Part 6: Sanctuary
“Love is like the sea. It’s a moving thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from the shore it meets, and it’s different with every shore.”
This is the fifth installment of ‘The Mourning Doves,’ an adoption story of a single mother, her daughter, and their search for a therapy dog. ‘The Mourning Doves’ is a multi-post documentary from the Invisible Obstacles Series. To start from the beginning, click here.
PLACES TOO HIGH TO SEE
Anne keeps daily watch over the nest of a mourning dove and her squabs. They are perched atop an AC unit on the porch. She’s too short to see up there, so Amelia takes pictures with her phone so Anne can monitor the babies’ progress.
As Amelia steps onto the porch to take a picture, she has to work fast. The mother dove is quick to hide her babies under-wing, protecting them from danger.
Amelia could have told Anne to climb a step-stool, or lacking one, to cobble a stack of books to stand on. That would have been sufficient – but this ritual is an opportunity. This is one more action in a sea of daily tasks, all reinforcing the same message. ‘You’re not alone. I’ll help you. Let’s do this together.’
Not every parent would make this choice. Amelia is not concerned with the decisions other parents would make – Amelia is concerned with making the right choice for Anne. In the complexity of Anne’s birth, her trauma, her challenges, and the life they have built together, only Amelia is the expert.
“I want her to remember how much I love her. I am stubborn, and will do it my way, for the benefit of my child. I want her to remember that I did everything I could for her.”
SCRAMBLING TO KEEP UP
In addition to the day-to-day parenting tasks, their struggle is compounded by a lack of understanding and compassion from the outside world.
Our society normalizes biological, two-parent, single-ethnicity families. This is what we see on our sitcoms, our advertisements, and our movies. This is what we read in children’s books. The rare exception is celebrated, but romanticized – a token. We can’t understand what we can’t see.
A nuclear family is what our schools, our employers, and our own families are trained to value and expect. Our society is designed to support a narrow definition of family, leaving everyone else to either fall through the cracks – or cling and scramble to keep up.
The only way to make life easier for families like Anne & Amelia is to understand what’s broken and change it – to make this world a safe place for everyone. The problem is, we’re all too busy with our own stuff.
WHEN WE FEEL WEAK
Despite our air-conditioning, smartphones, and vacation photos, we all struggle with a sense of scarcity. Headlines and advertisements tell us each day that we don’t have enough, we don’t do enough, we’re not good enough. We’re programmed to keep our heads down, to struggle to keep climbing so we can reach our own sanctuary. We all want to reach that safe place to rest, where we can finally gather our strength. It’s that imaginary place of aspiration, where the models in stock photos and the projects in pinterest pages are born.
We are raised to value strength, but taught that we are weak.
When we are feeling weak, how can we gather enough energy to stop our hearts from racing and step back? How can we pause, take a breath, recognize that the world isn’t doomed, we’re not doomed, and that there is hope?
What is the magic key to recognizing our strengths so we can stop living in a cloud of panic? How do we ignore the bluster of messages telling us we need to get faster, smarter, thinner, and richer so we don’t slip behind and fall through the cracks?
The magic key is to recognize that we have weaknesses, and more importantly – to accept them as okay. To stop looking up to where we wish we could be and look down – into those cracks where others have fallen, so we can give them a hand up.
This magic thing is called courage.
This is the only way to make ourselves stronger. This is the only way to keep going.
GIFT OF THE FIREBRAND
Amelia, despite her daily struggles, is a firebrand, changing the world. She’s breaking a generations-long cycle of drug abuse. Amelia does not have the picturesque life of the American dream, but she does have the strength it embodies. Amelia has reached down to help those who have fallen through the cracks.
The message in this story is not how to help Anne and her mother. They got this. They are doing the work of it all, and they are going to be okay.
This is for the rest of us.
Amelia has given us a gift. She’s opened her home and her family to us. She’s risked our judgement, our eyebrow raises, and our nasty comments. Amelia has given us an honest and vulnerable perspective into a place too high for the rest of us to glimpse. This is the sanctuary we aspire to. It’s a home of love, connection, and belonging. It’s a day full of play, and joy, and experimentation, and learning, and striving.
In exchange, she asks for nothing. She shares this perspective so you can take one step closer to understanding and compassion. She’s reaching down to the rest of us, offering a little help up in our struggle to keep going.
Amelia shows us what courage looks like.
REVOLUTION OF THE BRAVE
Amelia’s life isn’t easy. Fostering and adopting, for now, is an endeavor of only the most courageous families. It will continue to be the path of the intrepid so long as we perceive our resources as stretched and our adoption system as labyrinthian.
Caring for the weakest, most helpless members of our society – our children left behind, is a task left for a minority of foster and adoptive parents and the social workers and organizations who struggle to keep children safe. It is a task taken up not by the strongest members of our society – but by the bravest.
It won’t always be like this.
Every day, people like you and me are reaching out to help. We are working to re-think and re-structure a system that fails families with harmful policies that do more harm than good. We are helping drug addicts instead of criminalizing them. We are doing more to help children who have experienced neglect and abuse. We are changing the way we support parents. We are volunteering our time and donating our skills. The change is slow, but we’re doing it.
One day, the path of fostering and adopting won’t be so formidable. It will still be challenging – all parenting is – but the path will be more flexible, and it will be lined with the compassion and support of our larger community, rather than hindered by it.
One day, the path of kids like Anne will be safer, and happier.
THIS IS YOUR CALL TO ACTION
In exchange for this powerful gift they’ve given us – this story of courage to help lift the fog that surrounds us, Anne and Amelia have asked for nothing.
In return, the way we can thank them is to offer acceptance, understanding, and compassion. We can offer them reassurance that we see them, we hear them, and we will do our best to make the world better for families who have gone through the same thing.
Here’s how to thank them, and how to take one small courageous, world-changing step of your own
LEAVE A COMMENT
Anne & Amelia have chosen to keep their identities private for Anne’s safety. If you’d like to send them a message of solidarity – to say that you see them, hear them, and wish them well, leave a comment below. Private messages can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll forward them on to Amelia.
SUPPORT KIDS IN FOSTER CARE
Click here to directly support kids in foster care. Here, you will find ways to relieve an over-burdened system full of kids in dire need of connection. You don’t have to foster or adopt to help kids in need – sometimes all it takes is a care package, a shared link, a bike-building, a haircut, a night of respite babysitting, or a portrait to change the life of a child who has been left to fall behind.
Don’t let what happened to Anne happen to any more kids. Every tiny act of help makes life safer for kids like her. Click here to find out how to help.
SEEK TO UNDERSTAND
Learn more, and more – and more, about the snap judgements we all make, so we can cut it out, already. This article written by a mom buying soda with her overweight daughter is a good place to start. We’ll never be perfect, but we can all do better to support and encourage the families in our local community. Better yet, sign up to follow the Invisible Obstacles Series and I’ll send you notifications when new stories are available.
MAKE THERAPY DOGS ACCESSIBLE
To ensure that therapy dogs are available for families who need them (not just those who can afford them), support organizations that seek to provide therapy dogs for children regardless of income. Support organizations that seek to educate rather than monopolize the therapy dog industry, rescues dogs from shelters, and does not put the burden of fundraising on families who are already struggling.
- Sponsor a child: With your help, we can rescue shelter dogs and train them to help children like Anne. Click here to sponsor a child waiting for a therapy dog via Merlin’s Kids. Every bit of help takes the burden off families who are struggling. Learn more here.
- Volunteer with your dog: Click here to volunteer with the Good Dog Foundation. Together, you and your furry family members can learn how to offer therapy support to those in need throughout the northeast US and at disaster sites throughout the country. Learn more here.
- Become an advocate: Wondering if a therapy dog would be right for a child in your life? Click here to learn more about the differences between companion, therapy, and services dogs, and how they can help. Learn more.
Later in the day, they are at the clubhouse, finishing up Anne’s math lesson. As she climbs down the stairs to leave, Anne stops for a moment. She looks out the window, where we see a view of their apartment just across the alley.
From here, she can see the mourning dove and her squabs. From this place that her mother has brought her, she has a view of places she’s still too small to reach. She can see the places she will go one day.
This schedule of lessons and routines, the way they stretch to make ends meet, cobble together training plans and therapies, the millions of small decisions Amelia makes throughout the day, the arms she cradles Anne with – these are the bricks of Anne’s safe place – this is her sanctuary.
Sanctuaries are not found. They are built. They are built on the ground you stand on.
The decision is yours. You can move on and keep searching. Or you can stop scrambling, and start building.
This is the sixth and final installment of ‘The Mourning Doves,’ a multi-post documentary from the Invisible Obstacles Series. Check out the other posts here:
Part 1: Her Protector
Part 2: Restraint
Part 3: Warrior
Part 4: Winging It
Part 5: Good Stuff
Part 6: Sanctuary [You are here]
This session is from the Invisible Obstacles Series. Families in the Invisible Obstacles series provide a glimpse into daily life while navigating adversity. Names and locations of minors may have been changed to protect privacy. Permission & quotes attributed to Amelia R. unless otherwise specified.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links (all profits fund this series). If you’d like to support the Invisible Obstacles Series, find out how on Patreon.