A family is most often defined as people who are bonded together in terms of blood and marrage ties. My family is a group of people who encompass this basic principle, and more. I have had people comment to me about the strange group of people who I call may family. I'd like to tell you a bit about my family, and how it got to be this way...
I have birthed two children, Melody Christina and Christopher James. Married couple, two kids, two cars, dog, cats and a mortgage. As the saying goes.. been there, done that; Ancient history...
I like to say that I have birthed two children when talking about may family and am pressed as to how many children I have. Although my husband and I have not formally and legally adopted anyone, we have fostered and been informally 'adopted' by many young people. The exact number of persons who comprise 'the family' varies over time, as people move away and teenagers turn into young adults who gain significant others and/or have children of their own. Sunday dinner at the "Big Red House" often finds ten or more people seated around the table, more if there is a celebration of some kind going on.
It is a sad commentary on our society at just how disposable our children have become. In two parent homes, often both parents must work to make mortgage payments and provide for all the trappings of life that mass media has enculturated us to expect as our right and responsability to have. Financial difficulties have been documented in study after study until it has become common knowledge that this is the number one cause of divorce. Single parents must work twice as hard just to attempt to keep up with the frantic demands placed upon them by society. In the mad rush to have the socially proscribed "all", it is the children who are most often lost in the shuffle. Children become targets of abuse, rejection, resentment and apathy. Sometimes the children react with behavioral problems. Learning disablilities worsen already bad situations. Sometimes the only way a child can cope is by running away. Sometimes the only way a parent can cope is by throwing away the child.
Before the days of government controled foster care of children in need, parents would often arrange to 'farm out' their children to families where they felt that their children would be safe and cared for. If the parents were able to, they would provide monetary or some other kind of support to the fostering parents. It was in this manner that we took in the first of our foster kids, and this move was the start of our extended family.
Having three teenagers in the house can cause hectic times in any household. My three charges were no exception. Melody was into computers at an early age and was running a BBS system from her bedroom. Mike was into the Grunge scene. Chris had problems in school due to ADD difficulties and kept finding trouble. All of the kids would bring their friends around the house after school and on weekends and holidays. My husband and I found these young people to be intersting to talk to, and more important to listen to. For some, it was the first time in their lives that they felt that an adult actually took them seriously, actually acknowledged their existance, their feelings and their lives. Consequently, the kids enjoyed hanging about the house.. an odd combination of computer nerds and Grunge kids, with leather wearing biker kids in the mix.
This is when the street kids first started being brought to the house.
What do you do when a young person you know takes you aside to ask if there was any bread to spare for a scared and exhausted looking kid that they brought over to your house? I know what I do.. I feed them. It got to be a habit for the household regulars to bring home stay teenagers that they found living on the streets. There are many reasons as to why a teenager lives on the streets ranging from a rebellious party-hardy attitude to severe emotional-physical- psychological abuse. My first reaction to a cold, hungry, frightened child is to feed and calm them. The why's and how comes of their being this way can wait a bit.
For over a year I had the best loved soup pot in the region. It was all I could do to make sure that I had soup and some sort of bread for the young people who would show up in my kitchen. I had become too disabled by CFIDS/M.E. to manage even a part time job... but this much I could do. A friend of my husband's at the local food bank would bring over to us the breads that would not fit in the foodbank freezers to help feed the constant group of young persons who had come to call the house home (even if they had a home of their own to go to). I do not know how many young people came through the house durring that time... but it was common to wake up to someone new asleep on a livingroom couch or chair.
Whenever I could, I would get the young person to call home. Many times the parents would be so very releived to hear from their child that the only thing on their minds was making things right and bringing their child home. I cannot recall the number of times this happened, but one incident from years later will forever stick in my mind. I was riding my electric scooter home from doing some shopping on a bright fall day, when I came across a nicely dressed young adult man with a nicely dressed woman, both looking very business like. I first thought that they worked at a nearby law office from their appearance. No, they had crossed the street to talk to me. Although I did not recognize the young man, he had recognized me. The woman with him was his mother, and they had been waiting at a bus stop for the next bus to arrive momentarily. The young man called me by name, and glowed as he introduced his mother to me. He said I was Phyllis, from the Big Red House. The mother then proceeded to thank me for all I did for her son, and he then thanked me for saving his life. I was moved to tears. They had to hurry back to catch their bus, and so I was left with a moving thank you for doing whatever I did for this handsome young man who's face I could not recall. It really was worth doing.
At the height of it all, we started joking calling the house the Langford Youth Hostle. The house became so well known for being a refuge for runaway teens that we would get sacks of clothing dropped off for giving to the kids who needed them. The local police were also well aware that we were taking in 'strays', and when a parent would report a missing teenager, our place was where they would look first. It got so that the police would give our phone number to parents to call themselves to see if their child was here or not. Often the kids did not tell me their real names, using their street names instead.
I took care of the kids who had fallen through the cracks of the system. I didn't ask the government for help, and because of my disability even if I asked none would have been granted. As time went on, the number of strays being brought home became less and less. But some of the strays have 'adopted' me, adopted my husband.. as being their family. They tell me that that the Big Red House is home to them, because home is a place where they can always come home to and feel safe and loved. I am Mom to more children than I can keep track of. They are my family... held together with ties of love.
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