We walked them out the front with Jonathon clinging to my neck, his face buried into the side of mine.
“Say bye Jonathon,” I coaxed but he refused to look. We waved goodbye and came inside with a sense of gloom as to what would happen now.
I cannot even bear to think about handing this darling little boy over to a strange family whom he has never even met without tears smarting in my eyes. Even thinking about it upsets me greatly. How will they know that he loves to have his little feet massaged when he’s upset, how will they know that he likes to have my hand rest gently on his little face as he drifts off to sleep? What will happen when he looks up with his big blue trusting eyes and asks “Hold my hand?”
I will not be there.
They won’t know what it means, they won’t know that he has bowel problems and they won’t know how scared this little boy is after being taken away from the only family he’s ever known.
What if? I knew that it did happen. What if another older foster child abused him or hurt him? He would be terrified, confused, devastated. The thought played in my mind and was driving me crazy. It was a risk they the experts were willing to take. I couldn’t and wouldn’t take that risk, not with this little feller.
Jonathon arrived at our home when he was only 17 days old, straight from the hospital after his mother abandoned him, wrapped in a thin shawl and with nothing else.
As experienced foster carers we were used to having children arrive day and night but Jonathon was different. The car pulled into our driveway and my daughter and I raced out to see this tiny baby. He looked like a skinned rabbit, an ugly little thing that had been terribly ill in hospital and still was. He’d already had a blood transfusion and needed daily blood tests and an array of specialist care, but we didn’t care. We loved him already.
I gently took him from the officer and his newborn smell filled my senses. He was bundled up in his shawl like a little papoose and we took him inside and fed him a bottle. He lay peacefully in my arms, sleeping, oblivious to what the future might hold for him. For now it didn’t matter as he was warm and dry and well fed and with people who would love and protect him.
The weeks following were a hectic time for us as three more children came into our care and we were in the process of moving house. Little Jonathon was doing well and though he had a problem with the formula, he was thriving. We knew that he was to be adopted out but were told that we could care for him a little longer. Within a week he needed another transfusion, which broke my heart as my husband and I watched the nurse struggling to find a vein in his tiny hands. Eventually the drip was put in his heel. He lay there in a big white cot with the blood seeping slowly into him. For six long hours we sat with him, stoking his little arm and reassuring him we were there. He watched us with big trusting eyes full of terror, silently begging us not to go.
We moved house when Jonathon was only nine weeks old and my husband and I agreed to bring him back when he was to be adopted out. We took Jonathon to a paediatrician regularly and discovered that he was lactose intolerant with projectile vomiting.
I have to admit we found it tough trying to juggle a baby and three other children but every time little Jonathon smiled or cuddled us we were recharged. He became part of our life and the lives of our grown children and foster children.
At night he would cry in pain and I would massage his little feet until the frown on his brow ceased and he fell into a deep sleep. He still suffered terribly when he had to go to the toilet. He would hold my hand and squeeze tightly. As he got older he would say, “hold my hand Mummy?”
It’s been two years now and on the grape vine I’d heard that Jonathon had two older brothers in care but the authorities would not allow him to see them, because he was to be adopted. His brothers knew nothing about him either. Even with our protesting on little Jonathon’s behalf it was still decided that there was to be no contact.
At his second birthday party amongst the cake and balloons and smiles I felt the bitter taste of fear that one day they would come to take him. I watched him play and jump on my husband’s back for a horsy ride squealing “Daddy!’ I watched him run over to his big foster sister and hug her and my eyes filled with tears as he ran to me and threw his chubby arms around my neck and said, “I wuv you best, Mummy.”
“I wuv you too,” I replied, wiping my eyes and swallowing the lump in my throat.
How could they contemplate even adopting him out after he has been with us for over two years? We are the only family he has ever known. Is this in his best interests? I knew the time would come and I felt like a black cloud was looming over us.
Every time I think of life without Jonathon, I can’t imagine it. His eyes watch our every move and his little brain is like a sponge soaking in everything we have taught him. How can anyone expect that he will settle down in a stranger’s home with no family around him? Who will allay his fears about monsters at night? Who will tell him his favourite story and sing him his favourite song?
“Mummy I need you?’
“What for sweetie?”
“I need you to hold my hand?”
Jonathon is on the toilet holding his little chubby hand out to me. He’d just finished daycare.
“Who holds your hand at ‘school’?”
“Nobody,” he mumbled sadly.
“I do, like dis, I show you.”
He put his little hand in his other hand and clasped them together tightly. “See Mummy like dis. I hold my own hand.”
I cried to my husband later that night. “What are we going to do?’
“Run away with him,” he joked.
“Seriously, how will it benefit Jonathon to live elsewhere when he only knows us as his family?”
“Perhaps we’d better look into it.”
That night, like so many others, I tossed and turned and dreamt about Jonathon scared and alone in a stranger’s house and wondering whether he thought he’d done something wrong and that’s why we had all abandoned him. Stress was taking its toll and we had already accepted another baby who needed caring for.
The telephone call we had dreaded but anticipated came late one afternoon.
“Jonathon is no longer going to be adopted out.”
My heart gave a little flip
“…But we have decided it’s best he goes to another carer’s place.”
“To be with his brothers.”
“You mean the two brothers that you forbid him to see? The brothers who know nothing about him? The house of strangers? This child is nearly three! How is this in his best interests?” I demanded.
“We’ll start the reunification and contact visits soon. Have a nice day and we will be in touch.”
I hung up the telephone in a daze. They couldn’t do this! Weeping, I wracked my brain as to what we could do to help this little boy have stability in his life and not get caught up in the system.
Several months later we were advised that Jonathon’s brothers would be coming down with their foster parents and a departmental member for a visit. We tried to prepare Jonathon as best we could as he was at an age where he didn’t like strangers.
“Sweetie,” I said as he rode his Wiggle car around the backyard. “We have some people coming today to see you.”
“’Cos you’re a special little boy and they want to meet you.”
“Don’t like stranger danger.”
“No, sweetie. These are friends, your brothers.”
“Kids, kids for you to play with.”
Johnathon’s eyes lit up so I continued on.
“You can show them your new cubby house.”
He smiled a cheeky grin. “Okay,” he yelled as he took off running around the yard.
The visit went as well as could be expected. I heard the young department member say to the other foster parents, “Come on we need to get them to play together! That’s what we are here for.”
“Jonathon , sweetie, come here to Mummy,” I called and watched as his little chubby legs flew across the grass and up into my arms. His face was hot and flushed.
“He’s getting tired,” I said to the young officer.
“So are the boys,” the other parent volunteered.
“We’ll have to call it a day then.” The department member walked away to get her bag.
“Sorry,” I said to the foster mother. This was a horrible predicament to put any family in, especially three young boys.
We knew deep in our hearts that this little boy was ours. He may not be our flesh or blood but the bond was too strong to just give him up. After two stressful years of fighting for him we are now his legal guardians. We also have frequent contact with his brothers.
It was his five-year-old brother who said to his foster parents, “We can’t take Jonathon away from them! He loves them.”
It had taken the wisdom of a child for commonsense to prevail. Jonathon is now seven and a well-adjusted little boy who has a loving family around him. Nature versus nuture may always be an issue, but as far as we are concerned, he is our son and will be forever.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem