I can remember being eight years old and wrapping up our eight pound puppy in a blanket and carrying her around. I would put her in a stroller and push her around the house, which my brothers made fun of me for doing. I always loved children, babies being my favorite, and wanted some day to have my own.
We lived next door to a family who had four kids and I spent lots of time with them. I was ten at the time and their oldest was four. I played house with them and always pretended to be their mom. They were the first kids that I ever got a chance to babysit. From the ages of 12-17, I babysat children in my church, and also worked every Sunday with children’s church, taking care of kids 4-12 years old. I continued to volunteer there until I was 21, when I decided that I needed a break.
At 17, I got a job at Ross Dress for Less, but I still knew that was not what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to be a preschool teacher. During my senior year of high school, we were asked what we wanted to do with our lives and what it would take to get there. I wanted to teach preschool and found out that I would need to work in a daycare for one year before I would qualify. So, right out of high school, that is what I did. After working at the daycare, for a year I finally began teaching preschool at our church’s school, five days a week, at the age of 21. I will never forget that first year of teaching some parents thought I was too young to be a teacher. But by the end of the year they sure changed their mind.
I met the love of my life, John, online, when I was 24 years old, and he moved from Florida to Oregon for me. We were married on June 10, 2006 and as soon as we got home from our honeymoon, John went to the hospital. He had leuphodema in his legs, where the blood flows down but not back up to his heart. His legs swelled so badly he could barely walk and he had terrible black lines running up and down them.
John and I talked about having a family and children of our own, but his health was too unpredictable. He would get better and then it would worsen again, so until he was well enough to have kids of our own, we made room in our home and lives for other children. We invited my niece and nephew to stay with us as much as they could and my best friends’ kids also came over to “Auntie’s” to be spoiled.
On January 1, 2010, my niece was spending the night and we were watching television in John and my room when I heard John yell from the other room. I ran to him and found him sitting in a chair, clutching his chest. I asked him if I should call 911 and he fell face forward and was immediately gone.
I grieved the loss of John and moved back in with my parents right away. I just couldn’t stand being in that apartment alone the way the firemen had left it. After John passed I returned to apartment only long enough to get my clothes and a few things that were ours. Some of the stuff my parents and his parents kept but almost everything else was donated to Freedom House.
Even though I missed John, I still wanted to have kids of my own and knew that that if I was to marry again, I would need to eventually start dating. I also feared that if I stayed in my parent’s home I would end up in an eternal state of depression. Not that I didn’t love living with my parents; they were my rock as I was grieving the loss of my husband and to this day I don’t know what I would do without them. But, still, I knew I needed to get out and start my life over again with someone new.
I got onto internet dating sites and began looking. I met several guys that didn’t work out and was beginning to feel hopeless when I finally said, “Okay, God, I am done searching! If you have a man for me, then you will have to put him in front of me.” Literally right after I had resolved this, Don texted me and said that we needed to meet. He had three children, which scared me a little bit at first. I didn’t want to be an evil stepmom.
Don and I talked on and off for a few months and I told myself that he would be the last one. And he was! After dating almost a year, I grew to love his kids and Don and I began talking about marriage. I asked him to speak with the kids first to get their blessing on our engagement. Not only did they give us their approval, but all three were in the wedding! We married in 2011 and his oldest son, 16, served as our best man, the middle son, 14, as a groomsman and his daughter, 12, was one of my bridesmaids.
It has been three years since I joined their family. I feel like I was able to win my step children’s hearts when first getting to know them by spoiling them and allowing Don to play the disciplinarian. We would go grocery shopping and when they asked for Oreos, he would say no, and I would step in the middle and say, “Aww, c’mon, please???” This way, they saw me on their side, but I also wasn’t undermining his authority. I also think that communication is a big key to any marriage and even more so when you are a split family. I learned to be consistent from the start and never back down; when I said yes to something, it stayed yes, and when I said no it was no. The bible even says that, “let your yes be yes and your no be no,” James 5:12.
It’s been nearly three years since Don and I were married. His children still love me and he and I are now trying to have a baby of our own. We are both very involved with our church. We go to bible study every Wednesday night, and Don helps on sound and I help on praise team. I volunteer with the children’s Sabbath school and Don teaches there whenever he is asked. It is very important to both of us to help serve in our church any way we can. We are excited as we look forward to what God has for us in the future.
Toni lives in Scappoose, Oregon with her husband Don and three stepchildren. She is the director of the before-and-after childcare program and is a substitute teacher for all grades at the Seventh Day Adventist school, the same church where she and Don attend. Don also works part time with her there as the school treasurer.