A few nights before Thanksgiving, an 11-year-old in foster care saw a falling star and made a wish on it — her wish was to be adopted. Little did she know, the next day her foster parents would be sharing the news with her and her six siblings that before Christmas, the couple would be adopting them all.
Terri and Michael Hawthorn, of Hot Springs, Ark., have been foster parents for six years. But a full house is nothing new for them. “Probably for 15 or 16 years we hosted foreign exchange students — most of those years we had two students in our home,” Michael tells Yahoo Lifestyle. That was in addition to their four biological children, all of whom are grown now. “My wife finally decided she wanted to have some younger kids in the home instead of teenagers all the time, and I said, ‘We’ll do it for a couple of years, but we’re not gonna adopt any, so don’t get that in your mind.’ Well, we ate our words there.”
In 2018, after housing more than 80 foster kids, they adopted nine of them: a set of two siblings, ages 1 and 3, in April; and a set of seven siblings, ages 8, 9 (twins), 10 (twins), 11, and 15, two weeks ago.
But they’ve known some of the seven siblings for three years. “The 10-year-old twins, this is gonna be their third Christmas with us,” Michael shares.
They haven’t been with the Hawthorns for three years straight, however. “They were not from our county. They were from an adjoining county, and the Department of Human Services (DHS) wanted to get them back in that county,” Michael explains.
But that didn’t stop the Hawthorns from trying to get the kids back with them. “So they were with us, then DHS moved them, three months later we got them again and had them for several months, then DHS moved them again,” he says. It was a struggle getting them back that time. “After that, we had to get a senator involved, and he had to pull some strings.”
This was before they even knew about the rest of the siblings. “Then we were contacted by DHS and they wanted us to take some of the other kids, and we told them unless we can get the first two back we wouldn’t be interested, and that’s how we got them back. It took us nearly seven or eight months to get them back. We didn’t get all seven moved into our home until Feb. 9, 2018,” Michael says. “That was the battle. Once we got them back into our house Feb. 9, that was the real mountain we had finally climbed.”
They still weren’t officially a family, though.
But Michael says he knew two years ago that he was going to adopt all of them. “The mom’s rights had been terminated over a year ago. They come from a very rough situation. Both parents on drugs. Very unhealthy situation that they were in,” Michael shares.
Local news station THV11 talked to the children about their former living conditions. “The only times we got to eat is when our neighbors would sneak us a bag of chips,” Kyndal Hawthorn said. “We didn’t have a can opener, and they’d give us the cans that we didn’t know how to open. So, sometimes we just didn’t eat,” she added.
The process of adopting the siblings was a long one. “It was pretty much a process from February all the way to December,” Michael says. “We committed in September that we were gonna adopt. And I think it was in September that they set a court date for Dec. 3 to make it official.”
The couple shared the good news with the children in November. “We told them the Sunday before Thanksgiving at church we were adopting them,” Michael recalls. “They were in tears, a little jumping up and down. Very excited.”
When the 11-year-old told them her wish the night before, “we just looked at each other and smiled because the next morning is when we told them at church that we were adopting them.”
There were more tears to come. “It was pretty emotional,” Michael says of their day in court. “They had already been with us, but just finally adopting them and for them to know that they were never gonna have to go anywhere else again. … They’d been moved around five different homes. They’d been in, I think, three or four different schools in three years, and they were finally at a place that they no longer had to worry about leaving,” he shares. “It was pretty emotional, kind of a relief.”
The children feel the same way. “It feels good to actually have a family to wake up to every morning,” Kyndal told THV11. “It feels so great knowing we have a family now and won’t have to go anywhere else,” said Dawson Hawthorn, the oldest sibling.
However, not much has changed around the house since the adoption, since they’ve felt like a family for a while now. “The first day they were in our house they started calling us Mom and Dad and probably the second day they started telling me they loved me,” Michael says of the older twin girls. “And I looked at my wife and I said, ‘I’m in trouble.’”
It was similar with their five siblings. “Without a doubt they’re comfortable [with each other],” Michael says. THV11 visited the family in their Arkansas home recently, and the children showed off their toys and bunk beds. “When I got here I was like, oh my gosh, we get our own beds,” said Layna Hawthorn. “We never got that. We had like one bed, and most of us slept in the floor,” Kyndal explained.
Their house and hearts are full, so Michael and Terri, a stay-at-home mom, are going to quit while they’re ahead … they think. “As far as I know, we’re done; we’re closing our home as a foster home and we’re just gonna focus on the nine that we have now,” Michael shares. They also have four young grandchildren.
“We’ve had foster kids for years and years, and it’s just something that we had done with our lives,” Michael points out. “We’re just trying to give these kids a chance at life, to be productive citizens and make something out of themselves.”
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