I believe that children belong to the world, not to any one parent. This not only means that we don’t “own” our biological children, but also that all of us are in some way responsible for the welfare of children who do not share our genes, or our skin color, or our national boundaries. What each person does with that shared responsibility can vary. For some, it’s a charitable donation to the non-profit of their choice, for others it’s the time volunteered at a literacy center, helping underperforming kids gain confidence reading aloud to someone who takes the time to sit with them in front of a book for an hour a week. Still others dedicate their lives to working with impoverished, malnutritioned children in war-torn nations. Me, I’ve been a teacher for twenty years, but recently embarked on another course, whose destination is still unknown.
Last year, for reasons that are still hazy to me in my currently sleep-deprived state, my husband and I decided to adopt a third child; Rather than wait in line for a private arrangement or add our name to the growing list of controversial foreign adoptions, we chose to go through the foster care system to provide a home for a child whose own parents had been unable to do so. Many months, home visits, training hours and background checks later, we received our foster parent certification. We didn’t take the first few placement calls, waffling on issues of age, ethnicity, and level of need. Primarily, we waffled because we were unwilling to take the chance that the child might return to his family. But after a number of months, we went for it. Our first foster placement, an 8-month-old, opened our hearts, and then broke them just 16 days later when we had to hand him over to an aunt who had stepped forward. If I had any doubts that I could become attached to “somebody else’s” child, little James erased these his first week in our home. To see my own girls, 8 and 11, take in this baby, caring for him like the mothers they will hopefully become someday, was worth everything—even the tears when we had to say goodbye. Within two weeks of James’ departure, we received another call, and today we have 17-month-old “Z” in our home. After four months, he is as much a part of our family as I could ever imagine…except that we don’t know how long he will be with us. “How can you live with that uncertainty?” I am asked over and over again. What choice do I have? What choice does Z have? Children don’t choose to be born into drugs and violence. In the end, I have come to believe that the most important part of this whole journey we have undertaken is that Z has a home where love, safety and stability are givens. If his parents can get their lives together and provide these things for him, then home is where he should go. If not, we hope to raise him, nurturing in him a sense of his responsibility to children everywhere.
It really does “take a village to raise a child.” But we here in America’s cities—separated from our families by time zones, ambitions—would be wise to listen to this “rural” wisdom, before the neglected children of today lose their chance at a hopeful tomorrow—not to mention a better future for all of us.
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