We first profiled the Trumble-Stazzone family in December 2014 when they had just marked a year as farmers in Hastings, New York.
A year and change later, we caught up with Raymond, a 34-year-old school administrator, and Daniel, a 31-year-old real estate agent, on their growing family, life on the farm and what it’s like to raise a non-traditional family in a small town.
The couple’s adoption of their two kids — Cody, 10, and Jacob, 11 — finalized the same month they moved to Hastings. They became foster parents once again last year, adding a 10-year-old and 3-year-old to the mix. Just two weeks ago, their older foster child left their care. The now 4-year-old, who they prefer not to name due to his foster child status, continues to live with their family.
The couple has added 21 acres to their originally 4-acre farm with plans to expand down the road. For now, they both work full-time and run their farm operations as a hobby. They sell honey, soaps and lotion produced at their farm, named Mighty Whimp Farms.
A Non-Traditional Family Does Small Town Culture
Ray and Daniel had questions about moving to a small town with their interracial, two-dad family. But neighbors and the kids' school have been much more accepting in Hastings than they were in their former hometown of Syracuse.
It was especially important to the couple that the schools provide a safe space for their kids. Cody is gender-fluid, prefers the pronoun “herm," sometimes wears girl's clothing and vacillates between wanting to be called a girl or boy.
Concerned about how a small-town school would handle Cody’s identity — and having experienced discriminatory behavior from a teacher at the boys’ school in Syracuse — the couple contacted the school before enrolling the kids. Things went surprisingly well.
They knew they were in good hands when the first question Cody’s teacher asked was, "What pronoun does Cody prefer?” Cody's classmates don't seem to care either way. Part of that, the dads suspect, is that the kids are still too young to be aware of many of society's judgments.
They also credit the teacher’s modeling of how to handle Cody’s self-expression: as a non-issue — "That we don't need to bring attention to it because there's nothing wrong with it," Ray says.
They know Cody's blissful circle of acceptance won't last forever, especially with middle school around the corner. So, they've done their best to lay the groundwork for healthy coping.
"We've had consistent conversations with Cody about just the reality of life and the world and just society in general whether it be kids or adults or his peers," Daniel says.
Becoming Foster Parents, Again
About a year after finalizing their kids' adoption, Ray and Daniel decided to pursue their goal of growing their family. But the choice to bring a child into their home carries more weight this time around: they now have to consider Jacob and Cody first.
“It really needs to be the perfect fit — because everything’s different now that we have kids. There's a whole other set of things to think about," Daniel says. They were overwhelmed initially at how many calls they were receiving for placements.
"At least once a week, if not twice a week. We just couldn't believe the need that the county has right now," Daniel says. "But we were very selective. We had to say 'no' to many months of calls just because it just wasn't a perfect fit."
Jacob and Cody have made a lot of progress since coming to live with them in late 2012 as foster kids. All kids have different needs — and foster kids often face additional obstacles to healthy development, Daniel says. If potential foster kids show signs that they might hinder that progress for Jacob and Cody, it simply will not work.
"We're real and we don't expect kids to come in here and behave perfectly," Ray says. Still, they've drawn clear boundaries.
"I think kids with any sexual abuse past and any violent history, we just already say no." They also look for evidence that a child may cause harm to animals since their kids are expected to help care for the animals on the farm.
For them, knowing their limits is as much about doing what's right for the foster kid as caring for themselves and their adopted children.
"If you're not equipped to fit the needs of a certain child, then you're not the right fit. And that's okay," Daniel says. He wants other potential foster parents to feel comfortable setting limits rather than be deterred from foster parenting for fear they will be saddled with more than they can handle.
"They can be as selective as they want and that's part of being realistic," he says.
Adjusting to a Larger Family and Coping with Loss
Cody and Jacob, unaware of all the care their dads have taken to ensure their family grows just the right way, blissfully embrace having more children to play with on the farm. The dads have built a walking path down to the creek on their property, which has been a hit with the kids.
Meanwhile, Daniel and Ray have had to learn some new parenting skills: how to handle more kids at once and how to care for a much younger child.
"We love it because we haven't had kids that young. I guess it's kind of getting used to the wiping noses and wiping butts. Trying to get them to go to sleep," Ray says. "They're obviously not as independent as the older kids."
During the time they had another child around their kids’ age in the house, Ray and Daniel became much more aware of the realities of what children can access online, and — a simpler concern — the need to limit kids’ screen and video game time during chilly winter months when they can’t play outside.
More kids means more laundry and more cooking. And, of course, sibling disagreements take on a whole other form with four than when there are just two kids to sit down for a chat. But, the couple felt four was a good number. Yet, it was uniquely challenging to try and meet the very individual needs of each child.
"It's kind of a different gear. It's a different set of daily things to work with," Daniel says.
Two weeks ago, when the older foster child left, the couple felt the familiar sting of parting with a child they had grown to love.
“It’s not easy to say goodbye to a child — and it can be very difficult for the child depending on the circumstances," Daniel says.
Looking forward, they say they'll have very important news to share in two or three months. We can't wait to hear what it is!