Monday, October 15, 2012
What's Important to Me
My kids know the story--he walked in the house in his pajamas and Hulk Hogan slippers and went straight for the bread and cereal drawer, saying to me as he passed, "Hi Mom." He was 20 months old.
Now I'm not going to post Dante's picture here because he deserves to be known as more than a poster boy for foster care. He's a brilliant, strong, fearless young man whose tough start in this world is almost irrelevant. The point is: there are nearly countless numbers of kids still out there so alone in the world, and so self-sufficient, that they take the nearest person as an acceptable parent, and the nearest food as essential. Even you! Just fill your cabinets with carbohydrates and open the door and you will be good enough. Just do it.
I have tried these 21years to convince at least one other person to be a foster parent, to replace my husband and I when we stopped after reaching our limit with eight kids. I am deeply ashamed (and I'm not kidding here) to say that I don't think I've done it yet. So today, I try again.
I'll tell you what did it for me. I was reading a TIME magazine article dated May 13, 1991 in my mother's bed while I tried to get a nap in on a Saturday. The cover was on Crack Kids. I thought, of course, oh how sad but I'm a nerd so what I was really interested in was what they were saying about the brain effects. I worked at the Child Study Center at Brown and there was an infant study run by Barry Lester, Ph.D. and Cynthia Garcia-Coll, Ph.D. on babies prenatally exposed to cocaine at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence. For their study I had learned to do newborn exams for the neurological conditions often found in babies exposed to crack, called the Brazelton Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale (NBAS). Their initial findings were that the effects weren't necessarily long-term, they thought, maybe just ADHD but not cognitive impairment like prenatal alcohol and heroin. So I dove into TIME to see how sensationalized the article would be.
And I immediately forgot the stupid brain stuff--as I read it I thought (like most of you would from the start) oh these poor kids. And there was an article in there about supporting Moms and getting them into treatment and how that's the best course for the kids but some of the Moms won't cooperate with treatment so the kids have to go into foster care where their lives become sometimes even more difficult and I thought: why should a baby go from the frying pan into the fire? Christ, why shouldn't, how can I possibly not do foster care while these addicted mothers got their collective acts together?
Well, I can tell you some reasons why, and I wonder if my being so open with the difficulties of being a foster parent has in fact discouraged the few people I may have been able to convince. But what else can you do? Like any kind of parenting, it ain't easy, though it's not that much harder than regular parenting either. It's just different, and it's very, very good. Since that night, when I convinced my poor husband to go to 12 weeks of training on how to be a good father (trust me, this was superfluous) so we could be licensed foster parents, it's been a wild but mostly wonderful ride. For you, it could be too.
The key, I have found, is having the right agency train, pay and support you. I have loved the work the Annie E. Casey foundation through Casey Family Services, but they recently announced they are closing their foster and adoption training facilities next year. In my area, I like the IPP Professional Parent Program and Boys and Girls Village but there are other agencies too--DARE and CRI and the Children's Center--just call one, or scan their website, or go to an orientation. The pay can be good, the income is tax-free, the work often little more than you're already doing to run a house, the love you get back immeasurably awesome.
Last week was my granddaughter Ava's third birthday. She's just as much a sunshine presence as Dante was at that age, or her mother Sheyanne. And I never would have met her, in fact she wouldn't exist if I hadn't made the call. So, happy anniversary to me.
With Love, Lisa