by Jodee and Karl Kulp
Almost thirty-two years ago Karl and I met in a parking lot over a discussion of fishing. Much water has passed under the bridge we built that day. Storms have raised their ugly heads and we have cleaned up debris and damage. But the bridge we chose to build has remained strong and firm holding onto the individual banks of each of our personalities, ideals and opinions and joining them together over rough and tumultuous waters. Our well-trodden bridge has spanned years of adventures and experiences. Together we have invited others to join us on our bridge. This old bridge has provided safety for young people as they crossed over into their own lives, as they determined who they would become. It was these children, the children birthed to others who refined our connections in making our bridge ever stronger and wiser. These children graciously and diligently tested our patience and wore smooth our rough edges.
Karl and I are dreamers of possibilities. With stars in our eyes we took in foster children. With a sparkle in our heart we adopted a dying baby. With smiles we have greeted exchange students. We believed we could make a difference in the lives of children. And, it is true , we have.
DREAMS MAY DIE TO NEW POSSIBILITIES
We discovered that our dreams often did not become realities in the way we planned. We could not repair the neurological and physical damage of prenatal alcohol exposure to our precious adopted daughter. We could however learn everything possible about Fetal Alcohol, help her become the best person she can be and advocate for society=s awareness. We have set a standard for our parenting that recognizes our humanity. On our daughter’s ‘off’ days it is enough to be together, to be a family and love each other. On my parenting ‘off’ days it is enough that I just am, that our family supports my humanness and gives me my time alone off the bridge, on my side of the bank.
KEEPING THE BRIDGE OPEN DURING A STORM
Only twice in our relationship have we agreed to lock horns on individual issues -- each time over a matter of life and death. Once we were both wrong -- the truth lay between us -- on the bridge. It didn’t take long for us to realize that two very independent people were going to have two very different opinions. We agreed to disagree. We also agreed that each of us had the right to safe and healthy anger and we would take turns being angry instead of defensive or offensive toward one another.
BRIDGES NEED TO BE BUILT TO CROSS
Choosing to take turns in being angry has paved our bridge with the strength of deep understanding of each other. It has forced us to walk in the other’s shoes. It has meant that we have had to take turns to temporarily lay our own lives down (our personal agendas and opinions) for the advancement, safety and health of each other or our family team. It means that we show in our actions and words regard for each other’s emotions, experiences, time and ideas.
FOCUS ON THE TEAM
Reaching out past our own individuality and embracing the differences of each other, allows us the freedom to also embrace the differences of many. It allows for the expanse of our bridge to be solid enough to hold the diversity of little feet in all their complexity. It permits time to season it=s rails as they strive to protect youth from the dangers of the world when nature and life happens.
Standing hand-in-hand in the center of our bridge, at the center of our lives, we understand that life happens. We have held newborn babies, death of dear ones, and friends who have suffered great losses. We have rejoiced in moments of joy. We have felt the agony of dreams shattered. And yet, we have been given a new day. A different day. We have learned to accept that difference and the challenges it offers. We have learned to live and love and include other partners in those moments.
PARTNERS FOR THE MOMENT
My dear friend lost her husband to cancer. At the time of his death they had ten children, grown under their love and care -- born under other mother’s hearts. His death was a great loss. The bridge they had so strongly built did not crumble. Not one child fell. Partners for the moment joined forces to help. Friends offered respite services, retired foster care providers became a surrogate parenting team, social workers bought groceries, and their church brought hot meals. A community rallied upon the bridge they had so strongly built -- there was room for everyone. Each partner took a small piece of the burden of the moment. The bridge wasn’t going to go down, just because of a little old storm. We all learned to laugh together in darkness and of course cry.
EYES THAT SPARKLE, EYES THAT CRY
My husband’s eyes shine as beacons of encouragement and hope even without words. In times of trouble and difficulty we become one unit without words, our thoughts and messages reaching out beyond the situations. Our actions speak louder than our words. We understand in our hearts the meaning of -- united we stand, divided we fall.
Jodee and Karl Kulp are the adoptive parents of Liz Kulp, who co-authored with Jodee The Best I Can Be - Living With Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or Effects --now in it's 7th printing. Jodee is also the author of Families at Risk - a guidebook for caregivers of high-risk children, Our FAScinating Journey and Journey to Life, she trains nationally and her debut novel The Whitest Wall published in 2008 has received 2009 Best Adult Fiction and Best Young Adult Fiction from Mom's Choice Foundation and is up as a finalist for two Best Multicultural Fiction Awards in May at the Book Expo. Visit their website filled with helpful family information.