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Posts Tagged ‘village’

When we started this blog, Andrew and I, I think we mostly wanted to force ourselves to produce a record of what we expected would be an unusual, amazing, heartbreaking, confusing, joyful journey.  And it has been those things.  It has been a little bit of an electronic lifebook of the past year plus, a public journal of our attempt to parent/love/engage/give to a creative, bright, sad, angry little girl.

For me, the blogging has been way more.  It has been something that I have done for myself in a way that I did not anticipate.

I really enjoy writing – who knew?  It is cathartic and liberating and forces me to be mindful and experience this experience now, as it is happening.

It has also built a community of support.  When I feel tired or like I am not a good parent or think to myself, why on earth did I sign up to do this exhausting, maddening job? Somebody always hears me and responds in a way that makes me take a deep breath and reminds me that I can do this.  That I am doing it and I am doing it pretty darn well, actually, so I should let go a little bit and accept and relax.  And often the responder is a total stranger which is oddly validating because, wow, someone that doesn’t even know and love me, is taking time to send me good internet vibes.  How thoughtful, how kind, how helpful it is to hear from you, internet peeps.  And I also feel, as corny as it sounds, that creates an atmosphere of love for Blitzen.  She doesn’t know about it but I do — a kind of shockingly large number of geographically diverse people are rooting for her and interested in her story.

All this to say, thanks for talking me into blogging, Andrew.  It has totally been worth it.

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In MAPP class, we heard discouraging tales of foster parents whose families and friends didn’t approve of their fostering. In contrast, our family and friends are finding creative and wonderful ways to support Blitzen and welcome her to the family.

Blitzen loves mail, and she rarely opens our mailbox without a happy surprise addressed to her.  Recent treasures included multiple Thanksgiving cards, a statue of Winnie the Pooh from my father, passed down rain and snow gear and homemade hats from a cousin, a card and favorite art supplies from our four year-old niece, a jewelry-making kit from our friends, an introduction to a rarely-seen fairy from a friend in Minnesota and a photo-filled letter from our cousin’s dog in Pennsylvania.  On the way are a package of hand-me-down rain and snow gear and We’re working on writing y’all back.  The concept of penpals is thrilling to Blitzen, who hopes to correspond with humans, dogs and fairies alike.

The in-person love is rolling in as well.  Blitzen was feted and gifted by aunts at Thanksgiving.  A friend at my school gave her a delightful assortment of beads.  A music teacher friend/backup provided child care and music lessons.  Friends have met us in the park and we’ve had playdates with their dogs.  Friends with two young children took a four-hour round-trip train journey to spend two hours playing with Blitzen.  This weekend, my mother, a child development expert and grandma extraordinaire, flew in and is spending several days working/playing with Blitzen and us, helping us establish routines and sprinkling loving pixie dust.

Blitzen feels the love. Carrie and I do.  Thanks, friends.

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We get to meet our foster child tomorrow morning.  My level of can’t-sleep anticipation rivals Christmas Eve when I was nine.  I’m not the most emotionally intelligent fellow, but I suspect feelings may be involved here.  In my effort to step out of my comfort zone and role model emotional intelligence, here’s my effort to unpack those feelings.

My first feeling is excited.  I just plain can’t wait to meet Blitzen.  We’ve been imaging her abstractly for a long time (Carrie asks me questions: “What foods will Blitzen like?  Will she like to plant in the garden?  Will she like paint?”).  Today, armed with a small amount of information, our speculation level is off the charts.  (She likes Beyoncé.  What do you think her favorite song is?  Will it be on my ipod?  Does she make jewelry out of beads or charms or yarn or…?)  I can’t wait until Blitzen becomes un-abstracted, humanized, her symbolic weight drowned out by actual characteristics, quirky and real like the rest of us.

I’m excited about other things too.  Watching Carrie parent.  Sharing things I like (Central Park, here we come.  Also, do you think Blitzen is a Cardinal fan yet?).  Reading a book together.  Seeing her play with our nieces, nephews and friends.

The second feeling I identify is nervousness.  Scared-out-of-my-wits.  Panic.  I’m nervous about practical things.   What will we eat for dinner tomorrow?  Where’s Blitzen gonna put her toys?  I’m a little obsessed right now, suggesting that we buy furniture online and have it rush delivered, after months of agreeing that we’d take our time and include Blitzen in decisions. Multiple motives for my mania:  I want to prepare, to do things that will help ease Blitzen’s pain, to cross things off a imaginary list.  (Funny how people like me (Americans?) often want to solve a complex problem with the following solution: Buy something.)

I’m nervous about other things too.  Some are selfish.  Will I be able to continue pouring myself into a job I love?  Will I still get Quality Time with Carrie?  Some are more serious.  Where will Blitzen go to school, and how will we decide?  How will we handle her medications?  How will we manage relationships with the folks in her life?  Do we really need to hide our breakables?  What if none of the things I’m excited about (see above) happen, or happen in the way I imagine them.

The third feeling is sadness.  I’m sad for the traumas that Blitzen has undergone.  I’m sad for the losses she’s experienced, and will experience.  I’m sad that she has no control over her life; that she’s a powerless pawn; that she’ll wake up tomorrow morning having no clue that her life will be upside down, from Brooklyn to Harlem by mid-afternoon.  I’m sad that she has not often enough felt safety, consistency and security.  I’m sad that no matter what a long, wonderful, love-filled life she lives, her formative years, her personal narrative, her roots will always include loss, trauma and pain.  I’m sad that Blitzen may never know carefree, or innocence, or trust in the same way I did on Christmas Eve 1978.

I’m pissed off too.  I’m pissed off at Blitzen’s birth parents, and a whole lot of other people and systems.

My strongest feeling on this eve of anticipation, however, is gratitude.  I feel lucky and grateful to be co-fostering with Carrie Ann, and for our peeps, the human resources who populate our lives.

From the moment that we got the call from our agency, Carrie and I have been surrounded by love.  The folks we’ve told have been supportive, generous and genuinely delighted.  Several cried with happiness.  The joy in our little NYC-centric community is palpable.

My gratitude is not just for the unconditional love we’ve received, it’s also for the resources and expertise.  We know child development specialists, therapists and teachers ready to call in favors and help us at the drop of a hat.  Our bosses invited us to take all the time off we need.  We told people that Blitzen likes to make jewelry and already have a beading expert sharing her stash with us.

We know how lucky we are to have a community like this.   We wouldn’t try to take on Blitzen-level responsibities without the fiercest, kindest village to ever have a rookie foster parent’s back.  We’re lucky.  We’re privileged.  Our opportunity is to try to pass it on.

The contrast between our good fortune and Blitzen’s  misfortune is glaring and painful. If her birth parents had access to what we have — unconditional love from dozens of folks; friends and relatives ready to help; extensive training in child development; spectacular medical insurance; a team of physical and mental health professionals; racial and economic privilege — it’s likely that the shape of Blitzen’s life would look very different right now.  These are things that allow ordinary people to be great parents.

Tomorrow, our lives and Blitzen’s life will collide violently.  After that, perhaps it will begin to intertwine gently.  I suspect the three of us will be good for each other and will learn a lot together.

Our stocking is already full.  If some small percentage of our community becomes Blitzen’s community, it will be a merry Christmas indeed.

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So I always knew that I had the coolest family and friends. Well, I suspected, now I know. Andrew and I have been haunting the foster blogs pretty regularly and we’ve detected a theme. Apparently not everyone’s family and friends are like —

you are gonna be foster parents? that is so cool, how can we help? no, scratch that, we don’t want to just help, we’d like to be this awesome, amazing support network that is actively involved in the life of the child that finds its way to your home —

Incredibly, that has almost unanimously been the reaction.

We thought long and hard about becoming fosterparents. We discussed it for years, 15 years, I think. It took a lot of time to make the decision, to know it was right. But we also knew that we could never do it alone. We’re big believers in that whole ‘it takes a village’ concept. I think we both believe that if there were more ‘villages’, there would be fewer kids in care and the world would generally just be a better place. Which is why we are doing this – we’ve got a village, ready to go, and we want to share it with a child and a family in need of backup and support.

So, thank you to Andrew-Carrie-fosterwee support village. You know who you are and we appreciate you and we’re gonna appreciate you even more when you are available to babysit.

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You remember Fosterhood, our favorite fostering blog.

People ask her why she fosters, and doesn’t she get attached to the child?

“Yes.  You’re supposed to.  I think that’s why they’re looking for human beings to foster and not robots”.

The real question they’re asking though is “Isn’t it so incredibly painful when the children are reunited with their parents that you want to go walk out in front of a bus?” and I get the question, I really do, but not so much.  Because doing nothing makes me feel like walking out in front of a bus.  Maybe it was all of those damn Sally Struthers commercials growing-up.

Doing something is actually pretty fun most of the time.  Like lying awake typing this post because starting at 3:02am that 22 month-old in my bedroom started singing a disturbing mashup of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “Poker Face”.   And she’s on like the 29th verse already and for all I know she thinks there are 43 more.

I can’t imagine feeling any more alive and happy.

 

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So why do we do it?
What good is it?
Does it teach you anything?
Like determination? Invention? Improvisation? Foresight? Hindsight? Love? Art? Music? Religion?
— Terry and Renny Russell, On the Loose

Judging by the reactions we get when we mention our impending FosterWee, it’s surprising for white urban professionals to choose fostering over brewing up their own children.

Human motivation is a complicated thing.  Carrie gave her first non-answer to the “Why?” question here.  I suspect this blog will document our stumbling non-answers to that question, the sum of which will be our answer.  Can’t wait to read it.

There are lots of reasons that fostering might work for us:

1) Carrie and I are witty, charming and have mad skills with children.
2) We have very few other responsibilities in our lives right now. We have no ailing parents, we’re not on the verge of any crucial medical breakthroughs. We don’t even have any pets.
3) We have time and money.  (For years, Carrie’s answer to when would we have children was, “Maybe when we’re sick of having time and money.”  We haven’t gotten sick of it yet, but…)
4)  We really like the young neices, nephews and friends’ children in our lives.
5)  We’re goofily idealistic, in the face of all evidence
6)  We like adventures.  We’re happy to hop on a bus in China and see where it takes us.
7)  We like working on projects together.  From planning our wedding to weeding our community garden.
9)  We’re willing to get messy and be engaged in our community.
8)  We have a hard-core, bad-ass, ready-for-anything community of friends and family around us.  Carrie and I lived together for seven years before we got married.  When we did get married, we had a team in place — friends to officiate the ceremony, play the music, cook the food, make Carrie’s dress.  Today, we have a village — folks who will cook for the wee, folks who will babysit folks who will create art with Blitzen, folks who will read to him, folks who will play sports with her.  Surrounding an NYC child with the role models we’re surrounded by can’t be anything but a good thing.

Peter Singer might suggest that given all this, we have an ethical obligation to help take care of a kid and family in our community.  I’m not sure I buy that.  The ethics of race, privilege and power around foster care and child welfare are murky.  More than that, we all have to find our own ways of unleashing our talents on this unsuspecting world.

What I really think is that being a foster parent with my partner Carrie and our far-flung-friends will be rewarding and fun.  I think I’ll learn a lot about myself and the world around me.  I think I’ll fall asleep every night tired and satisfied.

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So, it is kind of like dating.   We’ve moved from hinting to sweet talking to the full-fledged ask.  Usually starts with a dinner out, then a friendship version of a love note and then, the proposal — just jump in, worst that can happen is that they say no.

Dear Friend or Friends-coupled,

Last time we had dinner (or went to the ballgame or that wild cocktail party)  I mentioned that the agency requires  that we establish a community of people that are willing to support us in our foster parent journey.  The whole ‘it takes a village’ approach made official.  Since we have some family in town but not a ton, we’re also looking to a few of our friends that we love and trust (that would be you) and we are asking if you would be willing to be a ‘back-up’ (that is official foster agency lingo there).

I am sure you are thinking – Ummm, what does back-up mean?  A back-up is someone that is willing to get to know our wee-one and is willing to be involved and engaged in our lives (as you already are and as your schedule allows – you are not required to attend every school play although you will probably want to, I am sure) and would be able to help out in an emergency or make yourself available for a routine babysitting gig.  Being a back-up means you can supervise and watch the foster-wee when we are not present.

Ummm, what do we need to do? is surely your next question. You would to fill out the attached form (it is a little scary how not technically savvy the agency is but you can fill this out with a pen directly on the form).  This form allows the agency to conduct a background check to ensure that you are not a registered sex offender or child abuser in our state.  The most difficult part is remembering your addresses for the last 28 years (yes, 28 YEARS).  You do not need to get fingerprinted but you will need to meet XXXX, our social worker, at some point so she can eyeball you and make sure that you don’t look like an ax murderer, at least.  She’ll also ask you some questions about our relationship with you, your discipline philosophy, whether you actually like kids, etc.

So, let us know if you are in.  If you decide that you just can’t do it, don’t worry – you’ll still be invited to all of the school plays.

Love – C and A

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