Friday, November 26, 2010

A Memory of Long Ago and a Hope for Now

(All names changed)

“You’ve adopted a baby!” I exclaimed joyfully when Felicity and Sam showed up in church with a boy in arms, about a year old.

“No,” said Felicity. “This is an abandoned baby.”

“What on earth…?

Sam, a Catholic ex-priest who was now the administrator of a teen center, said one of the teenagers who frequented the center had brought him this baby last night. She had been babysitting him, she said, and his mother never came back, and the girl didn’t know what to do. So Sam had taken the baby from her.

“Well, what are YOU going to do?” I asked Sam and Felicity.

They didn’t know.

“Do you have the stuff you’ll need, like bottles and diapers?”

They didn’t; they only had one bottle and a bit of formula and one pack of diapers.

I said, “We have everything for a child that age. He looks the same age as our Mark. Why don’t we take him home while you figure out what to do next?”

So we did.

The baby was half white and half Indian, as the Native Americans called themselves back then. He had green eyes.

The poor child also had long, ragged fingernails and toenails and was dirty all over. I gave him a warm bath, clipped his nails, put ointment on his severe diaper rash, put him in clean clothes, fed him a nice supper, and rocked him to sleep. He woke several times during the night, crying. I rocked him and sang to him for an hour or so at a time, wondering how he must feel without his mom. Lonely? Terrified? Heartbroken?

During playtime, I would sit him on a big rug, next to Mark, in the nursery, and the boy hadn’t a clue what to do. He didn’t know how to play, didn’t know what to do with any of the baby toys. He just sat there and looked around.

He was a good boy, very compliant, in fact rather passive, a bit clingy, as was only to be expected. But he was clearly suffering from neglect. Severe neglect. He also had a runny nose and runny eyes.

I called my son’s pediatrician and made an appointment for the child.

Three days went by and I hadn’t heard from Felicity and Sam, so that evening I decided I’d better call them. What progress had been made toward locating the mother? Well, none. They hadn’t really had time to think about it much. All they knew was, his mother’s first name was Alma and she worked at the Franklin Bar.

I called the Franklin Bar and asked to speak with Alma. She was off tonight, they told me. I explained that this was an emergency, and could I please have her home number? They gave it to me; I called it and reached Alma’s mother. “She’s spending the night with a girlfriend,” the mother told me.

“Well, I’m someone who has her baby, and I want to speak to her about him,” I said. “Could you give me the number where she is?”

She did and I called and finally found myself talking to the mother of the baby. I wasn’t particularly eager to return the boy to a mother who had abandoned him and had been neglecting him before that. It wasn't even clear whether she wanted him. I said, “Alma, I have your baby." (I didn't want to tell her my name.) "Do you want him back?”

“Yes,” she said, simply.

“Well, then, meet me tomorrow morning at ten o’clock in the lobby of General Hospital” (where the pediatrician’s office was) “and we’ll work it out.”

She agreed.

Somewhbere in all this, I also called Social Services and said I had an abandoned baby and I didn’t know what to do.

“You mean left in a basket on your doorstep?” the startled receptionist asked.

“No, not like that.” And I explained.

Turns out Alma had a social worker already; I’ve forgotten how I found that out. However, she was away on her honeymoon. But another social worker got on the phone with me. I told her the situation, including my reluctance to give the baby back, and she said she’d meet us in the doctor’s office and see what should be done.

Ten o’clock the next morning, I stood in the hospital’s main lobby, baby in arms, and a stocky young Native American woman came up to me and stuffed a few hundred dollars into my hand.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“The payment,” she whispered.


After everything had been sorted out, it turned out the mother had not abandoned her baby. She had come back home to find baby and sitter gone. The teenager had come to the same conclusion as I, that this child did not belong with this mother, and had taken the situation into her own hands. She confessed to having abducted the baby.

Alma had not gone to the police, because she was afraid to, with her police record. But she had mistaken my telephone call for a ransom demand. After we had hung up, she had scraped together the several hundred dollars.

The baby had been kidnapped and technically, I was an accessory to the crime!

The pediatrician and the social worker both agreed with my assessment (and the babysitter’s) that this child was being severely neglected. The only way to get him away from the mother, they said, was to hospitalize him for a while. So they did, and during that time, the mother was required to attend a couple of weeks of parenting classes.

I assume they gave her back the baby after that, but I don’t know because the doctor visit ended my involvement.

No, I didn’t get into any legal trouble.

Oh, and the baby turned out to be exactly the same age as Mark, with only a 12-hour difference. Mark is 42 now, which means that child is also 42, probably a father himself. I hope things worked out well for him. And his mother. I hope they are both happy. I pray for them now and then, when I think of it, especially every year on Mark's birthday.


Michelle M. said...

Wow- what a story! I hope everything worked out for him. Wouldn't it be nice if you were able to find out how he is doing?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks, Michelle. Of course there's no way to find that out; I don't even know the kid's last name. (I suppose I must have been told it at some point, but if so, I've forgotten it.

And although I will always cherish hope, I'd be afraid to find out if I could. At that time, the American Indian community was severely stricken by poverty, unemployment, discrimination, alcohol abuse, crime, violence. breakdown of the family, you name it. The idea of casinos on reservations hadn't yet made its appearance.

Michelle M. said...

Yes, that's true. At least you can pray for him and his mother. That is a gift given to you.

Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Goodness, what an amazing thing to happen!

Praying for the family involved - I too hope all turned out well.

GretchenJoanna said...

How special to have been an "accomplice" in taking care of the baby for a while, a short-term foster care for sure. The mother wanted her baby enough to find that much money, bless her. I'm really happy to read this story.