Troy mom Julie Tracy gets plenty of double takes when she’s out with her five kids.
Besides her older son and daughter, she has three special-needs children adopted from China. Two have albinism, a disorder characterized by lack of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes and poor vision. The third is missing three fingers on one hand.
“I’m from China,” proclaims daughter Ellie, 7, a first-grader at Silver Creek Elementary School. “I came to America on an airplane. Some people ask, ‘How did you get two fingers?’ And I say, ‘I was born like that. That’s how God made me.’”
Julie, 46, and her husband, Chris, 53, have taught their children to be open and proud of their unconventional family. They would much rather people ask questions than stare.
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“Sometimes they’re just curious,” said daughter Summer, 20, a student at Western Illinois University in Macomb. “You don’t see a lot of people with albinism, and it kind of makes people want to look at them. And of course, they’re beautiful.”
The three little ones can also be a handful, as evidenced on a recent weeknight, when they were waiting for Dad to bring home pizza.
Isaac, 4, Sophie, 5, and Ellie crawled on Julie’s lap, romped with their three dogs (a boxer named Maggie, a pug named Doodle and a cockapoo named Remington) and jumped up and down at the sound of Chris’s car pulling in the driveway.
Before racing off to dinner, Sophie summed up her mother in a way that might be expected of a preschooler who doesn’t yet grasp the significance of her adoption.
“She washes everything and puts it in the right places,” said Sophie, brushing back long white hair. “She’s a good driver, and she’s a very good cooker.”
Seed planted at Grenada orphanage
The Tracys’ adoption story dates back to the 1980s, when Chris was in Grenada for an Army peace-keeping mission.
“(Our platoon) would collect money for a local orphanage, and we would take the kids Christmas gifts, and we sang Christmas carols with them,” he said. “That made a big impression on me.”
They got married the following February. Chris graduated from police academy and worked 25 years as a state trooper, often dealing with abused and neglected children. Julie became a stay-at-home mom to Wyatt, now 18, and Summer.
I can’t imagine not doing it. Once you see the need, you can’t just turn away. Once your eyes are open, you can’t pretend you don’t know anymore.
Julie Tracy on adopting special-needs children
Through it all, Chris couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of adopting a disadvantaged child. He felt it was God’s will, and he mentioned it to Julie one morning after Sunday school in 2011.
“I looked at him and said, ‘People shouldn’t smoke crack in church,’” she recalls, laughing. “I didn’t think he was serious. I was, like, ‘We have two grown kids, and you’re three years away from retirement.’”
But it wasn’t long before the couple was doing serious Internet research on international adoption. They settled on China, where government limits on family size have historically resulted in many special-needs children being abandoned.
A Delaware-based agency matched them with Ellie. Julie and Chris called a family meeting.
“We told our kids, and they were really excited,” Julie said. “Summer thought the big news was that I was going to have another baby. Wyatt always wanted more siblings.”
Abandoned baby still had umbilical cord
Julie and Chris traveled to China to pick up Ellie in 2012. The 22-month-old with a deformed hand had been living at an orphanage since she was abandoned as a newborn with her umbilical cord still attached.
Once back in America, Julie began reading about albino Chinese children, who are considered not only disabled but bad luck. That led the Tracys to adopt Isaac.
“They showed us a picture of this chubby, blond-haired, beautiful boy, and I knew it was my son,” Julie said.
Summer went with Chris to get Issac in 2013. It didn’t take long to realize the 11-month-old had a developmental delay that hadn’t been disclosed, in addition to his near blindness.
“His head was completely flat in back,” Chris said. “It was shockingly flat. He couldn’t crawl. He couldn’t sit up. We took him to a restaurant, and he couldn’t eat. He didn’t know how.”
Since that time, Isaac has shown dramatic improvement with speech, occupational and physical therapy. Working with him helped Summer to decide to major in special education.
“I think I have a really special bond with Isaac because it was me and my dad who picked him up,” she said. “When you see how these children are treated in China, just because they have different abilities, it breaks my heart.”
The Tracys adopted Sophie in 2015 when she was 3. They tried pursuing a fourth adoption last year, but it fell through. Now they’re taking a pause.
“It’s tough,” said Chris, who now works as a product-liability investigator. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. But my Harley doesn’t tell me it loves me. I’ve never heard of a bass boat hugging you. If you look at adoption, it’s the perfect illustration of God’s love for us. It’s unconditional.”
Family helps local foster parents
Julie and Chris’s experience with adoption and church ministries exposed them to another need: Supplies for local foster children. As if they weren’t busy enough, they founded a charitable organization called Equipping the Called in 2014.
The Tracys collect donated new and gently used clothing, baby bottles, diapers and toiletries and distribute them to licensed foster parents at no charge.
The operation started in the couple’s garage but recently evolved into a quaint boutique at 112 Market St. in Troy. Support comes from Bethel Baptist Church.
“Julie is constantly going, and I’m, like, ‘How do you do it?’” said Bethel volunteer Tracy Davis, 52, of Troy. “It’s just amazing.”
Tracy is most impressed by how Julie stays calm despite her hectic life and by the effort she puts into motherhood. She’s constantly researching and trying to find ways to make life better for her children, particularly those with special needs.
“When I think of the life that Isaac would have led if they hadn’t stepped in ... It just overwhelms me,” Tracy said, noting he could have been bedridden without proper care.
Visits to the Equipping the Called boutique are by appointment only. People can get more information by visiting www.equippingthecalled.org or calling Julie at 618-806-7806.
The Tracys are trying to be realistic about their limits, but they aren’t ruling out adopting another special-needs child.
“I can’t imagine not doing it,” Julie said. “Once you see the need, you can’t just turn away. Once your eyes are open, you can’t pretend you don’t know anymore.”
At a glance
- What: Equipping the Called
- People served: Licensed foster parents
- Where: 112 Market St. in Troy
- Visits: By appointment
- Needed items: Baby wash and lotion, other toiletries, diapers, pull-ups, baby bottles and wipes (the organization has enough clothing at this time)
- Cash donations: Send to P.O. Box 171, Troy, IL 62294
- Information: Visit www.equippingthecalled.org or call 618-806-7806