Sunday, February 13, 2011

I met L

Never Done: Met L

On the down side, Josh has been so sick with bronchitis that we had to miss his mom's 90th birthday party in Potomac. On the upside, we (mostly Josh) made her a super sweet art project, photographed it, and emailed it to Josh's niece-in-law along with a letter. The art project was a little mosaic of a duck with a green umbrella.

Here is the story of the duck: Josh's mom (Tsip) loved her first day of kindergarten because she learned how to draw a duck with a green umbrella. On the second day the teacher said, "Today we're going to play with blocks." Tsip raised her hand and said, "I don't want to play with blocks. I want to learn to draw!" But the teacher repeated, "Today we are going to play with blocks." So Tsip raised her hand again and asked to go to the bathroom. When she received permission, little Tsip walked right past the bathroom, and straight home. When the school called her mom in for a conference, they strongly suggested that Tsip wasn't mature enough to start school yet. So she got another year at home with her mom, during which time her mom taught her how to embroider and do other needle crafts.

She became a wonderful artist; she studied at the Art Students League after she got out of high school, and she went on to be a leading figure in the revived art of Jewish paper cut, and also a painter, stained glass, and mosaic artist. We had the idea for the duck mosaic before we knew we couldn't make it to her party, but once it fell through, it became a consolation for our absence.

Another consolation for our absence is that I was able to go to the teenager panel of our adoption classes. One of the ten mandatory classes is a panel of teens who are paid to be experts, and to tell us what it is like to live in the foster care system. The woman leading our sessions has been telling us about one child (L) who she thinks might be good for us, but she had told us she wouldn't be able to bring him to this panel, and in fact, he wasn't there when it started. But four of the teens I met the last time were there, and another seven I had never met. Most of these youth live in an LGBT group home, and ranged in ages from 15-19. I cannot tell you how smart these youth are. And funny. And honest. One of them said, "I hate to break it to you, but teenager fun isn't the same as adult fun. I mean, I'll take a walk in the park with you if you want, but I'm not gonna pretend it's fun!" Another one, when we were having a "boo in the room" conversation, after a prospective parent had said there is no way anybody is going to have anybody over in their room, said, "You know, we are all sexual beings. At least, I am. I am 17 years old, and I have a steady boo. And we are going to find somewhere to go. I would think you would rather we be safe, under your roof, than out in a club somewhere." What I loved most about that moment was that one of the parents looked at him, and said, "You know, you're right. That's a really persuasive argument." And just like that, the whole point of the panel was validated: we were there to learn from them.

It just so happens that this week's mide (middah) is Humility: Seek wisdom from everyone. (Yes, I completed my first cycle through all the mides (middot) and am back to the beginning again.) Not all the teens show their wisdom as easily as the boy I quoted above, but they were all consistently good at reminding us that humility would be a useful tool to being a good parent.

Once the panel was already underway, a beautiful, littler boy, all wrapped up in a down jacket, arrived and slouched into a seat near the door. Our group leader caught my eye and discreetly pointed to him, and mouthed his name. So this was the boy she has in mind for us. He barely said a word the whole time he was there, and when he did, he mumbled it, facing the other direction. I think our group leader has thought of him for us because he's out already at the age of thirteen, and she knows we would love to parent a younger LGBT child. I couldn't pick much of the personality she had described to me -- talkative, funny, and wry -- and yet, through his sullen presentation, I could see a glint in his eye, and a little wry smile. But afterwards, when he was talking with a girl (R) who lives with him at the RTC (residential treatment center, where these kids are essentially being "treated" for being homeless, but really, it's a new word for an orphanage -- a big institution where foster kids live) he was animated and engaged. I spoke with them both -- I remembered R, who I had liked a great deal the last time we met. She asked me if I was done with my classes yet, and I told her I was, but that I wasn't certified yet until I got a bigger apartment. She looked me in the eye and said, "Remember me." I told her I would.

Later, when I spoke with our group leader, she told me L has the flu, and that is why he was so quiet on the panel, and she also said that she knows someone who is probably taking R. I felt my heart sink a little -- I had remembered her very well, as a matter of fact, and had thought she might be my kid. But then the sinking was immediately replaced with delight that someone is stepping up to take her, and with the sudden understanding of what the leaders have been trying to teach us for months now: that it doesn't really matter which child you get. If what you want to be is a parent, then it's about your making an unconditional commitment to a child -- any child -- and it will be tough, and it will take patience, and that's what parenting is.

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