“The power of parenthood is awesome. The choice is offered a thousand times a day: to nurture or to neglect, to love or to abuse? There are few other times when we hold such absolute power in our hands.” -Margaret Guenther
Sadly, for the children in my care now, this is not just a philosophical statement written to make us hug our kids more or to contemplate parenthood from a distance. These are the questions they ask of any adult, questions they must ask because Life has shown them thus far that adults are unpredictable and can be counted on for neglect or abuse, certainly, but not necessarily for love or nurturing. When they arrive– and for quite a while afterwards– they are relying on the survival techniques they’ve learned: fight with all you’ve got, or succumb to numbness. The crazy thing is, these kids are babies up to the age of 6. They have learned already how to protect themselves the best they can, even if in reality they can’t protect themselves from much. They are so small and precious, yet they can fill up a house with their rage. They know how to get attention, even if that attention is filled with anger and negativity. They’re good at what they do. But when they get here, it’s our job to show them that they don’t have to fight anymore; that they will receive attention regardless of how they act; that interactions can be positive and trusting. I can’t even imagine the vulnerability it would take to open up to such a proposition. I only know it’s a blessing to be a part of the process.
In just a few weeks, I have had to create so many new mental maps. I live in a house with four kids and three other adults, and we live in a gated neighborhood with several houses of the same setup, all of which are next to the main office building of our organization. Its main purpose is to take in children in crisis who have been abused or neglected and care for them until their parents’ situations improve or until their parents’ rights are relinquished. It’s both fun and challenging to care for them during the interim time they’re here, but it’s also sad and difficult to let them go and to start over again with the love and the attachment. I have not encountered anything I can compare it to in my life ever before. We don’t get to watch these kids get older; our kids perennially stay between the ages of zero and six because new kids are always replacing the former ones. How is that not weird?
Yet, despite the uniqueness and novelty of this place and my job in particular, I feel so comfortable, too. I get to wake my kids up and play with them and feed them and put them to bed. I kiss their boo-boos and smile with them. This is normal. When I went to wake up one of the two-year-old boys this morning, he had already made his bed and was trying to put on all of his pajamas over the flannel onesie he had slept in. Luckily, most of the PJs were spread over his bed rather than on his body because the first shirt he attempted to put on had him locked in a straitjacket sort of position. It took a lot for me not to laugh out loud, but I was definitely smiling pretty big when I was helping him out his trap. What parent doesn’t love stories like this? Those moments throughout the day where there is humor or tenderness.
Of course, some days, they’re harder to find than others. That same boy who makes his bed and wanted to dress himself in every article of clothing he found also uses f***, sh**, b****, and any combination thereof in the right context. He uses them far less now than when he first arrived, but they still make appearances when he’s mad or caught off guard or confused about what he’s feeling. He continually asks– more with his actions than with his words– if we will nurture or neglect, love or abuse. And no matter how tired I am at the end of the day, it breaks my heart to look at him sometimes. I just want to hold him until it all goes away, wishing it all would just go away. But I can’t change his past or the pasts of any of the other children here, and I can’t foresee their futures. All I have is now. “You are fooled by your mind into believing there is tomorrow, so you may waste today.”
So I care for them carefully. They are my children, but they were someone else’s first, and they will most likely be someone else’s again. That is a powerful incentive to make the most of the little, indefinite amount of time I have with them. May I not waste today; may I always choose to nurture and love. May these children remember what it is to be enveloped in this nurturing love when they leave here. And may we all acknowledge the power we have to harm and put it aside this moment, and the next, and the next, because if we don’t show each other how to do it, we– and the children who are observing us and learning from us– will never learn.