January 2, 2008, my 26 month old foster daughter, MiMi, who I had raised for 20 months and loved desperately, left my foster home to go live with some extended members of her biological family. Six days after she left, Child Protective Services called and asked our family to take our adopted daughter Angel-Leah’s five month old baby brother, Tommy. Angel-Leah had come to live with us when she was two and a half. Unlike MiMi, she had been released for adoption, and we adopted her when she was four years old, just less than two weeks before MiMi left our home. We knew Tommy had been born just a few months before, and had gone into a relative placement. But when it seemed certain that the birth parents were not going to be able to regain custody of Tommy either, the family decided to see if we would take Tommy and adopt him, too, so that he and Angel-Leah could grow up together. We said yes, and one day less than a month after MiMi left, and one day less than Tommy’s six month birthday, he moved in with us. Two days less than a year later, on January 30, 2009, Tommy’s adoption was finalized, and he became our son.
Right now, Tommy is 21 months old, just five months younger than MiMi was the last time I saw her. And he keeps doing things that remind me of her. Now, Tommy is my tenth child. I've also cared for more than 50 foster children during my adult life, and I ran a day care in my home for many years. I also worked in the preschools of some of the churches I've attended over the years. So you would think that any kind of toddler behavior would be so familiar to me.
But today, I was getting him out of his highchair, and I was playing with him, and he laughed. You know how before they can really talk, babies will react to you’re teasing with laughter instead of words. His laughter was throaty, and wow, did I have a flashback of MiMi. Those flashbacks still hurt. I miss her horribly when I have them. They bring tears into my throat and my eyes. And they set me off for the rest of the day, where I keep thinking about her.
So today, when it hurt, and I missed her, I thought - Tommy is my son now. I was only a temporary mother to MiMi; she was never really mine in the way a child you have given birth to or adopted is. In my heart, it felt the same way. But legally, bindingly, she wasn't mine. So my mind went to Tommy. He's mine. I don't ever think about his leaving, like I did with MiMi those last four months I had her, and I knew her extended family were trying to race through a homestudy to get custody of her. I thought, do I value Tommy, like I did MiMi? Was the whole heightened emotion of those last months with her simply because I knew I was going to lose her, so I valued every minute and everything she did?
When I laid him down to bed, he took his bottle and his blanket, settled them the way he does in his going-to-bed routine: bottle in his mouth, and finger trying to find the sensory ribbon he likes to hold when he sleeps. Once he had it all together just right, he looked up at me with sleepy eyes. I smiled at him, and thought, he's not going to leave me. He is safe and secure here. I wonder how I would be feeling if he were in the position that MiMi was? Those last months were such a frantic feeling of 'hurry up and love her'. With Tommy, it's just a 'goodnight, baby boy. I'll see you in the morning.'
I have ten children. Three have left my nest, but are still active in my life and heart, and seven are still here for me to see and touch everyday. Do I value them the same way I would if I knew they were going to leave me, like I knew MiMi would leave? Can I capture those little things, like a throaty laugh, and ‘hide them in my heart’ like MiMi’s laugh is hidden?
In five months, Tommy will be older than MiMi was the last time I saw her. He’s going to stay. He’s my son now. I don’t have to worry that someone will take him away from me. It’s a nice feeling.
Tonight, I keep remembering that children’s song:
“Love is something if you give it away, you’ve got to give it away, give it away. Love is something if you give it away, you’ll end up having more. Love is like a lucky penny. Hold it tight and you won’t have any. But give it away, and you’ll have plenty. You’ll end up having more.”
I took a chance and loved MiMi. As a foster mother, I knew how big the chances were she would not be staying. But I gave her a home when she needed one and in doing that, I also gave her my heart. And in loving her and losing her, I cherish Tommy just that much more. And in cherishing Tommy, I cherish, again, what I have with my older children.
I’m a mother, biological, foster and adoptive. I have a wonderful life. I am a blessed lady!