As I sat at the kitchen table savoring my morning coffee and watching the sun slide into view for a new day, I marveled a week had elapsed since Melanie had come to stay with me. My initial angst of what I was going to do with a child for two weeks melted as quickly as an ice cream cone dropped on a hot sidewalk. I was discovering the validity of a child’s eyes magnifying and transforming mundane adult experiences into delightful wonders. Since Melanie’s world seem to have been confined by the walls of a dingy hotel room with day time soaps as entertainment, her wonder embraced just about everything. When I thought of the privileges, the travel and the special schools Margo had had as a child, why hadn’t she felt the compunction to provide the same for her daughter? Where did all the money go?
Outside of her beloved bear Melanie had no books or toys. So early in the week I took her to the library to select some books. What kid has never been to a library? Okay I admit I am old fashion, but come on a library? Silly me, I thought we would buzz in for a few minutes and buzz out with a half dozen books. Wrong. Several times I had to repeat yes, she could pick out a stack of books not just one. Yes, we could take them home. No, we didn’t have to pay, we were borrowing them. Yes when we brought back the first stack, we could take another stack. Eventually I realized the choice of books was too overwhelming for her. From nothing to a cornucopia of abundance was a chasm too big for her to leap. Noreen, the children’s librarian, was a jewel. With her aid we picked out seven books and a list of authors for the next time. So now everyday Melanie and I read books. She snuggles up next to me on the couch with Porter often joining us, I read and she turns the pages. I’m not sure who enjoys these interludes more, me or Melanie. I also realized my reluctancy to answer the question, so I’m withdrew it.
The telephone rang.
“Hello,” I answered.
“Good morning Eleanor.”
“Tom, it’s mighty early for you to me calling me. What’s up?”
“I have to be in court all day, so it’s calling now or never. Just checking in, since it’s been a week,” said Tom.
“How kind of you,” I said.
“Mmm, this buttery tone doesn’t sound like the Eleanor who I know,” said Tom.
“I’ll have you know I’m a most agreeable person even sought out as a dinner guest. I’m sure I’m not the only person who might get testy about having a six year old child thrust upon them unexpectedly—-and a cat.” I walked over the counter and poured another cup of coffee.
“Back to my original question, what’s up?” I asked.
” I wanted to let you know we’re making a bit of head way in finding a foster home for Melanie.”
“Oh,,” I answered.
“I thought your response would be more effusive than that,” Tom said.
“Well yes of course I’m pleased to hear the news, but her placement requires more than a slam dunk family. There has to be a careful consideration of Melanie’s needs. For example it’s perfectly clear she hasn’t seen the inside of a preschool room or a kindergarten. I’ve been doing some reading on child development and Melanie is way behind on her skill levels for the alphabet, counting, the whole spectrum. However it’s also crystalline what an enormously bright little girl she is. In the week we’ve been reading together, you would be amazed what she has intuitively picked up with a bit of coaching. There are three education games I’m purchasing for her to take with her. In addition there are a couple of private schools which would be excellent for her situation and far more appropriate for her than public school.” I spoke in a rush without taking a breath.
“Eleanor, I’m going to be brutally honest here. I hear what you are saying. Your assessment sounds like it’s right on target. However in the foster care system the only consideration given in placement is whether there’s even an opening to add another child. This isn’t like an adoption where match making is an essential ingredient.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “She’s already been through the wringer. This child doesn’t deserve to become a casual throw away, a number lost in a broken system.”
“Look I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have to leave or I’ll be late for court. Why don’t you and I get together for a bite to eat and we can talk about it. It has to be dinner, because I’m in court all week.”
“Since now I have to think about baby sitters and children’s bed times, you had better come here for dinner. It’s easier. Would tomorrow night work about seven?” I asked.
“Perfect, I’ll see you then,” Tom said.
Foster care systems, little girls, Dr. Seuss, sneaky lawyers, cats and the alphabet song, my stupid cousin Margo. What was happening to my life?
“Bloody hell,” I said just as Porter jumped up on the counter.
“Miss, Porter didn’t mean to do it. He won’t do it again. Don’t be angry.”
I whirled around and looked down at Melanie’s frightened face, as she picked up Porter.
“I’ll lock him in my room. He’s won’t bother you again,’ she said.
I bent down and put one hand on her shoulder and began stroking Porter. “Hey, I wasn’t mad at Porter. I was thinking about something else. I think Porter is the king of cats. I like having him around. Come and sit down. I’ll get you some juice and Porter some milk.”
As I was pouring the juice, I said, ” Remember the man who met you at the airport and took you to his office. He’s coming to dinner tomorrow night. So you and I have some planning to do. We have a dinner to cook.”
” Me too, Miss? I’m helping too? I don’t know how to cook,” said Melanie with concern.
“Yep, you’re cooking too. Not to worry I will show you what to do. It will be fun. You’ll see. My Mom and Grandma always let me help in the kitchen.”
I put toast in the toaster with the realization I was modeling and passing on an aspect of my family’s mothering techniques. Who would have thought that would ever happen? Mom? Grandma? Can you see me now? Help!