Andy Leggett

“I can’t tell them I love them!”

We often talk about moments in our lives … moments in our careers … that change our lives forever.

This was one of those for me. Seven words – spoken to me by a 12 year old boy about his foster parents of nearly four years.

He’d been particularly angry that day which caught us all a bit off guard. He’d been doing so well!
Isn’t THAT a classic line: “He’d been doing so well” – but that is another story for another day.

I got the call fairly late one spring evening from a concerned foster parent: “Andy, I just don’t know what happened. We were having a grand night (she actually said ‘grand night’ and she actually talked like that most of the time. It was like being in a Greta Garbo movie)…all his favourite things. I had watched him play hockey; he’s doing soooo much better – he almost scored a goal! We laughed all the way home. I’d made chili. He LOVES chili after hockey. It was even his turn to pick the movie. I told him how proud I was of him and I asked him if he wanted marshmallows in his hot chocolate.”

Long pause here. Long, long pause. I knew she was holding back tears …

“And then he just lost it!” He screamed, “Don’t you @#%&ing know yet what I @#$&ing like! I @#$&ing hate you!” And he stormed out of the house”.

“I’ve looked in all the usual spots; although it’s been awhile. I am really worried so I thought I’d call …”

I found him at the spot where he and I used to go, an old picnic table near his favourite chip truck. He’d go there back when being around the “goody two shoes whack job family Andy pawned him off on” got too much for him and he’d bolt. I mean he’d really bolt. Kentucky Derby winners were slower out of the gate. It got to be a thing we did. I’d wait for him there and he’d come when he was ready.

“I blew it this time didn’t I”?

I had learned not to answer … YET … he had taught me well.
“Well … Didn’t I?”
Not yet.
“Proud of me. Proud of me, my ass!”
Not yet.
“Why did she have to say that? What does she want from me?”
OK …
“You think she wants something from you?”
“Don’t they all??? She thinks she’s so. … DIFFERENT! The whole whack job family thinks they are @#$&ing different!”
“They want too much from me, Andy!”
“What do you think they want, dude?”(He called me “dude man” when I first met him. Well … actually it was @#$&ing dude man – it became another “thing” we did) …
“They want me to be like them…you know … like a part of them!’
”Like … you mean … their family?
“Yeah. Their family! Their stupid whack job loving family. They want me to love them. I can’t tell them I love them!”
”Yeah … that would be pretty scary to say.”
“Don’t you ever … like … say something helpful?”
I knew we were done … for now.
”You ready to go back to the Whack Jobs. You know they are worrying.”
‘Yeah. Let’s go. Sorry dude man.”

I can’t tell them I love them.

That is a problem that is all too common with “our kids” – and our system. For soooo many different reasons.

We write a lot about love in this column. Isn’t love the foundation of family and isn’t family the foundation of foster care?

Too often, they try to take the love out of foster care as they have tried to do with most professions that deal with youth.

Fortunately, foster parents help remind and teach the rest of us that love is integral in our work. It is not a strategy to be tried or a therapeutic intervention to be assessed, monitored and considered based on measurable outcomes.

A foster parent had this on a needle point framed and hanging in each of her bedrooms:

Bears all things
Believes all things
Hopes all things
Endures all things
LOVE never fails.