The Hayes family celebrates this holiday season with joy and gratitude as three children and their parents say their lives — and their hearts — have expanded exponentially since the family adopted five siblings last year.
"Watching the development over the year of all eight kids, their ability to love and be so open, it's been phenomenal to watch," says Angie Renick-Hayes, 39.
There are about 6,700 children in foster care, said Doug Mares, Department of Human Services district manager for Jackson and Josephine counties.
"There are currently 101 children legally free and waiting for adoption in Oregon," Mares said.
Of those, 38 are single children, 40 are paired siblings, 15 are part of sibling sets of three, and eight are part of sibling sets of four, he said.
If you are interested in adopting or fostering a child, call Penny Esser at 541-858-3181, extension 232.
In July 2012, the self-described stay-at-home mom and her craftsman woodworker husband, Jake Hayes, 40, along with their three biological children — Indianna, 15, Finneas, 12, and Attikus, 10 — were excitedly awaiting the new family members to their modest four-bedroom, southwest Medford home.
Sixteen months later, the family has a new home and new challenges. But they still embraces their family motto, "Love doesn't divide, it multiplies," says Renick-Hayes, 39.
"It can get a little crazy," Hayes says. "But all aspects of our lives have just opened up to a degree we couldn't believe before."
Having come from big families themselves, Renick-Hayes and Hayes put their philosophy to the test when they adopted Sakura, 12, Kaleef, 10, Sade, 7, Janayah, 4, and Charlie Rose, 2.
The path to finding these Washington siblings was both "winding and inevitable," Renick-Hayes says.
The couple first began searching for children to adopt in Ethiopia. But the country's borders closed just two weeks after their search began. That's when the couple learned more than a million children are awaiting permanent homes in the United States. It was an eye-opening fact, Renick-Hayes says.
The Hayeses connected with local child welfare officials and put in their applications to become adoptive parents.
Once they passed all the screening, and because they were willing to adopt multiple children, the Hayeses were selected as possible adoptive parents for several different combinations of Oregon kids. But they didn't find a perfect fit until their local social worker forwarded their home study to a Washington social worker, Renick-Hayes says.
"We knew instantly. These are our kids," she says, adding a single visit was all it took to know that the five siblings, who had been separated and placed in three different foster care homes, would become a part of their family.
The reunification of the siblings was wonderful to behold, Renick-Hayes says, looking around at the mix of happy faces sprawling in the family's large living room.
"They were so happy to be together," she says.
The oldest, Sakura, set the tone with the "littles" — letting them know that they were now home, with a new mom and dad, Renick-Hayes says.
"I told them she's your mom, you call her 'Mom,'" Sakura says with a grin.
The parental rights of the adoptive siblings' birth parents were legally terminated by the courts. Two older siblings were adopted by their biological family members, Renick-Hayes says. She promised all seven siblings she'd encourage and facilitate contact between them. There have been letters back and forth. The children's biological mother has made phone calls. And there have been visits, she says.
The two oldest siblings, along with aunts and uncles and cousins, recently drove three hours "just to see the kids," Renick-Hayes says.
"It was a tremendous support," she says. "I think it's been healing for the extended family. And they brought photos that (her adoptive children) had never seen before."
Seven-year-old Sade shares images from a photo album, pictures taken during the family's first weekend together back in 2012. As Sade carefully points out each family member in the photos, she looks around the living room to see where they are now.
"That's my mom. There's my dad. That's all of us playing," she says with a shy smile.
Across the room, 2-year-old Charlie Rose is curled up on Hayes' lap with another photo album. She flips through the images and flashes a wide smile at her brother, Kaleef, who is leaning against Indianna.
Kaleef tips his head over toward his new big sister, exhales and grins.
"I feel like we've been here for at least 10 years," he says.
In 2012, Indianna, the only girl amidst two feisty little brothers, says she was looking forward to adding some sisters to the mix, especially one close to her in age. The reality has been good. But a little different than she imagined, Indianna says.
"It's 10 different people with 10 different personalities learning to be able to connect," Indianna says. "But in the real world, no one's the same. So we figure it out."
Sakura says it has been challenging to learn "new house rules," ones that are very different from the foster home she'd been living in. The pre-teen describes her older sister as being "like, really strict." But she says it with a wide smile and a light shrug.
Indianna laughs. And Hayes laughs along with the sisters. As the oldest of all eight children, Indianna has seen her babysitting duties increase exponentially, he says.
"Indie babysits a lot. A lot," Hayes says.
But ask this mixed bag of siblings, "What's next?" and Indianna is the first to say eight is not enough when it comes to adding love to their family.
"Adopt more kids!" Indianna says, fist-pumping to hearty cheers from her biological and adoptive siblings.
The chorus to add more siblings is echoed by Kaleef, Finneas, Attikus and Sakura.
"It always feels like we're missing someone," Indianna says. "Since we have this safe home, I think we should open it and welcome them."
Finneas nods in agreement.
"It's good for kids to be in a big family," he says.
Hayes and Renick-Hayes, who met in their teens, say their family is big enough for now. But big families do run in their blood. Renick-Hayes' grandmother had nine children. Hayes' grandmother had 13. One of six siblings himself, Hayes knows being part of a large brood is sometimes sticky, messy and annoying, he says.
But Hayes' parents had a few hard-and-fast rules to help them all remain connected. Family dinners are important. And chores? Laid out and adhered to, Hayes says. "You have to do your share to make our family functional," Hayes says.
The three boys share the biggest bedroom and the biggest bathroom. They are expected to keep it clean, he says.
"Otherwise it's just too much for Angie, or for any one person," Hayes says.
The logistical challenges of melding and managing eight kids involves a lot of driving, cleaning and cooking, says Renick-Hayes, adding she and her husband run a benevolent dictatorship.
"We tell them to honor each other's words, and stay in their own skin," she says.
"And don't make Mom or Dad have to ask you (to do something) more than once," pipes Attikus, plopping down in an overstuffed chair after being admonished not to ride his skateboard in the house. Again.
Renick-Hayes says one of the biggest challenges is keeping enough edibles and toiletries in the house.
"Food. We run through food," she says, adding feeding the family of 10 is a daily challenge.
"And toilet paper and lotions and all that kind of funny day-to-day stuff," she adds.
The family recently moved from Medford to downtown Ashland. That's where their church is. That's where the best schooling options are for several of the children, Renick-Hayes says.
The new home comes with a half-acre lot. Big enough to grow a large garden and raise a few chickens, she says.
Big enough to provide ample parking for more cars as the kids get their driver's licenses, Hayes says, laughing.
"The house was such an amazing blessing to be able to buy," Renick-Hayes says. "We just started telling people we were moving to Ashland. And I kept holding the vision. I'm a big believer that we should all keep praying, while moving our feet."
Each kid has his or her own chicken. Janayah likes to tuck her poultry pet under her coat and carry it around the yard with her, Hayes says.
Kaleef shakes his head and describes his chicken as "dinky."
"I named him Checkers," he says. "Sakura's could, like, eat mine."
The kids say there is frequent squabbling. But Renick-Hayes frames the kids' verbal gymnastics differently.
"I would say we're learning debate skills," she says, adding no matter the daily challenges, the house is filled with love, laughter and music, Renick-Hayes says.
"And all the boys are wrestling," chimes in Finneas.