~~Tell me what you think. Did my remodel help or hurt? Don't pull any punches--remember I asked for it. ; )
I wasn’t a mother, but I knew the look of a child whose parents were MIA. The girl at the end of the table had all the signs.
Her face was closed, contained as she watched the crowd of foster children at the party. What was her story? I might not want to know. In my thirty years of teaching teens, I’d seen the result of every possible abuse, neglect, and abandonment up close and personal.
Another cloud of sweet baby power drifted over me as one of the teens led a toddler toward the serving tables. So many little foster children made my heart ache. Most of this bunch was elementary age or younger. All of them placed with foster parents and not with their mothers on this Mother’s Day weekend. The noise of little children at play ricocheted of the block walls of the fellowship hall.
I didn’t have the stamina to do more than bake cookies any longer, but that I could do. My Tom, God rest his soul, would have been sitting cross-legged on the floor playing games with the kiddies. After all, we’d borrowed other people’s children for over thirty years in our classrooms. Church was just another chance to practice a bit of the love we had for children. Only he wasn’t here to share it with me.
“Isn’t it great, Laura Grace?” A grin crinkled my friend Jen’s eyes as she looked around the room and turned to me. “I didn’t expect so many foster kids, but we have enough goodies for an army. And it wouldn’t be a party without your tea cakes.”
I rearranged my cookies so they were closer to the edge of the tray. Now the little ones could reach them better. Turning toward Jen, I smiled. “Glad they’re a hit.”
She laughed. “Your teacakes will be gone before we’re halfway through the party.”
Rosemary joined us at the serving tables. She didn’t have to say a thing. All she had to do was look at me with that concerned gaze—the one she assessed me with every day since Tom’s death.
I raised my voice over the chatter. “Well, of course kids love cookies, but all of the rest of you have so much more experience with this age group.”
Rosemary snorted. “Of course Laura Grace should know by now what we want her to bake. She’s been baking for church parties for over thirty years.”
I scanned the crowd just in time to side step two little boys who nearly ran into me to grab for a cookie. The older girl caught my eye again. “I’m going to check on the girl alone at the end of the table.”
“Good. She’s twelve and you’ll know what to say.” Twin lines of concern between her brows marred Jen’s smiling face as she looked at the girl.
I grabbed one of my teacakes and a brownie. Maybe some chips? Collecting a cup of punch from the beverage table as I went by, I approached the girl who had riveted my attention.
Her curls were exactly the color of Tom’s when we were in high school. Then I saw her deep blue eyes and my step faltered. They were just like my Tom’s. Swallowing a sudden lump, I moved toward her.
Her eyes narrowed just a bit as I placed the plate of goodies on the table beside her. “Hi, I’m Laura Grace. I’m glad you came to our party.”
She looked at me, but her face didn’t change. No hint of a smile or ghost of a reaction moved the still face.
In the presence of such control, I knew I wasn’t going to get any response. I smiled at her and put the punch by the plate. “I hope you enjoy these. See you around.”
One of Rosemary's perfect brows arched as I rejoined them at the serving table. "You didn't get much response."
I almost said none, but the girl' s eyes had been wells of sorrow. "I hadn't expected much." The child had a foster mom, but it was obvious she needed her real mom. Did the woman in question have the resources to pledge to be there no matter what? "Jen, what do you know about her?"
Jen's sigh sent a chill through my heart. "Her mom was beaten to death by her live-in boyfriend. Samantha saw it all."
My throat clenched on a sudden taste of bile. A foster mom was as good as it was going to get. So much pain. No wonder she was withdrawn.
"That's horrible, Jen!" Rosemary look back at the girl. "Wait a minute. How do you know that?"
Jen's lips narrowed into a tight line. "Bob was still a patrolman three years ago.
I looked across the room. Bob Thomas was giving a little boy a piggyback ride. At least four more children hopped around him like fleas waiting their turns. Maybe not the most dignified job for the chief of police, but it revealed a sincere heart.
"He told you too much." Rosemary's voice hardened.
Jen turned face to face with Rosemary and would have been nose to nose if I hadn't been between them. The heat rose as they towered over me. "He has to vent some time or the job will kill him." Her voice was as tight as Rosemary's. "It's the reason he got the men involved in helping with the kids today. He knows several of these children’s stories." She looked down at me. "Laura Grace, surely you and Tom talked about the horrors in order to survive teaching all those years."
"Yes, we did, but it went no further. I'm sure the case workers would be horrified to know what Bob's told you. Maybe we should just let it go." But as I talked, I watched Samantha. So deep a wound and wounds that deep didn't always heal.
Throughout the party, I kept vigil over the girl who became the symbol of the intense pain families could inflict on each other.
Her still face never cracked, never registered more than a closed façade until her foster mom returned to collect her children. Then Samantha glowed with concern as she corralled the three small boys. Her pale hands twined with the two smallest – one Hispanic and the other black. The mom, who was black, balanced two tiny twin girls on either hip. The oldest boy clasped the smallest boy’s other hand after Samantha called him to attention.
There was love there and I could only hope it was enough to reach Samantha's core. If I knew how to help, I'd move the mountains to do it. But I was not a mother. That was what Samantha needed because her wound was rooted in her mother's murder. No one was going to replace that woman's love. Certainly not me.
As they left the room, I began picking up abandoned paper plates and cups. When I reached where she’d sat, I stopped. Only the tea cake was gone from her plate. The brownies and chips were untouched. Tears prickled my eyes. At least I've added a bit of sweetness to her life.