As a little girl, on my sick days from school, the best part of the day was the half hour when I could sit in my dad’s recliner in my pajamas and watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. I found great comfort in staring at the trolley while it circled the neighborhood, where I could pass some of my time with this great man who had so much to show me. He always knew the right thing to say to make me feel better.
After nearly thirteen years of fostering, we surrendered our license, which was somehow at once sad and celebratory. During that tenure, one of the greatest challenges lay in trying to answer questions which were essentially unanswerable.
“When am I going home?”
“When can I see my mom?”
“Will I be staying here forever?”
As I, too, longed for answers to these questions, I knew it was my job to reassure, to be honest, to share what I knew could be understood, and, often impossibly, to comfort, even when the words I could provide were not what the children longed to hear.
When our license capacity had been and would be at the maximum for many years, when our final adoption was made official, and when the many needs of our family made the decision clear (well, maybe not to me…), it was time to close our doors to fostering.
It seemed, then, that the questions might stop.
I know that the hard questions came from the birth families, too, who had loved and lost so much. At the judge’s decision, the life long grief is hardly an answer.
My children still wonder when they will see their birth parents, why they cannot be with their first families, if they had always been loved, and whether they will really be staying with us forever…because the formality of adoption, for many, is not enough to answer those questions.
The state of our recent days reminds me of the challenges of unanswerable questions.
“When is this dumb virus going to be over?”
“When can I see my friends? When can I ride dirt bikes with Ray (our revered family friend)?”
“When is baseball going to start?” (I am in on this one, too, for sure).
“When can we see the big kids? When can we go on an airplane to California?”
“Are we all going to die?”
Am I actually going to be able to help them through this? Because, really, I have no idea. No one does.
I guess I can try to apply the fostering philosophy for handling these questions, too, and I will likely wind up feeling just as bewildered in my inability to really give them what they need.
The truth is that we don’t know what we need. No one does. I wonder if we ever will again, or if we ever even did. If only Mr. Rogers was still here…
As my children are tucked safely in their beds each night, the stars shining high over the forest, in this home where they will be welcomed forever, I can’t help but think of those who, even in this period of great uncertainty, have even bigger questions. Those youth in care and those who have just aged out of the system have the same unanswerable questions that I have heard many times, only now there are harder and more uncertain, even more foreboding questions. An uncertain future in an uncertain world is just too much to bear…and far too much to bear alone, wondering.
In the night, the claps of thunder shook me awake, but then I heard the rumble of the train in the distance, in quiet competition with a soft, steady rain that carried on through most of today.
The wisdom of Mr. Rogers advises us to “look for the helpers”. These days, certainly, they are not hard to find.
I wonder, really, how best to be a helper in these overwhelming, often lonely times. Maybe just doing our best to listen to those questions and worries, maybe just being there, is being a helper. After all, we can’t really go anywhere…
Once the rain had passed, it really was a beautiful day in the neighborhood.