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November 2, 2018

Portraits of Family | Tampa Bay families recreating the mold

By Tara Payor, Ph.D.

Family—a beautiful, powerful word. For some, it conjures up images of what family is supposed to look like. Holidays can be trying, as we pressure ourselves to fit molds of what families are supposed to be and do. These Tampa families created new molds.

Signposts 

For 5+ years, Stephanie and Cy Gannuch tried conceiving. “I tried everything, acupuncture, the whole gamut,” Stephanie says. Then she prayed. “I heard a voice say, ‘There’s a soul out there for you.’” She knew they were called to adopt.

They hurried to complete the months-long home study process, undergoing medical tests, providing financial records, creating a family profile, and securing recommendations.

In under a week, the mom chose them. Everly was born Labor Day weekend—the Gannuch’s 5th wedding anniversary. “There were signs all along.” Birth mothers have 48 hours postpartum to sign official paperwork. Stephanie wasn’t nervous. Leaving the hospital, she saw a rainbow: “That was my sign. I had peace.” The birth mother signed paperwork on her own 21st birthday.

Then, the adoption attorney called again. Everly’s birth mother was pregnant again and wanted the babies to be together. “We wanted them together, too. There was nothing to think about,” Stephanie says. Emee’s paperwork was signed on Stephanie’s birthday—another gift, another sign.

The Gannuchs send Mother’s Day cards, Christmas gifts, and an annual book of highlights to the birth mother. “She’d never do anything to disrupt their lives. I know she loves them.” They speak to the girls about adoption—explaining how the birth mother carried them in her belly because Stephanie couldn’t, and underscoring how families are made differently. “They know we’re meant to be together, that they grew in my heart.”

Annually, they celebrate Gotcha Day. Every Dec. 20, they recognize the girls’ release by visiting Parksdale Farms for strawberry shortcake. At Christmas, they create traditions with neighbors: “We watch movies in the yard, in PJs. I want them to know friends are family.”

Blessings

Some feel one child completes their family. Others, two. For the Billos, nine might be the number. Ann has eight children with husband, James, and one stepson. Ages: 23, 18, 15, 10, 9, 7, 5, 3, and newborn.

The Billos didn’t envision nine children. Actually, two children and six years in, marital difficulty bubbled. “I asked God make clear what He wanted me to do. I came to a conviction that we’d have another baby, though I didn’t want one.” Neither partner was on board. Their goals were rebuilding and staying married. James’ life counsel assured him children are blessings. A month later, Ann was pregnant. Baby three was just six months when Ann got pregnant again: “We were shocked but decided we’d welcome these children—these blessings.” Ann admits feeling overwhelmed: “I just want to cry sometimes, but God’s faithful.”

For a family of 11, celebrations are undertakings. They simultaneously celebrate each month’s birthdays. Ann hosts Thanksgiving because guests traveling to them is easier. They don’t do Santa but do exchange gifts: “We follow something you want, something you need, and something to read.”

Family
Billo Family

Respect

Five years into marriage and with a 3-year-old daughter, Brian and Katherine divorced. Four years later, they’re intent on successful co-parenting. Bella spends two days with each parent and alternates weekends: “We didn’t want an entire week without seeing her,” explained Katherine.

Co-parenting includes FaceTime on the way to school and sharing daily pictures. They were pleased at back-to-school night because, for the first time, the teacher prepared an informational packet for each of them. Both are heavily involved in Bella’s academics, and extra items are kept at each house. Busy attorneys, their assistants check the shared “Isabella” calendar before scheduling anything. Both believe over-communication is key.

The three spend Christmas morning together and take Bella gift shopping for one another: “At first, it was stressful not having her all of Christmas day,” Katherine says. “Now, we all know it’s okay.” Each celebrates with Bella before or after actual holidays. They’ve created traditions, including mommy-daughter days at Nordstrom and daddy-daughter date nights at the Straz.

Brian advises: “Put personal feelings aside and your child first. Bella’s our guiding light.” Respect is non-negotiable. “No matter what happened to our marriage,” Brian added, “there were no crossed words about raising Bella.” Brian and Katherine demonstrate that divorce doesn’t mean respect, communication, and putting children first crumble. “When those aren’t in place,” said Brian, “it’s to the child’s detriment.”

family
Brian, Bella, and Katherine

Blending

Families blend cultures. The Clearys did. Deeply connected to her Peruvian roots, Charlene’s helped Brian and children—Christian and Carina—embrace Peru’s traditions. They celebrate Noche Buena, which includes a spread of lechon (roast pork) and papa rellena (stuffed potato). Charlene loves that the kids have a slumber party as she and her sisters did. Just after midnight, Christmas music plays, cuing the kids to wake and wish baby Jesus a happy birthday and family a Feliz Navidad. Then, they open presents: “It’s spirited and loud,” says Charlene. Loud music, flying wrapping paper, excited kids, and adults sipping spiked eggnog: “It’s a bit overwhelming for Brian, who wears earplugs.” During their engagement, Charlene felt out of place because Brian’s family celebrations were so quiet. She’s now focused on sharing Peruvians’ New Year’s tradition of running around the block with an empty suitcase at midnight: “It signifies a year of travel. I remember doing it in Lima, when young.”

Families are uniquely made. This holiday season and beyond, embrace your family’s mold and hold strong to the fire of family love.