Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Openness in Foster Care - Part 2

That first visit at the park set the stage for many more over the next several weeks.  It allowed us to talk, for the babies to be passed comfortably back and forth between all of us.  I found out priceless information about their routine and their histories.  Mostly it allowed me to see Mom and Dad as people struggling with huge issues but people, parents, that also loved their children.  I believe that it also allowed them to see us as people who loved their children too. 

To be clear, I don't advise this with every situation, but with this family, and with the full support of our social worker, we were able to spend this time together.

I chose to hit the hard topics directly.  We knew that the parents were very upset that the girls were in a white family.  I told them I honored their desire and that I was willing to do anything they felt was important.  I explained that we were a minority family already and I could understand that desire to want the very best for your child.  I told them I wanted to learn.  I asked them to teach me.  All anger and resentment towards us disappeared with that one conversation.  We became allies in the education of the girls on their Chilcotin heritage. 

That's not to say it was easy.  June was a series of strange events.  Because our visits were held in public locations, often in the center of our community, random extended family members would frequently show up. Often times I felt overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people who came by to check me out and say hello to the girls.  Sometimes visit participants weren't sober and often they smelled strongly of various smokey substances.  At one visit an extended family member got hit by a truck, at another a parent was arrested mid-visit on an outstanding warrant while I sat there dumb founded and complete unsure as to what was the appropriate foster parent response in that circumstance.  It was complicated and stressful and still completely right.

There were a few instances that stick out as setting the tone for our entire relationship, and they happened very early on. 

It was a sunny Thursday afternoon and again we were meeting at the park.  It was crowded with groups of children from the local elementary school who were on a field trip to play in the water park.  We found a quiet corner and laid out our blanket in the shade.  The babies played and we chatted together exchanging pleasantries and sharing stories of the newest antics of the girls.  Suddenly Tanner, my then 11 year old son, came galloping across the grass. I had forgotten he was part of the field trip group and he was completely  unaware of the "visit" taking place and only had eyes for the babies. 

With a brief "hi mom" he immediately hugged Taya and reached over to coo at Jayde.  "Come meet my new sisters" he called to a friend and I froze and turned to look at the girls' mother.  Instead of anger I watched a smile spread across her face.  I quickly introduced Tanner to the girls' parents and he immediately accepted them as new friends.  This one interaction, with Tanner so uninhibitedly loving the babies and so obviously happy to be part of their lives built a foundation for how both Mom and Dad viewed all the boys.  If you were to ask mom today why it is she likes our family so much, the very top of her list would be the boys.  She shares frequently with anyone who asks that she loves to watch how much the boys play with the girls, and how happy she is that the girls have big brothers "to keep them safe".   Of the hundreds and hundreds of pictures I have sent her over this past year, her favorites are the ones of happy girls cuddled into happy big brothers. 

On one occasion I was called by the social worker cancelling a scheduled visit because there had been a death in the family and the girls' parents had gone back to their ancestral community just short of an hour's drive away.  Instead of cancelling the visit, I asked if it would be OK for me to bring the girls there.  This allowed me to meet many extended family members, visit the community that meant so much to their family and show honor and respect for the deceased family member.   

Not very many people understood my decision to put myself in such an uncomfortable position.  I was alone, out of cell range and in an environment that many others had found extremely hostile.  I arrived with a condolence card, a pot of chili and their children.  And I was welcomed.  Looking past the run down shack, the broken furniture, the elder with severe dementia yelling at imaginary intruders from her cot in the corner and I saw a house that been home to many, many children.  I saw land that my girls ancestors had hunted and fished on for generations.  I saw and respected the connections I could not begin to really understand.

 Pictures of the girls family plastered the walls of this house.  Many of those children were lost to the system forever.  My girls' parents were gracious hosts.  Fresh coffee was made, salmon and moose meat given to me to bring home to share with my family.  I met the girls' one brother and his adoptive family.  I was cautiously received as a welcome guest. 

The next step, I knew, was to invite them to our home.

7 comments: said...

this story is warming my heart with each passing day. I need to say thank you to you for being such an amazing person, a lot of people would not be willing to be as open as you are and a lot of people would not take the risks you took to create stability for your girls.

Sunnie said...

WOW...Just WOW.....I have goose bumps reading this!!
Looking forward to the next post!!

Anonymous said...

Every word of this story will be so precious to the girls when they are older,Jen.

Thank you for talking about this, showing other families that despite difficult circumstances, it is possible to build an open loving connection.

I am so happy to know you. You are a rare person.

Judy said...

Holy moley, Jen -- goosebumps and sniffles. What an amazing story, and what a huge heart you have. You put your girls and their family above any discomfort you may have had, and I have a great admiration for you for that and so many other things.

mumma boo said...

Stopping by at Coco's behest. You and your family are a shining example of what is good in this world. I look forward to reading more. Blessings to you and your family.

Unknown said...

You sharing this is so moving and amazing to me. I honestly don't know the right words to say.

little things said...

We are adoptive /bio parents of 12 children. We have followed the same path you have chosen of openness & found the same inspiration & joy in the journey. Your story warms my heart...God bless you guys.