89: Who Would Have Thought?

89: Who Would Have Thought?

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Who Would Have Thought?

My mom used to say it doesn’t matter how many kids you have... because one kid’ll take up 100% of your time so more kids can’t possibly take up more than 100% of your time.

~Karen Brown

It’s 10:00 PM, and the game is on. The Phillies are winning 7-4, and Wayne is fed, changed, and resting comfortably. He is the last survivor of our three musketeers—Wayne, Dylan and Adam—three terminally-ill “total care” children whose feeding tubes, wheelchairs, and hospital beds transformed the first floor of our home. I have just hung up the phone from a rare conversation with my older brother. “I still think you are nuts,” he said, referring to my life as the primary caregiver to our children, adopted from foster care with a range of special needs. “You gave up so much—all the career options you had when you graduated from college, all the money you could have made—for what—to still be changing diapers in your fifties?” I chuckle to myself as I settle in to relax and enjoy the game. I am not sure what exactly I gave up, except maybe for sleep. I am bone-tired at the end of each day from the physical, emotional, and spiritual demands of our unusual family. Before the inning is over, I am drifting off in my chair.

“Where’s Wayne?” asks Raj.

“What do you mean, ‘Where’s Wayne?’ He was right here!” I look toward the next campsite and there he is, sitting with two campers, reaching for their food. I walk over to get him and apologize to the older couple.

“How old is he?” they ask.

“Six,” I say.

“He’s such a beautiful child.” I thank them and note that I would have called him to come back to our campsite, but he cannot hear due to his degenerative illness. Soon, he won’t be able to walk either.

As Wayne and I return to our campsite, Renee asks if today is our Great Adventure day. “No, it’s our beach day. Tuesday is Great Adventure and Wednesday is when we go into Chicago to meet up with Lilly and Fisher at the Sears Tower and go on the city tour.”

“Oh, that’s right,” she responds. By now, all the kids are up and begging for breakfast. Out come the Pop-Tarts and cereal. SueAnn grabs the milk from the cooler, saying, “We need more ice,” as she carries it to the table. Trish and Abel help dole out the food.

“Yeah! Beach Day!” says Todd as he spills his juice.

“Good job,” I tease, adding, “It sure is, so let’s all remember who we are in charge of because we’re heading down in a few minutes. We need to get the three little kids’ diapers changed and everyone fed. Flory, make sure Dylan’s oatmeal is not too hot for him,” I add as I check to see if JD is still in the van.

“Hurry, hurry! Everyone into the van! He’s coming!” I holler.

“Who’s coming?” Aaron asks.

“The buffalo!” I scream, hustling the kids into safety. As the older kids pile in, I grab Wayne and Adam while David scoops Dylan out of his wheelchair and hoists him inside. I slam the sliding door of the 15-passenger van, scaring Alysia, my five-year-old with cerebral palsy.

“It’s just a buffalo going by our tents,” Joelle says reassuringly to Alysia. It’s a normal thing at Yellowstone; there are signs all over the place that say “Don’t feed the bears and buffalo,” with pictures of stick-figure people getting mauled.

“Hey, Dad—let’s do it—let’s feed them!” urges Jose, the dare-devil. “We have some hot dogs in the cooler.”

“Sure, that sounds like a great idea,” I say, playing along as the giant creature approaches our tent. “You coming with us, George? Isaac?” They are both eager to join the fun as I teasingly open the door of the van just a bit to the screams of the other children.

“Now make sure you kids stay off the paths because there are rattlesnakes around here,” I tell the kids as they pile out of the van. The rest area in northern New Mexico had signs all over warning of rattlesnakes in the area. After another long night of driving, 629 miles to be exact, I needed to pull over for a break and to feed the kids breakfast. “Don’t wander off, and make sure you all go to the bathroom. I need to change a few diapers, and Mom is going to get us some breakfast.”

“Okay, let’s eat!” Sue hollers, and the younger kids come running to the picnic tables.

“Pull up your pants, Abel!” (“Teenagers!” I mutter to myself.) “Geeta, push Adam over here and make sure you unlock the brakes on his wheelchair.”

“Where are Jose, George, Isaac, and Chelsea?” David asks in sign language. I look around and don’t see them. Oh, no—they didn’t!

Just as I am about to speak, Chelsea comes running down the path, shouting with enthusiasm, “He caught one! He caught one! Jose caught a rattlesnake—it’s on a stick!” she announces.

At this moment, most parents would freak out at the sight of their children emerging from a path with a long rattlesnake hanging from a stick, but not us. Sue tells me to grab the camera as she instructs Jose and the others to stand in front of the “Beware of Rattlesnakes” sign for a picture. She urges the kids to gather closer together just as the flash goes off.

“What? What? What’s that flash?” I am feeling a bit disoriented before I realize it is just the light from the TV. Darn, I fell asleep in my chair again, and my back is killing me. Once again, I will have to wait for the morning paper to find out if the Phillies won or lost. But what a dream I was having.

I sit for a few moments reflecting on my dream. I smile to myself as those memories of five cross-country summer camping trips flood my mind and heart. “We sure had fun,” I say aloud to no one in particular. The kids still reminisce about those trips when they come over for Sunday dinner. They all tell the stories from their own perspectives, and speak so fondly of their memories of Adam and Dylan now that they are gone, and Wayne who probably has only a year left to live.

Life has changed, and the kids have all grown up. Many are now raising kids of their own. Who would have thought that Sue and I could have pulled 22 kids together from all different backgrounds and so many needs and make one family?

Maybe my brother is right; I probably am a little nuts to have dedicated myself to this life. But what did I give up, really? In spite of my exhaustion, I can only be grateful for the riches I have gained. Who would have thought?

~Hector Badeau

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