The forecast is for thunderstorms, gusty winds, and a chance of hail. Not ideal conditions for a summer gathering at a local park, to say the least. For any other party, most people would have stayed home. But this is no ordinary party. Because what happens when foster and adoptive families come together to meet, swap stories, and just be with each other? Magic happens, that’s what. So the 166 people here aren’t going to let a little “chance of hail” get in the way of fostering community.
Magic happens, that’s what.
It is a sight to behold – dozens of parents playing in the rain with their children or waiting in the rain for a balloon animal, or huddled under the shelter overhang holding babies who at once belong to all of us and none of us. Looking around I see kids I’ve heard about in passing – a little girl who needed immediate placement when her father committed a crime I learned about on the news, twins born premature who are bouncing around in night-to-night placements, a little boy described as “kind of wild” who isn’t placed with his sisters but should be. Here they are, in the flesh. Smiling (though a few tentatively so), enjoying party food, face paint smeared from the rain. “I’ve been hearing about you since you were a tiny baby!” I find myself saying enthusiastically to a 14-month-old who just stares questioningly into my eyes. “You act like you know me, but I don’t know you,” she perfectly appropriately seems to want to say. I finally meet children whose stories I’ve followed on facebook, accompanied by pictures of the backs of their heads. The privilege of meeting these children in person and seeing their faces is not lost on me. And to count their foster parents as part of my Village makes my heart burst. Because these are – with no exception – incredible individuals.
You’re my people.
I hug strangers who have grown to feel like family through the stories shared on social media, and I immediately sense the same thing about them that they sense about me: You’re my people. Despite words unspoken, we know. We understand. The pride, the joy, the despair, the frustration, the burnout, the self doubt, the uncertainty, the fulfillment, the pressure, the enormous responsibility… Being a part of these children’s lives – whether for a day or a lifetime – is rife with extreme emotions (sometimes extremely good and sometimes extremely difficult).
But we don’t need to explain it to each other. We just know. So we let our guard down. We don’t worry about judgment if our children say something, do something, be something, that would elicit eye rolls from strangers in other situations. Our tense and stressed shoulders ease a bit as we find ourselves in a sea of understanding and similarity. We interact with each other’s kids like an aunt or uncle would: We fill their plates with pizza, blow bubbles together, show them how a slap bracelet works, color a picture with them.
We don’t need to explain. We just know.
And the grown-ups spend time with each other too. We acknowledge each other’s strengths, and give each other permission to forgive our perceived shortcomings. We normalize our experiences, while sharing tips and tools to deal with them. We tell our stories knowing the response won’t be, “I don’t know how you do that; I never could.” We offer our cradled arms to each other’s infants as if we’re old friends. We make plans to come together again. For a few hours, we have what everyone craves: a community that feels like family. And no thunderstorm can tear it apart.