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“It takes a village to raise a child”
I want to tell you a story about love. A mother’s love. And how three women did everything in their power to raise one little boy.
Two days before Halloween of 1989, after 13 hours of labor, a beautiful baby boy was born, weighing nine pounds, two ounces. He was two weeks overdue to see his family, and looked nearly a month old when he arrived. He was so big he wore clothes three sizes larger than those brought along. He was a voracious eater and took to nursing quickly. He gained half a pound before leaving the hospital a week later. (Those were the days when you could stay longer than twelve hours).
When we arrived home, my mother led me to her room showing me the crib she’d set up beside her bed, and told me this is where she wanted us to stay. She was going to take the day bed in the living room and she wasn’t going to argue with me. I felt weird displacing her but was grateful for the gesture.
The next six months were wonderful. We were happy, he was healthy and everything went as well as can be expected.
There was a park close by and I would take my little guy to the tire swing, singing to him while we watched the trees rock back and forth. I would tell him how much I loved him, how happy I was he was there, and he would listen, quiet and still.
My mom would take him to work with her when I needed a night out. She was a nanny and the people she worked for were always glad to see him visit. She would take him shopping and over to her friends. Six weeks after he was born I came home from the corner store with my mom calling out to me from the bedroom. There she was, sitting at the edge of the bed, smiling down at my son, urging me to see what was happening. He was looking up at her with the biggest most authentic smile. I have a picture of my mom feeding him, both of them open mouthed and somehow smiling at the same time.
I was lucky to find an organization which offered high school courses with a daycare in the same building. I have a portrait of my son and I taken at the school, like the ones you would get for the year book. My boy was so excited it looked as if he was trying to jump out of the frame. I just looked strained in my shoulder pads and 80’s hair style.
Things started getting hard for my mom. You see, my brother had died only four years previously. Having suffered a loss some say is the worst anyone could ever endure, then helplessly fall in love with another child, was a bit more than grandma could take. I stayed on while my mom was getting better but moved out a month later.
I didn’t realize how much grandma had cushioned me from the challenges of raising a child on my own. I had more rent to pay, more expenses, less resources, less time to myself, and a loneliness I had never experienced before.
I got a part time job washing dishes at the mall. One of the waitresses was generous enough to take my son while I worked. I lasted two days before I was fired. I sucked at dishes.
One day I realized I was using my last clean diaper and had no money to do laundry. Something happened to me that night while kneeling at the bathtub and scraping poop from 24 flannel squares of fabric. I cried quietly while I hung yarn for a makeshift clothes line. And as I was awakened by my beautiful baby boy the morning of my 17th birthday, I understood what had to be done.
The irony that the adoption agency lived in an elementary school was not lost on me. I was grateful for the compassionate faces and the kind questions about where I might want my son to live. He needed to live in a different city, to live without wanting for shoes or for food, to live with a mother and a father and maybe a big brother too. I wanted letters and pictures when I needed them, and that he would know I loved him first.
I was shown five files of loving parents. In the third I saw a couple smiling up at me. They had all the things I had hoped for and knew my son deserved. “Them,” I said and pointed to the file.
I met them a week later at a Denny’s near my house. I asked every question I could think of. They answered without hesitation or malice. They smiled at me the whole time and I could see their eyes following my son playing on my lap. I asked the woman if she would like to hold him, she did. I watched them look into my son’s eyes with love. I didn’t know it was possible for strangers to love a child so much, so soon. They told me they’d come back from holidays camping with their family. They had cut their vacation short just so they could meet me and my son. I knew they were perfect for him because they were people I would never consider friends had we met under different circumstances.
A week later they came to meet their new son and take him home. They were kind and gentle and understanding. They sat on my couch and drank my tea. They didn’t rush. And when I had told them all the things I thought they needed to know about him; how to make him stop crying; how to rock him to sleep; what his favorite songs were; how to make him laugh; the silence told us it was time.
They didn’t need anything besides what he was wearing, but I insisted they take his favorite toy and a blanket. No, I didn’t have to worry, they had a car seat, and toys, they had clothes and the whole family waiting for him at home. I watched out the window as they put my son in the back seat. They had a really nice and safe looking car. Then they drove away. That was it. I wasn’t his mother anymore.
I got letters and pictures whenever I asked for them. All of them written with respect and compassion. In the pictures my boy was smiling. Smiling in the yard, smiling at the beach, smiling at Disney Land, always smiling.
It’s been almost 23 years since I last saw my little boy. He’ll be 24 in October. He was a linebacker in high school and I was told he was very smart, though he didn’t like to apply himself. A few years back I found him on Facebook and my daughter and he have messaged back and forth. He’s had a few girlfriends since I first saw his pictures on-line, but I’ve stopped looking. It’s hard to see what a young man gets into at that age, regardless of how I know him. He’s healthy and happy and has everything any of us could ever have hoped for him.
I’ve heard it takes a village to raise a child and I don’t doubt it, because I know that it took the love of at least three woman to raise one little boy.
I know this post will come a day after Mother’s Day, but I want you to know the greatest gift you can give the woman who gave birth to you, or the woman who raised you, or any woman who has given you her love; is to be happy, to be healthy, to be smiling.