A few days passed, and Ballenger saw Antoine walking around upstairs in the couple’s Washington, D.C. home. When questioned, he said he was trying to figure out how they were going to make the bedrooms work … with the five kids.
The couple’s adoption journey began sometime before that day, but after narrowing down adoption opportunities to Lithuania and connecting with families who had gone this route, the time had come to build their family.
“We traveled to Lithuania and met the kids, and we learned they were at risk of being separated,” said Ballenger. “We threw our hat in the ring and said we would keep them together. It also helped that my husband has Lithuanian heritage.”
On June 20, 2011, the family came together. The couple secured an apartment in Lithuania near the orphanage, having been advised that transition would be gradual during the in-country waiting period, as the children would get to know them while at the same time having the security of returning to their familiar routine.
“We couldn’t have been more wrong,” said Ballenger. “We arrived, and the kids had their bags packed. So, there we were—seven people in our 900-square-foot apartment getting a crash course in family togetherness until everything was finalized.”
Now that the children are ages 16, 15, 13, 12 and 11, Ballenger and Antoine talk to the kids about the journey and how they fought to keep them together even when setbacks arose in the lengthy and bureaucratic international adoption process.
“I tell my kids that we were efficient, goal-oriented and organized,” said Ballenger. “That’s how we got them.”
Throughout the journey, Ballenger leaned on her tribe of friends from Davidson.
“I had a roster of people to call just to make sure I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown going from a family of two to a family of seven in a matter of weeks,” she said. “I can look at someone from Davidson and tell them we embarked upon this adventure because God told us to, and they don’t look at me like I’m crazy. Davidson has a strong faith tradition and encourages people to be what you want to see in the world.”
Ballenger, Antoine and the “Fab Five” are just a normal family going to school, work and activities every day in our nation’s capital. They have the same chaos as any family of seven, from getting everyone to carry on a nice conversation at the dinner table to siblings who don’t always see eye to eye. They have come a long way from the initial days when they were immersed in a new culture with a new language—happily, but not without challenges.
“Just recently, my daughter asked how to spell my name, and I was slightly frustrated that she didn’t know,” said Ballenger. “When I asked her why she didn’t know how to spell ‘Laurie,’ she said it’s because she has been calling me ‘Mom’ for so long now, she just forgot.”
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