My husband passed away two years ago and I have been in search of distraction and intellectual stimulation. A local library has a free book club and I decided to try it out a year ago. I like it very much: I attend once a month and we vote on what to read. About three months ago, we read The Language of Flowers, a novel about a girl named Victoria who was raised in foster care and gives birth to a child without having had a roadmap for being a mom or attaching appropriately to her baby. The author, Vanessa Diffenbaugh, came to our group and told us her motivation for writing this book: she herself had been a foster parent to nine children.
The book was very intense and it really left me very emotionally raw, as it deals with themes of unconditional love and learning to love when you have no way to navigate it on your own. After losing my husband of over 50 years, this kind of book really shook me up, but I appreciated the opportunity to feel all of those feelings even though it can be scary.
The librarian also suggested that we do an “action” in the community related to this book. I liked this idea very much, having been a public school teacher for most of my adult life. I started teaching in the Women’s Prison in New York and I primarily taught in underserved communities with kids in need of guidance and support above and beyond what many children experience.
Representatives came from various foster care organizations around Los Angeles and spoke with us about becoming foster parents, doing work in the community, and being mentors for young people in foster care.
I recently had a practice run at this kind of work when I participated with GrokNation and my daughter, Mayim, in the “Worthy of Love” birthday party for homeless children on Skid Row. That was an incredible experience. Any kind of emotional event is very hard for me especially now, because I’m still grieving the loss of my husband. But I thought to myself that all mothers are emotionally raw, and even if something hurts, I have to try and give back something to the world despite my grief.
I signed up to attend and help provide food for a foster lunch at The Right Way Foundation, a facility where young people come together to eat and hang out and play games; sort of like a teen social club specifically designed for their needs. . This lunch was held for young adults who are transitioning from foster care into “the real world” at 18. Some had been in a foster care group residence, while others had been in individual foster care homes. At the lunch, the organization told us that they consistently need donations of the most basic necessities – like underwear and laundry detergent – that will help these young people start their lives as adults.
All of the young people in attendance received a library card and a copy of The Language of Flowers, which felt so relevant as a literal and figurative metaphor for these teenagers. It describes the significance of different types of flowers but I really resonated with the description of moss. Moss grows all over, and it attaches itself to any surface, even to rolling stones. Moss has no roots, but it manages to attach itself somehow. So, when I think of these children and teenagers growing up in foster care, it occurs to me that you can have no roots and no basis for knowing how to love, but somehow you can be able to love. It takes a lot of work if you don’t have experience attaching yourself to someone in the past, but I see organizations like The Right Way Foundation as the soil in which these children can be nurtured and inspired to become full flowers.
There is a foster care Mother’s Day celebration on May 13 for the mothers of foster care children and I plan to volunteer there more. When I went to the lunch, I was met with such love and openness by these young adults; I raised my glass of soda and I made a schmaltzy little toast to all of these wonderful young people who are going out into a world that’s scary and awesome and fabulous. I wished them good luck and Godspeed, and I look forward to opening myself up to more opportunities to be of service. As they start a new life, I sort of start a new life too.
Moss doesn’t need roots to grow. Mothers of all kinds can provide an environment to help others thrive. We often put aside our needs and our emotions to help others. And I am grateful to be able to do that.