Our family is in the midst of becoming licensed to provide Transitional Foster Care, giving a temporary home to unaccompanied children seeking asylum at the border. I wanted to participate in the program as soon as I heard about it because it sounded like a meaningful way for my whole family to do something impactful by developing real relationships.
One part of the licensing process is a series of interviews called a home study. A licensing specialist visits your home and asks questions about everything from childhood experiences to marriage stability to parenting style. Recently we received a draft of our home study report based on our interviews. We were asked to read it to make sure that what we said was captured accurately.
As I read it, I couldn’t shake the idea that “This is my life condensed to 17 pages.”
It made me think about the memoirs I read – and I am attempting to write. Which stories have been included and which ones left out? How much of a picture can a story show? What purpose can it serve? How can our understanding of experiences change over time?
The Bold World by Jodie Patterson, this month’s peacemaker’s book club pick, is one such memoir. Beyond a book about raising a transgender child, a boy named Penelope, this book is about Patterson‘s life with all of its influences of culture, race, family, and legacy layered with a discussion of identity, gender, expectations, marriage, and motherhood. It held so much, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was only a small part of the story.
Even if only a part, it still made me think and wonder. Here are a few takeaways.
Maya Angelou spoke at Patterson’s graduation from Spelman, saying “Bring your people with you. Bring everyone that has loved you with you…”
Patterson writes, “I started to understand what Dr. Angelou was telling us. She was talking about family and memory, and the power of both combined. About holding on to collective energy and to a love that surrounds us…” p. 52
I often think about the importance of legacy, about what I want my children to know and to remember when they grow up. I share my memories and have them listen to the stories of their elders. I have notebooks upon notebooks with stories and learnings.
How can I make sure they understand what is most meaningful? How can I know that myself? How can I help them to understand that we are always still learning? Patterson talks about one aha moment she has on her journey of understanding.
“Once you can clearly see the urgency in front of you, you let go of that which is less important. You let it go because it no longer needs to be held so tightly…For me, that thing was the clothing, the hair, the words – those details we assign stories to. But the true energy, I discovered – that which wholeheartedly needs our protection – is called Penelope…his soul, nothing else.” p. 196
Children can provide a broader lens to humanity, and at the same time clarify things. They live in a state of wonder, experimentation, and discovery, often without the weight of legacy and expectations. At the same time, they are influenced…
“I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, children rise – they rise to the highest vibration around them. If there is goodness, a child will find it. If there is strength, that is what they become. And when there is love, there is always an anchor.” p. 257
So how can we (as adults) guide in love, guide our children and ourselves?
One step, Patterson says, is “…breaking the silence. Once that’s done, you can begin to fill the space with something good – good information, good dialogue, good feeling, good progress.” p. 262
We each have so much that we can share – much more than 17 pages in a report. We can let the process be a tool. The interviews and Patterson’s book, they start with remembering, what it is like to be a child, to be a part of a family, and to live in a community. If we are lucky, we start to see the complexity and beauty of it all – the mistakes and beliefs that have changed over time alongside unshakeable truths and lasting bonds.
All of it gives us a foundation.
From that we are challenged to build up, to welcome a new generation into the fold, new children with new views and experiences, that may struggle as we did, that need our love. And we will give it to them and hopefully learn from them, and we’ll do this over and over again.
Patterson, Jodie. The Bold World: A Memoir of Family and Transformation. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2019. Print.