Sibling Sundays is a remarkable year-round program that celebrates the sibling connection. Every month sisters and brothers who have been separated when placed in foster care come together to spend the day. At this time of year we go sledding, build snow forts, eat pizza, drink hot chocolate, decorate Valentine cookies, and create a treasure trove of shared childhood memories.
This past week, if you had been with us, you would have seen about 20 sisters and brothers gathered at tables sprinkling colorful decorations on homemade Valentine cookies. The kids were sitting with their sibling groups and counselors, smiles on their faces. Some had pink frosting on their lips.
In their midst sat a brother and a sister who had not seen each other for seven years. Their extended family of adoptive parents, counselors, and another sister were at the table decorating with them. Cookies were being passed back and forth, laughter flowed, and a big brother – little sister relationship was being woven back together. This was a reunion that made my heart sing…
The pain of their separation had a profound impact on this big brother: “That morning I left home and went to school. It was a regular day. I was in the first grade. After school a social worker picked me up and told me I wasn’t going home. My baby sister was in the car. The social worker drove us to a house and stopped the car. She told me to wait. She took my sister’s car seat out and carried her up to the front door of the house. That was the day my little sister disappeared from my life.”
This young man loves his little sister deeply. Over the past seven years he has frequently asked himself the question, “What if I didn’t let the social worker take her from the car?” He did not understand that he was powerless to do anything about his family’s situation. He was a 6 year old in the first grade. He had felt responsible for her well-being long before she was carried to her foster mother’s front door so in his mind, he had allowed her to disappear from his family.
One of his sisters stayed connected to their little sister. He heard through the grapevine that she had been adopted by a wonderful family. He saw some photographs. But he never got to see her or talk with her. He never got to eat breakfast with her, sit next to her in the car, watch TV or celebrate her birthday with her. First grade, second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade. He worried, felt guilty and waited.
On Sunday, when I quietly re-introduced them, she went up to him and gave him a hug. She did not fully understanding who he was. He knew that she did not remember him in the same way that he remembered her – that she did not remember their life together in the same way. He had heard that this was the first of many steps in their relationship building. He hugged her back, took a deep breath, and went on to spend the day with her. He spent time with her adoptive family, experiencing their kindness and love. He shared how nervous he had been that morning before they arrived.
At 4:00 PM, after a day of decorating cookies, sharing pizza, and horseback riding, his little sister began to understand their family situation more fully. Seated in the back seat of the car between her big sister and brother, she asked, “Why was I separated from my family?” The adults in the car began to formulate the most appropriate response. In the meantime, her big sister answered her question in a manner both simple and direct. The little sister listened, nodded, and leaned into her big brother. Then she asked when they were coming to Sibling Sundays again.
Safety, well-being, respectful collaboration, and connection. Common sense and humanity. Blessing the lives around us. We can transform the lives of 800,000 children by weaving appropriate safety nets over, under and around them. We can make it right. Imagine a country where colorful safety nets full of caring people, tremendous opportunities, and an abundance of resources are the norm. Imagine that!