Together 14 years, and married for 11 of those, John and Dolores Marshall of Killeen feel very strongly about adoption.
“Our life’s plan, or priority, was adoption,” said Dolores.
They decided before they were married that they would adopt before having children of their own.
They also wanted to adopt children less likely to get a home — an older child, and a child with special needs.
The Marshalls now have three children, two of whom they adopted: daughter Kimi, now 10, adopted at 19 months; son Levi, now 9, adopted at age 3; and daughter Micah.
Their Christmas this year will be a simple one, but it’s all the Marshalls could ever want. In the days before Christmas, they took the children to the Silos in Waco to see Santa, and the family will be spending Christmas Day with John’s parents in Harker Heights, opening the gifts under the tree and having a traditional family holiday meal.
For the Marshall family, these simple plans mean the world. For instance, in the past, Kimi simply wasn’t ready to visit Santa, as the experience would have been too much for her. This year, however, she was excited about the prospect, so all three children got to experience their first Santa visit at the same time.
Kimi was hand-picked for the Marshalls by the social worker.
“The photos of Kimi looked exactly like me at the same age,” said Dolores. When they met Kimi, the couple said, “It was love at first sight.”
Kimi has a chromosomal disorder, causing developmental delays including delayed growth and speech development and learning disabilities. In Kimi’s case, she’s also hard of hearing and has speech apraxia; she was once thought to never be able to walk.
Dolores and John worked with Kimi non-stop. Kimi slowly began to learn to walk. Dolores began to teach Kimi American Sign Language and helped her learn how to articulate words (called approximation) to communicate. Kimi’s vocabulary soon began to grow and she was walking at 27 months, eight months after joining the Marshall family.
Kimi is special in other ways, too. Her parents tell one story of a time where Kimi went to the school nurse for an ice pack. When she returned, she placed it on the substitute’s hand. It turned out, the woman had arthritis. The gesture moved the woman to tears.
“Everything she does is special,” her father said. “Her soul is so pure.”
Now, Kimi knows how to sign over 1,000 words. She runs, she climbs the playground equipment, she’s even participated in the Special Olympics.
“She’s still behind developmentally, and struggles academically, but functions within the household just fine,” Dolores said.
“We feel we found the right child, and she found the right family.”
Just before Kimi turned 4, the Marshalls decided to adopt again, and found Levi.
“We wanted (a child) who would be like Kimi so she wouldn’t feel different,” Dolores said.
Levi had been born healthy, but had suffered from shaken baby syndrome and other severe abuses and neglect. He suffered seizures, had hydrocephalus, and experienced brain and retinal bleeds. He required brain surgeries and shunts.
He had also lived in a series of nursing and foster homes. He was nonverbal, had developmental and intellectual delays. He bit Dolores on their first meeting, the family recalled.
The Marshalls again fell in love and 3-year-old Levi joined the family. With their patience and love, they taught him sign language, which they said he picked up almost immediately. Within two months, he was learning verbal speech, began reading within four months, and was reading Dr. Seuss soon after. He even began to interpret Kimi’s signing to their parents.
Now, his mother said, “Levi still has some remnant behaviors, but he has far surpassed everyone’s expectations.” He is both developmentally and academically on target, and continues to progress in all areas.
Two years later, the Marshalls gave birth to their first biological child, Micah. Her parents describe her as “precocious, bright and sassy.” She takes up for her sister, and plays well with both sister and brother.
“She is the best little sister to both of them,” Dolores said.
For people who have thought about adoption but are afraid they’re not “perfect” enough, Dolores said, think again. “We’re not saints. We’re not perfect. Adoption isn’t for perfect people.”
Adoption, she said, is for people who have love to give and a desire to give that love to a child who needs a family.
As for the Marshalls’ wishes for Christmas, theirs are simple: “Our family, our kids to continue to surpass the expectations of their doctors, and to have our families together, with everything exactly as they are meant to be.”