Sometime in the next 60-90 days, I will try my last foreseeable case in Maryland’s family law courts. I am ready to be done. In a field where few people last ten years, I’m pushing 25. Time to let somebody else carry this torch, while I get acquainted with more dukes and dunderwhelps.
I’m pondering what lessons I can take away from my tenure representing foster children. If I don’t have me an exit interview, nobody will. I want closure, for one thing, but I also want to memorialize any insights that might help those following after me.
One take-away that was dropped into my lap by a supervisor at Social Services years ago was this: We know which kids are likely to do well after foster care. We can spot them fairly easily because they have two characteristics. Their later success has nothing to do with grades, good looks, skin color, church attendance, intelligence, work habits, or any other typical indicator of success. Not. One. Thing.
The kids who will eventually thrive had two factors going for them. First, somebody modeled to them a consistent, healthy definition of, “I love you.” Might have been a clarinet teacher, an older sibling, a grandparent. Somebody was there for them on the hard days, holding them accountable on the dumb days, and celebrating with them on the good days.
The taxpayer devotes very little money to ensuring foster children are loved. We tend to their needs in terms of care, but love… can money buy that? Many children are fortunate to end up in foster homes where love is available, but one quarter of foster children nationwide end up in foster homes where abuse or neglect reaches the point where the state sees it. (And we do pay for that.)
The second factor that identifies a foster kid headed toward success is a healthy definition of play. Can this kid have fun–belly laughing, whooping-up, gotta-hug-’em, fun–without getting in trouble? Without hurting somebody? Without breaking the law?
We also devote very little money to having fun, but most foster parents instinctively pick up on this one. They know which kids can’t laugh when they walk in the door, and six months later, they notice that a kitten and some string had the kid rolling on the floor.
I am hopeful that as a society, we’re on the verge of realizing that work–while it can be meaningful and enjoyable–does not make us free. Love is a nutrient that we need every bit as much if not more than the basic food groups and a safe place to sleep. Laughter pays certain bills no paycheck ever covered.
And for me, as I head into a time when I have even more control over what I do with my day, I’m thinking about who loves me, who I love, and what my definition of a delightful day is. What makes me laugh? With whom do I share that? One answer is: My characters make me laugh, and I share them with you.
What makes you laugh? What made you laugh as a kid? What made you smile inside as a kid? When was the last time you got the giggles?