The 2-year-old girl sits at the kitchen table, gripping a handful of Goldfish crackers and scowling.
“Are you mean-mugging your daddy?” Mom asks with a laugh.
Indeed she is. Because Daddy taught her to scowl. And that’s because she doesn’t talk much, and facial expressions help her communicate. And, in this case, have some fun.
The girl is Naomi Sladek, who lives with her parents, Sherri and Daniel Sladek, her biological brother Josiah, 4, and her sister, Rebecca, 7, or “Becca” for short.
All were adopted by the couple; all are special needs children; and they all are with the Sladeks primarily because of their special needs. Naomi and Josiah were exposed to cocaine in utero and have various medical and emotional issues as a result. Becca was removed at 15 months because of neglect, which included being left with various friends and family with no one knowing when her mother would return. Because of her rocky start and multiple placements, Becca developed a severe attachment disorder.
Fulfilling a parenting – and life – dream
Sherri worked with people with disabilities for nine years, living with them in a group home in Minnesota. So when at age 30 she decided to adopt a child on her own, she knew what she wanted.
“It’s always been a dream to be a parent of a kid with disabilities,” Sherri said. “I know that’s the oddest dream. But it’s because I know that world and I love that world. And I know how hard it can be to place kids with disabilities.”
So she started the process to become an adoptive parent, then she met Daniel, and as soon as they both saw the paperwork on Becca, they decided she was the one. The child had been in six prior homes.
“I knew we had the ability to give ourselves to her and be good parents,” Daniel said. “So many people had given up on her and I knew we wouldn’t.”
The couple met in March. In August, Becca moved in with Sherri. Daniel proposed in October, and Sherri decided she needed to move to Wisconsin. The couple both worked at the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. When they bought a house, it had an extra bedroom.
“With what we knew about homelessness and needs, we decided to foster,” Sherri said.
Although Sherri had been told Becca would never be able to have a sibling, she didn’t like that kind of labeling. Then Josiah came into the couple’s lives, and after having him for a week in respite care, they knew he was the boy for them. Josiah needed a permanent home, so they became an adoptive resource through SaintA.
Within two months of his moving in, they found out Naomi had been born. “Our bonus kid!” Sherri said.
A family of 3 quickly becomes 4, and eventually, 5
Daniel and Sherri were very committed to keeping siblings together, and they knew Becca had suffered from being separated from her siblings. So they expressed their interest in taking Naomi in as well.
“I thought about what I would feel like if I had been separated from my own family,” Daniel said.
Because of family circumstances, plus Naomi’s breathing and swallowing difficulties, which have necessitated a tracheotomy, things did not move forward at first. However, Sherri and Daniel continued to express their interest in Naomi to the case worker.
As things turned out, Naomi had spent the first six months of her life in and out of Children’s Hospital. She had a foster family, but they ultimately stepped aside, so the Sladeks eagerly stepped in.
Naomi had to be re-admitted to the hospital so the Sladeks could attend daily trainings for two weeks to learn how to manage her trach. Josiah first met his sister when she was in the hospital, sitting in a stroller.
“I thought about what I would feel like if I had been separated from my own family.”
“He went over and kissed her toes, totally unprompted,” Sherri said. “There was an immediate connection between the two of them, a very evident bond.”
Today, Naomi is progressing very well and achieving milestones their medical team finds outstanding. The couple have been told that, long term, she and Josiah could grow up to be pretty typical adults.
Though the Sladeks have adopted all three children, fostering is still a passion. Sherri talks whenever she can about how important it is, and several of her friends have become foster parents as a result of her encouragement.
Even with their full house of three kids, plus a very lively yellow lab named Philly, they plan to take in more foster kids, most likely those with special needs, and with a dedication to keeping siblings together.
“We love fostering and are wired for it,” Sherri said. “We love figuring out how to help our kids become who they want to be. Each of them has already come so far. My kids are my heroes; they have so much strength, determination, and joy.”
They realize this love and dedication means their household may continue to grow.
“Daniel just says his limit is, ‘No 15-passenger vans!’ ”
Then he quickly adds:
“But she’s talked me into a lot of things and my thoughts may change on that, too.”
Interested in learning more about our foster care and adoption services? Visit growhope.net.