Editor’s Note: This story appeared as the cover feature of the December 2020 Centerville-Washington Neighbors Magazine, which is mailed to 3,661 homes in the community.
By Jeff Louderback
The Christmas spirit sparked to life around Halloween in the Selby family’s Washington Township Estates home. “Why not?” Pete and Rachel Selby agreed. The couple has embraced an open mind philosophy since they met. Debuting the family Christmas tree in late October is just another example.
“We wanted to create a festive holiday atmosphere for the photoshoot,” Rachel said with a smile, a few hours after their lively household posed for Ashley Mauro’s camera as the cover feature of this issue. “Christmas is a special time for us as a family, so bringing the holidays a bit early will only add to the spirit of the season.”
The Selbys have adopted five children. They have also gained legal custody of 18-month-old Rosie and will finalize the adoption process.
Long before the rooms of their home were filled with young minds, Pete and Rachel knew each other as children. “I was friends with Pete’s younger brother when I was growing up,” Rachel said. “We knew who each other was, just as you know most families at a small church.”
They were raised in West Alexandria, where their families attended the same house of worship. Pete graduated from Twin Valley South High School, and Rachel was home-schooled. Pete is a middle child, with one older brother and one younger brother. Rachel is also a middle child, with two sisters. Their mothers have long been best friends. They are 10 years apart in age. Pete is now 47, and Rachel is 37.
They reconnected as adults, when Pete returned to church following a divorce. After dating for five months, the couple married on May 3, 2003. They became an instant family with Jennifer, who was 6 at the time and is now 24, and Brooke, who was 4 then and is now 22.
Pete is a self-employed acoustical engineer who works for clients nationwide. He started his career designing speakers for stereos and home theaters, evolving into smart technology and video displays.
After graduating from Indiana University and teaching preschool and piano lessons, Rachel returned to college, earning a degree in political science. She is a philanthropy officer at Dayton Children’s Hospital.
In the early years of their marriage, blending parenting with careers was not a difficult challenge. Then the couple chose to add to their family.
“For a while, Pete didn’t want more children; and I was content with that, until I got closer to 30,” Rachel said. “We weren’t having success naturally, and our friends who have adopted children encouraged us to explore that route.”
Rachel’s interest in children’s issues was cultivated when the couple completed orientation for foster parenting through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).
“It was eye opening how many children there are in the foster system, and the small percentage of people who open their homes to these children,” Rachel said. “We were confident that it was the right decision to become foster parents and to adopt.”
The Selbys were licensed through ODJFS in 2009. They adopted siblings Hannah, Elizabeth and Jonathan in 2010. All three children were under 5 at the time. Now Hannah is 15, Elizabeth is 13, and Jonathan is 12. The family also includes siblings Alex, 7, and Charlotte, 5. Rosie is the newest addition. Including their adopted children, the Selbys have fostered 25 kids.
“Life seemed like a blur for a few years, because you’re in survival mode when you foster and adopt children who come from trauma,” Rachel said. “It takes time for them to learn, grow and heal.
“We underestimated how difficult it would be, and it’s not something classes can prepare you for; but it’s rewarding because those are our kids, and we are a family who love each other,” she added. “Adopting and fostering are the hardest things we’ve done, and they’re also the best things we’ve done.”
The Selbys moved from Eaton to Washington Township in 2015, mostly for the Centerville school system and the support it provides for children who need Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), speech training and occupational therapy.
Rachel’s commitment to children’s issues led her to become involved in advocacy and politics. Earlier this year she ran for Ohio State Senate; and though she did not win, she has aspirations to get more active in the community and the state.
This has been a year of development for Pete too. The former art school student and longtime engineer abruptly became a teacher to five school-aged children, while Rachel works in her role with Dayton Children’s. Rachel has a home office upstairs, and the children gather around the dining room table to start school at 9am.
“Now more than ever, we recognize that teachers are not paid enough,” Pete said with a smile. “Keeping the children motivated and on task is the main challenge. I love the schoolwork, especially the math. Hannah has started with high school math. I tell her, ‘This is great,’ and she says, ‘No, this is hard,’ and I respond, ‘No, this is great!’”
The Selbys are proud of their children’s compassion and generosity. Charlotte has special needs, as a result of opioid addicted parents and being shaken as a baby. She is legally blind and has cerebral palsy. Her siblings shower her with attention and love.
“Jennifer and her husband are talking about becoming foster parents, and Brooke is studying social work in college,” Rachel said.
“We had a foster kid in the same grade as Jonathan; and when it was time for him to leave, Jonathan gave him his bike, because the boy said he had never had anything to play with,” she recalled. “Those are the moments when you feel warm inside, knowing that your children have empathy and care about others.”
The holidays are different for the Selbys in 2020. In previous years they would visit family in Pennsylvania, stopping at the chocolate factory in Hershey. Rachel’s sister hosts Christmas sometimes in Richmond, Indiana. They have large extended families on both sides, and gatherings are “loud and messy fun”; but this year the Selbys will have a simple celebration at home with their children.
“Three gifts each is the plan, just as baby Jesus received three gifts,” Rachel said. “We’ll have Christmas brunch with the good china, make homemade cinnamon rolls and read the Christmas story in the Bible. The kids look forward to that. Maintaining tradition in an otherwise unpredictable year is important.”