by Barb Holtan,
TLS Adoption Worker
From Tressler Family Connections
I HAVE BEEN SPENDING MY Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the past several months at York Hospital doing a "student internship" there as part of my Masters in Social Work program. While I would much prefer to be here at TLS on those days, I must admit that I have learned a lot and picked up a lot of medical terminology and such which I can use here and have gotten a sense of how hospitals run. The hospital social workers always review a patient’s chart before going in to see the person and rely a lot on the Admissions form which gives all the pertinent data on the patient. There is a slot for "occupation" and in the Pediatric cases, this is filled in as "Occupation: CHILD".
I reflected on this one day on my drive home. So many of the children whom we place for adoption never had the opportunity to pursue this occupation. Forced by family circumstances to fend for themselves – or worse – initiated into adult activities when still children – these kids are robbed of what should be occupying their days: being a child.
They often present as cocky, world-weary or mistrustful. They snicker and sneer at promises; they may exhibit sexual knowledge well beyond their years and "street smarts" which most of us can’t imagine.
In early July, I traveled to New York to attend the funeral of an uncle. As families will, we gathered that evening after the somberness of the day to catch up with each other’s lives. I had the chance to spend time with my now-adult cousins and spouses. We had all grown up together and reminisced about old times and laughed at many of the nice memories. Having been given the gift of having loving, stable families, we had lots of good things to remember. Also, having been young children in the 1950’s, it really had been rather like "Leave It To Beaver": a protected and gentle existence where we grew up slowly and were held back from – rather than pushed into – the adult world too quickly.
And then I returned to TLS and read yet another history on a child who needs to be adopted. And the history was all-too-familiar and all-too-chilling as this child, like so many others who wait, had been plummeted into the adult world much too soon and before she had the intellectual or emotional wherewithal to cope with it.
When these kids enter adoptive placement, a big part of what the new parents must work at is to allow the child to experience: "Occupation: CHILD".
The cocky and street smart kids must be told and shown: "Me parent. You Child". They are desperate for this – although they rail against it. They are desperate to believe you – although they test you repeatedly and unremittingly.
The world-weary child must be shown the wonders of the world: oceans – a hug at bedtime – ripe tomatoes from the garden – a pie they help to make – soccer practice – a parent’s smile of approval. The parents must ignite that spark of childhood once again.
The mistrustful kids (and there are so many of them and they have such a right to be this way…) must be shown over and over and over: "You are ours. We won’t let you down. You can relax and be a child".
Way too soon we all have to fill in that "occupation" blank with something else. When we do, how fortunate we are if we have good childhood memories on which to base that adulthood.