Sunday, October 14, 2007

How the Cookie Jar Began

I had never planned to become a foster parent. It was never an aspiration of mine. In fact, I became a foster parent purely by accident. At 21, I fell in love with my husband, who at the time ran a four bed therapeutic group home for teenage street kids.

At first he told me fantastic horror stories about the kids. What I didn't know was that it was a test-he wanted to know if I'd react like every other women he'd met and run for the nearest exit, vowing that I didn't want anything to do with any "instant family" of troubled teenagers.I didn't flinch.

"Ya, well...SO?" I continued to sip my coffee, nonplussed. I didn't see what his point was. So some of them were into gangs, addicted to drugs, straight from jail or the street. They were still kids, weren't they? Besides, it wasn't like I was going to marry the guy. He was, after all, forty. That is SO old.

You can stop laughing now. It's really amazing what life throws at you, isn't it?

I married him a year later.

Hubs wanted to make sure that I knew he was a package deal. His job was something I would have to be willing to live with, literally. The package included his then 17 year old daughter, too.

"Are you SURE you know what you're getting into?"

"Yes, of course!" was my reply-the reality was, I really didn't have a clue. I'd grown up in a small, sheltered town with two parents that are still married today. I never did experiment with drinking or drugs as a teen, and never was in trouble at school. In many ways I didn't have a clue how to even relate to these kids. How could I, a twenty something goody-goody church raised girl, make any sort of difference with a bunch of out of control street wise, tough teenage boys?

I sure wasn't going to be Mom. They had one. Big sister? I wasn't much older then they were. I somehow assumed that female role model of the house, but never really felt quite like the "Mom" figure I had suddenly become.

Suddenly, it dawned on me. I didn't have much (if anything) in common with the kids, but I did know one thing that was the key to a teenage boy's heart.

Food.

So, about 3 months after I moved in the house, I began to bake cookies. I grabbed a chocolate chunk cookie recipe from the back of a bag of chocolate chips, and one evening I whipped up a batch. The smell began to waft through the house, and before I knew it, my husband and all four kids were in the kitchen.

"Whatcha making?"
"You must've made a mix" (while looking for a package)
"I didn't know you could bake"
"Can I have one?"
"Oooo...what kids are they?"

The cookies were no sooner out of the oven when suddenly five pairs of hands pounced on them and retreated to the porch, where there was suddenly complete silence. I began to panic. Silence isn't good. Maybe the cookies are really, really bad. Well there goes my attempt at foster mom-hood.

"Everything okay out there?" I called hopefully.

"OH my GOD those are the BEST COOKIES I'VE EVER EATEN!"
"Can I have another one?"
"Why didn't you make these sooner?"
"Hey thanks, they are sooooooo good!"
"I didn't know you could bake!"

The next batch of cookies barely made it off the pan before they were snatched up as well. Hubs and the kids gorged themselves on cookies that night, laughing and licking the melted chocolate from their fingers.

From that moment on, I became the cookie baking Mom of the block. The kids knew that no matter what they did, they could depend on John to provide a safe home and guidance, and me to bake them cookies. It became my way of showing them that I cared about them; by providing a bit of warmth and making our house a home away from their families. For ten years, I baked up a storm and over 80 kids, as well as many of our friends, gladly ate every single cookie. In fact Hubs used to sound the alarm when dough was being put into the oven, and by the time the pan came out laden with freshly baked cookies, I'd have seven people in the kitchen ready to gobble them up.

Four years ago, Hubs quit his job and moved on to something else. We sold the house for a much smaller place and for the first time ever in our marriage, we don't have foster teens with us any more. Sometimes I've looked back, missed many of the kids, and wondered if anything we ever did really made a difference in their lives. I recieved the answer when Ben came to visit a few years ago.

He sat at the table with us drinking coffee; a now 26 year old doing incredibly well with a university degree and a career on the move, and patted Jake affectionately on the head.

“So...." he nodded to the familiar tupperware sitting on the counter and met my eyes with a twinkle, "do you have any cookies?”

Always. It's just not home without them.

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