From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul 2

Love by Choice

Solemn brown eyes stared at me through inch-long eyelashes casting spiky shadows on the tiny Native American face. The thickness of his diapers made his legs look short and bowed. At seven months, he walked everywhere. The curiosity of this alert child held my attention. He hesitated at the top of the stairs to my living room.

“This is David,” his mother said, pushing him further into the room.

Now that my children were all in school, baby-sitting was not on my agenda. But my heart overruled my head, and I agreed to baby-sit for a few days until David’s mother could find someone else.

David’s sense of security rested in the pacifier hanging around his neck attached to a somewhat soiled string. Once in awhile he popped it in his mouth.

As I talked with his mother, he examined everything with his eyes. I spoke his name in an effort to get acquainted. He looked straight at me but stayed his distance. He was not to be swayed at this early stage.

His mother left us together for the afternoon. He didn’t cry or show signs of anxiety but stood his ground in the middle of the living room.

When my daughter, Linda, returned from school, he looked her over, but he did not venture toward her. As she smiled and picked him up, in went the pacifier. She walked quietly to the overstuffed chair. He lay in her arms sucking furiously on the pacifier. Linda cooed and talked to him, tenderly brushing his hair away from his forehead. “I like him, Mom,” she said softly, her eyes never leaving his face. The bonding began. And slowly, one by one, David accepted each of us.

As the days turned into weeks, this precocious child stole our affections and captured our attention without any effort on his part. Our only son enjoyed having another boy in the family, even though my son was twelve years older.

Forgotten sounds of babyhood rang throughout the house. Little did we realize then just how much we would be involved in David’s life. I could not distance myself from those soul-searching eyes and the smooth way he leaped into my heart. My baby-sitting went from a few days to several months.

One evening the telephone rang. The voice on the other end was tense. “I won’t be needing you to baby-sit anymore.” Then I heard a sudden burst of tears, followed by a rush of words that I couldn’t understand.

It was David’s mother. “What in the world is the matter?” I asked.

“I just can’t handle David anymore. I am going to give him up to the state.”

“If I thought you meant that, we’d take him in a heartbeat.” My impulsive but sincere words seemed to quiet her down. I convinced her to bring David as usual, and we would talk. I passed the episode off in my mind as an emotional bout of fatigue and frustration.

The next morning the doorbell rang at 6:00 A.M. There stood a disheveled mother, carrying David on her hip, still in his pajamas. He was covered with hives, whining and sucking vigorously on his pacifier. Without hesitation she asked, “Did you really mean it when you said you would take David?”

“Well, I don’t know. Do you think it’s what you want?”

“I just can’t take care of him,” she said, obviously exhausted. “He is so hard to handle. He cries all night.”

“Honey, you’re really going to have to think about this. You just don’t give up your baby because he keeps you up at night.”

“But I am so tired,” she moaned.

“Well, let’s both think about it for awhile. I thought you were just upset last night. In the meantime, I will talk to my husband.”

After that, she started leaving David for longer and longer periods. Her attitude changed almost overnight . . . from a concerned mother to an emotional bundle of nerves. One day she gave me a choice. Either I take him or she would turn him over to the state. She had made her decision. I had a week to make mine.

Advice came from all sides. “Don’t you think you have enough responsibility?”

“You’re probably too old and have too many children.”

“Can you really afford another child? You’ve already got four kids.”

Even our pastor and our doctor threw cold water on the idea. And our lawyer didn’t encourage such an adventure either. “Let’s get the paperwork going and see what happens,” he said. “But I don’t think any judge is going to go for this.”

Within two weeks the court date was set. By now we knew we wanted David—utterly and completely. When the day arrived, I was anxious. So much rested on one man’s decision. I hardly heard my lawyer’s kind advice as we entered the judge’s chambers. “This judge is tough. He might ask a lot of personal questions. Just answer honestly.”

The judge greeted us with a warm handshake and began to thumb through the papers before him. Looking over his dark-rimmed glasses, he said, “Do you think you can handle another child?”

“Easily,” I chuckled, a little nervously. “He’s already been with us for over a year.”

He pursed his lips, reading the information in front of him and asked, “Are you concerned about his ethnic background?”

“Judge, to me he is just a baby who needs a family.”

The judge rubbed his chin, thinking through my impulsive answers. Then he leaned forward, and after gazing at us intently for a moment, he spoke. “These papers seem to be in order. I think this will be a good move for David.”

“You mean we get to keep him, Judge?”

“He’s yours.” Just like that. Suddenly, the judge grinned from ear to ear and offered his hand in congratulations. My husband sat with his mouth open, and I giggled like a schoolgirl.

Today, over thirty years later, I can still feel the giddy joy of knowing that David was ours. I have never regretted— not even for an instant—the decision to take David into our family. People have told me they thought that David was lucky. Maybe so, but we were lucky, too. For when we left the judge’s chambers those many years ago, our lives had expanded—emotionally and officially—to include another child. All at once we had five children to love, four by birth and one by choice.

Shirley Pease

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