Have you ever felt like there was no good decision? Like it didn’t matter how you arranged your life or ranked your priorities, there was always some grasping guilt threatening to pull you under?
Have you ever been paralyzed by self-doubt and the simultaneous belief that you are just fine, thank you? Because you can figure this out. You will figure it out.
But you don’t figure anything out. Instead, you struggle. You swallow water and start to drown. You thrash. You pray that circumstance will save you, but it doesn’t. Your heart cries and your head screams and you feel like they’re going to nuke each other but just before they pull the trigger, a space opens.
You take a breath for what feels like the first time in a year.
You walk out on to your new balcony and feel the hint of spring on your cheek, listening as a breeze carries laughter from the nearby elementary school. The hill in front of you is lighted with the rose gold promise of morning and it’s almost enough to make you smile.
You feel guilty for taking this time with your coffee and your thoughts—because there are other things you should be doing—but then you take another breath and remember that time is a precious and fragile gift; it is meant to be savored not squandered.
You occupy this small space with breath and silence and are inspired to create more.
But to do that, you have to make a hard choice. A choice that turns your insides and rips the flesh and bone from around your heart.
Today, I decided to resign from my volunteer position as a CASA (court-appointed special advocate) for a foster youth. It wasn’t a decision I made on a whim or in a moment of emotional weakness or exhaustion; it was a decision I made from strength after a prolonged conversation (read: argument) with myself.
You see, I love this kid. He is 12 and can be a punk in every sense of that word. He can be disrespectful and difficult to contain. He has days that are ok and ones that are really bad. He hates everyone and wants them to accept him at the same time.
But knowing his history and the road he’s had to travel (and will have to travel still) means that none of this matters. It means that he’s got carte blanche in my book to do just about anything short of killing someone and I would look at him as the same scared kid. The same soul so starved of affection and love that he just might shrivel out of existence.
I’m barred from describing him specifically but trust me—if you saw a photo it would take you 2.5 seconds to adopt him.
So how could I possibly walk away? How could anyone with a soul of their own consider doing that?
Well, you can’t help someone unless you help yourself.
In the year since I took his case I have spent over 250 hours on phone calls with his therapists, foster parents, social worker, school psych, teacher and attorney. I know this because we are required to track our time.
I have attended IEP meetings and toured schools. I have driven three hours (sometimes more) round trip to spend time with him. I have taught him to swing a bat and field a ground ball. I have fought through “it’s not doable” within a system as navigable as toxic sludge.
And for all that time we, as the five or six adults on his team, have moved one inch out of 100 yards, towards our three goals. Sometimes in football, all you need is an inch. Right now we need 3,599. Times three.
Some of the workers on his case were surprised when I first came on the scene because, “CASA’s usually aren’t this involved.” But I don’t know how to be any other way. I don’t know how to sign up for something without throwing my entire body, mind and heart into the deep end.
And it has drained me of the energy I had to follow my own goals and dreams.
It’s a slow and painful awakening—admitting you’ve taken on too much. I tried justifying how I would make it work and find other time; I tried not picking up phone calls or responding to requests right away. I tried taking “me” time. But at night I would just braid the sheets with my lie.
Now, the anchor of guilt rests heavy and discordant on my chest because I know I will break his heart. I know I will have to look into his long-lashed eyes and explain why I am choosing to be selfish. Why I am choosing not to fight harder.
Because this isn’t a choice I have to make—I could choose to put my dreams and goals aside. I could choose to sacrifice. But I don’t want to. They mean too much to me.
Now, I can’t stop crying.
I tell myself that I’ll still be around. That I’ll still drive three hours to watch his baseball game or play catch, only now it’ll just be once a month and I won’t have to deal with the other bureaucratic BS. But I have no idea if they (i.e. “the system”) will let me.
And what if the social worker gets transferred off the case and he gets moved and no one tells me? What if he goes AWOL and I have no legitimate channels to help find him? What if the next person with his education rights puts him in a terrible school?
These are my fears. They are the fasteners that keep the anchor firmly on my chest. They give me a false sense of control and oppressive balance. They give me the wild notion that my presence alone is enough to protect him from all the bad– the bad of others and the bad he will inevitably inflict.
I want to believe I can do it. But I can’t. And I have to let it go.
I couldn’t think of a way to close this confessional without making this plea:
If you have time, real time, to dedicate to a child in the foster care system, please do it. It doesn’t matter what you do—Big Brother/Sister, CASA, foster parent, adopt (please, please, please)—these kids need help.
These children have experienced the worst kinds of pain and some have had people do unspeakable things. Things you cannot even fathom. And there are so few functional, loving homes for these children to go to, so few healthy relationships for them to model. If you can be a foster parent, please consider it. Please.
Foster children operate in a parallel world of black and white, neatly tucked out of our view. It’s a world of fear and self-loathing. A world where everything is hard and bleak. Share your color with them, if you can.
If you’re interested in being a CASA, here is the link: http://www.casaforchildren.org/site/c.mtJSJ7MPIsE/b.5301295/k.BE9A/Home.htm