March 18, 2012

Warrior Mama

"I do solemnly swear to support and defend [you] against all enemies; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to [you]; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; so help me God."

This is the oath of enlisted military officers, but the same words could be equally true when a foster child enters my care.  From the moment I meet my next temporary son or short-term daughter, I feel like my new mission has just begun.

I take this role seriously.  I vow to love you to the best of my ability with all of the tenderness and gentleness within me.  That’s the part of me that you will see and feel and experience. But the side that you may not ever know about, the part of me that is making a simultaneous commitment is this:  I promise to become your “Warrior Mama.”  I will fight for you.  

My first priority, of course, is to protect you from further danger, abuse, neglect, and pain. I am so sorry that your young heart has been broken; I feel physically ill when I realize that you have been exposed to more heinous evil in your young life than I will ever face during my lifetime.  How I wish that I could change what has happened to you!  But since I am unable to undo the trauma, I assure you that as long as you are in my care, whether it is 6 weeks, 6 months or 6 years, that I will, to the best of my ability, harbor you from danger and steadfastly shelter you.  This “Warrior Mama” is your new sentinel. 

Likewise, I will make every attempt to preserve your innocence as long as possible.  You are a sweet little child, and you should be carefree enough to laugh and play and discover.  How can you do that when you lie awake at night, worried about being hungry; or are always on guard because you are terrified of a parent’s fury?  I promise to shower you with the nurturing care and consistent love that you need in order to grow.  I will do whatever I can to make you feel safe.

You may not believe me, but one of the best ways I can  make you feel protected is by establishing clear rules and boundaries.  All of those negative behaviors and awful habits that you have developed simply must be overcome and replaced.  I must stand my ground against out-of-control tantrums, foul language and physical violence.  Our daily schedule will be as regimented as necessary, not to restrict you but to train you, and to let you experience the peace that comes with expectation, the security that accompanies anticipated routines.  In spite of what you may say, I'm not a dictator in disguise, and the battle isn't with you.  I am confronting actions and attitudes that could prove to be detrimental if not corrected.

If it is necessary, I will advocate for you, upholding your best interests in court.  Although there are wonderful social workers and guardian-ad-litems who want what is best for you, and skilled attorneys who know how to navigate the legal system on your behalf, they have other children for whom they are responsible, and they may not always be able to give your case the required attention.   Although my legal standing as a foster parent is not well-defined, I do have a voice, which I will use to speak for you.  With God’s help my words will be gracious and courteous.  My words may be disregarded by those in authority, but as long as there is breath in me, I will champion your cause and defend your rights.

Whether you are injured or sick, disabled or developmentally delayed, I vow to tackle the complexity of the medical profession in order for you to receive the best care for your specific needs.  Unpronounceable diagnoses?  I will research them.  Necessary medical equipment?  I will conquer it.  The mountains of paperwork I am required to complete can be enormously overwhelming:  applications, documentation, claims, and records.  But if that’s what is necessary to ensure that not the slightest detail is overlooked, then I will gladly and faithfully fulfill that duty.  

Please forgive me if it seems like I’m frequently on the phone, sending e-mails, and scheduling meetings while you are asked to wait quietly and patiently.  Believe me, I’d much rather be rocking you or reading to you or teaching you how to bake cookies.  But I must make sure that the doctors, specialists, therapists, home-health nurses, medical equipment providers, and everyone else who is involved in your care are working together.  Each of them is a vital piece of your physical puzzle, and part of my role is to make certain that all of the pieces fit together to make a whole, healthy picture.

Unfortunately, some wounds are long-lasting or even permanent, and all of the love and care in the world simply is not enough to reverse the devastation.  The months that the baby was exposed to drugs and alcohol before she took her first breath can never be reclaimed.  The 2-year old who was left in her car seat on a hot summer’s day will have irreparable damage to her brain.  The siblings who have been frequently hungry and afraid after depending upon an unreliable parent may have irrevocably closed their hearts to exhibiting trust or receiving love.  

Months or even years go by, and there is no indication that my love will ever be reciprocated, or that the right medical care and therapy will ever make any improvement in the physical damage that has been done.  It is then that my oath becomes:

I do solemnly swear, that in spite of my fatigue, I will resist the temptation to give up on you no matter how long it takes for you to heal.  I may secretly wrestle with fears about your future, and most likely will struggle with frustration and impatience when your physical, mental or emotional progress seems slow or non-existent.  And of course my insides will rip into excruciating pieces when the shrapnel of your rage is aimed directly at me!  But my doubts, weariness, and discouragement will be a private battle in my heart and mind that you must never see. 

Actually, the fiercest battle is not fought in the courtroom, on the phone, or even face to face; it is in the seclusion of my bedroom behind closed doors, where no one else can see.  It is here that I lay down my shield, remove my armor, and kneel before the Almighty.  It is here that this “Warrior Mama” ceases her efforts and entrusts the battle to the One who will never become weary, whose courage will never falter, who will never be tempted to quit.  Tomorrow I will resume my resolve to “faithfully discharge my duties” on behalf of these children who need me.  But for tonight I will rest secure, knowing that the Great Defender is standing guard.  The unrelenting battle belongs to Him.

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