I was interviewed by a kid. I’ll call her “Kay,” but that’s not her name. Kay is a foster child who loves Auburn University football.
Kay is also serious about the sanctity of the interview process. Kay wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.
She got in touch with me because this is National Foster Care Month. Today happens to be National Foster Care Day.
Her digital recorder sat on the table. She gave me bottled water. She also had prepared homemade pimento cheese because she knows pimento cheese is my favorite.
It was very good cheese. However, instead of using pimentos, Kay used homegrown habanero peppers from her foster-mother’s garden that were spicy enough to strip the paint off interstate pavement. My lower intestinal tract will never be the same.
The interview was for Kay’s school. She was supposed to be writing about people who were fascinating. But she couldn’t find anyone like that, so instead she wrote about me.
She pressed the button on the recorder.
“Please state your name.” Her pencil was poised mid-air.
“Your FULL name, please,” Kay said.
“Sean P. Dietrich.”
“What does the ‘P’ stand for, please?”
“No, not really, I was just trying to make you laugh.”
But Kay does not laugh. She doesn’t move a facial muscle. Kay will make a very good prosecutor.
“Tell me how you started writing?”
“With a pencil,” I said.
“Please be serious.”
“Okay,” I said. “I’m a writer by accident, really.”
“I was no good at anything else. And believe me, I’ve tried it all. I’ve worked a lot of jobs.”
“What kinds of jobs?”
“Oh boy, let’s see…. I’ve been a drywaller, a landscaper, an electrician’s assistant, a house painter, an ice-cream scooper, a beer-joint pianist, and once, after a wild night in Biloxi, I got ordained.”
“Is that true?” said Kay. “Were you really ordained?”
I retrieve the little plastic card from my wallet to prove it.
“You mean you’re actually ordained?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said. “One of my friends wanted me to officiate their wedding ceremony, so I had to get ordained.”
“So you are a preacher?”
“But you have the card.”
“The card means nothing. It means I paid $150 bucks to a weird company in California that also ordained Bob Newhart and Cher. I’m not even very religious. I was raised Baptist, and that means we ate pear salad and my mother ironed my jeans.”
“But what about now?”
“Now, I wear jeans that are un-ironed.”
Little Miss Auburn made notes.
“What are your beliefs on God?” she asked.
Jiminy Christmas. This kid is tough.
“How about,” I suggested, “you tell me YOUR beliefs on God.”
She had to think about this.
“Well. I think he watches over us. I think he loves us all. Especially kids. I think he’s nicer than everyone. I think he looks like that old guy from that movie with the balloons on that little house that make the house go flying around. And also, God is also an Auburn fan.”
“Auburn? How do you know that?”
“Because the Bible says so.”
“Isaiah 40, verse 31. ‘But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, and they will mount up on wings like War Eagles…”
“That’s not how it goes.”
“Yes it is. Would you like some more pimento cheese, Mister Sean?”
“No, thank you.”
“Who is your hero?” she asked for her final question.
And I had to think about this. Truth be told, I have had a lot of heroes in my day. But when I think about all this child has been through, there is only one correct answer here.
“You are my hero,” I told her.
“Me?” she said. “Why?”
“Because, you just are.”
“Yes. You’re gonna go a long way in your life, Kay. I can feel it. ”
“Really? Do you think so?”
“Why do you say that?”
Because, even at her young age, this child has been up against insurmountable odds and survived.
Right now there are 500,000 foster kids in the US. A new child is placed in the foster system every 2 minutes. Only 50 percent of foster kids will graduate high school, and one third of fostered females will be pregnant before they graduate.
Foster kids are three times more likely to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder than US war veterans. And 80 percent have serious mental health issues. One out of every five fosters will experience homelessness after they age out of of care. More than 70 percent of those incarcerated were at one time foster children.
So yeah, this girl is fighting against the current, and succeeding. I’d say that qualifies her to be my hero.
When our interview was finished, she shook my hand. Then, she asked if she could give me a hug. She threw her arms around me and said:
“It’s kinda hard sometimes, being a foster kid, I never know what’s going on. I never know where I’m gonna be. You never know who wants you. Sometimes you never know stuff at all.”
My eyes turned pink. I drove home that night and I thought about her. In fact, I never stopped thinking about her. I was even thinking about her this morning, when someone emailed me to say that, after a long wait, my little hero has finally been adopted.
Whoever those lucky parents are, I hope they’re saving for Auburn tuition.