Six adopted kids bring joy to father’s lifeWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
You would think being the father of six adopted children would mean extra love for Craig Schuele on Father’s Day.
What it really means is another busy day with no time to reflect on becoming a father of six in a two-year period.
“I get a lot of love all the time. They are really great kids. Obviously, we have our moments and we have our days, but Father’s Day is just like every other day. We might have a soccer game; we might have a baseball game. It might be the only free day I have that weekend and I might have to cut the grass, and obviously that hasn’t happened in a while,” he said, laughing.
Laughter comes easy in this household.
Their yellow lab sneezes. The girls, 11-year-old Micki and 10-year-old Hannah, erupt in loud giggles. Baxter sneezes again; the girls scream in delight.
“Shhh,” Craig said gently as he tried to answer questions (and hide his laughter). They giggle again. They can’t help it; the dog’s sneezes are funny.
Gathered in the tidy family room, one kid is eating chips, another is doing flips and two are fiddling with their iPods. It seems like everyone is trying to sit on the same couch, even though there are two other couches for lounging.
It is a typical Friday afternoon in the Schuele household. The kids, ages 8-12, are with Craig and their stepmom, Andrea, this weekend.
Whenever Craig has them, they have family night on Fridays. The six kids rotate in pairs. One will pick dinner; one will pick an activity. And yes, they always complain about what’s for dinner. All six of them can never like something at the same time.
But 36-year-old Craig takes everything in stride. He tunes out what he knows is innocent fun; his Dad radar perks up when he senses trouble.
He loves going to their soccer games and recitals. He organizes his work schedule so he can pick them up from school. In the summer, he has a rotating schedule of babysitters and even takes vacation days if no one can help.
As a family, they play Jeopardy!, “The Schuele Edition.” They ask questions about birthdays, vacations and other details you might forget as a member of such a large family.
“When we go out to eat, people ask if we are having a birthday party,” Andrea said.
“Or people ask if this is a day care,” Craig said. “Especially when two white people take six black kids out. They think this must be a school.”
Becoming a dad overnight
The makings of this large family began more than a decade ago when Craig and his then-wife, Beth, decided to adopt because they couldn’t have children at the time.
Adoption was a natural choice because Craig himself was adopted through Lutheran Social Services. He appreciated the gift of adoption and wanted to continue the tradition.
Once they decided to adopt through Lucas County Children Services (LCCS), their family grew rapidly. The need is usually great. In 2012, 109 children received new adoptive families through LCCS. Right now, LCCS is looking for families for about 40 children, including several groups of brothers and sisters.
In October 2002, the Schueles got a call about 4-day-old Gabe. In January, they got a call about 26-month-old Zeke. The day they were supposed to meet him, they got another call about an infant. They went to the hospital and picked up Hannah, who was 5 days old. They finally met Zeke in March.
“Within five months, we got three kids. At that point we said, ‘We are full, but we will consider a sibling.’ In a lot of these cases, these birth mothers have multiple kids,” Craig said.
His family was about to get bigger.
In January 2004, Micki was picked up during a drug raid. The 20-month-old was there hanging out in a diaper. Micki and Zeke have the same mother.
In December 2004, the same mom had twins, Jake and Nate. They probably have different fathers because they are four weeks apart in gestational age, Craig said.
The Schueles took them all, going from no kids to six kids in two years and three months.
“We wanted a couple, probably not six,” he said. “I am an only child. My ex-wife only had one sibling.”
The only way he can describe those early days is “wild, just wild.” Five out of six were in car seats at the same time.
All the babies were exposed to a combination of drugs and alcohol. Gabe had withdrawal symptoms after he was born with cocaine and alcohol in his system.
Even today, all of them have some issues ranging from anxiety to depression to ADHD. Physically he is great, but Gabe has the most severe developmental problems.
Big family, big problems
Craig and his wife split in December 2006. They had married young; they had grown apart. While some might say, “Why did you adopt all of those kids and get divorced?” Craig said he hasn’t heard that a lot.
“People are more often like, ‘You have six kids? You have six adopted kids? That is amazing. How do you do it? What do you drive?’”
He does it with help from family and by being organized, thanks to his new wife Andrea, whom he married in October 2009.
Craig and his ex-wife share custody. He has them Wednesday and Thursday and every other weekend. Conveniently, they remain in the Sylvania Schools no matter where they are staying that night.
The kids are becoming more independent. But with that comes more sporting events and extracurricular activities that require transportation. Even on the days Craig doesn’t have his kids, he sees them. Soccer schedules aren’t built around custody agreements.
Craig works for Monroe County and flexes his schedule to pick them up from school in his nine-seat Suburban. Andrea works for Harbor, a mental health provider, and also adjusts her schedule as needed. It is good if they can both be at home on school nights.
“If it is just me, I am driving to activities and I can’t be doing homework,” Craig said.
Family is a big help, especially when it comes to hand-me-downs, splitting ticket costs for the kids’ first-ever trip to Cedar Point and buying them iPods for Christmas.
“Coordinating sitters and child care has always been a bit more complicated than it would be with just two or three — not many people out there are brave enough or capable to watch all six at once,” Craig said.
During the summer, Craig’s mother, his ex-wife’s mother and Andrea’s stepmom help with babysitting.
Craig’s mom, Barb Malkoski, said when she watches the kids they try to do an activity. Recently, they signed up for the library’s summer reading program. After the library, they got free games and movie rentals at Family Video because of a promotion that rewarded the kids for their good grades.
Much of the furniture in Craig’s five-bedroom house is from when his mom downsized. She is happy to help.
“We are very proud of how he is raising them and the standards he has set for them and himself,” she said.
When it comes to groceries, it is hard not to cringe. When Andrea first met Craig she couldn’t believe how much he had in the cart at Sam’s Club — and it was only two weeks’ worth of stuff. On average, he spends $500 a month, and that is keeping it lean.
Needless to say, it is rare for the family to have leftovers. However, before you have leftovers, you need to determine where everyone is going to sit. That is a fiasco.
“Make sure you don’t put the wrong two people together,” Craig said. “We had to find a big enough table first. Most tables sit six people.”
The chore chart is essential. Everyone has a duty: laundry, picking up toys, emptying the dishwasher.
“It isn’t about getting paid. It is a responsibility for being part of a bigger family,” Craig said. “We rotate chores every six months. Someone always complains about having to take out the trash for six months, but they deal with it for six months.”
He is proud when people come over, survey the neat house and say, “You have six kids?”
Craig doesn’t skirt around the race question. He and his ex-wife didn’t care what race they adopted. As it turned out, they ended up with all black children.
The kids label their skin color by food: caramel, dark chocolate and brown sugar. Their parents are vanilla, Micki said, laughing.
His second marriage is a source of pride for Craig; he found a woman brave enough to marry a man with six adopted children.
Andrea, then only 24, met Craig when she was working at nonprofit Michigan Works! She thought he was cute, but a co-worker said, “That is a lot of baggage.” On their first date, he picked her up in his pickup. She said, “Where do you put them?” He said, “In the trunk.”
She knew he had kids; she didn’t know until dinner he had six.
She said, “Yeah, let’s just be friends.”
But that only lasted a few months. Andrea actually fell in love with him because of his fatherly ways.
“The first time my stomach flipped for him was when we were on the phone and he was trying to get the kids to bed. He said, ‘Hold on a second. I got two little midgets peeking at me.’ I heard the little twins giggle. It was a touching moment.”
Father knows best
Craig said all his children know about their birth parents. They have asked questions and he anticipates they will want to know more eventually. He tells them they couldn’t stay with their parents because of safety; it wasn’t a good environment for kids.
Micki said when people ask about her birth parents, she is matter of fact.
“I tell them that I don’t know much now, but I am adopted and I have a white family.”
What she does know is: “My dad is great. He is really nice and helpful.”
Most times she enjoys being a member of a large family.
“Sometimes I don’t really want siblings and other times I really love them and really want them. It can be fun.”
Who annoys her the most? She points to Zeke and everyone laughs. Zeke said he gets annoyed, too. When everyone comes to his soccer game, they just run around and don’t watch.
Craig said it makes him feel good to think about the difference he is making as their father.
“You think about where they could have been growing up. They wouldn’t nearly have the opportunities they have had. They are all excellent at something.”
Zeke, 12, plays soccer. Micki, 11, dances and acts. Hannah, 10, plays tennis and does art. Gabe, 10, is a gymnast. Nate, 8, plays soccer. Jake, 8, plays baseball and football.
Dean Sparks, executive director of LCCS, said growing a family from no kids to six is admirable.
“Adopted kids are your own kids, just like your birth children. You get attached to them. You spend your life guiding them to grow up to be the best they can be.”
Sparks said being a good father isn’t just about providing food and shelter; it’s also offering guidance like Craig does.
“We have six children who have a much better chance at stability in life, to be better citizens and to have a forever family,” Sparks said.
And on Father’s Day, Craig should take a moment to remember this.
“I am proud that I am able to give them that chance, even with six of them,” Craig said.
Someday there might even be seven. Craig and Andrea want to have a baby together.
“The possibility exists for us,” he said with a smile.