Every year a new baby -- and more joy

  • Article by: JEFF STRICKLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 24, 2008 - 8:32 PM

For seven years, a Minneapolis couple have shared the gift of love at Christmas - and all year long - by adding a new member to their family.


Nine of the 10 Bode children watched the movie “The Fox and the Hound,” together while their mother Dorothy, held Jerry, 11 months, as she prepared a pizza dinner. Dorothy and Robert Bode of northeast Minneapolis have three biological children and have adopted seven children over the past 12 years. eapolis, MN - Dec. 19, 2008-] Nine of the 10 Bode children watch the movie: "Fox and the Hound," together while their mother Dorothy, holds, Jerry, 11 months, while preparing pizza dinner. Dorothy and Robert Bode of N.E. Minneapolis have three biological children and have adopted seven children over the past 12 years. The family moved to the inner city from the suburbs several years ago to give their children an urban life and to expose them to more diversity of culture and race. While having a large family isn't cheap, Dorothy says their children love Christmas and thrive on the support and love of family and don't spend much time thinking about toys that they don't have.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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Every year, Dorothy Bode asks for two things for Christmas: a new Bible and a new baby. The previous year's Bible inevitably has been destroyed by one of the babies. "There's something about those crinkly pages that attract little hands," she said.

So the Bibles keep coming, and so do the babies. This year's arrival is Jeremiah.

This is the seventh Christmas that Dorothy and her husband, Robert, have adopted an infant. Their two-story home in northeast Minneapolis teems with 10 kids from infancy to 12 years old, a blend of birth and adopted children, white faces, black faces and unknown races. The new babies come to them battling autism, fetal alcohol syndrome or their birth mother's drug addiction.

To them this is not sacrifice, it's a mission. It's their way of following Jesus' teaching to love your neighbor. "Every person is equally valuable and important," Dorothy said. "[We are] doing all of this in Jesus' name -- with no strings attached for those we serve."

Dorothy and Robert Bode (pronounced BO-dee) are natives of the Seattle area who moved to Minnesota nine years ago when Robert became director of financial aid at Metropolitan State University. They lived in the northern suburbs at first, but moved to Minneapolis as their trans-racial family grew. They wanted the children to see faces like their own.

At 9 months old, Jeremiah (the family calls him Jerry) is older than the previous adoptees. Abandoned at a hospital by his mother, he was being adopted by a different family when that fell through. Rather than have him go into foster care, which would have set an adoption back at least a year, the Bodes asked if they could take him immediately.

"It's important to get these kids when they are little, when they are still a baby and not a diagnosis," Dorothy said. "It's going to be hard enough to deal with the health and behavior issues as they grow older. They need to know that they are loved."

Love, yes, but no date nights

Love is one thing the Bodes have plenty of. Time? Not so much. But they manage with humor, faith and air-tight scheduling.

"There is a lot of love in this house, and you can feel it," Robert said. "But we do have to focus a lot on the kids. We've been to those seminars where they say married couples should have a date night once a week. We tried that, but it doesn't work for us. Now our date night consists of bringing in Chipotle and watching a movie after all the kids are in bed."

An open-door policy has added to the clan, making pseudo-family members out of a teenage neighbor who sought refuge during family distress and an 87-year-old from across the street who shows up for dinner so often that everyone calls him Grandpa.

"If you're hungry, we will feed you," Dorothy said. "If you're tired, you can nap on our couch."

You'll need to be a sound sleeper, though, because in this house, there's something going on pretty much everywhere.

While Joe, 1 1/2, and Lilly, 3, take their afternoon naps upstairs, 12-year-old John reads in the living room. Next to him Josh, 7, and James, 6, play a computer spelling game with a neighbor. Lydia, 5, and Noel, 4, run back and forth to their bedroom, coming out in different outfits in a spontaneous fashion show for visitors. In the kitchen, 10-year-old Leah bakes Christmas cookies while Jesse, 9, tends to Jerry.

"There isn't a square foot of this house that isn't being used," Robert said.

A higher calling

Robert, 45, and Dorothy, 40, met in law school, and both have training in finance. They could be pulling down comfortable salaries now. But they got inspired to adopt after joining Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis and getting involved in the church's MICAH program: Minority Infant & Children Adoption Help.

"I think the interest was always there, especially for Dorothy, but this helped crystallize it," Robert said. "After seeing other families adopt these children in need, Dorothy said, 'Why don't we adopt one?'"

He admits that his answer might have been different had she said, "Why don't we adopt seven?" But every time the subject has come up, he's agreed wholeheartedly.

"After we adopted the third one and we had six kids -- three birth children and three adopted -- I thought we were done," he said. "I thought six was a good set. But then we'd get a call from a social worker, and one thing would lead to another.

"I was sure that we were done after nine. For one thing, a lot of birth mothers don't want to put their kids into large families. Plus, all our boys have names that start with 'J.' I figured that if I set the parameters narrow enough. ... But, sure enough, we get a call about Jeremiah. God has put this together in ways that I can't prevent."

Organized chaos

The challenges of a blended family give Dorothy plenty to write about in her blog (urbanservant.blogspot.com/2008/12/blessed.html). The Bodes are white; three of the kids are black, two are Cherokee and "two have unidentified fathers, so they may be anything." Everywhere they go, they attract attention.

In one blog entry, she notes: "Every time we walk out our front doors people are watching. What does your life testimony say when you walk out? Is it pleasing to God? I hope so!"

Home life is not as chaotic as you might expect. Robert credits that to Dorothy: "If she weren't an organizational mastermind, this wouldn't work."

Her home-school schedule is much like a public school's. She puts numbers on clothes labels to designate the child -- "although I wouldn't have started using Roman numerals if I had known we were going to end up with so many," she said. One wall in the kitchen displays schedules on computer printouts. Another holds Post-It notes bearing scribbled messages about doctor and dentist appointments.

"Post-It notes rule my life," Dorothy said with a chuckle.

She is a cheerful woman, often as bemused by her life as other people are. She maintains order with two main rules: Once they are old enough, every child is assigned responsibilities, and they use the buddy system, in which an older child pairs up with a younger one.

When the family goes grocery shopping -- and, yes, she brings the entire brood with her -- each youngster keeps track of a sibling "so that we leave with as many people as we came with," she said.

When discipline is needed, she doesn't raise her voice, but the kids know she means business. When Lydia and Noel (biological sisters adopted a year apart) start to argue over a toy, she firmly intervenes. Turn and face the wall, she tells them, and don't turn around until you are ready to apologize and hug each other.

Tears well up in Noel's eyes.

"No tears, no whining," Dorothy announces. "And leave that [toy] there."

At meal time, the kitchen is an assembly line producing pepperoni pizzas on flat bread. Plates are dealt out like playing cards (including two for visitors; it's assumed that if you're there at meal time, you're eating). Dorothy cuts the bread, but the kids do the rest, with Mother stepping in only to offer advice or head off a mess.

Some disorder is inevitable, Dorothy admitted. This time of year, "just getting everyone out the door involves tracking down 22 boots."

Twenty-two? "It should only be 20 because my husband should be able to find his own -- although it seems like I always end up having to find those, too," she said, laughing again.

A return on investment

Money is tight.

"Our kids will not get a lot of elaborate Christmas presents, but that's OK," Dorothy said. "They've learned to appreciate what they do get."

Despite her master's degree in finance, she believes in non-traditional investments.

"We believe in the eternal value of investing in people," she said. "If we can break the cycle of poverty or the cycle of drug addiction, it goes forward. They're going to have kids and their kids are going to have kids. We want them to be parents who teach their kids to do things the right way."

Robert thinks they are done adopting. There's no room in any of the four bedrooms to put anyone else. Nor is there another seat in the van because "Grandpa" often goes along.

"I feel we're done," he said. "But who knows? God might not be done."

Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392

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    John, 12

    Leah, 10

    Jesse, 9

    Josh, 7

    James, 6

    Lydia, 5

    Noel, 4

    Lilly, 3

    Joe, 1 1/2

    Jerry, 9 months

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