I haven’t written in a long time but I’m still thinking. Sometimes I get ready to write, then I get discouraged, or busy, and I just don’t bother. Sometimes I lose those thoughts and sometimes they stick around. I’m not going to rehash anything for you right now from the last few months because today I want to talk about an experience from yesterday.
His name is not Alonso, but I changed his name for this post in order to protect his identity. His name could have been Alonso, so we’ll just leave it there.
I only had about 15 minutes to meet with Alonso yesterday. I had never met him before, and it was not a planned meeting. Nevertheless, it was a great meeting and something that I’ll be thinking about for some time.
Alonso walked into the waiting area at a local county human services building along with his older sister and some social workers buzzing about. A large boy for his age (about 12?) with a bright smile and interested eyes. He stood next to me for a moment without making eye contact as he took in the news that he might be able to see his mom for 3 hours today instead of the planned 2 1/2. Alonso celebrated with a dance and a shout while his sister sat down across from us – seeming unaffected.
After a moment passed, I told Alonso that he could sit next to me (it was the only empty seat in the room and a small seat, and somewhat obstructed by my width). He smiled at me and sat, and began playing with his toothpick and balsa wood sailboats that he had built and painted earlier that afternoon. Then after everyone left the room except my wife, our current foster kids, his sister, Alonso and I – they both began asking us questions about our current placement (some very young twin boys that were sitting in our laps).
Somewhat to his sister’s chagrin, Alonso was an open book waiting to be read. I didn’t have to dig at all for him to start talking. I struck up a conversation with him – first about my foster kids – and later about himself. I hadn’t really even asked, but he seemed to really want to tell me. I spent some time listening to Alonso relate about the people in his life who had lied to him about things – both big things and little things – and the people who kept their word and how important that was to him. At one point he was telling me how much he likes his CASA worker by describing her as “She said specifically she would take us to the movies on this day… and she wrote it down in her book… and then she actually did it!”.
Alonso also recounted to me how much he appreciated it when people didn’t sugar-coat his situation. He used that exact phrase, “sugar coat”, in appreciation of his assigned GAL (Guardian Ad Litem – an attorney assigned by the courts to represent children in the system in court and other legal matters as their temporary legal guardian.) He said “she always tells me what’s actually happening, not only what she wants to tell me to get me to do something.” All I could think was… Wow.
Alonso told me about the facility that he and his sister lived in for far too many months before “they could find a house for us to live in” (Foster home). It wasn’t a bad facility from his description of it, but it certainly wasn’t home. He was concerned that our babies didn’t have a home yet and so I was able to tell him that they were living in our home and hadn’t had to spend any time in a group home or facility. Alonso was very relieved. “I hate it when they take babies from their moms like that”, he said. I didn’t correct him or tell him he was wrong. Alonso was right, after all, in the best world children would always belong with their loving, caring, nurturing and capable biological parents. It’s a function of our broken world that we need Foster parents at all. I said “I hate that too.”
What really struck me about Alonso was his honesty and kindness. Here he had been yanked from his home (probably for good reason!) and forced to live in a facility – not of his choosing – while hoping that maybe someone would care enough about him to give him a house (not of his choosing) to sleep in at night. Here was Alonso picking and choosing which of his case assigned members of the social services system he could decide that he likes or not based on whether or not they were honest with him. He was exercising the only control he had over the situation.
As a jaded adult, I don’t think I would have been so kind, so compassionate, so concerned about others (such as the babies in our laps) or so open to talking to complete strangers.
I could tell you a lot more about Alonso’s life – including a few times when his Sister shushed and scolded him for telling me things that even Alonso apparently wasn’t supposed to know but had over-heard from conversations. I could, but telling you those things would risk his safety, his identity, and take away from the point of this blog post.
I thought a lot about my own 6th-grade son last night and this morning after my conversation with Alonso as well as the other 6th-grade boys that I know. None of them know his suffering. I wonder if he gets picked-on at school by other students or by teachers. I wonder if they think he’s a problem because he can’t relate. I bet they do. For many years now, Alonso has been treated as a problem. Maybe not directly, but think about it from his perspective. Something happens and he’s the one being removed, the one living in a facility, the one begging to see his mom, the one struggling through jealousy and everyone else’s “regular life” happening around him.
There’s a lot I’ll take away from this experience, some of which I already knew and perhaps needed to be reminded of or reinforced in importance… and some things I didn’t know – like how difficult it is for an older kid to secure a foster home because there just aren’t enough.
To you my reader, I won’t tell you what to take home from this personally but rather pray right now that God reveals a message in your heart through Alonso. If anything is revealed to you, would you please tell me about it? I’ll be asking for the same for myself.