He wasn’t my son, not yet.
My stomach twisted sharply pulling into the parking lot. I scanned the park playground through my open window for a face similar to the sweet boy eagerly waiting to get out of my car. Children ran and screamed, jumping from monkey bars to swings, flying down slides, and landing in heaps of laughter in the warm summer air.
“Do you see her?” I asked in a whisper, turning off the engine.
Peanut unbuckled and leaned out the window, taking in deep quick breaths of familiarity. He had only been with us a week, yet I already pictured him on our family Christmas cards. I pictured cheering him on at soccer games or basketball games, recording choir concerts and graduations.
“There!” he squeaked, “Over there, do you see her? She’s the tall pretty one.”
Across the playground stood a tall slender figure, scanning the speckle of cars for her son. She stood about 5 ft 10 inches, her long thin legs looking like they could have carried her for miles. Her arms were crossed across her chest.
“She used to run track in high school, ya’ know,” Peanut said, sensing me taking in his mother’s frame.
“I can completely picture that, ” I exhaled, “and you’re right, she’s very pretty. You look just like her too.”
It was clear that we had gotten there before our case worker. My intent was to just wait until there was supervision, but Peanut threw open the door.
“Mom!” he shouted, waving his arms wildly, a big beautiful smile sliding across his face.
A lump formed in my throat as I tried my best not to cry. One last check in the rear view mirror, worrying about first impressions, and I stepped out of the car too, taking Peanut’s hand in mine firmly.
She saw us.
She saw me holding her son’s hand and began making her way over to the parking lot, arms still crossed, covering her heart like a shield, gripping so tightly I could see the beds of her nails turn white. Peanut continued to hold my hand. Neither of us really knew what to do, stand and wait or walk together toward his mother?
Before we could make a decision, I found myself standing in her shadow. I had to tilt my head up to the sky to fully take in her face.
“You ever been a foster mom before?” she snapped, lips pursed.
“No,” I said slowly.
“You got your own kids?” she added, arms still crossed.
“Yes, actually, ” I answered, “I have two girls.”
Peanut’s hand began to feel hot and sweaty in mine as we stood there in awkward silence. His mother looked me over. Her eyes bore through my soul and I could sense a feeling of betrayal and anger. I began to feel like she had been left behind many years ago, left treading water in a sea of poverty, inequalities and broken systems.
I raised up my hand, offering it to her.
“My name is Emily,” I said, “Thank you for trusting me with your son.”
She stood there a second more, then slowly uncrossed her arms and took my hand in hers to shake it politely.
Just then, Peanut released my hand and ran toward the playground. His other siblings and case worker had just arrived. Still holding my hand, Peanut’s mom drew me to her and embraced me in a hug.
“Thank you for meeting me,” she said.