Last Thursday was a day like any other… until I got a call from our resource worker asking if we would consider providing respite for a ten month old infant. I hesitated but something nagged at me telling me there was a reason we were receiving this request. I returned the call and said we would do it.
That afternoon, Goofy, Pluto and I were at the local hospital discharging another woman’s baby. As it turns out, his mother was in need of a psychiatric hospitalization and there was nowhere for her baby to stay. The hospital admitted him and a (semi) local organization worked with our child welfare system to secure respite (us) while this woman got the help she needed.
My family was initially not thrilled with my decision… especially since I hadn’t even bothered to consult any of them. We aren’t really “baby people” if you know what I mean. Late night crying, bottles of formula, dirty diapers… well, those just aren’t things that we like to deal with! Goofy didn’t speak to me at all the first night we brought the baby home.
That said, it took almost no time for each member of the family to fall madly in love with Jack Jack (not his real name, of course). As he came to trust us, he began to let his personality show and he is an absolutely charming happy baby! He wakes with the brightest smiles and is full of laughter. Its been amazing to see Goofy and Pluto interact with him… it gives me a glimpse as to what they will be like when they become husbands and fathers. Daffy has struggled a little bit to figure out her role with Jack Jack, but she does offer help when she can.
Jack Jack’s Mom is being discharged tomorrow. She is homeless. The program she had been a part of (and living in) told her she was no longer a good fit for their program, ultimately putting her and the baby on the street. Effective immediately. She made calls all day long (many while I was there for a vist with the baby) but had no luck securing anything. One agency returned her call to say that their interview process for a shelter takes a week minimum. SERIOUSLY!? How broken is our system that her “home” could throw her out without notice and a homeless shelter takes over a week to determine if you should be… well…. SHELTERED?
Today Jack Jack’s Mom quietly asked if we had any extra room at our home for a few days. I said no, but I knew I was lying. We have a spare bedroom that would be perfect. I told her we had bad experiences having people live here in the past (totally true), but that I would talk to Mickey. I really didn’t think he would go for it and I had my own reservations as well. I can’t save the world and I know that.
As I left the hospital, I realized why this case had struck me so deeply. I Am Jack Jack’s Mother. Her story is mine. I was 19. I was hospitalized for depression. I left the hospital and became homeless. I lost physical custody of my daughter to her father as a result. This realization brought me back to those cold and lonely days. I wondered where my next meal would come as I ate peanut butter from a jar with a dirty plastic spoon. I wondered where I could shower or brush my teeth to be prepared to look for work. I worried about carbon monoxide poisoning as I let my car run for heat and stressed about how I would pay for more gas. I visited with my daughter when and where I could. My family did not suport me during that time. I think they thought it was “character building” and that I should own the results of my life choices that led me to that place. While I fully support responsibility and I was never looking for a hand out, I simply wanted guidance…. a friend…. someone to help me to help myself. I was blessed to find that person when I started a new holiday job at the mall about 6 weeks after I left the hospital. 6 weeks of long days and cold nights. This woman allowed me into her small one bedroom apartment and let me sleep on her couch. We became the best of friends and, 20 years later, I am happy to report she is still one of my closest friends.
I don’t know that Jack Jack’s Mom and I will be friends in 20 years, but I do know first hand what its like to be in her situation. I know what its like to feel so alone in the world, like you could disappear and no one would even notice. Most of all, I know it’s time for me to come full circle and return the favor that was bestowed on me by a virtual stranger.
I’m sure my fellow foster parents are shaking their heads at my lack of boundaries (and heart that is 3 sizes too big, lol), but let me clarify…. Jack Jack is NOT a foster child. My choice to allow them to stay here for a week so that his mom has time to secure a safe home for them may PREVENT him from going into foster care.
That is a win in my book.