Have you ever noticed that when you really have somewhere to be, something bigger needs your attention? If you’ve not experienced it…we’re hiring! As I turned out the lights and put the key in the door last night, one of our girls came down to help me load up the car and casually mentioned “I’m signing out of care this week to go and live with my birth mom?” I glanced at my watch, texted my boss, took a deep breath and said “let’ talk.”
Listening to the logic, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen when she left? The birth mom had been absent for 17 years and if that was Plan B, it was worth talking through. As we sorted through the issues, several things were obvious. Attending school was not very exciting. The years of ditching class to go read a book in the media center or lingering a bit too long at the bus lanes had resulted in a sizable number of unexcused absences and failing grades. Catching up seemed like an insurmountable task that would have a quicker ending with a GED.
Failed apartment inspections were resulting in consequences that for a teen seemed unrealistic. The loss of a phone. Looking back on the two years ago when we first met, I wasn’t sure we would make it past the first week. Despite staffing after staffing to preserve her placement, the reality was, consequences were a deal breaker. It took over a year to find a balance of what behavior warranted throwing down the gauntlet as opposed to entering into peace talks. But eventually, a compromise was reached that seemed to be working.
But the age of 18 feels different. For a child in the foster care system, 18 means “I can make my own decisions.” And while that might be true, making decisions means living with the consequences. A co-worker entered the room and heard the conversation before putting down her purse to contribute. A third co-worker passed through before hopping on the “Peace Train” to see how we could assist.
Listening to the struggles of 17 years of drifting from home to home can be tough to hear. Changing homes often, failed adoptions, multiple school disruptions, and relationships that have not stood the test of time can leave one feeling defeated. As we talked through what life would look like sleeping on a stranger’s sofa, having no education, leaving the support system that has invested so many hours in making life better, and being totally dependent on someone who could simply say “get out” did not make sense. Through tear stained cheeks and eventually laughter, we decided to continue on the journey together.
Riding the “Peace Train” with a child who is in crisis can be tough. It means hugging the rails when the tracks split to go in a different direction. It’s sitting in coach while working together to save to get into First Class. It means watching scenery pass by the windows that is sometimes beautiful and sometimes dismal. But the take away is this. Trains are meant to carry us to our next destination. They make many stops along the way and there are many models. Whether you’re riding China’s new Fuxing train that travels at lightening speed, or the Glacier Express across that crawls across the Swiss Alps the train will take you places. The object is the game is to let it take you to a better destination than the one you’ve left.
As we hugged and turned out the lights to go home, I couldn’t help but feel like today the train stop was productive. If you are in a position where you can be a conductor, load your boxcars with passengers who board the Peace Train. Sometimes, talking someone through a decision that might ultimately derail the rest of their life is worth riding the Glacier Express.
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