“The really important kind of freedom”*

Maybe it’s because I was raised Roman Catholic and the yen for social justice stuck like hot tar to my ribs. Maybe it’s because some of my best friends were social workers in child welfare. Maybe it’s simply because I was in a comfortable enough spot that I could, and thus wanted to, challenge myself to do something that was only about helping other people—and not at all about helping me.

Yet it has helped me. Prior to becoming a foster parent, I couldn’t imagine how children could transform me.

It’s not that I was in dire need of transformation. Mine was a comfortable milieu, with a fine job, house, dog and lovely husband. I played the solid hand of cards I’d been dealt at birth to my advantage, scaling the ladder of academic achievement, dipping my toes in the waters of its professional counterpart. I was free to spend most of my time and effort on my family, career, dreams. Why dare open myself to experiences and people beyond my tight, familiar circle?

Maybe it’s because I was bored. What I really wanted was for my life to be radically transformed into something more and better than it had been.

Foster care did not disappoint. It connected me with a wider, broader family system than the ones I’d known, while also strengthening my biological families as they evolved and grew with me. It opened me to joy undistilled by self-motivation and derived entirely from sources beyond me. It dropped me squarely in a realm of love in which I had no real business being, and the greatest events I have experienced—events I couldn’t control, plan or script—began to unfold.

Kids were at the core of them all. I witnessed the alchemy of their implausible healing, got to love them through it. Freed from my chrysalis, I became a mother, seeing children I’d never otherwise know through the clear eyes of my heart, which refused to lie to me about what needed to be done.

*Title from “This Is Water,” by David Foster Wallace.

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