My ancestors had a tradition, some think it came from the time of warring clans, of trading their children. Like many things the ancient Irish did, it sounds a bit barbaric to the modern ear. You give me your kid to raise and I’ll give you one of mine – peace and kinship will hopefully result. Over the ages it grew into the tradition of Fosterage: the wealthy or distantly related farming out a kid to another family – lesser in social standing but with traditional skills to offer (like a smithy or carpenter). Sort of a way of keeping the families roots deep in the earth.
This of course has nothing to do with our modern way of foster care. Children are taken, usually forcibly, from their families. Often those families are distorted and fragmented, pieces of what most of us think families to be, yet they still are families. It seems to take a lot for the authorities to finally intervene, not the first call for domestic violence but the fifth, tenth or in this case, the thirteenth.
I yearn for Fosterage, we walk around acting as if thats what we’re doing. This child is a gift and a responsibility. We take her deeply into our hearts, the family re-organizes, we make her daughter and sister. I imagine a wedding day, her extraordinary attachment to dogs and horses. Quiet moments are filled with daughter dreams.
Yet out there lumbers a civil system of law and social care that churns away with its own epic trajectory. That is the real context we’re living in, not the quiet of our homestead. I have to kick myself out of my Irish nostalgic fantasy.
My wife has largely protected me from the real world we’re operating in, I stay home with the baby during court dates and meetings with her family. I sometimes think she does it because she doesn’t know what I’d do there, what I’d say to this constellation of people orbiting around our fosterling. We need to maintain our proper orbit, not cause any gravitational fluxuations. Maybe Dad’s aren’t such good pilots here.
In an early blog post called Ancestoring, I wrote about the alchemy of parenting. Nothing changes you like parenting, I think thats really where our fosterlings family originally failed her. One thing I hear, time and time again in my wife’s reports of her meetings, is how nobody close to her is willing to change.
They’re not willing to change their schedule, their idea of what it is to be a man, the warren of fear they’ve been hiding in. They are not willing to change the story of who they are and what is happening. They believe firmly if they keep acting like they always have, everything will turn out the way they want it to. Even as the evidence mounts, as their children’s orbit separates from theirs, they hold more to their habit of self.
Thats the one thing you have to be willing to give up if you are truly going to parent, you have to be willing to give up who you think you are. You must trust that the person you become may not be a better version of you, but a more human version, more authentic. In this way our children turn us from lead into gold. Family is a cauldron forged to make us more beautifully human.
If this were Fosterage I’d be writing letters to her family, thanking them for this precious gift, sharing with them her blossoming. I would be happier with temporal parenting, instead of seeing it as either a walk in the park or a car crash waiting to happen. I would know that my hearth had grown richer not from theft and rescue, but from grace and wisdom.
The social workers, judges and others involved really want to help her family to transform, but any system is a poor cauldron. I keep waiting for the sound of a thunderstorm of breaking glass, a huge shattering as one solar system blows into a billion tiny fragments. Will her original family collapse one day in court? Will mine? How will this shattering affect her?
There is of course no turning back, calcinatio builds even as I look for stones to weigh me down, carry me deeper into the transformation. Will she and I be sitting quietly in the garden, trading leaves of lettuce in the sun when her universe is remade? This cauldron is hotter than any I’ve known in many years, and filled with unknown elements. Can I survive this? Something of me will. We’ll see what that looks like.