National Foster Care Month

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You deserve to be happy…

That was the well-worn refrain of my girlfriends, when we were in our early twenties. Usually in response to misery over some guitar player or other with long eyelashes, perfectly cut jeans, and a tendency to make out with your roommates.

Get rid of that loser! You deserve to be happy!

I’ve changed my mind since then. I no longer think I deserve happiness. Hear me out, before you go all crazy and start leaving me voicemails saying, “Oh, but you do!”

I no longer believe I deserve anything in particular, or that we live in a universe that hands out just desserts, based on some cryptic metaphysical barter system. But I do believe we’re tasked with making meaning out of what comes our way, and that we’re responsible for taking care of each other.

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I also tend to think this mythical state of “happiness” we somehow deserve, is overrated. Often the things I dread the most wind up being the most valuable to me.

For example, something that recently happened around here…

A few months ago, we figured out that Jovi needed a dedicated therapeutic preschool environment, and we got him into a phenomenal program. One of the reasons the school is so effective with early interventions is they treat the whole family, and give everyone tools for communication, conflict resolution, self-regulation, talking about your feelings… all the good stuff. This requires a hefty time commitment, particularly in the beginning.

Now we get to the annoying part – I found myself attending preschool full-time for three months. Now, I love kids. I especially love my own kids! I also love dropping them off at school and going to get a bagel and write in a cafe. I’ve never really been the kind of person who would choose to be in a classroom of small children all day long. I was not a bit happy about my bagel-less new career attending preschool.

That sentiment remained until my final day there. I never stopped being a little bit resentful about sacrificing my few hours a day of freedom. And yet, I wept helplessly on the stairs outside when the day came that I finally dropped him off and walked away. Regardless of my resistance, my time with Jovi at school was beyond a doubt one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life, and I had such a feeling of loss when it was over that I had trouble even driving out of the parking lot.

Jovi came to us when he was 3.5 going on 35. He had such a vast body of experience already, some of which will always remain a mystery to me. I spent my time at the school learning how best to communicate with him, from true experts. I made a conscious decision to turn off my phone and put away the outside world and really get to know him, in all his hilarious, brilliant, resilient, creative magnificence. I will treasure that time for the rest of my days.

I’m a busy working mom of two kids with trauma histories, and like most moms I have my share of moments when I feel despair and failure. There is also remarkable hope and faith, but I still often wonder if I’m unequal to the task I’ve taken on. And yet, when the children are asleep, breathing evenly beside me, and I just sit quietly and take a moment and listen to the distant sounds of urban life- the hum of traffic, the tumbling dryer, the buzz of a million lives outside my door- I feel a part of the flow and the struggle and the healing, I know that my life has meaning, and just for a heartbeat I get to understand it.

In those moments, I fall in love, passionately, with all of it. Mostly, with us as a family. It’s a love I never could have imagined, as that twenty-year-old who felt like I deserved the rock star of my dreams (ok, that did happen, but you get the point) and the world on a platter. I am renewed and ready to wake up and do it again.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because it’s National Foster Care Month. Scott and I are honored to have had the opportunity to participate in a couple of outreach efforts, including this nifty streetlight banner campaign for Raise a Child. It was really fun to drive under them and surprise the kids!

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The short video we did with Raise a Child is below, as is one for the Alliance of Moms, an organization whose mission is to break the intergenerational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care.

RaiseAChild #ReimagineFosterParents – Jillian Lauren & Scott Shriner's Story from Rich Valenza on Vimeo.

As I watch Jovi flourish and marvel at what an incredible kid he is, I think of all the Jovis out there, who never will get the chance to shine.

I hear a lot of doubts and resistance toward the idea of getting involved in the foster care crisis in this country. It’s hard. It’s a time commitment. It’s sad. There’s loss involved. There are hurt kids involved and it’s a tough reality to face. It may be painful. You might cry. All those things are true.

It’s also true that it’s one of the most gratifying things I’ve done, and I’m stronger and more hopeful than ever for it. I look forward to finding new ways to get involved.

In Los Angeles alone there are 25,000 precious kids in the foster care system. There are so many ways to help- you don’t necessarily have to foster or adopt (although those ways are awesome!). I’ve included links to some recommended organizations and resources. If you feel moved, take a peek at one or all of them.

Happy National Foster Care Month to you! I’m only getting to this out when the month is almost over because I am now a mother of two, and I will apparently never again meet a deadline!

Sending love,
Jillian


SOME AWESOME RESOURCES:

For starters, come join us for a fabulous evening at the Five Acres Gala! Buy your tickets now. We’ll be there.

FIVE ACRES: This is the agency that helped us adopt Jovi, and still provide us with incredible support and services. For over 129 years Five Acres has been committed to preserving successful childcare programs and developing innovative services for children and families in crisis. With over 100,000 clients served since its founding in 1888, Five Acres currently cares for 8,700 children and families annually, across five counties including Los Angeles.Five Acres actively strives to provide a sense of belonging by connecting children to caring adults with safe, permanent and loving families. With strong stability and the chance to stay in a loving home, children are able to rebuild their sense of belonging and grow.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: One of my favorite posts of all time, by Kristen Howerton at Rage against the Minivan. About what you can do to help if you’re not in a position to adopt.

RAISE A CHILD: Raise a child has developed a system to find—and then support—people who are interested in becoming foster/adoptive parents. As a result, RaiseAChild out performs the national standard by advancing 23% of prospective foster and adoptive parents from inquiry to certification.

ALLIANCE OF MOMS: Alliance of Moms is a new generation of philanthropists whose mission is to break the intergenerational cycle of babies born to teens in foster care. An auxiliary group to the Alliance of Children’s Rights.

THE CONNECTED CHILD, by Karyn Purvis. My favorite adoption and attachment-related book of all time.

KIDSAVE: Host a child or mentor a child. Hosting gives the kids an opportunity to experience family life and build a relationship with a family who will either adopt them or introduce them to others who are interested in adoption. What Kidsave has experienced over the years, is that once people meet the kids it becomes easy to be their advocates — or to fall in love.

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