May is National Foster Care Month
I am foster child.
There are stories of kids saved from abused homes, whose families have died, who have run away from home or who were rescued from other horrible circumstances… I’m not one of those. I was a bad kid.
In my teenage years I was a thief, a vandal and a poor student. I had no respect for those around me and didn’t ask for any in return. I was of nothing, surrounded by nothing and wanted nothing. I was living with my grandmother when I was a teen as my Mother could not be bothered. I used my cunning and guile to take advantage of my grandmother, stealing money, manipulating her and generally getting my way. I would have likely continued that behavior until I turned 18 or killed myself which ever came first.
Fortunately for me, and for my grandmother, I messed up. I broke into one of her locked rooms and ransacked it for booze money and was shortly apprehended by the authorities, placed in a group home for the weekend.
When the social worker picked me up from the group home on that Monday morning he informed me that I was being placed in Foster Care in Galesville, WI (about 20 miles south of where I lived) where they hoped – away from all my fellow hooligans – I would straighten out and fly right.
I arrived with the social worker at this long brown house at the edge of the town of Galesville, I’d been to Galesville before to see a dentist as a kid but didn’t think much of the place – at 15 I still didn’t and this house on the edge of town wasn’t making a good first impression.
Inside that house I found two of the oldest people ever (they were perhaps in their early 40s back then) with gray hair and the lady sitting in rocking chair knitting. I knew immediately that I would be able to manipulate these people as easily as I had my grandmother. I was given some basic rules, shown to my room and introduced to Steve who was a kid who had lived with this family for a long, long time.
It was scary that first night, I don’t think I slept much. I didn’t know these people, didn’t want to know them and definitely wasn’t staying. School was out for me as it was the end of the school year and I would have the entire summer to get to know these people. Not an exciting prospect at the time.
What happened for me in that foster home was everything that I needed. The foster parents, Ma and Pa as I call them affectionately, taught me about life as I had never considered it before. We had dinner each night and talked about our days, we did chores together, they gave me an allowance, taught me how to wake up for school on my own, held me accountable, and even gave me my first job of mowing lawns.
Ma and Pa, their biological children and Steve, helped me learn basic fundamental things that were foreign concepts to me. Behaviors were formed that might never have had the chance to thrive in the environments that I was exposed to back home.
Now don’t believe that spending 3 years in Foster Care turned me into an angel – far from it. I got in my share of scrapes as a young adult even spending a weekend in jail and going through drug and alcohol treatment twice.
The thing is the life lessons that I learned in my foster home are still in my head and have kept me from making the disastrous decisions that were only a few steps out of reach. I go to work on time, I put forth my best effort, I try to help others – just some of the things I learned in my foster home.
Best of all was that my foster family loved me, they still do. My Pa died two years ago and it was the hardest thing I ever experienced and I cried openly as my heart lost a huge piece. I talk to my Ma and the rest of the family regularly; I go “home” at least once a year and now try to spend Christmas’s with them. I also took the steps to change my last name to theirs, as an honor to Pa and the love that I’ve received.
Somewhere out there a boy or a girl are looking for a family, maybe a temporary family, maybe their just looking for a little bit of hope. Maybe they just need to be loved, maybe they just need to be shown another way, and perhaps their heart could use some tending.
Consider today becoming a foster parent, I think it was a rewarding experience for my Ma and Pa as they did it for about 20 years. I can only testify that it was beneficial to me and to several of the other kids that came through when I was there – I still talk to some of them today and most of them still call home to check on Ma.
If you’ve ever considered it or are now curious, here are a few links to look into it.
Foster Care Month: http://www.fostercaremonth.org/Pages/default.aspx
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/foster_care