THE WOMAN IN THE PHOTO WASN'T ME. SHE HAD LIPS LIKE DENTAL FLOSS...
THE OLD HAG AT BAY
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.