In June of 2009 our membership to our community recreation center expired. No big thing. At the time I was going every day anyway (this was prior to giving birth to a child. Now…not so much: a.they don’t take kids under 6 months old at the childcare center. b. I’m pretty sure my stomach muscles still don’t even connect in the center. But I’ve started back…slowly). So during one of my trips, I stopped by the front desk to renew the membership.
I was making small talk with the man at the desk while he clicked away on his computer, occasionally asking me a question regarding our membership renewal, and our faithful attendance to the rec center every day. In the shuffle, he asked me how many children we would be adding to the membership. “None right now,” I said, “but we’re foster parents, so our kid status varies.” From the look on his face you would think I had just said that I’d be bringing my two cats in to take dips in the pool every so often, but not to worry, they’ve never pooped anywhere but the cat box. He looked at me like I was crazy.
He asked me to wait a minute, and turned around to whisper on the phone like I had just caused a code red. When he came back, he told me very politely, that my foster children would not be welcome at the rec center on our family membership, and that if I ever wanted to bring one of these foster children with me, I’d have to pay the $8 they charge non-members. I was confused. I’m paying for a family membership, I explained. “Yes, I’m aware,” he replied, “but your foster children,
they don’t fit our definition of “family.”
Cue livid, boiling anger rising. Steam out of the ears. Seeing spots kind of angry.
I kindly told him that I’d be looking for another place to exercise, and that I’d let all of my friends know not to go there in case they didn’t “fit their definition of family.” (After cooling off I wrote a very pointed e-mail to the head of recreation for our city. I suggested that they change their definition. He let me know that we could attend the rec without issue, but that their definition of family suited them just fine.)
All that to say – this kind of thing happens a lot as foster parents. Projects at school that are about family get a lot more difficult. People (well-meaning people) say things that make it sound like your foster kids don’t count. When introducing your family, people make distinctions between your foster kids and your biological kids. Before Sylvie was born people would tell us about parenthood like we had never been parents before. When we have our second child, I’d place bets that we get comments like, “Just watch out, two is a different ballgame.” It’s frustrating. I don’t fault the individual though, I think it’s our society. Why do we define family so narrowly? Adoptive Mama Of Two posted on this a while back, and she quoted,
Some people have to find their family. Our family grows by the year unlike most. But these kids are my kids. And we are family.