A few weeks ago my daughter was invited to a birthday party for Alicia, a little girl in her daycare class. Alicia is also in my daughter’s weekend dance class. Every week, these girls show up to the dance studio, looking ridiculously adorable in their pale pink tights and pink leotards, my daughter with her thin ponytail pulled into some semblance of a bun, Alicia’s pulled into a big poofy ball of beautiful dark brown curls on the top of her head. These girls run towards each other and scream when they see each other, hugging and then they run around the lobby holding hands and giggling. Until it is time to go into the dance studio. Then Alicia runs back to lobby crying, “please don’t go, daddy! Please don’t leave me!” holding his leg for dear life. Every week, he sits down on the floor with her, envelopes her into his arms and calms her, letting her know she is safe and just going to dance class and he will be waiting for her as soon as she comes out that door. Just like any good parent would do. Only he is not her parent. He is her foster dad. And aside from the color of their skin, you would never know that they were not related.
We arrive at the birthday party which is at a bouncy house place. A room is set aside for the birthday boy and girl with snacks and pizza and the cutest cake ever. This couple obviously wanted to give these kids the best birthday party. Kids were running around everywhere laughing and bouncing. My daughter and Alicia found each other and grabbed hands, running off together to find the best bouncy house while adults mingled around. Shortly after we arrived, Alicia’s little brother, Michah, fell and began to cry. I watched as his foster mom stopped mid conversation as she heard a cry in that loud, chaotic place. She excused herself and ran off, looking for where the cry was coming from. When she found her foster son, she scooped him up as tears were streaming down his cheeks. She looked at where he hurt himself and gave it a kiss. She put her forehead to his, looking into his eyes and whispered words of reassurance to him. No one else existed in that room.
I stared at them, unable to look away. I wished that everyone else could see what I was looking at. That they could really understand the amazing and complete love that total strangers are giving children with no biological connection to themselves. That they could see that these people are a very rare breed, taking in a stranger’s children and giving them reassurance, comfort, and unconditional love, even when they may not be so easy to love. These children are dressed as well as their peers, they are well fed, they are getting an amazing birthday party that they will probably always remember, and this couple has no ties to these children whatsoever. They may have to hand them back to a biological parent or a relative, or a complete stranger one day with no say, and maybe no time to prepare. But they put their whole heart into it anyway, because they know that’s what these children deserve. Even if it means their whole heart may be broken.
Another parent leaned over and said to me, “You know, I could never foster. I would get too attached. I would never be able to survive giving them back.” I know this is a seemingly innocent comment that grates on the nerves of every foster parent I’ve talked to. The person probably means well but doesn’t realize they are suggesting that the foster parent does not get too attached or has no feelings about handing a child in their care over. I turned to the woman and said “You know, I think that I could never survive my husband dying. Yet people do. Every single day, people do.”
She looked at me surprised and she said, “Maybe. But when you choose to foster, you are choosing to have your heart broken. Why would anyone choose that?” I turned and looked at Michah, now scampering happily off to find his friends while his foster mom looked on with a proud smile on her face before I responded to her, “how can people think that protecting their own emotions is more important than protecting these innocent and precious children?”
All of us are called to help.
I did not make a friend there that day, and I can guarantee you that that woman did not go to her nearest licensing agency to sign up to be a foster parent, but I cannot keep quiet about one thing I feel passionately about. All of us are called to help. We are not meant to live an easy life sipping our $5 Starbucks while we lament that we don’t have the time/energy/money/insert excuse here, to help. We become so wrapped up in our own busy lives, shuttling our kids to far too many activities and running from commitment to commitment. We wait for someone else to bring about change that is needed for the hungry, the homeless, the mentally ill, the disabled, the veterans, the foster children. We feel for them, we may say our hearts break for them, but there is nothing that we can do to help. But we have a responsibility to help those who aren’t as fortunate as us. Because isn’t it what you would want if you were them? Isn’t that what you want your kids to learn?
This is why.
My friends and family often wonder why I volunteer my time with the Lab and why we are doing what we are doing. This is why. We want to begin conversations towards change. When we only look inside our own little circles, community is lost. It takes a village and it's time to rebuild ours. We want to take on foster care, to make the system work a little better so there are not so many broken hearts among foster families, foster children, biological parents, social workers, attorneys, and CASA's.
This is our passion, what is yours? You don't have to become a foster parent. You can donate toys, make a meal for a sick neighbor, volunteer with a charity, send a postcard of encouragement to a deployed soldier. If every single one of us could choose one thing to do for someone else, even if it's small, couldn't we bring about some change to our world? Will you join us?
Team Member of The Foster Innovation Lab