Census data confirms more older Americans are becoming the primary caregivers for neglected/abandoned children
AN OPEN LETTER TO
MY FOSTER CHILDREN'S TEACHER
My child is in your class
this year. I am glad for both of you. My child will get the very best teacher in the school, and you will get a great kid.
Foster children are different
from other kids. They’ve had more loss, seen more violence, lived through more upheaval, and lost more faith than most
adults. But they’re not adults—they’re children. They’re breakable.
fixable too. You’re part of that.
Get to know my child. If
you have questions, ask me. He may be slower than some children—that doesn’t mean he’s not bright. It means
he hasn’t had an opportunity to learn the basics—to explore relationships and to learn to depend on himself.
Don’t count him out
until you see his strengths. Don’t modify all his assignments—I don’t modify my expectations of him at home.
Modify only when he needs a bridge across a deficit. Expect the best of him. I do.
Let him know when he does
a good job—he needs the affirmation. Let him know when he does a poor job—he needs the discipline. Make all classroom
rules apply to him. Cut him no slack, except when it is obvious he’s frustrated. But that’s common sense. You
do it with the other children. Do it with mine.
Let him see your goodness.
Your patience. Your fairness.
Work with him when he needs
to learn something the other children already know.
Plan for him to succeed.
If you don’t, he most assuredly will fail.
The first time I saw the witch, the old
hag, I recognized her. She’d been in a lot of productions: Saul consulted her when he wanted Samuel raised from the
dead, Dorothy saw her in the crystal ball, the witch and her sisters mumbled some famous words in Macbeth, act four. Not that these were all the same crone—in fact, the Bible describes the witch from 1st
Samuel as a maidservant—but they all had that hag quality. That’s how I recognized the woman in my photograph.
But I should start from the beginning. Some people think
my husband Charlie and I are saints. Others believe we’re just insane. I want to vote with the “saint” group,
but I know the truth is more in the latter camp. You see, we’re fifty-somethings. We’re at the age when most of
our peers are claiming their independence from children—going on cruises and having liposuction. We became foster parents.
At conferences and workshops, the subject of age always
surfaces. “How many of you are twenty?” someone will ask. “Thirty? Forty? Fifty and beyond?” At a
foster parent training, -something told my husband that her foster child would respond well to him because the kid
loved older people. Over fifty. Fifty and beyond. So I came up with a title for all of us in that category. We’re Beyonders.
And life for Beyonders is significantly different than life for all those other smirking youngsters. We’re higher maintenance.
Anyway, at an age where we might have become “snow birds,” Charlie and I are Beyonder foster parents.
So, one day I received a call from our department of social
services. We’d been named the Colorado State Foster Parents Association foster parents for the month of November. It
was an honor, and it came with a hundred dollar check. The only thing they wanted in return was a photo of Charlie and me.
Close up. In color. I offered to return the check. I put them off for several weeks.
Finally, the director of the C.S.F.P.A. emailed me asking
us to send the photo digitally. Time was running out for them to publish their brochure. So at one night, I packed the bags under my eyes, pulled a comb through my hair, and handed our thirteen-year-old
the digital camera. Charlie and I stood in front of a bare white wall, while Matthew clicked the button scarcely three feet
in front of us.
Afterward, Matthew went back to his video game, Charlie
felt his way back to his recliner and I headed into the office to download the image into the computer. When I pulled up the
picture, I found the old hag, smiling, with her arm around my husband’s waist. Wearing my yellow shirt. I knew it was
not me. I am much younger, and I have full, pouty, sensuous lips. This old crone had lips like dental floss.
Charlie was already flipping through the channels when
I ran into the living room.
“Something’s wrong!” I squealed.
“You’re not kidding. Fifty-five ninety-nine
a month, a hundred and thirty channels—plus locals—and all there is to watch is an infomercial about rotating
“No,” I said. “Really wrong. I’ve
Charlie gave me a long, thoughtful look. “Is this
a trick question?” he asked.
“No, there’s something really, really wrong.
That picture we posed for…well, I’m not in it. You’re there. It looks just like you. But the woman in the
picture is not me. She’s…well, older. And wrinkled. And…she doesn’t have full, sensuous pouty lips.”
Charlie studied me for a while. Then he started snoring.
What’s up with that? Give a man a remote and a recliner
and he can sleep through a major earthquake. But later that night, Charlie tossed and turned and wrapped himself up in the
sheets. I felt sorry for him. I knew he was having nightmares about the disappearance of his dear wife. I tiptoed downstairs
and got the remote. Then I went back and put it into his hand. He smiled, turned over and began snoring. That’s when
I decided to look for myself.
I started in the kitchen. It’s one place I feel secure.
The thing is, there’s an old hag in all of us Beyonders
just waiting to get out. Many people say, and I believe it’s true as well, that there is also a child in each of us
who wants to come out and play. That throws a whole new light on talking to yourself, doesn’t it?
The CORE training manual for foster parents talks about
many things, including “goodness of fit.” This means that not all children and care givers are suited to one another.
It also counsels foster parents to
1)recognize the limits of attaching emotionally to the children you foster. They will be leaving soon.
2)Learn how to manage your feelings toward, and work with, birth parents.
3)Deal with the emotional trauma children bring into your home that results in behavior issues.
4)Learn to work with case workers, guardians ad litem, teachers and other care givers
It’s not a long list. Not particularly difficult
to understand. When you add into the mixture the issues Beyonders already face, the task swells.
For instance, it is hard not to bond with the children
we care for, even though we know we will lose them soon. If we do our jobs well, we might even hasten their departure. But
by the time you qualify as a Beyonder, you have probably faced loss. Your own resident grief may surface as you face the removal
of a child from your home.
My tongue is riddled with tiny flaps of skin, flags marking
the places where I’ve bitten through it. I try to keep my mouth shut and not offer my opinion on my grandchildren’s
discipline, but it’s hard. Now, I know so much more. My own children can benefit from my experience and my wealth of
knowledge. And just think of what I can offer my foster children’s birth parents. I’ve had courses. I’m
Then again, so is my dog and he still occasionally piddles
on the floor.
Now, stir in the deficits created by normal aging and you
have a Molotov cocktail. Beyonders tire more easily. They have more difficulty keeping schedules straight. They have their
own medications and irritations to contend with. They may have some hearing loss. (I don’t know about you, but I considered
sitting any more than ten feet away from the amplifier at a rock concert as irrational behavior. I believe the words I used
were: “what’s the point?”)
There are differences between twenty, thirty and forty-somethings
and us Beyonders. When we go trick or treating, we get winded just ringing the doorbell. When someone answers, we say “trick
or--” and forget the rest. Then, when they throw a candy bar in our bags, it puts us off-balance and we fall over.
We talk to ourselves and those of us with hearing impairments
have to repeat a lot.
We’re also called Baby Boomers, and there are a lot of us. We account for a large proportion of the country’s
economy. We are a force to contend with. So, tell me why more people don’t want to be like us. Why aren’t there
creams to make wrinkles appear overnight? Why don’t manufacturers make fifty
different shades of dye to put gray into hair?
But a lot of us Beyonders are caring for children these
days. According to census data, between 1970 and 1990. the number of children being raised by their grandparents rose 70%.
Add to this the number of children who are in the homes of unrelated older foster parents and you understand the reason for
this site. As we would care for a fine, old classic car,we Beyonders need to take better care of ourselves. We need to care
for our charges. We need to even the playing field.
God gave us our commission. In the summer of 2000, we were
disappointed. Discouraged. Defeated. And sort of relieved. The murder of our son five years earlier had left us vulnerable
and sore. We agreed to become foster parents to help our youngest daughter. Her boyfriend’s little sister was in foster
care, and in danger of being sent to a girls’ home unless someone took her. But after several months of rescheduled
interviews and home visits, we were no closer to our goal of becoming certified.
And maybe it was for the best. After all, would we have
the guts…or the heart to deal with a troubled child? We decided to back out, and determined to tell our daughter.
Before that could happen, God got us in line. We attended
a joint outdoor church service put on by a Christian cattleman’s organization. The sermon had nothing to do with foster
care. It was about surviving life. But at the end, the speaker’s wife offered a few words of encouragement to the people
gathered in the grandstands. Then, she looked out, toward where we sat, and said, “If anyone here has been thinking
about becoming a foster family, and you’re not sure about it, I believe God wants you to go ahead.”
My breath caught in my throat. Charlie’s eyes teared.
We were hooked.
Maybe your calling wasn’t as dramatic, or as pointed.
Maybe you were smart enough to get the message without the theatrics. Maybe for you it was as simple as finding your grandkids
on your doorstep. But fostering is a commission from God, and the opportunity of a lifetime. Even for Beyonders.
Anyway, I left my story at the kitchen door. I had gone
to look for myself, and eventually I found me. But by that time I wasn't the person I'd started out to look for.
I wrote a piece for
Fostering Families Today a few months ago that explains my conundrum. I’m not so worried about filling the shoes of younger foster parents.
Butit would be nice to fit into those little elementary desks at conferences.
up dreading this day. It is my turn to help with the first grade reading party. I had baked three dozen monster M and M cookies
and bought the two packages of Styrofoam cups the teacher requested. Seven-year-old Donnie is knocking at my bedroom door.
probably need to get up with him He may not remember to go to the bathroom,” my husband says.
dangerously quiet in the hall outside the bedroom.
you need to go wee-wee in the potty,” I say.
It is too late.
fifty six, I remind myself. I’m too old to be the mother of a first grader. Donnie doesn’t think so. He is standing
in the hallway grinning ear-to-ear. He is dry.
you, God,” I breathe.
the one who got us into this. We’d thought of becoming foster parents, but had given up on the idea. Then, at an outdoor
community church service, the speaker suddenly looked directly into the grandstand, to our seats.
God is dealing with you to become foster parents, you need to do it.”
and we were certified. Now, five years and eighteen kids later, I have to force my fifty-six year old body into one of those
tiny desks with all the twenty-something mothers of the other first graders.
wants peanut butter toast for breakfast. His older brother Paul is already pouring himself a bowl of sugary cereal. The dog
waits below for the inevitable spill.
gets up, dresses and hugs me goodbye before heading out the door to work. “Have a good day,” he calls over his
day,” I repeat. I take a medicine bottle from the cupboard and pull out a tiny blue capsule. “Here, Paul. Take
your Adderall.” He quits fidgeting long enough to get up and retrieve the pill. It has made a world of difference in
his battle with ADHD.
my glucosamine and my ibuprofen. They make a difference, too…in how long I can sit at one of those miniature desks.
Then I clean up the kitchen. The boys leave for school.
tired. I couldn’t sleep last night. Our daughter is having financial trouble and I feel so sorry for her. I pray, asking
God to bless our family, and to give me strength. Then I get the housework done and head to the grocery store.
my church friends stands behind me at “check-out.” She pats my arm. “Boy, am I glad I’m not paying
for that cart load.”
and Charlie are saints. I couldn’t do what you do. Can I send you a pie over for Sunday dinner?”
again. We pray God will send us the children He wants us to have. Once they get to us, we pray that He will give us strength
and wisdom to teach them. That, I figure, gives them an advantage over many foster children. But we can’t do it alone.
The church family helps us a lot. They hug our foster kids and keep them from sliding down the church banisters. They compliment
them on Sunday school papers and shush them when we can’t sit with them in church. They are foster parents, too. They
just don’t know it.
grown children help out. They take over when we haven’t got the energy, or the time, to take the foster kids to shoot
hoops. Doug, our son-in-law, buzzes the boys’ hair. And we never have to use respite care. Our daughters and their husbands
keep the children for us when we have to go out of town. Without their help, we couldn’t do what we do. I guess it really
does “take a village.”
again, I put away the groceries. In another hour, I have to start for the school. Donnie’s jeans slouch on a chair,
waiting for me to patch the knee. He only has three pairs of pants. Still, he came to us in the middle of the night with just
a sweat suit. When he leaves, at least he will have clothes to take to the next home.
over a child’s shoe. (Why do you never find them in pairs?) I bend to pick it up and discover the dog has erped his
cereal on the carpet. By the time the stain is cleaned, it is time to go.
school, Donnie’s teacher greets me. She is my age, nearing retirement, and thinks Charlie and I are insane. A sweet
little blond takes the seat next to mine. She looks ten years younger than my daughter. She gives me a shy grin and turns
to another girl who is wearing tight jeans with holes carefully cut in the legs. They discuss the preschool spaghetti supper.
Thank goodness, I don’t have to worry about that…this year.
it is time to serve refreshments. Donnie appears at my elbow.
says we get to help pass out stuff if our moms brought it,” he explains.
him the foil-covered pop flat piled with cookies. He grins and carries it away as though it is the crown jewels on a royal
pillow. When he returns, he has a grimy yellow construction paper card in his hand. “I [heart] Mom,” it says.
Donnie a sideways hug, the way Social Services taught us to hug sexually abused children.
know what a Godmother is,” he offers.
my head to catch the words he is whispering, waiting to hear his synopsis of Cinderella. “You do?”
says Donnie. “It’s you.”
six isn’t so old, I think.
Donnie and his card
when are we too old to foster?
CHECK OUT THE COLORADO STATE FOSTER PARENTS ASSOCIATION FOR MORE INFO ON FOSTERING AND TRAINING