LUSK – What happens when a family of four doubles in size in less than 18 months?
Laundry, lots of laundry and paperwork, lots of paperwork. This is what Cody and Michelle Kremers and their six sons, Caleb, 19; Casey, 18, Edmunds, 17; John, 16; Ivan 14 and Dexter 5 have learned.
They have also learned that, while love may not conquer all, it does provide a bridge for much. There are language barriers, cultural differences, past hurts. But most of all, with faith, prayer and a lot of grace, eight strangers can begin to create a family.
Cody and Michelle＊s story didn＊t start with the intention of adopting. It begins with a family of four living on a ranch 45 minutes north of Lusk. Michelle, a Registered Nurse, made the decision to begin homeschooling their two biological sons, Caleb and Casey while Cody would continue to work the family＊s ranch and drive truck. They were convinced to become foster parents to help a family friend stay in Lusk and continue her education in her hometown after she was placed in foster care.
After that experience, they felt prompted to continue fostering children. In the course of fostering and loving the children who came through their home, they reached the conclusion they wanted to adopt through the foster parent program.
Then, in 2015 a small boy with sparkling brown eyes and a mischievous grin entered their lives.
Dexter was 18 months old when he was placed with Cody and Michelle. He had been in foster care since he was 8 months old and the state anticipated him becoming available for adoption. With that in mind, Dexter was placed with the Kremers, hoping that it would be his last placement and they would be able to adopt him.
Shortly after Dexter turned two, they received the good news – he was available for adoption and before his third birthday Dexter officially became their third son. The Kremers have continued to communicate with Dexter＊s biological family. He has relationships with his grandparents and other extended family.
Cody and Michelle were open to adopting additional children from the foster system. They did have certain guidelines for children, established to protect the well-being of their existing children. But God had other plans in mind for them. He would not only introduce them to children that blew their guidelines out of the water but caused them to cross spiritual and geographical oceans as their family expanded.
Following Dexter＊s adoption Cody and Michelle met a young man through some friends, Ross and Josi Wahlert. The Wahlerts were hosting an orphan from Latvia, Edmunds, through the New Horizons For Children hosting program for the winter session which is through the Christmas holiday. This is a faith-based international organization that coordinates hosting opportunities for orphans. Ross and Josi had felt called to host a young man and were selected to serve as hosts for Edmunds a then-fifteen year old orphan who had been in the Latvian state＊s care for six years. Edmunds was the oldest of seven children. Four of his siblings had already been adopted, one by a couple in France and three of them by an American couple. During the course of his visit it was discovered that in Latvia, children become ※unadoptable§ at sixteen and there was concern that at sixteen Edmunds would find himself on the streets of Latvia. As in America, the future prospects for Latvian orphans are not good. The statistics tell a bleak tale of prison time, assault and violence against these children that are considered second class citizens in much of Eastern Europe.
After finding this out the Wahlerts began praying and asking their friends to pray for a family in the U.S. to be found for Edmunds. They initially asked Cody and Michelle if they would consider adopting Edmunds. The answer was an emphatic no. They already had enough on their plate raising two teenagers and a toddler. They had weathered several financial storms in recent years including the loss of their home to a devastating fire. They did not feel they were emotionally or financially prepared to take on the international adoption process. Once again, God had other plans. As the Kremers prayed that Edmunds would find a family, God began preparing them to welcome Edmunds into their home. More and more both Cody and Michelle felt pulled to find out more about Edmunds and his situation as well as investigate the process they would need to go through to adopt him.
Finally, they decided that if this was really the plan God had for their family he would find a way for them to pay the $250 application fee. Not one week after this prayer they received a call from Ross and Josi. The Wahlerts had an anonymous donor that was willing to put $10,000 towards the adoption process.
This was the green light that the Kremers had been waiting for. They filled out their application and sent it off to Adoption Related Services, their US Agency to be submitted to the Latvian government. They also had to agree to go through a finger printing back ground check and a rigorous home study. Even their oldest son Caleb had to have a background check done since he was so close to his eighteenth birthday.
Once the application and accompanying paperwork was submitted it was reviewed by the Latvian agency and it was determined they were eligible to adopt a child from Latvia. This was still no guarantee they would get matched with Edmunds but they were. In the middle of this process they discovered that Edmunds had two other siblings still in an orphanage and to further complicate matters the laws had recently changed in Latvia and they mandated that sibling sets be adopted all together or not at all.
Cody and Michelle had to decide and quickly if they were willing to adopt not just Edmunds but his two younger brothers John and Ivan as well. As Michelle says, ※We probably would have adopted them anyway. We didn＊t need the government telling us it was the right thing to do. We felt the boys needed to stay together if at all possible anyway.§
They did have a mountain of worries about the adoption cost however. They were told that it would cost around $40,000 for Edmunds and an additional $30,000 for each of the other boys for around $100,000 in costs. Their church families led the charge in assisting with the raising of the money necessary to continue. At each new step somehow the money came through.
The first summer it was recommended that they host the three boys to get to know them before they began the final steps for adoption. This was an extra $9,000 that wasn＊t in the initial costs but they felt it was very important. They couldn＊t actually tell the brothers that they were planning to adopt them because it wasn＊t far enough along. The goal was to have their new sons by Christmas. Edmunds would be 16, John 15 and Ivan 13. The bad news came in that fall that nothing would be finalized before the the next year. The Kremers decided to host the boys again, this time for the holidays. They had already started to bond with the brothers and the last thing they wanted was for the three boys to think they Kremers weren＊t serious about the adoption. Each time they hosted they were required to provide six sets of seasonally appropriate clothing and take them to the eye doctor and the dentist.
Finally, in the spring of 2018 they found themselves preparing to leave for a mandatory visit to Latvia. Cody, Michelle, Dexter and the three boys would return to Latvia and stay over there for a month. Casey and Caleb along with Michelle＊s stepdad would take care of the ranch.
While it was a difficult trip both financially and emotionally Michelle is so glad that it was required. The longer they were there the more they were able to understand their new sons. They even had the opportunity to meet some of the boys＊ biological family members.
On their second trip to Latvia they had a moment when they really thought all of the time and prayers would be wasted. As part of the adoption process they had to prove at the American Embassy to an immigration officer that they had the financial means to adequately support a family of eight. As ranchers, their value was in their land and cattle, not in a pay stub that Cody brought home every month. It wasn＊t looking good since they technically did not reach the requirements above poverty level. Then God stepped in one more time and gave them an immigration officer that was from Utah and had ties to ranching. He understood Cody and Michelle＊s financial picture and approved their paperwork.
The third and final trip was completed with Michelle, Caleb and the three boys returning to Latvia to wrap up immigration paperwork. Once the boys were adopted there was still months of immigration paperwork and home visits to reassure child services that the boys were healthy and thriving.Michelle was required to homeschool the boys for the first year that they were in America. A key component of their education was helping them as secondary English speakers.
One of the obstacles in the entire process was the lack of information that was provided to Cody and Michelle on the boys and their past. While they had complete records of doctor＊s visits, the orphanage was not terribly forthcoming on why they had chosen to evaluate the boys, and particularly John and Ivan into developmentally delayed categories. It was discovered that Ivan was only delayed because he was legally blind and it hadn＊t been addressed through the orphanage＊s medical care. It was a case of eye surgery and therapies to correct his eye site and Ivan was able to receive this medical attention after coming to the United States. John wasn＊t delayed, he simply wasn＊t given an appropriate and supportive environment to grow and learn in.
On May 30, 2019 the boys officially became US Citizens and all paperwork was finalized. After a journey that took them across continents, oceans and through 2 years of prayer and paperwork, their family now had six boys.The final financial cost came in below what was originally estimated but there were still many people who invested in the this family and for that Cody and Michelle will always be grateful.
When asked what is something they would love for any family to know that is considering adoption Michelle said, ※To accept your kids exactly as they are where they are.§ She emphasized that it is so easy to have expectations of what your kids will be like, how you will be as their parent and what your family is going to look like and because we are all human, very rarely do we fit into that expectation. This isn＊t something that is a negative, it is just reality. Knowing that your children are not just going to magically change and heal because the ink has dried on the adoption paper and that there will continue to be hard days and days when everyone is sick of each other and that＊s okay. There isn＊t a family out there that doesn＊t have rough days.
It seems that sometimes families formed from adoption put more pressure on themselves to be ※normal§.Particularly if there are biological children, creating a blended bio/adoptive sibling set it can be difficult to integrate the children without a great deal of jealousy and frustration. Remembering that jealousy, frustration, anger, anxiety and fear affect all families and sibling sets, not just those that are blended can help families work through the hard times. And there are a lot of hard times. Blending cultures, languages, differing levels of behavioral and emotional health and personalities is exhausting.
But there are also really good days. Days when it is much easier to see the completeness of God＊s plans. Days when the boys all get along and they are laughing together and Cody and Michelle can relax and just enjoy each of them for the amazing individual they are. Edmund＊s dry sense of humor and Casey＊s teasing. Dexter＊s perspective that he should rule the house and John＊s willingness to let him. Ivan＊s love of the animals on the ranch and Caleb＊s steadying influence on all of them. They are a family. Michelle and Cody look forward to making memories with all of their boys, oh, and to the day when they can all do their own laundry.