I hold her small warm body against my chest and feel her nestle in. She is so cuddly. She just “told Grammy a story” in the way that small babies do, with crows and noises that sound like half complaints, half chortles. She will smile, and her bright eyes will follow faces sometimes, depending on how tired she is of the games. She is so alert, and active. Already at nine weeks, she tries to stand on her tiny feet, and has decided preferences when it comes to toys. When she sees her mama or her daddy, her body does this excited little wriggle of recognition that is captivating — not just to them, but to this Grammy’s heart, as well.
She is the youngest member of our family, and she belongs to Eldest Son and HopeThriving. (No, Raph does not have a new wife. We just know Regina better than we did nine years ago when she first came into our lives.) Baby M came into their lives on a day in late October when the leaves in Sugar Creek were strutting their stuff and singing “Glory!” We had been to Ohio for The Three Grandsons’ birthday party and Eldest Son’s ordination, and were on our way home when Eldest Son called us with the news that they were on their way to pick up a two day old baby from the hospital. Our trusty mini-van marked the miles remaining with grateful praise. Over the ensuing weeks, weekly photos to our family chronicled the development of this precious little one, and I found myself with a deep, heart longing to touch her and hold her and to whisper Grammy things into her little ear. She was incredibly dear and grew more alert and beautiful every day.
Christmas day, 2016 was the first time I got to see her, and I was not at all prepared for the wash of emotion that came over me. I keep thinking that one of these days the word that defines these little ones will settle into my brain and will help me to shut out some of the fickle voices that try to warn, detract and distract me from the emotions that I cannot help but feel. It is a word that is both beautiful and repulsive. Nurturing and desolating.
The word is foster. I hate the word with all my heart, but I also love it for the all the good things it has given to me and our family. I hold this wee one and her eyes are bright and she is smiling and trying hard to mimic the things that this crazy Grammy is doing. I don’t hold her often, for there is always someone waiting in line for her, and besides, I almost cannot keep from crying when I am assailed with the “might be’s” and the “probably’s” that rattle around in my head when I look into her sweet face and see her wild hair. And so, it seems like I hardly hold this beautiful little one. I console myself by saying that it would be different if there weren’t a dozen other pairs of hands that want to hold her, and that, for the most part, there isn’t enough of her to go around. Her sweet mommy and doting daddy hardly get a chance to do the parenting that is so important (besides changing poopy diapers. No one is jumping for the chance to do that!). But mostly, if I’m honest, I’m just trying to ignore a deep, deep sadness that has settled on my chest like a compression fitting.
And so, when I do hold her and look down into her little face, I pray and pray and pray and pray. I ask God for mercy on her, for her future, for her present. I ask him for grace to accept whatever the future holds, and I pray for my son and his sweet wife and ask for strength and courage and peace and vulnerability to love her as every child deserves to be loved — with the intensity that doesn’t know how they will ever give her up, but with a surrender to God’s plan for her, as well as for them. It’s the grief of foster care. It’s the thing that keeps so many people from being foster parents — the reality that a child’s future can be snatched from them without regard of the child’s well being, attachments or memories. There are always things lost to the child when they change homes — memories tucked forever in the hearts and minds of the foster parents that simply die because they aren’t retold and rehashed and relived in the life of the family. And what is lost to the foster parent, if they’ve made any investment, is immeasurable, too.
Selfishly, that is part of what I’m feeling, too, as I look into this little face. I think of the children we’ve loved, and wonder where they are, what they are doing, how they are coping with life. I wonder if they remember a sunny house on a hill in Ohio, where there was love and songs and hugs and rock-rocks and kisses and stories and prayers. Did the days and months and even years in that house make any difference at all?
Ah, Little Sister, Baby M. You of the chubby cheeks and wild hair. You of the smiles and snuggles and bright eyes. You belong to God first of all, and in relinquishing you to His care, we can do no more than love you for as long as we’ve been given. And even though I choose to rest in that, I also beg God’s mercy for us all, that there could be some divine intervention, that some how, some way, before too long, you may come safely HOME.