Broken People in Baskets

I was 19 when I got my first full-time job as the teacher for a group of school age kids in a daycare center. It was summer and I took my class bowling a lot.

Those kids were weird, all wild for bowling. There weren’t enough lightweight balls to go around, so we spent most of our time waiting for one of the two balls to pop up in the ball return, which was fine with them because there was that fan that would blow on their faces.

Like I said, they were weird kids.

My classroom was right next to the two-year-old classroom, and in that classroom was a little boy named we’ll call David (which is not his real name because DUH).

I fell in love with David, and the feeling was mutual. He had no words; in fact, he rarely vocalized at all, but he ran to me every time he caught the tiniest glimpse of me through the big accordion curtain between the two rooms.

David was broken.

He was also perfect. Painfully, acutely perfect. He had fetal alcohol syndrome; a not-yet repaired cleft palate; severe asthma; and a deep sadness that didn’t cover up his pure and perfect soul.

Did I mention I was in love?

Every day after lunch, he had to have a nebulizer treatment. Getting a two year old to sit still for a 20 minute nebulizer treatment? Not easy, and the teachers in the two-year-old classroom struggled with getting him to finish the neb while getting the rest of the kids down for their naps. So the kids in my class and I developed a system; I got the medicine ready while they emptied our basket of dress-up clothes. Next? We put David in the basket.

I have no memory at all of how we discovered David’s love of that basket, but as soon as he saw it, he reached and struggled until I set him inside. In that basket, David sat for his nebulizer treatment while I read books and sang songs with the older kids.

For his part, he gazed at me adoringly.

Who doesn’t love that?

I fantasized that, by some fluke of the law, the state would give him to me.

Oh, shuddup! I was 19, remember?

At the age of two, David was living in his fifth foster home after spending the first 9 months of his life in the hospital. He needed love. He needed speech therapy and surgery and all kinds of other things, too, but mostly, he needed love. An infusion pump of love.

He and I were like two puzzle pieces that fit together without a seam. David was the first person who ever needed me. He was my first experience of loving someone with abandon, in spite of 100% certainty that it would not end well.

When you fall in love with a child who is in protective custody, it almost never ends well. The system won’t let you follow them when they move. They just……disappear.

When David disappeared, we had no advance notice, no warning, no opportunity to give a kiss and a squeeze and a wish for a bright, bold, odds-defying life.

I knew David 20 years ago, but he still owns a bit of my soul. When he was moved on to his next family (ohpleaseohpleaseohplease let it have been a warm, open, wildly generous forever-family who have loved him like no other all these years), I wept for days. He was my friend and my teacher.

He taught me about baskets.

Wasn’t that thoughtful of him, to give me a convenient metaphor that I could save for later?

I couldn’t fix anything for David. I couldn’t rescue him from a difficult life in foster care; couldn’t reverse the devastating effects of his biological mother’s alcohol use during her pregnancy; couldn’t give him a voice or repair his palate.

I could put him in a basket, give him a feeling of safety and comfort for a little while.

I gave him love; he returned that love and so much more. I learned what unconditional love feels like; I got a taste of some of the feelings I wouldn’t fully understand until I had children of my own.

Did I change his life? Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t matter. The love and connection that traveled like electricity between David and I was important.

Giving love and kindness to him changed my life. It changed me.

Reading the comments that many of you left on my recent post about trichotillomania, I couldn’t stop thinking about that basket. Your words were a safe place; an embrace and a reassurance and I am gazing up at you with adoration.

I’ve thought about blogging and the community around it a great deal in the past few weeks because of the dozens of post-BlogHer* posts I read.

I am never going to that thing. Almost everyone seems to have had a wildly emotional experience, much of that emotion being pain, shame, and fear.

Sheesh. I have more than enough of that right here at home, and for free!

But mostly, I’ve been thinking how much my online life has changed me, changed how I live my 3-dimensional life.

I have a place to put all these words that were crowding my head, to give the little girl in me (who never wanted to be a ballerina or a fire fighter or a doctor) the chance to live her dream of being a writer. And amazingly, some people come read those words.

Turns out that living my dream is good for my soul.

I have new friends, people who I love and who love me. For me, somewhat isolated by Carter’s disabilities, that’s like digging in the garden for a potato and turning up a giant diamond.

I’ve learned to laugh again; head thrown back, tears streaming down my face, stomach-hurts-the-next-day laughter.

That is also good for the soul.

There is much angst and drama in my online world. This is not, after all, a homogeneous group.

Also? Some people are assholes.

The internet is not a safe place. There are potholes in the road and muggers in the shadows; terrorists are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to terrorize. This is not a risk-free enterprise, any more than loving David was risk free.

For me, the risk is worth it.

You people have some pretty great baskets, and sometimes I get to offer some love, comfort, and laughter to you, too.

Brooke said in her comment on my last post:

[C]ompassion born of shared experience [is] priceless. And the feeling when you’ve found it, unexpectedly, in what you thought was hostile and unforgiving territory? Unspeakably precious.

What will remain truly, and quite literally, marvelous to me about the internet is that it allows and creates exactly those kinds of encounters, multiplied exponentially, every second. We’re here, if we wish it, to be in the business of multiplying compassion in this world.

Yes, that.

Multiply compassion.

Multiply laughter.

Multiply honesty.

Multiply kindness.

Multiply love.

You didn’t rescue me from trichotillomania, but you shined love into a dark place. That’s a big deal.

Thank you.

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45 thoughts on “Broken People in Baskets”

  1. The #1 thing to do with kids with attachment and anxiety disorders is to give them as many loving and caring attachments as possible. That’s what you did for David, and it made a difference. Children learn about relationships and love before they ever learn to speak. It’s the same with grown ups – we need to see loving relationships in order to trust that humanity doesn’t suck. I’m glad you’re finding that online!

    1. Yup; I hadn’t read anything about attachment theory by then, but now I know that our connection was exactly what he needed.

      Lucky for me, it was exactly what I needed, too.

  2. Hey there. Everything you say about this amazing internet community I seem to have fortuitously stumbled into: ditto.

    And you? You are my hero.

    (I’m usually the queen of the book-length comment, but tonight I think this will simply suffice.)

    1. When I stumbled in? I was all blinky like I’d been in a cave and it took me weeks (months?) to get my bearings. But it was a joyful getting-my-bearings. Overwhelming, but way fun.

      I’m glad you found your way in, too. 😉

  3. this post is all kinds of beautiful. David and his brokenness and the wonderful soul and the basket of safe and love? All of that is why I teach. Every day I teach the broken. But not just Spanish or English or Composition. I teach them acceptance and love.

    You are so right. The love that flows in this risky place called the internet is unbelievable. I have found much more here than just a place to put it all down…I’ve found FRIENDS. I’ve found baskets to sit in.

    1. Sigh. Now? I’m thinking that “Baskets of Safety and Love” would have been a better title because that’s more what I meant.

      Yes, I’ve found baskets to sit in. Exactly.

  4. i have a million thoughts and don’t know what to say except thank you. a post that you can completely relate to (well me anyway), like COMPLETELY? doesn’t happen a lot. so again, thanks.
    <3 Lisa

  5. My heart breaks for the boy in the basket. And though my heart breaks for you, too, over different things, it also rejoices for you.

    Also? I went to BlogHer and I didn’t have any pain (except for my heels), shame or fear. We’re all just women who blog. Yes, the experience made me thing Deep Thoughts, but in a good way, I think.

    1. I’ve never been one of those people who can be grateful for all the pain I’ve experienced, but I do think that the wounded places let more love in. That part, I wouldn’t want to trade.

      See, about BlogHer? That’s how I think I would be, but all those angst-full posts made me think it would be too intense for me. I mean, I read a great many of those posts!

      I like to think deep thoughts. That part is almost always fun. 😉

      1. Adrienne, just think how ill equipped you would be to help your son if you hadn’t experienced all those painful things in your life. You wouldn’t be able to empathize or sympathize at all. All his pain would be completely foreign to you. It took me a while but I am finally grateful for all my pain, because it enables me to help my children and others. Maybe my pain will help them avoid some pain in their lives and that will make it completely and totally worth it.
        If I haven’t mentioned it in all my comments in the past…I LUV YA! You touch my heart just almost every single post.

        1. Yes! When Carter was little I kept wondering WHY I would be this child’s mother when I felt so ill-equipped, but ultimately, I decided it was exactly this that made me the best mother for him. I know pain; I would never doubt that it’s real! And that’s what he needs most – somebody to see him.

      2. I love your blog and your stories and I even love the comments other readers leave, but this? This style of partial-sentence-interrupted-by-question-mark-to-emphasize-the-dramatic-point-I-will-make-next-when-I-finish-my-sentence? Was initially charming but is being overused to the point of driving me bonkers. I had to giggle reading the comments here and seeing it over and over again in almost each comment. My brilliant writing teacher from years ago would be horrified and ask us to think carefully before using this so frequently. Because it? Is beginning to sound silly.
        Thanks for sharing all that you do.

      3. You are so right. It is our brokenness that gives us the ability to love deeply. And although not without risk, loving deeply fills some of the holes in our hearts. You have this incredible gift of opening my eyes to the fact that some of my holes are being filled everyday by y’all here on the internet.

        So when can we meet irl? I just want to hug you and tell you how awesome you are and what an amazing job you do with everything in your life.

        p.s. I’ll be in town Thursday, Sept 9, just sayin.

      4. So if you won’t go to Blogher can we at least get a small group meetup in Vegas or something? Because if I ever do go to Blogher (San Diego – not so far away!) I would go to meet people like YOU.

        1. You’re one of the people I’d most want to meet, too! I don’t know; I really felt weird reading all the posts after the conference. I worry that if I let myself get involved too much in the blogging community to that degree…sigh. I don’t know exactly what I mean. I guess it’s easy for me to lose my focus on the writing. I love the friendships; I love giving and receiving support. I appreciate thoughtful criticism. I worry about getting caught up in the other stuff.

          Does that makes sense? I haven’t really given it a ton of thought; much as there are some people I would enjoy meeting, it seems like it’s something that could do me more harm than good.

        2. oh how beautiful this post was. from one little girl who never wanted to be a scientist or astronaut to another, your words are golden.

          since my partners spinal cord injury, i have talked alot about the perfectness of an imperfect body…what a beautiful metaphor for that particular brand of love…”he taught me about baskets”.

          do you find that that kind of love and acceptance is just so much easier heaped on children? us grownups just have so much towing behind us in our roll-around cases.

          1. Yes, very much so. It’s different with children. There was no bitterness in David; it’s hard to imagine any adult enduring what he did without any bitterness. The safe places are harder to find, and maybe impossible. If we’re not ready to feel safe or loved, then we won’t.

            Thank you!

        3. I wrote a post once about how so many people who touch us, help us, bring us to wonderful places, never know that they did. But it doesn’t matter. Because we do the same for others in ways that *we* never know, and so it all balances out.

          I’m big on balance. It’s a libra thing.

        4. “When you fall in love with a child who is in protective custody, it almost never ends well.”

          That line hit me hard. My step-cousins, who I only saw maybe once every other summer for a few years, ended up going into protective custody due to my step-family being completely awful. I never saw them again after that, they just took them one day and they were gone forever.

          I’d go and drop off Christmas and birthday presents at a location and they said they would get the gifts to them, but who knows if they ever really got them. I heard years after they had been abused, drugged, and molested while in foster care.

          My heart broke reading this, and I truly hope, just as you do, that little David’s move was to his forever-family and that he is happy and loved where ever he is now.

          1. It was hard for me, while I wrote this, not to fall into a long and heated rant about the foster care system. So many horrors, even for children who are never treated poorly in foster care.

            I’ve known many children in foster care (mostly in my work as a child care administrator) and I’ve seen exactly one good situation, and those children’s foster parents were their mother’s parents. She busted her ass to get them back. I wish every time a family fell apart it could end so well for the kids.

        5. Oh, girl. If you keep making me cry after I’ve put on my makeup, I’m just gonna have to start reading NPFS in the morning. 😉

          Again, and again … many, many thanks for what you’ve said about what I wrote. I think that most of the time we don’t really know which of our small kindnesses are really great and lovely baskets to other people, or why. And very long story short, let me just say that quoting me is one, for me. A beautiful one. Maybe grass-woven.

          And if I may: annon’s criticism may have been accurate in its specifics, and (hopefully) kindly delivered criticism is of course always a helpful thing, but I, for one, find this thing? Endearing.

          I mean … I never met an ellipsis I didn’t love, and when I’m not cuddling up to them I cheat on them more often than I’d like with the equally-alluring semicolon. And it’s all well and good to edit those tendencies into some sort of moderation. But without them, my writing wouldn’t be mine. You know?

          And as for David, I’ll hope and pray that he did find exactly that kind of forever-home. And I think, too, that he must have been one lovely part of the tapestry of experience that allowed you to become the mom you are to Carter. I hope he’s somewhere out there, well and happy, and that he’s grown into a man who knows he has those kinds of gifts to give.


          1. Happy sighs. I’m so, so glad I found the right basket, even if I didn’t do it even a little bit on purpose!

            Yes, I have my pets, too. I love semi-colons, and parenthesis – how would I write about those? Annon’s comment was a reminder to keep those little tricks in their place. They’re like salt; a little bit adds flavor, but too much spoils everything.

        6. Just lovely, Adrienne.
          He remembers you.
          Even if it isn’t your face that he recalls, I would bet that when he feels safe or when someone is tender with him, he remembers your presence.
          What an amazing gift you gave one another.

        7. So why does it take a few tweets about stupid comments and punctuation to get me to read your blog? Does it really matter? All because of “annon” I came and read this post. And now? Ironic.

          Anyway, about the post. I wish I could be as openly honest as you. I’m not the person that could embrace that broken little boy. Or at least I don’t think I am. I honestly think I’m scared of people I can’t understand. But I won’t go too deep here.

          You are a brilliant writer and seriously, I doubt anything that would go down at BlogHer would ever ruffle your feathers. And besides, didn’t you see all the free stuff? 😉

          1. None of us can every really go against our nature, but we have have gifts and talents and wonderful things that make us extraordinary in our unique nature.

            Besides, all this openness and honesty has its downside, too. Sort of like going out into the world nekkid. 😉

            I do like free stuff! I also like being called a brilliant writer. Thanks you!

        8. Found your blog from Five Star Fri. It moved me. I adopted my son. He is autistic. There are people who feel so sorry for us when they hear that. I just knew that if I wrote that here, you wouldn’t. You would know how lucky I am. This is beautiful.

          As for Blogher. It’s a great place to meet old/new friends and shake an ass on a dance floor.

        9. I’m also a single mom with an adopted daughter. She has Fragile X Syndrome, NVLD and ADHD. I love her with my every breath, and more.

          While blog hopping about parenting special kids, I stumbled here a few days ago, and haven’t left. I can’t stop reading.

          This is THE most raw, beautiful, heartbreaking, TRUE blog I have ever read. This is on par with Elie Weisel writing about his experiences in the Holocaust. You can’t look away. So full of love, hope, and in the end, the power of the human spirit.

          I cry and rejoice with you. Thank you for being you, and being where I could find you.


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