One of the questions we still hear on occasion is, “Why can’t Sissy be my mommy?” I’ve never been jealous of their relationship; I know that their bond is one of the things that got them through some of the tough times in the past. I have noticed lately that I’m moving up in importance to her, though. Eventually we may get to where Mommy is number 1 and Sissy is number 1.01. (She’ll never move to the number two spot, but I *may* inch past her at some future date.)

Blondie very much needs structure and rules. Her day-to-day happiness depends on how well her predetermined schedule of events is being followed. She thrives on routine. Rules are there to be followed and are for the good of society. Little Bit is a carefree spirit who rebels at the thought of having to follow the rules. She wants to make her own decisions and choices and cannot stand that someone else gets to tell her what to do. She has no problems telling me just how mean and evil I am when I make her follow the rules and behave. While this may one day make her a great leader, it gets her little behind into a lot of trouble now.

They are polar opposites in so many ways, but they compliment each other and our family nicely. I feel so lucky to get to watch them grow up and learn new things about the world each day. There’s also nothing in the world quite like having them rush into my arms at the end of the day to give me hugs and kisses; I wouldn’t trade that for anything. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Artist, Middle Child, Spitfire, Marine-in-Training

Amanda was hard to peg when she first came to us; we weren’t sure if she was really shy or just too scared to speak. She wouldn’t leave Sissy’s side, not even when one of them had to go to the bathroom. She wouldn’t sit in a chair by herself but would actually sit IN Sissy’s lap, no matter what we said or how many chairs were available. She didn’t talk much so most of our information about her came from Sissy. She was like a scared little kitten that had been backed into a corner and wasn’t sure whether to let you hold her or claw her way to freedom.

It took a little while, but she did finally come out of her shell and start talking. We quickly discovered that she was a 4 foot-10 inch spitfire. I tell people not to be deceived by her smallness: she might be little, but she’s feisty!! She’s settled down considerably, but she still has her moments. I think she’ll get a good handle on that one day, but in some way, it will always be a part of who she is.

Before she came to us, she was missing a lot of school, experimented with drugs and alcohol and was dating a boy way too old for her. All of that has changed and she is now a staunch advocate against drugs and alcohol and is learning to be, and like, herself without the drama of a boyfriend. The ‘no boyfriend thing’ is not really her choice, but because she just turned 15 on September 10th, it’s one we feel is in her best interest.

Although she has an absolutely beautiful smile, she refuses to show it. Unless you can catch her completely off guard, you’re going to get a smirk instead of a smile in every picture you take of her. I pray that one day she gains the self-confidence to smile without inhibition and let the world see just how truly beautiful she is.

Amanda is a very talented artist and I love seeing the things she’s drawn. She keeps most everything she does private and just for herself, but we do get to see a few things every now and then. She loves to look for instructional books to better her art and keeps them stashed in a box by her bed. She used to steal the little girls’ markers and colored pencils, but she now has her own personal cache of them.

She has a big heart and loves to help others get through their problems. Just when I think she’s not listening to a word I say to her, she’ll come home and tell me about the advice she gave a friend at school that day; a lot of times it’s exactly what I had told her to do or try in a similar situation. She is a sweetheart and is a very caring person. She spent a lot of time taking care of her nieces before they all came to us and it was a hard transition for her to go from being pseudo-mom to them to being ‘just’ their aunt. She really looks out for them and loves them with all her heart.

Amanda signed up for ROTC this year. She really wants to be a Marine lawyer when she grows up. I’ve double checked the current height and weight requirements for the Marines and she does make the cut. She’s right there on the minimum line, but as long as they don’t increase those requirements in the next few years, she will be allowed to join and achieve her dream. I know if she puts her mind to it, she will be the best attorney the Marine Corps has ever seen.

About a month or so before her adoption, she changed her last name on her facebook account to Blanchard. She was so excited about finally becoming a permanent part of our family and our official daughter that she couldn’t wait until it was actually her legal name to announce it to the world. It made my heart happy every time saw it.

She and I have had our differences over the past year, and at times it’s been a rocky ride, but she is my baby girl. I love her with all my heart and am so very blessed to be her mom. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Big Sister, Little Sister, Aunt, Daughter, Friend

Today is Sissy’s 17th birthday. Somehow, she is not happy about this fact. For so long, she looked forward to turning 18 and being able to do what she wanted, when she wanted; now she’s wanting time to slow down and let her remain a child for as long as possible. She doesn’t want to grow up now. She wants to enjoy being a kid and revel in the love and attention of her family for as long as possible. If I could grant her that wish, I would. Instead, we’ll just have to lavish her with love an attention even when she’s an adult (like we wouldn’t anyway…sheesh!)

When she first came to us, she was a street-wise, in-your-face, take-no-prisoners, runaway teenager. She’d been on the run with her then-boyfriend for months, had experimented with drugs and alcohol, and had decided school wasn’t even an option in her world. She was, and still is, fiercely protective of her sister and her nieces and that’s what kept her from running away from our home in those first few weeks. She knew her way around life on the street and wasn’t afraid to go back there. I pretty much knew her whole life story in the first fifteen minutes after meeting her that first night. She was open and honest about everything; I admired that about her.

I love her smile; it can light up a room. She has an infectious laugh-especially if you poke her in the belly-that always makes me smile. It’s obvious when she’s not feeling well or is upset because that sparkle and smile in her eyes is gone. That and she heads straight for the freezer and makes a bag of French fries.

She has worked so hard over the past year to overcome her mistakes and make a better life for herself. She has decided that school is important and is now being home schooled so that she can take all the required courses to get into college. She wants to be a psychologist and pediatrician when she graduates and I know she’ll be great at them both.

Her heart is as big as the universe and she has been using her degree from the school of hard knocks to help her friends who have found themselves in situations similar to hers not so long ago. She’s so good at encouraging people to walk away from abusive relationships, stop doing drugs and drinking, stay in school and basically clean up their lives. She is compassionate and caring and is an excellent listener.

She’s a bit ditzy at times, but it’s such an endearing quality that I can’t imagine ever trying to change that about her. She loves to laugh, especially at herself. She’s almost always happy and is great fun to be around. She knows she’s slow on the uptake sometimes and her “OH!” moments make us all laugh; her especially. She sees the world though laughing eyes and I pray that never changes.

She is not biologically mine, but we are similar in so many ways, she might as well be. Neither of us can sing, although she still chooses to do so, loudly, I might add, and at the most random times. We both require chocolate to make it through the rough days and she knows where my secret stash of said chocolate is hidden. We both love pretty shoes, especially those with heels. She has a tendency to steal mine, even those she can’t necessarily walk in.

The first few days after her adoption was final, she would practically beg me to say her “full” name: Sissy Blanchard. She was so happy to finally be an official part of our family and loved hearing her new last name. I would make her giggle with joy by walking past her and whispering her new name. It was an awesome feeling.

She tells the world I’m her best friend and I can’t tell you how proud and loved that makes me feel.

Musician, Artist, Actor, Big Brother

Ok, in my previous posts I’ve told you about how we came to have seven children in our home. Now I think it’s time to introduce you to each of them.

Derrick is our one and only biological child. He entered this world on August 10, 1994. He came in quietly, a little too quietly, and my heart stopped beating. When he finally took his first breath and let out a cry, it started beating again and has been filled with love, admiration and awe over him ever since. He spent the first 11 days of his life in the hospital, 7 of those in NICU. Even though he wasn’t at home, he was never alone. My mom and dad went and stayed with him when Todd and I couldn’t be there. There were probably a grand total of 45 minutes when he was without a family member there at the hospital with him.

Over the years, he’s grown into a wonderful young man who has strong convictions, stands up for what he believes in and takes his role as big brother very seriously. He is always looking out for the underdog and would take in every homeless animal in the world if he could. He’s a cat person, which is something I have had to get used to over the years, being a dog person myself. His hair color changes with his mood (it’s currently a beautiful bright blue after many months of being very blonde) but his heart never does; he is one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet. He’s very sarcastic, which he gets straight from me, and super smart; also something he gets from me. J

Derrick is an extremely talented musician. He plays the guitar, ocarina, piano, keyboard, drums, pan flute, as well as many other instruments and writes his own music and lyrics. This is not something he gets from me; this talent comes straight from his dad. I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. He has an old soul and it is most apparent in his lyrics about life and love. He has such great insight and will one day make the most amazing husband and father.

He has taken to being a brother very naturally. He loves all of his sisters, even if he does sometimes need to hide in his room and play video games. Now that we have Chris, he has someone to commiserate with about the amount of estrogen in our house. He was over the moon happy when the judge granted us custody of Chris. “I have a brother now!” was exclaimed with one of the biggest smiles he’s ever had.

He’s a deep thinker who feels things completely and loves unconditionally. I’ve watched him get hurt so many times and wished he would just walk away from the person hurting him, but because they were in need, he just couldn’t. He is super shy on the one hand, but always there and ready to help out family and friends on the other. He is selective in his friendships and knows the value of having a few great, true friends over hundreds of acquaintances.

He is my heart and I couldn’t love him more if I tried.

Here and Gone

We got a call on May 25, 2011 from DCS placement asking if we would be willing to take in a 16 year old boy. That one was a no-brainer for us because we’d been hoping for a boy for a while, especially Derrick, who was convinced the only children in foster care in the state of Tennessee were girls.

Chris’ situation was a bit different than any of the other children we’d had placed in our home, either permanently or temporarily, in the past. He was removed from his home at the request of his grandmother who was having health problems and felt she couldn’t be a good custodian to him any longer. Sadly, she had no one else who could take him, so he was brought into foster care and we were asked to be his foster family.

He showed up at our house with his duffel bag of clothes and toiletries and a very heavy heart. He had no idea that his grandmother had asked for him to be removed and thought he was going to court that day to answer for a charge that had been brought against him. He did have to answer for that charge, which was very minor, but he was also removed from his home. His life had changed in the blink of an eye and he felt so betrayed by his grandmother; he was upset, angry and lost.

We tried to be a support system for him and encouraged him to look at this as an opportunity to change the path he was heading down and learn to make something of himself while he was with us. Our girls told him about their past mistakes and how far they’d come in the nine months they’d been with us and about how much love and attention they got from us (even when they would have preferred to not have so much attention) and how much they loved being with us. The whole family also tried to explain that his grandmother did what she had to do, for him to get the care he needed, even if it wasn’t handled in the best way at the time.

Chris quickly bonded with our whole family and we with him. We were ready to make him a permanent part of our family and even told his case manager that they didn’t have to look for another placement for him; we wanted him to stay with us. At first, that was what seemed to be happening, but at our first team meeting at DCS, we found out they were planning on sending him to a group home three hours from Knoxville. I cannot begin to tell you how much that hurt us all; we’d come to think of Chris as one of our own and now they were taking him from us. That 16 year old boy sat in the meeting room and hugged me so tight and cried on my shoulder because he was being forced to leave his home with us; it was heartbreaking.

We tried everything we could think of to stop him being transferred to the group home, but it was in vain. His transfer was pushed through and on May 27th, we took him to DCS so he could be taken to his new placement. I asked his case manager if there was any way that we, as a family, could take him there since it appeared we had no other choice but to let him go. She got the approval for us to do so and told me just as we arrived at the office. I hadn’t said anything to him or the kids because if we didn’t get the approval, it would be one more heartbreaking disappointment and I didn’t think any of them could have handled it.
When I told him that we were going to be the ones taking him to the group home, he grabbed me and held me so tight and once again cried on my shoulder. We were completely surrounded by the other kids and Todd who turned it into one great big, family hug. It was a bit overwhelming for the case managers who were standing nearby and they all went inside to give us some privacy and, I’d say, to wipe a few tears from their eyes.

That drive was one of the longest and shortest of my life. It felt like Chris had been sentenced to serve time for a crime he didn’t commit and we wanted nothing more than to drag out the day so that we could spend as much time with him as possible. Because of traffic and bathroom stops, it took us about four hours to get him there, but it felt like only 10 minutes had passed. None of us wanted to let him go, and he didn’t want to go.

We spent the next three months visiting him whenever we could, even though he did get into trouble the first time we visited. The group home decided that we brought too many people with us, that at least one of our girls was Chris’ girlfriend and that he had encouraged them to wear short-shorts. For clarification: all the kids we brought were ours, none were (or are) his girlfriend, but rather his SISTERS, and they monitor every phone call and letter into and out of the home, so how in the world could he have encouraged them to wear anything without their knowledge? On top of that, *I* don’t allow short-shorts to be worn, and they weren’t. My girls dress respectably and above reproach at all times. The home was just looking for something to get on to him about. That incident resulted in a few phone calls between me and Chris’ attorney, his case manager and the home; they didn’t have any issues with us after that.

We wrote letters as often as possible. I lost a few before they got mailed, and I had to apologize profusely for the lack of communication that week. He was able to make two phone calls a week: one on Tuesday to his grandmother and one on Thursday to us. Those phone calls were 10 minutes each, and it’s impossible for him to say everything he needs to say, or for you to say everything you need to say to your child in 10 minutes, much less give each of his siblings the chance to even say hi to him. We did our best, though.

Because we already had six children in our home, five of which were foster children, we were at the limit as far as DCS was concerned and they told us there was no way they could place Chris with us again. Never mind that we were about to adopt two of those children within a month and the other three by the end of December, Britt would be 18 in a few months and would be considered an adult, and we can actually handle a small army. With DCS, policy is policy. Common sense is out the window.

So, on the advice of some great and wonderful women, we filed for custody of Chris through the juvenile court system. Thankfully, his grandmother was all for us getting Chris and after a many tense weeks with his case manager, she came around to supporting our petition as well. His attorney was on our side from the beginning, as was our family social worker. Even though everyone was pushing for us to get custody of him, we had no way of knowing what the judge would decide, so we were on pins and needles sitting in his court room. Thankfully, the judge saw it our way and knew we could handle him and our other children and granted us full custody of Chris on September 19, 2011 and he officially became one of our children. It took everything he had for Chris to not jump up and shout for joy while in the court room. I just did my best not to cry a river. 

Seven Days

One day I got a call from my dear friend, Mandi Cooper, asking if we would consider doing a week long respite for a teenage girl. Her foster parents were scheduled to go out of the country and they had been unable to find someone willing to take her for the week. It is hard to place teenagers in a foster home and it’s even harder to find someone willing to do respite for them. I talked it over with Todd and the kids and we all agreed that if there was a child in need, we would be there to help.

A few days later we met Brittney and her foster parents. They came by so that we could get to know each other before Brittney stayed with us for a week. That’s not something foster kids usually get; they are generally removed from their homes and taken to live with complete strangers without notice. There’s no “getting to know you” period beforehand.

She was so nervous about meeting us and was worried that we would be some crazy, weird family that she would want nothing to do with at all. She even talked her foster mom into shortening her stay with us by two nights by having her agree to let her come over Monday after school instead of Sunday afternoon and then go home Friday after school instead of Saturday morning. I don’t blame her one bit; I wouldn’t want to stay with a bunch of strangers any longer than I had to either.

Mandi agreed to pick her up at school and deliver her to us in the afternoons. Her school was right down the street from Mandi’s house, but about 20 or so minutes from ours, so that worked out fabulously. Mandi thoroughly enjoyed spending time with her and I do believe the feeling was mutual. Brittney and Sissy hit it off as well. About half way through the week, Brittney asked her if she thought we’d let her stay a few extra days with us instead of making her go home on Friday as originally planned. Of course, we said yes.

From that point on, Brittney spent almost every weekend at our house and many days during the week. When she couldn’t be with us, she’d stay with Mandi and her family, which by now had become our extended family. After about a month and a half of this, Brittney told Sissy she wanted to live with us permanently. She had a hard time expressing this desire, as she had already had her heart broken by one adoptive family and was terrified of having that happen again. We all talked it over and assured her that we weren’t going anywhere and if she so chose, neither was she.

Things went back and forth with her then-foster parents: they started out supportive of her being with us, then decided they wouldn’t support the move, then would, then wouldn’t, etc. Her case manager was dead-set against her moving with us, even though it was what everyone wanted and would be the best thing for her in the long run. It took about six weeks before we could make her move to our house happen, and it took her case manager being replaced with one who actually does her job (Hi Kendra!!) and a judge saying a few choice words to the supervisors at DCS, but we finally got our Britt Britt  placed in our home on June 22; exactly 6 months and 16 days before her 18th birthday. DCS regulations require the child to be in your home for six months before you can adopt them; we got in just under the wire.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

No Shoes, No Shirt…

The little girls, who we’ll call Blondie and Little Bit, were finally located and brought to us at 11:30 that night. They were so very scared and upset about what was going on, but as soon as they saw their aunts, they ran into their arms and hugged them so tight. The big girls assured them that they were in a safe place and that we were going to take care of them and that they would all be staying together. That seemed to ease their fears a little and made our job of helping them through this frightening transition a lot easier.

The social workers who brought them to us handed me a grocery bag full of pee-soaked clothes, a sippy cup and infant shoes. One of the workers had the displeasure of discovering the pee when she stuck her hand down in the bag to see what their mom had packed for them. I took her at her word and just dumped the whole bag in the washing machine, added extra detergent, said a prayer, turned it on and wiped the tears from my eyes before returning to the living room and the kids.

The big girls, whom we discovered were called Sissy and Manna by the little girls, volunteered to give them baths and lice treatments. I was a little unsure about them using the treatment, but they assured me they’d done it many times before. Yep, there were more tears then. Before they got into the bathtub, we measured their feet with a ruler and sent it with Todd to Wal-Mart (the only place open at midnight) so that he could purchase flip flops, underwear and a car seat for them. They had no shoes or socks and I needed them to have something to wear the next day so I could take them shopping for clothes. He was completely out of his element looking for little girl clothes, but he was a trooper and came home with just the right things for them. Good thing he did too, because I was only able to salvage one shirt and one pair of shorts from the grocery bag; everything else had to be thrown out.

Little Bit had some of the shortest bangs I’d ever seen on a child and had a few chunks missing from the back of her hair as well. I was told that it was a self-inflicted hair cut; well, actually three self-inflicted hair cuts, that resulted in what we were seeing on that poor child’s head. Sadly, I had to leave it like that until after our first court date so that the judge could see how she looked when she came into custody. I cannot tell you how happy I was when we were able to take her for a hair cut!! She ended up with a pixie cut because that’s all we could do to salvage her hair. It showed off her beautiful olive skin and big brown eyes, but she really missed her long hair.

Blondie had super long hair that she was extremely proud of; she’d never ever go near it with scissors! She had the grayest eyes I’ve ever seen and the palest skin. She was definitely the yin to her sister’s yang.

I was concerned that the girls were up so late, but Sissy and Manna assured me that they really didn’t have bed times and were used to staying up half the night watching cartoons or the Good Night Show on Nick, Jr. That was definitely one thing that had to change immediately.

We only had one set of bunk beds at the time, but the girls didn’t mind. They were happy to each have one of the little girls share their bed that night. It was their first night in custody, their first night in our home and being together was what was keeping them all sane. I so wish I would have taken a picture of what I found the next morning when I went to check on them.

All four girls were together on the bottom bunk. The big girls were lying side by side and each had one of the little girls lying on top of her. They were all intertwined and holding on to each other. That was the way they slept the whole night. It wasn’t enough to be in the same room together; they had to all be in the same bed. God love their hearts, they were trying to get through this as best as they could and that meant physical contact, even as they slept, so they would all know the others were still there. It still brings tears to my eyes, over a year later.

Scared on Arrival

**One note: I use the name Kim in this particular part of the story because that's what we called her then. She is officially known as Sissy and will probably never let me hear the end of it for calling her Kim so many times in the story below. Something tells me I'll owe her quite a bit of sweet tea for this one.**

Many, many hours after receiving the approval for us to take in all four girls, the oldest two were finally ready to be brought to our house. We weren’t exactly sure when they would be arriving, didn’t know what they’d want to eat for supper or if they’d even be hungry, or anything else about them except that they were 13 and 15 year old girls. We did find out that their case manager was none other than our lovely Kendra! She had just moved from being a Family Social Worker to being a Case Manager for the children and we were taking in her first four children. We knew right away that this was truly meant to be.

Todd ran out to Wendy’s a little after seven to grab some supper for the three of us while we waited on the girls to arrive. He got back just minutes after Kendra pulled into the driveway with the two oldest girls. They were nervous and scared and looked so very pitiful climbing out of her van. They were still in their school clothes and clung to each other for dear life. The older girl, we learned, was Kim and the younger was Amanda. They had been with Kendra since about noon, and were most definitely hungry. Todd prepared to head back to Wendy’s to get them something to eat, but we quickly discovered they had no idea what Wendy’s was or if they would even eat something from there. They pretty much only knew McDonald’s and KFC; we don’t eat at the golden arches, so KFC it was. Todd ran back out and got them some supper while I showed them their new room and gave them the quick tour of the house.

Amanda never let go of Kim’s hand and even sat in her lap when we made it to the living room to chat. She wouldn’t even go to the bathroom by herself; Kim had to be with her at all times. We were told that they were both very street-smart, but witnessing them together, we found it hard to believe at first.

None of us knew what to expect of the situation, so we just decided to wing it. We asked the girls to tell us a little about themselves and within 15 minutes, I had Kim’s whole life story. She held nothing back and amazed me with her honesty and willingness to open up about everything in her life to a complete stranger. Amanda didn’t say much, but Kim asked her if it was okay for her to tell Amanda’s story and she consented. So, I learned Amanda’s story in the next 15 minutes. One thing was certain, Kim could talk!

Our first observations about the girls were that they loved each other unconditionally, they were both malnourished and unhealthy looking, Kim was one happy child who smiled all the time and Amanda was very quiet, shy and rather scared of the whole situation. Looking back on the photos of them from those first few days breaks my heart.

Both girls were very concerned that their nieces, the little girls we’d gotten the original call about, hadn’t been located yet. The little girls’ biological mom had taken them on the run when she found out DCS was coming for them. Apparently, this is not an uncommon practice among parents whose children are being taken into state custody. I’ve never seen two young girls worry about anyone or anything the way Kim and Amanda worried about their nieces. They actually cried when we got the call saying they had been located and were on their way to our house. There were plenty more tears once they actually arrived.

Wednesdays with Todd

For several years, Todd worked from home on Wednesdays and Derrick and I would do our school work around him and would inevitably distract him with some information he would find fascinating. I have to tell you, I’ve learned so much more teaching Derrick these past ten years than I ever really learned in school. There are so many things that get glossed over, left out or misrepresented when you’re in a classroom full of fidgety kids who want nothing more than to be anywhere else but there and you’re under time constraints to teach them everything on your lesson plan in the assigned 50 minutes per day. Learning at home has provided us with the opportunity to really explore subjects and dig deep into events and lives of historical figures that have interested us along the way.

So, it was inevitable that on Wednesdays Todd would pick up on some bit of trivia or overhear some new scientific development that would grab his attention and he would join our discussion, at least for a little while.

On this particular Wednesday, August 18, 2010, Todd was in the kitchen trying hard to concentrate on his actual work and not listen in on the discussion Derrick and I were having in the living room. That was going pretty well until his phone rang and it was DCS wanting to know if we would accept a placement. He quickly brought me the phone and I got all the details from the worker and relayed them to him and Derrick.

There were two little girls, 3 and 4, about to be 4 and 5, who were sisters and had been removed from their home just that day. This would be their first time in custody, so there was very little known about them at the time. The three of us talked it over and decided that having a couple of little girls in the house would be a nice change and while they were younger than what we were expecting, having been told that because we were open to teenagers that’s who we’d be getting calls about, we could handle a couple of preschoolers for a little while. We told DCS yes and they said that they would call us back soon and let us know when they would be bringing them to our home. We were all on pins and needles, anxiously awaiting the phone call telling us our house guests would be arriving soon!

A few hours later, DCS called back and told us that they had just discovered that there were two more girls in the home, but these were teenagers. They were all somehow related and they wanted to keep them together. Would we be willing to take in all four of them? Again, the three of us talked it over and decided we would be willing to take them all after Derrick declared, “That’s a lot of estrogen, but let’s do it!” I did ask the placement coordinator if they remembered that they had originally told us they would place no more than two foster children in our home, but that if they were good with it, we were more than willing to take them. They assured me they were FINE with it and that there was a supervisor standing right there to approve the exception request.

It was official! We were soon to be a real foster family!!  Wednesdays at home would never be the same again.

The Waiting Game

We’ve home schooled Derrick since he was in second grade and during his late elementary years, we met a most wonderful home schooling family, the Coopers. Mandi was an energetic, happy and beautiful young mother with three children. She and I became friends and even though we didn’t see each other often once the kids got older and park days became less frequent, we stayed in touch through emails and the wonder of facebook.  Her family decided to become foster parents and I eagerly read her posts about their journey and asked probably more questions of her than she cared to answer, but answer them she did.

As foster parents, they have had many children in their home over the past three years and have been twice blessed with the adoption of two of those children. Their youngest came to them when he was three days old and is now a happy, rambunctious, almost three year old cutie pie. Their oldest is a gorgeous young lady who came to them when she was 16 and is now getting ready to be a mother herself. Their family has truly been blessed by being foster and adoptive parents.

I approached the subject of fostering with Todd very carefully. It was something I was drawn to do and I wanted him to understand just how much it meant to me for him to give it a try. Derrick had always wanted siblings and was overjoyed when he heard us discussing the possibility of fostering. We talked about it endlessly, looking at it from every angle we could think of and making pro and con lists. My list definitely had more pros than cons! With the promise that if it didn’t feel right and it wasn’t the right fit for our family we could stop being foster parents, Todd and I signed up for the required PATH classes through our local DCS office. Derrick was beside himself with anticipation and Mandi was a constant source of encouragement for us.

We got through the then-required 12 weeks of classes on December 21, 2010. We were supposed to have our final approval no later than March 21, 2011, but as with all things government related, we didn’t actually receive it until July 26, 2011. Our family social worker was an amazingly awesome lady by the name of Kendra. If we’d met outside of the DCS setting, we would have been very social friends; we just loved each other to death!

Even though she was (and still is!) amazing and awesome, she couldn’t speed up the process and it was a long seven months to approval for us. The day we received our letter telling us we were finally approved foster parents was a great day for our family. That is, until I read the letter and saw that they had approved us for only white male babies  up to age three; definitely not our requested “any child, any race, up to age 15 ½,” which was Derrick’s age at the time we filled out our paperwork.

Several phone calls and letters later, they finally got it right. Now, we just had to wait for the phone call telling us they had our first placement. A new waiting game began.

This is Where It All Began

I remember back when I was about 3 or 4 telling everyone that I would one day adopt a child. I can’t explain how or why I felt this way; I don’t believe I knew anyone who was adopted and it wasn’t really anything we talked about at home. I just knew it was something I had to do; I also knew I wanted a big family with at least four children.

From the beginning of our relationship, Todd was on board with the big family, he just wasn’t so sure about the whole adoption thing. It’s not that he had anything against kids, he just didn’t know if he would be able to attach to them the same as he would to his own biological children. It was a valid point and no one wants to put a child in a situation where they feel unloved by a parent, so we waited.

We were fortunate enough to have our own biological miracle three years after we were married. Derrick Anthony entered the world on August 10, 1994 and made us the happiest parents on the planet. We always assumed we’d give him a sibling a few years later and possibly a few more a few years after that. Well, you know what they say about assuming… God definitely had other plans for us.

After a decade of trying in vain to have another child, we sought the counsel and help of a fertility specialist. We exhausted all our options, except for IVF. We just didn’t have an extra $10,000 to spend on a procedure that might or might not work. It was heartbreaking to realize that we would never be able to have another biological child together. At the time, Todd was still very unsure about adoption but was willing to consider it if it would allow us to have the family we’d always wanted. It would still be years before we could make it happen though. 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our Ever Growing Family

Today marks another milestone in our family; we are now the biological/adoptive/foster/custodial parents of six children and we couldn't be happier. Our family now includes Todd and me and the kids (in order of age): Derrick-17 (our one-and-only biological child), Sissy-almost 17 (adopted September 14, 2011), Chris-16 (won custody September 19, 2011), Amanda-15 (adopted September 14, 2011), Blondie-6 (waiting on paperwork for final adoption date) and Little Bit-5 (waiting on paperwork for final adoption date). There are a few other children whom we consider to be "ours" even though they do not live with us, but we are so very lucky to still get to see and care for on occasion. All of these children have stolen our hearts and have made our lives so much better just by being a part of them. God willing, the Blanchard Bunch will continue to grow throughout the next few years. :-)

I decided to start this blog today because we've had so many questions posed to us over the past year about being foster parents and now that we've moved into the adoptive and custodial parent roles, I expect there will be a lot more. Trust me, I've asked my share of questions to other parents,doctors and therapists over the past year, and again, I expect there will be a lot more in the upcoming months. :-) Being parents of multiple children is a whole new ball game for us and I hope you find our adventures, stories, mishaps and accomplishments as entertaining as we do.

Our children are great at laughing at themselves, each other and us whenever the opportunity arises. There are nine different personalities in our household, but somehow, we make it work. Yes, there are days when someone (sometimes many someones) will wish our family was smaller, our house had way more bedrooms, or that there was a way to run away from it all and live the life of a king or queen. That being said, right on the heels of that outburst of emotion comes the realization that they LOVE their life and family and wouldn't trade it for the world. A little more privacy, however, might tip the scales...

I am hoping to introduce you, dear reader, to each and every one of our children through various blog posts. They are all so precious to us and there are so many great, wonderful and funny stories I can tell you about each and every one of them. Over time, I hope you will come to know them all and love them just as much as we do. A word of warning: If you pull a muscle laughing at their antics or some of the statements they make that I will post here, that's on you. I cannot be held accountable for your injuries, no matter how silly or severe.

Enjoy your time here! We certainly are enjoying ours. :-)