Damn Baby Thief!

We fostered little Neesa for about four months, starting when she was three weeks old. I fell in love with her to the point where I started dreaming of adoption. It was a beautiful idea that didn’t work out.

An aunt named Stephani who kept in touch with us claimed Neesa. We received regular phone calls about the little girl. The aunt and Mary would often trade baby advice. I was happy to keep in touch with the aunt who snatched Neesa away from us. The damn baby thief! What nerve! We visited them a lot. I missed Neesa. She still had the vulnerable, help-me look that I found irresistible.

One afternoon my wife, Mary, got a call from Neesa’s aunt. Stephanie was in tears, and it took a while for her to calm down so that she could explain her human-interest story.

Stephanie, it seemed, had been more interested in her sister-brother relationship than her parent-child relationship. She had been letting her brother, Mario, visit their house unauthorized. This can be a problem when you have multiple restraining orders. One day Mario got mad at her and wanted to put his sister in her place! He called CPS on her for violating the law by letting him see his kid. CPS responded by sending a social worker and taking the child away.

Interesting—she called my wife right away. Not her mother and father, not her siblings. She called Mary, counselor to the dysfunctional families of the world.

Mary listened, she sympathized and she called me at work as soon as the connection was cut with Stephanie.

“Mr. Zollner is with his class.”

“This is an emergency.”

“I’ll put you through.”

After a couple of sentences Mary and I started babbling pretty much the same thing at the same time.

“Call CPS.”

“Let’s call CPS. Let’s tell the social worker that…”

In unison, “…we want her back.”

And that’s exactly what Mary did. By the time I got home she was on the floor with two babies. When I walked in, Neesa was close to tears. She reached out for me, staring at me with those sad, beautiful, brown, eyes.

Neesa, now almost ten months old, was skinnier than ever. She had been throwing up, Stephanie had told Mary. Uh oh, I thought. She probably had her on regular milk again. She was lactose intolerant and couldn’t drink milk. “Sometimes the relatives aren’t much better than the biological parents,” griped Mary.

Mary brought Neesa to my work one day. The other teachers got bug-eyed when they saw her. “Is that the one you used to take care of? Is it her? She is so skinny…” A week later it was, “Oh! She put on some weight!” Withholding milk from lactose intolerant kids can work wonders. We also had her eating healthy food, and the baby gained a pound in one week!

We were fostering two infants, Neesa and Augusta. When I got home from work, the babies would crawl/race toward me. I was afraid Augusta would be the jealous one. Wrong! Neesa would get jealous when I held Augusta. Neesa was clingy and grasping. She needed me more, and Augusta didn’t seem to mind; anyway, she liked playing with her new twin sister. They both got similar amounts of attention, but Neesa wanted more of the hugging kind, and Augusta wanted more of the crawl around the room/laugh and joke/playing kind. Interesting how Neesa innovated and adapted her way back into the family dynamics so quickly.

God, it seemed, was giving Mary and me injections of psychic adrenaline once again to deal with the tasks of feeding, entertaining, coddling, correcting and changing, not one, but two babies. How do people take care of more than two? I don’t know. I suspect God injects them with adrenaline too, or else they remain scarred for life like anyone else that has gone through bizarre trauma.

The “twins” were like little mice scurrying around the floor, crawling in and out of my lap, listening to two minute long picture book stories. I kept carrying them in the pouch long after they were too big for it—I don’t remember this, but Mary swears this, and her eye rolling is quite sincere. She won’t roll her eyes without just cause, buckaroo!

I loved Neesa. There was something special in the way she would cling to me. Her fearful, pleading smile was giving way to a happy, at ease smile. She and Augusta were little sneak-bugs with that magic gleam in their eyes. They both were brightening up a little more every day.

We let the social worker know we were interested in adopting Neesa. She looked worried but said little. She played her cards close to her chest.

Bad news from the court: Our request for de facto parent status regarding Neesa was denied. It had been months since we had taken care of her. There just wasn’t enough of a recent bond to make us into parents.

There was another aunt in the picture—an aunt who had taken another one of Mario’s kids. This one avoided their dysfunctional extended family. She had some of her own kids along with some of Mario’s. We found out that she had contacted Social Services, letting them know she wanted Neesa.

She sounded like a decent person.

That was good.

She wanted Neesa.

That was bad for us.

She didn’t have anything to do with Mario.

That was good.

She had preferential treatment under California law.

That was bad for us.

Good for her.

And probably good for Neesa.

No telling how long God would give us the injections of adrenaline and the ability to slow down time. Would we really have the energy to take care of “twins” for an extended period of time? Probably not.

We were getting custody of Augusta. We, who had never gone into this foster mess to adopt, now wanted not one, but two, babies. Well, we were getting one.

We got the call from Social Services. We were directed to bring Neesa to the social services office and turn her over to the aunt.

We arrived at CPS headquarters, looking around, hoping for a glimpse of the new parents but saw no one. I held her close as we walked inside. If you can think of an occasion when a kid was bugging you for you to spend some time with them, and later you wish you had… You think about things like that at a time like this.

I felt like I was abandoning the baby, like I was betraying her. And yes, you think about things like that a lot at a time like this.

I knew that there was no reason for doom and gloom. Everything I heard about this particular aunt led me to believe that she was a suitable person who would do a wonderful job. But it was hard to shake that drained feeling. Once I gave blood, and the needle was poked through both sides of the vein. I felt a little sick to my stomach when I saw red splotches up and down the length of my arm where the blood had leaked out and I became fatigued. That drained feeling was back with a vengeance.

We met the family, most of them at least. Mom was a pleasant middle-aged Hispanic lady. Dad was at work. Some of the kids were there including a girl in her early teens. We gave our phone number to the mother, and she swore up and down that she would call us—she never did, but it was probably for the best. Mary hugged Neesa one last time and left the room, crying. I slowly handed little Neesa over to her new mom. Neesa reached out for me, staring at me with those sad, beautiful, brown, eyes. The new mom smiled as she cradled the vulnerable little baby in her arms.

Damn baby thief!