By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Reporter
PARKVILLE — Leslie and Vince Carlisle owned a nice house, had retired from the military into careers they enjoyed and were the proud parents of a teenaged son, Alex.
They traveled. They had spent several years finishing their basement. What more could they want?
The feeling that the house was too big and empty with just the three of them took root and began to grow. “We were blessed with too much,” Vince said. “We decided to use the resources we had more fully.”
In November 2009, Leslie picked up a copy of The Catholic Key containing an article on Catholic Charities’ programs to help moms at risk for abortion and their babies. Vince and Leslie signed up for training as foster parents, with the goal of eventually being selected as adoptive parents for an older child, say middle school age.
“Right after we signed up, we started praying for the kids, whomever God and Catholic Charities would send to us,” Vince said.
Shortly after completing their training, the couple got a call asking if they could provide respite care for two brothers, ages two and three. The boys were in the foster care system, but it wasn’t working out very well. The foster parents wanted a break. Leslie and Vince agreed to take the boys for a weekend.
“We had them for a weekend and fell in love with the boys,” Vince said.
Suddenly, everything started moving very quickly. The foster parents asked that the boys be removed from their care, which was accomplished by a court order, and the Carlisles became their new foster parents.
They quickly learned about the boys’ personalities and the issues troubling them. While in foster care, the boys had started school in the Kansas City School District. As they settled in with Vince and Leslie and new big brother Alex, it was discovered that one of the boys was drug exposed as a baby and then bounced around in foster care for seven months before returning to his mother for a while. He was exposed to meth again. He now demonstrates ADHD symptoms, and has been tested.
His younger brother was drug exposed also, when he was a toddler.
The worry that once out of their fosterage, the child Aiden might fall back into the same situation, spurred the Carlisles to apply to adopt him and his brother, Zachary.
While all this was going on, the Carlisles took in three more children to foster, two young girls and their brother. “At first, I wasn’t sure about girls,” Vince admitted. “But it’s working out quite well.”
The two girls were living in the same home; their brother was living with other people.
All the children had begun school in the public school system while in foster care, but as soon as they could, Vince and Leslie enrolled the younger girl and her brother at St. Therese School in Parkville. The older girl was doing fine in middle school and is now in the eighth grade in the Park Hill School District.
The boy was in the fourth grade, but wasn’t learning.
“He wasn’t connecting numbers with adding and subtracting. They were like art work to him,” Vince said. “His teachers apparently didn’t want to deal with him, so they kept passing him up to the next grade level. He couldn’t do math and he couldn’t read!”
Leslie, who had served as a military pilot before taking a job teaching at St. Gabriel Archangel School, worked with him in the evenings after school. Vince spent hours each week coaching him in math. Their work was paying off: the boy was showing signs of improvement.
The Carlisles fell in love with the sisters and their brother and applied to adopt all three.
In June 2012, the adoptions of Aiden and Zachary were finalized; they became Carlisles.
“It was such a relief to have them ours,” Vince recalled. “No more questions or hassles.”
Just six months later, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Vince and Leslie were notified that their application had been approved for the sisters and their brother. They were selected to parent the three kids now named Vanessa, Alison and Andrew.
“I was struck by the fact that we were selected on Mary’s Feast Day,” Leslie recalled. “She must have had a hand in the whole process.”
The adoptions of Vanessa, Alison and Andrew were finalized a week later.
“You know, because we were praying for the kids before they got here, before we even saw them, the feeling they were ours came to us before their adoptions were final,” Vince said.
At first, Vanessa worried that she wouldn’t fit in. “But I was happy that they wanted me,” she said. “It felt good to come to a house of love!”
Alison admitted that she was a bit scared because, “Mom was always smiling. Now I know it’s because she’s happy we are here and she’s our mom!”
The family now totaled eight. There were still changes in store for the Carlisle family.
A blond baby boy had been born to Zachary and Aiden’s birth mother, a blond baby boy who was born exposed to methamphetamine. He was too silent and his eyes wandered. It took several days for the baby to even cry. When tests proved the drug addiction, the newborn was placed on a morphine derivative to wean him off the methamphetamine as painlessly as possible. He was in the hospital for five weeks. Vince and Leslie then took him into their home.
“We had let the other kids pick their own names,” Leslie said, “Their identities and self-esteem changed when they chose their new names. But the baby had been named by his grandfather and so we kept his name Joshua.”
“We were given a prescription for methadone to complete his weaning from the meth,” Leslie said. It was not something she would choose to do again.
“It was really hard, seeing him like that,” she said with tears welling in her eyes. But he was finally declared clean of all methamphetamine and, in August, on the Feast of the Assumption, the blond baby boy named Joshua started crawling for the first time.
“I think Mary had a hand in his recovery and normalization,” Leslie said. “After all, she’s a mother too.”
Joshua’s adoption was finalized Nov. 22, during National Adoption Month. He was to be baptized on Dec. 17.
“The children are in contact regularly with their maternal biological grandmothers,” Vince said.
“We want them to always have a connection with their biological families,” Leslie added.
Joshua’s grandmother was invited to be there for his baptism.
Both parents are convinced that security and love, along with diet, exercise and spirituality have helped heal the kids after a lifetime of hurt.
“We go running,” Vince said. “At first they complained a lot, but I bet they run six miles at a time now!”
This will be the first Christmas all six kids are officially Carlisles. They seem so relaxed and happy it’s hard to believe they didn’t begin life as Carlisles.
A sibling squabble started over popcorn in the kitchen. “MOM!” a young boy hollered. Leslie smiled.
Vanessa bent over her homework, Aiden and Zachary headed downstairs to watch TV. Joshua toddled around the table, going to the windows and his high chair, busily investigating as 20 month old children do, and begging for popcorn. Bright eyed and engaging, secure that Mommy was nearby; he approached the stranger and, hand on her knee, said, “Hi!”
Vince said the kids have changed their lives. “We used to fly everywhere, just hop on a plane. We no longer fly. We take road trips. Last summer we went to Gulf Shores, Ala., by car. It was a lot of fun. I also read the names of the fall semester graduates at Kansas State University every year. I am taking one of the kids with me to Manhattan, and we’ll be there two days. I am looking forward to it!”
Alex, now a freshman at Truman State, wrote about his “super-sized family” in his college essay. “More siblings meant more work for my parents and more time, labor and love from me,” he wrote, “especially when my parents needed a break or ‘night out.’
“Going from an only child to a family of seven children didn’t just help me manage frustration and cause me to ‘chip-in’ more; it has become the single most defining character of my life. Beyond being a military ‘brat,’ beyond having lived in more homes and traveled to more places than ‘civilian’ kids, beyond thinking only of how I moved through the world, I now see myself in relation to others and I’m happy about that change.”
Alex arrived home for the Christmas holidays on Dec. 13. “It’s fun to come home,” he said, “and have the whole bunch meet me at the door!” The whole family — Vince and Leslie, Alex, 18, Vanessa, 13, Alison, 12, Andrew, 11, Aiden, 7, Zachary 6, and Joshua,1, were excited about being a family this Christmas and for years to come.
There are about 4,000 older kids in the foster care system waiting for permanent families. For more information on foster care and adoption, contact Catholic Charities Caritas Center (816) 221-4377 or (800) 875-4377. In Northwest Missouri call (816) 232-2885 or (888) 629-2886.