Monday, December 14, 2009

An Un-Christmas List

T. is making his Christmas list - very sweet, since he typically loathes asking for anything. And last night, after he went to bed, he snuck out, ostensibly to get a drink of water, but we caught him tip-toeing (as lightly as a 6'2" teenager can tip-toe) in to the living room to look at the Christmas Tree. It inspired me to write down a list I've been keeping in my head: the list of things that kids stuck in long-term foster care don't have.

It's an un-Christmas list, because I think Christmas (if you're into that kind of thing) should be frosting, it shouldn't be food. In other words, whether it's just a special day spent with family or a longed-for present, Christmas should be about something a little out of the ordinary. But in our experience, kids in foster care often lack the "ordinary". There are deficits, not just in terms of love and security, but also in terms of experience - the kind of experience that, within the limits of affordability, kids should be able to expect.

Neither T nor any of the kids he's been in foster care with have had any of the following:

- a parent that you know won't "give you away" if your behavior is challenging (this, he tells us, is the difference in his mind between a foster parent and an adoptive parent)

- photos of yourself around the house

- a bicycle

- a pet

- driving lessons and the opportunity to earn a license during your teenage years

- parents to help you line up internships and after-school jobs

- regular good-night kisses

- a homemade lunch to take to school

- someone to say "I love you" every day

- a key to the front door

- a normal social life

- the ability to invite another kid over to your house after school

- a bank account

- a suitcase (we learned that when foster kids are moved from home to home, their possessions are almost always loaded into plastic garbage bags)

- an opportunity to help plan a family vacation (most of the foster kids we've met in LA have never been outside of the county)

- a chance to go someplace on an airplane

- a choice about what kind of food to eat for dinner

- an adult who says "I apologize" when they make a mistake

I could add to this list for days. This year, T. will get an iPod and a turtle (he told us he doesn't believe in Santa, but if it will help him get an iPod, he thinks he'd like to make a list for Santa this year and he's dropping very heavy hints about the turtle).

Over time he'll also get a lot of the things he's been missing, having spent 12 of his 15 years in foster care. We'll introduce these things gradually to avoid overwhelming him. When we mess up, we'll say "I'm sorry". And when he messes up, we won't "give him away" as he always phrases it. We'll visit his relatives on Christmas, because they are important to him. And we'll wear our pajamas to the movies on Christmas Day, because that's his dream. Over time, I hope we'll fill in a few of the potholes that foster care left in his life. And all I want is the chance to have him with us for long enough to try to do that.


marythemom said...

Merry Christmas! I'm proud of you for not going overboard spoiling him!

Things I would add to that list:

- A gift that doesn't scream "boy, age 15" bought by health and human services

- Knowing that every behavior, bad mood, achievement and mistake isn't reported in triplicate to people you've never met who will make decisions for and about you - including possibly moving you somewhere else

- Someone who'll fight for you, and make sure you are getting everything you deserve and more- making sure the school is providing you with the best education, the doctor's are listening, the testing is accurate...

- Someone who will love you even after you turn 18, and will continue to help you become an adult - filling out college applications, buying your first car, renting an apartment, becoming a parent...

Mary in TX

Lulu McCabe said...

I am SO with you on number two ("knowing that every behavior..."). Of all the things that T. went through, I think one of the most confusing was having every minor transgression picked over by a panel of adults. For months, he would recite for us every single thing he could recall ever having done wrong - from a fight he almost had in first grade to a bad grade in junior high. He wanted to find out if we'd "give him away" if he misbehaved. Of everything he's been through, being bounced from foster home to foster home because of normal misbehavior is the thing that I think he has the greatest trouble resolving.

M and M said...

This post, offered to the world with such generosity, really just helped me see some things much more clearly. Thank you for "naming" it - lovely lovely lovely.

Ashley said...

I'm really enjoying your blog, getting a "taste" of a real life adoption, as we look forward to our own. Thanks for the inspiration each post offers.

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