I eat alone a lot. I travel for work and since I’m usually in strange towns by myself I end up eating alone. It isn’t that bad, so long as the food comes out in a relatively timely manner. Last night was not one of those occasions and it got to the point where I was sitting all alone in the booth in small restaurant and feeling kinda awkward. So I had a lot of time to sit there and observe the people around me and think. There were a few kids in the restaurant and some were much more rambunctious than others. It started me thinking about this journey my wonderful wife and I are on, that of becoming foster parents. Like possibly in the next week. And I started freaking out.
We’ve prepared as much as we can and know to. We’ve read books, taken classes, practiced on nieces and nephews, talked to people, accumulated stuff, organized, prioritized, and agonized. But last night, for whatever reason, I started feeling completely inadequate to be a parent, let alone one to another persons child or children. I figured that the doubts and questioning would come eventually, but I thought they would come at 2 in the morning when I was trying to comfort an inconsolable child, not at 8 in the evening sitting in a restaurant by myself in East Texas. Have we made a huge mistake? Have we bitten off more than we can chew? Are we really capable of doing this? Am I ready for this?
The questions swirled around as I sat and thought about it. Eventually my food came and I ate and I calmed down and I stopped freaking out. Finished my meal, paid my bill, got in my car and started my drive to my hotel. As I looked for something to listen to on the way, I landed on NPR’s This American Life just in time for Act 3. The theme of the show was Babysitting. And the story that was told in Act 3 was moving and sad and funny and made me sit in the parking lot of my hotel for 10 minutes to hear the end. Essentially, a girl makes up a family to go fake babysit for so that she can get out of the house. You need to listen to the whole story for it all to make sense, but the gist of it is that her mother was really strict (and likely mentally ill) and let her brother go/do anything, but was really harsh on the girl. So she invented this family to give her, and eventually her brother, some modicum of freedom to go do what they wanted to. The story ended up being more about a terrible mother and her neglected children and how they had invented this family that they wished was theirs that they fake babysat for. Reading more into it, I sort of think that they did this as a coping mechanism because they were so desperate for someone to love them. Thankfully they had each other, but their mother, for whatever reason, was not capable of loving them and so they created a fantasy that contained parents that were loving to their children, and in turn welcomed these two children into their (pretend) family.
I don’t know if any of this makes any sense at all, but as I sat in a hotel parking lot in the middle of nowhere listening to a 70 year old man give an interview about how he decided at age 10 that he’d never ask her for anything or need her again, it made me realize that even if I am a terrible foster father, I can still love the children placed in my home and at the bare minimum let them know that there is someone real in the world that loves them. Just for being them. Unconditionally.
You’ll probably get a better sense if you go ahead and listen to what I heard: