Near the end of July Andrews’ Moving and Storage of Cleveland/Columbus, Ohio, sent its finest van operators, Jimmy Skeens and Hobbie Gwinn, out for a job that they knew would be a challenge. Skeens and Gwinn were scheduled to move the Jackson family as a corporate relocation. This move would require two full tractor-trailers and a lot of patience. With 20 children living in the house, this monstrous move from New York to Indiana certainly seemed to be an epic challenge. But what they thought would be a challenging and exhausting job of moving mountains of furniture, books, toys, and clothes ended up to be a life changing experience.
For years Michael and Mary-Jo Jackson had discussed the idea of having a family of not only biological children, but adopted children as well. Michael and Mary-Jo are the biological parents of the first seven of their children. These children have since grown and moved out, some now married with children of their own. The remaining children are adopted from several different countries and range in age from 8 to 20 years old. This is a family made up of children with different nationalities, backgrounds, and physical or cognitive disabilities. There is nothing easy about anything this family does… at least that’s what all our conventional wisdom would tell us.
Not long after the move got under way, it was clear to Skeens and Gwinn that this family was no ordinary family, and not in the obvious way. The expectation of calamity and chaos amid back-breaking work over several hot, July days was drenched in a new reality of cooperation, excitement, productivity, and family values that are uncommon anymore. The kids weren’t upset about moving. None of them were nervous about leaving or worried what they would do in a new, strange city. The parents weren’t exasperated in trying to feed, entertain, secure, and police 20 children while coordinating and working with the movers. This family worked together, harmoniously, with every member helping in any way they could. The kids were excited in anticipation of the move and the adventure they found themselves in the middle of. Each one helped in their own way, never complaining about hard work or having to do something they didn’t want to. All shared the load equally. Gwinn pointed out that not once did he hear a voice raised, a complaint, an argument, or a threat. Not between the kids and not from the parents. They had never seen anything like it.
Gwinn credit’s Michael and Mary-Jo’s parenting style to the family’s ability to be so cohesive and happy together. “All the kids are treated equally, there are no favorites,” said Gwinn. Mary-Jo often referred to her kids as “All you happy children” and, as Skeens noted, “Mrs. Jackson must have said it 1000 times.” What touched Skeens and Gwinn the most was the way the children had come together and acted like true brothers and sisters. “We were with this family for eight days and not one child complained, fought with another, or tried to shirk a responsibility,” said Gwinn. Maybe the family works so well together because they’re actually used to being together. The Jacksons have one computer for the girls and one computer for the boys. They have only one TV. In this day in age where there are a lot of children who have their own personal portable entertainment like cell phones and DSP’s, kids in the same family don’t have to interact with each other, they don’t have to share, they don’t have to get along. But if you’re in the Jackson family, you learn what it’s like to be a member of a family and you learn how to treat your family.
For Skeens and Gwinn, the result of this move was much more than the monumental accomplishment of successfully moving this huge family and their 20 mattresses and bicycles. They were welcomed by the Jacksons as if they were also part of the family. They worked right along side the family as they witnessed how hard Michael and Mary-Jo worked to keep the family going. You think moving furniture is tough? Try making breakfast for 20 kids in your kitchen while it’s being packed! But the synergy and love the family members all had for each other was so impressive to Gwinn and Skeens that they thoroughly enjoyed witnessing it while they were doing their job. Gwinn so enjoyed it that he said if the family ever moved again, we’d better assign him to it. “This move changed my attitude about a lot of things. At 53 years old, I thought I knew everything about raising kids. I find now how little I do know. This has been a life changing experience for me.”
In the moving industry in the summertime, it is so easy to forget what’s important. Our thanks to the Jackson family (all 22 of them) for reminding us. A family full of disabled children enabled us to see what a family should look like.