I’m going to guess that not many of my readers would have imagined that your blogiste would be planning to be out at the stores at 5am on Friday. She never has done anything of the sort before. While not really much of an advocate of “Buy Nothing Day” (I’m more for “buy little year”), generally speaking I’d rather rip my own eyeballs out than go shopping anyway, and the idea doing it among the crowds on black Friday would be even less appealing. And yet, that’s precisely what I’m planning on doing.
Let’s back up to last Wednesday, however. Last Wednesday Eric and I accepted an emergency placement of five siblings ranging in age from 12-8mos, That gave us 10 kids, including M. who was scheduled to go to an aunt the next day. The five kids arrived with only a few possessions in dire need of warmth, stability and food. They got it until the middle of the night, when the oldest boy who had not mentioned a severe cat allergy (he wanted to go to our farm, so he left that off) ended up in the emergency room. With two other children showing signs of cat allergies, we spent Thursday helping all five find a new home (miraculously, they found one where all five kids could be together!) and also helpnig M. get ready to go to his aunt.
Unwilling to send kids into 40 degree weather without a jacket, or to a new foster family at 4pm without pajamas, it has become eminently clear to us that all children will leave with more than they came with – with stuffed toys and the books they are half through and clothes enough to get through at least the first day of their next placement, or in M,’s case, at least the winter and spring.
My stash of girl clothes, pajamas and 3-4T clothes is now heavily depleted, and I need more twin bedding, sparkly dress up things for girls and non-white dolls and dollhouse figures (remember the all-boy household – try acting out “you are moving to live with your Aunt Sherri” with a 2 year old with either teddy bears or mostly white fisher-price figures…I don’t think the message got through ).
My mother lives near a shopping plaza that consists of a children’s consignment store, a Savers (kinda like Goodwill) and a gigantic used book store, all with discounts available to the dawn shopper – so dawn shopping I will be. That way I can send home a copy of _The Lightning Thief_ or _The Snowy Day_ that a child is reading or loves without thinking twice, and be sure that I’ll have some purple pjs or a least sweats for a preteen who is already having a bad day and doesn’t have to be crammed into a too-small boy’s pajamas on top of everything else.
What I won’t be doing is purchasing anything new on Black Friday – no wrestling my way into Walmart or Target, no flat screens or expensive shoes. I don’t need or want any of those things – but what I do need is the best possible price on jackets so that when a six year old arrives at my door wearing only a t-shirt and cut-offs in November, I can keep her warm – even if she doesn’t stay, at the least we can do that.
M. went home on Thursday, and we miss him every single minute. It didn’t take a month after birth for my babies to become “mine” in some fundamental way, and to my surprise, it didn’t take very long for M. to be mine either. I don’t get to raise him, but at least we got to love him for a while, and we got the chance to send him home with books and toys, clothes and a taste for broccoli .
Here is the worst part of foster parenting – we cannot promise them much. I can’t promise to M. “I will always take care of you and protect you” – even though I wanted to, that was out of my control and would have been a lie. I could not promise the five children who came to us that we could keep them safe, find them a stable place, make life secure for them, get their mentally ill mother to take her medication. Those things are the hands of judges and lawyers, biological parents and DCFS – not in mine.
Thus, I do treasure what I can promise. “I will always care about you.” “If he needs me he can always come back to my home,..” “Here is my phone number, call me if you find yourself homeless again.” “You will always go from my home with more than you came with, even if it is only a chance to be a kid and a winter coat and a pair of warm socks, a stuffed animal and a hug.”
We still hope the next placement, or the one after that will be the children who get to stay. Maybe I won’t need all this stuff. I have, however, a big house and room enough to maybe say yes to a long term placement and still take a few other children who may go home. It might also be a very long time before we find the right placement.
In the meantime, I can’t imagine myself saying no unless there is a compelling reason – indeed, saying “yes” is the easy part – I suspect all of you would as well. If asked “I have five children under five who are malnourished and have never been to the doctor, can you feed them?” or “I have five children who are not safe in their home, can they sleep in yours?” virtually all of you would say yes. Foster parenting is just one way of taking up the opportunity to respond to those needs, making sure you are asked.
If I didn’t live so far out in the country, if we didn’t at present have one vehicle, I could probably just buy and borrow as we need when children came. We have been the fortunate recipients of a great deal of kindness from others – furniture and toys and clothing already – but this is a quick way of filling in the gaps. Living where I do in the situation I am, making phone calls and running out to shop is just too hard while settling in 10 kids. So out I go at 5am to stand in the cold and dark with the other bargain hunters, with my list of prosaic used things that we need.
It costs a lot, equipping children with the basics when they have nothing. Toothbrushes and used jackets and warm socks and clean underwear and stuffed animals aren’t individually that expensive – but every kid needs a toothbrush and a jacket and many pairs of socks and something soft to snuggle with, and it adds up. They do reimburse some costs for us, and we get a stipend for the children – but generally speaking, the costs are front-loaded. Over a long term placement, the daily stipend might compensate for the cost of a wardrobe. But when the wardobe is bought in a couple of days and the children depart after that, you will never get what you spent back. That’s ok – I don’t begrudge it, this is what I want to do, but I can’t afford to do it lavishly, and I don’t want to cease to be able to do it at all, so I won’t be turning down the 40% off coupon.
A lot of us know, but really don’t know how hard things are for so many people. One of the placements that we didn’t end up getting back this summer involved children whose situation was discovered an emergency room visit revealed that a 13 month old girl weighed only 12lbs (for those of you who don’t know baby weights, most babies weigh that by 4 months). The two year old in the family had no teeth due to severe malnutrition. When I mentioned their story to a friend she asked “where are these children living, in Africa?” The answer was “Albany.”
The holiday season is upon us – that means not just presents and lights, but also family stress and conflict, poverty and hunger, struggling to keep up appearances and failing to do so, too much drink and too much pain. I don’t think it will be too long before the phone rings again and someone tells me they have one or three or five kids who need a home because they’ve been hurt or left hungry or abandoned. Moreover, events are upon us – people are getting poorer, the holes in the support nets are greater and more of us live on the edge. In some ways I’m just putting band-aids on things, but band-aids are worth a lot – a jacket, a toy, a meal, a bed to sleep in, you have to start somewhere. I appreciate the irony of addressing our collective crisis by shopping on black Friday. It won’t stop me from going out in the dark and following the lights,