At 6:30 a.m., as Ann and Jim Silcock get their boys ready to go off to school, it truly takes a village for it to happen.
For the Silcocks, family means 25 boys, all adopted, all with special needs. Ranging in age from 3 to 25, each of their sons has his own charm, and his own challenges, including physical and developmental disabilities.
Jim Silcock is more than a father to his boys. He is also a vibrant example of meeting life's obstacles. Jim himself is quadriplegic, and so is one of his sons, 18-year-old Anthony.
"Sometimes I'll think I won't be able to do that and my dad will say 'Flip it around and say yes you can do that,' and I'll make it happen," Anthony said. "It's a big relief."
For Ann Silcock, the foundation for the family began surprisingly, with a trip to the movies.
Inspired by Dickens
"When I was younger, I saw the movie Oliver, in the '60s, and I was just really drawn to that movie," Ann Silcock said. "And I walked out of the theater telling my mom, 'Yeah, you know, I want to adopt orphan boys.' Everybody sort of laughed at me, but I really kept that thought in my head."
Over the last 20 years, she has made her goal happen. When Jim met Ann, she was already caring for eight boys by herself. They married, and he took her dream as his own.
Now, they actively seek those too often deemed "unwanted" for adoption. They look for boys with special needs, older boys from a range of ethnicities, who are often the forgotten faces.
"We really want to be matched with kids that don't have other opportunities," Ann Silcock said.
The parents learn about the children's past, and then begin preparing to build their futures together. "Everything you've learned about that new individual or new child has all been on paper, and you have no experiences to share other than what he tells you about, and no past," Jim Silcock said. "So you know you have to start with pretty much from the time he joins our family. From that point forward is when his new past starts."
Creating New Memories
From the outset, the new family wants the times they share to be memorable.
"We try to create memories," Ann Silcock said. "We have the keepsake boxes, and we always save the first outfit they came to us in — it's like their baby clothes. They may be 17 years old, but the — 'Oh, remember when you came, you were wearing this. And isn't that a funky color or isn't that funny that it's smaller than you are now?"
Each important item from their childhood is lovingly stored.
"And so we're slowly, with the keepsake boxes, and the stories, we're creating memory and we're creating a history for them," Ann Silcock said.
Keeping the family in motion is a Herculean task. A typical breakfast means cooking 30 eggs, pouring six boxes of cereal, and going through more than three gallons of milk. Daily laundry loads often tally up to 32 and gas for the fleet of five minivans comes to a whopping $2,000 a month.
A Philosophy of Inclusion
The family meets the cost through a combination of its home business, which is helping disabled adults live independently, with government funding they receive for some of their sons. But what truly unites the family is the philosophy of inclusion. "We really believe in having our kids fully included in their schools and in their communities," Ann Silcock said. "We really try to shy away from activities that involve all people with disabilities, and even though our kids all do have disabilities, either cognitive, physical or behavioral, we try to get them around their typical peers. We feel that that's really beneficial, that our children learn best when they're around children modeling the behaviors and the social skills that we would like to see our children have."
Some people ask if they're worried about whether the children will get teased.
"We really call that sort of dignity of risk, and, you know, we want to make sure that our children have opportunities," Ann Silcock said. "Sometimes that does involve risk, but all people take risks, and we don't want to overprotect our children. We want them out there."
Some of the children they took in couldn't walk, talk or feed themselves when they joined the family.
"Now they're in karate and they're a green belt, and I don't think that would have happened if we hadn't put him out there, had some expectations, let him fall down, let him have some failures, but, you know, kept encouraging him to try again," Ann Silcock said.
They measure success through the grace of each challenge. One day, Jonathan, 18, helped with dinner, to his parents' delight.
"Yeah, I made it and look at all these," Jonathan said, showing off his handiwork. "Dad, can we serve this bread with the hamburgers?"
‘We’re a Family’
Ann still gets goosebumps as she watches the children change.
"It's as exciting today as it was for me when I started 20 years ago," she said.
It is exciting for their children, too, who understand that their parents are a little out of the ordinary. "I think my dad and my mom raised a lot of heart for us to get us out of other states or any of that," said Alim, 10. "I think they used their hearts to do all of that."
"I love being in this family because I know I have other brothers to talk to, a mom and a dad to talk to about problems," Anthony said. "Basically I have a mom and dad, and stuff that I never had before. Right now, we are a family."
For more on the Silcocks, go to allourboys.com