I ended last week, as many people my age spend far too much time doing, going to a wake and funeral. My Uncle Mike was only seven years older than me and because of that we never thought of him as our uncle, but rather a cousin, I guess. At the wake, of course, were relatives from our side of the family, and also from his wife’s side. Mike was married for forty five years. Even though our numbers are diminishing, there were still at least twenty people there who have been some part of my life for going on, if not over, fifty years. My parents’ generation had that experience, as did my grandparents’. I witnessed it. It is – to me – normal.
But nearly thirty nine years ago, I walked into Children’s Village for the first time on my job as a child care worker and met an eleven year old kid, for whom that experience would have been unfathomable. Ricky, whose words to me that night would impact, even determine, the course of my entire life from that day to this, might as well have had no one. I promised myself that first day I met him that I would change things for that boy, and I did. I ended up adopting him and all four of his brothers.
Yet, here I am this morning, on my way to take to Mickey D’s for lunch another eleven year old who has no one – not even siblings. Forty years later and I am still dealing with the same problem. For those reading the blog regularly, this would be the boy I refer to as Ted. I have been searching for a new family for Ted with no luck thus far.
But what really gets to my gut, both with Ricky and with Ted, is that had I been looking for a family for either boy ten years prior to me meeting them, we [Family Focus] would have had families clamoring at our door. In a week, literally, for a child just over a year old, once we put out the word (and that’s without Facebook) we would have had – easily – over one hundred families. A child a year younger than that, meaning new-born? Over a thousand. Easily.
But for the same exact children, only now with ten years experience of grief under their belts, there is next to nobody, oftentimes literally nobody. I know all the arguments: they are damaged, or even broken, they are too difficult, or they can’t be molded, and so on and so forth.
A few hours ago marked the forty fifth anniversary of my Aunt Rita and Uncle Frank, coming into my bedroom to wake me up and inform me of my mother’s death. Less than twenty months later, my brother, my sister, and myself, were living with that aunt and uncle. Thursday and Friday, their now-long-adult-kids were with me, my brother, and my sister, at (Uncle) Mike’s wake and funeral.
Did my aunt and uncle, I wonder, argue that we were too damaged, too broken, too difficult, or unmoldable, before they made the life changing decision (for all of us) that they made? I doubt it. We needed protection; they responded. When, only five years later, I saw that Ricky needed protection, I responded. What on earth does age of the child needing protection have to do with it?
Why aren’t those thousands of families available for the newborns, or the hundreds available for the one year old – or even just one adult – coming to me asking to be allowed to respond to Ted?
I am in the field nearly forty years; I am sixty years old. And I don’t get it.
After all these years, I still don’t get it.