Brian and I attended an absolutely breathtaking performance of Les Miserables at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit this month. I cried like a baby...dripping tears, black mascara running down my face, sobbing. I have seen Les Miz three times. It is my favorite production of all time. If it were offered in our neck of the woods every year, I would be there...every year.
All of that said, I noticed something in the production, this time that caught me a bit off guard. Jean Valjean, walked through the dark woods to find the dead Fantine's daughter. In one blissful moment, he found sweet, little Cosette, crying by the spilled bucket of water. Poor little Cosette, miserable, had been forced to do hard labor for the people who are "caring for her." She looked up, sweetly, at Jean Valjean with glistening eyes as he reached down to help her.
Valjean's heart ached, as he realized how she has been living all these years. He held her in his arms, made promises of a better life, a more secure future and then they embraced, as adoptive father and daughter.
There were a few sighs of sweetness radiating through the audience. People viewing the scene were thrilled and hopeful for Cosette, knowing that now she will be safe and happy. Some in the audience may have been thinking back to the days when their children were young. They may have envisioned times of playing ball, watching recitals or fishing by the pond.
Brian and I, however, had a different reaction. As we watched small Cosette move her heavy water bucket aside and run to Jean Valjean to be safe in his embrace....we both made that squishy "what-in-the-world?" face and turned to look at each other. As we glanced back toward the stage, Jean Valjean proceeded to present his new child with a dolly and a brand new coat. She was so very thankful and returned his hug with smiles and generous love.
Brian groaned a little in disgust as I rolled my eyes.
Brian and I heard the precious sighs of relaxation and happiness from audience members but for us, this scene sent us reeling back to reality in one big jolt. We watched absurdity play out in front of us on the stage and had to hold back the powerful urge to stand up and say, "Heyyyy there people. Here's a note for future reference. It just don't happen like that." (said in my Kentucky-southern-making-a-stern-point accent)
"Saving" a child just does not "go" like that. It's just not going to happen. Here's the reality check.
Cosette would have been emotionally stunted, scarred and unable to return love. She would not have been so quick to embrace this strange man in front of her. She may have given the new coat back to him and explained that hers is just fine. Her fast embrace and bonding moment would not have come so easily and frankly, may not have ever come at all. And that dolly he gave her? Forget it. That doll would have reminded her of all the dolls and toys she lost when her mother left. That doll would have reminded her of all the dolls and toys she was unable to get through the years. THAT doll would not have been THOSE dolls!
Reality. It truly does suck.
Children who grow up in chaotic lifestyles rarely have the capacity to "give." Even a hug or smile is often too much to share. Taking a foster child to a "fun place" like Disney World, a McDonald's Play Place or even to a movie theater may have horrific side effects. Yes, I am talking extreme melt-down, crying, can't cope with this stuff, kind of side effects.
It's only human nature to want to give foster children the experiences that thrilled us as children, but they cannot even handle the love that we show by washing their clothes and giving them their very own bed to sleep in. This is usually very new to them. Most foster children need to get used to normalcy before they can even begin to understand how to process joy, excitement and mutual bonding. They need to process day to day life like living in a clean home, eating on a more normal schedule, eating good food every day, having clean clothing to choose from daily, riding in a vehicle that doesn't break down, watching parents clean the home, helping to do household chores, living in an environment without fighting, yelling, chaos....
This is all ABNORMAL for them. They don't know how to adjust and it's difficult for them to figure out where they "fit" in this new environment.
This lifestyle takes months and sometimes years to get used to. Sadly, they often feel like they are not "good enough" to deserve this kind of life, because they know that their "real" family is still living their "old" life. They often hold guilt for living this new life.
Jean Valjean would have been in for a rude awakening. Cosette would have rejected his hug. She would have hidden food under her mattress and in her pillowcase. She would have told him that the filthy coat she was wearing was just fine....because it was Hers!
Living the reality is not easy. Watching Les Miz no longer makes my heart sing during those "precious" moments because those precious moments do not happen....and don't even get me STARTED on Annie and "Daddy Warbucks!"
Reality? Well, Reality is MUCH more like Huckleberry Finn. Yep. Good Old Huck is the poster boy for foster children in my mind. Running away, wearing his own dirty, holey, clothes, rejecting shoes and suits, refusing to bathe, refusing to go to school and refusing to obey most any rule...yep, he is the reality. THAT is the normal routine. If you can handle Huck, Please Click Here. He needs you.
And for the record... when you do get that first real hug and see that soul exchange of attachment in their eyes....it is worth every challenge.