Before our kids were born, we became parents to adults. Don’t worry…I’m not an over-burdened, over-stressed mom who lost all mental reasoning skills while working 24 hours a day on the job. Then again...am I? But to understand how this came to pass, we return to four months after my husband, Gene, and I got married. Once upon a time I was 22 and flexible. My prince was 26 and excited about a job offer.
“How would you like to move into a new home?”
I kissed him while dipping a chicken cutlet in flour and played along with his joke. “Sounds great. When do we move in?”
“The only catch is that we’d have to take care of 9 mentally retarded adults.”
“Sounds great.” Maybe those weren’t my exact words. “Are you crazy? We’ve only been married four months!” That’s more like it.
“Think about the pluses.”
“I am…there are nine too many.”
“As house managers in Lido, we’d get to live twenty feet from the beach for free, have use of the beach club tennis courts, and get to make a difference in people’s lives; you always say you wish you were more involved in ministry. Think of how God could use you.”
That was a low blow. Of course I couldn’t say “definitely not” when he threw my own words in my face. And the beach…ahh…now that was tempting.
And then it hit me…we’d get to work together. What bliss! Don’t forget–we were still newlyweds.
A few prayers and CPR classes later, we became the new house managers or “parents” at the Lido Beach Group Home. We packed our things and moved in to the connected alcove apartment that came with an instant family.
Did God press the fast forward button? One day my only responsibility was brushing my teeth. Next, I’m married with nine adults looking to me like Snow White without the wicked step-mom. They needed love and someone to help them achieve more independence. Was I ready for that?
Soon we adjusted, and their quirky personalities seemed normal. Each resident accepted each other’s differences…
Phil hated showering and talked to imaginary people. Annie was the roadrunner. She’d zip in and out of a room fast enough to start a fight and disappear before getting caught. She’d hide in her bedroom listening to the commotion she left behind. Too bad she’d give herself away ten minutes later asking, “So, so…did Sharon get mad at Cathy? Didn’t Cathy call Sharon a slob?” We called her “Annie the instigator.”
Henry, who had Down syndrome, loved sports, but loved eating more. He volunteered for the job of sandwich maker. We were happy for the help even if he did consume more ham slices than he gave out and licked his fingers after finishing each one. Forget about germ control.
No one laughed at their clothing choices. It didn’t matter that Annie liked to wear fluorescent green leggings with a red blouse that had mismatched buttons…or that Wendy’s sweaters were decorated with abstract designs from each meal. No one criticized Jeffrey for organizing his closet alphabetically.
Managing a group home was boot camp training for motherhood. I learned to cook three pound meatloaves and shop at the supermarket with nine pairs of feet dragging behind me asking to buy their favorite goodies. I learned to avoid Little Debbie snacks after gaining ten pounds–they were cheap, loaded with fat, and totally addictive.
Nudging nine tired souls to get ready taught me how wonderful a bus can be–peace and quiet as we waved goodbye every morning. They worked at a center, and occasionally one of these nine angels would dream up a horrible sickness to stay home and be pampered.
“My eyes are on fire; my brain hurts.” Their groans gained sympathy from the other residents–all but Phil who was too busy talking to bald aliens.
After ending our year with an outbreak of scabies and a hurricane evacuation–what fun– we were ready to leave and start our own family. As we waved goodbye for the last time, nine sad faces stared back. They were disowned again. We felt like dead-beat parents, trying to convince ourselves we made the right decision in leaving.
Nineteen years later, we have four boys and a girl to keep us on our toes. God prepared us before He blessed us with children. And now we’re living happily ever after in His grace.
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