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The special safety of kith and kin

Even though my intrepid pal, Lynn, will turn 72 in a couple of weeks, her age says little of the woman I’ve seen for the past six months.

She’s always outpaced me in the energy department. Lately she’s living life as I remember it when I was a mom with a young child — always on the get up and go. She’s grabbing the gusto of a new chapter as a foster parent, a surprise tweak to her “leisure” years.

When substance abuse slowly ravaged her daughter’s lifestyle, innocent victims were left in the aftermath, as it goes with the addiction spiral. In Lynn’s case, beauty from the chaos remained in her granddaughter, Renee.

Renee is now nearing 11, and they keep one another on their toes.

Lynn’s weeks are jam-packed with long trips back and forth to school in a different town, counseling appointments, parental visitations, horse-riding lessons, swimming, field trips, church, etc. But she still makes time for adult activities such as her life group. I need to go lie down after typing this paragraph.

“My life is zipping before my eyes,” she laughed.

Lynn freely admits it’s not all rosebuds and mermaid hair. “On days when I am discouraged, I consider the alternatives and realize I'm right where I need to be and want to be. I know that I am making a lifelong difference in Renee's life. The same holds true whether the foster parents are community caregivers or relative/kith caregivers.”

I spoke with Jan Hall, supervisor of certification from the child welfare office of the Department of Human Services. She said of the approximately 200 foster parents in Jackson County, the vast majority are relatives or kith, the word they use to refer to familiar friends and neighbors. In fact, Jackson County is tops in the state for placing about 400 foster children with family.

In talking with Lynn about her new role beyond grandma to primary caregiver, I can see just how challenging issues become with regard to discipline and leniency. Often she must take a step back and not react from her emotions.

Lynn says, “What might be considered normal misbehavior in children you've raised from birth, for foster kids might also be reaction to their trauma, the reasons they are not with their parents at this time. It can be a balancing act for foster parents, for you don't know their triggers until you've tripped them. Foster children come from chaos, and their caregivers have an opportunity to offer stability and consistency.”

Renee and I are pals too, and I wanted to get Renee’s take on the situation, so I asked her what the best part about living with her Nana was. Without missing a beat, and in a hushed voice, she said, “I’m in a safe place.” Then she added, “We get to do fun stuff like bake cookies. It’s just really fun. And we play board games.”

When I asked her what the hardest part was, she replied, “I miss my parents.”

Lynn shared her favorite part of the arrangement.

“It's fun to introduce kids to new experiences — a museum, an art show, the farmers' market. To invite them into your circle of adult friends who live pretty normal lives, enabling them to see that life can be lived differently than what they're used to. That they can live differently.”

My sister and brother-in-law raised three grandchildren. I know this is becoming more common. I hate to think where some of these young innocents would end up if not for loving grandparents and others who are willing to put their own lives aside.

Renee and her dad most likely will be reunited. But however life plays out, Lynn assured me and Renee, “I’m in this for the long haul.” She has her back. And I have one amazing friend.

— Peggy Dover is a freelance writer living in Eagle Point. Email her at pdover@hotmail.com.