We walk up to a red brick house. It’s located in a quiet neighborhood in Mesquite, Texas. The street is lined with cars and two house away is a large park. We’ve been here before a couple years ago, shortly after Buck and Stephanie Baskin adopted their first child. Their family has grown significantly since then.
We knock on the front door and wait. Buck opens the door, holding 9-month-old Selah in his hands. Behind him, we hear the chipper and excited voice of 3-year-old James.
“They’re here,” he shouts delightfully. We’re barely in the door before he’s beside us, pointing out the scarecrow next to the door and clamoring for our attention. Cautiously hiding behind Stephanie’s legs, 3-year-old Niki peeps at us curiously.
Buck and Stephanie have been foster parents for four years. During that time, they have had eight children, including James and Niki, placed in their home.
“Scripture is very clear about it,” Stephanie says. “Everyone has to help somehow. The idea of kids not having a home didn’t settle well. I think, too, with me working in the field, I would hear kids’ stories and how they bounced around and just wanted stability. Hearing their stories, how can we not do something?”
I bend to my knees to be eye level with James, who clearly has something very important to say.
“See the scarecrow,” he says with a giant smile. “It’s scary!”
The fall scarecrow doesn’t look frightening to me, but perhaps that’s why his face is turned toward the wall.
“He doesn’t look scary,” I say slowly. “Does he scare little boys like you or just the crows?”
James pauses for a moment. It’s the quietest he’s been since we’ve stepped in the door. He’s thinking. His eyes sparkle and with an impish grin he shouts, “No, not boys, just the crows!”
Then he laughs as he turns in circles and rolls to the next thing that captures his attention.
James: He’s rambunctious, talkative, inquisitive and friendly. By his own declaration, he likes noise. When asked what he likes to do, he responds, “Be loud!”
“He’s all boy,” Buck says about his son. “He likes anything that rolls or bounces, and he can turn anything into an instrument. He can watch anything a couple of times and figure out how to do it.”
By this time, Niki and I are friends. She ventures from her mother’s side, but she still hangs back a little.
Though slightly younger than James, she was placed in the Baskin home first in May 2013. James joined her two weeks later. While Buck and Stephanie previously only did foster care, with Niki and James, they were open to adoption.
“When we first got in, we learned that 60 percent of the kids went back home to their parents, and we realized that the goal is actually to get the families back together. So we made that our goal,” Buck says. “But the big thing is being open to the process because we also realized that once that doesn’t happen, you’re kind of the last option in a way whether those kids may or may not be in the system for a while. So we realized we need to be open to the idea of adoption as well.”
Niki: She’s more hesitant than her brother, but when she smiles, it lights up her face. And if you can get her to giggle, its cheery noise will drift through the room uplifting your spirit.
She gives delightful nicknames to her family members: James is Bubba, and Selah is Lala. Buck and Stephanie have no idea how she comes up with those names. Bubba is her best friend.
“She likes to be with people,” Stephanie says. “She likes just being with us even if she’s quiet. She’s real empathetic to others and picks up on other people’s emotions real well.”
“She’s a princess,” Buck adds.
Niki loves ballet and is maternal, constantly covering her baby sister with kisses and desiring always to be by her side.
“Niki used to get in trouble because she would want to kiss Selah all the time and would suck her cheek and leave red marks on her cheek,” Stephanie laughs as she remembers.
After the Baskins adopted Niki in November 2013 and James in May the following year, they thought they might continue to do foster care, but then Stephanie found out she was pregnant and decided to take a temporary break and focus on their family.
Since the day Selah was born, her siblings have adored her. At their first meeting, James confidently declared, “That’s my sister!” and has kept a watchful eye on her ever since.
Selah: She is unmoved by the busy room. She hardly utters a sound and lets her siblings touch her, smooshing her with hugs and kisses.
“James and Niki always need to know where she is,” Buck says. “Like on Sundays when I pick them up from class at church, the first thing they want to do is get Selah. We didn’t think she’d ever crawl because they’d get everything for her.”
“She’s the most laid back, gentle spirit,” Stephanie continues. “I mean she’s just the easiest baby I’ve ever met. She won’t fight. She doesn’t get a chance to talk, as you can see. She doesn’t mind them being in her face all the time. This loudness doesn’t bother her. She just rolls with it.”
The Baskin family: One doesn’t have to be with them long to tell they love each other, but even more so they respect each other. When James starts throwing the ball in the house, Stephanie only needs to quietly reprimand him.
“No, sir,” she tells him. “You know we don’t throw balls in the house.”
“We roll them,” James responds.
“That’s right. Why don’t you sit down and roll them to your sister.”
“I love Daddy,” Niki tells me as she munches on a cracker he has just given her. Buck and Stephanie look at their children with pride.
This is the new normal for Buck and Stephanie Baskin – full of tickle monsters and jam sessions with Buck and James on the piano and guitar, Niki singing and Selah bobbing her head along to the music. It has marathon sessions of playing Hungry, Hungry Hippos, so long, in fact, that sometimes Stephanie has to hide the game. They watch the pet turtle swim in his aquarium, and they laugh with each other.
“We’re a mess,” Stephanie says with a laugh. “We’re never on time, and I’ve learned that’s OK. And nothing’s ever clean, and that’s OK too.”
Looking at the Baskins, messy looks pretty good.