The second “Musing” I wanted to share with you for National Adoption Month started with a conversation I had with my dear friend Jamie, who is at the same stage in the adoption process as we are. As a result, we end up talking to each other at least twice a week on my drive home from work. A typical conversation starts like this:
(Speed dial Jamie)
Me: “Hey, how’s it going?”
Jamie: “Pretty good. How are you?”
Me: Oh, ya know… good. Just antsy. You?
Jamie: The same. Have you heard anything yet?
Me: No. Have you?
(Insert 5 minutes of over-analyzing why there haven’t been many birthmoms seeking adoptive couples and when we might hear news of them)
Me: Call you right back, I have to go pick up Elise!
(Insert 7 minutes of chatting with Karla whilst trying to stealthily coerce Elise to the car)
Me: Hey, it’s me again. (This time remembering that Jamie had gone to a conference the previous day) Oh, so how was your conference?
Jamie: It was really good! I actually got to hear a speaker who grew up in foster care talk about his story and he gave some really good pointers on working with “at-risk” children.
She proceeded to tell me his story of Foster-family hopping, right up until the climax when Elise started crying about having dropped something.
Me: “I’m so sorry, I’ve gotta go! I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story though – don’t forget to tell me the rest!”
I spot the lost item and determine it is in safe-reaching-distance to grab it at the stop light.
Elise: “Good job, Mom!!!” She cheers and claps for me from her carseat.
As moody of a passenger as she is, gosh, do I ever love her.
A couple nights later, we call Jamie and her husband Nick up to get together for dinner. Jamie finally finished her story while we binged on chips and salsa.
The speaker had shared about keeping a notebook to track how fast he could get out of a foster home, always trying to see what it would take to get kicked out and move onto the next one. He was in disbelief to have finally ended up in a place that he stayed for over a year and decided it was time to kick things up a notch. Opening a checking account and writing a bad check for a car seemed like the perfect solution to get himself kicked out of there. Add a little driving under the influence and he’d be gone for sure.
But that wasn’t how it ended. In fact, his foster parents just kept on loving him and calling him their son. There was nothing he could do to make them stop loving him.
I fought back tears as she told me the story, as I seem to do often these days. (What is my problem?! I’m turning into my mother already!!).
Then she shared that the point he made that stuck out to her was this: Be Babe Ruth.
I blinked a couple times and tilted my head, much like my border collie does when she’s confused about why I want her to back away from the dropped food on the floor.
She explained: Don’t just aim for the fence. Point to a spot on the fence and hit it right there, out of the ball park.
It means that instead of just showing these kids love, they need you to make promises and keep them. All their lives, they have been told one thing and another — all to learn that words mean nothing to adults. They’ve been disappointed and lied to, and they’ve learned that they can’t trust anyone. The only way to really gain their trust is for their caretakers to consistently do what they say they’re going to do.
I’ll be honest, I was a little taken aback by this thought. It’s easy to make abstract promises like “I will always, always love you.” But I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets a little nervous about making concrete promises. “Let your ‘yes’ be yes, and your ‘no’ be no,” it says in Matthew 5:37. Therefore, it’s easier to just say “maybe.” Or better yet, to just make tentative plans, not tell your kid, and that way it can be a great surprise if it works out.
Or you can pull it out as a bargaining chip to threaten with once their behavior heads south.
But a Promise that’s permanent?
A Promise that’s not conditional?
A Promise that’s fulfilled?
The more I thought about the concept, the more I realized it has applications for so many relationships. In our society today, we shy away from committing to marriage too quickly. It’s better to test the waters and pretend to be married for a few years before making any rash Permanent, Unconditional Promises of Love to someone. We want to be ready to jump ship when forgiveness is too hard or pseudo-commitment feels too restricting. After all, love is about doing what feels good for me, and when it stops feeling good, it’s time to move on. And then we pretend a break-up won’t be as damaging, as long as we haven’t exchanged rings.
In our friendships, we make “tentative” plans with each other, just because we don’t want to be tied down if something more pressing comes along. Our agenda comes before the consideration of each other. But we are gracious and understanding of each other, because we know we might be the ones to cancel next time.
In my parenting strategy, I’ve noticed that when I’m not consistent in enthusiastically rewarding Elise with a sticker for her “Nice Chart”, she’s not real enthusiastic about it either. Why should she be if good behavior one day gets her a sticker and the same behavior another day doesn’t even get recognition?
In my mind, I’ve reasoned that we shouldn’t have to always bribe kids to be good. But the more I think about the application of this “Babe Ruth” principal, the more I think at the toddler stage, consistent rewards for good behavior makes her more self-aware, so that she can make good choices instead of just always act impulsively. So even though she doesn’t have any trust-issues with us, I still see benefits to making a point of saying you are going to do something and following through.
Well, those are my profound thoughts for this morning. And they really aren’t even my thoughts. But hey, I told you I was going to write another post this week, and look who’s practicing their Babe Ruth? 😉
I’m on a roll here. Maybe I’ll even write another post this week! And by maybe, I mean: Of course I will write another post this week. Let’s plan on Friday. See you then!