That girl, that girl she’s mine
Well I’ve know her since,
Since she was
A little girl with Spanish eyes
When I saw her first in a pram they pushed her by
Oh my, my how you’ve grown
Well it’s been, it’s been…a little while
— U2, “In A Little While”
I will forever remember her concerned stare.
“Why is he taking a call”, S.M. had to be thinking, “when I am trying to concentrate on a math test?”
It had to be going through her mind. Especially since I was growing increasingly animated and agitated at our social worker on the other end of the phone line.
This was the phone call that would eventually result in Katelyn coming home to us, but, of course, we didn’t know it at the time. We only knew that we had her, and then lost her. Naturally, I was beside myself. He who hesitates is lost, and in this case, it was a child we would be losing.
What we didn’t know that across town, another couple was struggling with the same decision. Another husband was getting the call. Despite our supposed 15-20 minutes to make up our mind, our own personal delay had our social worker calling another couple. Like me, the husband was getting the call. Unlike me, he was saying “yes”. I was caught up having to consult. It never occurred to the wife and I that we should have a pat answer in place. But as in most placements through L.A. County, there were mitigating factors that weighed consideration, but did not lend themselves to immediate response.
Regardless, we had lost her. Agony on the phone as I angrily called back the social worker. With all shred of professionalism gone, my priorities, at that moment, was to try to, somehow, get back this child, lost to us because we couldn’t quite say “yes” immediately enough.
On her end, Amber, cognizant of my natural talent at alienating people, called our social worker to find out what all of this meant.
Just the day before, while attending the college graduation of the daughter of a close friend, we had gotten a similar call: a 2-year-old being removed from the home because of a “failure” to thrive. Our instincts had warned us off that child, but that same hesitancy had now betrayed our desire to immediately say “yes” in this case. Once school had ended, and I had shuttled my students out of the door, the wife and I melted down in the respective emptiness of our work sites–my classroom, her office. It was not subtle.
Meanwhile, that other husband who was quick enough to say “yes”, was having his own problems trying to reach his wife, who had had the misfortune of being on jury duty over in Santa Monica. This child needed to be picked up almost immediately, before 5pm, and as it became late afternoon, he began to realize that there was no way they could make it happen in time.
Fate and circumstances meant that the happy ending would be ours.
Silently seething, another call on the phone, this time from Amber. There was no discussion to be had, just a question to be answered: whether we could or not–yes, we absolutely could–make it to Lynwood to pick up a little 3-day-old by 5pm.
Born on Monday, the birth mom had walked out on the baby by Tuesday. Curiously, shadowy “relatives” had tried to take the child home Tuesday evening, only to be rebuffed by the hospital’s Maternity Ward. Either way, today, Wednesday, the child was ready to go home. Now that home was going to be ours.
Instant parenthood beckoned. Even in saying “yes” in no way made us “ready”. I picked up the phone and immediately called my colleague at home, wherein she generously volunteered a Boppy and a basinette. Amber called her close friend, a mother of 3 herself, who immediately created a shopping list of necessary stuff we needed to buy. Careening through the aisles of a nearby Target, we loaded up the car and raced over to the hospital. It was approaching 5pm at this point.
But while we were on deadline, the maternity ward was apparently less bound. We got directed there by the front desk, trying to juggle an ersatz diaper bag with a new outfit and a blanket, along with scrawled information we needed from the social worker. Walking through the doors felt not unlike Luke Skywalker announcing his rescue to Princess Leia; neither the princess nor the duty nurse appeared to be all that impressed with us.
“Which child?” asked matter-of-factly.
Puzzled, the reply: “We get to choose?”. Apparently 5 kids were awaiting pick up on this night.
Finally, with all the bravado mustered by Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona, I state: “Well, give us the best one!”
The wife and I like to think that our “choice” that night really was the best one, even if Katelyn, if she could have realized how clueless her new parents happened to be when they had no clue how to properly buckle her into her car seat, might have her down doubts about us.
Fortunately, Katelyn made it to her new home safely that night. And our little family’s journey of discovery continues. Today is our little girl’s 5th birthday.
We had wanted to become parents in the worst way, and when the day came to make that wish come true, it seemed, in the instant we thought we had lost our chance to go meet our little one, that the worst had happened. We would have liked to have had the 9-month prep time to get ready, even if we only had what amounted to 90 minutes. But what we would have liked leading up to that moment we got the call, is nothing when compared with what we have loved and continue to love in our now newly minted 5-year-old.
Happy Birthday Mi’ja.