"At Least They Let Him Die"

J and I went to a foster parent training on Saturday.  It was incredibly boring, and became kind of a running gag between us about how we have the “most interesting dates.”  Of course it went late, but we stayed because the last 2 speakers were the only 2 we would have gone out of our way to hear even if the last was sad as all get out.  The highlight of the 5 hours before the last 2 speakers was this Chinese proverb:
“A farmer planted a tree, but it seemed that this tree when planted, watered, and nurtured for an entire growing season did not outwardly grow as much as an inch. Then, after the second growing season, a season in which the farmer took extra care to water, fertilize and care for the bamboo tree, the tree still did not sprout.  This continued as the sun rose and set for four solid years. The farmer had nothing tangible to show for all of his labor trying to grow the tree.
Then, along comes year five.
In the fifth year that Chinese bamboo tree seed finally sprouts and the bamboo tree grows up to eighty feet in just one growing season! Or so it seems….”
This story was told to us to try and instill a keep the faith attitude even if we don’t see the changes in our kids.  I wrote a message to J noting that while the class was talking about the miracle 5th year, I think the miracle was the farmer continuing to water and fertilize the spot in the ground where a seed had been planted four years ago.  Seriously, 4 years of nothing = me giving up and spending my time on another spot…2 years before.  Now think about how long it took to read that blurb… That’s what I got for my first 5 hours. Did I mention we were a little bored?
2nd to last speaker:
For our second to last speaker, we heard from Senior Judge Arthur Burnett Sr. (http://www.dwlr.com/files/bio/aburnett.pdf).  I’d heard of Brown vs. the Board of Education, but I didn’t know there was a case settled before it.  The case before it allowed him to attend college and then New York University School of Law.  From there he went all the way to federal court and advising presidents like Kennedy during the Civil Rights marches.  It’s pretty amazing to think of the path he blazed and through his work with children, continues to make.  I try to keep his story and inner strength in mind as a counter to the often ugly sides of our history both racial and other civil history.  We really have come a long way. 
(Last speaker on next page)

Our last Speaker:
Our last speaker is a former foster-child. I don’t think I will soon forget the exchange he recounted.  He is a survivor of foster-care in the 70’s who went on to graduate college and then law school and is now politics.  He talked about walking back from school one day when he saw another fostered kid he knew from one of the homes. 
 “What school are you in now?  I haven’t seen you in forever.  So what have you been up to?”
“I dropped out.  Prostitution.”
“You mean women pay you to have sex with them?”
“Not that kind of prostitution…  I hate it.  I can’t…”
“It will be OK.  Do you believe in Jesus?”
“You mean the guy on the cross?  At least they let him die.”   
I keep comparing that conversation to the one my kids had last week about their surgical experiences.  I think about his description of boys’ homes, the group living centers for foster kids with no foster families to take them.  If nothing else, his stories get back to the “why do I do this?” in a big way.  It’s a bit unfortunate we ended with him because the speaker before him had an awesome, uplifting life story.  Did the kid he saw on the path even have a chance to live life well?  Still, when I think of what I (we) give up to provide homes, it seems so small compared to what happened to some of those who never got the homes they needed. So maybe his was a good story on which to end.
I was also taken aback when he mentioned only 2% of foster children go onto graduate college.  In part, this is because so little is expected of them.  I expect my kids to go to college or get some schooling after high-school, but that is in large part my passing expectations which were on me to my kids. The expectations led me to know if I put in the work, I will be able to go (and I darn well better put in the work).  Maybe that’s the difference between me and the Chinese farmer.  Because I have no expectation of success farming, if faced with no immediate or short term signs of progress I would give up and try something else.  Maybe the 98% of fostered kids follow my thought path.  With my kids, I am more content to keep watering and fertilizing like the farmer even if I see nothing in the 5thyear.  Eventually something will grow there, even if it looks different than the tree I thought I was waiting to see grow.