by Grant Moser
Sue (mom) and Hector (dad) plus Chelsea plus Jose plus Isaac plus Raj plus Joelle plus Abel plus SueAnn plus George plus Florinda plus Todd plus David plus Renee plus Trish plus Lily plus Fisher plus J.D. plus Alysia plus Dylan plus Wayne plus Adam plus Aaron plus Geeta = the Badeau family.
The kids all hate answering the inevitable question, but most try to make the answer as matter-of-fact as possible: yes, my family has 22 children, and 20 are adopted.
According to Mt. Airy residents Sue, 54, and Hector, 56, they didn’t plan to have this big of a family. “People think because we have so many children that we didn’t know how to say no or took in any child we came across. It wasn’t like that,” said Sue. “There was a lot of thought, discussion, prayer, consideration of that child’s needs, and how they would fit in with the rest of the children’s needs. We said no to many children. The kids we adopted were meant to be part of our family, and we were meant to be their parents.”
In 1979 the Badeaus were married, and they opened a bookstore in Northampton, Massachusetts. In 1980 they had their first child, Chelsea, and attended a church presentation about adoption. They had talked about adopting before that and decided to move forward. Before long, they had welcomed Jose from El Salvador. Their goal in adopting children was to find the ones “who most needed a family and were least likely to get one,” said Hector.
Over the years, that included children who were deaf, had cerebral palsy or who were terminally ill. None of the decisions was easy, and discussions were held with the other children before adopting. Sue remembers when Dylan, the first child who was terminally ill, came to visit. They thought it would help them with making the decision. It was finally seeing him as a person, not a list of conditions on a page, that made the decision easier.
Still, bringing someone into your family knowing he would not be there for long was not taken lightly. “We didn’t know how long they were going to live,” said Hector. “We were given loose parameters. We felt that we were the people to take care of them and give them a sense of family. It pains me right now to think of what all the kids went through, but I think they’re better for having shared their lives with Wayne, Dylan and Adam. And I know those three were better for having brothers and sisters.”
This message of family, of being together in good times and bad, is one of the central themes of the new book from Sue and Hector, “Are We There Yet? The Ultimate Road Trip Adopting and Raising 22 Kids” (Carpenter’s Son Publishing). Hector explained he doesn’t want everyone to adopt 20 kids, but to get people inspired and become a part of someone’s life. He hopes that readers will feel as if they’re in the living room or on a summer trip with the Badeaus.
They are dealing with the same issues other families deal with, Sue said, albeit on a bigger scale. “Family is not defined by external views, but by the people living it, and it can be rewarding, even in the tough times. Coming together as a family is something really wonderful, even when it’s messy.” Hector knows all about the mess. He was a stay-at-home dad for all the kids. He describes a typical day as “long.” He would wake every morning at 4:30, get the kids eating, make lunches for everyone and get them off to school. Then there’d be mounds of laundry and bathrooms to clean and the “usual messes 16 or 18 kids make.” Then they’d start coming home, which meant homework, dinner and bedtime rituals.
Everyone knows how expensive it is these days to raise just one child, so one cannot help but wonder how the Badeaus could possibly afford to raise 22, several with special medical needs, on just one salary. According to Sue, “There is some assistance for children with special needs; in some instances this is called adoption assistance, and for other kids it was through SSI. These forms of assistance applied to approximately half our kids over the years.
“We also lived very frugally; we lived on hand-me downs, and a cookbook called “More With Less” was second only to the Bible in our house! It teaches you how to eat healthy on a very low budget. We made frugal plans for entertainment (made our own fun) and kept the thermostat low. And you should have seen the old beat-up cars we drove! But in spite of our best efforts, we did incur a lot of debt, especially related to medical care (deductibles and so on), and so sadly we are still trying to shovel our way out of that mountain of debt.”
Of course, people had always told the Badeaus that they should write down their story, but it wasn’t until 2012 when they started thinking about it seriously. It was also the first time in over 20 years that Hector had no one in the house to care for anymore; their son Wayne had passed away in the beginning of the year. After they both took a few months to adjust, they attended a writer’s conference in July, 2012. They met with an agent, and he liked their story.
However, there was so much material and so many stories and so many memories that it quickly became overwhelming. They attended a memoir writing workshop at Musehouse in Chestnut Hill given by writer and Chestnut Hill resident Susan Gregory Thomas. With her advice on how to lay out a story, Sue and Hector finally got away from talking and into writing.
“The way we knocked it off was we each picked subjects, and Sue would assign us each certain years, and I’d write about those and she’d combine both our viewpoints together. I got tired just writing what we had done in a particular year. I couldn’t believe we had actually done all this stuff,” said Hector. All told, it took them a year from the class at Musehouse until their book launch party next week (Friday, Oct. 25).
The Badeaus’ stroll down memory lane while putting the book together was “a great experience.” They were able to browse through thousands of old pictures, laugh at some stories, cry at others. One of their sons is in prison currently, and they found it nice to be able to remember the fun times, too. It was also in the back of their minds that they were creating a legacy for their family that will be passed down to future generations.
Sue fondly remembers when they received an Adoption Excellence Award from President Clinton in 1997. There was a flood of newspaper and TV requests for interviews, and one was CBS-TV wanting to film the family live on Thanksgiving preparing the meal. The Badeaus agreed, hoping to give more exposure to family and adoption issues. They found out the crew wanted everyone up and cooking in the kitchen at 5 a.m. “It was pretty chaotic.”
Christmas is also always a busy time. Sue and Hector make sure to give everyone in the family a gift. That includes 22 children and their spouses, 35 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. The rest of the family used to draw names from a hat, but they have recently begun to do a Yankee Swap, where everyone buys a gift of similar value, and people take turns picking gifts from a pile. Subsequent people can “steal” gifts from people who went before them, and that person chooses a new present. “Strategy is important,” said Hector. “Spouses get involved, and people calculate three moves down the line. It’s hilarious.”
Due to the nature of their multi-cultural family, they celebrate “pretty much every holiday known to man,” Sue said. They support the value of family through more than just their own adoptions. After their bookstore in Massachusetts, they moved to Vermont to run a group home for teens. They saw what permanence meant to kids. That moved them to start their own adoption agency in Vermont, which continued on through Sue’s career at other adoption agencies and the Casey Family Programs, which is the largest foundation focused on foster care. Before their own family grew too large, the Badeaus themselves had provided foster care to 50 children.
Sue’s career helped bring the family here to Mt. Airy in 1992. At the time, there were 19 children in their home in Vermont, and Sue and Hector had been talking about moving to a more urban area for both the diversity it would offer and the work and extracurricular opportunities. An adoption agency Sue had been consulting for offered her a position, and they found a big enough house in Mt. Airy (that used to be a convent).
Today Sue has a busy calendar with speaking engagements to a variety of groups interested in family and children’s issues. Hector has begun his first job outside the home since 1988, working with the homeless. Now they are looking at their next step in helping families by developing a program that offers services to families with children in the area (like a Ronald McDonald House), advocacy in support of such programs, etc.
And if anyone is worried that Hector might be experiencing “empty nest syndrome,” don’t worry. “Last summer our granddaughter asked if she could move in for a couple months with her daughter. It’s been a year and two months now. In March, our other granddaughter with a couple kids, another daughter with two kids and another daughter with three kids all ran into a jam at the same time and needed a place. So we said okay, we’ll give you until the end of August. They’ve already asked for a one-month extension. We actually have 12 kids in the house right now. The empty nest might come one day, though.”
For more information about the Badeaus and their book, visit badeaufamily.com. For information about the book launch party at 30 Pelham Rd. in Mt. Airy on Friday, Oct. 25, 7 p.m., contact Sue at firstname.lastname@example.org.