Our five-year-old foster son Nick insisted we take the training wheels off his bike. His strong will was obviously up to the task, but his teetering legs were still using those extra wheels to balance.
After a few more weeks of practice, my husband Jonathan agreed he was ready. Or at least Jonathan was ready to stop listening to Nick’s requests/demands on the subject. So together tools came out and wheels came off.
Helmets afixed, we all took a deep breath and headed to the neighborhood park. A place I’d walked through several times prior to fostering, but never thought much about. A park’s a park, right?
For its small size, this park had a disproportionately large number of paved paths. Previously this seemed odd and unnecessary. Now, it proved pure brilliance.
Every loop was within easy viewing from several strategically placed benches. Kids felt freedom and adventure. Parents felt control and security. Win, win.
Needless to say, the planner must have been in the throes as well.
Three or four days a week we ventured out together to that park haven. Nick’s brother and sister racing around their own loops, as Jonathan or I rode with Nick.
Predictably, he hit a crack in the pavement or was distracted by a squirrel. He lost control for a second and jerked to pull those two wheels back under his command.
As he did, Nick yelped, “Stop cutting me off!”
We practiced this song and dance many times and so Jonathan and I both knew better than to ride beside or in front of this young driver. We stayed carefully two lengths behind.
Regardless, the accusation came. At first, I defended myself. Clearly behind Nick, how could I cut him off?
Eventually, reason followed. Mine, not his. Why am I so opposed to taking the blame?
Foster care asks us to be strong enough to be the punching bag for blows that were never ours. Justice here isn’t finding the cause of a simple stumble. It is a greater justice that begins to take on the much more complicated stumbles this little one has had to endure. Stumbles and pain that are not his fault or mine.
It’s letting him throw me under the bus. It’s stepping in front of it. It’s making sure that no matter what the bus doesn’t hit him.