By Amy Ferris
He was a spiritual advisor/therapist of sorts. More like a healer/shaman. I had known him for years. I told him that I felt empty, lost… completely depleted. “I think I need to re-connect with a spiritual path,” I said. “It finds you,” he told me. “One day you’ll be doing something, standing somewhere, driving in the car… and you’ll just feel it, get it… know it. You’ll know it. It’ll wash over you.”
“Oh,” I said, “you mean like an Aha moment.”
“More like an Ah-yes moment. Aha is a light bulb, Ah-yes is the whole wiring system. It’s not a fall-to-my-knees moment, it’s pure clarity.”
It was sort of like an impulse buy.
There was a period when I was feeling this overwhelming need to fill a huge void in my life. I wasn’t quite sure what the void was, I just knew that something—something—had to fill it.
And then I knew.
I remember that morning as if it were yesterday. Ken was reading the newspaper, drinking his hot and steamy cup of coffee; I was deciding whether to wear the black short-sleeve t-shirt with slacks, or the white short-sleeve t-shirt with slacks. I chose the white. I walked out onto our porch, where Ken seemed so calm and peaceful, and I stood there with my hands planted ever so firmly on my hips, and said—or rather announced with great determination—that yes, I’ve decided… “Yes, I want to foster a child.” Ken nodded, continued reading the Sports page, and as he sipped his coffee caught a glimpse of me over the rim of the cup. “Seriously, Ken, I want to be a mother.” This was a conversation continuing from the night before.
Let me backtrack for just a moment. When Ken and I first met, there were two things that Ken never, ever wanted to do again: one was to get married, and the other was to have a child. He had done both, and that was quite enough for him. I, too, felt when we met that marriage was a very iffy commitment. I mean, why? So that when you divorce, all the shit that was yours to begin with now has to get tossed into a legal heap, and maybe you won’t get the CDs and those few pieces of furniture you brought to the party. But a few months after our first date, along with the I’m-never-getting- married-again lecture, we found ourselves picking out wedding rings and meeting with Unitarian ministers. We chose both within a week.
But I digress.
I had this urge not necessarily to give birth, but to fill an unyielding emptiness. I am not—I repeat, not— a nurturing woman in the mothering sense. I am very aware of my limitations. But I had this need, this urge, this flu-like symptom that would not go away. I thought that instead of adopting a child, we could, for lack of a better word, rent one. See if it works. I had heard both very good and very awful stories about foster care, and fostering children. I knew a couple who had brought a foster child into their home, and two weeks later felt they were being emotionally tortured. I have friends who have had huge success at fostering a child and ended up adopting the little girl, and another friend whose child turned out to be the devil-doll. But I understood that these children needed to be loved. They needed to be cared for. Their place in the world was so fragile, so tentative, so very scary.
And I, obviously, had an urge: I needed to fill this empty space.
I stood there and waited for Ken to give me his blessing. “Sure, fine, you wanna do this, go check it out.”
“Wanna come with me?”
“Nah. I’m gonna watch football.” Ken later told me that, right or wrong, choosing a foster child was like going to the Bide-a-wee, or the Humane Society. This isn’t something Ken cares to do, even though he is a very altruistic, kind, loving man. I was going to go the Children’s Aid Center, and discuss the possibility of the two of us becoming Foster Parents and, while highly unlikely, maybe coming home with a happy, loving child with whom Ken could garden. Or at the very least, they could watch football together. I am such an optimistic fool.
I go to the Children’s Aid office in our very small town. I am greeted with both a lack of enthusiasm and much paperwork— reams, and reams of paperwork. I fill out most, call Ken twice (for his social security number which I couldn’t for the life of me remember, along with some financial information), and then I’m led to a small empty room with a scattering of very old magazines. I believe that any and all public spaces should keep up-to-date magazines. This is a cause I will champion in the future. There is nothing worse than old, old news.
A young woman comes into the office. I can’t tell if she’s Mormon or Amish. She’s wearing a long, ankle-length floral schmata and a very, very bad haircut. Actually, truthfully, it looks like a very bad helmet. She says nothing, but gestures for me to follow her. As I walk out of the room behind her, I casually mention that they ought to get some new People magazines.
I am now led to another room where the Mormon-slash-Amish woman has a desk. I sit across from her and I look around the room for signs, clues of a life, her life. I see not a photo, or a calendar, or any sign of life, period. In the corner, on the radiator, is what appears to be a dead plant. I convince myself that could happen to anyone. Not everyone has a green thumb.
She pulls out what appears to be a thick binder. She slides it across the desk and motions for me to open it. I am now beginning to think that maybe she is mute, since not a word has been spoken. Perhaps, when speaking, I should move my lips very slowly so she can read them. I think this as I open the binder. There, in vivid color, are snapshots, photos, 8×10 glossies of babies, young adults, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, mentally disabled, physically challenged, older, taller, toddlers, and teenagers. All in all, thirty, forty photos. Some literally took my breath away. Melted my heart. A sparkle in the eyes, a dimple in the cheek, a turned-up nose, freckles, thick curly hair, missing teeth, a lazy eye, the gorgeous skin-tone. The sadness is palpable. The joy, diminished. The desperation is obvious.
Then she speaks. She tells me it’s a fairly long and complicated process, that it could take weeks and weeks, maybe even a month or two. Yes, yes, bureaucratic bullshit, paperwork—my words, not hers. She doesn’t like that I use the word bullshit, I can tell. She continues, telling me how a lot of these kids are in homes and are soon to be removed, or have to leave. I ask why. She says well, it didn’t work out, there was a clash, the kids, you know, have issues. Major, major issues. The foster parents have issues. Major, major issues. Sometimes there’s no patience or tolerance. Sometimes there are altercations. But they’re getting full up, and pretty soon these kids are going to be back to square one. Her words.
I stare out the window and think of Ken. He’s probably soaking in a tub, bubble bath and all, watching his beloved NY Giants, screaming at the TV set, drinking a beer, or a glass of Pinot Noir, and enjoying his life completely. Not a care the world. He likes it that way.
I woke up days earlier wanting to have a kid. I was hormonal and lonely and feeling depleted–spiritually lost. Hormonal, lonely, and lost and older than the day before. Not a great combo. I want a kid, I said, stamping my feet. Instead of going to the Woodbury Commons Outlet stores, I went to Child Services. Instead of trying on a pair of shoes, I looked through a binder of children who needed love, and a home, and a place that was safe and kind and probably never owned a pair of new shoes, because chances are they were all hand-me-downs.
And that’s when it all came together: the words hand-me-downs. I wasn’t making a commitment to giving them a life, or a future. I was teetering on making a decision to give them a place to live for a month or two, or maybe less. In my mind, they were returnable.
I felt so profoundly sad, heart-breaking sad. I didn’t want a child for the rest of its life, I wanted a child to take away my loneliness, my emptiness…for a month or two. And then it dawned on me in this empty, lifeless office, seated across from a woman who desperately needed a good haircut and a makeover, that I was being completely and utterly selfish.
I told the Amish-slash-Mormon woman that I needed some time to think about all of this. I couldn’t be completely truthful with her, and tell her that I had in fact wasted her time, because that would seem even more selfish. She asked me if I wanted to bring the binder home for my husband to look at the photos. I told her no, and she asked, “Does he like catalogues, because this is just like flipping though a catalogue.”
In that moment, I stopped feeling selfish. I looked at her and said, “These kids, in this catalogue, they need love, they need care. They need shoes. They’re not pieces of clothing you pick out thinking, Well if they don’t fit, I can return them. The children on these pages in this binder were not wanted when they came into the world, but they are not returnable. Your job is to find them a home. A loving home.”
She looked at me, and her eyes already filled with sadness filled up with tears. “I don’t like my job,” she said. “It’s just that I feel so empty.”
We were the same woman in that moment, except I had the better haircut.
“Hey, listen,” I said. “I don’t really want a kid, I want to fill a void, and I know what it’s like to feel empty. I do, but while you’re working here, at the very least, please, oh, please, when you hand the person, or the couple the binder, please tell them that the pages are filled with huge potential and an amazing opportunity to love better, love more, and if you don’t wanna do that, maybe you should quit your job and find something you love to do.”
I hit a nerve, I could tell. I hugged her good-bye, a good strong hug. I told her that she should live her life out loud, that everyone—EVERYONE—is scared, including me, and that I was very, very scared, that she should find the thing she loves to do and then do it. And although I thought it, I did not say, Please, I’m begging, go out and get a good haircut, what I did say was “Please, please, get rid of the dead plant, it’s not inspiring.”
And then it washed over me: the moment of absolute clarity, sitting in my car at the light, waiting for it to change. It filled me to the brim. I didn’t go there to foster a child, I went there to foster my very own spirit. To awaken to my very own life, to live more fully, to love myself better, to love better, period; to stop being so fucking selfish. To have enough faith in myself that I can stop thinking I have to—in this moment, right now, this very second—fill that void.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Jen and Amy are plotting their own workshop together so stay connected to both of them. They plan on taking over the world so…watch out.