Last weekend, The Pyjama Foundation celebrated our 4th annual Sydney Gala Ball. It was a huge success in helping us raise vital funds to support our Love of Learning Program. A highlight of the night was hearing from our incredible Sydney-based Carers Kathy and Tim, who brought the room to tears with their moving words. Here’s a snippet:
So why did we go into fostering? At the beginning, it was because we had struggled with infertility but we didn’t want to let that stand in the way of having a family. But really, there is one overarching reason why we became foster carers and I think this may be true for most foster carers:
It’s because our reasons to say yes were so much bigger than the reasons to say no.
You don’t need to be perfect or a saint to be a good foster carer. We really are just an ordinary family. I am certainly far from saintly and far from perfect but I know I am a good carer and a good mum. Despite my many faults, what makes me a good carer is that even on my very worst days, my kids have the most important things they need: they know they are loved and they know they are safe. What makes a good carer is a great capacity for love. A willingness to understand why kids with trauma behave the way they do and willingness to parent them the way they need, not the way others may think they deserve.
A good carer has a great tolerance of failure. And most of all, a good carer must be willing to risk a huge amount of heartbreak, more than you think possible. You sign up to give that child all the love that they need, irrespective of whether they are moving in for one week or a lifetime. You sign up to take on as much of the child’s heartbreak as you can, in order to spare them more.
Foster carers love the starfish story. If you don’t know it, it’s the story of hundreds and hundreds of starfish washed up on a beach, and a young boy walking along picking them up and gently throwing them straight back into the sea. A man walked up to the young boy and asked him what he was doing. The boy tells him he is throwing the starfish back into the ocean, otherwise they’ll die. The man laughs and says there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish. That the boy won’t make any difference. The boy listens politely, then bends down and picks up another starfish and throws it into the surf. He smiles at the man and says,
“I made a difference to that one”.
This is what foster carers do and this is what Pyjama Angels do. We change the world for one child at a time, and that makes a world of difference.
Another way I like to think about it is the metaphor that everyone has their own road in life. There are ups and downs, sometimes there is light and sometimes it’s dark. And as you walk this road, you have your burdens to carry. We’ve been lucky: Tim and I have both had hard times in our life, but overall for both of us, our road was free from fear and any barriers we faced were low. We may not have always been able to see where that road would take us, but thanks to our support systems, we could travel our roads with the optimism that everything will be okay.
But the same cannot be said for the vast majority of children in care.
Imagine you are one of these kids. You are starting out on dark, broken road. You don’t have any choice about what road you are allowed to follow. You can’t see what pitfalls lie ahead. You don’t know what may be around the corner. And you are carrying heavy, heavy burdens and it’s hard to move forward because these weigh you down. You stumble and you are hurt. But there is no one there to help you. Or the people who are supposed to help you don’t listen… or worse. They hurt you. Maybe someone comes to help but they don’t stay around for long. You don’t know who you can trust. You are small, alone and scared.
As a foster carer, I choose to join my child as he walks this road. I will walk with my child every day, so he is not alone to fight battles no child should know about… even on those days when it feels like he might be trying to push me off the road. Like every other parent, we try to shoulder as much of our child’s burden as we can. We try to protect them from the pitfalls and the broken roads and lower the barriers they encounter. And if we cannot bring light to their dark road, we walk with them in the darkness until we find the light.
When you hear about organisations like The Pyjama Foundation, you know that there is still a strong community of people who believe that they can make a change. When you work with The Pyjama Foundation, you see the impact that the organisation makes in the lives of the vulnerable children – and the families – they work with. For us, the impact has been tremendous and lasting. At the lowest ebbs of our lives, we had the unwavering support of the Pyjama Foundation and for us, it made a huge difference.
Now let me tell you about my son B*. He is now 11 but when we first contacted the Pyjama Foundation he was 6 years old. He loves science, computers, cooking and sewing. He is funny. He is cheeky. He loves to dress up. He is my loving, quirky, loud, special boy. And I have been his proud mum since he was 9 months old.I saw the Pyjama Foundation as a way to help him feel special. To get more of the individual attention he needed, with the added bonus of helping a child who doesn’t like reading and wasn’t doing well at school.
I contacted the Foundation and the support we needed came through quickly. There was no question that asking for help meant that we were not coping. Just a genuine desire from everyone at The Pyjama Foundation to help my child as quickly as possible. They talked the talk, and they walked the walk. Not long after the paperwork was completed I had a call about a Pyjama Angel, Meg.
I didn’t know much about Meg. I knew Meg didn’t know much about us. But you know what? That didn’t matter. All that mattered is that my child needed help and Meg was willing to help him. Regardless of the grief and trauma consuming our family, B* had the predictable calm each week of Meg coming in.
Let me say again, B* was a child who hated reading and struggled to positively engage with learning at school. This was also clear to Meg but it didn’t take her long to work out what makes B* tick. They would do science experiments together, with Meg gleefully telling me that she once blew up a lab at uni, but don’t worry, she’ll make sure they don’t blow up my house.
When explaining fractions to B* she would use recipes as a way to translate the concepts in a language that made real-world sense to him. They would do coding programs together. Meg would encourage B* to do a little bit of work with her so they could fit in a sewing lesson at the end of the session. Meg has a million and one ways to get B* to read without realising he is reading. But more than this, every week when Meg visits, B* has the reminder that he has support, and it’s more than just academic support.
Of course the benefits aren’t just at home but at school. I think the time B* has spent with Meg had taught him to persist. B* has learnt that, yes, schoolwork is often hard and daunting but he can keep trying. He is learning to ask for help and that when he asks for help, it will be given. Working with Meg has undoubtedly helped to increase his academic confidence and then his engagement and behaviour at school.
I think B* now feels like he is finally succeeding at school. We have always told him that it’s not always the smartest people who are the most successful, but successful people are always those who work hard and don’t give up, even when things are really hard. B* has heard this from us a million times, but Meg has been the first person to really help him live this.
I hope by sharing our story, you will understand that The Pyjama Foundation is so much more to us than weekly volunteers that help with reading. For both B* and Ruby, it’s that special person who is reliable and predictable and kind who is there nearly every week, regardless of what chaos may be going on in their little worlds.
For them, it can be those long weeks when you hear kids at school talk about play dates and parties that you’re not invited to, but knowing that every December you’ll get an invite to the most amazing Christmas party thrown by the Pyjama Foundation where you will be made to feel so special but so normal all at once.
It’s not knowing if everyone you love will remember your birthday, but being surprised by a beautiful birthday card and book, of course sent by the Pyjama Foundation. It’s all these things that might seem small to us, but to these small, wonderful kids it means so much.
I see you. You matter. I am here for you. I want to help you.
I unapologetically gush when I speak about the Pyjama Foundation but they have been a lifeline for us in some truly difficult times. It has been an honour to speak tonight. Not because my family is different or special or extraordinary, but because to the Pyjama Foundation we are spectacularly, gloriously ordinary. We are no different to the hundreds of families this wonderful organisation helps, and like every one of these families, the Pyjama Foundation makes a tremendous, grassroots difference to us every single week.
Twelve years ago we became foster carers because we held hope. Hope that we could make a difference. For the Pyjama Foundation, it’s more than just hoping they will make a difference. It’s a belief that has become a reality for so many.