I was reminded this past week of two very painful life changing events in my life, that led to wonderful changes in my thinking pretty much immediately.
The first was the death of my mother, forty seven years ago yesterday. She was killed early in the morning in a (single car) car crash. My father, who was driving, was hospitalized. It fell to Aunt Rita and Uncle Frank to inform us kids. Some time between the crash and our alarms going off to get us up for school, they came over to wake up my fifteen year old self, my almost fourteen year old brother, and my ten year old sister. They told me first, and then my brother, as we shared a room. Then one of them, Uncle Frank I think, was going across the hall to tell my sister. I begged them not to. I remember that Aunt Rita’s response to me was simply that they had to, but I also remember her being surprised by that immediate and non-thinking reaction on my part.
Years later, I became a foster parent to my first three kids, brothers, eight, ten, and twelve. They had a fifteen year old brother who was in Children’s Village. Some months later, I heard through the grapevine that that boy had been referred to the foster home department. Immediately, I reached out to the foster department and told them that I wanted him here with us. They refused. They told me that I had “too many kids.” I was shocked, and horrified. I fought. Ultimately, without telling me, they went and asked him if he wanted to come live with me. He, of course, said no. And with that, they closed it out, perfectly sure of themselves. When I asked them if they had told him first that I wanted him with us, they said they had not. I begged them to let me talk to him and they refused. I said to them, what else could he have said to them but “no” when he had experienced me taking his brothers and essentially abandoning him (I had known him for many years)? I said to them that he needed to hear first hand from me that I wanted him with us and that I had gone to get him the second I learned that he was being referred to a foster home. Only then could you trust his “no.” They refused.
When he was eighteen, I adopted him out from under them anyway. But for those in-between three years, he lived with believing that I didn’t care about him. (I couldn’t tell him because he had to live within the agency with those folks till he was eighteen.)
That behavior on the part of my caseworker, and her boss (significantly to me: neither had kids) is my definition of arrogance. My intended behavior towards my sister that night my mother died, was also arrogance. Not in the “overbearing” definition which I have been accused of many times in my life, but rather in the sense of “presumptuous claims or assumptions.”
Many years ago – decades now – my boss in my last job accused me of being arrogant. We had a long discussion about it and he came back to me and said that upon further thought, he decided that I was “abrasive.” And I said, “absolutely.” He was surprised how immediately I had accepted that. I told him that abrasive is always in the mind of the “abrased.” And that most often it was the truly arrogant who felt that I was abrasive as I went after their “presumptuous claims or assumptions.”
Out of my experience with my son came two rules at Family Focus: one, adults go first – always. And two – every decision we make about one of our kids or one of our families has to pass “the forty year test.” How, we are required to ask ourselves, will this decision I am making, impact this child or this family forty years from now, when I am long gone from this position, and maybe from this earth? That arrogant caseworker and her boss didn’t stop to think that by me adopting the three brothers, the fourth brother would be a part of our lives, one way or another, forever whether they agreed with it or not. And how would that look to the boys: that three got one life, and the fourth, a very different life. And that then becomes the starting point: will this be right in the long term. Not “too many kids.”
Out of my experience with Aunt Rita that night, came my recognition that I wasn’t trying to protect my sister – there was no protecting her after all – but rather trying to protect my own feelings about her devastation and my need to respond to it. With Aunt Rita’s words, I realized that I was being stupid: my sister “had to know.” But only later did I realize that I was really being arrogant.
I had – and have had for three weeks now – a responsibility to speak to a fifteen year old kid about some stuff that will impact her life from today until at least forty years from now. But the powers-that-be, afraid of the current behavioral impact on her of what I have to say (all of which is affirming and empowering so I don’t even get that) have forbidden it. Exactly what I would have done to Aunt Rita and Uncle Frank, had I the power to keep them from talking to my sister that terrible and life-changing night. So was my thinking forty seven years ago incredibly mature and years beyond my age? Or are the current powers-that-be thinking like a fifteen year old, and a very arrogant one at that?
The only question that matters is how their arrogant decision will impact this teen “forty years from now.” Not whether I will shake her world today. Even if they were right about my shaking her world today – which they are likely not. This teen is entitled to a conversation with me. And she will get it. Perhaps not till she’s eighteen and free of them and their arrogance and power, like my son became.
And this posting this morning will serve as evidence to her then that I wanted to talk to her now.
Hmm….this blog has it’s benefits for me far beyond any I had originally thought of……
Humble Jack, the Abraser