November 17, 2011

They Call Me Mama

The early morning sun has not yet risen.  I stand uncertainly in the dimly lit living room looking out over the backyard, when suddenly a small dark hand reaches up to mine and I hear a little voice calling me “Mama.”  I had just met the little girl for the first time last night, and I can’t quite recall her name.  

Could this moment possibly be any more strange?

That morning happened over 16 years ago, but as the mind sometimes loses all track of time, I recall that moment as if it were last week.   Through a series of events that, at the time we considered to be devastating, but in retrospect we understand were divinely providential, my husband and I had chosen the path of foster parenting.  

The months preceding that morning were filled with emotions ranging from excitement to anxious doubt, mountains of paperwork with endless personal questions, and numerous hours of classes taught by young social workers fresh out of college.  After the long wait, we were finally ready to fill our empty bedrooms with the sounds of happy children.   Neglected babies?  Sure!  We had read many parenting books and knew what to expect.  Abused children?  No problem!  We would just love them and tuck them in safely at night, and all their previous experiences would be forgotten.  Challenging teenagers?  Absolutely!  After a few heart-to-heart conversations with them, sharing our vast wisdom of 20-something years, they would thank us gratefully for our advice, turn their lives around, and live happily ever after.  Oh, yes, we were ready!

The only remaining question was what we should have the children call us.  They already had a Mommy and Daddy.  Mr. and Mrs. was way too formal, but using our first names was just too familiar and somehow not quite appropriate.  Hmm, we would just have to wait and decide later.

Finally we received “The Call” that we had been anticipating.  A 5-year old girl and her 3-year old brother were in need of an immediate placement.  Could we please drive to the Department of Social Services right away to pick them up, as they needed a place to sleep that night?  A quick call to my husband, a last-minute check to make sure that fresh sheets were on the beds, and a final panicky prayer for God’s wisdom and protection before heading down the road that would forever change our lives.

OK, this is surreal.  I have two little kids in the back of car, and they are coming home with me.  I wonder if they are hungry.  What do children this age like to eat?  McDonalds!  Every kid likes McDonalds, right?  Um, bathroom.  Should the 3-year old boy go into the ladies bathroom with me, or should I send him into the men’s room by himself?  Does he sit or stand?  How am I supposed to know these things?
My husband and I introduce ourselves, give the two wide-eyed children a tour of our house, and show them where to put their clothes.   Things seem to be going pretty well until bathtime, at which point the 3-year old screams at the top of his lungs, nearly piercing our eardrums.  What on earth is that all about?  We tentatively tuck them into their beds, turn off the lights and head to our own bedroom down the hall, praying fervently that they stay in bed until morning.

Bright and early the next morning, long before the sun had even risen, the little girl comes into my room and says brightly, “Good morning!”  We walk downstairs quietly, and as I stand with her in the living room, I think to myself, “Now what?”  Is it okay that she is awake this early, or should I make her go back to bed?  Should I make her some breakfast or wait until my husband wakes up?  Do I need to keep her entertained, or can she play by herself?
Unexpectedly, with her long braids hanging down her back and her wide toothless grin, she reaches up to hold my hand and declares, “You my White Mama.”  Inwardly, I smile.  Yes, that name will do just fine for now.

Over the next few months we settled into a routine which did NOT involve pre-dawn conversations, we all got to know each other, and slowly we learned how to live in harmony.  (Although I never did figure out how to stop that high-pitched screaming!)   The strangeness slowly went away and our unique family began to feel normal.

The brother and sister eventually went to live with their relatives, and new children came to sleep in the bedrooms down the hall.   16 years, 45 children, and a whole lotta gray hair later, my husband and I are older, wiser, and more mature, and the naïveté has long since vanished.  We’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, but we’ve also achieved some surprising accomplishments.  We’ve experienced moments of hilarity when a child says or does something which was completely unexpected.  We’ve survived a teenager’s destructive rage, reacted to an infant’s frightening life-and-death illness, scratched our heads over a child’s baffling behavior, and persevered through all of the everyday family moments in between.  

Frankly, we have breathed a sigh of relief when some of the children have left our home.  Then again, when other children have moved on, I have cried my eyes out and vowed vehemently, “Never again!”  Until the next Phone Call.  The next unbelievable story.  The next child, who is waiting alone in a social worker’s office or lying helpless and broken in a hospital bed.   Then I straighten my shoulders, take a breath, double-check the room down the hall, and then head out the door to meet the next child who will call me "Mama."

1 comment:

  1. I love this! It is such a sweet picture of how God is with us! Thanks for sharing.