Jerry and Sheila Thouvenell felt there was no other option. They never had a second thought.
The couple is in the process of adopting their three granddaughters. The girls, ages 9, 7, and 6 are affectionately known as the flower girls — their names are Lilly, Rose, and Daisy. Adoption has been a tedious process. Sheila said they are through the first stage; hopefully they will be the girls’ adoptive parents by this coming fall.
The Thouvenell’s have cared for their grandchildren at their Marion home for the past two years. Jerry said there was no one else who could step into the parental role. Lilly, Rose, and Daisy’s mother, Kandi, is dead. Their father, Davin Sprague, was sentenced to 50 years in prison. The girls have not seen their father since 2010. Sheila said it has been recommended by Social and Rehabilitative Services and TIF Family Services that the girls do not interact with him.
“I’d say they’re strong spirited,” Jerry said. “They’ve been through a lot.”
The psychological trauma of losing both parents in less than a year would be difficult for an adult. The girls were 7, 5, and 4 at the time.
Sheila remembers telling the girls about their mother’s death when they were firmly in denial. Lilly rattled off a dizzying array of rapid-fire questions. Rose dropped to her hands and knees and started to crawl on the floor like an infant.
The loss of their parents is something the girls will struggle with for the rest of their lives. One recent Valentine’s Day at school a young male classmate of Daisy went up in front of the class and regaled the class with stories of his great dad. Daisy responded by saying her dad was not great; he was in prison. Each of the girls have voiced this reality at odd times — in dentist’s offices or in Girl Scout meetings.
“They’re little kids, they just say it,” Sheila said. “It’s a jaw dropper for other people.”
The Thouvenells dealt with the roller coaster emotions from each child. Lilly and Daisy have approached the situation by bottling up their feelings. Rose is the girl that often lays out a gauntlet of tests for her grandparents.
When Sheila first put Rose in a timeout she screamed for what seemed like hours. Sheila pleaded with the 6-year-old that if she were quiet the timeout would end; it was to no avail.
Rose also had the tendency to steal food from the cupboard and hold it in secret stashes in her room. Rose’s turn as a food hoarder revealed neglect the girls had received from their parents. Before Kandi died, the Sprague household was already on the radar of SRS.
Sheila said the girls were given free rein of the surrounding area around their former rural Salina home. They would come in from playing in a nearby pond and be covered in leaches. When the girls came to live with the Thouvenells, each had a thick layer of lice in their hair.
The Thouvenell’s quickly rearranged their lives to help mend the lives of their granddaughters. They modified their work schedules to give the girls the attention they deserve. Sheila no longer picks up extra hours at St. Luke Hospital where she works as a nurse. Jerry has taken fewer construction-contracting jobs to make sure he is available on three week-day nights.
“Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I’m grandpa, mom, and everything,” he said.
The Thouvenells have studied the girls’ personalities — they know how they will react in certain situations. The girls still test their grandparents but now it is in the venue of normal child’s play. This past week the girls sparred for a splashing fight in their backyard pool. Each one came in with a different story, with different shades of the truth.
“They test me all the time,” Jerry said. “It’s the nature of all kids to know where all their boundaries are.”
There is still more work to be done and connections to be made. Lilly did not want to go to a past father-daughter dinner for Girl Scouts even though Jerry has filled the father role.
Jerry has been a non-stop parent of elementary school children since 1982. Sheila only recently had a small break with her youngest children in high school. With the flower girls and another granddaughter, 4-year-old Kayla, living with the Thouvenells that has changed dramatically.
“It felt really weird not having a kid in elementary school,” Sheila said. “Now I have four.”
Before they took in Lilly, Rose, and Daisy, Jerry said he felt like he might be too old to be a parent of young children again. When they first arrived, he said he felt overwhelmed.
However, now that he sees that the girls are healthy, happy, and full of energy, when they greet him with smiling faces as he comes home from work, when he hears the collection of giggles and shrieks while the girls are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard, he does not regret being a parent again for a second.
These sights, sounds, and feelings of love are the Thouvenells award. All the work has been worth it.