One Friday in 1957, just before school was out for the year, my Mom scooped my sister and me up from school unexpectedly. Our Dodge Sierra station wagon--you know the kind with the small fins and turquoise panels--was packed full of stuff; lots of stuff. She said we were off on an adventure; wow, this sounded exciting!
Off we went to a friend of our family’s cabin in the mountains. We had heard of this place, but this was our first trip there. The next four weeks or so were magical. We were up in the woods far from the city, in an awesome stone and wood beam cabin that actually used a wood stove to cook and heat water; it even had an oven. Unbelievable to me, there was a huge wood chest that had every Donald Duck ever printed in it, including Uncle Scrooge and Huey, Duey and Louie! (The owner of the cabin was the originator of the Donald Duck character.)
Every day was a new discovery. We hiked, visited streams and waterfalls where we’d have picnics, and we would also travel to nearby lakes and hang out. I remember building forts far away in the woods where my imagination would take me to marvelous places. At night, we would take walks. Oh,the magnificent stars! Never had I seen such grandeur and majesty before. I grew to love the fresh brisk clean air and the smell of wood smoke mingled with pine.
Down the hill from our cabin was a store which had a large pool with a big twisty slide. I met some great new friends there, and it was so much fun! My family played games at night, drank hot chocolate and made smores. Even though I later learned that the circumstances for this surprise trip were not so pleasant (that’s for another story), my Mom had given my sister and me a fantastic memory. For the next 15 years, this place became my refuge. It’s 60+ years later and I still remember it like it was yesterday.
Having sojourned through nearly 70 years of this life, I have heard many a person share family memories. Even with folks burdened by dark, painful lives, I have yet to find someone who can’t dig down deep and find a “happy thought” to recall, like Peter Pan. “Happy thoughts” are the key ingredient to keeping hope alive.
One of my much respected friends tells the story of how her family suffered very difficult times, so bad that she was placed in foster care for a short season--less than a year, I believe. She moved on to have a very successful career as a lawyer and judge, raising her own family on the way, and now enjoys her grandchildren. But, her short experience with her foster family was so positive, so warm and healing, it became an indelible, beautiful memory which influenced the rest of her life; this experience was especially important as she was a sitting juvenile court judge for 20 years.
You don’t have to raise a child from birth to adulthood to change their life for the better – in fact, sometimes short term opportunities provide very profound, life-long impact.
May is National Foster Parent Appreciation month. After nearly fifty years of working with this incredible group of people, I could write books on the virtues, importance, need for and impact of Foster Parents. But not nearly enough is said about the Memories they Make which will remain with their foster children for the rest of their lives.
It is a given, every child or youth coming into the foster care system has experienced trauma which sets into motion a protective, self-defense mechanism in the brain. This is a normal “fight or flight” response we all experience. Foster Parents have a wonderful opportunity to mitigate or stop this negative process by giving these youth life changing memories. Even setting limits and correcting behaviors, if done properly, can establish a “someone cares enough about me” memory!
A great example of memory-making is the story of country singer Jimmy Wayne who was raised through his teen years in foster care. His memories of this experience are powerful and totally transformed his life. He was a handful, testing every limit. But his foster parents looked past his behaviors to see who he really was under the hard, defensive veneer he had developed in order to protect himself. Looking back on that time in his life, Jimmy’s memories are all wonderful, and by far overshadow the darkness he had lived in previously. Please take the time to read about his story in his book, Walk to Beautiful, and follow him on Twitter @jimmywayne. His is an incredible story about the power of Making lifetime Memories!
I know each of you has a collection of personal and family memories full of “happy thoughts,” some more than others. But it’s not the measure of memories that matters; it’s the substance thereof. I still remember a time, well over 60 years ago, when an older man in my neighborhood saw me climb over a fence and fall to the ground wincing in pain from a huge splinter poking out of my finger. He called to me asking what the problem was. I explained and he asked to look at it. Frankly, I thought he was a scary, crazy old guy; I only knew rumors--you know, the stories kids tell! Against my better judgment, I acquiesced and let him look at my finger. To my horror, he pulled out a pocket knife and a lighter! You can imagine what flashed through my mind at that moment. He heated his knife blade and very gently and painlessly removed the splinter, sending me home with “instructions” on taking care of it. We became fast friends after that.
Every kind deed creates a positive memory. Too often Foster Parents struggle with the “Am I making a difference?” syndrome--forgetting that it only takes one act of kindness, compassion, care or help to create a Permanent Positive Memory. Even when a foster youth seems to be totally oppositional and challenging, (e.g., Jimmy Wayne), it doesn’t mean you are are not making an important life-changing impact on them. I know unequivocally that Foster Parents are masters of positive Memory Making; it is an unconscientious behavior, built into the fabric of their character, persona and soul!
I am humbled by the “Angels” who serve as foster parents, sincerely. I only wish we had dozens more who had the vision, passion and commitment to work with kids who’ve been subjected to lousy life circumstances. These kids need Memory Makers to transform their brokenness into happiness and hope! As I like to say, if not you, then who?
And for all of you who have ventured into this most rewarding, though challenging, foster parenting vocation – Thank You, you are Making Beautiful Memories which will last a lifetime!