20 Mar The Extra Mile
One of the books we read in preparation for fostering was The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog by Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz. In the book, Perry describes a moment early in his career as a child psychiatrist where he broke with the traditional doctor/patient boundaries and offered his patient and her family a ride home from therapy. It was a bitterly cold winter night in Chicago, and he couldn’t stand to watch a mother and three children wait at the bus stop while he had a warm car big enough to carry them. He writes: “I went back and forth, but my heart kept coming down on the side of kindness.”
Dr. Perry’s ethical and therapeutic dilemma came to mind as Bio-Mom begged me for a ride to LAD’s upcoming pediatrician appointment. Bio-Mom is dependent on public transit, and the closest bus stop to the doctor’s office is over a mile away. She told me that she had made the trek at least once before, and she was not at all exaggerating when she said there was a giant hill to cross. I recognized the route she had taken and had to agree that it was no small feat. Even so, I was not at liberty to give her a ride.
Bio-Mom and I have had a good relationship thus far, and the last thing I wanted was to give her a reason to have a beef with me. I pictured the resentment that could easily build up if she were to arrive at the pediatrician sweating and breathless while I swung into the parking lot in my climate-controlled car, the very picture of privilege. No good could come of that. Instead, I offered to meet her at the bus stop with LAD and a stroller so that we could all walk together.
Beloved Spouse had the day off, so she came too, and the three of us huffed and puffed up the daunting hill, and finally into the pediatrician’s office. Many good things came out of the appointment itself– we discovered that LAD had gained over a pound (!) since coming to live with us, Bio-Mom showed us what she had learned in her infant massage classes and got LAD to relax quite a bit so that his response to this round of vaccinations was much less severe– but the real coup was the walk back.
At the end of the appointment, I consulted a map and suggested a walking route that offered different scenery, quieter streets, and a little more sidewalk. It was slightly longer in terms of total footsteps but almost entirely flat, no big hill to leave us winded. Bio-Mom, who had not believed there was any other way to get from here to there, was delighted and kept saying over and over, “This is so much better!” I was delighted, too, because I felt a deeper trust was forged between us.
There are so many ways in which my (and Beloved Spouse’s) life experience and worldview differs from Bio-Mom’s that finding common ground seems rare, if not impossible. Walking a mile together side by side put all of us on equal footing, even if only for an hour, and demonstrated our commitment to taking the best possible care of LAD. Ain’t no mountain high enough!