Thursday, March 27, 2008

Tell me I'm crazy. Or tell me the truth.

I got an email from my mom a couple of days ago.

It said, "Healthy six month old baby in urgent need of a Jewish foster home. Length of placement unknown." It contained contact information for a social worker at the Jewish social service agency here in town. I read it, sighed, acknowledged that I would do it if only I didn't have a three-month-old tying up my time, and forwarded it to a friend who, I thought, might want to know. I went about my life.

I can't forget about that baby. A very big part of me is itching to call the social worker and offer our home for however long the baby needs us. I understand all the arguments against it: having two babies so close in age is like having twins, which is notoriously difficult; I probably couldn't fit two rear-facing seats in my tiny car; I'd have to drop all my peripheral projects and focus on raising two babies; I'd have all the added responsibility of meeting the agency's standards, documenting any incidents (like the bruises, bumps, and scrapes every baby and toddler inevitably gets), and communicating with a social worker. In short, it would be a lot of hard work.

But raising Kali is a lot of hard work, and yet it's so worthwhile... I love it. I love being a mom. And seeing the way Kali lights up when she hears my voice, seeing how I can soothe her just with my presence, makes me ache for that little baby who, for some reason, doesn't have that kind of bond with a parent. Every baby deserves to be loved the way I love Kali. Could I love a foster child equally? Of course. Any child whom I sing to, rock to sleep, take care of when sick, bathe, change even when s/he's unforgiveably dirty and stinky, is unquestionably my child.

You might be asking why I even think this child might still be in need of a home. The email was sent out on Monday and by the time I call it will be Friday. Wouldn't someone have stepped up by now?

Perhaps... but I recently learned something that disturbed me greatly. Apparently in all of Toronto, which has a Jewish population of more than 164,000, Jewish foster homes number only...

oh, come on, guess. How many do you think?

It's only...


As a Jew, I'm embarrassed. The Torah is full of admonitions to never forget the needy, the widow and the orphan. Orphan, as in a parentless child... are foster children not effectively lacking parents?

I know why the numbers are so low. We're so busy with ourselves and our lives. Toronto's Jewish community is a generous one... but it's a lot easier to be generous with your chequebook than with your time, your home, your arms, and your valuable breakable possessions. There are people who feel they can't afford it, people who don't want to have to spend $1000 to take their foster child to the bahamas with the rest of the family for March break, people who already have six kids and who can't imagine taking on a seventh, even though they eschew birth control and would manage beautifully if God graced their home with a new baby.

And what about us? We've spoken before about the need to put our money where our mouths are. We have a beautiful home with plenty of space for children. I'm a stay-at-home-mom with experience in child development and special needs. I love kids. I speak socialwork-ese. While we may see ourselves as broke after the renovations, we always have food in the fridge, gas in the car, a rented DVD in viewing progress, and a little money left over. We have a wonderfully supportive extended family.

Rabbi Hillel Said:
"If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?"

I'm going to call tomorrow. Please comment as soon as you read this so that I can hear other people's thoughts on this... especially if you've ever fostered an infant or if you're a Jewish foster parent in Toronto. I'll read your comments before I make the call.

I will make the call tomorrow.


Caro said...

Honestly? If you want to call, then do it - whatever else happens you will know what is happening with this baby instead of wondering.

Gil said...

A very noble thing you know, offering up your home and yourselves to someone else's baby. I agree with Caro; at least you will know what is happening instead of wondering, "What if?" Keep us posted. I'm interested to see how this pans out. Sending you love from further up the road.

Aurelia said...

I once mentioned that I was working in the same building as Jewish CAS while on a contract. (I was talking to some Jewish friends.)

They told me that no such thing exists and I just misread it, because "that sort of thing" simply doesn't happen in Jewish families. I rolled me eyes and changed the subject...

Go for it my dear, more people need to know that not all Jewish families are perfect upper middle class professionals and some need help and not just a check. I want to hear what happens next!

gaelen said...

It will be hard, for sure, but rewarding. The fact that you're still thinking of the baby says something right there.

I hope you end up doing it. When you look at Kali, don't you marvel at how much you love her? That baby needs someone to look at him/her that way. Feeling loved by mama -- It's the very core of love.

Now, I know it's easier said than done and I know there's a ton of things to consider, but keep us posted.

Elizabeth said...

One strategy that we've used for making decisions like this is to make ourselves available - then see what happens.

Rachel said...

If you do it, it will be tough, but you can do it. I'm watching an 8 month old in addition to my 4 month old son during the day.

It makes it harder to go places alone, but it can be done. I can fit 2 car seats side by side in my car and Jeep. The babies actually really like being next to each other.

The two babies love to watch each other and interact. Sometimes it's tough when my son cries but the other one has needs. I just have to put that aside and tend to the child whose needs are most urgent at the moment. That means occasionally I have a screaming infant that I can't do anything about.

Anyway, it can't hurt to call.

CapitalCook said...

What a beautiful thing you're thinking of doing. The best advice that I can tell you, is to be 100% honest when you call. Tell the agency that you can't stop thinking about the baby, and that you're prepared for all the hard work, etc. But tell them that you're also nervous and have reservations about it. I'd think that if you just called and said "OK...send her over!" without any worries, that that would be greater cause for alarm!

Dagny said...

This gave me chills.

And now I think I am going to cry.

You are truly a WONDERFUL person. And I am honoured to know you.


Anonymous said...

I too have been somewhat haunted by that email since you sent it...and the fact that there are only 35 Jewish foster families in the GTA. That is a shanda. I have been raising that sad fact amongst Jewish friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I have committed to raising the issue again with Sariel.

In the meantime, please keep us posted about that little one. I think that child would be so blessed to be placed in your home.