Are they ALL yours? Are THEY all yours? Are they all YOURS?
Welcome to THE most frequently asked question of any foster parent in history. Depending on my mood and perceived intention of the person asking, the answer is kind and informing, sarcastic, or sharp. Once I didn’t answer, but just stared and cocked my head to the side. I am always left asking myself, WHO asks this question? What is their REASON for asking? And how do I really want to answer it today?
Just before Valentine’s Day I took my gaggle of kiddies to the library for the afternoon. I wanted to avoid the tiny bits of paper, glitter glue, and sticker disaster that comes with creating Valentines at home so we packed a huge bag of craft supplies and snacks and made our way to the closest library in YYC.
** As an aside, YYC libraries absolutely kick butt in every way. They just keep getting better. Young children can build, act, play hide- and- seek, and have a blast in the Early Literacy Centre doing all sorts of things, including READ, if they choose! Older children and teens can put their feet up, borrow a Chromebook, and watch YouTube, read magazines, play board games, and, also, READ! At some point I end up knitting and drinking my large single-shot latte for a portion of our library outings while everyone else gets some physical and cognitive stimulation. **
On this particular Valentine-creating day, a gentle woman sat near our tables. Her three-ish-year-old kept coming over to my diligently creating nine-year-old. My five children, ages almost one to thirteen, were all engaged in different activities. They would toddle or run over to me, take a quick drink from a water bottle or eat half a granola bar and race off again. The check in at secure base, wander off and explore, check in, and wander off cycle. Every few minutes I collected the almost-walking-child with the chair she had been pushing because she made it to the wall and couldn’t turn around.
The woman watched and smiled, spoke softly to her child. My daughter was gentle and welcomed the outsider to join in on the cutting and gluing.
“Are they all YOURS?”
Internal groan. Darn. She seemed so nice. She probably was nice. But, the question.
“Yes,” I smiled.
More toddling, more snacking, more crafting, more checking in, more small talk with stranger in library.
“It’s really interesting, because they all have different hair colour and such different features,” she commented, studying them all one by one.
Inside voice: “Ok, seriously? You’re commenting on whether or not these active, intelligent, respectful, joyful, energetic, engaging, smiling, lovely children share the same genetic material? We have now known each other for nine minutes.”
Outside voice: “They are not all biologically related.”
She didn’t ask anymore far-too-personal questions. In fact, I’m quite sure she continued to study the children to see who was related by biology and who wasn’t, who was calling me “Mom” and who was calling me “Liz”, who was going back and forth between the two, and being generally confused.
There is no simple answer to this question, especially to the stranger who asks so casually. They are all mine. And none of them are mine. They belong to me, and to you, and to all of us, just as all the children of the world do. We all have a responsibility to care for, watch out for, guide, protect, encourage, and love all the children of the world. They are not my possessions, they are gifts lent to me, to share with the world. But a short conversation with a stranger in the library, or anywhere, doesn’t lend itself to the complexity of how any of them came to be with me, how deeply they are loved by me and their other mothers, how much pain and sadness some of them endured on the path to my arms. Some of them were born to me and some were not, but they all need to belong to someone, to parents, to a family.
Some days I might say, “We are a foster family,” which helps explain some of our physical differences but doesn’t single out any of our children. It helps explain why some of us look different, why some days there are a lot of us as some days fewer.
On this day, it was enough for me to answer, “Yes, they are all mine.”
**One more aside: I love it when people watch my family. We *are* interesting! “What a beautiful family!” or, “You’re so lucky to have so many children!” or, “I love watching you with your children!” are all heart-warming comments to make to a parent with lots of kids who may not all look alike. **
***The LAST aside: At age 45, “Is this your Grandchild?” is actually my least favourite question. But I suppose I better get used to it as well since I have now been asked three times!***
Liz Brown, Foster Parent