This article is reprinted from The Fresno Bee, as written by Farin Montanez. Originally published July 4, 2016. Christopher and Mindy Mohr (2000 and 2001 alumni of the Department of Physical Therapy) share their adoption journey with The Fresno Bee.
Life is a little — OK, a lot — different for Clovis residents Christopher and Mindy Mohr.
They have three more Mohrs.
The couple adopted three siblings — Valencia, 11, Kerby, 9, and Laurencia “Lolo,” 7 — from Haiti and brought them home May 3.
The Mohrs have three biological children as well: Marin, 13, Steven, 11, and Megan, 8.
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo speak very little English and seem to be in a state of perpetual amazement — everything is new to them.
While the transition to becoming a family of eight has been quite an adventure, the Mohrs are glad to have finally brought their children home.
All six of the children played quietly together upstairs while Mindy and Christopher sat down with the Independent on a recent evening to share their adoption journey.
“We decided that Haiti was where our kids were — or where our child was,” Mindy said with a laugh.
It’s funny because the Mohrs hadn’t set out to adopt three kids.
Actually, if someone had asked Christopher five years ago if he would adopt one child, he probably would’ve said no.
When Mindy mentioned adoption, Christopher “wasn’t quite ready,” she said.
“I was too old,” he said.
“You’re going to be the same age whether you have three kids or more kids,” Mindy told him.
“You just said pray about it, so that’s what we did,” Christopher said.
One day Christopher turned to his wife in church and said he felt they were supposed to adopt.
“One,” Christopher said. “One little boy. That was the plan.”
So they began the paperwork to adopt a son.
“Well, absolutely everything says that that is just nuts and that’s crazy and too hard and too expensive and too everything. But I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
Clovis resident and physical therapist Christopher Mohr, on adopting not one, but three children.
They were drawn to the world’s poorest nations, so they set their hearts on the Democratic Republic of Congo. But suddenly, the Congo closed adoptions to the United States.
With that door closed, the Mohrs stepped through another, submitting their paperwork to Haiti.
Soon, Mindy received an email with a list of special needs children. Valencia, Kerby and Laurencia were on the list because they were a sibling set and older than most of the other children in Haitian orphanages.
“At first I said ‘no way,’” Mindy said. “I kept telling God, ‘There’s no way I’m going to mention that to (Christopher).’”
So she sent her husband an email — something she never does.
They didn’t mention the email for two weeks.
When they finally did, Christopher said, “Well, absolutely everything says that is just nuts and that’s crazy and too hard and too expensive and too everything. But I think that’s what we’re supposed to do.”
The couple decided that if the adoption wasn’t supposed to happen, doors would close — just like they had with the Congo.
It took three years and several creaky, stubborn — but not entirely shut — doors. Finally, the three children moved out of a jam-packed, tiny Port-au-Prince crèche, or orphanage, into the Mohrs’ spacious Harlan Ranch home — and into their hearts.
Life in Haiti
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo are part of a larger family — there were 12 kids in total — who lived in a coastal town about two and a half hours from the Haitian capital of Port au Prince. Their farming parents could no longer afford to feed all dozen children.
Laurencia was just an infant when she was taken to the crèche; Kerby was 3 and Valencia was 5. As one of the oldest, Valencia became a helper to the crèche mothers, cooking for and cleaning up after the younger children.
The home — a nice house by Haitian standards — had running water and electricity, but no air conditioning nor carpet, Mindy said.
With about 40 children in the approximately 1,500 square-foot crèche, the children didn’t have much space to play, or sleep. Laurencia, the smallest, shared a twin bed with two other girls.
Third time’s a charm
Christopher and Mindy met the children in February of 2014 while on a mission trip with New Covenant Community Church.
“We couldn’t say anything to them because nothing was official at that time. But we got to see them for about 20 minutes,” Mindy said.
Exactly a year later, the couple went back to Haiti for their bonding trip — a requirement from the Haitian government — and spent two weeks with the children.
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo officially became theirs, but the Mohrs couldn’t bring them home. Visas, passports and more paperwork had to be drawn up and evaluated on the U.S. side of things, they said.
Having patience was the biggest challenge that came with adopting internationally.
“A lot of it was very disheartening because they would tell us we could pick them up in a couple of weeks and it was like Christmas,” Christopher explained. “And then Christmas wouldn’t come. And then they’d do it again and I’d get just as excited.”
While the Mohrs were riding the roller coaster of anticipation and disappointment in the U.S., they wondered what their children were thinking in Haiti.
“Do they think we’re not coming back?” Christopher wondered.
He compared the long wait with a pregnancy.
“I think God set it up so that you carry a baby for nine months and you get that time to prepare and you have that opportunity to get used to being uncomfortable at times,” he said. “Three years was a long time, but there was a lot to go through.”
Finally, Christmas came — in April. Christopher and Mindy were given the green light to pick up their waiting trio.
On their third trip to Haiti, the Mohrs brought Marin, Steven and Megan.
“They got to see Haiti, they got the chance to see the poverty and see the children in their environment which they were coming from,” Christopher said. “It is a lot easier to explain things as we’re going through the transition now, because so many things, we take for granted.”
The family spent 10 days together in the Caribbean country before returning to Clovis as a family of eight.
In America, the three Haitian children are learning how to be kids.
“I got really emotional just watching them run back and forth,” Christopher said. “You know how you get that uncontrollable laugh? Valencia was enjoying herself so much and I got really emotional about it… I mean, they’re learning how to play.”
They’re also learning about the world around them.
“I used to describe it as having three grown up babies, but I think it’s like three grown up toddlers because they are fascinated by everything,” Christopher said. “It’s amazing to watch them process what exactly is going on.”
The three are highly inquisitive.
“My biological kids couldn’t care less if I’m putting up curtains, but those three are right there, watching me with the drill, handing me tools. They’re into it all,” Mindy said.
They enjoy visiting the community pool at Harlan Ranch and are learning how to swim.
While the Mohrs often draw a lot of attention because of the number of children in the family, and because they are different ethnicities, they said the Clovis community has been nothing but positive.
“The neighbors are really including the kids,” Christopher said. “It’s been overwhelming how welcoming everyone has been to the kids. We couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The adoption community recommends “cocooning” for the first six months to make the transition easier on children from other countries — but not for these kids.
“That’s not our life, not with our other three kids,” Mindy said. “I’m running to soccer, gymnastics, everywhere, friends houses, church youth group… so they have to come along.”
Valencia, Kerby and Lolo don’t mind at all.
“They love to get in the car and go places,” Mindy said. “They say ‘Mommy, machine?’ Machine is the name for car in Creole.”
They were overwhelmed by Costco and thoroughly unimpressed by the Fresno Chaffee Zoo.
“We’ve found that these places we think they’re going to love, they have absolutely no interest in,” Mindy said. “They didn’t care to try to touch the stingrays … they thought the giraffes were ugly. They wanted nothing to do with them.”
Their favorite place to go is the local trampoline park. “They’ll ask, ‘Mommy, bounce?’”
And they love to eat, Christopher said.
“Their appetites are out of control,” he said. “We’re told that’s normal and it will taper off over time, but man, Kerby especially can eat.”
The children ate two meals a day in the crèche — of beans, rice and chicken broth — Christopher said.
They’re enjoying trying various local summer fruits and clean their plates at every meal.
Coming from the Caribbean, where it’s in the 90s and humid most of the time, the Valley’s triple digit summer doesn’t faze the three kids — but the air conditioning does.
“They think it’s cold,” Christopher said. “If we’re going to the market, they grab their jacket because the air is on in the store. When they sleep at night they have warm jammies on because we have the air conditioner on.”
With a trio of kids come three completely different personalities, the Mohrs said.
The outgoing one of the bunch, Kerby, has a quick smile and loves to tease. Valencia has stepped out of the “momma role” she assumed at the crèche, but she is quick to step in when asked for help.
“She’s there in a heartbeat,” Mindy said. “She loves to fold clothes and loves to cook.”
Little Lolo is the more standoffish of the bunch and prefers that affection — and everything else, for that matter — comes on her terms.
Valencia, Kerby and Laurencia are most comfortable staying in the same room, although they sleep in separate beds.
“From what I hear, they don’t ever want to have their own rooms. That’s just not what they’re used to. Kerby doesn’t mind the pink room,” Christopher said with a chuckle.
While the children’s English is very limited, the family is quickly learning to communicate with each other in other ways, and with the help of technology.
“We use Google Translate, but we call it Giggle Translate,” Mindy said. “Valencia reads some French, so we go back and forth between French and Creole so that I can get my message across.”
Adopted children generally learn their new family’s language quicker, but because the three kids speak to each other, their English-learning is slower, Christopher explained.
“At dinner we have two different conversations going on,” he said.
The Mohrs have found that it really takes a village to raise their children, and technology has allowed that village expand.
Mindy found an online community of people who have adopted from Haiti.
“It is phenomenal. You can throw out any question, and people have been there,” she said.
She even used FaceTime with friend in Haiti to help her figure out why one of her children was upset.
“I had one that was just angry as a wet hen and crying … we got it all worked out,” she said.
A woman from their church is from Haiti, and she has come over often to help the Mohrs talk to the kids and teach Mindy how to do their hair.
This fall, school will be a challenge, but the trio is excited to attend and be around other children, Christopher said.
“Academically, they’re not even kind of ready, and I believe in the Clovis district you can only start one year back,” he said.
Although Mindy homeschooled her children for two years, the plan is for the kids to head to Clovis Unified schools in the fall. She plans to work with Valencia, Kerby and Lolo as much as she can over the summer and find them tutors.
Mindy’s biggest advice for those interested in adopting is, “Don’t have expectations,” she said.
While she and Christopher were prepared, she thinks their biological children had a picture in their head of what their new family would look like.
“They were like, ‘Oh awesome, this is going to the brother I always wanted, or the little sister who is going to play dolls with me.’ And all of a sudden when that’s not happening it’s like, this is not what I signed up for,” Mindy said.
But watching all six kids play a pickup game of soccer in the backyard, it’s very apparent that the children enjoy each other’s company.
“It’s 90 percent more amazing than I thought it was going to be,” Christopher said. “I thought it was going to be a lot more just challenges, but it’s been really really neat watching all six of the kids come together. I mean, they’re siblings, so there’s going to be issues, and there’s a huge cultural shift. But it’s really neat so come downstairs and see one sitting on the other one’s lap just watching TV or playing.”
The Mohrs talk about what it would have been like to adopt just one of the children instead of all three, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“They are each other’s support,” Mindy said.