“Do you think my mom is a bad person?” Peanut asked, sitting at the kitchen counter, feet dangling over discarded flip-flops while eating a late breakfast.
“I don’t really know your mom,” I answered cautiously, “why?”
“cuz my last foster parent said my mom was a bad person and that’s why I can’t live with her right now.”
Glass mugs and metal pans clinked and clanked as I emptied the dishwasher, wondering how to approach this conversation. One of many challenges when fostering a school-aged child are the questions. Training had prepared me to answer most inquiries with a “maybe”, “someday” or “I don’t really know”. It had not prepared me to help define an 8-year-old’s perspective of his very foundation and core of his identity.
“You know me, ” he continued, “so you kinda know my mom.”
I stopped putting away the dishes and faced him at the counter, taking in every curve of his face and slightness of his body. I pictured him holding the door open for me when we came home and how he rushed outside to help me bring in the groceries. I thought about how thankful he is when I wash and fold his laundry, the way he makes his bed in the morning without being asked and helps clear the dinner dishes before I’ve even left the table. I could hear his sweet voice in my head, every please and thank you without hesitation, every made-up story or joke told. I could feel his warmth and affection from him resting his head against my shoulder while I read him a book. Most of all, I couldn’t ignore all the times I had already witnessed him put fear aside and try something new with optimism and eagerness, like swim lessons, making friends, tasting an unfamiliar food, or living with us.
“I believe there are no bad people, just people who sometimes make bad choices, ” I said carefully. “I also believe you are kind, thoughtful, honest and compassionate. I also believe that you are brave and loving. You are funny and easy to get along with, and most of all, you bring joy to the people you meet. And I believe that you are this amazing person because of your mom.”
Peanut smiled, his eyes slightly moist.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too,” he said quietly.
It is humanly impossible to avoid all opinion about a person who can not currently care for their children. But after spending time with this child, I realized “she isn’t what I thought though. I still don’t know who she is, but I do know now who she isn’t.” (Anne Lamott, bird by bird, pg. 82)
*This post was inspired by The Daily Post