The Lyon Black Family: Big Love, Little Time
Lyon Black Family
Lawrenceville, Georgia (Senate District 45)
Two mothers. Four children. Two wheelchairs. One bus. A house of bountiful love, grit, determination, and resilience. And more love.
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The Lyon Black family is led by two adoring, dedicated mothers: Vicki, aka Mommy, and Cyndy, aka Mom Mom.
They have four adopted boys. Tyrece,8, and Maddie, 7, who are affectionately referred to as “The Bigs.” Zain and Quinn, both 6, are “The Littles. ”Maddie and Quinn are biological brothers. All of the boys are survivors of extreme abuse, trauma, and neglect. The Bigs each have a range of diagnoses related to shaken baby syndrome, which includes traumatic brain injury, spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy, cortical vision impairment (CVI), global developmental delays, epilepsy, and dysphagia. They use wheelchairs for mobility, do not use language to communicate, and Maddie has a g tube and is on a ketogenic diet, which is helping to reduce his frequent seizures.
The Littles have autism, ADHD, and other developmental delays. They are both smart, sweet, thriving kiddos, routinely surpassing every dire prediction made for them and their outcomes.
Vicki and Cyndy were first foster parents, taking in children from the Arizona Department of Child Safety starting in 2014. However, when Tyrece, who is Navajo, came into their lives, something shifted. The thought of eventually relinquishing him to the system broke their hearts. They began steps toward adopting him. Words from Vicki’s victim impact statement, which was read aloud at his perpetrator’s sentencing capture the passion and fervor with which they strive to protect and advocate for Tyrece, “[He was] robbed of everything–his physical well-being, his birth family, his culture–everything–his future is not the same as it should be and it never will be; that is the harsh reality. [He] should be playing, getting ready for kindergarten, annoying his siblings, tending to sheep, learning his Native Navajo language and being a daily part of his family.”Tyrece came to live with them in December 2016. “Literally that whole Christmas,” Cyndy says, “we did nothing but hold him. I think the first six months of his life we just held him and held him.”
Because Vicki was a nurse and nurse educator, and they already had some experience with Tyrece, Vicki and Cyndy thought they were ready to take on a second child with shaken baby syndrome, Maddie. “When we got the call for Maddie, we thought ‘We got this down pat.’ We felt competent. But Maddie is nothing like Tyrece at all.”
Maddie came to them after having been in the hospital and on a ventilator for a month. They immediately went to a scheduled neurologist appointment, where they learned his MRI was “traumatizing” and “horrific” (direct quotes from two different neurologists). Along with the violence’s impact to his brain, Maddie’s head was flattened on the back from having been neglectfully left in his crib for extraordinarily long periods of time. Their first night together, the mothers tried to give Maddie a bath. He was terrorized, continuing to express outrage and fear of baths for quite some time. The cumulative effect of these moments led Vicki and Cyndy to believe that his perpetrators attempted to drown Maddie. “It was probably two full years before Maddie came to really trust us,” Cyndy says. Fortunately, these days, after years of love and gentle, healing touch, bath time is one of Maddie’s favorite things.
To say that raising children with these sorts of extraordinary functional needs is expensive and taxing would be an understatement. From ramps to diapers, special beds to shower renovations, from gait trainers to corrective braces, it’s nearly inestimable, the financial costs. Not to mention the hundreds of hours they spend at therapy each month–physical, speech, occupational, feeding, vision, water, horse–all the therapies. Then there was the bilateral hip reconstruction Tyrece had at three years old. Right now, because the boys are all so young, all the family has by way of support is Medicaid. Frankly, they have not had time to investigate the labyrinthine process of applications since moving to Georgia five years ago.
How do they get around with such a large family and so many wheelchairs? They have a literal bus. They were able to purchase the renovated bus from a family in Bethlehem, Georgia who also have children with disabilities. The bus was damaged last year when Cyndy and Tyrece were involved in a hit-and-run accident.
On this bright, beautiful Sunday morning in October, the family is going through its weekend morning routines. The Littles are watching TV with their much beloved, long-time nurse, Nikkie. Cyndy is painstakingly brushing and braiding Tyrece’s long hair into two plaits because he has a tendency to rub his head against the headrest. She explains that his hair has not been cut in honor of his tribe’s tradition. When he becomes a teenager, they will again follow tradition and cut several inches off. Meanwhile, Vicki attends to Maddie, who verbalizes periodically in a manner that sometimes sounds like crying, but Vicki reassures him it’s just his way of connecting, reminding you he’s there.
His hair done, Tyrece becomes a bit restless. “What’s the matter, ‘Recey’? Do you want Mommy to hold you?” Cyndy carries Tyrece from his wheelchair and lays him out carefully along the length of Vicki’s lap. He is immediately soothed.
When they purchased their home a few years ago, they knew it wasn’t quite right for all their needs and had big hopes of renovating it. A nonprofit came out to evaluate all the adaptations needed, but ultimately turned them down because Vicki and Cyndy are gay. Instead, they have a makeshift ramp they built themselves, one recently renovated shower, and a lot of dreams deferred for what could help them make the house work better for them, especially as the boys grow.
The Littles in the TV room are ready to go outside on this beautiful day. They want to play in their sandbox or maybe with their three dogs. “Write these numbers, 1, 3, 5,9,” Zain requests because he is learning numbers at school. “What color is this?” Quinn pipes in, holding up one crayon after another, over and over again. Zain, who had a traumatic birth injury which affected one side of his body, is referred to as their ‘miracle child’ because he has outpaced every physical and developmental diagnosis made at the time of his birth.
Cyndy says her biological son, who is grown, expresses concern about the fact that they are older parents. They dream of starting a facility or group home for medically complex children like The Bigs. That way, long-term care can continue once they are no longer able to do it.
With this many children who have these complex medical needs, how do these two mothers keep centered? The idea of “Me Time” or “self-care” is laughable. Vicki points to the three laundry baskets that separate kitchen towels from the clothes; their washer and dryer are going pretty much twenty-four hours a day. A little while ago, they figured out that the buzz of the dryer in the middle of the night was waking one of the boys up, sometimes leading to protractedly long, fretful nights for everyone. In a very rare respite, Vicki got a pedicure recently, proudly showing off her bright toenails. She tried for a while to have daily walks, but that fell by the wayside over the summer when the boys were home from school. Cyndy, whose full time job these days is to care for the boys, tries valiantly to make it to acupuncture once a month.
As Vicki separates laundry, and Cyndy fills up the dogs’ water bowl, The Littles’ protests increase, turning into a droning whine. They’ve been so patient, but that blue sky and the sandbox are calling.
Writer: Shannon Turner , Photographer: Uncredited