And You CHOSE To Do It!
I have several friends in the little town of Dublin, Texas, and when I went looking for a feel good story, something that I thought all of you would enjoy, it was to those friends that I turned for ideas. Without exception, the name I was given was Brandi Johnson. Of course, they meant Brandi Clayton, but you know how it is in small towns. She might have married a Clayton, but the locals will always call her a Johnson. :)
Brandi Johnson grew up in Dublin, attended DHS, and graduated in 1999. She attended Tarleton State University and then in 2002, she left Dublin for ten whole months! During those months, Brandi lived in Breckenridge, where she continued to work for the same people she has worked for since she was sixteen, Bobbie and Keith Nichols.
Bobbie and Keith Nichols own the Golden Age Nursing Home in Dublin, and it was to Golden Age that I went looking for Brandi. Why? Because she and her husband, Danny Clayton have been foster parents since January of 2008. They have been parents to 24 children, including a teen with her own baby, and I wanted to know why.
The answer I found is actually pretty amazing.
When Brandi was still in high school, her parents worked for the Nichols, and their company volunteered to help when a foster family training was offered in Glen Rose. Brandi helped her parents and the others cook, baby sit, play with, etc. all of the foster children whose parents were attending training.
“From that point, I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I suddenly understood that these were kids like all kids, and they just wanted to be loved like all of us do.”
“Then, when I moved to Breckenridge to work in the Nichols’ Colonial Ridge Nursing Home, one of my resident’s daughters was a foster parent and again, I was sure that this was what I was supposed to do with my life. When I met Danny, I told him about my plans right after we started dating, and I asked him if he were up for it.”
And he was!
“After we married, we started looking into it, and we finally decided to dive in by going to an informational meeting held by the Arrow Child and Family Ministry, a faith based company in Fort Worth.”
Now, you have to keep in mind that Brandi and Danny were still in their twenties at this point…
“We drove 2-3 times a week for five weeks to get all of our training done so that we could become parents in January of 2008. Then, they came to do our home study, and we were given our license…and we didn’t get any kids…and we didn’t get any kids…
“Danny and I had both agreed that we would not take African American children simply because of where we live. We didn’t think it would be fair to the children.”
Of course, as is so often the case, God laughed at those plans!
When the call finally came, it was to ask the Claytons to take three siblings, African American. The couple refused. The next day, the phone rang again and once again, Brandi and Danny said no to two African American children.
“That same afternoon I received an email, the type I NEVER read, but I read this one. It was about God sending things our way and how when He closes a door, He often opens a window. That was on Tuesday.
“On Wednesday I was in Waco when the phone rang. This time there was a baby boy who needed us, and he was an African American. I explained that I was out of town…in Waco…right where that baby happened to be!
“I called Danny and said that I felt led to take this baby, and he agreed; however, they waited two weeks to place him with us, and by then we had an eight month old little girl little girl living with us. To say the least, going from no kids to two was interesting!”
The baby boy named Jay not only stayed with the Claytons for a while, they adopted him when he was two, making him their first child of their very own. Today, Jay Clayton is seven years old.
The baby girl, however, didn’t stay long. She was placed with her grandmother by April of that year.
“She was badly abused, shaken, burned, etc. by the mom’s boyfriend, but her grandparents are great people, and we keep up with them. On the day she left, I drove to Dallas to pick up a new baby who was in the Parkland burn unit. She and her twin brother had been severely burned by their mom. We got him from the hospital two weeks later, and two weeks after that, we got their older sister who was already in foster care.”
And if about now you are feeling completely sick, you aren’t alone. Even as I type, I wonder how these things can happen to any child…what could possibly induce any parent to harm his/her children?
“We thought we were going to adopt those three, but the judge changed his mind. We went to court thinking that we would get them, but they were given to their grandparents. By the time we drove home, CPS was there to take them.
“We have always gone into with the mindset that we will pray and if children are meant to go, they will go and we will open our home to others. It’s not easy, but we have to keep this mindset.
“Only twice since we adopted Jay have I said that a child simply cannot leave. One we have adopted, and one we are trying to adopt. I know that these two have no other safe place to go.”
The child that the Claytons adopted after Jay is a little girl. Brandi picked her up from Cook Children’s Hospital when she was four months old. She has traumatic brain injury from child abuse, and Brandi was told that it was doubtful that she would live. She was fed through a feeding tube, and couldn’t even hold a pacifier in her mouth. Doctors believed that the she would never walk, talk, or eat on her own…that is, if she lived at all.
“I cried for two days, and then I got myself up and we started her therapy.”
The Claytons adopted baby Ashlyn fourteen months later, and with the help of a gate trainer, the little girl walked into the courtroom for her adoption hearing. Today, Ashlyn can eat most foods, including hamburgers! She can manipulate her wheelchair, and she can speak.
“Ashlyn is now five, and although her speech is slurred, it is getting better!”
The second child that Brandi refuses to give up is one year old. She is also deaf and has downs syndrome. And in case you have not figured it out from my story so far, all of Brandi and Danny’s children are special needs children.
“We didn’t actually choose to only keep special needs children. It just seemed to happen. When we took the children from the burn unit, we got to know the case workers from there so they called us when Ashlyn was ready. The caller said that they needed someone special for her. After that, most of our kids have been special needs children.”
And, in retrospect, it does seem that God prepared Brandi for her role in life.
“I’ve spent most of my life in a nursing home, and I’m used to the special needs of patients. Feeding tubes, bad behavior, those things do not scare me like they would someone who has never been around them.”
Today, six children live with the Claytons.
“Our oldest three came to us from a shelter because there were no foster homes available to take them. We immediately got the twins who were five at the time and a year later we were able to get their older brother to move in with us so the siblings could all be together again. They had been in multiple foster homes in prior years, the oldest as many as ten foster placements before age twelve. Today, we have permanent custody of these three.”
And I’ll say it again. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard it is to care for six children, and yet Brandi and Danny have six children with special needs. The oldest three are all IDD (intellectual developmental disability), ADHD, and speech apraxia. Jay has PDD (pervasive developmental disorder); Ashlyn has traumatic brain injury, and the baby has Downs Syndrom.
So what does this amazing woman see in her future?
“I do get tired because we are not a stay at home family. We go to eat, we go on trips. In fact, in two weeks we are taking them to Disney world! They are our kids, and we carry on like any other family. Sometimes we completely forget that they ever weren’t our kids.
“So what do I see in my future? Lots of interesting, fun things! We’ll probably stop fostering for a while once this last adoption is through because our license is for six children, and six is what we have. We will just become a normal family.”
Normal? Even taking into consideration that the word normal is a very relative word, I know that there is no one who would consider the Clayton’s home life as anything close to normal.
It doesn’t happen to me often, but I was speechless by the time my interview with Brandi came to an end, unable even to begin to think of a great way to sum up this journey that the Claytons have chosen to travel; however, I do know one thing. The next time I am tempted to bemoan my crazy, busy, sometimes out of control life…I am going to remember Brandi and Danny Clayton of Dublin, Texas, and I am going to be ashamed of myself.
That I know!