- Associated Press - Sunday, May 17, 2020

DECATUR, Ala. (AP) - As her children ran out the backdoor, beneath the “Our Perfect Chaos” sign, Kelly Butler cradled her 6-month-old foster son and explained how she never planned on becoming a mother.

“When I was a kid, I decided early on that I was going to be a lawyer. I knew what type of sports car I was going to drive by the time I was 30, but I couldn’t see children. I told my parents, if they wanted grandchildren, they would have to go find them some,” the 49-year-old Butler said with a laugh. “But God had other plans.”

On Mother’s Day, Butler, a biological mother, adoptive mother and foster mother, was celebrated for the role she never dreamed of inhabiting - a role that changed her life.

“If it wasn’t for Kelly, we couldn’t take in the children who need us. She is the doctor, the taxi driver, the referee, the head chef and the diaper changer. She is our backbone,” said Curt Butler, a Decatur firefighter.

Kelly Butler, who achieved her dream of practicing law, felt a desire to become a mother after meeting her husband.



The couple bought a 4,000-square-foot home in Madison, intending to fill every room with children. But after the birth of their now 13-year-old daughter Ava, they tried, unsuccessfully, for nine years to get pregnant again. They underwent fertility therapy and treatments. Nothing worked.

“Eventually, we sat down and said, ‘We got one, maybe that’s all the good Lord is going to give us,’ ” Curt Butler said. “We had talked about adoption for years. It was something I always wanted to do even though no one in my family had ever adopted and I didn’t know anyone who had adopted.”

In November 2017, Kelly Butler quit her 80-hour-a-week job, moved with Curt and Ava to Priceville and signed up for foster care classes.

“We agreed that we would foster as many kids as we could, but we would adopt only one,” Curt Butler said.

During the 3-hour orientation class, Curt and Kelly heard about the struggles foster families face and learned about the overwhelming number of sibling groups in the system. When the social workers talked about a sister and brother, then 5 and 2, who had been in seven placements during their 17 months in the system, the Butlers acted.

“That’s one of the two times in my life I really believe God touched me. I heard him say, ‘What are you going to do?’ I looked at Kelly and Kelly looked at me and I raised my hand and said, ‘We’ll take them,’ ” Curt Butler said.

Within 14 days, Curt, Kelly and Ava were traveling to the Alabama Baptist Children’s Home to visit Bella and Daniel. On the way to meet the siblings for the first time, the Butlers called their social worker.

“What do they look like,” Curt Butler asked.

“We knew there would be many children there. We didn’t want to walk in and not know who they were,” Kelly Butler said. “We wanted to walk in and let them know we had a purpose to be there and that purpose was them.”

After that visit, the Butlers cried for 30 minutes. They returned the next day and the day after that, spending two to three hours with Bella and Daniel every day, except Sundays.

NO GIVING UP

On Jan. 18, 2018, the Butlers brought the children home.

“Going in we said we were not going to give up. We talked about it with Ava. We said that you can sign up for baseball or softball and not show up and nobody gets hurt. You can’t take a child into your house and say, ‘I can’t do it.’ If we had given up, we would have been giving up on them,” Curt Butler said.

A “Welcome Home” sign featuring the names of the family - Curt, Kelly, Ava, Bella and Daniel - hangs in the Butler’s kitchen. In July 2019, Bella and Daniel officially became members of the Butler family.

“We knew we wanted to adopt Bella and Daniel early on,” Kelly Butler said. “It has taken a lot of work. Our story is not one of those made-for-Hallmark movies. Few foster stories are. Most of these children are coming from backgrounds that are violent, ugly and messy. You have to work to build that trust. But it is all worth it. The stress, the no sleep, the hard days - these children are worth it.”

On those difficult days, the Butlers turn to their support system of friends, family and other foster families.

“We have an amazing tribe in place,” Kelly Butler said. “When you talk to other foster moms, you realize it’s not just you. You’re not the first foster mom who has ever dealt with this problem. Heck, you’re not the first mom who has ever dealt with this problem.”

Outside of Bella, who Kelly described as “part princess and part daredevil, and Daniel, who Curt described as “all boy,” the Butlers have served as a foster family to three other children, including one picked up from the side of the road.

“When I was at work one night, we pulled up on a wreck. The police and ambulance were already there. I saw a kid on the side of the road. The cops were on the phone with a social worker, so I called our social worker and then called Kelly. She brought some diapers, juice and crackers and we took her home for three days.”

The Butlers credited the social workers and CASA (Court-Appointed Special Advocates) of North Alabama for loving, caring and advocating for these children.

Made up of volunteers, CASA serves as the “eyes and ears” of the juvenile and family court system, connecting children in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties with safe homes.

“The CASA workers brag on foster parents all the time, but don’t let them fool you. There is a special love for children that they have to do this. They give so much of their own time and money and resources for these kids,” Kelly Butler said.

‘HARDEST, GOOD THING’

Cassie Lawson, the CASA worker for Bella and Daniel, kept a photograph of the siblings in her Bible and prayed for them and their future family every day.

“We give Cassie credit all the time for praying our family into existence,” Kelly Butler said.

The Butlers plan on continuing to foster children and hope to adopt more.

“Fostering is the hardest, good thing you’ll ever do. There are some easy, good things people do, like paying for a stranger’s lunch. You can feel good about that. But when the good thing is hard, less people do it. This is hard. Whether you mean for it to or not, it will consume your life and it should. You can’t be a part-time foster mom,” Kelly Butler said.

In her mother, Ava Butler sees a strong, intelligent, caring woman.

“She is the best, most respectful, wonderful and beautiful person I have ever met. She has always been there for me. She is the No. 1 mom in the entire world and galaxy,” Ava Butler said.

With the concerns over COVID-19 shutting schools and separating children from teachers, counselors and coaches - the first line of defense for many children at risk of abuse and neglect - the Butlers fear the number of children in need of foster homes will increase after the virus passes.

“We need more foster families,” Kelly Butler said. “Look at foster care as a mega marathon. You can’t get discouraged by the short-term defeats, because they are going to come often. You have to look at what you are doing long term for these children. What keeps us going? The thought that there’s going to be another kid out there who will need us one day. There are so many kids who need loving homes.”

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