It’s four o’clock in the morning and I am trying to console two terrified children. They want their mother. I am a stranger, and this is not their home. They came to the door in the middle of the night with a sleepy-looking social worker accompanied by a very big policeman in a squad car that looked just like the one that took their mommy away.
I know nothing about these children. Their ages, their health needs, their favourite foods, and their familiar comfort items are a mystery. I don’t even know the youngest boy’s name. He is either too young, too delayed, or too frightened to speak.
His pants are wet. Is he toilet-trained or do I need to find a toddler diaper? His sister screams and hits me when I try to take his soiled clothes off to clean him and put on a borrowed pair of dry pyjamas. She is sobbing so hard her entire body shakes.
I try to be kind and gentle. I speak softly and move slowly, but no matter what I do it is wrong, because I am the wrong person. I am not Mommy. They shouldn’t be here. They are traumatized.
By five a.m. they are exhausted enough to fall asleep. Their bodies jerk with sobs even in their sleep. I put them in the same bed for mutual reassurance and give them a piece of bread to hold because I have learned that in the absence of their own blankie or teddy bear, food is the next best comfort item. This whole thing is a game of “the next best.”
The other children in our foster home will start to wake soon. No use trying to go to bed now. I start to play the senseless game I have played before – the game of who’s fault is it?
I know if the media told this story they would cast me in the role of horrible foster-mother who only does this for money, treats the children with indifference, imposes my values, and makes two kids sleep in one small bed. They would use the situation to back which ever political faction they were supporting or philosophical ideal they were trying to fly in the continuing saga of Us and Them.
I am angry with their mother for making choices that foists her pain onto little kids, but I also wonder what injustices might have led to her desperate actions and put her in prison.
Where is their father? Is he also incarcerated? Does he have a substance abuse problem as well? Shouldn’t he be caring for his own kids in an emergency? What kind of father abandons his little ones?
Some people would blame the social worker for bringing them here or the government for not providing a receiving home with paid staff and enough private bedrooms for all the kids who need placement within an hour in an isolated northern town.
Was it the fault of the police officers who took the mother away and separated the children from her?
Was it the fault of the judge for imposing the law? How many times had she been in his courtroom before she used up all her chances? Was it the fault of the lawmakers who placed no responsibility on the men who treated her as a commodity or the pimp who terrorized her or the drug dealers whose wares kept her placated or the local gangs with their warlord-wanna-be leaders who ran more than we cared to know about?
Could I blame a bullying school system with teachers like the one who prophesied failure for one of my foster kids because of his race? Did they fail to teach the children’s mother how to succeed?
Were her parents there for her when she was a terrified three-year old or were they victims of someone who was raised in a residential school back in the old country himself? Were their parents and grandparents victims of aggressors and fraudulent schemes to grab their resources and break up families?
I want to know where on the chain to pin the blame because there are two helpless little victims here in my home and somebody besides them needs to pay. I want justice!
Eventually, as usual, I realize that we are all victims of someone else’s pain. Without hope, without someone who can break the chain of sin (and yes, let’s call it what it is) consequences of living out of the order God intended us to live in, a life of caring for each other based on love, not selfish gain, play on. The best we can do is assign blame and choose the victim who will carry the weight of all of this.
We are all victims of a victim of a victim going back to the first people who chose to believe the father of lies when he asked, “Did God really say…?” The whole thing plays out like a Rube Goldberg device with one thing knocking over another and doesn’t stop until it lands on the lowest, least powerful members of society.
Those children entered my life years ago. I can’t forget them. Not everyone can make room in their homes for needy children. I burned out, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t keep pushing my bio kids’ needs aside to try to clean up another mess. I was becoming alternately callous and shrill. The need is endless and I had a responsibility to my own first.
I felt like a failure, but it was exhausting. I didn’t like what I was becoming. I was in danger of turning into the stereotypical foster-mother who avoids attachment. I quit because empathizing with the children’s pain began to trigger my own pain. I quit to go get healing.
Jesus was there for me. He still heals hearts. He has the power to break every chain. He can break the cycle.
Yes, I see the reports of children separated from their parents on the border between Mexico and the USA. Yes, I hear the children’s cries and yes, I hear condemnation of Christians who supposedly don’t care. I have been reluctant to jump into the discussion because I have been on both sides of the line.
I have worked to re-unite families and I have defended the law and hidden victims of crime from their parents. I have shared my space and given everything I could and I’ve had to set boundaries to protect my family’s needs as well.
I believe that except for Jesus’ life-transforming power, there is no solution that does not make another human the consequence-bearer at the end of this chain, because this entire mess (and it is an unendurable mess) is the consequence of the sins of many people for a long time.
Who is to blame? We all are.
There are no white hats in this scenario – only varying degrees of grey hats. We have all sinned and fall short of receiving everything God provided for us to be who he created us to be. We can try to alleviate suffering, but we can’t go back and deal with the root causes. Without divine intervention we can only offer the next best thing, and, when we fail to transform hearts with well-meaning charity and political power, lower our standards and offer the next best thing… and the next… and the next…
Our best hope, our only hope, is to let go of each other’s throats, raise our empty hands to God, and cry, “Help!”