Love Notes: Shannon and Lauren Sullivan

Shannon, left and Lauren Sullivan in their Chicago home Sunday Sept 23, 2012 where they are raising two foster children they are in the process of adopting. (Nancy Stone, Chicago Tribune / September 21, 2012)

"We had very little information," Shannon recalls. Bizarrely, "They told us she's a Pisces." But they weren't told until days later that she had a severe peanut allergy. Lauren and Shannon were clueless about the needs of the toddler.

"She was basically dropped down into our living room," Lauren says.

"It was kind of like, 'What does she eat?' We don't even know what time she goes to bed," says Shannon. "It's an insanely difficult thing to ask of anybody."

About three months later, Shannon got a call from a placement worker, saying, "I just have to put somebody's name here so I can process my paperwork." Shannon was listed as a "backup" in case a family member didn't step up to care for a 41/2-month-old baby boy, born drug exposed.

Shannon considered that prospect so remote — the infant had four siblings who had already gone to live with family — she didn't even mention it to Lauren.

"The caseworker called me later in the day and said, 'OK, placement got approved in court, and I got everything together to bring him by.' I was, 'Who?' I had to call Lauren and tell her we were having a baby."

Hard to believe, but having two foster kids, a toddler and an infant was the calm before the hurricane.

These big-hearted women couldn't say no when the little boy's aunt called and said she could no longer care for his three sisters — second-, fifth- and seventh-graders. graders.

"If someone asks you to help, and you're in a position to help, it was the right thing to do. It didn't seem that complicated," says Shannon.

Not everyone agreed. "Even my employees said, 'You're insane. You're going to quit your job. There is no way you can manage this,'" Shannon remembers.

"It's hard to describe what it was like in our house. Mass chaos is such a cliche," says Shannon, who didn't quit her job. She and Lauren handled parenting and their jobs with the help of their network of friends and family who tutored, cooked and stepped in.

Suddenly, very suddenly, the couple's parenting expanded into new territory. There were "three sets of homework, plus toddlers and thinking about lunches for the next day, and whose uniform needs ironing and who has gym tomorrow. 'You have to pack your gym clothes.' And, oh my God, we had to do three science fair projects," Shannon says.

"Usually you ease into this stuff."

After 10 months, the girls missed their family and after much conversation they went to live with an aunt. All the adults agreed it was best for the kids. Lauren and Shannon said they experienced grief as well as relief when the girls moved, but they remain in touch.

That left "just" two little ones, who are more than a handful.

Today, as the little boy watches on the basement flat screen, Lauren laughs that she can't get the theme song from "Thomas & Friends," a cartoon train TV show, out of her head. The 3-year-old is crazy for trains right now.

The girl, 41/2, her 13 colorful barrettes bobbing, is drawing letters and numbers on paper — and sometimes on a bright green chair.

Lauren and Shannon say the children — the couple is in the process of legally adopting both — strengthened their already strong relationship.

"As a couple, having kids really challenges you to figure out how you need to and want to exist in the world," says Lauren.

"It's been good for us. I don't think it's good for everybody because it's really hard," Shannon says. "It changes everything. It gives new perspective to those who think they're going to have kids to save their marriage. We get a good laugh out of that."

Love lesson

"If you don't give each other space … I don't see how you can survive. Sometimes it's actual space, but also room to grow, room to change," says Shannon. "It all comes back to working as a team," Lauren says.