I have to face it: This blog has wandered and staggered, not cleaving to the subject of my dog’s surgery or the question of communicating with animals. Will I return to these subjects? Yes, but not yet.
This evening I did meet a certified “medical service dog”, a Rhodesian ridgeback, accompanying a social worker employed by the State of Washington. The social worker told me that she and her dog had walked the entire Camino de Santiago, all the way to the sea, this past summer. They trekked more than 500 miles in just over a month. She is now planning a longer trek with her pup–from England to Rome. I didn’t ask, but she must have an opinion about whether it’s possible to “communicate with animals.”
We met in the basement of a Baptist church in Seattle’s Central District. We were invited there to celebrate the official legal adoption of a child. This was no ordinary celebration: My friend from work, Felicia, began caring for this baby boy shortly after his birth. She picked him up from the hospital once he was stable—he was born “addicted” to crack cocaine—and took him home to the nurturing love of her tightly knit, highly functional, extended family.
The story of the biological parents is complicated and sad. The shorthand version is that the mother, in her forties, was incapable of caring for the baby due to her addictions, and the father, in his fifties, floated from jail to prison, back to jail then again to prison. (He was imprisoned when the baby was born.) Felicia was called-in to help by her former husband, a brother of the baby’s mother.
Felicia has “saved” many kids over the years, giving them a chance when no one else would or could. She does this in a quiet way, without fanfare, gracefully surfing the complexities of the biological family and the court and foster care systems.
Felicia said she realized that being in her late forties with her own parenting responsibilities, she could not “raise this baby as my own.” She would have to work toward getting this little boy “free” so that he could be adopted permanently—a process that would be fraught with drama: The biological parents did not want to give up their son.
Once Felicia brought the baby home, he set about melting any reservations Felicia’s family members had about her “taking on another baby”. He woke up every day with a smile in the big house filled with the coming and goings of extended family, was bright, communicative, and loved to snuggle. He laid waste to all the hearts around him by dint of his charm. He became the “apple of everyone’s eye.”
The social worker with the dog was in charge of this case. She moved with the painfully slow speed on the State, drowning as she was in the details of many other cases of children with non-functional parents. Eventually, almost a year into his life, she found a potential foster parent for the baby boy: Patricia.
Patricia, a single woman, educated with a good job, would endure hours of scrutiny by the State and by Felicia and her extended family before she could serve as a foster mom to this growing boy. Felicia and her family functioned as a serious, but open hearted, “posse” who would only accept the very best for him.
Patricia passed muster! As she put it, “I not only got a wonderful son, I got a whole extended, loving family.” She took the baby home and kept his relationship with Felicia’s family alive.
Eventually, after another year of the biological parents’ unfortunate failing of drug tests and their string of no-shows for home-visits and court appearances, Patricia was able to formally adopt this beautiful young boy. He now has her last name.
There was not a dry eye at this celebration of the adoption. Minor and major miracles had fallen into place for this boy and his adoptive mother.
After the ceremony I chatted with Felicia’s mother about her upbringing. I wondered “What is the provenance of this kind of love and caring for family in its broadest definition?” She was raised on a plantation in northern Louisiana. Her forebears had been slaves on the plantation. Amongst her distant relatives was the slave owner himself. She told me her mother treated each of her twelve children, ten girls and two boys, equally well—there were no favorites.
Felicia’s mom, who is an influential and beloved community leader in Seattle, went on to say, “Yesterday I was stuck in traffic with my granddaughter, so to pass the time she started asking me questions. ‘Who’s your favorite sister? You must have had a favorite sister.’ I told her I don’t have a favorite sister. We weren’t raised that way. Each sister is as important to me as the others. That’s the way my mom raised us.”
She continued, “My mother taught us that we need to take each person we meet as an individual—she taught us that not all white people are bad, that we had to figure out who were the good ones and get away from the others. That lesson helped save us all a lot of grief. She taught us to believe that most people are good.”
I’m pretty sure that everyone lucky enough to be befriended by this family feels held in a special way. I know I felt that when a few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving, I returned to my desk at work to find a warm, homemade sweet potato pie wrapped in foil. No note. None needed. Every year right before Thanksgiving, the family fans out to deliver just-out-of-the-oven sweet potato pies to people across the city. It’s a tradition. Just. Wow.