5 min read
RAISING A CHILD YOUR OWN AGE
A few weeks after he was reported missing, I believed my little brother was dead.
Ian’s life depended on getting the help he needed.
And not in the metaphorical sense. Unfortunately getting that kind of help requires you not be a missing person.
It was a cold December (2016) in the midwest. Last seen walking alongside the road at 3am through the most dangerous city in the entire United States, nobody even knew where to start looking.
At one point, it looked like the likeliest outcome was foul play or suicide. That was before we realized his disappearance — while unplanned — was anything but unintentional.
The dude just ran away. He wrecked a car and just took off.
There would be one silver lining. He’d get real good at an obscure talent, like the bucket drums. We all dream of playing the bucket to a sold out parking lot.
Anyway, let’s get back to our story. Here’s Ian's rags-to-riches-to-rags tale.
Most assume a few things when they hear someone is homeless, unhealthy, lost and needs help. So let me clarify: he absolutely does not have a drug problem, a drinking problem (unless you count doing dumb shit when he’s drunk, in which case we’re all in big trouble), doesn’t care much for cannabis (terrible decision but hey, more for me!), isn’t a criminal and wouldn’t hurt a fly (♫ for a white guy ♫).
It’s worse: he was a foster kid.
Very rarely are foster children in that situation without parents who abused, neglected or behaved recklessly around them. This is not my opinion. This is an empirical fact.
Picture a room full of a hundred foster babies.
Six came from a drug-free pregnancy.
So, specifically how screwed are these kids? Let’s check out the odds foster children stare down every day as compiled by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):
94% of infants had a history of maternal alcohol/substance use. Ninety-four! Picture a room full of a hundred babies. Six of them came from a drug-free pregnancy. They’ll be fussy, skinny and show small physical symptoms if they’re lucky. We won’t go over what happens if they’re not.
78% come from homes where drugs are the reason for their placement. Looks like the drug war is going well! Because like any war, children are prioritized last.
Over 20% of children had growth abnormalities, 30% had neurologic abnormalities, and 16% had asthma. The roadblocks, adversity, and disadvantages they face continue to pile up before they’re even born.
Fewer than 20% of children had no medical conditions, while 28.8% had three or more. Picture five orphans—one isn’t sick. And it’s more likely you have three diagnosed diseases or disorders than zero.
The other 80% of children had developmental, emotional, or behavioral problems. So, picture the same group of five kids. Four of them are going to get shit on by the silent, complicated diseases that happen right behind your eyes.
Every one of these numbers gets worse with each additional foster home placement. Variety is not the spice of life. Giving a shit about others is all the rage right now; you should totally try it.
For more depressing stats, read the study. JAMA is an international peer-reviewed medical journal which began publication in 1883.
Keep all this context in mind.
Ian was the victim of severe physical and psychological child abuse alongside profound parental neglect. It lasted over a decade until he mercifully was pulled from his toxic home and became my brother through the foster care system.
He was ten, I was eleven. One day we learned we’d be sharing my parents until his got their shit together.
Fast forward to today. We’re both 27 and can safely say they will not be getting their shit together. He is my brother and that ain’t gon’ change.
I got my own place a few months back. I’m incredibly lucky with the resources I’ve come into just by doing what I love (this). The new place also allowed me to take Ian under my wing.
The location made finding a job easy for Ian — he got hired on the spot a popular bar.
And since his only access to money was through my wallet he was forced to eat vegetables instead of Burger King.
Then another break happened: yesterday, after four weeks of back-and-forths and another four rounds of intense interviews, he got a big break: Ian was offered, and accepted, a corporate post at one of the most respected restaurants in town. In fact, the Obamas ate there and ordered takeout for their entire Secret Service detail.
Good things happen when you put your ass where your heart wants to be.
But if we're being honest here (as I tend to), history says he won't last more than a few months at the same company. That's actually a trait most people would tell you we share, albeit for wildly different reasons. I disagree with them. The way I see things, I've had one job since college and I'll have one job the rest of my life.
I'll just do it for lots of different people.
Better lives make better stories. That's why I'm so fascinated by the lives of my foster brothers. We had fifteen over the years, but thirteen through the Division of Family Services. Then we adopted four.
If nothing else, it has been fascinating. The drama they encounter and the richness of their interactions drove me to write. Those loons who I call my brothers to this day (unless I'm pissed off) were the original spark of the hobby that birthed my career!
Pain gives art meaning.
Without a story and a context, meaning cannot arise. Storytelling signs Meaning’s checks, is what I’m saying.
The stories we tell ourselves shape reality.
Ian's story made him homeless. His story might get him again some day, too. More likely than not, even.
Yet my favorite thing about storytelling is what Pixar calls the "all is lost moment." That's when the second act ends in crisis and sets up a triumphant third-act resolution.
Or, to phrase it more colloquially: shit's gotta be thoroughly fucked before anyone celebrates you un-fucking it.
So now it's time to pop champagne and enjoy this moment in the actual moment. Let's celebrate the dedication, patience, and toughness he displayed and let's hope it gets him through his next obstacle a little smoother.
Just remember he's not fixed and he never will be. But that's okay because neither will you, by the way. In the real world all we can be tomorrow is a little less broken than we were today.
That's not pessimism, it's poetry.
Ian was a homeless dude crashing on my couch and living off my PB&J stash, then rallied from behind and outkicked his coverage with an incredible job. He became a little less broken.
The truth is the universe's most powerful weapon. But truth bombs leave a hell of a crater. And you'll almost certainly have an "all is lost" moment immediately after it goes boom.
So, hang in there. Because in a minute, shit's gonna get totally un-fucked.
And the crowd goes wild.