Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Big gifts and small

I'd never been invited to dinner by the parents of any of my foster kiddos before. Christmas dinner, no less. But there I was. What would my one and a half year old foster son (I'll call him Little Man) do when we went in the house? Would he think he was going home to stay? Was this really a good idea?

It was about five degrees outside, so standing in the driveway pondering my life choices wasn't an option. Not to mention I'd brought my husband and three children along for the ride. So, with a tray of cookies in one arm and Little Man in the other, I knocked on their door.

Bio Mom greeted us with an anxious half-smile and ushered us inside. It was a small house, and we immediately filled it to overflowing with snow-covered boots, rowdy noise, and good intentions. I set Little Man down on his feet and took off his coat. Bio Mom knelt in front of him a couple feet away, her arms open. Her eyes pleading. He didn't even look back at me. He ran to her.

My three kids made themselves at home as if they'd been there a hundred times and I swallowed a big lump of thankfulness. None of them gave a second thought to spending Christmas with Little Man's parents.

"It's our Christmas gift to them," one of them had said in the car on the way over. "They want to be with Little Man on Christmas, too."

Yes, time with their child was a small gift we could give them. Hadn't we been given that much and more?

I joined Bio Mom in her little kitchen and asked if there was anything I could do to help with dinner. She flitted around, her hands never still, moving bowls around the counter, removing wrappers from ranch containers, and setting, unsetting, and resetting the table.

"I can do it myself," she said.

I understood her need to prove herself to me. Wouldn't I want to show my child's foster mother that I could prepare Christmas dinner, if I was in her shoes? Wouldn't I want to show her that I was capable? She proudly pulled a ham out of the oven and Bio Dad sliced it up.

There weren't enough chairs at the tiny table for all of us, so some sat, some leaned against counters, some stood awkwardly in the living room balancing plates and cups in nervous hands. I did everything I could to ignore Little Man and let Bio Mom feed him however and whatever she thought was best. After all, it wasn't my house. And he wasn't my son.

A modest pile of brightly-wrapped gifts awaited Little Man when dinner was over. I stayed out of the way and let Bio Mom and Bio Dad shower Little Man with presents, assemble toys, and snap picture after picture. The gifts they gave him were big, not because of their size or expense, but because plastic trains and stuffed animals and new shirts were all that was left to give. I had already given him everything else.

As the time to go drew near, my heart twinged in my chest. What if Little Man didn't want to leave? What if he screamed for his mother and reached for her as I pulled him out the door? Had I inadvertently given him the terrible gift of confusion and fear?

Please, God. Help.

"Thanks for dinner," we all said, and put on jackets and gloves and hats. Little Man watched. I pulled his coat from the pile and held it out for him. He looked at it. Looked back at Bio Mom. He was waiting for something. One more gift was needed.

"Bye, buddy," Bio Mom said with a wave and a forced smile. "Time to go. I love you."

And he came to me. Shoved his arms in the sleeves of his coat and let me pick him up and take him home. We had given her the gift of snuggling her son on Christmas, and she had given back the gift of letting go.

There are big gifts and small. Some are valuable, some are forgotten. But perhaps the best gifts are those no one else can give but you.

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