We never left the honeymoon stage with our first foster daughter, Luchita. She wasn’t with us long enough. Luchita arrived the day after Jacob’s eighth birthday. He told me later that when he blew out his candles, he had wished that a foster child would come very soon. At the time of his birthday, we had been certified foster parents for a week and had missed several calls to take children. Social workers would call us for a placement when we weren’t home, leave a message, but then move on down the list of available foster parents who could handle emergency placements. Coming home to the broken dial tone of the voicemail was nerve-wracking.
“Hello, this is Kara, from Child Protective Services. We have Kevin, a two-year-old boy who needs placement tonight. Could you give us a call back?”
“We have a two-month old on a heart monitor and we’re wondering if you’d be open to that?”
“I know you’re only certified for one child, but we’re looking for a placement for twins.”
They had always found someone by the time I called back.
But the day after Jacob’s birthday, we were home when the phone rang. Four children were being removed from a home because of neglect. They would drop the youngest off in an hour. Bill called his sister to ask if she’d pick up some diapers for us, and I ran around the house, frantically cleaning. Jacob whipped out his homework and got to work, so he wouldn’t miss any of the action when the baby came.
The doorbell rang as I shoved the last pair of boots into the closet, and the boys rushed to open the door. A social worker stood there, holding a crying one-year-old. Luchita. Another social worker waved to us from the front seat of a minivan in our driveway where she sat with the other children.
The first social worker handed the baby to me. Luchita was chubby and small for her age. Her two front teeth were chipped and I couldn’t tell if the red mark on the side of her face was a rash or a large red birthmark. I stroked her fine, wavy black hair as we sat down at the dining room table to fill out paperwork. Both my boys had still been bald at fourteen months and Luchita’s hair was already almost shoulder length. Long enough to put in a bow. Luchita’s cries turned to soft whimpers, then subsided completely, and couldn’t help but note this was my easiest delivery. No contractions.
After we completed the paperwork, the social worker handed us a small, ripped plastic bag.
“This was all we could find for her,” she said. I pulled out a size-four sweatshirt. I looked at Luchita. She probably wore size 12 months, at the most.
Bill and I went outside so Luchita could say goodbye to her siblings. Her sisters and brother were crying in the backseat and I promised them we would take good care of Luchita. Just four, six and nine, how could they understand what was happening?
“I will rock her in a rocking chair, and I’ll give her good food, and I’ll change her diaper,” I told them. “We have a lot of toys that she can play with. We will make sure she’s happy.” I didn’t know what else to say.
I wiped my eyes and Bill gave them a box of fruit snacks, a bag of cookies and some juice boxes.
“Shouldn’t we be taking them all?” he said to me, turning, so they couldn’t hear.
I imagined my own boys in the same situation, in a van with two strangers, being split up and sent to live with other strangers. Wouldn’t I want someone to take them both? But it was in thinking of my own boys that I told Bill no.
“I couldn’t do it well,” I said.
Luchita stayed with us two weeks and five days. We had been out of the toddler stage for a couple of years, now that Liam was four, and there was something sweet about the return to baby wipes and talcum powder. Friends responded to Luchita’s arrival with cards and gifts. A couple people made me meals, even as I protested. Luchita seemed to adapt to our family life with remarkable ease, except perhaps for fusing to me a bit too tightly, and not letting Bill hold her or even get too close. She would wave to him across the room, however. He waved back. And though she became almost an appendage on my hip, and would only sleep if she were touching some part of me, she was not with us long enough for this to get tiresome. In the not-quite-three weeks we had her, my main concern was to somehow, with constant touch, make up for the lack of touch in her life so far.
The call to retrieve Luchita came suddenly.
“Luchita’s grandmother is taking all the kids,” the social worker said. “Will you be home tomorrow at 3:00 so I could pick her up?”
The day Luchita was to leave, I came home from dropping Liam off at school and found a gift bag inside the front door. Six darling spring outfits from a friend who hadn’t known Luchita was leaving today. I packed them with her other things.
The social worker came, a twenty-something woman with a cropped shirt, jeans and a pierced belly button. Her outfit bothered me. This baby was once again leaving a family she knew to go live with someone else. Whether or not Luchita knew it, this was an important day in her life, and somehow, I felt the social worker’s clothes didn’t respect this. Probably, I was angry, but didn’t know who to be angry at, so I was choosing the pierced navel.
I put Luchita in the social worker’s carseat with a graham cracker and a pacifier. I helped the social worker load all the clothes and toys Luchita had received as gifts into the trunk. I had remembered to pack the sweatshirt, too. And then I said goodbye. I said goodbye to the daughter who wasn’t quite a daughter. To the daughter who was another mother’s daughter. I said goodbye to my easiest delivery so far, praying for her grandmother who she’d be delivered to next.
I love you, Luchita.