In her newest book Julia Child Rules: Lessons on Savoring Life (available soon at local bookstores, including Broadway Books and Annie Bloom’s) Karen Karbo writes, “…one’s life is enriched immeasurably if you’re able to find an abiding passion. You don’t have to be good at it, it just has to be something that would consume every waking hour if you let it.” Enter my years as a foster parent. In the decade 1992 through 2002, my husband and I fostered over thirty-two children. Passion: It will fill your life if you let it. Who knows the origin of such an urge? Maybe it was the motley crew of pets we had when I was a child: the assorted cats and dogs, both purebred and mongrel.
The cat I dressed in doll clothes and pushed around in a stroller.
Our dog Ginger, a Sheltie, my brother Jimmy and I loved but Mom hated because the dog yapped all the time. Or the wild animal pets:
The raccoon cub that grew up and lived in our house for a couple years before it wandered off.
The river otter that my came as a pup after his mother was run over by a log truck. As a teenager, I transitioned from caretaking family pets to horses and younger children. I spent a lot of time babysitting my little sister, affectionately known as Punky.
She just looks like a kid you’d call Punky, right? (I think the photo credit for this picture goes to my Uncle Jim, but I’m not certain.)
I trained a two-year-old filly to show at the county fair. Surely, my entrance into the world of foster care must have been due, in part, to the Braack family who took me in when I was five.
I was a little girl who needed a family for a while. Doug, Pat, and their four daughters welcomed me into their home. As a young woman I became pregnant at twenty-two, a single parent at twenty-three. By the time I was twenty-six, Punky and another sister had come to live with me. I was eager to caretake others, so it was natural to open my home to them. I was bossy. I was opinionated. I was attentive. You don’t have to be good at it, it just has to be something that would consume every waking hour if you let it. After my sisters seized hold of their own lives; after I married my husband; after his three grandchildren came to live with us, you might think I would settle down with my hubby and five children and think, “Well, now, I believe I’ll just rest on my laurels.” But, no. Some people are surprised to learn that over 58% of all Americans have personal experience with adoption: they, or someone they know, have adopted or relinquished a child for adoption. Nearly 2% of all American children live in adoptive homes. These numbers are a constant reminder that everywhere we turn, children need support. I knew firsthand what it feels like to be a motherless child. All those years later, I opened my doors and said, “Come on in.” Twenty years later, I sat down to write what I had learned. Mother Up is the story of how I became the woman who says yes to children. “Yes,” to foster children who needed a home. “Yes,” to truant kids who needed support. “Yes,” to students who required intervention to stay in school. Yes, yes, yes! Mother Up is my newly completed memoir about my transformation from an uneducated, exhausted, single mother of twins to an expert foster mom sought after by child welfare agencies as a care giver for difficult-to-place children. It is the story of a child without a voice coming into her own as an advocate who speaks on behalf of a child. Passion–the passion that Karbo recognizes in Julia Child–is what drives me to care about what happens to the children, and mothers, and fathers in this world. The competent ones. The incompetent ones. The hurt, discouraged,and frightened ones. The ones that nobody wants to stand beside because of the things they have said or done. You don’t have to be good at it, it just has to be something that would consume every waking hour if you let it. It took Julia two hundred eighty-four pounds of white flour to perfect her recipe for Pain Francais. It took 1600 pounds of laughing, squirming, bickering, impish children to help me better understand myself.
Here’s one of them, learning to make pie.