MEDINA TWP. — As the early morning snow began to fall, six wide-awake siblings dashed from their rooms, gathered the rest of the family, threw coats over their pajamas and sprinted out the front door.
With them yelling “Snow! Snow!” over and over again, it was no surprise to their mother when she received a text message from a neighbor.
“So they found snow?” the message said.
Add it to the list of firsts.
Prior to Christmas, the Wilson family consisted of James and Gina, their two biological sons and two adopted children from the Philippines.
On Christmas Day, that number doubled when Jim and Gina returned from another trip to the Philippines with the newest members of their family, a group of six siblings ranging in age from 10 to 18.
After months of anticipation, the six are learning about life in America, from snow to dishwashers, and their parents are learning just as much about the kindness of friends and strangers.
A family history
When the Wilsons’ biological sons were young, their parents decided to sponsor a boy in the Philippines.
“We thought it would be a good thing to teach the kids about giving and how people live in other countries,” Gina said.
It wasn’t long before the Wilsons decided they wanted to adopt a girl, and chose the Philippines because of the sponsorship connection.
In 2005, they adopted Natalie, now 7. They traveled to the orphanage where she lived and met six siblings who had lost their father and became too much for their mother to handle financially.
“They just attached to us,” Gina said.
The youngest of the six, Rafael, refused to let Jim put him down when it was time for the family to leave with Natalie.
“We left a part of our heart there with all six of the kids,” Gina said.
On Natalie’s third birthday, the Wilsons received a call from their adoption agency telling them Natalie had a younger brother who was living at the same orphanage. They wanted to know whether the family was interested in adopting another child.
“We kind of felt like this was God’s first little hint to us that ‘this is your child,’ ” Gina said.
The family already was looking into domestic adoption from the foster care system, she said, and wasn’t sure they could handle the financial strain of another international adoption.
They turned to their church, Journey Community Church in Fairview Park and North Olmsted, as well as friends and family.
In five weeks, they raised about $18,000, covering the cost of the adoption and the trip for the family to go pick up their son Timmy, who is now 5.
In their second trip to the orphanage, they again saw the six siblings, who continued to watch other kids and sibling groups find homes.
“They watched over 100 kids being adopted and wondered why it was never them,” Gina said.
At the time, U.S. adoption laws prevented international adoption of kids older than 15. In November 2010, the law changed to allow kids to be adopted up through the age of 18 if they were part of a sibling group.
When the law changed, Gina said, she looked at the pictures she and her husband had taken of the six kids they had left behind, the oldest of whom soon would be 18.
It didn’t take more than a few hours before the Wilsons were on the phone committing to double the size of their family.
“You had to make that decision quick before you talked yourself out of it,” Jim said.
Again, they knew they would need help to make it happen. Between a letter-writing campaign and word of mouth through the church, the family raised more than $30,000.
“The church has been fantastic in helping us, people in the church financially, people praying for us,” Gina said.
Strangers have sent them gift cards and offered free services from haircuts to tutoring. Another family donated their 12-passenger van to the Wilsons.
At the end of July, the children in the Philippines learned they had a family. Every two weeks, they video-chatted with their new parents until Jim and Gina left for the country on Dec. 13.
Six years, nine months and 27 days after their mother brought them to the orphanage, the six siblings were headed home.
‘Crazy’ is an understatement
Before they committed to adopting six more children, the Wilsons read a book called “Crazy Love” that challenged them to not just talk the Christian talk, but to walk the Christian walk.
Instead of just talking about loving others, Jim said, “Go out and live out that love in practical ways.”
That inspiration may have led them to adopt six children, but they won’t deny it’s still flat-out crazy.
“The reality of it is, it is challenging,” Jim said. “There are moments when we lay in bed and we’re challenged with, ‘OK, wow, we’ve really done this.’ ”
They said they have often been confronted by people who want to know how they can handle 10 children financially and emotionally.
“We also had a lot of people that said, ‘If anybody can do it, you guys can do it,’ ” Gina said.
Jim is a nurse, and Gina works part-time at their church.
They renovated their Hanover Drive home to create five bedrooms, four bathrooms and plenty of room to play.
The parents said they made sure to talk the issues through with their other children, particularly their biological sons, Austin, 15, and Jordan, 14.
“We saw how mature and compassionate they became because of our first two adoptions, and how positive that was,” she said.
Austin said he was immediately on board with the idea, and is looking forward to sharing American life — video games and swimming in a pool, in particular — with his new siblings.
“It’s just like we’ve been together a long time,” he said.
A full house
In reality, it’s been only a few days since the Wilson clan grew, but the family is already settling into a routine.
Gina said that after the first night, they realized how much each family member would have to pitch in to keep the house running smoothly.
“We have 12 people living in the house; everybody has to pitch in; everybody has to play a role,” Jim said.
They broke the kids into teams, with one focusing on the kitchen and the other on the rest of the house.
“It’s such a beautiful thing to see 10 kids working together,” Gina said.
She said the details of their education are still in the works, although the older ones most likely will attend an online school. They all speak English, she said, but don’t always understand everything immediately because it is their second language.
For now, she said, they are enjoying their time learning about each child.
At 18, Analiza is the oldest.
“She’s kind of a quiet, responsible one,” her father said. “She’s been sort of the mother of the group.”
Analiza said so far she has had a hard time adjusting to the food but is fairly fond of tacos and chips and salsa. Her reaction to the dishwasher: “Wow.”
She said she remembered Timmy and Natalie from when they were at the orphanage together, and used to push Timmy in his stroller.
Jenive is 15 and nicknamed Jollibee after a restaurant in the Philippines for her bubbly personality.
“The girl can’t stop smiling and giggling and laughing,” Jim said.
Jenive said she wants to be a missionary when she grows up. Her mother said one of her harder adjustments has been the clothing, because she had never before worn long sleeves and hasn’t quite gotten used to it.
Bernardo is 14 and warm and affectionate, his parents said.
“You definitely have to dig a little bit to find out what Bernardo’s thinking, because he won’t tell you,” Jim said.
Birny, who is 13, is described as outgoing and happy-go-lucky.
“He’s just an out-there kind of guy,” Jim said. “He’s not inhibited by any social behavior.”
Jeffrey, who is 11, is quiet, but is “handsome and he knows it,” Jim said.
When writing a letter home to his parents, he even signed it “your handsome son Jeffrey.”
Rafael is 10, and the funny one in the bunch.
“He’s got the most contagious laugh, and he says the funniest things,” Gina said.
Rafael likes to touch people’s faces, which his family members don’t seem to mind, his dad said, but may have caught other people in an elevator by surprise once or twice.
Aside from musical talents, Gina said one quality the children all have in common is generosity.
Each had an allowance at the orphanage, which was run by American missionaries, and each decided to use the money on going-away presents for their friends. They also donated to a group fund for a family in need in the Philippines.
In their psychological profiles done by the orphanage, their parents read stories of their generosity through the years.
They also read about their dreams of having a family, and how slim of a chance there was it would happen.
“It said that it was going to take a miracle for these kids to be adopted,” she said. “We were reading that and it just caused us to cry to think, we get to be that miracle.”
To learn more about the Wilson family, visit www.adoptsix.com.
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at (330) 721-4063 or firstname.lastname@example.org.