After some introductions from the other children that were met with Patches burying her face in my shoulder, I took her to have a bath by herself. She didnt splash and laugh or wiggle when I placed her in the warm water. She sat still, looking ahead or down with no expression on her face. Her body language was scared and tired, her tiny back rounded over. Occasionally she would glance at me. I talked and narrated what I was doing and sang in my softest, most buttery Disney princess voice. She let me gently wash her hair and body, and I took the opportunity to love her and also to examine this little body. I looked for clues, anything that would indicate what kind of world she had just been taken from.
Her hair was clean. Her nails were trimmed. A tiny bruise on her thigh had the familiar, round bandaid mark from an immunizations trip to the doctor. I breathed. Maybe she had been cared for. Maybe she had a loving family and had just had a really crazy night full of mistakes. I could handle this.
Hooper came in and invited himself into the bath. He was so excited to have an unfamiliar toddler in his bath tub. He splashed and laughed and wiggled, like two year olds should. He showed her his bath toys. She fought it, but he won and she laughed.
Once she was dry and dressed, the first day home with Patches was similar to the first day home with a new baby. I felt unsure about every move. She was different than my two year old. I knew how to meet his needs, I knew what every facial expression and voice meant with Hooper. Patches was a different story.
For about 90% of the first day, Patches was a limp little doll with her cheek on my shoulder. If I put her down, she would slither to the floor, face down, and bang her head if I didn’t scoop her right back up.
The only words she used were, “Keeta” and “Doddy”. The Cat and The Dog were also the only things that really made her smile.
Not that I blamed her- have you met The Dog??
She was terrified of The Dad, the gentlest man I know. He wanted so badly to be able to comfort her, but had to strategically settle for being gentle and affectionate with the other children and me within her view, but not with her. If he was within a foot of her, she reacted with a crumpled face and arched back, before hiding in my chest or slithering to the floor. She obviously needed to relearn that men can be safe. I had no idea why.
I experimented with different foods. I learned quickly that she needed to be presented with one or two tiny bites at a time. If I gave her an entire meal or snack with a pile of cut up pieces. It would all be in her mouth within seconds, and she would be gagging until I scooped most of it out.
This was another example of how emergency foster care is a lot of trial and error. I called my agency at about 9:00 am to check in about what paperwork needed to be done. They didn’t even know I had been placed with a child. They told me a case worker from the agency and one from the county would contact me by the end of the day.
That night, long after The Dad had put the other small people to bed, she fell asleep on my shoulder and I laid her into her crib. I suddenly realized I missed my kids. Had I given them any of myself today? Had I hugged them?
I went and looked at their carefree, sleeping faces.
Tomorrow will be better.