Mama For a Moment

Today’s guest post (minus the lengthy intro) comes to you from the always transparent Tamara Out Loud. Maile and I had the privilege of meeting her and her family a few weeks ago while traveling through Gainesville, Florida, and she’s just as kind and fun in person as she is in her writing. If you’ve never been over to her blog, you’re missing out – follow the link at the end. She’s an exquisite story-teller and her writing explores the crucial topics we often try to gloss over or avoid.

I’m honored to post this piece by her today because it’s the first time she’s ever shared in writing her story of being a foster mom. It’s also the first time I’ve ever cried in a McDonald’s while reviewing a guest post for my blog.

When she sent it to me, she wrote “This guest post for you made me grieve hard. I’ve never written anything that made me cry like I have tonight…Yet, writing it for you because we once talked about the fact that I’d done fostering and it meant something to your family gave me a push I never would have forced on myself for my own blog. And I think I needed it. So all this to say: thanks, even if you didn’t realize it, for the catharsis of retelling this story in the way I know best.”

And that’s one of the things I love about story-telling: the healing it can bring. So without further delay, Tamara’s story:

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The social worker had a thin frame and kind eyes. He hefted the bloated baby as gently as he could through my front door and set him on the family room floor. He gave me the blue folder, thick with legal jargon and cobbled details of a life not yet a year long but already so laden. The sweet boy, immobilized by his own weight, looked up at me with such innocence to his whole situation, eyes like dark chocolate under curled lashes, and all his weight immobilized me too.

I could hardly hold him, and I could hardly not. I sweet-talked him with my mama voice and he felt no need to cry.

We began right away to try to undo the damage of eleven months of neglect. But a boy who’s lived his whole life in a high chair, given food instead of care, isn’t one much for veggies; he certainly can’t crawl. So we were patient and persistent, and after one month in our home, the only junk he had had was his first-birthday cupcake. As he mashed cake and tasted frosted fingers, I’m not sure who delighted more– the darling birthday boy, or the family to whom he already belonged.

And the family who fed him with health and with love was more than my husband, our three kids, and me– it was also the ones whence we came. He’s been gone from our home for four years now, but my grandmother still asks about him and it kills me not to have answers, and my mom still cracks up at memories of him and sniffles back tears at his pictures.

We always knew he wasn’t ours to keep, but that’s true of any child; it doesn’t stop the heart from hoping. And when the placing agent asks if you’d be open to adoption, your brain can get tripped up too. But what can you do, and you just love them, and you pray for their best, never mind yourself, but somehow your self sneaks in.

So I picked him up from daycare each afternoon, and by then he could mightily toddle, and with arms outstretched to the one he knew best, he beamed, “Mama!” and I loved him.

But the call came too soon, and the voice was too harsh. She was his caseworker and I was only his foster mother– a place holder for a real parent, a temporary fix in a state-wide shortage, a volunteer with no rights whatsoever. Not even to advocate for the little one in my care. He’d be picked up the next day and transferred to a foster home closer to the area his transient mother hung near. It would be easier for the agency to coordinate transportation if ever she decided she’d like to see her son.

I grasped madly at wits amid hot tears and laid out in a voice with as little tremor as I could manage his sure benefits in staying. He was thriving; I would drive him to see his mother; we’d make room in our small house for his sister. I don’t know how much was articulated logic and how much, desperate pleas. But it didn’t matter what I said, and she gave herself away in the end: I didn’t know how to raise him anyway– I was white and he was black.

The words slapped my heartbreak into fury, and I spat my demand to speak to her superior. The kinder woman calmed me with embarrassed apology, but sadness, only ebbed, came back and washed me over. And I told her there was just no way I could have him ready the next morning– I needed the weekend to clean all his clothes. But you really can’t prepare a baby to leave what he knows of home, and all the clean clothes a duffel bag can hold buy a mama only so much time.

So we took our small gift of three days, and when the transporters came to take the little boy, they had to stuff goodbye-balloons from enamored daycare teachers beside him in the backseat. And as he looked at me with those beautiful baby eyes, he didn’t know that it was the last time he’d see this mama’s face. But he was fed full of her love.

* * * * *

Tamara Lunardo works out her thoughts on life and faith at Tamara Out Loud, occasionally with adult language, frequently with attempted humor, and hopefully with God’s blessing. She is the editor of What a Woman is Worth, due out this summer through Civitas Press. You can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

123 Replies to “Mama For a Moment”

  1. Hey Tamara, I’m glad you wrote about this because from the comments people just are not aware of the foster parent side of the story. I grew up in a family where my parents did foster care, we housed over 40 children starting when I was 9 years old until 16. It was a huge part of my life growing up, having babies and kids in our house all the time. Getting calls in the middle of the night, hearing my mom open the door and settle a nervous child into their new bed, we knew we would wake up in the morning and have a new temporary member in our family for some undetermined amount of time. Seeing children arrive with scars, lice, scabies, smelling bad, scared, sick, bruises, cuts, aggressive, timid, naked… Our bathroom always had lice shampoo in the cupboard, families at our church always called us first when discarding a crib or bed, we had bins of clothing in the attic waiting (never for long) for a child to arrive with nothing who would fit into them. My mom collected child size suitcases like they were going out of style so that each kid who arrived with their belonging in a trash sack could leave with them properly in a case that belonged to them and them alone. I know doing Foster Care was difficult for her because she always wanted more children of her own. And there were a few who came that we began to think were going to stay, but they left too. My mom loved the children, and hated the politics of “the system”. She had the social workers she loved and rejoiced when they were in charge of one of our kids, after that many years of being the the system she became friends with many of them. When I visit home, a small Midwestern town, if we are out at the grocery store we might run into a loved social worker, teacher who had one of our foster kids in her 2nd grade class, a dance teacher who taught a semester of ballet before the child moved on, or the child herself and they always run up to my mom and hug her and catch up and remember each kid by name (all 40-something of them). Sometimes people would ask my mom how she could handle the kids leaving every time, and she said something about knowing that the kids had experienced the feeling of love and she knew that they would search for it until they found it again some day, so she knew they would turn out all right. When I think back on growing up in a home that took in foster kids I’m glad my parents did it, if for anything, for the kids of course, but also for me.

    Thanks for the memories your story brought me from my own experience!

    1. Love your comment Holli. I can’t help but think that if all the people who are commenting on this post could put their reactions into actions and do something about kids in care, the world would be a better place. I don’t mean that everyone should sign up to be a foster carer as it definitely is NOT for everyone. But helping out an existing foster family, volunteering/committing to reading to a child in care or helping them with their homework or giving them a job or whatever your creative brains can come up with. Yes you are busy with our own families, but you and your family will benefit enormously from this kind of contribution.

    2. So, so wonderful.

      I think most people don’t know much about any part of the foster system, and they need to. I’m glad to have been able to show a glimpse.

  2. This world is such a broken place. Thank you, Tamara, for mending a tiny piece of it with your love and your commitment. You don’t say how long this darling boy lived with you – or if you will ever do this again. I cannot imagine the pain of losing a piece of your heart, of your family. So I thank you for being willing to risk that pain, for enduring it and for telling us about it so beautifully. Small acts done with great love – isn’t that what Mother Theresa said? You have described it perfectly. Prayers of healing for you all – and for this dear child, wherever he may be.

    1. Thank you for your kind words and prayers. We had him only about three months. Our longest stay was six months; the shortest was a day. But it wasn’t the length of time with this little fellow– it was him.

      Maybe I could do it again some day. But not any day soon.

  3. Sobering post, Tamara. It brings back memories. My mother-in-law and her sister were/are both foster parents. My wife and I were part of the Youth Advocate program as well. Tough times pouring into a child that bureaucracy can tote off at a moments notice without regard. We did work with some fantastic people but the system lacked.
    Thanks for sharing this viewpoint. Thanks Shawn for hosting.

  4. I read this knowing I probably shouldn’t. Still, I couldn’t help myself. God bless you ( all of you) for what you given to this little one. May he, somehow, in the depths of his soul know that he is loved by some whose names he does not know.

  5. Oh. My heart is aching. This Monday morning I think of the sweet boy I had in my Sunday school class- just yesterday.
    A beautiful boy. So broken and neglected. Over two days my eyes have been opened. Thank you for sharing.

  6. My husband’s an assistant district attorney working a deprived docket. Every day he has to go in to work and fight to take children away from their parents and put them in the custody of the state–to enter them into this broken system. And sometimes he just doesn’t have the evidence and he has to let kids go back home with parents who he *knows* abuse and neglect them. And sometimes he does have the evidence and he “wins” and the kids are taken away but you just don’t really know if where they end up will actually be any better.

    And it’s never over, because the parents are given programs to follow and they file for trial reunification and it’s just the whim of the courts, the skill and preparation and the good days/bad days of the attorneys and judges involved that decide these children’s whole lives, that jerk them around from one home to the next and back again.

    And it’s disheartening but sometimes there just isn’t a right answer. The world is a broken place. But those who can, even for a day, be whole for these broken children…all we can do is hope that changes their lives for the better. Thank you for your service, Tamara, and thank you for sharing your story.

  7. Oh my goodness…

    My heart breaks for you. A child that’s already been through too much finds a happy home only to be wrenched away from it again…and what that woman said to you! I can’t believe that a caseworker could get away with such a thing. I share in your sorrow and hope that one day you may find peace.

    Best wishes,


  8. Oh, your writing made my heart ache.

    Thank goodness the world has people like you to love little ones like that. Even though he may never remember, you certainly made a lasting and irrevocable imprint on his life.

  9. Tamara, I can relate. Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I became a “Mama for a Moment,” too. I believe that I have used those exact words to describe the experience, still a cause for pain–and I’m now sixty.

  10. Wow. We are just starting the process, and I’ve been relieved at the (firmness but) kindness of all the social workers I’ve had contact with so far. But a reality check to the harsher sides of the system is good for me to see. I will follow your blog now, Tamara!

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