Monday, January 30, 2017

My Letter to Ellen (3.0)

This was such a special day. Glad I could be there to celebrate you, E.
As many of you may or may not but probably may know, I have a deep and abiding belief that Ellen DeGeneres is an angel/miracle worker who can make anyone's dreams come true.

If you watch her show or follow her on any of her social media accounts, you likely believe this, as well. 
I mean, look at this list of ways Ellen has changed lives. She doesn't mess around.

Being the daydreamer I am, I often imagine what wish I would make if I were ever in Ellen's presence. I like to keep a small running list in the back of my mind- just in case. There are some practical things (like some help with odd jobs around the house or a car with more room for car seats) and some fun things (like a vacation or a night out with 
Michelle Obama). 
I'd gladly do any of these things with her any day.
But ultimately, I have one main wish that surpasses all the others.

And that is saying something- because one wish I've consistently had for years is to be set up on a date with Josh Groban, and word on the street is he's single this year, so that's a totally normal, realistic, and not at all creepy wish to have.

I agree.
If I could ask Ellen for just one thing, it would be this: 


I'd ask her to dedicate her annual Mother's Day show to foster moms.

If you haven't read my past two letters and don't want to read all of this one, there are two main reasons I want this to happen:

  1. It would be a great way to celebrate badass women who do some hard and amazing things.
  2. It would raise awareness about such an important issue in our country today. And during National Foster Care Awareness month, no less!
Obviously my personal experience makes me a little bit biased, but the concept of a Foster Mother's Day episode honestly seems perfect to me. Ellen loves making the world a better place! She ends every show by encouraging people to "be kind to one another," so it would fit perfectly with who Ellen is and the message she shares with the world. 
So do we, Ellen. So do we.
And did I mention the episode would fall during Foster Care Awareness month? Because it would.

I feel so strongly about this that I've committed to writing her a letter suggesting it every year until it becomes a reality. This is my third try, and I hope that it (like many third tries) is a charm. Because writing these letters and finding the perfect gifs for them is time consuming. 

If you happen to agree and think a Foster Mother's Day episode would be neat, I'd be honored if you read and shared this letter

Tweet out the link, post it on Instagram, share it 50 times on her Facebook page... whatever. (Here's an abbreviated version: http://bit.ly/2kL5KAF if needed!)  Maybe if enough people share it enough times, she'll actually see it! (Or someone on her staff will, who would then maybe share it with her.) 

In an effort to be strategic, I think it'd be helpful to coordinate sharing and time them for Wednesdays- starting Feb 1st. But if you want to share it other days, I will not object. If you have other friends who would be up for sharing it, pass it along to them, too!

Be sure to tag Ellen when applicable- and use the hashtags #BeKindToOneAnother and #FosterMoms4Ellen if you can squeeze them in there. (I tried to think of a better- or at least shorter- hashtag, but apparently that's not my gift.)
Also be sure to make it public if you're using social media- that way it can be seen and shared!

And on the off chance that you/someone you know is an acquaintance or best friend of Ellen's,  I’ll give you a hand written version to pass along to her directly. If we’re all just 7 degrees from Kevin Bacon, we have to be only 5 or 6 from Ellen. She seems to know a lot of people, so if you're one of them... hit me up.

____________________

Hello there, Ellen!

You might not know this, but I’ve written to you quite a bit over the past few years. I think all of my letters and emails have gotten lost en route, though, because I haven’t heard back from you.

Yet.

This is year three of my annual tradition- writing you a letter in an effort to share a really great show idea.

I think it’s really great, at least. And I have a feeling you’d agree if you saw it.

But first, let me introduce myself.

My name is Kaley. I’m a 29-year-old social worker living in Waco, TX. Like many people, I intend to spend my life living fully by doing things I love and care about.

Sometimes I strive toward that goal by spending time with friends and family, attempting crafts I find on Pinterest, or eating too much Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting. I’m a pretty average young adult in that way. 
(How long can I label myself as a young adult? Is there a cap on that? Probably neither here nor there right now, but I’m curious.)

I've also decided to live fully by becoming a foster parent, which I suppose makes me a little bit unique among my age group.

I’ve been a foster parent for about three years now, and I could likely write a short novel on the journey it’s been. In an effort to save us both time, though, I’ll stick with the Spark Notes version for now.

I’m going to skip over the years leading up to it and begin with September 2014- when my foster care journey officially began. That's the month I completed all the requirements and signed licensure paperwork, making my "foster parent" title official. On paper, at least. It became official in a more tangible sense two weeks later, when I got a call about my first placement. 

There was a mom scheduled to give birth in the next few days, and her baby needed a home immediately. I eagerly said yes and, like most moms-to-be (although at a slightly faster pace), I started preparing. A few days later, on September 26th, I went to the hospital to pick up my first foster son. Miraculously, the hospital staff let me leave with him (I had no clue what I was doing) and, even more miraculously, a judge let me leave a courthouse as his forever, legal mom 15 months later! It wasn’t even remotely what I expected to happen 2 ½ years ago, but every day I am remarkably grateful as I think about the magnitude of that gift and responsibility.

After my son’s adoption, we spent a few months enjoying time as a family of two and getting re-licensed to open our home up for more placements. We finalized that process in October of 2016, and one week later I got a call about a 12 year old boy. One hour after that, T1 arrived on my doorstep, and my world shifted again. Caring for a 12-year old has challenged and stretched me in some big ways, but just as I felt like I was maybe sort of starting to get the hang out it, things changed again. In December, I found out T1’s brother needed a new placement and, long story short, we became- and currently remain- a family of four.

I’ve had 3 placements in 3 years, but I still feel inexperienced in the world of foster parenting. I’ve definitely learned a lot, though, and I have gained a tremendous amount of respect for the people who sacrifice so much to take on this role.

As a foster mom, I've had to sacrifice my:
  • time, 
  • finances,
  • physical and emotional energy, 
  • mental health,
  • paid time off at work, 
  • and my ability to do things like spend time with friends and family, travel, sleep in past 6AM, stay out past midnight, make last-minute plans with anyone, Netflix-marathon Gilmore Girls: Year in the Life in one sitting, and generally live a “normal” 29-year-old-single-lady life. 
And that’s not even an exhaustive list. Being a foster mom is freaking hard, and some days the only thing saving me from careening over the brink of insanity is the knowledge that there’s a bottle of wine with my name on it waiting for me after the kids go to sleep. Real talk.
Thank you, wine.
The thing is, being a foster parent opens your heart up to so much love and joy- which simultaneously leaves it open to a lot of grief and pain. It really requires a unique sense of vulnerability, because you have to balance two very different truths and figure out a way to carry them both at the same time.

In one hand, you hold the truth that these children are your own. You open up space for them in your home and heart, and you care for them as though you gave them life and will walk them through it from start to finish. You love them completely and without condition, because that's what parents do.

But in the other hand, you hold the truth that there’s another family out there- one they could return to any day. You have to accept that, no matter how much love you pour into them, they might not remember your name- or you at all- years down the road.

And those are hard realities to reconcile.

But even so, foster parents stick with it because this work is important. 
And it is so desperately needed.

And I have to believe- especially on the hard days- that it makes an impact. Not just in the lives of the children in care, but on the lives they touch, and the lives they touch, and so on and so forth until it spreads throughout the world.

It may sound cheesy or cliché, but it astounds and humbles me just thinking about it. That impact is one of the things that makes this responsibility so beautiful and rewarding.

Which brings me to the purpose of this letter. Every May, you have a wonderful Mother’s Day show where you celebrate women doing an amazing thing- bringing life into the world. Your audience is filled with women proudly rocking their baby bumps, and it's one of the best shows of the year.

But over the past three years, my eyes have been opened to the many mothers out there whose stories aren’t often celebrated- or even shared. From women who are led to foster care because they are unable (or choose not) to have children biologically, to women who foster just so kids can experience safety and love before finding permanency with their biological or adoptive families- there are many mothers out there who don’t necessarily bring lives into the world, but they certainly work hard to make sure those lives thrive. Their stories are complex and challenging, but they are also beautiful and very much worth telling.

I think it would be amazing to host a Foster Mother’s Day show celebrating these women.  Not only because they deserve it for the love they selflessly give, but because it would inform millions of your viewers about a really important issue. 

Did you know that in the United States, more than 400,000 children are living without permanent families in the foster care system? And more children enter than leave each year.* In many states- like my own- there is such a shortage of foster families that children wind up sleeping in CPS offices for nights at a time.** 

There are so many things- big and small- your viewers can do about this, but they may not even be aware of them.  They could donate items to children in care, volunteer with an organization that supports biological families working toward reunification, register to provide respite care for foster families, or could even become foster parents themselves.

I’ve been amazed by how little most people seem to know about the reality of fostering. Many people tell me, “I could never do that!” without having an accurate understanding of what it’s like. Because of this, I'm passionate about changing people’s misconceptions by being honest about my experience- both the joys and the challenges- in my conversations and writing, but I know your voice can carry a lot further than mine. (According to my very formal Wikipedia research, your show averaged 3.9 million viewers per episode in 2011, which is a pretty incredible sphere of influence).  

I also know you use your voice to make a positive impact on the world- it’s one of the many reasons I admire you.

I know you can’t support every cause people point you toward, but I at least wanted to ask you to support this one. May is National Foster Care Awareness month, too, so it could be perfect!

I’m not sure if this will actually reach you, but, if it does, I’d be so grateful if you’d even consider this. Whether you think about making a change to the Mother’s Day show or share this information in some other way, I really believe it could make such a difference for the kids across the country in need of safe homes and loving families.

Regardless of whether or not this letter changes anything, I really am thankful for all you do to make the world a better place. You bring so much joy to so many people, which is why you always make my list when I answer the classic getting-to-know-you question: “What five people- dead or alive- would you invite to a dinner party?” There’d be so much good conversation and dancing.

Thank you for being kind.

All the best,

Kaley

(p.s.- I realize it may seem a little self-serving to make this suggestion given the fact that I am a foster mom myself, but I would be totally fine if you did this and I wasn't there- I'd imagine there are plenty of other foster moms who could fill an audience.)

(I mean, I wouldn’t complain if I was there, but I’d be genuinely thrilled to watch from afar, too.)

(pps- I’ve had a few years to imagine what this show would look like, and I have some celebrity guest ideas if you need them. I've been told Sandra Bullock and Nia Vardalos were both foster moms! I don't know either of them personally, though, so I can't confirm the validity of that statement.)



*AFCARS report, 2015: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/trends_fostercare_adoption2014.pdf

**http://www.mystatesman.com/news/state--regional-govt--politics/texas-foster-children-slept-state-offices-march-and-april/VM2oQCF3iLPdgbOebj2kEN/











1 comment:

  1. Hi Kaley,

    I saw your awesome Hamilton video when Lea Salonga retweeted it. I have a podcast about Broadway and I'm also an adoptive parent. I don't have time in my podcast schedule to have you on a regular episode any time soon, but if you have time for a half-hour skype interview this weekend, I'd be happy to put out a mini-episode on Monday. (The podcast is biweekly and this is an off week for me.) My audience is small but you never know who might hear it and at least we'd be able to geek out about Hamilton and talk about why foster care is important.

    Reach out if you're interested: elsiefestpodcast at gmail dot com; @elsiepod (Twitter); http://elsiepod.wordpress.com

    Best of luck to you,

    Rachel

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