Please say hello to Rachel. She and her family live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and like the rest of us, have recently been making quaratine-related adjustments to schedules and expectations.

In this interview, I love that Rachel shares a bit about their foster son, and what the fostering process was like for them. I had NO IDEA that so many kids needed foster care, and that a large part of it is due to the opioid crisis in the country. It’s so heartbreaking, and I am so glad families like Rachel’s are stepping up to make sure these kids have a safe place to land. Welcome, Rachel!

My name is Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer. I live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with my husband, Danny, and our four kids. We have three biological children Henry (15), Claudia (13), and Walter (nearly 11). We also have a three-year-old foster son who we are in the process of adopting. We call him Boo.

Danny and I met about 18 years ago on a beach trip organized by his brother-in-law who was my colleague at the time. Danny was coming to crash on the couch for a couple of nights. I rode down to the beach with Danny’s sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Most of the ride down I heard from his sister how immature he was (he was 22 at the time and I was 30). I remember thinking: This guy sounds like a jerk. Why is he even coming?

Danny showed up much later than the rest of us, and I was the first one to greet him. (He loves this part of the story.) I thought: She didn’t tell me her irresponsible brother was so good looking!

Danny stayed a couple of extra days and we have been together ever since.  

The age difference seemed like a big deal at first, but he is growing gray, so I tell everyone we look more and more the same age every year. He doesn’t love when I say that!

We got married about a year and a half after we met. We had a wonderful adventure of a honeymoon traveling to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Nine months later we had our little honeymoon souvenir, Henry. I worked full time until our third kid was born.

I really struggled balancing family and work, and did not see how I could do my commute, work, and manage the house. We had talked about having more children, but at that point I just didn’t see how I could manage. I had had some complications with my last pregnancy and decided to have my tubes tied. I regretted this decision almost immediately.  

Occasionally, I would get a pang for more children but tried to ignore it. As I got older the pang got stronger. We did a lot of soul searching and thinking about how to fill this growing hole I was feeling. I ended up having a tubal reversal and did get pregnant several times but none went past the first trimester.

After considering alternative ways to grow our family, we decided to pursue becoming foster parents with hopes to adopt. We became licensed foster parents in September 2018. It has been a very positive experience for us. We have had excellent social workers who are in it for the kids without a doubt.

Our little Boo was initially placed with us in a respite situation for two weeks where his foster mother (who is a biological relative) needed us to watch him temporarily. After those two weeks we were pretty much in love. I reached out to his social worker to let her know if they ever need respite again, or if he were to ever come up for adoption that we would love to be considered. And… only a few days later she called to ask if we would like to be his foster family. We said: Absolutely!  

He was placed with us just after Christmas 2018. One thing that has been powerful in this whole process for us is that we have built relationships with his biological family that we hope to continue. Boo should never have any questions about where he came from or how loved he is. Both his birth mother and father’s family are very loving to us and to him.  

May is Foster Care Awareness month, and right now the foster system is in crisis due to the number of children affected by the opioid epidemic. There are many reasons children are in foster care usually from neglect or abuse. Reunification with the biological family is always the main goal of foster care, but if that cannot be achieved then adoption becomes the goal.

There are currently over 12,000 children in foster care in North Carolina. We didn’t know what to expect or how we would feel as we went through this journey. Being a foster family isn’t easy and the amount of paperwork is tremendous, but at the end of the day it is all worth it. We plan on staying a licensed foster family to help others with respite care.  

I can say without reservation that the biggest joy of having Boo in our lives is seeing the bond our biological children share with him. I don’t pretend to know or understand how certain people come and go in your life. Boo is a blessing to us and I feel 100% like I am Boo’s Mama.

There are also lots of children who are already legally free for adoption and looking for a forever family. If your family is wanting to know more about this go here.

More about our family: Henry is a freshman in a magnet high school. High school requires a lot of time management which is a real challenge. He is involved in Boy Scouts, but his real joy is playing Magic the Gathering. It is really an obsession and he is amazing at strategy games.

Claudia is a 7th grader and she is very social and enjoys all that middle school has to offer. Her loves are dance and making/watching TikTok videos.

Walter is a 5th grader and is also a Boy Scout. He loves riding his bike, watching TV shows, and experimenting in the kitchen.

Boo is all boy and quite a handful. He loves cars and trucks, and being spoiled!

I have just recently gone back to work full time and am working as a librarian at Walter’s elementary school.

Danny works as a third shift pharmacist at a hospital. He works seven days on and seven days off.  The days off are great, but the days on can be a challenge.  His real loves are playing disc golf and foraging for mushrooms.

We moved back to my hometown of Winston-Salem, North Carolina when I was 8 months pregnant with Walter. I told Danny I would never move again. It was exhausting.

I had bought the house we shared in Durham before we met, so shopping together for a house was a new experience. I always imagined living in a turn of the century four square with all of its quirks and beauty. All Danny saw was a money pit.

The housing market in Winston-Salem is healthy I would say, but not very competitive. A friend told me that she heard a wise real estate agent ask what type of house the clients want and then what type of house they grew up in — 9 out of 10 times they end up in the house they were raised in. So, we ended up in a 1958 two story ranch — similar to my childhood home and similar to Danny’s as well.

I truly felt like I was compromising because this was not the elegant house of my dreams, but after some painting and small renovations, it really is perfect for us. The floor plan is ideal for a family.  

We were moving from a much smaller 2 bedroom 1 bath, into a 5 bedroom 3.5 bath. It took a while to get used to having a bigger house. I didn’t ever use the baby monitor in our other house because I always said if I couldn’t hear the crying in our little house then the baby was ok. We sort of jumped from starter home to our house to grow old in.

We bought our house for $328,000 and now I think Zillow is saying $440,000. The house really was in good shape and the previous owners had updated it.

The floors on the ground level are half hardwoods and half outdoor slate tiles.  Everyone loves the tile when they see it and it is good looking but they are not great to live with — hard on the feet, the back, and everything shatters when dropped.

When we walked into the house the walls in the hallway were blood red — a truly terrible red that really clashed with the gray toned tile. Painting that was the first priority. Since I was so far pregnant, my mother in law graciously painted it for us, as well as the nursery.  

The kitchen and one of the baths were in need of upgrades. The bath had one of those plastic counter vanities with clam shell sinks.  Danny felt like it was fine but it drove me CRAZY! So, other than paint colors, that was the first update.  

I have changed every paint color in the house at least once (except for Henry’s room) as well as almost all the light fixtures.

The major renovation was the kitchen which we did about 5 years ago. It has been a gamechanger for me and I know it added value to the house. I love my kitchen! I struggled with the cabinet paint color — literally staring at grays on the kitchen floor until I was delirious. I chose Gray Owl by Benjamin Moore and I think it is perfect.

As far as decorating goes, I think of my style as Anthropologie meets Southern Living. Danny and I love traveling, and love getting mementos from our trips. I was an art history major in college and my father is a retired biology professor, so I really see art and science as significant influences on my style.

We also have some traditional elements in our house that make me feel like a grown up. I have incorporated a lot of the sentimental items throughout the house. A favorite item is the oversized copy of an envelope over our mantle (you can see the image at the top of the post).

The envelope is from a letter my grandfather wrote to my grandmother in 1939 one year before they were married. I love that there is no street, or zip code. My grandmother lived in a very small town in East Tennessee. The content of the letter is amazing. He writes that he would like her to attend a dance with him the following week, but he has no way of knowing if she will be able to attend, because the reply wouldn’t get back to him in time. He says there is a phone at a boarding house where his friend lives and she could call and leave a message and his friend would relay the message to him.

We found the letter after they had both died so we don’t know if she attended or not, but I suspect that she did!

Our neighborhood is a hidden neighborhood that is close to pretty much everything in town and within a bike ride of several historic public properties, and Wake Forest University (my alma mater). Most of the houses were built from 1958 to about 1968.

There were not many young families 11 years ago, but now there are. It is so much fun to have the younger families out on bikes and walking dogs, and the older neighbors out on their evening strolls. Some of our neighbors are the original homeowners.

Our house was built as a show home for the neighborhood with all the bells and whistles — a front porch, back porch, and swimming pool (which at some point was filled in, boo!). As a good librarian, I went to the public library and did some research on the house. The builders charged people to attend open houses which featured swimsuit models, live piano music, and showcase furniture. It was kind of a big deal!

I have a lot of family in Winston-Salem including my mother, father and stepmother. Danny’s parents are only an hour away and his sisters and their families are close by as well. We count ourselves very lucky to have them nearby for us and for the relationships our kids have with them.  

am an only child and two things I swore when I had a family was that I would live in town (as I grew up out in the country) and have more than one child. I have succeeded on both accounts.  

Winston-Salem is a city that was built on tobacco and textiles. R.J. Reynolds personally brought Wake Forest College (now University) from Wake Forest, North Carolina, just as James Duke renamed Trinity College to Duke University. We can see the WFU chapel from our front porch.

Our neighborhood is the smaller stepchild to nearby neighborhoods with larger homes. Maya Angelou lived a couple of streets away from us, so that’s neat. Other fun businesses that started in Winston-Salem are Krispy Kreme doughnuts (we do our fair share to support them), and Texas Pete hot sauce — actually from North Carolina. Winston-Salem is a great city to raise kids and I am really happy we came back here with ours to put down our roots.  

As with everyone, our lives are definitely different since the pandemic. We are so lucky that we live in a house with a great outdoor space. We also live on a dead end, so the kids play outside and ride bikes without my worrying about them. Everyone works on their homework in the mornings and then has the afternoon off, as a rule. We have had, especially since Spring Break, some days of kids not getting the work done when they said they did and having to double down to make up.

It has not been easy. There are a lot of distractions around.

I have had to work from home, but luckily I am able to do my job in little chunks that are manageable. I don’t know how classroom teachers with kids at home are doing it. Big shout out to all the teachers out there!

My husband is still going to work as he is an essential worker. He doesn’t have much patient interaction in the hospital, mostly dealing with technicians, nurses, and doctors.

There are a ton more dishes, and messes to clean up, but overall we are doing okay. 

While the school work has been hard, the home time has been really good. Lots of experimental baking, and time outside. Our front yard looks like a sporting goods store. We have several hammocks, a disc golf basket, corn hole boards, and there has been a resurgence of the Nerf guns!

We made some Honeysuckle Sorbet this week which we have done for several years — if you google the recipe, I reduce the amount of honeysuckles by half. You can also just use the mixture to drink like lemonade and for adults, give it a splash of bourbon for a summer cocktail. A real seasonal treat!

When all this began, I started out pretty stressed out being at home. I felt like I had to clean out everything — junk drawer, linen closet, bathroom vanity, etc.. I felt like if I didn’t get one of those projects done every other day or so I had failed in some way. Also, all that cleaning out kind of added more piles of junk in the garage.

I am still getting some straightening done and trying to get the kids to see the benefit. We are not naturally tidy people. I had to work hard to get my spaces cleared for the pics in this feature. Whew!  

I do believe we will change as a society from this pandemic. Hopefully for the better. We are in this together as humans and this battle has the potential to unite us. We need to protect each other and acknowledge that our actions directly affect others.

As a nation we are still trying to strike a balance and we need to solve this problem together and be patient. The protests to reopen are just so short sighted — it is hard for me to understand. We are in unchartered territory and need to be rational and non-partisan in our decision making.

Going forward, I hope the positive takeaways will be respect for teachers, daycare workers, emergency responders, doctors, and nurses. I do worry about the PTSD of the hospital workers in the hotspots.

I am often a person who thinks things will work out eventually, but this may not be the case for this disease.  

Being at home with the kids has made me think that some of my goals for them in life are MY goals, but not necessarily their goals. I need to help guide them and help them be the best person they can be. Spending 24 hours a day with the kids makes me more keenly aware that I am teaching by example. Danny and I are their moral compass and we need to have that in the back of our minds all the time.  

I think we are setting good examples, but I am even more aware of setting that example. I heard a wonderful quote the other day: To lead a good life one must plant trees under whose shade you will never sit.  I hope that our children will think about that and do things in their lives that benefit others. 

I hope my kids remember that our house is filled with love and compassion. And yet, we are not perfect. We all make mistakes — sometimes small mistakes, sometimes big ones. Danny and I put our all into our family and we hope the kids know that.

I hope that they remember that I tried to create an artful home. One that is filled with original art from our family and other artists.  

My favorite thing about living with my kids is watching them grow into their personalities. I hope we can give them the space and support to be their best selves. When they are gone from here I will miss the mess and the chaos— I already know that. One day I will miss the laundry and the bikes all over our front yard. Well, maybe not the laundry. Luckily for me I have a little one giving me hugs and calling me mommy and grabbing my hand still.  

I wish someone had told me that it’s okay not to enjoy every moment. Some moments, hours, days are just hard and you are not your best self, but tomorrow is another day and even the next hour. Regroup and start over.  

——

Thank you, Rachel! I really love hearing about how different families grow and I love hearing about Rachel’s experience with fostering. I had no idea that there were so many kids in the foster system — and that’s just in one state. And I hadn’t thought about the impact that the opioid crises has had on all those kids, but of course it makes sense. I am so glad there are families like Rachel’s that can step in and fill in the gaps to make sure that these kids are taken care of.

I also really loved what Rachel said about her goals for her kids not necessarily being their own goals and realizing that the most important thing is to be a good example. I think one of the hardest things about being a parent is realizing that our kids get to make their own choices. I love that idea of planting trees in who’s shade we will never sit. It’s such a smart way of looking at it.

What are the things you think your kids are learning from the way you live you life? Are there things you do actively to set a certain example for your kids?

SOURCES

Fox Wallpaper

Mushroom themed pottery

Whale Art

Silhouette Art in stairwell


Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram too.

Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at features@designmom.com