Today’s guest post was written by “Alex Chase” (a pen name) from Beyond the Picket Fence Dream. She and her husband are the parents of four children through birth and adoption through foster care. If you are interested in submitting a guest post, here is how.
It wasn’t unusual to appear poor where I grew up. Prior to middle school, I had only one friend who purchased her clothes from a shopping mall. The rest of us were outfitted at the farm supply store- happily.
Except for “Jenny.” I don’t think anyone had ever bought clothes for Jenny.
Jenny never looked clean. She often wore the same exact clothes for days. Her hair was constantly matted. She disappeared for days at a time. Her mother was the talk of the town. At eight-years-old, I had already heard, “Jenny’s mom won’t have any more babies after this one because welfare doesn’t increase after six children,” enough times that I believed Jenny’s mom gave birth for business purposes.
Jenny wanted to be my friend.
Fourth-grade-me knew that it wasn’t popular to be Jenny’s friend. At least I was pretty sure it wasn’t, since she didn’t have any friends.
One day I was talking with my mom trying to come up with excuses not be Jenny’s friend. I told her, “She makes up these crazy stories and says she goes places like Disney World and eats at fancy restaurants. Everyone knows she’s lying!”
There: I had an excuse. Jenny lies. My mother wouldn’t want me to hang out with a liar.
To my shock, my mom calmly responded, “It seems like Jenny doesn’t have any happy stories to tell.”
That’s when I decided, it didn’t matter who liked it or not, I was going to be Jenny’s friend.
And it hurt. Jenny lied to me. She stole. After some time, she began to be honest with me. Jenny’s true stories hurt more than the her previous lies.
When we were entering the eighth grade, I moved to a new school district. I continued to call Jenny. Sometimes her phone didn’t work. Other times her stepfather answered drunk and swore at me. Then, one day, Jenny’s mother answered and gave me a new number for Jenny because she had gone to live with her grandmother. I visited Jenny once at her grandmother’s house. It seemed neat and clean and I expected it was safe. A few weeks later, I called Jenny and her grandmother said Jenny didn’t live there anymore. In fact, she didn’t know where Jenny was living.
That was the day I understood what foster care was.
It was the place Jenny went, when she was thirteen. The place where she was unknown and could not be found.
As a child I thought, “Why did it take so long for the state to protect Jenny? She was constantly bruised and malnourished. She told me about times she slept all night in a tree because she was hiding from her violent, intoxicated stepfather. Where were the people who should have protected her?”
As a young adult I thought, “Why didn’t somebody help Jenny’s mother when she was a child? If somebody had taken better care of her, she would have taken better care of her own children.”
Currently I wonder, “Why did our entire town throw stones at Jenny’s mother when they could have used the same energy to help her? Why did the other parents discourage their children from talking with Jenny? Rather than judging Jenny’s mother for using food stamps, families could have prepared meals for her when she had a new baby. Goodness! I don’t even know how in the world people knew she had food stamps since she CLEARLY couldn’t spend them in OUR town. What a lonely life of shame she lived! If she had been surrounded with a supportive community, would she have had the courage to leave her abuser? Would she have had the opportunity to raise her children?”
“Would Jenny have had to live with strangers?”
I don’t know if I had ANY impact on Jenny at all. I doubt she’s writing a blog post about me right now.
Jenny DID change my life. Her friendship opened my eyes to hurting people around me. Because of her, I gained the ability to care for people I would have otherwise made excuses to ignore.
Today, I am the adoptive mother of two sons who spent a few years in foster care and I love to encourage other foster and adoptive parents. Becoming a foster or adoptive parent who is well-equipped to love children through their losses is significant. But I NEVER try to talk anyone into becoming a foster or adoptive parent.
If you want to change the world, you can do what my very brave mother did when I wanted her to excuse me from having to be Jenny’s friend. Her simple statement changed the way I saw the world.
When children begin to see pain, in an age appropriate way, they can learn to look beyond dirty clothing. They can no longer, in good conscience, isolate a human being because of his or her social status. They don’t tease or gossip. They listen. They don’t bully. They protect. They may cry tears that otherwise could have been avoided. Their tears are an expression of their deepened compassion.
Whether or not you ever become a foster parent, you have the ability to nurture that compassion in the children in your life. THAT is a way to surely change the world.
Alex blogs over at Beyond the Picket Fence Dream where she shares her messy journey toward becoming a better parent for her four children who entered her family through birth and adoption. Her blog is a place she shares specific ways she’s learning to connect with her individual children, ways she’s learned to set them up for success and increased self-esteem, and a place to celebrate victories (both loudly, and anonymously). It is also a place to connect with and learn from others on foster care and adoption journeys. Follow along at www.beyondthepicketfencedream.com.