Photo by Betsy Biddle Lange

I love looking at rock patterns in the natural. Without pre-purposed design, a group of stones, all different colors, shapes and sizes fit together as a composition of balance that would not be possible if all of the rocks were identical.

They would not fit.

During my middle to high school years, I attended school in Louisiana: mostly in the suburbs of Greater New Orleans. Growing up in New Orleans can be exciting, especially around any holiday because the people of NOLA love an excuse to party.

We lived in a middle class neighborhood on the bank of a large canal. The neighborhood of small brick homes, contained an eclectic mix of people with varying ethnicity and life styles. There were cajun natives with their unique french/creole accents; Vietnamese and Mexican to name a few. Professions ranged from commercial shrimpers to businessmen. We were a real managerie of humans that accepted each other at face value.

In our neighborhood, we would ocassionally band together for no reason at all and have an oyster shucking or a crab boil. Especially when Mr. LaBlanc had a bumper haul of shrimp and crabs. There was a sense of belonging as each neighbor contributed to a block party with what they had on hand.

I remember my dad shucking oysters by the sackful, taunting the kids, good naturedly to eat them raw. The kids ran unfettered in the streets while the adults cooked, had cocktails, laughed and ate. We were unafraid and wild. It was exhillerating and safe. I was as rough and tumble as the boys. I fit in.

The biggest party of all, in New Orleans, was Mardi Gras. Week after week of parties, parades, beads and doubloons rocked the entire city with non stop festivities. We would go to the parades in my dad’s truck, which he backed up to the street. Piled into the truck bed, we were filled with absolute wonderment as the floats passed by. Magical scenes, unfolded with glittered bejeweled and bedazzled decorations. Atop each float stood multiple costumed and masked riders waving, smiling and throwing small treasures of beads or shiny coins to the screaming crowds. Not to be passed over, my brothers, cousins and I would stand up in the truck bed waving our arms and yelling at the top of our lungs… “Throw me something Mister!” to the crewe.

But after the last parade on Fat Tuesday, when King Rex passed by, the party ended. Mardi Gras ended.

And it was time to pay the piper.

New Orleans, with all of its culture and mystique, boasts a very large Catholic community. So, as Fat Tuesday, with its revelry and pomp concluded, the observance of Lent commenced

. The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, meant that every Catholic man, woman and child went to church to receive a small cross of ashes on their forehead as a reminder of their journey of penitence while they move towards Easter.

But I was not Catholic.

So, as a child, I did not know or understand why it seemed everyone (but me) had a mark on their foreheads. When I asked, I was given spurious looks and scoffing laughs. How ridiculous that I didnt know about Lent.

It was the only time of the year that I felt different. I felt alone. Normal meant having the symbol on my forehead. Ashes symbolizes a special club that everyone but me held the golden ticket of inclusion.

I was different. I didnt fit in.

I used to think about burning some paper and putting ashes on my own forehead for that one day. But my mom told me that it would be insensitive and insulting.

Huh. Maybe. But I wouldn’t stick out like a pod person.

Fitting in is so important to kids.

All kids.

Foster children often feel like they dont fit in.

Because they could not live with their parents safely, someone decided to place them with strangers. These strangers have their own routines, traditions and “ways” that the new child is not yet privy to. Can you imagine how that must be?

Take a second and imagine.

Seriously. Close your eyes and picture this.

Think of your family, your wife, husband, parents, children, brothers and sisters…even your dog. When you think of them, your mouth turns up in the corner in an unconscious smile, doesnt it?

You love them. Even when there are difficulties…you love them. Being with them brings you joy.

Now imagine someone came to your house and informed you that you were leaving all of your loved ones that night. You are given no choice. You must go. You are allowed to quickly pack a few items before you are whisked into a car and dropped off at the home of a stranger.

Imagine the look on your loved ones faces as you leave. What do you think? Why you? What did you do to make this happen?

The new family is good, kind and seem to care for you.

But they are not your family.

And they do some things you dont understand. They bow their heads and say a strange chant about “God is great…God is good” before each meal. They all joke about some character from a favorite television show they watch together. They go bowling every friday. You have never bowled. So, even when they try to encourage you to try, you just sit and watch.

They cheer for the wrong football team, have never been hunting and have an obsession with brushing their teeth twice a day.

You dont fit in.

Foster children often talk about (those that open up) the feeling of being “different”. The feeling of being a “foster”.

The kids at school, despite confidentiality laws, all seem to know they are a “foster”. Even if they are unprovoked, foster children often have difficulty fitting in; fighting, poor school performance, resistance towards authority are all common threads in their tapestry of hurt and betrayal.

Unequipped to impassionately Express their pain, their fear, their anxiety…often it is easier for them to Express their anger. And, more often than not, because the foster parents are “safe” targets, they get the brunt of the acting out behavior.

Trauma informed foster parents understand the reality behind the roar! Good, well supported foster parents can help the child process and move through the stages of grief.

Because these children are grieving.

They said goodbye, not only to their families, but to their dog, their friends…their very way of life. Compiled upon the trauma of being abused came the trauma of losing it all.

As painful and sad as this information may be to think about, as a social worker, it is important to remember.

When you are called to the school after another fight, remember. When you are contacted by a foster parent at wits end over the behavior of their foster child, remember.

It’s so easy to go to the place of shame and blame.

“Manipulative kid”

“Fast girl”

“Bad kid”

I challenge you to two very important tasks.

1. Remember what’s behind the behavior. Dig deeper than the labels to reveal the hurt. Demonstrate patience, understanding that the healing process is slow and often fraught with set backs. Dont give up on this child, but dont expect fast results.

2. Support the foster parent. They live with this hurt soul every day. They are not calling you to “bug” you or to be demanding. They are reaching out for support. You may arrange for treatment, but they are the healers. They are the ones that demonstrate every day to that child that love doesnt have to hurt. But foster parents are humans too. They need you to be there for them when the road becomes rocky and hard to travel.

Being “normal” is important to children. Recognize their need for belonging and steel yourself for a long process of helping them to heal. Support the ones who took them in and made them family. Together, you will be instrumental in helping the child discover how their piece of the rock fits in to become a part of a beautiful tableau.

23 thoughts on “Fitting In

  1. It is hard to realize how much pain kids go through with no way to express it often except by “acting out.” I was one of those who “acted in,” which went well in school, but didn’t make me fit in any better.

    Liked by 2 people

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