The Night My Foster Son Finally Woke Me Up
I was somewhere in between that deep sleep of the deprived and the alert sleep of the maternal. I lay there silently, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept through the night. It was then that I heard it. A quiet, faint “mom.” Over and over. Several times, until I sat up in bed.
Just the fact that he called me “mom” is wonderment. For the longest of times, I was a stranger. Eventually, I was a familiar, safe person. I was a caretaker and like a well-loved aunt. But somewhere around the end of summer, he accepted the fact that I was his mom. Oh, how I silently fought mighty battles for that title. I cried over not hearing the word for the longest time. And then I cried when it finally arrived.
You see, we had spent a year and a half, this little boy and me, slowly but surely grafting ourselves into each other. It doesn’t always come naturally, you know, removing yourself from one family and joining into another in foster care. It’s a painful process but a glorious miracle.
And that night, he called me. In the middle of the night. I realize for some that would just mean a task needed to be done. An annoying interruption. Sheets to be changed. Water to be refilled. A nightmare to be calmed. But this was different because he was calling me. Me. I shot down the hall and opened his door, and I heard it again, “mom.”
It was barely even the middle of the night, and he had woken up because his pillowcase had fallen off. Something had come undone — much like what has become of his short, tumultuous life — and it took more than his small hands could fix. And he called me.
I’ve spent many mornings mourning over our middle of the nights. The time when he’s most vulnerable. The time when he thinks he’s alone in the world. There was the time I found the barely 4-year-old making his way alone in the dark to find a bowl for himself because he thought he might be sick. Or the many times that he’s woken up scared and wet the bed, and I found him changing his own clothes, alone and trying to fix his sheets. I’ve raced down that hall more times than I can count to prove to him that he is not alone. Even in the middle of the night, even when he just has to use the bathroom, even if he didn’t think he needed help, he was not alone. I always meet him in the hall, my eyes squinting to adjust to the bright light, and we silently escort each other back into his room. It’s my commitment to him, my challenge to myself. I won’t miss an opportunity to meet him where he is. I tuck him in, every single time, during our middle-of-the-night meetings. He needs to know that he is not alone.
But last night. I heard it. It crept its way into my subconscious and made its way into my ears. Music, the very sweetest kind.
“Mom, my pillowcase? Can you fix it?” In my mind, I’m crying. Yes, of course, I can fix it. I’ll fix it because it’s something I can fix. There’s plenty I can’t, but you’d better believe I’m all over the kind of stuff I can. I smiled through the dark, tucked him back in and marveled the way you watch a sunset or an eagle soar. It’s the miracle of something that you count on, like breathing, but it still requires looking and really seeing it to appreciate.
There will be many more sleepless nights, no doubt. Many more middle of the nights on my résumé. They won’t always be glamorous — if any, really. But last night? Last night was spectacular because he called me. He knew. He was not alone.
-- Katie Kenny Phillips