Robyn looked out the window of their bedroom to check on her two children playing in the front yard. It was a school holiday. She sighed as she remembered her childhood. No need for fences or locked gates in that era. She didn’t like those kind of restrictions. No need for them in her day when children could roam at will without fear of abduction or harm from speeding vehicles. It had been a laid back era where neighbours were in each other’s homes during the day and watched out for each other’s needs.
Robyn smiled at the memories. Neighbours were always dropping by with newly baked cake, pie or cookies and she could remember spending time with Aunt Matty who her Mom said with conviction was the best cook in the area. Robyn and the rest of the kids on the block would sometimes help preparing Matty’s creations after school while she instructed them on the joys of cooking. Of course the kids were not only there for the learning but also pleasure in licking out left over chocolate in bowls, and of course sampling good things that came out of Matty’s oven when it was all over. While Matty was not related to any of them she was known as Aunt Matty to all.
Robyn would join the neighbour kids on the way to school and home. They’d run most of the way home so not one minute of precious remaining sunlight hours would be wasted. Robyn particularly loved swinging on the rope hanging down from the big tree by the swimming hole where she’d sail through the air landing with a splash to swim quickly back to the beach for a repeat performance. In winter time that swimming hole would be frozen over and the kids would practice their skating there. Now the city had made the swimming hole out of bounds since a pollution scare when the city had moved out into that semi-rural area enfolding it into a bustling suburb.
Robyn interrupted her bed sheet folding as a movement caught her eye outside. Simultaneously the dog playing with her children barked. She quickly moved closer to the window and peered at a moving object through the picket fence. It looked like a child reaching up to attempt entry but not quite reaching the latch at the top of the gate. Robyn dropped the sheet and hastened to the front door for a closer inspection.
She moved quickly down the porch stairs as she saw her son Jay open the gate to let the child in as the dog barked repeatedly.
“Who is this Jay?” Robyn strode to the gate to take charge of the situation.
“She lives over there!” Jay pointed to a rundown house toward the end of their street.
“Yesh, she lives there! Her name’s Tilly” Carol the youngest of the two lisped her response.
Robyn considered her next move as she looked down the street to see if any adult was out looking for Tilly.
“Why are you here Tilly, your Mother will be looking for you. Would you like me to take you home?”
“Mom’s not home, I want to play and I’m hungry.”
“Where’s your Dad?” Robyn continued to peer at the distant home while she thought of her next move.
“My Dad doesn’t live with us anymore.”
“Where did your Mom go and when will she be back? Did she go to visit a neighbour and can you show me the house she went to?” Robyn’s voice showed mounting concern.
“She wasn’t home when I woke up and I waited a long time before going to look for her. I’m hungry!”
“Come inside and I’ll give you something to eat.”
Tilly’s clothes were soiled so Robyn steered her to a plastic chair by a child play table set and sat her down. She placed a bowl of cereal and milk on the table and gave Tilly a spoon. The child picked up the spoon and looked at it helplessly trying unsuccessfully to spoon cereal into her mouth. Tears formed in her eyes as she made several attempts, then looked at Robyn hopefully.
Robyn’s mother heart went out to the unhappy child and she began to tear up as she saw how helpless the child was. Tilly obviously was not used to eating this way. Robyn picked up the spoon and fed the child who wolfed the food down and looked at the empty bowl hopefully. Her children stood by watching the scene with interest.
“What do you usually eat Tilly? Haven’t you used a spoon or fork before?”
“I eat bread.” Said Tilly matter-of-factly as Robyn refilled the bowl. “But I like this stuff.”
Robyn stood the child up and inspected her carefully. “Do you have clean clothes I can put on you Tilly and when did you have your last bath?”
“I washed my hands and face when I got up this morning. Mom gives me a shower sometimes when she’s home.”
Tilly’s responses pressed alarm buttons in Robyn’s mind but Mother instincts overrode these and focused her on the immediate needs of the child.
“Can I play with Jay and Carol now?” Tilly looked at the children hopefully.
“How do you know their names Tilly? Have you been here before?”
“I talk to them through the fence when they’re out front playing sometimes,” said Tilly still eyeing the children hopefully.
“You sit here until I get back,” said Robyn
She went to the cupboards and searched through some of the children’s old clothes that could possibly fit a child of Tilly’s age and eventually found something to put on her. She returned to the kitchen.
“Jay you go and run the bath in the guest bathroom. Put enough warm water for me to give Tilly a bath and let me know when it’s ready.”
Jay and Carol ran to get the bath ready. This was turning out to be a day of excitement for the children, but the situation was causing Robyn concern.
Robyn scrubbed the child thoroughly and shampooed her hair while Tilly played with some of Carol’s bath toys. Eventually it was time to towel dry and the child held up her arms to be taken out of the bath. Robyn wrapped Tilly in the towel and hugged her as she customarily did with her own children. The child snuggled appreciatively into Robyn’s arms.
“Can I stay in your house?” Robyn looked at the pleading eyes and began to cry.
“Wach happened Mom,” said Carol in alarm as she saw her Mother crying. Jay was staring at his Mom too.
“It’s OK children, I was just feeling sorry for Tilly, that’s all. Now you take her to your play room and watch her while I phone your Dad.
The three children ran off to the play room as if the events of the morning were a most natural occurrence. Robyn watched them go.
“Jay and Carol have no idea what it’s like for kids like Tilly,” she whispered to herself as they sped down the corridor. Once again she reflected on her own ideal childhood with appreciation.
Robyn’s husband Andy felt the cell phone buzz in his pocket followed by the blast of music he had as a ring tone. He needed something loud as he was foreman of a construction team and construction noise sometimes drowned out even that blast of sound. He sometimes forgot to adjust the sound when shopping and felt embarrassed as heads turned disapprovingly.
He and Robyn had been classmates through to High School and that friendship had later blossomed into romance and marriage. He checked the screen and noted Robyn was on the line. His face lighted up with pleasure.
“What is it Rob?”
Robyn explained the situation and asked for his advice.
Andy pursed his lips as he thought about what should be done.
“Rob go to the house and see if the child’s Mom is home yet, if not check with neighbours and if that doesn’t work you’d better phone Child services. I’ll see if I can slip away early this evening to give you a hand.”
So Robyn checked Tilly’s home talked with neighbours and the consensus was Child Services needed to be involved.
Two hours later a car pulled up outside the home and two women made their way to the front door. They were soon quizzing the child in a careful professional way and a pathetic history of neglect emerged. Tilly sat contentedly in Robyn’s lap as the questions continued.
Finally, one of the women beckoned to Robyn and she put the child down and followed her out to the kitchen. Tilly attempted to follow but Robyn beckoned for her children to stay with Tilly and the other Child Services Officer.
“We’ve looked into the case and find Tilly’s father has been in jail for a long time. Her Mother was arrested last night and is being kept pending a police hearing next week. No one had any idea there was a child involved and the Mother made no mention of the fact. We’re a little embarrassed this slipped through the cracks but our department is overloaded. Tilly’s case is only one of many these days and places that normally accommodate these kind of abandonment cases temporarily are filled to capacity. Would you be prepared to look after the child until we can get this sorted out? She seems to be very happy here?”
“Let me phone my husband,” said Robyn uncertainly.
Soon Andy’s pickup truck appeared and parked behind the visitor’s car.
He listened carefully as Robyn retold the story and the woman from Child Services explained the situation.
“I don’t know what kind of experience this child has had with men in the home. Let’s see how Tilly reacts to me.” He beaconed to Robyn to bring the child in.
Robyn appeared carrying Tilly with Jay and Carol in hot pursuit followed by a Child Services officer.
“Can she stay Dad?” Jay looked at Andy hopefully.
“This is Jay and Carol’s Daddy. His name is Andy.”
“I know, I’ve seen him playing with Jay and Carol in the front yard while I was hiding behind the fence so many times,” said Tilly matter-of-factly.
Andy smiled and nodded his assent. The two Child Services officers smiled with relief.
“We’ll get it sorted out in a couple of days and take her off your hands after we find a foster home. It will have to go to court before we settle her future.”
Andy and Robyn looked at each other and Andy nodded to her.
“We’d be happy to foster her if that’s OK with the court,” said Robyn enthusiastically.
The two visitors looked at her in surprise. “It’s not up to us as it’s become a court matter now. We’ll have to take her from you during the proceedings but will indicate your willingness to foster the child when the case is discussed. We’ll have to do a background check on you of course, is that OK with you? To save time you could give us a note granting permission for that check”
Andy nodded and headed for his office where he wrote out a request for background check. The officers glanced at it and indicated they’d be back in the morning with official forms for Andy and Robyn to sign.
A month went by, everyone was happy to have a new member of the family join in their happiness. Then the case officers returned during a day when Andy was at work and the children in school. Robyn met them at the door.
“I’m afraid we’ll have to take little missy off your hands as her case comes up in court today. We wish we could have given you more advance warning but there’s been a last minute reworking of court case hearings.
Robyn turned to Tilly who was hanging onto her skirt at the door. “Tilly, the nice ladies are taking you for a ride in their car. You can take Carol’s teddy bear with you.”
Tilly put out her arms to be lifted up by a case worker. “Are you coming too Mom?”
The case worker looked at Robyn irritably. “It was not wise of you to give the child hopes like that!”
“It’s the first time she’s ever called me that!” Robyn turned red with embarrassment and anger. Who were they to pass judgment without knowing the facts!
The case worker backed off realizing she’d made a mistake. “I’m so sorry,” she muttered apologetically. She turned to go.
“Say bye for now,” she told Tilly, waving the little girls hand for her.
Next day when Robyn was alone at home the phone rang. “A voice at the other end of the line said, “The judge would like to interview you as a family in his private chambers one evening this week, would that be possible? I’ll leave you my phone number and you can check with your husband and when you’ve decided you want to do that phone me and we’ll set up an appointment. He’s very busy but we’re anxious to finalize this case.
And so it was Andy and his family found themselves weaving their way through the court building in search of the Judge’s private rooms one evening in company of a security officer. They entered the room and found one of the case officers already there. The judge looked up and motioned them to sit down, the case officer produced her case folder which the judge studied for some time before looking up.
“Why do you want to foster this child do you realize what her background is?” He sat back in his chair to watch their reaction.
Andy was startled at the gruffness of the question but quickly recovered. “The girl needs a family to belong to and we are prepared to care for her as if she were one of our own. Our kids like her and she has been a little angel in the time she’s lived with us. The child has potential. She wants to be loved and we have lots of love in our home to give her.”
Andy sat back in his chair wondering if he’d been too aggressive in reply and began to fidget. Robyn looked at her husband approvingly and smiled.
The judge chuckled at Andy’s apparent discomfort. “Well said Andy, we’ve done a thorough background check on you and you’re well respected in the community. Financially independent too I see. You’d make great foster parents and I wish there were more like you with a community spirit to care for children like these. While you will be approved as foster parents legally the mother and father of this girl have rights still which will have to be considered carefully, so you’re taking on a considerable risk with attachments which could be challenged later. Are you prepared to deal with that situation and a possible disappointment at the end of your charitable act?
Both Andy and Robyn nodded and said loudly, “Yes!”
“Yesh!” trilled Carol echoing her parents and Jay gave her a push to keep quiet.
The Judge and Case Officer laughed and came to shake hands with the family.
The judge beckoned to the security officer. “Bring the other case officer to my room.” He beckoned to the family to be seated.
Soon the door opened and an excited voice trilled, “Mom, can I come home now?”
The Judge said “You certainly can young lady!” He motioned to the case officers to take them to another office where documents had to be signed.
“What are they doing Mom?” asked Tilly. “Why did I have to stay with those ladies and when are we going home?”
“Hush Tilly, Daddy is signing some paper that says Tilly has a new home. Are you happy about that?”
“Yesh she ish,” trilled Carol.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”
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