Our foster son has taken a lot of pride recently in keeping our deck nice and clean for us, and our dog…well, our dog really hasn’t.
Our dog Oz has this little “problem,” see—he was hit by a car a couple years ago and the impact broke his tail (which mostly recovered) and damaged his rectal and bladder nerves (which mostly didn’t), so he leaks pee and drops turds everywhere. He can’t help it. It has become almost endearing to us now—every time we come home, the sight of us usually inspires such excitement in him that he pees on our feet and poops in our way, but that sort of affection—however disgusting—is pretty precious. (I mean, he gets so excited to see us that he pees himself. Who wouldn’t want that kind of reception?)
Other people—our vet included—wondered why we didn’t put him down when he had the accident, but we were madly in love with him and we just couldn’t. We decided that we’d put up with the mess, that it was a small price to pay for such unconditional love.
It just requires that we sweep the turds off our front steps and our deck all the time.
So you can imagine our foster son’s frustration after he’d spent the entire day sweeping and cleaning the deck when Oz scrambled up there (he’s mastered the art of getting past the locked gate) and did his business all over the place.
“I hate this,” he grumbled. “You should get a new dog.”
We adopted Oz from another family when he grew too large for their small town house (he’s a 100-pound bear), and they knew he’d have a better life in the country. So he was completely house-trained when we got him, and then…yeah. The accident. He’s a mess now, true, but he’s our mess, and we love him anyway.
Love is pretty complicated. Yeah, it’s patient and kind and all that other beautiful stuff, but it’s complicated. It takes work and effort, and sometimes we have to clean up each other’s messes (literally and figuratively), but if we let it, it can flourish in spite of this inconvenience.
This is the miracle of grace.
So I tried to explain this to our foster son.
“He is a mess. You’re right about that,” I said. “But it’s not like he’s doing it on purpose. He can’t help it. He’s part of this family, and he loves us. Love is his gift to us, so we love him, too, mess and all.”
And then he got really quiet. His brow furrowed and he stared at the ground and he nodded. “Kind of like a foster kid, huh?”
And then I almost turned into a mess myself. It was hard to hold in the tears. But I managed to smile at him and say, “Yes. Exactly like a foster kid.”
I became a foster mom a few weeks back, and I kept trying to put words to the experience, but they always failed me. It has been, in some ways, not surprising in the least. (I was a teacher for seven years—I’ve called human services before.) But in other ways, it has been a total shock. (I didn’t expect a 17-year-old who unabashedly dances in his socks to Disney music, who makes me camouflage duct tape purse organizers and friendship bracelets and key chains, or who thanks us for everything we give him—even chores.) I tried writing about it so many times, and the words just failed me. I had no idea how to explain what I was experiencing.
That is, until today.
I have a soft spot in my heart for junk. (I come by it quite naturally—I was raised on yard sales and my mother-in-law is an antique dealer.) I take that back—it’s not junk to me. I currently have a garage full of “projects:” two old doors, two old beds, three dressers, a vanity, two mirrors, miscellaneous chairs, and a ton of odds and ends. It’s starting to drive my husband crazy, I know. So today, when he gently suggested I go out to the garage and start to work on some of these “projects” so that we can actually walk from the truck to the house without navigating the labyrinth of crap that has amassed in there, I put on my work clothes and did just that.
As I was looking around at my treasures, I realized that these were the things that so many others didn’t want. But that didn’t lessen their value to me. I saw potential in them. I saw patina. I saw experience and age and character and beauty. I saw originality. I saw use. And it was my mission to restore these treasures to their former glory. (Or, rather, a reincarnation of their former glory. I prefer to re-imagine them rather than fully restore them, and I don’t do stain and varnish. Too fussy.)
But as I was standing there in my garage, I suddenly understood what this whole fostermomming thing was all about.
It’s about taking in what others so often won’t. It’s about seeing potential in someone. It’s about seeing experience and character and beauty. It’s about seeing use. And it’s about helping those kids believe that they can re-imagine themselves, that they can be more than they ever dreamed.
So, as it has become my mission to rescue all of the furniture that I can get my hands on, to take it in and transform it, it has also become my charge to fostermom all the kids I can, to take them in, help them sand off the rough spots and shine them up, and show them what beauty lies beneath.
(My first furniture rescue project: turning these $4 holey chairs into the centerpiece of my kitchen. I think they look like a million bucks.)