Over the past 30 years, Sylvia Austin of Charlotte says she has raised over 15 children, most of them not her own.
This includes three – ages 4, 7 and 8 – who showed up at her house just before school started this year, at the request of the Department of Social Services.
It was a temporary arrangement, she was told. However, Austin made a passing comment to the kids’ troubled mother that has come to fruition: “I won’t let anyone else take your children.”
Two weeks ago, Austin says DSS asked if she and her husband, Melvin, would consider adopting the three. Austin says she jumped at the idea, believing it was God working in one of those mysterious ways.
“For the first time, I have little girls!” says Austin, calling it a lifelong dream to have daughters.
“I’ve done nothing but raise boys all my life. And I was born the only girl in a family full of brothers. The doctors told me after the birth of my fourth son that I could never have children again and I gave up on a girl.
“God has given me a second chance.”
The rapid expansion of the family has caused financial challenges, which is why Sylvia Austin registered with the Salvation Army to get free Christmas toys for the girls.
The Charlotte agency’s annual Christmas program has promised to supply toys for 12,000 needy children this year, many of which will be paid for by Observer readers who donate to the Empty Stocking Fund.
It’s serendipity that Austin, a former school bus driver, would become a mother to these particular girls.
A decade ago, she says she was working security for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and met their future mother, when the girl was a troubled student at Smith Middle School (now Smith Language Academy). “I had to take her home from school a couple of times because she was being disciplined. We got to know each other then.”
The girls have joined a household with a solid track record, at least with boys. Three of Sylvia Austin’s biological sons have built successful lives, including two working with the military. The fourth is pursuing a career in stand-up comedy, winning him points for bravery and daring.
As for all the other boys she raised, they included nephews, godsons and the children of friends. All were given a strict upbringing that included the “fear of God” and respect for elders, she says.
Recent months have convinced her that boys are actually easier to raise than girls.
“You give boys a toy, and they keep to themselves playing, or go outside and play with friends,” Austin says.
“Little girls demand 24/7 attention. They talk all the time. I must hear ‘Miss Sylvia’ 100 times a day. Three girls at once can suck all the energy out of you. Suddenly, it’s Mom who needs a timeout.”
It has been a rude awakening for her husband, too. He’s now the only man in a house full of females.
“I have learned to just sit down, be quiet and try not to voice my opinion,” says Melvin Austin, 50, who works as a truck driver. “The best thing for me to do is let it all play itself out, and I’ll be the cleanup man.”
Sylvia Austin says it’s the rare quiet moments that have convinced her this is all going to work itself out. That’s when she can’t help but notice the impact of past neglect on the girls, including the surprised look in their eyes when she dotes on their hair and outfits.
The three have been jabbering for weeks about Christmas wish lists, but Austin says she can’t help but think that their dreams have already come true, just like hers.
This year at the Austin home, everybody got a second chance for Christmas.