Hugging A Stranger on the Plane

A note from Gari, ATN Blog Manager and Board Member:  We first ran this post  October of 2013, but it is one that I think of often.  Sometimes, we are not able to be a child’s forever parent.  But that doesn’t mean that all the love we give to the children we have only temporarily doesn’t matter, and that doesn’t mean we don’t make a difference.  To the contrary, that love can mean everything to a traumatized child.  So this is a reminder for all the foster parents I know, and for all those who love children who live oceans away.  

By:  Julie Beem

airplaneNo, this isn’t a blog about indiscriminate affection.  And no, this is not a mom you will read about in a sensationalized report on “underground adoptive/foster families.”  But it happens much more often than most people know.

Coming home from the ATTACh conference days ago, I plopped my exhausted self in the aisle seat next to a married couple and pulled out one of the adoption books I had acquired at the conference.  The cover had the words “adoptive and foster parents” on it.

Are you training to be a foster parent?” the woman asked. 
“Oh, no,” I responded and explained to her what ATN was, what I do and that I had been to an attachment conference.  “Are you a foster parent?”

“I was,” she sighed, “for about 12 years until they gave me a kid who harmed my family.”

So much for my quiet ride home, as I sensed this mom wanted to share her story.  “What happened?” I plunged in.
For the next hour or so, in spurts and starts, this stranger told me about the 12-year-old who was placed in her home when her own bio son was four.  And how one day she had caught him re-enacting the sexual abuse he had endured, and now her son was victimized.  I could only respond with “I’m sorry” and “you’re not the only one.”

CPS removed the boy from her home immediately, even though that wasn’t necessarily what she wanted.  “If they had told me ahead of time, I could have kept my son safe AND got the boy the counseling and help he needed.  But I just didn’t know.”

She proceeded to tell me that her son has struggled for years with the impact of abuse, and that despite counseling he was currently, as a young adult, living on her sofa, not holding a job and not thinking about college.  Then she told me about the foster son and that he had been homeless, previously a drug addict, but doing much better this year.  How did she know that about a child who was removed from her home nearly 17 years ago?  She saw the question cross my face.

“Oh, he still calls me at least on Christmas and sometimes on Mother’s Day,” she offered.  “And he calls me ‘Mom’.”  I teared up.  Then she added, “that’s why, even though we moved from the Midwest to Texas, I’ve kept the same cell phone number for the last 20 years—so he can call me when he wants.”

And that’s when I hugged the stranger on the plane.

Julie has been ATN's Executive Director since 2009. She joined the organization in 2004 after finding incredible support from fellow ATNers when she was searching for answers about her own daughter's early childhood trauma and attachment disorders. Julie leads a staff of passionate professionals and acts as spokesperson for the organization. Prior to ATN, Julie was the president of a marketing and communications consultancy, The Epiphany Group, and has over two decades of experience in professional services marketing, strategic planning and communication strategies. As a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and through personal experience, Julie has garnered a great deal of experience in the areas of special education, school issues, and disabilities advocacy. A published author, Julie wrote a chapter in the EMK Press Adoption Parenting book and was the special needs blogger at for two years. She frequently presents workshops on attachment and trauma to local and national groups. Email Julie. Julie holds an MBA from Avila College in Kansas City and was a Certified Professional Services Marketer. Julie, and her husband Dave, are parents to four (bio, step and adoptive), including their youngest daughter, adopted from China. This daughter’s attachment difficulties and developmental trauma disorder have changed their lives significantly…in amazing ways.