I’m going to tell you why you should take your kids to see “Annie” (your black kids, brown kids, white kids, foster kids, adopted kids, bio kids, etc.). And I’m going to do it in two words: Punky Brewster.
Maybe you don’t remember Punky Brewster, but I do. It was one of the few shows approved by my pretty sheltering parents (an example of how sheltered I was— I didn’t know the song “Little Girls” existed in “Annie” because my mom was so offended by it she edited it out of our recorded off of TV version) and featured as a main character a girl about my age who was a foster child. I loved her. She was feisty and had an unusual fashion sense. She was brave in all the ways I wanted to be. She had a grumpy foster dad who had a secret soft side for her.
I can’t remember the plot line of a single episode. I can’t tell you if I’d still support that portrayal of foster kids or what might offend me if I watched it as a foster parent now. All I can tell you is that the 7 year-old me incorporated that into her mind about what it meant to be a foster kid. It became part of a burning passion in my heart that continued to be shaped by watching the original “Annie”, reading the “Orphan Train” series of books, growing up around relatives who were foster parents, and playing orphanage with my dolls. I was a loved child from a stable family and my heart was burdened from the youngest ages I can remember for kids who needed family. My morals were shaped by a Biblical ideal of orphan care, but my curiosity was engaged by these portrayals of orphans and foster kids from the books, the movies, and the TV shows I was exposed to.
So take your kids to see “Annie”. Don’t shelter them from the reality that there are foster kids in their own town. Let them sit for a bit in the understanding that not everybody has a home where they belong. Let them develop empathy. Let them wonder how they can help. You may very well be raising a future foster mom, a future adoptive dad, a potential lawyer or judge or caseworker or advocate for the needs of these kids. This can be part of a spark that lights a fire for them. Shelter them from being hurt by the tragedies in this world, but don’t shelter them from understanding that other kids haven’t had that kind of care and protection. Help them understand with compassion and love the realities of the world around them.
Leave that theatre and ask them what they would have said to Annie if they could have talked to her about her situation. Ask them how they felt about what happened to Annie. For our kids adopted from foster care, we talk openly about what would happen to them if we couldn’t care for them (in the case of our death). You’d think that would be really morbid or give them fear, but they get a lot of peace from knowing that they will never again be foster kids. They have a long list of relatives and family friends that would step in to care for them if they didn’t have us as parents anymore.
I can’t say “Annie” won’t be triggering for kids still currently in foster care. I can see her adoption storyline would be painful for kids still waiting for family. The same way “The Parent Trap” paints an unrealistic picture of a happy ending of reunification for divorced families, this could have a similar impact on kids who don’t have permanency in sight. The reality is that FAR too many kids age out of the system without legal parents. I shed some tears when Pepper said, “Nobody wants to adopt a teenager.” How I wish that weren’t true. I hope this movie will inspire a new generation of kids to think about their peers in foster care and to then grow up and DO something.
It was easy for me as a person who is familiar with “the system” to take issue with some of the specifics of the movie. Biological parents can’t come back in the picture after six years, sign some papers and leave with their child. No judge we’ve ever dealt with would be like, “Oh, you’ve been looking for her? Cool. Here she is.” The approval process Mr. Stacks (the “Daddy Warbucks” character) goes through is a joke and nothing like what would have to happen for someone to be approved to have a foster kid in their home. But ultimately that’s not what’s important. It’s important to me that my kids have their imagination captured in positive ways by this story. I’ve seen it happen time and again for them. “Despicable Me”, “Meet the Robinsons”, these are movies that have inspired good conversations with our kids and have given them courage when they see a character they identify with do great things.
Let the movie be a starting point for a conversation about family. About compassion. And about what we can do to help the kids who need us. I hope this movie will be a “Punky Brewster” moment for my kids’ generation.
Maralee is a mother of six pretty incredible kids ages seven and under. Four of my kids were adopted (one internationally from Liberia, three through foster care) and two of our sons we made ourselves. Prior to becoming parents my husband and I were houseparents at a children’s home and had the privilege of helping to raise17 boys during our five year tenure. I’m crazy passionate about caring for kids, foster parenting and adoption, making my husband a fairly decent dinner every night, staying on top of the laundry, watching ridiculous documentaries, and doing everything I do for God’s glory.
Read more from Maralee at www.amusingmaralee.com.