Be a lifeline to someone

I have a story to share and I need to do it now, while I’m still raw and charged up and emotional about it. So forgive any typos or run-on sentences. I may go back later and clean things up.

As many of you know, Steph and I have been foster parents for 4 years. When our older twins were 8 months old, we started the certification process and right after they turned one, we took our first placement. It was a doozy and we almost quit. The kids we had were hard – really hard. And we were tired from having one year old twins. But that’s not the point of this story.

Fast forward almost a year and we had the honor of providing help to a sibling group of three – I’ll call them Annie, Connor and Sam. Annie was 11, Connor was 5, and Sam was 3. Their mom and dad were – and are – good people, but struggling. We kept the kids for about 3 months while they picked up the pieces of their family and shakily sewed them back together. The kids went back to their parents, but we’ve stayed close in touch with them throughout the years. They come to all of our parties, and we help out when we can.

As vulnerable families often do, they’ve fallen into hard times again. I won’t go into specifics, but  I was in the position this morning to help Connor, who is now 7. He is whip smart, and he had missed his bus from the local elementary school that would take him to his gifted program. His mom called and asked if I could bring him because he was crying in the school office. Money is tight and time is tight and driving kids around means using up precious gas money. “Of course”, I said, “Absolutely.”

Let me tell you how Connor’s face lit up when they called him to the office and he saw me. It made me crumple, but in a good way. This little child, in the midst of some pretty big chaos at his house, had a huge smile for me. I ruffled his hair and told him how happy I was to see him and that his mom had called to see if I could take him to his gifted program.

We walked out of the school and climbed into our big passenger van. He was wowed with the bells and whistles – “Man that’s some pretty sweet technology!” he told me.

In between his interviewing me about the new van, I carefully interviewed him about what was going on. I thought for a second about not prying, but quickly dismissed that as a stupid idea. I asked him a series of questions for several reasons –

  1. To make sure everyone was safe.
  2. To make sure no one was hungry. I can’t bear the thought of a hungry child. It makes me want to throw up.
  3. To make sure that he knew that he was loved and cared for.
  4. To make sure that he knew he had somewhere to turn.

Assured for now of his safety after our talk in the car, we walked into his gifted school and I kept my hand on his head. (You have to be careful about displays of affection with 7 year olds, but I couldn’t help myself. He needed some extra love and protection.)

On the way up that long walkway to the school office, he told me that DCF had come to his school that morning to ask questions of him and his brother about what was going on at home.

He was practically skipping into school, in the way only a child can do in the face of tough emotional times.

“But I know that I can trust DCF, you know why Heather?”, he asked me quietly.

“Why buddy?” I responded.

“Because they brought me to you the first time. And you’re safe. I know you’re safe.”

“That’s right, buddy. I’m always here for you. If you ever need me and Steph, if you ever don’t feel safe, or are hungry or need anything, you know we’re here.”

I made sure he had my phone number, and sent him off into his day at gifted.

And then I came to my local coffee shop to drink a pumpkin soy latte and feel like an emotional mess. That’s where I am now.

I’m sharing this story not because I want any praise – Connor and his siblings will be fine. Their family will be fine. They are good people – good parents who are just going through a very, very rough time. Very. Rough. Time.

I’m sharing this story because Connor’s words keep repeating in my head over and over, like the refrain from your favorite song that keeps playing in your mind “I Know that I can trust DCF because they brought me to you the first time, and you’re safe.”

Connor and his family have a life line. Thank God for the blessing that I  – and others- are able to provide that for them. So many families do not have a lifeline. For every Connor, there are moms and dads that are 2 seconds away from snapping with the stress of life.

For every Connor that has somewhere to turn, there are children who have no safety net. Their families are closed – they have no support, nowhere to turn when the lights are about to get shut off. Nowhere to go when baby’s formula is running perilously low.

And don’t tell me like a marching chant  “There are programs! There are programs!”

Yes, there are. But not everyone can access them. Sometimes you just can’t get your shit together  to function enough to get yourself to the welfare office. Or you don’t have enough bus money. I know this, because I’ve been there. And programs offer what they call on the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy “Physiological needs”. You know, food, shelter – the things we take for granted. Those things are important, but what I’m talking about is the next level up on the rung – safety.

For every Connor that had somewhere to turn, there are children who have no safe places. They have children whose parents are failing them. We have a horrible drug epidemic, and a huge mental health crisis in our country (and in much of the world). These parents and children need us. Or, maybe drugs or mental health issues aren’t involved. Maybe there are money problems and mommy can’t take the stress of trying to pull ends together and is about to have a nervous breakdown. Again, I’ve been there. Ask me about the time I found a twenty dollar bill in a cemetery in New York City and felt the immense temporary relief of having money to feed my children that week. (Don’t ask me about the Coca-Cola I also bought myself because that probably wasn’t my finest moment, lol.)

Please consider being a lifeline to a Connor. Or a steady shoulder to a parent of someone like Connor, who is trying to do their best to navigate this world, but keeps getting knocked down.

Please, be a lifeline. If you don’t know of any families in need, reach out to me. I do. They’re out there all around you, in the woodworks, in varying degrees of isolation, and they’re waiting for someone to reach out and show them they care.

Do it without expecting anything in return, because it’s actually a gift they’re giving you, allowing you the chance to get outside of yourself and be of service to others. I am not a religious person, but I imagine that the preachers of the world preach that every weekend from their pulpits. “Service.” “Giving to others.”

If you don’t know where to start, here are a few places:

  1. Become a mentor though the Boys and Girls Club
  2. Consider becoming a foster parent. Call your local agency. Hey – all the cool people are doing it – I was rooting Randall and Beth on in “This is Us” last night as they struggled with whether they were strong enough to do it. It’s not as scary as you think. It’s hard work, but has been one of the most rewarding experiences of Steph’s and my life. Because I would have never met Connor and his family if we hadn’t become foster parents.
  3. Become a Guardian ad Litem. These fine folks are the voice of children in our broken child welfare system. If you’ve never been to a dependency court hearing, I can tell you about them. You have caseworkers, parents, foster parents, therapists, attorneys, magistrates, and guardian ad litems. The guardian ad litem’s job is do one thing – be the voice of the child. This is excruciatingly important, because that is not generally what happens in a courtroom. Advocating for what’s in the best interest of the child. Being a part of that child’s team of safe people.
  4. Contact your local elementary school and ask if they have any volunteer programs that will pair you up with a vulnerable child or family. They can likely point you in the right direction.
  5. Contact your local elder services program to see how you can be of service.

Those are a few places to start. There are many many others, so nobody come be snarky and say “But what about the {insert neglected population here}” The point is that there is a vast amount of need out there. Our fellow human beings are suffering and we can do something about it. The world is crazy right now, and shitty and broken. We’re fighting over politics and gun control and health care and nuclear arms and well, pretty much everything. Just remember that fabulous quote from Dr. Seuss (or whoever it was – I’ve seen it cited to like 500 people)

Now I’m going to go back to drinking my privileged  pumpkin soy latte and move on with my day. Until the next call for help comes, and then I’m going to answer that, too. Because this, my friends, is what we need to do in our broken world. We need to be there for each other.

Without judgment.

Without expectation of something in return.

We need to show up for each other because we are all human, and because in the ebb and flow of what it means to be human, it very well could be us one day that needs the help.

We give and receive. We give and receive. We give and receive.

That is the beauty of the cycle of life. I am grateful that today, I am the one that can initiate giving. Please consider doing the same.

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