Twyla Lubben rises at 5 a.m. when the baby cries for a bottle. Annalyn, 15, wants breakfast shortly after. There are school clothes to lay out and lunch to make for Tim, 8.
Mornings are more exhausting now that she’s 85.
“I’m stiff,” Lubben says, sinking for a moment into her La-Z-Boy rocker. “I’m old and I might want to sit here. But how do you quit when there’s work to be done?”
Sixty-six years after her first child was born, the mother of 13 and foster mother of more than 100 still is parenting. Four grown children, two drug-affected foster babies and two grandchildren gather daily at her table.
Even among Spokane County’s 370 foster homes, her household is unique.
“When you stop and realize that for all these years there was never a time they didn’t hear the patter of babies’ feet around the house, it’s mind-boggling,” says the Rev. Darwin McIntosh of Ridgeview Christian Center of the Assemblies of God, who has known the Lubbens for years.
“Every child they’ve raised - and I can say this without exception - still loves them and looks to them for guidance. It’s remarkable.”
In a tidy rancher in north Spokane, flowering plants from her husband Henry’s funeral fight for space with toddler toys.
Two weeks ago today, Henry Lubben died at age 90 - 16 years after the state argued he and Twyla were too old to be parents. They were in their 70s when they fought and won a nasty court battle to adopt Christina, an abused toddler.
“It doesn’t depend on age,” says that daughter, now 19, married and a mother herself. “It depends on who cares for you and loves you.”
The children Twyla and Henry Lubben reared live and work from Texas to Seattle and include a police officer and a financial analyst for Starbucks Coffee. An adopted daughter who shares the home has, with Twyla’s help, cared for 50 drug-affected babies in the past five years. Lubben sits and rocks the babies born with cocaine, alcohol and amphetamines in their blood. She rocks and sings lullabies, though the babies cannot always be soothed.
“I’m amazed at the level of commitment and dedication these people show, the example they are,” says Connie Bacon, foster care placement supervisor at the Division of Children and Family Services. “They’re our points of light.”
Up until his health began failing in March, Henry Lubben would be out in the yard raking or hauling items for people. If anyone in their church needs extra clothing, Pastor McIntosh would advise them to call the Lubbens. They were always able to help.
Twyla Lubben had three children from an abusive first marriage when she met and married Henry during World War II. An infantryman, he went on to serve 196 consecutive days in the Battle of the Bulge, earning a Bronze Star and a Silver Star.
After the war, they moved to a Nebraska farm with no electricity or plumbing and began adding to their family. First: a blond toddler whose mother had died. “I knew she needed someone,” Twyla Lubben later wrote. “I took her home hoping Henry would see her need and accept her.” He did. Maria, 55, still lives with her mother.
As one child grew out of diapers, another seemed to appear. The Lubbens adopted children from different races, others with developmental disabilities, birth defects or abusive backgrounds.
“I always knew when there would be one more, and I believe it was the Holy Spirit that led me to the job,” Twyla Lubben said.
With three small children of color, they eventually found their small town suffocating. After Henry Lubben retired from selling farm equipment, they moved to Spokane in 1975 to be near Twyla’s sister and a brother in North Idaho.
A few years later, they got their 52nd foster child, Christina, age 8 months. Her teenage mother’s boyfriend had broken her arms and legs and fractured her skull.
Christina recovered and grew in their care. Then, when she was 3, the state moved to find her a permanent family, in part because of the Lubbens’ advanced ages.
“If I had one case in my legal career, this was it,” said attorney Russell Van Camp, who represented the couple. “I can play it back like it happened this morning. It was one of the most emotional events in my life.”
Christine Gregoire, then assistant attorney general, represented the state.
Today, Christina Lubben Marshall’s only memories are of sitting on the judge’s lap after the judgment.
But she clearly recalls a secure childhood where Twyla Lubben drove her to school everyday, prepared large, simple meals and wrote special letters just to her on her birthday and at Christmas.
“I’ve saved them all.
“Mother always made sure we had everything we needed. We didn’t have much but she could make the money go a long way.”
Says McIntosh: “It’s incredible when you look at what they’ve accomplished on virtually nothing. It’s not that you have something to give, it’s that you give regardless of what your circumstances are.”
“It’s more important to a child than money and gifts is that you’re there and listen,” Lubben says.
She worries when she won’t be there. Especially about Annalyn. The youngest adopted daughter has multiple birth defects that doctors predicted would prevent her from living past toddlerhood.
Now almost 16, she eats food pureed by Lubben, swings in a special chair and goes to sleep hearing Lubben say, “I love you.”
The large extended family helps Lubben care for Annalyn and know that she will be cared for in the decades ahead.
In a household full of people she nurtured, Lubben pauses only briefly for herself, to read Scripture aloud or work on her book. She wrote “Christina’s World” more than a decade ago and is working on another memoir, writing in spare moments, longhand at her kitchen table.
Across town, Christina twirls through her kitchen with Alexandria, 11 months. She sings to her and dances with her as her mother did.
“She made me the person I am today,” Christina says. “I care about people because she’s a caring woman.”
“‘We never asked for the perfect and beautiful,” Lubben once wrote. “I asked God repeatedly, ‘we need another baby …” Each was an answer to prayer.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)