It has come to my attention that some of my younger readers, if there are any, may need to be warned about some of the things they read here at Grhgraph. Apparently, there is something called a trigger warning that gives young people the option to decide if they can handle new information that might possibly evoke strong feelings that could disturb their otherwise safe space. I’m old and foolish but I always thought the object of writing anything was to evoke a response from the reader. In point of fact, I got a big fat F on a paper I wrote in high school because I didn’t get any reaction from my teacher. But my teacher had studied at Oxford so he was kind of a stickler for small details like that. So, in the interest of appealing to a younger audience, let thee be warned. From this point on you will be uncomfortable and have strong feelings which may even cause you to get out of your safe space and do something to help solve the problem I am about to discuss. Last chance…Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In my work with foster children I am frequently asked to make an emergency run. Usually this involves a kid who has just come into the system or one who has just caused a big enough problem to get kicked out of the house they were in. Either way, it’s almost always traumatic. I take my share of these drives because I like helping these kids get through it. Last week I got called out four times, which is a record for me. The first night it was just two kids being moved again for no good reason but they were being placed in a home that was 7.5 hours away from Kansas City and it was 5 PM when I heard about it. Lucky for me, the new foster parents volunteered to meet me in Hays which is only 260 miles away. When we got half way, we stopped for a bathroom break and I gave them a snack for being so good on such a long drive. The little boy took one bite of his cookie and threw up all over himself and the car seat. I cleaned him up and found his one extra shirt to put on him and then cleaned the car seat as best I could before heading out again for another 2 hours. We met up with the wonderful new foster parents at 9:30 PM and then I headed home. It was after 2 AM when I finally got back and closer to 3 before I got any sleep. Luckily, I was supposed to have the next day off but it didn’t work out that way. By 7 PM the next night I was on the road again with a teenage boy in a horrible storm with accidents all over the highway. His story would need its own trigger warning so I’m not going to elaborate because it just makes me mad every time I think about it. After four more days and 2000 miles, I was called out again on Saturday night for an 8 year old boy who had just come into the system. He wasn’t going very far but his world consisted of a backpack and not much else. I gave him a Teddy Bear so he would have something to hold onto while we drove away from one home to another one in the middle of the night. He didn’t say much, which was good for me because I didn’t know what to say except, “I heard about you and I wanted to meet you. I’m going to take good care of you and if you need me again just ask. I will be there for you no matter what.” I never mind making those kind of promises because these kids need to hear it from somebody.
After 11 straight days on the road I finally got a Sunday off. I slept late trying to recuperate from way too many hours behind the wheel and a heavy heart from sharing the pain these kids were experiencing. I hoped this week would be a little calmer but Monday night I got the call again. This time it was a teenage girl who was moving once more to a new group home in Topeka. When I told her where she was going, she broke down and cried because she hates group homes and she was really hoping for a foster home. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it while we drove but she said she really didn’t talk much. I said I shared her lack of enthusiasm for conversation and then we talked for the whole drive. At one point she sadly stated that after 5 months in the system she just doesn’t trust anybody anymore. I took that as a personal challenge and I tried my best to reassure her that things would get better. Then she asked me if I was religious and I said “Yes, I am a follower of Jesus Christ and I’m pretty sure he wants me to be here for you. Why don’t we stop for dinner somewhere so we can keep talking and I can convince you to trust me. I will not let you down.” We stopped at Freddy’s in Topeka because she had never had one of their delicious burgers. She ate and I talked about my faith and how important it is to me to work with kids who are in trouble. It was the best $8 I ever spent. We got to the group home later than expected and I had to make excuses for my late arrival but I didn’t mind stretching the truth in order to get the chance to share my faith and my mission. I told her she should tell her caseworker to request me as her driver the next time she needs to go somewhere so we can continue our conversation about faith and so I could keep proving myself to her. I cannot let her grow up thinking there is no one she can trust. That’s not going to happen on my watch!
So now, if you made it through the whole story and you’re not mad or crying or pained in some way then I didn’t do my job as a writer. The real world is a tough place for kids in foster care and they need all the help we can give them. I can’t sugar coat that enough to make it palatable and it shouldn’t be acceptable for any of the rest of us. They need us more than you can ever imagine. They need clothes, they need homes, they need food and books and friends and mentors and teachers and coaches and other people who genuinely care about them as valued members of humanity. They need YOU! That’s right, you read the whole story and now that you know the whole truth, what are YOU going to do about it? See, there’s the problem with knowledge. It’s a call to action. We can’t plead ignorance anymore when we are exposed to the truth. When you blow $4 on a cup of coffee you might have to wince a little at the reality that $4 could probably feed one of these kids for a few days. Now I can see why trigger warnings are so important to millennials. Life is complicated and harsh for a lot of people and social justice is going to require actual sacrifice and hardship, not just Tweets. Ignorance really was bliss wasn’t it? If we don’t know better we can go on being selfish and live happily ever after. That might be good for you but I can promise you it will be bad for these kids.
Now let’s wrap this up with some positive emotions. The bare minimum thing anybody can do is donate to any of the non-profits who work in this field. Money is absolutely critical to the success of their mission. If you just can’t afford to cut your budget, then maybe a gift of old clothes would be possible. I can’t count how many kids I meet who have nothing when they come into the system. Clothes make every kid feel better. And last but definitely not least, give yourself. These kids are desperate for normal human contact. You can volunteer at shelters to just read to little ones. When they start running to meet you at the door and give you the best hugs you’ll ever get, then you’ll be glad you ignored my trigger warning. I think the fruit of knowledge really is worth it.
Care to join me?