It’s not unusual for the Ball family home in Peosta, Iowa, to be Ground Zero for a flurry of activity — shuttling kids between sporting events, running errands and juggling an assortment of overlapping schedules.
But despite the busyness from one day to the next, Abby Ball wouldn’t have it any other way.
She and husband Tony are the parents of eight, including four biological children — Cecelia, 14; Vincent, 13; Estelle, 9; and Lawrence (Ren), 1 — and four siblings the couple adopted — Kior, 12; Makenna, 11; Omari, 9; and Calvin, 5.
“Our family is amazing,” Abby said, tearing up. “We never knew that this is what we needed. It has been the biggest gift. I don’t think we’d do anything differently.”
Building a familyAbby and Tony, both 41, met as classmates at Hoover Elementary School in Dubuque. But they wouldn’t reconnect as adults until 2004, when they began teaching at Epworth (Iowa) Elementary School.
Now a visiting assistant professor of education at Clarke University in Dubuque, Abby said her role as a teacher was significant in making her long for a larger family.
Tony continues to teach physical education in the Western Dubuque Community School District.
“I always envisioned having a big family,” Abby said. “Every since I was little, I’ve always loved children. I think that’s why I also had the aspiration to teach.”
Abby and Tony dated for a year before becoming engaged, tying the knot in 2006.
Throughout the next several years, the couple would welcome three children, making the decision to serve as foster parents beginning in 2014.
“The older three came first,” said Abby, of Kior, Makenna and Omari. “Calvin was not yet born.”
The children returned to their birth mother for a time. Then — on Nov. 3, 2017, after the children had returned to the foster care system — Abby and Tony adopted the siblings, this time along with then 18-month-old Calvin.
“We had become a family,” Abby said. “After the three had left us the first time, there was a piece missing. When they returned with Calvin, it was just right.”
They welcomed the latest addition to their family, bouncing baby boy Ren, a year ago.
Abby said both biological and adopted children have adapted well within the growing family.
“The changes in our family have been very real to experience, but we acknowledge that we are all one family forever,” she said. “The children have accepted one another as siblings, but they also have learned so much from each other and about their differences. It has been beautiful to watch those relationships continue to grow.”
On the road to simplifyIn 2019 — prior to their latest child being born — Abby and Tony made another life change: Selling the dream home they had purchased and remodeled in 2006, as well as a vast majority of their possessions, in favor of paring down.
The family then embarked upon five-week road trip in their recreation vehicle, exploring the western half of the country, including Yellowstone National Park, Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon.
They returned home to the tri-states with an eye toward continuing their scaled-back approach to living.
“The goal was to give the kids an opportunity to see things they had never seen before,” Abby said. “But the biggest thing was to focus on spending more quality time together as a family and removing things that distracted us from that.”
They are planning a second road excursion, this time to the eastern half of the United States, ending in Alabama.
“We’ll hit the beach,” Abby said. “That’s my happy place.”
After spending time living with Abby’s family, her and Tony’s most recent adventure has been the purchase of the former Knight Light Supper Club in Dyersville, Iowa.
The couple plans to transform it into an activity center not only for their family but also for other families from the area to rent for events and parties.
“We love spending time together there,” Abby said. “We’re hoping it can be a space for other families to enjoy each other’s company, too.”
In support of fostering
While becoming a foster or adoptive parent can be an overwhelming process, Abby said the benefits have far outweighed the challenges in the case of her family.
“To Tony and I, it is a beautiful thing that changed our family for the better in many ways,” she said. “It comes with challenges, as all things in life do, but we were able to work through those challenges because we deeply had a passion to help children in the foster system and knowledge of working with children with different strengths and needs. We were very fortunate to fall in love with four beautiful children that enhanced every aspect of our family.”
The family relies on structure and routine.
“Even when days are not typical, we still expect routines such as a clean bedroom, teeth brushed, keeping similar sleeping schedule,” she said.
Teamwork also is key.
“As a mom, it’s hard for me to think of myself separately from Tony because we are so much of a team. We make our relationship a top priority, and we are very much on the same page when it comes to our philosophy on parenting,” Abby said. “Also, our family helps us out a lot. It certainly takes a village in this case.”
In addition to practicing daily gratitude as a family, Abby has had to hone dividing her time.
“I have to be OK with not being able to be at everything for everyone,” she said. “I also have to be OK with others taking on household tasks, learning that I can’t do it all.”
One-on-one time with the children can be difficult.
“We really cherish those opportunities when they do come,” Abby said. “Time management is something I also have worked on becoming better at so that I accomplish more, stress less and can be more present when I am with my family.”
For those considering becoming a foster or adoptive parent, Abby said it’s a positive way to give back to the community and to create opportunities for children who might have experienced a different outcome in life. Although, it’s not always easy.
“Sometimes, people see pictures of our family and think that our life is perfect and make foster and adoption look easy, but nothing is perfect, including my family,” Abby said. “We work hard to continuously grow as a family, and sometimes, that comes with sacrifices and change. Everyone has their own passion and gifts, and if a love for children and helping families reunify is one’s passion and gift, then foster and adoption might be a great avenue, and our community could use great people to join the foster system.”
Megan Gloss writes for the Telegraph Herald.