Take five little pieces of paper, and write down the five things that matter most to you in your life, whatever they are. Your parents. Your partner. Your kids, Your community. Your grand passion – art or the Red Sox, guitar or hunting or knitting. Your home. Your favorite chair. Your dreams for the future. Your best friends. Your free time. Prayer. Your dog, your cat. Your neighborhood, that place where everyone knows your name, your religious community, your buddies from work or school. Your music. Mint Milanos and a glass of wine with someone who understands you. That super-soft stuffed animal or the sight of the person you love best asleep, completely relaxed. Whatever matters most to you in life, take it and write it down….
Ok, you’ve got them in your mind.
Now pick which one you’d like to give up forever. Someone is coming to take it away from you, and you HAVE TO give it up, so crumple it up, screw up your eyes and let it go. It is gone. As far as you know it may never come back.
Ouch. Wow, that’s hard. Hold on tight to what you have. Look at what your life is now, and the hole that’s left in it without your home, your nephews, your cousins, your cat, your friends, your music… Take a breath….
Now pick the next-least-important most-important-thing-in-the-world to you, crumple it up and throw it in the trash. Then do it again, and again, choosing between your parents and your sisters, your dog and your beloved aunt, never seeing your home again or never watching your niece grow up. Throw out that stuffed animal you’ve carried your whole life, your devotion to your favorite team, grandma’s legacy or your best friend. Pick…which of your children do you want to keep? Mom or Dad?
And now only one of them is left. It is the only one you’ve managed to hold on to in all of this – it is the single thing you love most in the whole world, and you feel guilty and bad because you chose and this one won, and you learned that you aren’t as nice as you thought you were because you DO have a favorite when you have to. Cling to this one left thing as hard as you can. And then we’re going to get rid of it. Someone will come and take it away. It is gone now. All of it is gone…..Wow, that’s mean and horrible of me, isn’t it? I mean who would want to make someone even pretend to feel that kind of loss, much less have to do it?
Me. Because a lot of people say how nice I am because I take care of kids who need a home. But I’m truly not especially nice or kind or awesome…I’m doing what you would do – what some of you do do and what everyone would do if they saw. The difference is that I know that when kids come to my door, they have been through EXACTLY what we just imagined.
Only it isn’t pretend, and the things aren’t just paper. They lost the things they cared about most in the world. Mommy. Daddy. Auntie, Grandma. Baby brother. Big sister. Cousins. Neighbors. Home. Bed. Crib. Family. Language, The smell of arroz or pasta like Grammy makes it. The background sounds of their neighborhood. Their BFF, the teacher that cared for them, the boy down the street that held you up to put the ball through the hoop. The only blanket with the soft place that rubs just right, their Lambie-pie. Dog. Cat. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. Food that tastes right. The music of people who speak your way. Walking down the street and knowing you fit here, in this place. And the fact that in order to get to this ocean of loss, a lot of horrible, horrible things had to happen does not make you love what little you have less – it makes you love it more.
And now someone strange came in a car and took you away and brought you to my house and it smells wrong and the blankets feel wrong and you don’t know where the bathroom is and you are scared to get up to pee anyway. You don’t know whether your sisters are ok and if anyone will give your brother his medicine or if Mommy is in jail or the police hurt Daddy when they came. You don’t understand why Grandma was crying and why everything you care about is gone and the person holding you is a stranger, why the bottle tastes different and the arms that hold you aren’t the ones that you need, all you know is you are so very scared. And then someone comes to visit and says “Wow, they are so lucky to be with you.” And the kids don’t feel lucky. Because who the hell would feel lucky?
And then they say that I am so great to deal with their behaviors and challenges, as though those are awful things they do just to make me crazy (and I won’t deny it occasionally feels that way even to me). But you’d deal too, because they aren’t – they are the things you do to keep going and make sense of your world when you are a very small person and everything in the world got taken from you. And people then assume I hate their parents, blame their parents. And sometimes I do hate the things they did to the kids, and they make me crazy angry, and I certainly cry for the kids. But I know that just like the kids who lost everything when that car drove away…so did the parents. They made mistakes, they screwed up…but all that mattered most to them was in that car, and it drove away and they may never get it back, and their world ended too. And in most cases, once or twice or forty-seven times they were the little boy or girl in the back of the car 20 years ago. And if you break someone enough times, they stay broken.
Sometimes the parents can fix the mistakes, and make home safe again and maybe rebuild some of it. And sometimes maybe the kids can get a little bit of what they lost back, and go home to Grandma or Dad or Mom or Auntie, and have some of those things back. People think they can’t imagine how I could say goodbye – that’s the first response most people give, “I could never give them back.” Or they don’t understand how I can let them keep seeing their family after adoption. But that’s as though my feelings are what it is all about, from my safe place where I have it all intact, my home and family, children and pets and loved ones, where I’ve been lucky enough never, ever to have to really give up even one of those things. They aren’t. And the truth is that while it would hurt like hell to lose them, if I could give any of my kids back ONE SINGLE THING they loved, well, I’d do anything to get it for them. Because you can’t do this without loving them, the same as any one of you would do anything to get your babies what they need.
YOU would do it too, because you don’t look at broken babies who’ve lost their whole world and think just about yourself. Sometimes you get to keep them, and try and rebuild some of their world and sometimes, well, it just isn’t about you. And some of you could do this hard work. I know foster parenting isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone, there are lots of good reasons not to. But then there are a lot of awesome people out there, and if there were children on your doorstep whose whole world just was taken from them, who were bereft of everything, hungry, cold, maybe hurt and alone – you’d feed them and hold them and love them and try to get them what they needed, even if it was hard for you, because there are good reasons to do that too. And maybe some of you should think about it. Because someone has to. Because the kids won’t stop coming or needing someone to help put them back together. You won’t stop being needed just because you aren’t there.
You don’t have to be nice, or a saint or unselfish. Trust me, you don’t. You just have to be a regular person, doing what anyone would do.