Two little gifts
By NOREEN HYSLOP
It takes dedication, patience, commitment, and most importantly, a lot of love, to be a foster parent. Greg and Zenita Smith of rural Dexter have all those qualities and more.
The Smiths spent 12 years as foster parents, taking in more than 60 children during that time, even though they were raising two boys of their own.
"At one point in time, we had as many as eight children for over a year," Greg recalls.
"We had seven teenagers, and one of them had her own daughter," Zenita adds.
It was on a special occasion in 2002 that became even more special that their fostering days held special significance.
"We were celebrating Christopher's 16th birthday when the phone rang. There was a little boy named William who was 15 months old, and he needed a temporary home."
Rarely ones to say "no," the Smiths agreed to take in the toddler for what they were told would be "a few days".
Those few days have turned into a lifetime not only for the little boy named William, but for his brother, Kyle, only ten and one-half months his junior, and the Smiths would have it no other way. The boys' names are now William and Kyle Smith.
"We got William and were told that he had a sister in the hospital," explains Greg, with three head fractures, the result of suspected parental abuse. The plan was first to just keep William until the other one was released."
As it turned out, the sister was actually a brother, and when Kyle, then not quite five months old, was ready to be released from the hospital, the Smiths took him in as well. The two brothers were together once again.
"I just couldn't bear to have them separated," Zenita says, "and so I called Greg and asked if we could take in Kyle as well. We agreed it would be best."
The Smiths learned that Kyle had been admitted for another hospital stay two months earlier for dehydration. Photos from the early days with the Smiths show a five-month-old who weighed barely nine pounds. His frame was nearly skeletal, and his head was severely swollen from the fractures. The boys came to them bruised, physically and emotionally.
As time went by, the couple, still with their own two boys at home, became more than attached to the two boys. In spite of the fact they presented diverse and challenging issues, the two recognized from the start that what William and Kyle needed the most was love. And that element seemed to be abundant in the Smith home.
"It wasn't easy," Zenita says of those first few years. "William had serious separation issues and he had a temper like we'd never seen."
Greg concurs. "If he didn't want to do something that was asked of him, he would look you right in the eye and sling everything off the coffee table in defiance."
Of all the challenges of raising children who have been abused, perhaps the most difficult with which to deal, say the Smiths, were the night terrors.
Zenita explains, "William would wake up absolutely scared to death, of what we didn't know. We walked up and down the halls. We rocked and we soothed, and we finally realized one night that what helped him more than anything was to be carried around outside. Something about the open space, maybe, we never knew, but we spent a lot of nights walking around outside!"
Oddly, one thing they found that would calm William was to let him twist Zenita's hair around his finger over and over again.
"It seemed to have a calming affect on him," Zenita recalls.
The couple relates a story of the two being ousted from several daycare facilities for their behavior while preschoolers. At one facility, however, William befriended a little girl his age who would allow him to twist her long hair around his finger at naptime. The two are now classmates at Richland Elementary and have remained best friends!
It would be two years of many sleepless nights and daily behavioral challenges before the brothers were given specific diagnoses. When they came, they came in numbers.
William was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, ADHD and an attachment disorder, which explained many aspects of his behavior.
Kyle was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. He also had an attachment disorder.
Kyle was also diagnosed with fetal alcohol affects, and both boys showed evidence to indicate their mother had indulged in drug activity during her pregnancies.
Consistent with his developmental delays, Kyle didn't sit up by himself until he was nine months old. He didn't walk independently until he was nearly two.
But in spite of all the challenges, it didn't take long for the Smith family to start calling the newcomers their own. And it didn't take long either for the boys to identify the Smith home as their safe haven and eventually Greg and Zenita as their parents. The Smiths made the decision to adopt William and Kyle not long after they came into their care.
"They were part of our lives, and we couldn't imagine living without them," says Zenita. "Even with all the challenges they sometimes present, they are our sons; and we love them as our sons."
The boys' adoption was finalized in 2004 when the boys were three and four. The Smith's older boys were still teenagers. Chris, the oldest, still laughs about getting a little brother for his 16th birthday.
Today William and Kyle are eight and nine years old, both thriving in their home and school environments. William, says his mother, only requires special help in the subject of math. Kyle, while receiving special services, is also mainstreamed into some regular classes and is doing "much better than we ever expected".
The older Smith boys are now in their twenties and married.
"Chris and Jackie have always regarded William and Kyle as their brothers," Greg says. "They never had a problem accepting them into our lives."
"The boys know that they were adopted, but they also know that makes them both very special gifts," says their mother.
And the boys' gifts, to be certain, are Greg and Zenita Smith.