As you know, if you’ve been following this column, three of my nine children are adopted; two of those children, Dolly and Sherri, are why we’re a happy, connected group. I’d like to tell you about the day they came to us and what their adoption has meant to all of us.
Gary and I didn’t intend to start our family as quickly as we did; we’d only been married two years and figured we had plenty of time to become parents, However, circumstances dictated differently, Instead of the usual nine months of preparation for a baby, we had two hours—the time between the social worker’s request and a frantic call to my mother on the way to pick up our first foster kids, Dolly, two and a half, and Sherri, two months, abandoned by their alcoholic mother, waited for us at the Alaska Children’s Shelter.
When my motherhood began that day, I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, By the time I figured it out, I had irrevocably lost my heart to two little girls who taught me about courage and the brotherhood of all people—and who would bless my family as no one else could.
A baby’s wail muffled through the window as Gary and I opened the door onto the shelter’s storm porch. The wails quavered from an infant seat on the table; tiny fists trembled above a faded pink blanket.
“The baby hasn’t stopped crying since a trooper brought her and her sister in last night.” The director indicated a solemn toddler as she handed me the baby. “Your first priority will be filling them up—they’ve been starved.”
I looked down at the tiny Eskimo face in my arms; she looked like a parody of a baby. Oily crusts of cradle cap concealed her hair; her skin was a muddy, mustard color, and she smelled sour—an odd scent I learned to recognize after years of foster mothering. The odor of month-old sweat and rancid food clings to neglected kids, even after frequent baths. Weeks of baths, lotion, orange juice and fresh eggs are necessary before the smell fades.
Gary leaned over my shoulder and traced Sherri’s cheek with his forefinger. Her cries diminished somewhat, so I gave her to him and turned my attention to the toddler.
The director squatted beside me so we were both on eye level with Dolly. “Her name is Esmeralda, but we call her Dolly; she’s been with us before.”
Dolly stared at me without expression through ragged black bangs that hung over one eyebrow, two fingers in her mouth. A doll-like waif, her eyes were gorgeous: chocolate brown pools, fringed with velvet black. Bruises lumped her upper lip but failed to diminish her round faced prettiness. She wore a much-washed red print dress that hung to her ankles and dirty white boots,
The director indicated an open toy box. “Dolly, would you like to take a bunny or teddy with you?”
Dolly nodded and rummaged through the box, while the director spoke to me in low tones. “She’s been here twice before. Once we had her almost three months. She’s surprisingly efficient at taking care of herself, but she rarely talks or lets anybody touch her.”
Gary, who hadn’t heard the director, balanced the infant seat on his hip and reached for Dolly’s hand. “Let’s get this show on the road!” he smiled.
Dolly reacted as if he’d slapped her. She screamed—an eerie, high pitched keening that prickled the hair on my neck. Her open mouth revealed rotten brown stubs in her upper gums; her lower teeth were no bigger than sesame seeds.
I crouched down again and opened my arms to her, but I didn’t touch her. I can’t remember all I said, mostly, “Everything’s OK, Don’t be afraid, I’ll be your mama.”
To the director’s and my surprise, Dolly finally quieted and put her arms around my neck, I stood up with her clinging to me.
Next time, I’ll share some of the miracles that followed.