More than twenty years ago my husband, the late Gerold Allen Kaplan, and I became foster parents. We had never planned to do that. He was a radiologist and I was an entrepreneur. Our own children were grown. We were hella busy.
But I had been mentoring a girl in 8th grade at an inner city school, and I became involved with her dysfunctional family. I saw the impact the family had on her (she got pregnant right after 8th grade, dropped out of school, and ran away), so when her younger brother, then 10, begged me to mentor him and told me he wanted to go to school, I said yes and became involved with him and his younger sister and brother, 8 and 6.
Child Protective Services finally removed the kids from their birth family after the father committed suicide and the mother, a drug addict, became unable to care for the children properly. These kids never had any food in the refrigerator, were evicted almost monthly, and had all their possessions stolen from them by their mother so she could buy drugs. And yet, they didn’t want to leave their circumstances.
The children were taken to a group home, where my husband and I visited them. We were stunned by the conditions there ( one worker sat on my daughter to make her behave) and we knew we had to do something. But as a licensed physician, my husband knew we couldn’t just take the kids into our home without permission to give them medical care or even drive them in a car or represent them at school.
So Child Protective Services recommended that we become foster parents, and God bless him, my husband agreed to do it with me. Let me just summarize by saying it wasn’t a piece of cake. We were upper middle class, knew nothing about drugs, attachment disorder, learning disabilities, and how the foster care system worked. We disagreed with many of the practices the foster care system demanded of us. Our foster parenting and their adjustment to the “normal” world was a long, sad story, very troubling for me, and I wrote a book about it about half way through my experiences, at the time I felt most like I had failed them. The book is, although twelve years old, still selling on Amazon.
I’ll spare you the heartache, which is all chronicled in the book. But twenty years later, our three foster children and their older sister are tax-paying citizens, crime-free, drug-free, and better parents than their own by orders of magnitude.
How do I know? because I am the grandmother to five wonderful kids you’ve seen me talk about on Facebook: Parker, Princess Paige, Adyn, Hudson and Jax, all the children of MY former foster kids. More than twenty years later, they (and indeed we) are still a family, bound by our mutual love. You might say we bonded.
I am writing this because today I attended the adoption hearing for a little boy who was adopted out of the foster care system by a friend of mine (who will write her own narrative about this) and her awesome husband. At the age of twelve, this boy may not know yet that he has hit the lottery with this wonderful new family, but I know it.
This woman, whom I met through social media years ago and who has become a real friend, will embrace this boy in the way he deserves to be embraced, and guide him to the life he deserves. She and her husband are incredible. And I will stand behind her in any way I can. Through my own experience I found out that there are far more bad parents than there are bad kids. Children all start in neutral, and with even decent parenting, they can be stars.
Very few people have the courage to become foster parents, and even fewer have the courage to adopt. Yet for those who do, the experience can be transformative. As I found out, there is nothing more worthwhile than paving the road to the future for a child. In my own case, parenting and then foster parenting outrank every business and academic success I’ve ever had, and with the next generation continue to bestow the gift of purpose and meaning on my life.
So is it any wonder that I cried when the judge said this was the happiest court on the happiest day and allowed us all to take pictures with the little boy in the judge’s chair? I wish all kids at risk had a happy ending like this one.