Sunday, June 28, 2015

Unconventional Living

The other night, while on a family vacation, I watched my mother get up in the wee hour of the night to cradle my seven year old brother as he cried on her shoulder because of growing pains. She rubbed his legs down, singing softly to him.

It was the perfect picture of a mother's sacrificial and tender love. A few hours later, he woke again and my father took the second shift to comfort him.

In moments like those, I wonder how many countless children around the world are waking in the middle of the night in need of comfort and soothing, with no one to answer their needs?

For these children, what should be the most magical, innocent and playful time of life, is often wrought with loneliness, injustices, and having to grow up too fast.

Sixteen years ago, my parents answered the calling to devote their lives to fostering and adopting children; since then, they have fostered over ten children, with three adopted, and the hopes of adopting one, or even two more.

Three of my former foster siblings live in California now, where we visited them this week. Though they were placed with their aunt years ago, there is something powerful about our connection that goes beyond blood or circumstance. 

My seventeen year old sister opened up to me while we were sitting on the beach, discussing a break-up she just went through. 

"My friends say I'm closed off now. I know I am. But, I'll never be closed off to my brother or sister, or to you guys. You're family to me. I trust you."

Her words resonated with me. It was over a decade ago that she and her two siblings lived with us, but we will always be family.

These siblings of mine are incredible testaments of what the foster care system can provide for children. After moving in with their aunt in Watts, Los Angeles, the oldest sibling met a volunteer in a local program that focused on offering a positive place for these kids to hang out. 

The volunteer recalls how she "often invited the kids in the neighborhood to her church but they weren't interested. And then, he came along and was enthusiastic about going and I was so surprised."

He later told her he wanted to go with her to church because he remembered his positive experiences going with our family. Years have passed, and she still provides a mentor/mother role to him and his sisters, including helping them enroll in college, providing advice and love, and keeping us connected to them.

When I consider the statistics from CNN below, my heart hurts that there aren't more people who will answer the call to foster children, and/or mentor these young teenagers who have aged out of the system, or are growing up in broken homes.

In my parent's household, there are currently four kids under the age of twelve bustling about, playing, eating, singing, crafting, jumping, wrestling, chatting, whining, laughing, at all times... it is a place teeming with life. It's the opposite of the quiet, perfect family of two we all seem to paint as ideal in our modern day.

I just finished reading a book by a Dr. Sampson Davis, "Living and Dying in Brick City," where he addresses the inner-city crisis of broken homes, a failing health care system, and the lost potential of so many beautiful souls who are drowned out by hopelessness.

He says of adoption, "I've seen far too many children come into the world unwanted... There is no 100 percent guarantee that a family who adopts will wind up with a perfect child and a perfect life, just as there is no guarantee that a natural birth will result in these things. Adoption, much like having a child the natural way, is full of wonder and mystery" (p. 104).

I was asked not long ago to close my eyes and to picture that thing that can move me to tears just thinking about it. 

Eyes closed, I saw a picture I've seen a thousand times before. It's the face of a child, staring blankly into my eyes, the pain of neglect etched across his face. I see his plea for love and acceptance and my heart breaks in two.

If only more people would answer the call to raise unconventional families... We need more families with children that are not all one color, one biological combination, one perfect stair step of ages. We can change the epidemic of broken and hopeless lives when we are willing to set our selves aside to foster/mentor others.

I admit, when I think of following in my parent's footsteps, I often become nervous of all the things that can go wrong... 

I imagine having to relive the heartbreak of hopelessly watching a child reunified with a parent in a less-than-stable home, only to know they will enter the system again. It's hard enough being the sibling, I can't imagine being the mother role.

Foster care is worrying sick about the future of a child(ren) you've come to love as your own flesh and blood, it's answering politely questions asked about your "lovely family"by nosy people who are puzzled by the blend and ages all calling you "momma," and often helping children through emotions and behaviors resulting from confusing circumstances.

And, it's knowing that when others say, "I could never do that, I'd get too attached," it's knowing that's exactly why you do it, because these children need someone who will get attached, who will love them no matter how much it breaks your heart when they go home, or maybe, just maybe, end up filling a permanent place in your home.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Musings on Childhood

They always told me it would go by fast. Catching sight of the chubby cheeked face poking out from the baby carrying contraption I wore, they'd half-smile, half-reminisce as they said that well-worn in sentence I expected to hear, "Enjoy it, it goes by so fast."

To them, it was half small-talk to a complete stranger, half woeful nostalgia for their own offspring's vanished childhood.

I vowed I wouldn't let his childhood vanish right under my nose like that. I'd experience it there with him, every long day, every longer night, all the glorious wonderment & discovery.

And I'd make sure that childhood served him well. To his childhood I'd say,"You listen here, childhood. I'm gonna let him get you all muddied up, scraped up, & maybe even broken a little. I'm gonna make sure he knows what you're there for... He's gonna exhaust you out. Explore everywhere with you. Imagine the strangest made up things because of you. See how far he can push you. You, in turn, better give him a real good, wild time."

Once he thinned out & started walking & babbling more, the questions of adulthood came trickling in. Most of them, I'm sure, were just asked due to concern that he wouldn't be able to apply for his first serious job soon if I didn't start shaping him up. 

"When are you going to make him sleep in his toddler bed?"

"When are you going to stop nursing him?" 

"When are you going to cut his hair?"

"When are you going to give him a sibling?"

"When are you going to potty train him?" 

It's not hard for me to imagine the day in the not-far-off future when he'll shyly enter his kindergarten class for the first time, his flashy plastic backpack proudly pressed against his back, sporting those shiny light-up shoes that take him further & further away from me, away from his babyhood & early years & into the classroom, the school years. 

He will turn one last time to me, as the teacher greets him, and I'll nod in reassurance, murmuring, "Have a good day, sweetheart."

My bottom lip will quiver like it always does when I get emotional & I'll tear up as I turn to go. I'll say a thousand prayers that day for him & I'll feel empty without his little voice chattering to me around the house. 

I'll probably wonder why the hell I ever potty trained him because you can't go to kindergarten if you aren't potty trained. I don't mind changing diapers, they aren't that bad. 

He is already growing up, but I like it. It's the fun growing up, the part when we name stars in the sky outlandish names like, "Que Bonita" and sing to them, and dance around the house with our cheeks pressed tight together to the song, "Never Smile at a Crocodile," and fly kites in the park when there's almost no wind, and have play dates where we make lime green play dough, and wear an astronaut costume four days in a row, and build the Island of Sodor out of sand, and snuggle and kiss anytime we want, and read a thousand different picture books in one sitting. 

This is the good growing up- it progresses so slowly that I have to be reminded it's happening because I don't see it myself. It's the kind that he and I are relishing in daily. 

There will come a day when he won't beg me to come play with him, or sing him songs in my pitchy voice. 

It's ok. I have today and today is long. 

And maybe he'll be lucky enough that his childhood is the kind that never really dies, that it's instilled too deep in him to burn out completely, it will flicker all through his life. 

I hope when all the nuisances (reliance on others, inability to fully communicate or be heard) of childhood fade away, these traits remain in him:

Wonderment. Merriment. Discovery. Trust. Joy. 

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