Monday, July 6, 2015

Bridget Foster Mother

St. Bridget Spreads Her Cloak over Ireland by artist Cynthia Matyi

As an adoptive mom I have long identified with the the Christian Bridget's role as foster mother.

Medieval legend goes that Bridget, the goddess of welcoming hospitality, was at the inn where Joseph and Mary stopped - only to be shocked when they were shuffled off to the stables.  Bridget worried about the young couple,  having been magically whisked there from the shores of the Irish Sea.  In this aspect, Bridget is Miome Chriosde, midwife to Christ, banchuideachaidh Moire, aid-woman to Mary.  In the Scottish Highlands version, she sees a lamp in the stable and goes to help deliver baby Jesus.  In multiple Irish and Welsh tales, she is Christ's later foster mother, a hugely important role in medieval Ireland and Wales, where foster mothers took on the education of their foster child at the age of seven.  In these stories, Bridget becomes a sacred teacher in the medieval tradition, guiding her foster child into apprenticeship and miraculous career.  Dennis O'Neal in Passionate Holiness:  Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive Peoples notes that no other non-Biblical Saint has been connected to both Jesus and Mary as Bridget has.

Since I've been a mom, I've lived in a different culture, one quite uncomfortable with foster parenting and adoption.  Common questions I've heard over the years include, "where did you buy your children?" and "are those kids really yours?" and "don't they want their real mothers?"  At the same time, schools have refused to enroll my daughter, lawyers told me I would never get custody of my children during my divorce, and even old friends from church questioned if I had a right to parent as a single mom after the divorce.  "It's not like they're really your children," said one Christian friend.  The sacredness of Bridget, as Christ's foster mother, is lost in modern America.

Now with two college kids on my hands, and one high schooler, the questions over the years are somewhat moot.  My kids can tell you who I am, that annoying person insisting they do homework and finish semesters.  Their friends think my dreds are cool and I am all together an embarrassment.  Proof of real motherhood if there ever was one!

But in my work in West Virginia, I am often solving one crisis after another.  As schools around the country become increasingly punitive, sending kids with special needs to juvenile detention and foster care is more and more common.  The same schools refuse federally mandated special education programs, and blame parents when children don't want to attend school.  At the same time, I drive up hollows to rural areas where no other service provider will go, working with wonderful children whose only crime is living too far off of main roads.  I am not a foster mother to these children and teenagers in the modern sense, but I am often working to secure safe and nurturing education and services for babies, preschoolers, kids and teenagers.  Along the way I have made some wonderful connections to so many families.  I love parents in West Virginia who work their asses off to get the best for their children that they can.

So in that sense I feel like Bridget foster mother.  From playing with a ten month old who is suspected of being on the autism spectrum, to coaxing a bullied teen with asperger's out of bed, I am working with kids who need someone who is professional and can advocate for them and for their parents.  Most of my work days I see amazing changes every single visit:  the ten month old smiles when I coo in her face; the teen sits up and talks about archery; the parents who worried about their children laugh and cry to see their kids learning and growing.  Watching families and kids change and relax and remember how to care for one another is a truly sacred experience.  

I remember back in the dark days when I started my counseling program, and again when I worked in crappy internships with punitive supervisors who had no idea how to play and teach real children.  It was scary to think that to support my own adopted kids I had to work in programs that mostly harmed kids.  I wanted so much to somehow continue giving other children and teens the freedom and support I give my own.  The professional world seemed stacked against me.

Sometimes I really did wonder if Bridget had somehow forgotten me, our contracts, my puja.  Or maybe she was busy with others, and had no more time to follow my little problems.

But now I feel awed and amazed at my work, and I can see Bridget the foster mother to Jesus in the lives I am touching.  I can name teenagers who are not in jail because of my reports, count toddlers who never talked who are now talking, list children who had no accommodations in school who now have supports.  I have helped families get better services, helped new kids start homeschooling, and helped other kids find better schools.  In Celtic society, a foster mother helps guide a child into apprenticeship and vocation, and I am helping kids make eye contact, speak, study things they love, and get everything from computers in their schools to parents who allow them their video games.  A teenager with greasy hair who makes eye contact and smiles and thanks me for having their video games back is a sacred thing, too.

So, I feel a lot of gratitude for Bridget.  Maybe she was busy with others while I suffered through my internships.  Maybe she did forget me while I was busy studying for certification exams that seem endless.  (One more in August.)  But somehow, all that difficult time led to doing this work now.  Dirt roads and nasty schools and isolated hollows and sacred children, sacred families, and the sacred work of protecting and mentoring children.

May the blessings of Bridgid the bright
Rest upon us, this day, this night,
I will kindle this fire as Bridghid, foster mother of Christ would
The Foster Mother's Name be on our hearth
Be on our work, be on our households all.

(Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael, 1900)