For Forty-five Days, He Was My Little Man
Two children delivered to our door; she was one, and he was seven. His ruffled sun-blonde hair, huge smile, and immediate connection inspired hope. Her strawberry hair, wide blue eyes, and a shy smile had my heart from the get-go. Their dad was over twenty years their mom's senior and an alcoholic, often incarcerated or in rehabilitation facilities. Mom had an IQ slightly higher than the seven-year-old. The situation at home required their removal. He suffered from attachment disorder and several other problems; he took the prescribed medication and attended counseling. She was only a baby and still required evaluation.
Once in our care, we learned they would have a sibling. Mom was pregnant again. We cared for the children the nine months of Mom's pregnancy; the caseworkers told us that when the baby came, he or she would immediately be removed and placed in our care. The department of social services felt it was in the best interest of the children to pursue termination of parental rights, and they broached the topic of adoption with my husband and me. One reason we'd entered the world of foster care was the possibility of adopting a child; we each had two children from our first marriages, but due to health problems, having another child was a danger to my life and possibly the baby's life as well.
Mom gave birth to a boy. Boy 2 came to us straight from the hospital. Tiny, squalling bundle of love, his features strongly resembled his siblings, and he was adorable. We'd turned my office into a nursery. We bought a ton of baby clothes, blankets, pacifiers, bottles, diapers, and wipes. Assembled a crib, bassinet, changing table, baby swing, portable crib, stroller - you know - the endless list of things that people expecting babies buy. For the first few weeks, I kept the bassinet next to my bed. My youngest child was eleven-years-old; it had been a while since I'd had to get up for late-night feedings; I was a little anxious. It turned out boy 2 was colicky and needed near-constant attention; we had to switch his formula three times, and it didn't help; I was awake all night long. He'd only sleep if I sat up and held him with his head on my shoulder. Sometimes, sitting him in his swing and letting it rock gently would help him sleep for an hour or two. Exhausted by the second week, I asked my husband to take Friday night or Saturday night shifts so I could rest, but Little Man wanted me. I'd lay there and listen to him cry and cry. When my husband couldn't get him to stop, I'd go and pick him up and settle him down. Our four children, plus baby's siblings and one other child in care at the time needed me during the day. I wouldn't have given up baby, though; my heartstrings were bound to that boy as though I'd given birth to him.
By week number three, we'd received the bad news. There would be a hearing because Mom and Dad were fighting the removal of the baby and wanted him returned home. The department of social services contacted us and told us that they would battle against this happening. We continued to pray they would not return the baby to a situation that his older siblings couldn't face. How did it make any sense? Why would they send him home? It wouldn't happen. It couldn't happen. We loved this child, and our children had bonded with him, all the children had; they enjoyed holding him, helping feed him and bathe him, and pushing him in his stroller. They all loved him.
The hearing came and went, and we received a phone call from the caseworker. It happened. Of all the idiotic decisions that a judge had ever made, this particular judge ordered the baby returned to his parents. The basis for her decision? The well-thought-out, logical reason for her judgment? "Just because they abused their first two children, doesn't mean they'll abuse their third one." Can you wrap your mind around this? But don't worry, they set 'safeguards' in place. Mom and Dad were mandated to parenting and anger management classes. They would begin visits with the baby for the next three weeks until finally, the baby would return home permanently after they met their requirements.
Baby went to Mom and Dad two afternoons a week for visits. Two afternoons tore from my soul every week welcoming baby home with strip checks and examining every inch of him for problems. The day came closer and closer, the day they'd take him permanently. I cried every night as he fussed and cried. What would they do when he couldn't sleep at night? Would they know how to comfort him? Would they leave him crying? Would it make them angry? What would it do to him when he cried, and I wasn't there - when it wasn't me who picked him up and rubbed my cheek against his and stroked his back while I rocked him? It was killing me slowly; I couldn't sleep, even if he did; I just wanted to hold him.
Then the day arrived, 45 days after I first held him. I'd gotten him up early that morning; I fed him, bathed him, and dressed him. He fell asleep in my arms, and I breathed the smell of his hair, stared at his face and memorized how peaceful he looked. The doorbell rang, and I buckled him into his car seat. All my children were in school, and my husband was at work; the younger kids in care were all at appointments; I'd purposely scheduled the pick up during that time. Our transport worker was an incredibly nice woman who'd we'd worked with for a long time; she and I couldn't make eye contact. I held the car seat; she took the handle and firmly rested her hand on my shoulder for a moment. She buckled baby into the backseat of her car, and she drove away. Slumped on the landing in my garage, I wailed; my heart would never recover.