Monday, May 10, 2010

Secret Garden

The girls and I were at one of the criminally underused neighborhood pocket parks last week (and as an aside: a beautiful day in a neighborhood full of kids - why is almost no one playing in the park?) when two little girls walked up to us.  I don't quite remember how the subject came up so quickly, but within a few sentences the older one told me they were both foster kids.  I told her brightly that my daughters were adopted, and for a brief moment an intense, inward stare clouded the face of the girl.  All the girls ran off to play together, they all got along well, while I read under a tree. 

But that expression that crossed her face has stayed with me.  I have seen variations of it on my own children.  It wasn't loneliness, or sadness, exactly.  It was, I think, an "aloneness" particular to adopted kids and foster kids.  Everyone feels alone, I know, in some way or another.  You're born alone, you die alone, yada, yada, yada.  Some feel it more acutely than others.  Writers and artists might feel it more than others, or maybe they are merely better at exploring its depths.  But the lack of a biological family creates an emptiness I can empathize with but never fully understand.  It's different than coming from a dysfunctional family.  Different than family members dying. 

I don't think it's my job as a parent to fill that empty space.  I don't think I should, or even can.  Rather, I think my job is to acknowledge it, protect it, to make it a safe place, a welcome place, a part of their identity they can one day embrace, and nurture, and cherish.

16 comments:

Gordo said...

The girls are lucky to have found such a wise parent. I suspect that too many would rush to try to fill that space.

Eric said...

One reason why, among many, you are a good father.

Hilary said...

Your daughters hit the jackpot with their Dad. I hope that these other two sweeties will too.

ArtSparker said...

I wonder if there was maybe some wonder in those girls' faces - about your daughters somehow having arrived at a more secure place.

Clowncar said...

Well, Gordo, as much as I'd like to take credit, it's mostly a matter of recognizing my limitations.

Thanks E. Parenthood presents about 100 decisions a day. On a good day I'm batting .500. But thanks.

Yeah, Hil, I hope they do too. The eldest seemed a little overwhelmed. I'm wondering if they were newly fostered.

A good chance of that, Art. Though at the time I read the look as "this happens to other kids too?"

slommler said...

You are very wise. I can just see that look too! What a blessing that you all have each other now.
Hugs
SueAnn

Sabra said...

Seeing it through my own filter of experience (which is nothing to do with adoption, but certainly knowledge of the feeling of abandonment) I wonder if it might also be a flicker of that shared sense of betrayal, that a parent could/would/must leave a child. The adopted adults I've know seemed to want to know what the story was and to find some reassurance that it wasn't personal. Just as children of divorce wonder what they did to cause their parents' split, otherwise why (in their minds) did that happen?

Clowncar said...

Me, wise? Please, SA, you have me confused with some other car of clowns.

Hey, Daisy! I think you get very close to the heart of it, right there, that profound sense of betrayal. No guilt in my own kids that I've seen, no "this is my fault, I wasn't good enough." But there is a profound sense of abandonment, I think. One that is just beginning to manifest itself with behavior issues.

Clowncar said...

p.s. - I'll try not to use profound so many times in my next comment.

Last Tango said...

When they get older no doubt they'll begin to be curious about the biological part. But I'm guessing you've prepared for that.

There's the other choice, too, and a legitimate one. To disengage from a biological family and choose "aloneness."

Nancy Dancehall said...

Folks, I've seen Mr. Clowncar in action and he is an amazing dad, one anybody can look up to. Ms. Clowncar is equally exceptional. They are MY role models.

Clowncar said...

Ah, Nance, now you're making me blush.

Shayna Prentice said...

Your children are GREATLY fortunate that YOU are their dad. I love this experience you had and the way in which you described it ...

Clowncar said...

Thanks Shayna. I'm a little taken aback everyone is seeing this post as a testament to my Dad-ular abilities. I see it as stark evidence of my limitations.

Land of shimp said...

Hi Clowncar, I'm going to take your parenting skills as a given, if that's okay. Your children are lucky to have you.

The look on the face of the little girl who is a foster child is intriguing, isn't it? I think throughout our lives we search for evidence that we are not alone in this world. Some turn to God, others to volunteering, there are many ways to create that feeling of purpose, unity, and to take away that feeling of being adrift.

The thing is, no matter what structure someone comes from, they have many moments in their lives of feeling like an outsider, an alien, an other.

I think that little girl just tripped into a moment of otherness. Your children would usually be the aliens to her...those born into a family that stays together, and has structure. That's the kind of alienation she's used to.

But then she found out that your children had a similar "from my alien culture" beginning, but still got that structure, the same one the other "with their birth parents", alien-to-her children have.

So she was likely having the "why them, and not me?" moment. Not envy, specifically, but that moment that even adults have, wherein we can tell ourselves that no matter our misfortunes it isn't truly about us. That's the truth of the matter, bad luck happens regardless of worth.

In the mind of the child, though, they search for the "Why?" and (falsely) conclude,, "Maybe it is me."

Maybe what you saw was that feeling of longing to no longer feel like an alien in the land of family structure.

And by the way? Your children are lucky to have a dad who will take them to a park, and read under a tree as they play. As for why the park is empty on a beautiful day? Well, I think in a rushed life, it is easy for people to decide, "The park is dangerous, but I have much to do, and cannot find time to sit under a tree and read so that my children can play."

Clowncar said...

Hey, Shimp, thanks for the kind words, and the thoughtful comments. I think you are exactly right, that she felt utterly "alien in the land of family structure." Well put. It must seem a terrifying and uncaring universe for her, at times. Of course, it appears that way to all of us at times.

As for that taking your kids to the park thing, I understand the "being too busy" excuse, as I am often too busy as well. But the "park is too dangerous" thing makes me angry. I think America is making childhood entirely too safe, and separatimng them from nature, and the rest of humanity, as a consequence.