By Rebecca Morris, UMCH Sr. VP of External Affairs Originally published in StyleBlueprint.
It’s finally spring in Alabama, and we should be on a beach somewhere living the dream. Instead, we’re all at home living the memes. You know the ones — they cover everything from the toilet paper shortage and hazmat suits to homeschooling nightmares and bad hair.
I get it, they’re funny, and we all need a diversion from the stress and anxiety that’s part of this pandemic. Unfortunately, though, laughter and lightheartedness can’t solve everyone’s problems.
I work for a nonprofit that takes care of children and youth in group homes and foster homes in Alabama and Florida. These boys and girls — like all foster kids — are in the system through no fault of their own. They didn’t do anything wrong, but the adults in their lives — the ones who are supposed to love them unconditionally — made bad choices upon bad choices, and the kids are the ones who are paying.
What’s struck me these past few days is that while the rest of us wish we could go anywhere that’s not home and our children are looking for ways to hang out with anyone who’s not family, home and family are the very things foster kids wish they had the most.
Don’t get me wrong. The kids we serve are loved. They have safe places to live, warm beds, healthy meals and an amazing support system. We make sure they participate in extracurricular activities and have everything they need, whether it’s band uniforms, prom dresses, school supplies or a chance to attend college. They get counseling if they need it, and most of them do. Our staff and foster parents laugh with them, cry with them and offer lots of hugs. We want them to know they aren’t alone, they have value and are worthy of love.
But no matter what our amazing direct care staff says or does — and trust me, they do incredible things for the welfare of our kids, sometimes at the expense of their own families — they can’t always fill the holes in our children’s hearts.
Most of the boys and girls in our care have been abused, neglected or abandoned. They come to us feeling less than, with worries and stresses most of us can’t even imagine. They’re angry, scared, sad and hurting.
It’s not an exaggeration, though, to say the folks we have caring for our kids can work miracles. Slowly but surely the children and youth in our care start to feel safe. They relish the stability in their lives, something they’ve never had much of or any at all. Routine is comforting, and when they finally get it, they begin to depend on it.
Then we have a national crisis known as COVID-19. Suddenly, their worlds are disrupted again. They miss school, friends, activities and their all-important routine. They’ve lost control, and stress and worry begin to creep back into their lives. Just like all of us, our staff and foster families are finding new ways to parent, and it’s hard.
Although I worry about our kids and what this scare will mean to their fragile lives, I take comfort in knowing they do have a family during this time. It may not be the traditional one they dream of, but if the definition of “family” is a group of people who love, care and support you, our kids are covered.
I’ve got to admit, I’m feeling a little out of sorts right now, just like most of you. Things are out of my control, we don’t know what the next few weeks or months will bring, we can’t imagine how we’ll be affected long-term, and we’re uncertain about the ramifications this may have on the future. This gives me a tiny glimpse into the struggles our foster kids faced for so long — a loss of control, fear of what the future holds, uncertainty and helplessness.
That’s why I’m going to make sure — even if I have to force myself sometimes — to take a deep breath and be thankful for this time my family has together. It’s not always easy. I’ve swept the kitchen floor more times than I can count, broken up my kids’ fights, re-learned algebra (or tried to, anyway) and juggled the demands of working remotely while coming up with ways to entertain three teenage boys.
It’s been trying more often than not, but there have been some great moments, as well. We’ve laughed a lot, played games, slowed down and gotten plenty of rest for the first time in a long time. There was also a wonderful moment when I got to show my son — who is in high school — how to use Zoom (a video conferencing app I’ve been using for years and he didn’t even know existed) despite his insistence I didn’t know what I was doing.
In these next few weeks, or for however long this lasts, I have a feeling I’m going to keep on laughing right along with you at all of these videos and images we keep sharing — the ones about eating all the quarantine snacks in one sitting or bemoaning the scarcity of hand sanitizer. I’m going to remember these moments and appreciate the fact that we found a way to laugh together to keep from crying. Then I’m going to thank the Lord that during this horrible time in our world, my family was living the memes — together.