The water guy came on Friday. He changes our filter system every so often, and he's a nice guy overall. He got busy with his work, and my son Zysean and I came to check on things after a few minutes. "Cute kid you got there." He was meeting Zysean for the first time. "My sister adopted two children." he continued without looking up from his work.
"Oh, how nice." I replied.
"One was native American, and the other was born a crack baby." He continued, still steady at work.
"Wow. Good for her." I was impressed.
"Cute kid you got there. Any...issues?" He asked.
I imagine he was aware of what foster parents deal with: the impact of abuse or neglect on young children. "We are lucky." I confessed,"His birth mother was very young and he didn't show any drugs in his system."
"Hmmm." he said, picking out the right tool from his bag. "Well, my sister's kids, the native American got curious about his people and went to live with them when he grew up. He's a drunk now. And the crack baby wanted to get back with his birth mother when he grew up. He's on crack now."
Infants! I swear he didn't even look at me or stop his work. He could have been telling me to leave the check on the counter for him. I could feel my mind setting up a wall against what I was hearing. This does not have to be Zysean's story. Nature vs. nurture bounced about in my mind for a moment before I looked into Zysean's big brown eyes and got steadied by his smile. Our little darling, who says "pease" and "Dank-u" and puts his toys back when asked - leaving home to become a crack addict? I understand that kids at least as cute as him have grown up to do great damage to themselves and those who love them. But I've been having too much fun with him to ever go there in my mind. "He's a cute kid, that one," the water guy said again, as a sort of consolation.
"We think so." was all I said. But inside I was deciding which part of this I was going to build a fortress against. I could easily seal out everything he said, or lock down against him completely. After all, it was pretty unnecessary for him to lay out an adoption misfortune story to a newly adoptive parent. But I'm too old to take offense. I've collected enough been-there-done-thats in that department to fill a small city. With a burnt bridge in every suburb. Besides, I like our water guy. And I plan to keep liking him. He probably thought this would be good information to have. He probably doesn't know how sensitive an adoptive parent can be. Thank you, water guy. Thanks so much.
But, a wall kept going up somewhere in my mind, a means to shelter from harm all the good I see in that boy every hour of every day, and all the good I feel I do as a parent. I could start laying brick on top of brick against crack addicts, his birth mother, for instance. Keep him far away from her and her influence. Deny any communication from her or his drug dealer dad. I could keep him away from all addictive substances: alcohol, cigarettes, sugar. Deprive him of things that might take him down the wrong path. Would that keep him safe?
All these thoughts seemed to amount to making decisions for him, which goes against my style. I like seeing him making good decisions for himself, even if he makes several bad ones on the way there. He burned his finger just yesterday, while dropping a pirogi in boiling water. I saw the water splash him as he threw it in with too much force. He was in my arms at the time. I didn't stop him. He discussed it in one-word sentences for the rest of the night. "Hot. Burn. Oww." pointing to the red patch on his fingers. "Yes. You burned your finger. The water was hot." was my repeated response.
But meanwhile, in another part of my brain, the part that fears losing him to the "evils" of the world, is still busy constructing safety barriers. Where to start? I know his birth parents have a world of troubles, but I still can't turn my heart against either of them. I think of them as his family, too, against the advice of most people, even if they are the family he may never meet until he's grown and on his own. They are his blood. Their childhoods gave them little to work with, and yet they have never shown me anything but politeness and timid gratitude. That is a rare occurrence in the fostering system, so I return gratitude to them for allowing us to raise him.
But the wall-building energy persisted for the whole day. There must be some way to divert the forces that lead children to tragic fates like the water guy's nephews. There are so many distractions out there that can blind our children to what's important - in our media stream, in our food, in our communications, in our art, in our politics. I could build walls all day, every day and still not keep all of it out of his reach. All that walling up has to be damaging to a child's spirit, anyway, right? Not to mention my own.
Yet this instinct to build something strong and formidable wouldn't leave. It scares me sometimes how much willful energy I can have toward something that feels important. My long practice with wall-building has provided enormous skills, but eventually it became clear that a new type of construction was in order. Zysean's spirit doesn't need walls. It needs wings! Strong, formidable ones, that can endure tough winds and take long journeys. Wings that can take him out into the world, and can bring him safely home. This is what I need to learn to build. Wings grown on encouragement, good food and a compassionate heart. Wings wide enough to embrace all beings but fast enough to escape the grasps of predators. Wings that fly high enough to see a distant goal, and strong enough to carry him there, past all hesitancy and doubt, past even the shadows of his mother's little walls.