Becoming a Foster

It was one of those weeks. I feel like my most significant accomplishment was reminding myself of the difference in accent aigu and accent grave. My high school French teacher would be proud. Guess I’m ready to head to Paris—oh, wait, I can’t go anywhere.

I’ve been trying to find little projects to break the monotony of working at home. On Monday I tried a new cake recipe for my youngest daughter’s 19th birthday. It was a disaster; I should stick with what I know. I can’t believe my baby is almost out of the teens: it seems like just yesterday that it was April 19, 2001, and I was having labor pains at work. I remember my co-worker advising me, “Do whatever you can to keep that baby in. You don’t want her born on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing.”

Sure enough, the day did pass and Emmy entered the world on April 20. No one had stopped to think about the fact that April 20 is a horrid trifecta: the anniversary of Columbine, Hitler’s birthday, and the internationally recognized “weed day.” It is fitting that Emmy’s birth date is so notorious, because—from the time she arrived on the scene with hair so long it needed a barrette—Emmy is difficult not to notice. It is not just the decibel level of her voice; it is her whole physical presence. I don’t say this as criticism; instead, I envy the way in which Emmy commands attention, has her own language, and makes people belly laugh. There’s just something about that smile. I admire her personality that’s larger than life, and I have learned from her heart that is as forgiving as it is loving. Most of all, I respect her faith and her commitment to her friends and family. It’s as if God knew Emmy had to be that much more special as antidote to the bad forces inherent with her birth date.

As a project during COVID-19, and to bond with Emmy, I started watching The Fosters, which at the time was her favorite show. (Those of you with teens know that “favorite” is a relative and transient term). I think Emmy has lost interest in the show, or perhaps it just dropped a notch in merit because her boomer mom started watching it. Regardless, the show is a train wreck that makes you stop and watch. I ration myself to two episodes a day, one at lunch and one at night. If you haven’t heard of it, The Fosters was a trailblazing drama, ending in 2018, about a biracial, lesbian couple with five biological, adopted and foster teenagers. The plots touch on child abuse, adultery, abortion, sex trafficking, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, transgenderism, alcoholism, immigration, addiction, college admissions scandals, gun violence, prison reform, and charter schools… and that’s just season 1!

Although I can’t relate to The Fosters, it’s oddly relatable. The parents who sit up in bed, talking and worrying about their teens: I’ve been there. The late night when you listen for the car pulling into the driveway: been there. The child whose life path you wonder about: ditto. The need to carve out some time for your marriage, for remembering who you were before children came along: been there, done that. Fortunately, my husband and I never had to endure the painful chaos of one child being in jail while another was dangerously depressed and a third was in the ICU. The Fosters’ sagas are simultaneously exhausting and exhilarating to me.

Certainly the Fosters—Lena and Stefanie—are not real, but to me (surely because of my home isolation), they have become so. I worry they’re getting enough sleep. I want to shake those kids and tell them to not act out. Just. For. One. Day. I think what draws me most to The Fosters is that the show is a poignantly real representation of familial love and concern. The children are not bad kids; they are lovable and real, and the parents are so unconditional in their imperfect devotion to them. No matter how messy your family gets, it’s the one part of your life that matters more than anything else… that makes you drop everything and hold your breath.

The Foster family with all their problems makes mine look tame. My linen closet is a mess, but no daughter is dealing drugs. I baked a cake that could double as a door stop, but we’re not coping with a traumatic brain injury. Perhaps what’s been so therapeutic about binge watching The Fosters is that for an hour it takes me away from my concern for our nation’s healthcare workers; it keeps me from thinking about the lonely elderly friends I have; it makes my daughter’s sty of a bedroom smell of roses. No matter what the real news is, the Fosters are undoubtedly facing worse. And staying together.

Ever so gradually, the Fosters are effecting quarantine-era delirium in me. I have found myself irrationally consumed with how often the Fosters grocery shop and how overflowing their fruit bowl is (yet I never see anyone eat fruit, nor does any of it ever go bad). Their bedroom décor makes me wonder about the life of a set decorator and how such discordant colors are chosen to co-exist. One day I hit “pause” repeatedly to try to figure out where the pipes run in the new garage apartment. That was the evening I told my husband it was about time the Fosters expanded their house, and realized I was over-sharing.

In the early days of watching the show, I was annoyed by the fact that Stef, a tough cop and one of the moms, addressed everyone with “my love” (as in, “We’ll get you out of that crack house, my love”) but over time, that term of endearment has become as reassuring as my favorite flannel. I even tried it out on my blue heeler Reese for an entire day (“Please stop passing gas, my love”) and thought about using that greeting with my husband and kids—but the words stuck in my sarcastic throat.

I will forever associate these COVID days with Lena, Stef, Brandon, Jude, Callie, Jesus and Mariana: my temporary friends and housemates. I’m not sure I should recommend watching The Fosters to gain perspective during this quarantine, but it does take you outside yourself. Although their family may not look like mine, they are functioning as all our families should during crises. Together. And one day at a time.

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