I admire mothers, and of course fathers, but this is about mothers.
T. has the distinction of having three. Me, being the last. Thank-you-very-much.
I have mentioned in passing his first and biological mother. But, I haven’t really paid the respect due to his second mother who he knows as Carol. Carol was his therapeutic foster mother. Her accomplishments in life include nursing Thorin back to health – back to life.
Carol is thinking about getting out of the foster care business. That is how she makes her living but you could never do this job right if you were just doing it for the money. In fact, she is underpaid for what she does. Go figure, raising children (other people’s children at that) doesn’t pay what it should.
Carol has raised children continually for about forty years. (Yet, she looks about twenty years younger than her age. Dang, Carol, how do you do that?!)
She has parented biological children, adoptive children and foster children. T. was her thirty-eighth foster child.
Rising to the ranks to become a therapeutic foster parent means you have the gift – the gravitas –to minister to the abused, neglected and differently-abled. The unwanted.
She told me she hears all the time,
“Oh, I couldn’t be a foster parent. I couldn’t give away a child I had cared for and loved. I don’t know how you do that.” Somehow, indicating a deficit, a flaw in Carol.
Carol says, “I just hate that. I want to say it’s not about you. It’s about them and what they need.”
Some of us have become narcissist particularly about parenting. (As a parent blogger I am I suppose by nature a narcissist.) With all the books, articles, television programming, blogging and more blogging you wouldn’t actually think people were raising kids even a couple of decades ago. Or, four decades ago like Carol. So, much more “parenting” going on now. I think it’s a little precious. My guess is Carol finds it unnecessary.
Watching Carol parent is like watching a Zen Master. On our first visit to her house we waited at the top of the stairs to her deck. Waiting – because we didn’t know back then the mechanics of operating a child gate.
We see two boys. One boy, careening like Mad Max on a little push car. The other boy, scooting like a Little Monkey across the wood panels.
Mad Max came within an inch of knocking The Little Monkey over. Ward the soon-to-be-father-of-the-soon-to-be-Little-Monkey-Son becomes concerned:
“Hey, slow down.” “Um, be careful.” Finally, “Watch it!”
Carol calmly (instructfully), “It’s Ok, Ward. He’d hit him if he wanted to.”
After forty years of parenting you know when you really need to intervene. Pace yourself.
That was the second time we had seen T. The day before had been the first. Ward and I were all glowey. It was a brilliant day. Our boy.
It was dreamy, surreal. Ward and I looked at each other.
“Pinch me! I can’t believe it’s true.”
Carol, out of T’s ear shot, “He is trying to figure it out. He knows something is up.”
She was right. He alternated between outright observance and skepticism. Bright Little Monkey. Our boy.
T. was taking the greater risk here. He risked not just his heart but his survival to us. Maybe he even thought, “Could these two smiling idiots pull it together and do right by me?”
(I suppose the same could be said of any child no matter how they came to their parents.)
Carol must have wondered too. Worried – were these the ones for him?
She watched us. She instructed us.
“He chokes a lot. Just make the pieces of food small.” Pause. “It’s a good idea to stay calm when it happens.”
She became the midwife to our birth as parents. Her coaching mantra – “It was about him not us”.
What we knew objectively: he was thirty-four months old; he weighed nineteen pounds; he couldn’t walk; he didn’t really speak. And, right, he had Down syndrome.
Subjectively, what we knew. He was curious. He was feisty (a food and cup thrower even back then). He was a gifted mimic. He liked SpongeBob SquarePants.
He seemed both burdened and unburdened by his fate. He trusted Carol.
When Carol talked about Down syndrome it was in an analytic way: “I do a lot of reading about it because I didn’t have that experience before.”
She did have in her forty years’ experience with “mental retardation”, autism,RAD (reactive attachment disorder) and even a budding sociopath or two. She helped a son she had adopted who was cognitively challenged and transgendered transition to becoming a daughter.
Note to self – tell Carol to write a frigg’in book already!
And – with regard to us she wasn’t like a used car dealer trying to get a clunker off the lot. She was like a Porsche dealer wondering if we had the goods. The wherewithal to seal the deal. Were we good enough for T.?
He was her boy, too. It was about him not us.
Our state has cut back adoption support. There is currently no actual adoption division in our DHHS. Good luck to the State’s most vulnerable children. And – don’t let the door hit you on your way out to the Mean Streets.
Carol was asked to serve in an ad hoc capacity to decide where one of her recent changes should be placed for adoption. It came down to two families. In interviewing each of them she was able to suss out the best placement for this particular kid.
The winning family’s home was noisy, busy and didn’t have a lot of rules other than ‘do the best you can do’.
The losing family’s home was orderly, quiet, they made it clear the child would conform to their life (not the other way around) and if he asked to see his biological mother they had already decided that for him. It was about them.
A friend of Carol’s who was a few months pregnant recently confided to her the child she was carrying may have Down syndrome. (After a pre-natal test this later proved not to be the case.)
Now most people upon hearing this would feel compelled to offer sympathy and hand wringing.
That’s not Carol’s style, “Don’t worry. It will be a gift like any child. I have really come to believe that because of T.”