Before the Ingle kids come home from school, their mom sets out snacks and a plastic cup for each child with his or her name written on it. It’s a typical afternoon for any family—at least until the school bus pulls up and the kids come through the door. One after another, after another, after another.
Heather and Rick Ingle of Montgomery, Ohio, have 14 children, ranging in age from 2 to 18 years, nearly all of whom require daily medication and have some sort of mental or physical disability. Three are “bio kids,” as the Ingles call them, one child came on a medical visa from Haiti, another is from Liberia—and many came through the foster system and were later adopted. Five of the children, including two sets of twins, share the same birth mother—a woman who took drugs while pregnant and passed on a host of mental issues to her offspring. The Ingle family also includes three dogs, who politely drop a tennis ball at the feet of anyone they think might be up for a fetch; they have a lot of feet to choose from.
This is the Ingles’ “normal.”
The kids, most of whom attend six different Sycamore public schools, deposit their book bags in individual cubby holes in the back hallway, acknowledge their soon-to-be-siblings from Haiti on the way to the kitchen, then get right to bickering over who gets to use the computer first.
The Ingles took in their first foster child six months after they married in 1991. “It’s a good way to start honing your parenting skills,” Rick says. “I knew I had the heart for it.” The couple also knew they wanted a big family— back then six kids sounded like a lot. “We were taking everybody because we wanted to change the world,” Rick says, not really kidding. They later decided to focus on fostering younger and disabled children, though the Ingles don’t really use the term “disabled,” instead pointing out that their children have different abilities. Their first permanent addition was Nicole, who came to them when she was just six months old. She’s now 18, and despite learning disabilities, she has surpassed their expectations in school and holds down a part-time job working with dogs at a boarding facility called Camp Bow Wow.
Rick acknowledges that their life may appear overwhelming to visitors, but points out that they didn’t get all 14 children overnight. “It would be hard for someone to be in this situation if they hadn’t progressively stretched their family before,” he says. Taking care of the neediest is something they feel called to do by God, as Heather puts it. The Ingles draw a great deal of strength from their Christian faith and community support, which have been essential as their family has grown, they say. For three years now, high school girls from the nearby Ursuline Academy prep school have helped the kids with their homework from Monday through Thursday afternoons for community service project credit. And there’s a waiting list to volunteer at the Ingles’.
The Ingles find joy in small victories: when a child who struggles with lying tells the truth or someone prone to meltdowns avoids one in a difficult situation.
After school at the Ingles’ home can look a tad hectic to an outsider, but to Rick and Heather Ingle, this is just a typical day.
Just this year the Ingles welcomed their second and third children from Haiti. All three have multiple medical needs, and doctors don’t expect any of them to walk or talk. The first from Haiti, Jesi, was six months old when she came to the family three years ago with brain damage, cerebral palsy, and hydrocephalus or fluid build-up in the skull. Caleb is a 4-year-old with cerebral palsy and microcephaly, a condition that results in a small head. And tiny 2-year-old Elijah weighed just 10 pounds when he arrived in January. Elijah couldn’t move and never smiled. He, too, suffers from hydrocephalus as well as from encephalocele, a neuro tube defect. He used to be in so much pain that he required sedation even to be bathed. But by September, after two brain surgeries, Elijah is now giggling, cooing, and enchanting the family.
Despite the closet full of medications required by the kids–it really is a closet–and the array of tiny wheelchairs used by the Haitians for different types of movement, both Rick and Heather say the mental and emotional challenges are more trying. They find joy in small victories: when a child who struggles with lying tells the truth or someone prone to meltdowns avoids one in a difficult situation. There’s no single babysitter qualified to sit for all of them, so the Ingles’ “date nights” consist of take-out behind a closed door at home. The oldest kids take over supervising duties for a few hours. “A lot of them are self-sufficient–they help each other,” Rick says.
Thanks to a recent major renovation and expansion of their house with labor and materials donated by neighbors and the surrounding community, the Ingles now have nine bedrooms and a great, open kitchen and dining area, including a 12-foot long Amish-made table at which the entire family gathers for dinner each night. The end of the school week brings “Fun Fridays”–pizza night, which requires four large pies to feed the 11 kids old enough and healthy enough to dig in.
The wheelchair-friendly space is designed to accommodate the daily whirlwind of children, including a finished basement with bedrooms to afford the older kids some much-needed teen privacy. Nicole’s favorite part of the remodel? “The lock on my bedroom door,” she says.
The house is a constant buzz of children and visitors, yet neither Rick nor Heather is prepared to say that their family has reached its limit. “If we made decisions based on whether we could afford it or not, we never would have started a family,” says Rick, who works in medical equipment sales.
After snack time, the kids with homework sit down with the Ursuline students. Grace, who is 10 years old and has Down Syndrome, takes this time to announce to a visitor that she’s good at gymnastics. (Later, she does a pretty mean cartwheel outside.) She goes into the other room to visit with her young siblings, who are having snack time in their own manner–all three of the Haitian kids have gastronomy feeding tubes. Grace proudly announces that she used to have one, too, and lifts her shirt to show off the scar.
With homework done, everyone decides to go outside to play on the swing set. The older kids help their parents by pushing the younger kids in their wheelchairs. For the Ingles and their children, it’s just another day.