I situate my gold necklace in the mirror and then swipe a stray lash off my face. I give my gown a last once-over in the mirror. Royal blue and rose-colored lace on the top that hits a thick waistband. Then the royal blue transforms into a solid, flowy material that streams down to the floor like a river of satin.
I exhale, finally ready—for the first time in what seems like forever— to head out to the party of the season. It’s a formal masquerade ball for my sweet friend’s 40th birthday. So many of those we know and love will be there.
I reach for my gold filigree mask, run my fingers over it’s ornamentation, and then place it over my eyes. I wonder if Cole is ready.
We haven’t had a fancy night out in I don’t know how long, and we have been talking everyday about the chance to dine, dance, and catch up with those we love but rarely see anymore.
I exhale, excited, and head downstairs.
Cole is seated on the couch, tying his shoes.
Our friends Lauren and Will are laughing across the hall, helping a three year old boy bathe in our downstairs bathroom.
We are babysitting for a few days and needed someone to watch the little guy for a couple of hours while we attend the ball.
The last squirts of perfume and cologne are sprayed. Cole laughs and situates my mask while we head out the door.
Then my phone rings, startling us both.
We look down at the glowing, ringing box in my hand. It’s a social worker from the Department of Social Services.
I look up at Cole in confusion. “But wait, it’s late. They never call us after hours. Surely they don’t need more paperwork at this time of night.”
I pick up the call, and hit speakerphone. What could they want on a Friday night?
The voice unloads a monsoon of information at record time, drenching us with unexpected details.
It didn’t take long to figure out that this phone call was about a person, not paperwork.
We can barely keep up, but we know the important points—there’s an 11 month old boy. He’s in need of an emergency placement. Can we take him? As in, right now?
Cole and I look at each other in bewilderment. He takes the phone and tells the voice: “Really thankful you contacted us. Let us chat for a moment and we will call you right back.”
I pull off my mask and fiddle with it, my mind churning. For a moment, I stand in the open door, staring outside into the night. The air is cold with a slight breeze. I can hear the falling of leaves, and I see one drift down and land on the steps. There could be a baby on this porch very soon.
Cole takes my hand and we discuss the unexpected phone call and the little boy—we will call him Baby Boy. We’ve come to a tentative consensus, but feel the call to Proverbs 12:15. We want to make sure this is a wise choice for everyone involved.
I look up again at Cole. “I don’t think it’s coincidence that God put Lauren and Will in our house on this very night. Let’s ask them their thoughts and then call back the social worker.”
We head to the bathroom, tell Lauren and Will what’s going on, and ask for their input.
Lauren, being an expert in early child education and one of the most compassionate women I know, walks me through what 11-month-old-life looks like.
“I guess I just expected a newborn. A lot of the foster parents we knew got placed with newborns, so I suppose I subconsciously expected that. 11 months is a totally different stage. I honestly have no idea what that stage is like because I’ve been preparing for a different one,” I confess to her.
“That makes sense,” she says warmly. “Maybe you just need to know what 11 month olds are like.”
“Exactly. I’m not against taking him, of course. I just have no idea what I’m getting into. I feel totally in the dark about what he would need and what his life should look like in this stage.”
I feel a surge of inadequacy rising up in my gut, and my eyes start to burn in fear and worry. What if I can’t do this? Why did I do all my preparing for the wrong age?
Lauren continues. “Ash, there are so many benefits to this age and you will catch on quick, trust me. They are able to feed themselves. They get to be introduced to new foods. They are crawling and pulling up. They are also usually sleeping through the night. They are very smiley and a lot of their personality is coming through. They are very cute and active during play time. And they are learning how to babble and talk! You’ll get to see them repeat things and learn from you. It’s a fun and rewarding age.”
As a person who thrives on information, I feel better. Thank God for Lauren.
Will chimes in. As a logical thinker and training-to-be-doctor, he makes two swift and clear points.
“Alright. First,” he starts, “there’s the question—why would you not take him?”
We don’t have an answer.
Cole interjects. “We got approved a while ago. Usually people get approved and placed with a child the same day. For some reason, we just haven’t gotten placed with a child for a long time. So we assumed God was asking us to wait. We stopped obsessing over all of this stuff, and finally just trusted God’s timing. We’ve been purposely focusing on work and finishing out our commitments this year. I guess we really didn’t expect God to place us with a child until December or January. It was just taking forever.”
He finishes. “So it seems like the only real obstacle here is that this placement is not what you expected—both in its timing and in Baby Boy’s age. It seems like you just switched gears in your head since you hadn’t been placed.”
Cole and I look at each other. Will and Lauren are right.
The issue is timing and age.
I say a quick, silent prayer. Thank you, Lord, for good friends who can see clearly in the middle of the flurry when you can’t.
“And think about it,” he finishes with his second point. “This is what you’ve been training for since February. This is the moment. This is what all your paperwork and time has been spent on. The timing is off and his age is different than you thought—but when does ever God give us exactly what we expected? Since when does God revolve his good plans around our timetable? I think you’re just in shock. I also think you should do it. You were waiting on God’s timing, and this is it.”
We thank them profusely, and I feel clear headed. Of course we would take him. He needs a temporary home, and we are approved by the state to be his home for however long he needs.
I click the glowing box in my hand and the time lights up on the screen. Though it seems like the decision took days, the clock says its only been a few minutes. We call the voice back.
“We’ll absolutely take him. Is there anything you need us to do?”
The voice quickly gives next steps—she will bring Baby Boy to our door within the hour.
So we wait an hour with Lauren and Will. We call Brett, our great friend and fellow photographer, and she shows up within minutes, camera in hand. She wants to document the story.
Cole takes my hand, sits down, and starts to pray. I cannot find words, but I listen to his, and they are just right. I think I hear clicking. We sit in silence for a bit, waiting.
Then the car pulls up.
Cole flies out the door and rushes down the mountain that is our driveway. I’ve never seen him move that fast.
I stand up and try to follow him, but I’m frozen. I need a chance to breathe. To think. I need a split-second moment with God. Reality is setting in. Life is about to change. Overnight. I look at the open door and then look down at my hands. If I’m honest, they look willing, but a bit shaky to me.
I’m going to be an overnight mom.
A glint of light is coming from the window, and I see the car door open. Cole is reaching inside. I rush out the door, quickly praying on the way down the hill.
Help me, Father. Give me the strength to be the kind of parent you are. Teach me how to love a child like you love your children.
In a flash, he answers by reminding me of his Word.
As a little boy is pulled out of a car seat and into Cole’s arms, God’s words flicker in my mind, one after the other: Luke 6:36, Psalm 103:13, 1 John 3:1 NIV, 1 Thes 3:11 ESV, and James 1:17.
It was as if he was telling me in the moment I needed it most—I’m a good Father to my children. I’m compassionate towards them. I do not change in my love for them. I direct and guide them. And I will teach you how to parent this way, just keep leaning into me. I will lead you.
I cover my mouth in disbelief and inhale, one part happy to be a new, temporary mom and a help for this little one, one part thankful that the Lord is already equipping me through his Word, but another part mournful for the situation Baby Boy is wobbling through.
It hits me that his family has just been impacted by this placement. I silently say a prayer for them, too. This is difficult for everyone involved.
Situated in Cole’s arms, Baby Boy is as still as a statue, staring through me with a pair of beautiful and weary eyes.
Hello, little one.
I stroke his cheek and smile, trying to show him he’s safe here.
With watery eyes, he gives me a skeptical glance and then abruptly turns away. I don’t blame him.
I ambush the social worker with questions. “What kind of formula or food does he eat? Do we have his medical information? Where is his doctor just in case something goes wrong?”
She lowers her head and is honest with us. “We just don’t have all that information yet. We are working hard to have more answers by Monday.” She fixes her blouse and rubs her eye.
She’s tired, too.
“Sorry for overwhelming you with questions,” I apologize. “I know you’re working hard and doing all you can. We really appreciate you.”
She laughs a little and says she understands. Then she looks us up and down with a puzzled look. I am suddenly very aware that we are in masquerade attire and we probably look ridiculous.
Cole chimes in. “Uhh.. we were on our way to a costume party thing. We don’t dress like this all the time…”
She laughs again, and we say goodbye.
I look at Cole and give a half-grin. “I suppose she’s probably seen it all.”
We trek up the hill. Baby Boy looks over Cole’s shoulder down the steep hill and whimpers a little. I’ve never hated this driveway more.
We get closer to the door. I step on the leaf that had fallen on the steps earlier—goodness, that seems like years ago. I feel it crunch beneath my fancy shoes as another breeze blows past us.
Yes, indeed. There is a baby on this porch.
We get him inside. He tries to take in his surroundings, but is overcome by exhaustion, nodding off. It’s 10:45. Lauren and Will offer him a sweet welcome, and then head home. I think Brett is somewhere clicking away with her camera.
“Let’s give him a warm bath and then try some type of food. I think we have formula someone donated to us. Here, I’ll take him.” I reach to hold Baby Boy, and Cole hands him to me.
I read the greek on the back of the formula can and try to manage putting a bottle together, but Baby Boy is not interested in food. He is too tired.
He offers a few faint smiles during his bath, but again, dozes off every few minutes.
We dry him off, snuggle him in some pajamas, and sit against the bookshelf to rock him in the dark. Once he’s calm, we place him in the white crib that has been in our house for months.
I think back to the times I walked by the crib, wondering what little face would fill it.
Now I know.
He lay there, sleeping.
Cole and I exchange tired, but gratified looks, thankful that Baby Boy was resting.
I head downstairs to clean up and catch the gleam of light reflecting off of the masks on the floor.
I didn’t know it at the time, but the realization hits me now. I pick up the mask, look down at my dress, and then look up at Cole.
“I really did want to go to that party,” I confess.
“I know. I did, too. It’s been a while since we’ve done something like that.”
“True. But it’s the first time we’ve ever done something like this. I think that’s a pretty good exchange, don’t you?”
He nods, laughing. I hang up the mask and smile, realizing the truth.
God didn’t have a ball in mind for us tonight, but a boy. Tonight I traded a mask for motherhood. Even if it may be temporary.
I look at the monitor and see Baby Boy sleeping still, and I feel a newfound resolve bubbling up from somewhere inside I had never accessed before. I was scared, yes, but also strangely certain.
I looked at again at his monitor and talked to him. I needed to say it, even if he couldn’t hear me.
“I don’t know how long we will be in each other’s lives. I don’t even know what kind of food you are used to, or what your weekly schedule is, or the details of your family situation. I don’t know a lot of things. I can’t fix everything, and I am in the dark with so much here.”
I finished with hot tears running down my cheeks. “But I do know one thing. God put you here, in this home, tonight, and that’s enough light for me. And with his help and strength, we can parent you in this temporary season. We can love you. I can be an overnight mom.”
Follow Ashley and Cole’s Foster Journey: #overnightmama.
Photo credit: The *amazing* Brett Seay.
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