Stranger Than Fiction

I’m a teacher and a foster parent and I miss the Weekly World News, the tabloid you would see in the checkout line with the most outrageous headlines about Hillary Clinton adopting an alien baby or Space Alien Skull Found at Roswell or Ark of the Covenant Revealed. I had a FWS (It stands for Favorite Wicked Student—all teachers have them even if they don’t admit it—they’re the student who causes them the most grief in the classroom and their teachers spend lots of time thinking of ways to save the child from a life that is nasty, brutish and short. Usually a teacher will deny that that particular child and the word favorite can be used in the same sentence). So, this FWS had to bring in a newspaper article, and he brought in The Weekly World News. The front-page headline described something that was bound to happen eventually. Miners delved so deep into the earth that they reached the pits of hell, and a dark ominous cloud appeared above the mine and Satan’s face could be clearly seen in the smoke and the flying debris. (What do the skeptics have to say now)? But, I don’t think the WWN could out-deviate reality.

I’m talking about being a foster parent and having my eyes opened to what actually takes places in dark corners of the world.

I met Baby Neesa’s parents. Their names were Mario and Lizzie. Let me tell you about their storybook courtship. Mario was a gangbanger. A guy owed him money and couldn’t pay so to clear up the debt he lent Mario the use of his girlfriend, Lizzie, for the weekend. Well, some things were just meant to be, right? Lizzie decided (and who could blame her after such a charming whirlwind romance) that she wanted to stay with Mario. How romantic!

We took in Ronnie when he was fourteen months old. He had a modified baby version of a Mohawk. The hair was shaved off the sides of his head and a thin strip graced the “Last of the Mohicans” baby. True to his hairdo he was a headbanger.

We couldn’t turn around for a minute with him because of the headbanging. In moments of frustration he would kneel down to the ground as if genuflecting toward Mecca. Then, the toddler would methodically slam his forehead down on the tile floor. There is a huge difference between watching the average toddler and needing to swoop down at any second and rescue a child from cracking their skull.

My wife’s daughter, Alyssa, decided she had to join the family folly and be a foster parent too. She took in a little girl from a family with a serious history of abuse.

The biological mother and her boyfriend were charged with torture, a special category of torture that could result in death or serious injury. Mom was allowed to plea bargain, lost her parental rights, appealed and got her program reinstated. She could possibly get the child back. That wouldn’t be the case had the crime not been plea-bargained. Mom didn’t seem to think she did anything wrong. When the judge asked her if she learned anything, she said she wouldn’t take care of anybody else’s kids since that’s what she was doing when she was caught and arrested. She didn’t learn anything about treating kids better; she learned how to avoid getting caught.

Premature means a child is born before thirty-seven weeks of gestation and usually weighs less than five pounds. Some hospitals won’t release a preemie that weighs less than five pounds, but we got one that clocked in at four and a half. Jaundice was one of baby Alice’s problems. She had a strong yellow coloring. She was African American but you might not be able to tell that right away because of the yellow cast to her skin. My wife, Mary, gloried in the repelled fascination of preterm birth. She kept commenting on the private-parts area. “It just bulges out. There’s no meat to it. Oh my god! Chris, this is so strange!” Alice was too thin and too small. I had seen a number of tiny, malnourished babies, but I wasn’t ready for this. Her tone was not the only problem, her skin was loose and the muscles were tiny, not giving much extra shape to the bones. The eyes seemed more sunken than was usually the case, and I was stunned by the elongated, somewhat distorted face. She seemed more like a skinny doll than a baby, and if it wasn’t for her chest moving up and down with her breathing I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. Mary continued to stare as I encouraged her to bundle up the tiny girl. Mary scoffed and said something about how warm I kept the house and added, “But, just because you’re you, I’ll bundle her up.” I think that if the infant was still in an incubator or if she still had a breathing tube stuck up her nostrils, an IV still in her veins and a heart monitor stuck to her chest, Mary might not have been so drawn to the sight of a preemie in all her underweight glory.

One night about 8:30 we got a call from a social worker about a baby in our care. There was no smoking gun/conclusive medical evidence about alleged rape against Baby Olivia, therefore she was going to go back to the mom and the brothers. I had no idea who the alleged perpetrators were—maybe the brothers or a neighbor, perhaps a relative or a boyfriend. Harvey, our social worker mumbled something like, “Could be, she was abused, and could be, she wasn’t.” It was too horrible to think about. My arms felt a little numb as I helped gather Olivia’s things together. I tucked Olivia in to the temporary safety of a car seat. Her large brown eyes seemed wary and trusting at the same time.

The Child Protective Services (CPS) office was in one of those Suite 101 type addresses that didn’t work well on a map. Carrying Olivia, I walked into a well-lit, after-hours, cubicle ghost town.

Harvey was listening on his cell phone, and I could hear the rowdy, raspy voice as well as he. The birth mother yelled into the phone, screeching at Harvey so loud I could hear her every word, “I can’t find the damn place!”

Olivia looked at me with a flash of recognition and curiosity. She curled up against my body. I held on tight, but she held on tighter.

“Well, to hell with it!” the biological mom shouted. “I’ll just get her tomorrow!”

I held Olivia just a little closer, mumbled my goodbyes to Harvey, put Olivia back in my car and drove back to our house. She had a home with us for one more day.

Do some foster parenting, and I guarantee you that your eyes will be opened. Even if you’ve been around, something will shock you.