I wouldn't say I dated a ton before finding my Reverend Charming—one other serious boyfriend and maybe two other relationships that reached the "official" status. (Oh, how thankful I am not to have uttered the term "DTR"—"defining the relationship"— in over a decade!) But those relationships and other steady dates (for lack of a better definition!) brought more than just fun and romance to my life.
They introduced me to and immersed me in hobbies and characteristics I might never have otherwise given a second thought. And it is that aspect of dating that has come to mind at various times over the course of our first year of fostering.
I remember the moment my "classic rock education" began, when Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" came on the radio while my high school sweetheart and I were in the car, and I guessed that it was Little Richard singing! What followed were many awesome mix tapes that I still enjoy today, and an appreciation for Billy Joel, Paul Simon, James Taylor, and other artists of the 1970s and '80s.
In college, I dated guys with passions for film scoring and musical theatre, and learned a lot from them about Alan Silvestri and John Williams, and a lot of shows less well-known than those in which I played minor roles in high school.
Beyond music, these relationships (and non-relationships) taught me about Tourette's Syndrome (it's not all about swearing), golf, baseball, the Baptist church, the Episcopal Church, cigar-smoking, and various cities around the South from which these young men hailed. Lest this seem like "Runaway Bride," where Julia Roberts doesn't even know what kind of eggs she likes, I hope maybe these fellows learned something about religion, Russia, or language (grammar, linguistics, etymology, etc.) from me. Or maybe not—my interests don't sound as interesting in comparison!
But in our year of fostering, exposure to and relationships with children and adults from different backgrounds and life experiences has taught me things I might not otherwise have immersed myself in.
how African American hair and skin require different care and styling. . .
how race and poverty are so connected in America . . .
how family members who try to break patterns that fuel the cycle of poverty end up estranged . . .
how the juvenile and family court system works (and where that courthouse is even located in our city) . . .
where education ranks on Maslow's hierarchy of needs (after shelter and stability) . . .
what "white privilege" really looks like (actually, Matt learned that. I'll share that story sometime) . . .
the frustrations of parenting a teenager (oh, curfews and one-word answers!) . . .
navigating the prison and criminal court system . . .
how people can have substance abuse problems and criminal issues and still be devoted parents . . .
how thrilling it is to see progress like a 16-month-old child finally able to sit up! (without that boppy, too) . . .
how bizarre it is to get excited over a child nomming a toy or NOT gagging at phlegm in her throat, because dealing with semi-solid stuff in her mouth is a major project in therapy. . .
how vital social services like TennCare and TEIS (Tennessee Early Intervention System) are . . . and more.
BGC gets her hearing aids next week, so we'll start navigating those changes (oh, big girls, please keep the noise down—she can actually hear you now!) and add speech therapy to our weekly regimen of developmental, physical, and feeding therapy.
We're in the home stretch of reunification with BGC's parents, so we're navigating a tricky but very special relationship right now (a double-date, so to speak?) We're going to a training next week about "Working with Birth Parents," and we'll have some positive examples to share, gladly offering a counterbalance to some of the tougher situations our fellow foster parents may have to share.
We entered foster care because we have something to share—a room with a crib and a bed, extra car seats, a modicum of flexibility and openness—but there is so much we gain in the process as well. Namely, a wider view of the world, seeing things that are right under our noses, maybe in a different area of town or different wing of the hospital—so close yet so far away, only because luck and chance and birth have kept it far away.
These relationships aren't forever, but they expand our minds and hearts nonetheless.