The last thing this world needs is another blog condemning gorilla mom, or a blog condemning gorilla mom’s condemners. (Because, honestly, my friend Rachel put it all to bed when she penned this amazing piece. Before anyone should call for a child to be taken into foster care, be careful to know that that means.)
But I’ve been sitting on the sidelines since this thing exploded, watching hurtful words being thrown casually around, and doing my best to keep my heart where it should be—in my chest and not my throat.
You see I loved a little boy once. He came home from the hospital with us the day Dani turned four so she happily declared to all who would listen that she got a baby brother for her birthday! Antonio was the name his mother had given him, but we quickly took to calling him Tony. And oh, did we fall instantly in love.
Tony was a charmer. He had the best laugh and such an easy-going personality. He had some health challenges with a set of bad lungs, but he weathered his treatments like a champ. Darin would hold him some nights while giving him albuterol through a nebulizer, and tell him that this all was just a part of the “compelling backstory” ESPN reporters would share one day as they discussed what a promising football career he had ahead of him.
From the beginning we knew we weren’t Tony’s forever family. We knew he had a biological mother that loved him and wanted him. And we knew the family adopting his older sister who hoped when the affairs were in order to reunite the siblings and adopt Tony as well. We were standing in the gap, in a nearly literal sense—the gap between birth and forever.
But we loved that baby like we were his forever.
When Tony was nearly 7-months old we had a visit to a lung doctor. Dani kept him entertained for the nearly 20 minutes we waited for our appointment, so when we were in the room waiting for the doctor and she asked for my phone, I agreed. I placed a hand over the roly-poly baby on the bed, and reached behind me to grab my phone from my diaper bag on the chair. By the time I turned back, I saw my baby’s head hit the floor. It happened in a split second. And it changed everything.
I scooped Tony up screaming and ran out into the hallway begging someone to help me. The nurses came running and calmed me down, looking Tony over. There were no visible wounds, and when the doctor arrived he pronounced Tony OK and gave me signs of head trauma to be aware of. After a short amount of crying, Tony was back to his happy self and after the rest of our appointment and with the doctor’s sign-off, we headed out for the rest of our day. I kept an eye on Tony but there was nothing of note to worry us.
At home that evening I filled out the incident report paperwork and turned it in, grateful that things were going to be OK.
Only they weren’t. I don’t want to go into all the details here, but a week later when we discovered that Tony had a skull fracture…well…the nightmare began.
He got removed from our care, placed with near-strangers, and never came home to us.
We found ourselves in the middle of a criminal and licensing investigation.
My children were pulled out of their classrooms by a complete stranger and asked incredibly invasive questions.
And then Darin and I were interviewed for over 2 hours in our living room, by the scariest woman I’ve ever met.
I will never ever forget the look in her eye or the tone in her voice when she looked up from her notes to ask me, “Now, Deanna, your daughter says you were on your phone when it happened.”
I saw and heard and felt the judgement: I was a distracted mom who cared more about her phone than the children in her care.
Which could not have been further from the truth.
Yes, I was reaching for my phone. But not to answer it or to check facebook or send a text. My daughter had just spent 20 minutes entertaining her brother with stroller rides around the waiting room, books and songs, and toys. I was so proud of her and wanted to reward her with a “yes” when she asked to play on my phone. I knew my son was rolling, so I placed a hand over his stomach to keep him in place.
Only my phone was a smidge too far.
And my hand hovered for a second too long.
And my world came crashing down.
While I was judged by the police and foster investigator, I was not tried in the court of public opinion. I cannot imagine the things I would have heard had my story been splashed all over the news.
Actually, I don’t have to imagine, I can read them.
I am so grateful that the women in my life rallied around me instead of questioning me. They told me their own stories and shook their heads at the insanity of it all. I cannot count the amount of friends who asked who they could call as a character witness for me. If I could have given them the investigator’s location there would have been a line around the block of those coming to the defense of us, but also to the defense of the sweetest boy who had suddenly and unexplainably lost the only family he’d known.
I remember a phone conversation early on where a staff member from our foster agency told me that it was an accident and that I’d need to forgive myself.
“I know, and I have,” I responded. “You see, my tribe is mothers of young children. And every day I hear the craziest stories: you’d never guess what little Johnny swallowed this week, or a whole flight of stairs Sally fell down, or I really don’t know how Billy is still alive but by the grace of God. Kids are kids. Kids have accidents. Yes, I screwed up. But it was an accident. In a normal world we would have all moved on by now. But this isn’t a normal world, and we can’t move on. Because this is foster care.”
I am so grateful for the many ways God showed up with love and care during those dark days. I am beyond grateful my baby is alive and happy and loved so well by his sister and adoptive family. I am thankful that I get to see his smiling face and hear his precious laugh. I am thankful that Tony’s story goes on.
And mine does too. Even though that little boy will forever own a piece of my heart.
Today I just wanted to share a story, along with some kindness and compassion. I hope reading this inspires you to share compassion too.
But by the grace of God go I…