Beating the Labels


After only one year of marriage and both in their early twenties, Donna and Calvin Bader were told that conceiving children was unlikely for them without some kind of fertility treatments. Since they wanted children right away, this was a big disappointment. Both agreed, however, to skip the specialists. “I knew of other couples who had paid thousands of dollars to fertility specialists,” said Donna. “Calvin and I both agreed it would be better to spend our money on adoption. It was Wednesday. By Monday we were the parents to four-month-old Samuel.”

Although adoption does not usually work that quickly, Donna’s mother-in-law had been caring for Samuel as a foster mother. The original family backed out. He was a mixed-race baby, and the parents were concerned his skin was too light compared with their other adopted children.

The Baders were already licensed foster parents in Indiana. “I received a phone call from Adoptions of Kentucky on Monday morning informing us that we could have Samuel right away since we had a foster care license,” Donna explained.

She called Calvin at work, unable to contain her excitement. “Calvin,” she cried, “we’re parents!” He came home right away, and they hugged and cried tears of joy. God had answered their prayer for a child with amazing speed. But God was not done answering their prayer yet. And again, things would happen quickly.

Calvin and Donna had applied to work as house parents with Noah’s Ark Children’s Village. This is a specialized Christian foster care agency. While they waited for an opening, they had contacted the couple to help out one of their foster families by taking over for the weekend.

When Donna walked into the door and into the gaze of five children of varying ages. Dylan grabbed her attention immediately. The little guy in diapers appeared much younger than his three years. Instead of the eager and curious young face he should have worn, Dylan looked deeply sad. In his short little life, he had already experienced so much pain. This was his fourth foster home. Dylan and Donna cared for the kids for about two hours that day. In Dylan’s case, Donna said their attempts at interaction were rebuffed. “He did not talk much, instead using grunts and his fists to communicate,” Donna said. “Dylan’s verbal ability was poor, but he excelled at hitting the other children.”

Although Dylan wanted nothing to do with Donna, she was captivated with him. ‘I thought about him all the way home. A few days later, the agency asked Calvin and me to babysit the entire weekend for the same family.” It was the perfect way for them to determine if they wanted to work at this eighty-eight acre village where homes, support and other amenities were provided to the on-site foster families.

Donna and Calvin loved the experience and wanted to do it full time. Dylan was no more interested in them than he had been the first time. On top of that, he had diarrhea all weekend. But Donna was drawn to him even more. “I cried all the way home for Dylan,” Donna recalled. “I told Calvin that I felt he was supposed to be their son.”

Calvin warned Donna not to get her hopes up since parental rights had not even been terminated in his case so he was not available for adoption. “It did not seem to make sense, but I’ve learned to trust my instincts as long as I stay close to God in prayer,” said Donna. She could not get Dylan out of her mind and kept praying that God would lead the way concerning him.

A couple months later, Donna and Calvin moved into a Noah’s Ark home to work as foster parents. Dylan was in another home on the premises, but when that family felt he was too much for them because of his violence with other children, Donna and Calvin took him in. They had other small children, and he was very violent. Even though Dylan was three-years-old, he could only say “truck” and “blue,” and kept repeating those words. He had been diagnosed as autistic, and would often rock back and forth among other repetitive behaviors. Regardless, Donna still wanted to be his mom.

“A few months after he was in our home, parental rights were terminated,” Donna said. They immediately filled out the paperwork to begin the adoption process. Dylan’s violent behavior continued unabated, however. Often, he would not respond to anyone. When Donna tried to soothe him and told him, “Mommy is here,” a typical response was for him to scream at her, but Donna would not give up. She kept showering him with love and patience and, little by little, he started responding. The first time Dylan crawled up on her lap on his own, her spirit soared. “I looked over at Calvin and caught his eye with the unspoken message, ‘Are you seeing this?'”

“Thank you, thank you, God,” she joyfully prayed.

It would be many more months before Dylan allowed Calvin to have anything to do with him. He did not even want to get into the car if Calvin was there. Calvin did not force himself on Dylan but he tried playing toys and games with him. Dylan would have none of it.

One day, Donna took Dylan to the playground. Then, while Dylan warmed up and began having fun, Calvin joined them and took Dylan horseback riding. “Look at you,” Donna gushed with tears in her eyes. Dylan grinned. He really looked happy, and Calvin was trotting along beside him.

But Dylan’s pain would not let go. For the first four months, not a day went by that he did not hit others or act out in some way. One day, Donna put him in the corner for time out. He began screaming and banging his head against the wall. She wrapped her arms around this broken little boy. “I love you Dylan,” she cried. “You’re safe now. Daddy and I are never going to leave you.” Dylan kept swinging his arms, so she held him tight and tried not to get hit. Then, Donna prayed, “God should we be doing this? Help this to stop. Help Dylan not to hurt and be afraid anymore. Lord, whatever his frustration and anger is please take it away.”

They sat there for a good thirty to forty minutes. At that point, she wondered if she had been wrong. Maybe she was not supposed to be his mommy. “God, are we in over our heads?” she asked. “Can we help this poor dear boy?” Finally, Dylan calmed down. He was crying, and Donna was crying. She was scared that she might not be able to help Dylan. But then she recalled all the promises she had made to love him forever. “If we did not keep Dylan, who would?” she thought. “I realized he needed us so we could not give up on him.”

Calvin and Donna prayed hard for Dylan’s healing. They did not want him to hurt anymore, but felt powerless to stop it. It was in God’s hands. They and their families and some of the members of their church began adding fasting to their prayers. “We were going to do everything possible to fight for our little boy,” Donna said.

The first year was rough but after six months, they began seeing improvements. Through speech therapy, Dylan’s speech was getting better, and it became obvious that he was not autistic. The pain from his past often came out, but Calvin and Donna kept reassuring Dylan with their love. He also had the love and security of their extended families.

By the time his adoption became final, he was four years old and still lagging behind in some areas, but his progress was incredible. Instead of being trapped by his pain, a happy little boy was emerging. Dylan was bonding with his family and had begun to play with other children without the violence. Once the progress began, it never stopped. There were still bad days and struggles, but Dylan had let Donna, Calvin and little brother Samuel into his heart, and he was firmly in their’s.

In spite of his rapid improvement, by the time Dylan approached school age, Calvin and Donna feared sending him into a situation that would label him. To them, labels meant limits. Calvin’s mother had mentioned the idea of homeschooling. “I think I said more than once, ‘Over my dead body’ when the subject was brought up,” Donna laughed. But Donna would often marvel at Dylan’s progress and then be reminded that the “experts” had said he was going to be very low functioning. “We believed that our God is bigger than that,” Donna said. “Then, we realized that once he was labeled, it would follow him.”

In the end, it was the fear of labeling that convinced them to teach Dylan at home. “We wanted to push him and challenge him, and not to use labels as a crutch.” She added, “My hats are off to the teachers, they have many challenges, but we thought we could do a better job just one-on-one. That was our main reasoning, but now we just love it.”

Dylan did continue to prove the labels wrong. Today, at age thirteen, he does well with school and is just a little behind grade level. He is also outgoing and a very affectionate son. Often, Dylan will give his parents a hug and say, “I love you Mama, I love you Dad.” He and Samuel are typical brothers. They love to wrestle and sometimes fight, but are fiercely loyal to one another. They will even make excuses for each other if one gets into trouble.

Samuel, age ten, is also thriving at home. “I love them being who they are without the pressure of peers to be cool and pressured to do things based on what other kids are doing. Right now, Samuel is a grade ahead of where he should be. School is easy for him. Dylan takes longer to memorize, but I’m able to tailor both boy’s education.”

The boys get plenty of socialization through field trips and get-togethers with other families. Both are on a competitive gymnastic team, which means practicing as much as four hours a day, four days a week. Donna pointed out that for the other kids on the team that don’t homeschool, their families barely get to see them since practices are from 4 to 8 p.m. during the school year.

A couple years ago, Donna and Calvin decided it was time to move out of the foster care facility into their own home. They bought seven acres in the country where they now raise chickens for the eggs and meat, and goats for the milk. On the day they signed the papers for the property, Donna and Calvin had another big surprise to add to their lives. Donna was pregnant! Emma Grace–her name means “absolute faith”–was born in 2009 to the waiting arms of her big brothers.

Donna added that having the boys home to share in the joy of watching their little sister grow is yet one more benefit of schooling at home.

Donna and Calvin are raising chickens, goats and children on seven acres in Indiana. They currently homeschool their two boys Dylan and Samuel while everyone takes turns playing with baby Emma Grace.

From Stories for the Homeschool Heart

Note: This book was nominated as a finalist in the about.com Readers Choice Awards.

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