The phone rang about 2 on Thursday afternoon, just as I was about to settle down with my book draft for a long, dull afternoon of revisions. If I was implicitly fantasizing about something to get our adrenaline pumping, I got it. Our social worker called and asked if we would consider taking a 17 month old boy with severe speech delays and special needs. Oh, we'd need to come pick him up downtown before 4:30.

Yikes. My first inclination was to say "no" since we've wanted to take a sibling group, but there was something about this that just felt right to both Eric and I. We had planned to close our home to placements for am month starting the previous week, due to my ASPO travel and book deadline, but my 9 year old son SImon had asked us not to. While discussing the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a week long festival in which we eat and sometimes sleep outdoors in a sukkah, an open hut, both as a harvest celebration and also to remind ourselves of the vulnerability of being homeless, Simon pointed out that it seemed wrong for us to close our home to foster children during a holiday in which we remember being without shelter. Arriving on the last day of the holiday, this little boy seemed like something we were waiting for. We talked it over for a minute, and said yes.

It would turn out that almost everything we were told about him was wrong, other than that he was male ;-). After packing baby things to take to the office to pick him up, we were called our our way to the office with the sheepish note that the worker had misread his birthdate and that M. was actually 2 1/2. We were told he had no language, just grunting and pointing, but the first word we heard as Asher (my youngest, who has been dying to be a big brother) got off the elevator was "Mine!" Most of the other details would turn out to be wrong too - but M. has turned out to be very right.

Life has been very crazy - besides the legal and logistical details of integrating a two year old into the family with visitation, medical appointments, etc... he arrived about 2 hours before the beginning of Simchat Torah services (one of the two biggest parties of the year at our synagogue), and so we took him with us (he had a great time), and got home only to spend the next two days preparing for a gigantic, forty-plus person party at our place, including a weekend with 16 people sharing the house, including four toddlers ;-). It was awesome, and M. has handled it all with remarkable aplomb, fitting in very gracefully to our chaotic life. When asked how he was handling the new brother, Simon rolled his eyes and said, "Look, yesterday I had a whole bunch of little brothers. Today I have a whole bunch of little brothers. It just isn't that different, Mom."

The most likely scenario is that M. will go home to one of his parents at some point - until late yesterday we had thought it might be quite soon, but now it looks like it may be a while. In the meantime, however, we're just enjoying him and settling into a routine. More details to come as things stabilize - or not, since of course, one week for today I leave for ASPO-USA's annual conference in DC (Eric will have the kids, with help from Grandparents while he's working). Stability? What's that?

I should be back blogging, though, in a day or two. Stay tuned!


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Congratulations on the placement. A fortunate youngster indeed. Every day he is with your family will have a wonderful influence on the rest of his life, no doubt.

I don't know - what's all this religious gobbledegook you're inflicting on him?
How about taking him to a skeptics meeting instead?

By Vince Whirlwind (not verified) on 25 Oct 2011 #permalink

Sharon -

Congrats on the placement. all (repeat, intentional..) foster parents are my hero.

I have sort of an odd question.. One of conversational terminology. My wife and I fell into an informal, ad hoc fostering-like situation. C. has been a joyful part of our lives for several years now, and it's been a blessing to see her grow into an indpenent, capable, strong young lady. We also have biological children of about the same age, and we regularly host exchange students (fostering-light ;)

So - question of terminology.. In refering to C. with those who don't know the history, I don't have a good handle for how to reference her relationship to our family. "Daughter-by-choice" is probably closest, but not readily understood. "Foster-daughter" is probably more consumable, but not quite accurate. "Family friend" is off the mark emotionally. Occasionally we've jokingly referred to C. as our "exchange student from the land of broken families". For bio-kids, exchange students, occasionally-resident cousins and other kin, there's adequate, accurate, and succint language.

It's a minor point, but one I stumble over occasionally. It's also one we'll all probably bump up against more as families and housing arrangements become more complex and nuanced. Though as complex relationships become more the norm, I'd imagine social expectations for neatly-summarizable relationship handles will be reduced (e.g. "C. lived with us for a few years when she was young", or "C. who we took in for a while" may not lead to lengthy conversational tangents because of novelty).

Wow - an altogether exceptionally lengthy way to ask a fairly trivial question about trends in conversational expression of non-standard family relationships...


By Daniel Rothman (not verified) on 25 Oct 2011 #permalink

You post on, yet you believe in god? Do you not perhaps see a contradiction, here?

@VinceW - please allow me to commend you to the following reference:…

Everyone that is taken into a home and family has an obligation to respect the personal, religious, and other life ways of the family that has been kind enough to take them in. If that person is old enough to make independent decisions about their religious preference, a considerate and open-minded host will provide them with non-participating alternatives.

However a guest that is ungracious and ungrateful enough to criticize or disrupt a family's religious observances should generally find an exit.

An outside observer should generally hold a civil tongue until and unless they're willing to open their own home and provide an alternative.


By Daniel Rothman (not verified) on 25 Oct 2011 #permalink

@Sharon - I'm distressed on your behalf to see that there's a new and less constructive group of commenters than since last time I checked in.

@Round - please let me observe that if you perceive a contradiction between religious belief (particularly jewish religious belief) and scientific endeavour, that:
1) you've taken too big a dose of some very close-minded religious thought,
2) you're almost certainly not a scientist yourself,
3) you don't know or speak to many actual, practicing scientists, and
4) you haven't taken the time to read the literature on religious belief and observance in the scientific community. As a spoiler... scientists in general express more religious faith than the population as a whole, though they are less inclined to be frequent attenders of organized religious service.

And... just in case you're going to attack me as a godless atheist and blasphemer, or as a jewish prosteltizer, I'm currently a practicing Unitarian Universalist, a religious community I've come to after non-identifying with my parents' jewish and catholic faiths.

By Daniel Rothman (not verified) on 25 Oct 2011 #permalink

I scrolled down because I simply wanted to say congratulations! And came across such critical responses! I'm so sorry you have to deal with that, and now I want to add to my congrats a huge thank you for sharing your story, despite having to open yourself up to such criticism. I'm so glad to be able to hear the details of your journey. Bless you and your family during this transition.

It sounds like Simon has the makings of a good rabbi, or perhaps just a very wise man. It isn't many young men that can see with compassion and have a moral compass so early.

I'm so glad this has happened. And I'm so impressed with Simon's wisdom - children are wonderful at making us see the real message of the things we believe. I hope that you and M. have a fabulous time together.

Hi Sharon-enjoy the ride! I ended up keeping my grandkids at the end of their summer visit, 12 1/2 and 8 1/2 (my children are adults in their 30's) and although it was not planned it has been an awesome experience. Hope you have him long enough for him to soak in all your family love and fun.

By Karen from CT (not verified) on 25 Oct 2011 #permalink

Daniel...we also had an informal placement. Our "bonus daughter" (an addition to our biological children) referred to me as her "other-mother".
Good connotation to "bonus"....and it is the truth!

Congrats to the new addition. You have scored a great new home. Looks like you'll have lots of good food, good people, and great physical environment for being a kid. The religious stuff will be boring at times, but it could be a lot me.

Congratulations Sharon. He will be very blessed for having stayed with you and I believe he will bring his own blessings.
Take care!

Congratulations Sharon! Bless your heart for your kindness and wisdom.

@Daniel I second bonus daughter and other-mother or bonus mother/parents.

Sharon - I hope it all works out, for all of you.

"bonus daughter" - I'm good with that, thanks! I don't think it'll prevent the conversational digression to explain, but I like the sentiment and resonance.

By Daniel Rothman (not verified) on 26 Oct 2011 #permalink

...I love the way your oldest puts it. Wise. What you do there is, IMO, what family is about, and what opening out doors is about.

@ Daniel,

I think I would go with introducing her by her name. If someone asks the relationship, "Our ward," since you are her guardians. If they want to assume "daughter", I wouldn't bother correcting them. A girl you raise is a daughter, regardless of the legal niceties. The time that it really matters -- is when she asks for her inherited medical history. Otherwise, not so much.

@ Round,

Huh. I hadn't heard that particular urban legend for several years, now. My dad raised hogs and corn. I remember something Mom put up on the kitchen, "Who plants a seed and waits, believes in God." My readings of faith and scientists pretty much follows that direction. The more we examine and try to manipulate the world around us, the more aware many become of the divinity in the universe.

Blessed be.


My parents informally fostered various of our friends when we were growing up. As Brad K says, they usually just introduced these friends by their names- as in, "This is Tim." If someone asked for more information, my parents would say something like, "Tim is living with us for as long as he'll have us." They were very sensitive about the privacy of their informally fostered children and very careful not to push labels like "son" or "daughter" on them. Please be careful about saying things like "our exchange student from the land of broken families." That is funny, but not funny enough to risk hurting your "daughter-by-choice" with. You could also consider asking her how she would like to be introduced, how much of her story she wants shared with new acquaintance, etc.

Congrats Sharon!
Simon is indeed a wise young man.
M is indeed fortunate to be with such a loving family, in spite of the religious "gobbledygook." ;-) Those of use who have read more than 1 post know your balance between religion and science, and it's pretty awesome.
I'd send extra love to you and yours, but I think y'all have a handle on it.