abuse and neglect, children, family, foster care, hope, Inspiration, philanthropy, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is… Sole Searching

For me, most of my earliest Back to School memories start in the same place… Rochester Shoe Store on the east end of Kmart Plaza in Mattydale, New York.

I loved school, and new school shoe shopping meant that I would soon be sitting at a desk again. Oh, joy of joys! I would skip into the store excited to step on that Brannock device (made in Syracuse, btw) to see how much my foot had grown since the year before.

For the period of time that spanned purchasing the shoes and the actual start of school, those beauties would remain tucked inside the shoebox, and at least once a day, I would open it up and shove my whole face in there, deeply breathing in the delicious smell of new leather.

There was one year, however, that came with more than a twinge of anxiety. About to enter Fourth Grade, I was feeling pretty grown up. My classroom would be at the end of the hallway, meaning we’d walk past all those babies in K-3 to take our place as the leaders of our wing.

The talk at the pool that summer was all about Earth shoes, so as we headed to Rochester Shoe Store, I told my mom that’s what I wanted.

We walked out with the most fabulous pair of navy Earth shoes. They had a huge rounded toe and a crazy-cool wavy rubber sole. I’d never seen anything like it.

They also had shoelaces.

Oh boy.

You see, the entire time I was one of those K-3 babies, I wore Mary Janes. I honestly can’t remember how I handled sneakers, as Velcro wasn’t even a thing yet, but I do know that I was not adept at tying shoelaces. Truth be told, more than 40 years later, I’m still not great at it. The double knot is my savior and best friend.

So yes, my mom would tie my shoes every morning. You want to make something of it? And one day, tragedy struck and my shoelace untied midday. I acted like I didn’t notice and just kept walking. The shoe got looser and looser until it was almost falling off. We were coming in from recess, and Miss Crader told me to tie my shoe. I can remember being bent over in the hallway going through the motions, feeling the redness creep up my neck, my throat tighten and tears start to well up, all the while thinking, “You can do this, Katie.”

A boy looked my way and said, “Do you NOT know how to tie your shoes, Katie?” And with tears still pooling at the edge of my lower lid, an angel named Lisa Demperio said, “Of course she does, Philip, now get out of here,” and with just the two of us remaining in the hall, Lisa tied my shoe.

I went home and practiced and practiced and practiced tying until I could at least fake it well enough to keep Philip Cooper off my back.

That memory came back to me this week as I went through photos of a very different kind of Back to School new shoe shopping.

A group of remarkable staff and volunteers took the boys who call Christ Child House their home to the Nike Store in Detroit to pick out new sneakers. Because of the generosity of a number of donors, these boys will be able to walk confidently into a new school year. Some had never picked out their own shoes before. Some had only ever had shoes handed down to them and were never able to bask in the glory of that new shoe smell.

The boys’ pictures would melt the heart of even the crustiest of curmudgeons, and their stories could bring you to your knees.

To protect their identities, the boys’ faces are never fully photographed.

I was reluctant to rejoin the Board of Christ Child after a multi-year hiatus because I was worried my own heart, broken by loss and further weakened by my empty nest, couldn’t bear to hear the atrocities committed against these boys.

I’m still not sure I can. And if self-preservation moves you to live with your head in the sand like I did, you’ll probably want to skip the next two paragraphs.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who is the same age I was when my greatest struggle was shoelaces, although his struggle involves being a witness to his mother’s murder as she lay sleeping next to him in bed. Shot dead by his father. Waiting and wondering if he would be next.

There is a boy who lives in the Christ Child House who was the same age as those K-3 babies who watched me walk down the hall in my super cool, big kid Earth shoes. Although this boy watched as a policeman walked up to a car parked on the side of the highway as he sat strapped in his car seat with both parents slumped in the front seat, overdosed on heroin.

To face the reality of the horrors of our society can be daunting. To shield ourselves from them is tempting. But to do something…even the smallest of somethings…is imperative to bring change to our world. If one of our actions can create even the smallest ripple of positive change, we must act.

And, so, it all circles back to those laces. For decades, I have been inspired by the many women of Christ Child Society who embody the answer to Beyoncé’s question, “Who runs the world?”   And, this year, they have assembled multiple teams of women who will not only figuratively, but literally run the world (or at least two countries of it) as part of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon, of which Christ Child House is a recipient charity.

I’ve been assigned my team’s first leg of the marathon. I will run 6.3 miles that include a run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada. I have yet to disclose to anyone that I am afraid to drive over that bridge much less run over it, but the voice in my head is saying, “You can do this, Katie.”

If the shoe fits as part of your ability to give, Christ Child House would welcome your financial support by clicking here as we continue to move forward, one step at a time, to bring truth to the motto, “It’s never too late for a happy childhood.”

kmp

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family, grief and loss, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Wisdom from a Christmas Stocking

Behold, a hand-knit depiction of a right jolly old elf. And just as it is written, his droll little mouth is drawn up like a bow, and the beard of his chin is as white as the snow.

This is my Christmas stocking and my oldest personal possession. Almost exactly 51 years ago, this stocking was my traveling companion on the journey to meet my parents for the very first time.

These days, it is referred to as Gotcha Day or Homecoming Day; the day on which a person joins a family through adoption. But in 1967, it was simply thought of by my adoptive parents as the day their prayers were answered.

For the first time, they held in their arms the baby girl they had said “yes” to, the baby girl who had spent the first six months of her life in a foster home because she was born with a congenital deformity that labeled her handicapped and ineligible for immediate placement in a forever home.

I remember my mother telling me that the adoption agency would only tell her and my father that they had a baby for them, but the baby was handicapped. They would not reveal the nature or severity of the disability. My mom told me they didn’t even have to think twice about their answer. God had sent them this baby, and they were prepared to welcome her home.

And so they did. On a Wednesday afternoon in December, the little girl they would name Kathleen Mary first unreservedly offered a toothless smile in their arms as the social worker explained the very simple care of her “handicap” which was ultimately disclosed as a dislocated hip that would be guided into place within a few months time.

The precious Christmas stocking that accompanied the baby was filled with teething toys and rattles that had become comfort items during their little girl’s first six months of life. The stocking was handmade by her foster mother as her foster father, almost certainly, offered his loving praise over her handiwork.

My mother was told that this foster family had recently petitioned to adopt the baby girl but had been denied because their ages fell above the agency’s maximum allowable for adoption. During my first six months of life, this foster couple’s loving care included having me baptized at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

The social worker smiled when my mom told her they would give me the name Kathleen Mary, saying only that it was incredibly close to that which the foster family had me baptized.

A strange truth to many, I have never had the desire to seek my birth parents, but I have thought of this foster family every Christmas; throughout my childhood as my Christmas Stocking was hung with care in our living room and filled by Santa with treats galore and throughout adulthood as each year it holds a place of honor near our Christmas tree. When I learned a few years back that St. Agnes Parish was closing, I called to inquire about baptismal records with the hope to identify these foster parents who tenderly cared for me the first six months of my life.

I wanted them to know how blessed I had been to be placed in my forever home with a family whose faith life was the foundation of who they were and all they did. I wanted them to know that I had a remarkable journey through Catholic schools and the finest Jesuit university in all the land; a journey that led me to a lifetime of friendships and the love of my life. I wanted them to know I was a mom to two beautiful daughters of my own whom, unreservedly, have offered me their smiles for decades. I wanted them to know I still have that Christmas stocking and it means the world to me. I wanted to say thank you.

My call to the Parish Office was placed just days before it was set to close. In fact, the voice on the other end of the phone quickly led me to believe that the elderly pastor was personally manning the phones…and that I caught him in the middle of his lunch.   Between my inability to offer a concise summary of my request and his really loud chewing, I offered to call him back. Well, life interrupted, and I never did.

Not the dramatic ending you were hoping for, I bet.

I most likely will never know the identity of that foster family. In addition, those wonderful adoptive parents, my Mom and Dad, are now both deceased. But I have that stocking to console me–on their combined behalf– over the delicate and often paradoxical emotions of a season that almost demands one to be “merry and bright.”

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I envision foster parents handing over a baby they had nurtured over six months time and had petitioned to adopt. My heart hurts at the thought.

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I have a much clearer vision of the adoptive parents first holding a still bald, toothless baby because that joyous story is detailed in a memory narrated by my Mom. My heart bursts at the thought.

The wisdom offered by this Christmas stocking is not unique to my life story. In fact, it should offer a universal consolation.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are feelings beyond our control that impact our lives everyday and are often exacerbated during the holidays for a variety of reasons.

The holiday season may pose painful struggles; certainly for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, but also for people who yearn for the Christmases they had, but have since lost, or perhaps desired but never even had. Some may crave that family closeness…past or present, imagined or real. Others may mourn unfulfilled childhood desires…realizing your life didn’t travel the path you had hoped.

The wisdom of my Christmas stocking reminds me that in the midst of the darkest winter, the path to an amazing spring is waiting for me…in my own heart.

Maybe the universal message is one of accepting and loving who you are right now, especially if you are sad or angry or feeling empty or lost. Whatever the case may be, you must accept where you are in order to usher in the day when the light returns to your soul and your spirit.

Because I’ve experienced the darkness, I can savor the light in my life.

This past weekend, the candle of joy was lit on Advent wreaths in countless churches and homes around the world. It is that call to joy that led me to consider the wisdom of my Christmas stocking and pray for everyone in my life for whom joy is a really, really tough sell this year…be it because of disappointment or regret, an unfulfilled dream or a broken heart represented by an empty chair at this year’s holiday table.

I pray for strength and for peace in the hearts of those who are hurting.

And I thank God for the perspective my faith provides me, for the strength the Advent season instills within me, and for the belief that an Easter Sunday will follow every Good Friday in my life, until that day when God reunites me with those I loved and have lost– and those I have loved and never even met.

Hoping your Christmas stockings are filled with light, I wish Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

kmp

 

 

 

 

 

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