When I arrived at the shelter, I remembered what a huge campus it was, and how it was even huger (yep, huger) in the dark. …
After weaving through a labyrinth of identical buildings (see above), I finally found the giant cow sculpture landmark that I thought I was looking for. Sigh of relief. Clutching my bag and coffee, I walked up to the buzzer and pushed the button.
“I’m hear to pick up (name). Am I in the right place?”
“Yes, I’ll buzz you in.”
Three minutes pass.
“You’re in the wrong place. Drive back the way you came and take your first right.”
I did and I did.
When I found the right building, I realized it was clearly the only one that was lit up and there were two women walking through the front doors, each holding a car seat. Other foster moms. The kind of seasoned foster moms who knew what they were doing and where they were going. Suddenly, I felt like the nerdy, freshman foster mother who would have to face the cool, senior foster mothers. Deep breath.
I walked into a normalish looking waiting room. In the middle of it, with her back to me stood a small figure in a very wet and dirty halloween costume (I won’t say what kind, on the off chance of it being too identifying). I’ll call her “Patches” because she looks like the cuddliest Cabbage Patch doll you have ever seen.
I sat down behind her and said hello as I slowly unloaded the stuffed animals and blanket. She turned around to show me the rest of her incredibly sweet face and big, tired eyes. Patches basically looked like she had had a really long and crazy night. She seemed interested in what I had and let me show her the animals and get a little closer. Once she had given me a tiny smile, I showed her some happy pictures of my kids on my phone, which she liked. Then I told her I was going to change her diaper and put on some nice new pajamas, which I held up for her to see. She let me gently pull down her costume and her gray, saturated diaper that looked at least ten hours old. It had soaked down to her feet.
Within minutes, she was in her fresh and dry pajamas, and sipping juice under a blanket in my lap. I felt warm and hopeful. The other foster mothers each held their babies and asked routine questions that would go unanswered. The thing with emergency foster care is that you pretty much get no information. The children usually have nothing but the clothes on their back (or in this case, a costume and no shoes). Sometimes they get the gender wrong. They might be developmentally disabled or HIV+ or have a severe allergy or have been molested. It’s just a big question mark that you agree to take home and love for now. You may find out more in the following days or weeks. The child might go home or with relatives the next day, or never.
It was still dark and cold by the time we left, and we had a long drive home. Patches was awake, but silent and still. I just wanted to hold her. When we pulled into the driveway, it was about 5:45 and the house was quiet. Every touch and movement I made with her was in slow motion and soft focus. I was going to envelop her in gentleness and comfort and show her that I was safe. I walked in the door with her in my arms and was greeted by one of The Cats. The other Cat lounged on the dining room table (total disrespect for me). Patches was delighted and wiggled out of my arms.
Then The Dog appeared. Patches was now beside herself and began running through the house laughing. We had just gotten The Cats cornered in the living room for a petting session, when The Dad appeared with Hooper for an introduction. Hooper was squishy faced with sleepiness and excited at the stranger who was just his size. With unprecedented care, he walked towards her and patted her shoulder, saying hello in his sweetest (and loudest) two year old voice.
Hearing the commotion, the other two squishy faces emerged from their dark bedroom and Jorge said while rubbing her eyes, “Do we get a new, little foster child?”