Nothing means more during this great holiday season than having families together to celebrate. And, while James and Joyce Dalton of Southern Chesterfield will be much like many ‘blended’ households scrambling to keep the word ‘happy’ in the phrase Happy Holidays, there will be new challenges for the Dalton family to embrace this Christmas.
This is a story of coming together, tragic loss, picking up the pieces and bravely moving forward. Stir in a lot of faith, hope and love into the miracle of the season and we will all remember what a wonderful gift a loving family can be.
Rewind almost six years. Both Joyce and James began dating after their divorces and soon married, bringing two children from each family under one roof. Well, technically a half roof as the Daltons shared a two-story duplex. Fortunately, they shared it with James’ sister.
Joyce’s two sons Matthew and Cameron, age 6 and 12 respectively, already got along well with James’ 9-year-old daughter Tiffany and 13-year-old son Travis. But now they had cousins to play with as well right downstairs. Having James’ 16-year-old niece Ashton and 15-year-old nephew Taylor really kept boredom at bay for the two households.
“It was a real nice setup because it was a huge beautiful house,” said Joyce, “But, instead of sharing it with a stranger, we were sharing it with his best friend and sister. We got to hang out and the kids got to play together.”
Since James’ sister was a single working parent, Joyce was able to step in and help. “She had to go to work so I would help her get the kids out for school, take them to baseball practice and stuff,” admitted Joyce. The situation was good for both families.
But, tragedy struck suddenly when James’ sister died from a pulmonary embolism without any symptoms or warning. Of course, there was only one thing the Daltons could do. “They were already pretty much used to each other,” commented Joyce, “Of course the kids were hurting from losing their mom, but for us there was very little adjustment. We just moved Ashton and Taylor upstairs with us.”
Just as everyone settled in to become the Dalton 8 and deal with the many challenges the mix of three families can bring, tragedy would take a second swing at the Dalton family. Almost a year ago, after battling a long illness, Joyce’s sister became too ill to care for her children. With no father, the four children, Hunter 15 years old, Cody 13 years old, Dillon 10 years old and Angel at age 7 were split up and placed in foster care.
Of course, just as before, there was only one thing the Daltons could do.
It was as if a signal went high up into the night sky and the super hero family responded with their super powers of love, faith and understanding. “About 11 months ago I got the phone call from Georgia about my sister,” remembered Joyce, “we immediately said that we would come get them. But, in the state of Georgia because we are out of state, even though we are relatives, we still needed to go through what a regular adoptive foster care family would have to go through.”
32 hours in class training, background checks, physicals, tuberculosis tests, etc., were just a few examples of the bureaucratic obstacles. “We had to meet them first,” said James, “they wouldn’t let us get them until we went down to Georgia and got to see them and spend some time with them.”
Joyce and James pulled together the money to make the trip happen with the help of family and friends. Then Joyce worked out the bureaucratic red tape with constant communication and getting paperwork done and back as soon as possible. After the smoke had cleared, the Daltons got word that they would be getting Hunter, Cody, Dillon and Angel much sooner. “Originally we were to get them in June or July next year,” admitted Joyce, “But we did so well with everything, they decided it would be nice if they could be together for Christmas.” With all that’s going on right now and with money being as tight as it is Joyce and James didn’t know if that was a good thing or a curse.
When the plan came together, James and Joyce sat down with their children and talked about what was coming around the corner. 12 people living in 1400 square feet of house sharing two bathrooms meant privacy would become a thing of the past. “There is going to be bunk beds in every room and storage bins under the beds for clothes,” said Joyce, “We will need to eat in shifts. And when we need to go out, we’ll go in two vehicles.”
The kids seem to have mixed emotions. The unknown outweighs the known at this time and though it may take a while, things will no doubt settle in. “I’m both happy and sad,” said little Matthew, “The sad part is it is going to take a whole lot of work, the happy part is it’s great to have more kids to play with.” Ashton, being the oldest of the children, has to play the big sister role with a house full. “I like it that I’ll be someone my sisters and cousins can look up to. I am not happy about sharing a bathroom, but it is good that they have a place to go and be together,” commented Ashton.
Taylor is looking forward to meeting the new addition to the Dalton family. “Yeah, I’m going to have someone my size to play with,” said Taylor. And little Tiffany is probably glad she is not going to be the youngest girl anymore. “I’m very happy that we will have more kids around that I can play with,” said Tiffany.
There is an obvious elephant in the room. How will the Daltons manage emotionally and financially? “Well, it will make us or break us. But we are determined to make it work,” said James.
The Dalton story has gotten out to some people in the last few weeks from word of mouth and the community has responded. “A lot of people have been very kind to us that don’t even know us,” admitted Joyce. People from Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in nearby Colonial Heights have recently gotten involved while a friend of Joyce’s posted on a social media site which has also helped and the donations of clothes and things like bunk beds have begun to find their way to the Daltons. “We’re still a bunk bed short and one twin bed short, and we got four days to get it together. But I think we’ll hit it,” said Joyce. Her niece Ashton echoed a common sentiment, “We’re prepared for it physically, but mentally not so much.”
For the Daltons the near future will be all about those little things that most people normally take for granted. While finding money to provide the small things may be a challenge, the Daltons have figured out the big picture. It starts with love. “Many of our friends and family think we have lost our minds,” admitted Joyce, “But I don’t feel God would give us anything we couldn’t handle.”