Time is a Healer

by francine Hardaway on July 9, 2007

I was listening to the hip-hop music I use for my gym workouts this morning, and Notorious B.I. G.s “Ten Commandments of Crack” set me thinking about my foster parenting, and about how the past fifteen years have been a roller coaster ride that I think I can finally get off without having lost my lunch. The kids are now 25, 23, and almost 20, and I have raised three tax-payers, working adults, the first ones in their family to enjoy that distinction.

Did they get an education? Not really. Was it easy to save them from a life of drugs and crime. Not really. Will it be easy for them in the future? No chance. They’ve already been through too much and made too many mistakes that will have lifelong consequences.

But the other day I heard a program on NPR about juveniles, and the speaker said that what a child really needs is a stable relationship. I’ve been that for Jerry, Josh, and Amanda. I wish I could have been more. I wish I could have been someone they would listen to when they were growing up. Instead, I’m someone they listen to NOW, as adults.

Most of the experience of foster parenting was so intense that I finally had to write a book about it. I had always thought I could fail at nothing, but when Jerry, the oldest of the foster kids, became a crack addict and wound up in prison for four years my heart was broken. His sister Amanda seemed to fare no better, dropping out of school after 8th grade and becoming adept at identity theft and credit card fraud, and then at talking herself out of going to jail.

Only Josh, who left our house shortly before my husband died (ten years ago this week, which is another reason for the flood of memories), seemed to do well. He went to a strict environment where they provided enough structure to get him through high school. And then, just when he was going into college, he aged out of the system and his foster family expelled him. They dropped him off at my place, the only place he had to go.

So he came to live with me last year, and the idea of freedom was enough to send him to the moon, Alice. He quit his job and spent six months pretending to go to college while doing nothing but smoking dope and chillin’ with his friends — now that he didn’t have a curfew.

Only after I shut off his cell phone, refused to pay his car insurance, and his car got repossessed did the picture become clear to him. He tried to work at Starbucks, but he hated it.

While he was struggling, Amanda and Jerry were finally finding themselves. Jerry came out of prison with one goal — never to go back. He lives his entire life avoiding getting in trouble. After a half dozen of the crummy jobs they let former felons have, he finally landed a job with Cigna selling health plans. He’s doing fine.

Amanda got fired a couple of times from Starbucks, but the training she got there gave her an opportunity to be a shift supervisor at CVS pharmacy, and she’s working the night shift — putting in her time while waiting to be promoted to days.

Both she and Jerry give Josh advice. “Don’t piss off goddess, because she will throw you out.” And then you will see how hard it is to live on your own.

And Josh got a job at the dog wash. He washes the doggies all day, and he actually loves it. He’s a nice kid, but clueless, and he will be fine when he figures out how the world works.

I’m off the roller coaster. I’m a little dizzy, but I’m on my feet.

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