I’ll Do It

I’ll Do It

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

I’ll Do It

Life is a journey . . . taken one step at a time.

Anonymous

Finally, I thought as I tallied up the grade on the last test paper. I jotted the score in my grade book, and was just about to leave my office at the college where I taught math when the telephone rang. It was a social service caseworker from New Jersey, and though I’d been half-expecting her call it still took me by surprise.

“Your sister’s condition is getting worse,” the woman told me. “You said I should let you know. . . .”

“Thank you,” I said, and my heart ached for my big sister, Pam, who had battled schizophrenia for years—and even more for her three-year-old daughter, Scarlett, whom I’d never even met. “How can I help?” I asked, and when the caseworker answered I knew there was no way I could agree to her request . . . and no way I could refuse.

Growing up Pam and I shared a bedroom and played on the same community league softball team. But after high school I went to college to get my engineering degree. I got married, moved to Florida and looked forward to starting a family. “I can’t imagine a life without children to raise,” I told my husband. But things didn’t work out—the kids, or the marriage.

Newly divorced, I enrolled in grad school and earned an M.S. in math. I spent a year as a volunteer teacher in Haiti, then moved to South Carolina to work on a Ph.D. in medical statistics. But the teaching bug had bitten, and before long I put my Ph.D. on hold and began teaching part-time at three different local colleges.

I filled my spare time snorkeling and sailing with friends from a church singles group, but I knew I was just filling time to fight loneliness. I dated occasionally, but there were never any sparks, and by the time I turned forty I could almost feel the ticking of my biological clock.

I began to dread friends’ baby showers, and every Mother’s Day tears coursed down my cheeks when the pastor asked the moms to stand and be recognized. “Dear God, why not me, too?” I prayed, and I was so frantic, I even considered artificial insemination. I backed out at the last minute, though, and I never seriously considered adoption. Raising a child on my own seemed like such a daunting responsibility. Marriage and then a baby—that’s the way the world was supposed to work.

But then with a single phone call my whole world was turned upside down.

For years Pam had drifted in and out of contact, and these days she lived in an Atlantic City rooming house with no phone, so I rarely got to talk to her. But recently when I learned Pam’s illness was getting worse I called her social worker and gave her my number—just in case.

“Pam can’t care for Scarlett anymore, and we need to put her in foster care,” the woman told me now. “Can you take her?” she asked. Gripping the phone, my brain reeled dizzily with a dozen reasons why I couldn’t possibly.

I was single and living in a one-bedroom apartment. I didn’t have medical insurance, or even a full-time job. What do I know about raising a three-year-old? I asked myself. But no matter how many reasons my brain listed why I couldn’t do this, my heart disagreed.

Pam is my sister, and her little girl needed a loving home. Maybe this was God’s way of answeringmy prayers. Maybe he never gave me children because he was saving me just for this.

“I’ll do it,” I said, knowing those few simple words would change my life forever.

There were many arrangements to be made, and Scarlett was placed with a temporary foster mom in New Jersey while I filled out reams of paperwork and applied for my foster-home license. I convinced one of my bosses to hire me full-time, and then I went house hunting.

When Scarlet’s caseworker sent me her picture I carried it everywhere. But as the magic day grew near I began to panic. What does a three-year-old eat? What should her bedtime be? What do I do with her when I need to take a shower?

One day riding with colleagues to a conference I sat in the backseat poring through a parenting book searching for answers. “You’re going to do fine, Barbara,” my friend Steve told me. “And not because of anything you read in that book, but because you care enough to read it.”

Steve’s words gave me confidence. But my heart was pounding a few days later when Scarlett’s caseworker and I pulled up in front of her foster home. “Hi, I’m your Aunt Barbara,” I introduced myself to a gorgeous little girl who was still blinking away sleep from her nap. I stooped and nervously held out my arms . . . and the moment Scarlett hugged me back I could feel the family bond and somehow, I knew we’d be okay.

Scarlett and I were embarking on a wonderful adventure together, but at first the ride wasn’t very smooth. I wasn’t prepared for the time and energy it takes to care for a toddler. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day.

How do other single moms manage? I wondered, dropping into bed exhausted and overwhelmed.

Scarlett had just turned four, but she was developmentally delayed. At day care when she wanted another child’s toy she scratched and bit. And there were times I couldn’t understand a word she said. “Ma-che?” she asked one night again and again, growing visibly frustrated until finally I got it: She wants macaroni and cheese.

Another night Scarlett refused to leave our cat Zoomer alone. “Let go!” I ordered, snatching away the cat. Scarlett shrieked and stamped her feet, until finally I told her, “Into your room for a time out.” But as Scarlett slammed the door behind her I was riddled with doubt.

“How should I have handled it?” I asked a friend from church.

“Exactly the way you did,” she told me. “You have good instincts—learn to trust them,” she said, and it was the best advice anyone could have given me.

I enrolled Scarlett in speech therapy, and the next time I didn’t understand something she said I asked questions until I did. I also told her there would be no more biting or scratching at day care. “If you misbehave we won’t go to any of your play dates on Saturday, and on Sunday you’ll have to sit with me in church instead of joining the play group,” I explained. It was tough, but I held my ground, and after a few weeks Scarlett’s behavior slowly improved.

Scarlett and I have been together four years now, and every day I still wake up looking forward to the adventures, joy, laughter and even the challenges of being a mom. Like racing from the university to pick up Scarlett at school so she can do her homework in my office until the end of my next class when it’s time for her gymnastics. Or sitting up half the night sewing a Pocahontas costume for a school play, or teaching her to ride a two-wheeler in the park.

“Look, Mommy!” Scarlett cried excitedly the first time she kept her balance and pedaled away. Watching my little girl disappear over the rise I felt like a mama bird watching her fledgling take wing to conquer the blue, blue sky.

Scarlett and I are bound as close as any mother and child can be. But every Monday night we call “Mommy Pam” to tell her about school and ballet classes and singing in the church musical. Scarlett feels lucky because she has two mommies to love her, but I’m the lucky one. Scarlett has taught me the true meaning of love: changing your life for someone else, and not because you have to, because you want to.

Barbara Wojciechowski
as told to Heather Black
Originally appeared in Woman’s World

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