We will need to find a spot for the Cat-in-the-Hat’s hat. The on-the-way-to-the-basement wall is peppered with torn construction paper snowmen, noodles glued onto paper plates, and signs announcing such not-generally-followed anthems as, “gentle and kind, all the time.” But there will be room for the Dr. Seuss-inspired artwork that made its way home via Ethan’s backpack. I will find a special place and a bit of adhesive, and I will be forever reminded of the tiny celebrations that have brought us, for however long, our extra foxes.
It was one of the first books that Ethan picked up to read independently. In his daily challenges to make sense of his world, he must enjoy the routine and “sensible nonsense” contained within the pages of Dr. Seuss’ ABC Book. He tilts his head to one side, his robust cheeks rise, and his grin puts the Cheshire cat to shame. I know, then, that he will speak the words of a middle aged philospher, displaced into his seven-year-old body.
It was one of the mornings earlier this week when I tried to fit in one too many errands and arrived home just before Aaron’s bus was due to collect him. The heating contractor had parked his van at the top of the driveway, so we navigated the leftover ice patches and dirty puddles while hauling Target bags, an overstuffed diaper tote, and the baby carrier, which certainly weighs at least twice as much as the baby. We made it in the house and gathered Aaron’s things for school. I shuffled him out the door just as his bus arrived.
I thought the contractor had dropped some rags from his truck. As I looked closer, I saw two of Aaron’s precious Georges, in a flattened heap, complete with tire tread marks and dripping wet with the sludge of winter’s aftermath. In my careless rush, I mustn’t have noticed as they fell from the diaper bag. I went on with my business, because I had stuff to do. He loved them. He gave them to me to keep safe. And I didn’t. I couldn’t.
The baby came to us, the brother of one of our boys, after a lot of paperwork and two months of waiting for the State of Illinois to approve a sibling waiver to expand the capacity of our foster license. We are to care for the baby, to keep him safe, and to support the overall mission, in many ways, of keeping families together. Amazing, it is, to watch the blessings unfold with each sunrise. There must be nothing like being in the company of brothers.
I have three, actually four, extra foxes. In these gifts of days, I am able to walk through some of my most precious memories once again. The sweet blanket that was one of three or four things that came from the hospital with Aaron can now safely swaddle this tiny new boy. I know, this may well be borrowed time, this chance for these boys to know one another, together in our home. So I am going to breathe it in, and I am going to remember the tiny sprites that came to me before I knew how deeply I could love.
“I’m so happy that we had the air ducts cleaned!” This is not something that I would have expected to hear from any of my children, and certainly not from the seven-year-old. I am grateful, nonetheless, that someone shares my sentiment. With Ethan, there are extraordinary swings of angst, fear, and, even, aggression and, in the other direction, flashes of brilliance and uncanny cleverness to outsmart a university scholar on a good day. The days where the brilliance outweighs the angst; those are the days of, as Sam calls it, “awesometism.” We relish those days, and we adore him. We are exhausted on all of the days, but he has brought us intangible things that we did not even know we needed.
Kendell (our 25-year-old extra fox) reminded me of the day that we lost Ethan. Again, this was a day where there seemed to be more jobs than time. Ethan must have been three or four, and Aaron was the carrier baby. Oh, the places we planned to go: the library, the eye doctor, McDonalds, even. In my frenzy to pack the bag and get out the door, I had lost track of my little boy. I asked Kendell if he had seen Ethan. We hoped he had taken it upon himself to get in his car seat, as he often did; not this time. We each took one direction to circle the house. My path, my days as a foster mom, flashed through my head with an uncomfortable sense of doom. In the blink of an eye, something, everything, can change.
I have known many. Something happened, and things will never be just the same. We promised to keep you safe. And we really, truly believe we are trying our best. Which, every so often, may just not be enough.
I may even have been a little worried about the man from the blue house on the corner. He kept to himself and was seen walking his dog only occasionally. This day, though, he was my true hero as he walked toward our house with our smiling cherub. “He said he was going to McDonad’s,” the man from the blue house stated, as he smiled quietly with no hint of judgment. I wanted to hug the man, but instead I thanked him profusely. I’m sure Kendell and I chorused whitewashed sighs of relief as we loaded into the car and ventured forth. From that day forward, I waved to the man from the blue house each time I saw him.
After a trip through the laundry, the Georges are nearly back to themselves. In some small way, though, they will never be just as they were before. None of us are, as we move through our days and emerge from our own battles. It is my job, now, to help my foxes find their way, to do my best to keep them safe, to embrace them through our mistakes, to love them through it all, and to celebrate the good and the challenges of every given day.