There is a photograph Mary Walton has that puts it all together. The picture captures eight happy, squirmy kids and her husband beaming at her from the fort-in-progress underneath the dining room table.
“That’s a snapshot of exactly what it should be,” said Mary, who is a foster parent with her husband, Mark. “It was so funny, all those grinning kids of all ages and colors, crammed under there having a good time.”
In six years, the Waltons have fostered 22 children from Wood, Sandusky, Hardin, and Hancock counties, and have provided respite care for Wyandot County. When the opportunity arose, they even adopted a sibling pair, a brother and sister – the first two foster children they ever had in their home near Upper Sandusky.
Mark, 56, and Mary, 55, have been married 26 years and have two grown sons. Right now, they have six children living under their roof – they have legal custody of one child, along with their two adopted children and three foster children. Some wonder how they do it, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Library visitors inspire the Waltons
It all started when Mary, who used to work at a local library, noticed that many children who came after school had no one to look after them, often until closing. Library staff looked into the situation, but one day Mary came home and simply asked Mark if he might want to adopt a 7-year-old girl.
Mark was all for it, and though they did not actually adopt the girl, the conversation brought foster care into focus. Months later, after an extensive process that included a physical, background checks, fingerprinting, an intensive home study and hours of preparatory classes, they fostered the girl for a short period until she moved to another state with relatives.
“She had never roasted marshmallows over an open fire or laid in a hammock,” Mary said. “It was sad. She was a great pleasure to be around. She just soaked up the attention and affection.”
Not always easy, but always worth it
Foster care isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding, the Waltons said. The children who have lived with them may have behavior issues, have suffered abuse, or experienced hunger – but the Waltons use their training and the resources provided by the foster care system to best care for them. The children’s appreciation and love drive them on.
The goal of foster care is to establish a temporary home while a parent or relative is given time to be able to properly take care of the child, Mark said.
“It pretty much rips our hearts out when they have to go,” Mark said. “But we stay in contact with almost everyone that we’ve had. Their parents will send us pictures of how they’re growing up.”
Puling at the heart strings
Mary’s average day starts at 5 am. She sends the older kids on the bus at 6:30 am, then spends the day keeping appointments – taking the kids to see birth parents, visit the doctor, maybe see a counselor. When she’s not doing that, it’s, “non-stop playing games, dressing up, coloring, playing with Play-Doh, reading books, listening to music… They love to dance,” she said.
During naps, she makes dinner, and when the older kids and Mark get home, they eat. She tries to have a cup of tea and rest while he plays with the children, and is usually up until about 10 pm with one of the babies.
“When I’m sitting there at night feeding a baby, they’re looking into my eyes, and I hold them up to burp them and they feel under my chin,” Mark said. “You know they’re comfortable, happy and healthy. It’s an amazing feeling – that’s what we’re here for.”
Mark and Mary’s days are long, but they work together to accomplish what they love. Knowing the kids feel their love and feel secure makes it all worth it.