To Whom It May Confuse

Yeah, I'm pretty aware that's just about anyone.

Would you like the Reader's Digest version?  I thought so.

There isn't one.

The closest you'll get is my little bio on the main page.

Allow me to flesh out a few gaps in that.

Back in the summer of 2004, my younger brother got engaged.  A few months after that, following our sister's wedding in October, Bro announced that he had broken off the engagement.  I was saddened; at that time, I really liked Future SIL and was sorry to see that she wouldn't be a permanent addition to the family.  But I had to admit that Bro's reasoning was remarkably wise for him: he'd realized he could barely support himself, let alone a wife, and decided the wisest thing would be to break off the engagement until he was ready to handle these responsibilities.

That lasted all of a month...when it was discovered that FSIL was pregnant.

This was, to be very honest, heartbreaking for us.  We'd been trying to get pregnant ourselves.  For almost two years.  Without success.  We'd done things the right way--we got married first.  In fact, we'd been married 8 years at the time.  My husband, on hearing Bro's voicemail message, looked at me and said, "He'd better not be calling to say she's pregnant."  I was glad we weren't using speakerphone when Hubby called him back.

We begged them to consider adoption.  Neither was ready for marriage.  Neither was even close to being ready for a baby.  Clearly we weren't having much success in the do-it-yourself department (which we did not disclose to them).  We offered to adopt the baby, keeping her in the family, if they chose to go the adoption route.

They didn't.  They chose to get married.  And it was one of the only weddings I've ever been to where there were quiet, non-monetary side bets for how long the marriage would last.  "Three years," Hubby said after the extremely low-key reception.

SIL's first threat of divorce came before the baby--Large Fry--was even born, in the mere five months between the wedding and the birth.

Large Fry was about eight months old when Bro and SIL discovered--to Bro's delight and everyone else's dismay--that SIL was pregnant again.  Around Easter of 2006, they learned they were expecting twins.  The marriage was already under severe strain.  Two more children were not going to help matters.  Twin girls arrived at the end of November 2006.

I was very amused at the thought of my brother as the father of all girls.

At Christmas, Bro and SIL asked Hubby and me if we would be the girls' godparents and legal guardians.  Hubby and I agreed, but urged them to make it legal: get wills, and name us there as guardians.  They agreed (but never followed through).

We moved from where we lived in central Ohio to south-central Pennsylvania for Hubby's new job in late February of 2007.  We had not been ensconced in our new digs for a month when the call came in that SIL's younger brother, who had entered the Army right out of high school, had been killed in action in Iraq.  Their marriage rallied for less than six months.  By September of 2007, SIL had threatened yet again that she was going to leave, move about an hour away, go to school, leaving Bro and the girls behind.  She was through being a mom, through being a wife.  She wanted to go to school and get on with her life.  This wasn't her second threat.  It probably wasn't even her twelfth.  (This was a frequent response to any kind of marital hiccup.)

Fast forward about seven weeks, to the twins' first birthday.  Which is when Bro and SIL dropped a bomb on the entire family.  SIL was joining the Army, to fulfill a "lifelong dream" that she'd shared with her late brother.  We questioned this decision--we'd never heard of this "lifelong dream" before--but it was clear their minds were made up and further discussion was pointless.  Both Bro and SIL raved about how strong their marriage was, and how they were both committed to it, and how they would weather her being gone for weeks due to boot camp and secondary training, and come out even stronger on the other side.

If your eyes have bugged out now, imagine how we reacted.  We had to keep our eyes in our heads and our jaws off the floor.  Hubby, my parents, and I all saw this for what it was: something that SIL had determined, in her own mind, was a socially-acceptable way to abandon her family.

SIL left for boot camp in SC the first week of January 2008.  By halfway through that, she'd convinced Bro to move himself and the girls down to GA, where her next training stint would be, so that they could at least be "closer," be "more of a family," even if they had to live off-base and she had to live on-base.  Despite counsel against the move, that's exactly what Bro did, moving down near the end of March.

As the Fries' godparents, we had offered before to take them in on a respite basis, if Bro and/or SIL needed some time.

Six weeks later, my brother called to see if that offer was still available.

SIL was through with marriage.  Specifically, marriage to him.  She was done.  And, it turned out, she was serious this time.  Further, she'd told Bro that, if he thought he was keeping the Fries, he'd better get himself a good lawyer.  (Never mind that neither of them could afford legal representation at this point.  Or now, for that matter.)

Having used up his entire tax refund and still needing to borrow money for the move down to GA, Bro had no money to move back to PA.  Would we be willing to take in the Fries for a short term?  Say, three months?  Hubby hammered out an agreement with Bro.  One big caveat was that Bro had to make this legal.  (He did, getting legal paperwork to give us power of attorney for guardianship.)

And so, a couple with no children and some severely under-warned cats had about nine days' notice between the "Okay, the plan to move the Fries back is a GO" notification and the day we picked the girls up.  Large Fry was eight weeks shy of her 3rd birthday.  The twins were barely 18 months old.

It was frighteningly obvious after Bro had moved back up to PA (seven weeks after the Fries moved in with us) that he would not be ready to take back his responsibilities any time soon.  He couldn't get a job.  He couldn't hold a job.  He couldn't find a place to live.  He couldn't manage money.  He had no realistic expectations for how to handle groceries (he said he was going to have six months' worth of food stored up when he took the Fries back to live with him; that's not realistic, that's prepping for a siege).  We realized quickly that this was going to be a lot longer than 3 months.  Even my mother said, when Hubby asked her early on how long she honestly expected the Fries to be with us, "Eighteen years."

The Fries had lived with us for more than a year when Bro and SIL decided that their parental failings were somehow our fault, and we were mean and evil.  By then we were operating under POAs from both biological parents.  In June 2009, we got notice from Bro that both he and SIL had revoked our POAs.  They were transferring guardianship to SIL's mother.  Who was unemployed.  Who had a three-page rap sheet.  Who was clearly an alcoholic.  Who was up on current charges for her fourth DUI offense at the time, which, if convicted, meant mandatory jail time.

Thankfully, we had already been in touch with a family law attorney.  We went back, and filed suit for full custody as well as a special injunction to keep the Fries in our care.

It took fourteen months for our case to make it from initial custody presentation at court to special petition hearing, which our lawyer requested would also include the final finding of our custody petition, since much the same evidence would be presented at trial for the custody suit as we were presenting for the special petition hearing then.  The judge agreed.

And we had a boatload of evidence.  All three Fries were developmentally behind when they came to live with us.  Medium Fry, thanks to her stockier build, was the only one who wasn't dangerously underweight.  We had the evaluations to prove all of this.  We had medical records.  We had the testimony of my mother, a retired elementary teacher with a degree in early childhood development and education.  We had letters from the twins' developmental therapist and a social worker in our family.

We were shocked when the judge rendered her decision that day.

Our evidence was overwhelming enough that the judge determined we would share legal custody with Bro and the soon-to-be Ex-SIL, and we were granted physical custody of the Fries.  Bro and SIL were reduced to visitation rights only.  The judge clearly stated that we had provided excellent care.

I wanted to have a way to chronicle our lives, the funny things the kids have done and we've said, the milestones reached, for the kids to see this someday and know how much we loved them and fought for them, the things I don't want to forget (Small Fry shrieking, "I'm yaffing!  I'm yaffing!" is one of them), about this grandest of all experiments...

The Parenthood Experiment.

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