By Jennifer M. Dryden (c) 2010
Note: This is a story of fiction. All characters and situations are made up, although they can be realistic.
Her feet-filled pink Velcro Sketchers dangled from the toddler Graco car seat in the backseat of a black Honda. Sadie turned one last October and now the last mound of white powder was melting in the shaded part of the city’s park. The once heavenly kissed white ground had absorbed the liquid from the frigid winter, turning it solid and brown with patches of green strings of grass sprouting from the thawing soil. The first day of spring would arrive Saturday. With it being Wednesday, Harriet counted another day as a social worker with the sweetest toddler still unclaimed.
Sadie kicked her leathered feet as the Wheels on the Bus sang out over the three working speakers, leaving the back left speaker sputtering with static. She knew only one motion to the song and repeatedly tumbled her hands around-and-around just like the wheels with a tiny-bridged smile on her circle face.
Harriet steered the car’s wheel hand over hand to pull into the second parking spot in the lot. The sign they passed as they left the street and entered the lot read, “The Building Block.” It served the city of greater Cincinnati for three purposes: a daycare center, a tutoring facility, and a safe meeting place for prospective adoptive families and the child. The latter brought Harriet to dress Sadie in her best hand-me-down baby Oshkosh bibs with a yellow long-sleeved shirt underneath; the cuffs were bordered with pink, which matched the pink kicks that wrapped her size six-wide feet. Harriet was sure Sadie was a sell today.
Harriet pushed the stick into park and stretched her right arm out, resting her hand on the headrest of the passenger-side seat. She glanced back at Sadie who was sucking her stumpy thumb. Her rounded box face was tilted to lean against the side of her Graco seat. Harriet noted the same little girl she’d held just seventeen months ago in the hospital for the emergency adoption on Pill Hill.
A nurse named Sheryl led Harriet into the birthing ward of the hospital October 10, 2008. The florescent lights shown through the holes in the second layer of ceiling panels to resemble stars that hung above incubators and plastic beds with tiny wigglers wrapped in gender-specific blankets. The pink and blue blankets made Harriet roll her brown eyes. Her browns scanned the room for the wiggler in question. In the right hand corner of the room, almost secluded, was a wiggler wrapped in the only yellow blanket of the masses. There were name cards slid into the plastic slots at the base of the plastic-almost-Rubbermaid containers. Owen… Nathan… Emmett… Ada… Lauren… but the yellow wiggler’s slot was empty. Harriet assumed she was the one.
“Excuse me, I’m Harriet. I’m here to attend to the unclaimed child. Is that her in the yellow?” Harriet directed her smoothed voice at Leon, the male nurse standing closest to the door within the newborn station.
“Yes, that’s the one we called about,” Leon stated, one hand carrying a clipboard, the other holding a blue ballpoint pen. “She was brought in shortly after a home delivery… left abandoned.”
“Why was she abandoned? Do we have a parental contact?”
“She was brought in by a male.” Leon feathered his papers and pointed to the “Additional notes” section of the document. “The report says he handed the female infant over to a desk receptionist in ER and left.”
Harriet shook her brunette covered head in disbelief. “Can I get a copy of the reports and information for the state’s records before I take her?”
“Well, she cannot be released just yet. She’s seeing a specialist…” he glanced down at his watch, “…in twenty minutes. We believe she has Down syndrome.”
Harriet shook her head again, this time not in disbelief but in the sad realization of why she was given up with no strings attached. It was the easy way out for her parents; this baby – to them – was only a disappointment and a let down. But to Harriet, this baby wrapped in the yellow blanket had already been more courageous than most of the adults she knew. This was going to be a long, emotional hall and Harriet knew it.
Harriet checked herself in the rearview mirror of her Honda as the nursery rhyme came to an end. Harriet’s brown eyes were tired but her curled lashes made up for the lacking luster. Her hair was straightened to look professional; a single bobby pin held back her bangs off to the left side. Her eyebrows were trimmed into a thin bridge. Foundation applied thinly and bronzer shaded her checks, accenting her cheekbones and hiding her age of forty. Her worry wrinkles were definite, especially before days like these. All this didn’t matter; she wasn’t the one “auditioning” for a home. It was Sadie’s day… it was always a Sadie day. Harriet closed her eyes and arched her head up as if praying to an invisible source in desperation. She prayed it would be Sadie’s big day and not just another day of scared adoptive parents tiptoeing around her and her stocky features.
Exiting the car and opening the backseat, Harriet leaned in to unbuckle Sadie from the Graco. She propped her on her hip and threw Sadie’s yellow blanket over her shoulder. Sadie automatically put her head on the blanket, rubbing her nose into it. She was heavy; her chubby legs hugged Harriet’s hipbone, weighing her right side down.
“You’re getting to be a big girl, Sadie,” Harriet said, a pitch too high. “We need to get you walking soon.”
Sadie hadn’t been too experimental on her feet, partially because they were rounded and wide but also because she fell short on the typical toddler milestones due to Down syndrome. She was quick on her hands and knees in a robotic way, not a smooth glide like most toddlers in her peer group. Sadie’s curly-tipped blonde hair and ocean blue eyes made Harriet melt when her upward-shaped eyes condensed to tiny slits when she smiled her rounded-toothed grin. Harriet was obsessed with Johnson and Johnson baby wash that smelled of peaches and Harriet caught a draft when Sadie’s head reached her yellow blanket on her shoulder.
The door dinged behind them as they walked into The Building Block; the fan blew back her brunette hair that was starting to pepper, and she wondered why the fan was on when it was only sixty degrees outside. That thought quickly exited her crowded mind as the couple in the turquoise and brown decorated lobby stood to their feet. They were early.
“Hello, we’re the Talyn’s. Are you Harriet?” the tall blonde lady said with nervous eyes and hopeful words. “… And is this Sadie?” Her attention quickly turned from getting a straight answer to Sadie still resting her head on Harriet’s shoulder, tongue clicking on her plump thumb.
“Yes, I’m Harriet, and yes, this is Miss Sadie,” Harriet propped Sadie up on her hip as she spoke Sadie’s name as if trying to get Sadie to lift her head. Harriet’s voice was normal while she introduced herself but the same high pitch echoed from her throat and out through her lips as she transitioned to Sadie. “Let’s move to the conference room so you can get to know each other. There are toys in there so I think Sadie will be comfortable to get down and show you her fast moves.” Harriet let out an overenthusiastic laugh, trying to up the ante on excitement.
Harriet opened the door to the conference room, which didn’t have an adult size table or swivel chairs and she wondered why they still called it a conference room. Sadie immediately lifted her boxed face from Harriet’s aching shoulder. Her pink leathers kicked; she wanted down. The padded crawling gym that lay in the middle of the floor was evidently calling Sadie’s name. She robotically sprinted toward the yellow slide side of the gym, hitting it headfirst just like with her yellow blanket. The room had a toy shelf with board books (“One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” and “Goodnight Moon”), a couple fabric dolls, and an electronic toddler piano with four colored keys that would play toddler tunes. The yellow button played Wheels on the Bus and Harriet assumed that would be Sadie’s next stop. It always was.
Harriet took a seat on the oversized Yoga ball sitting in the corner while the Talyn’s – Misty and Steve – took a seat on the floor, legs outstretched. Misty’s eyes never left Sadie, but Steve began to question Sadie’s boxy features and robotic movements.
“She can’t walk?” was Steve’s first question.
“Well, with having Down syndrome, Sadie’s development is slowed. She’ll need extra help and time to get her balance on two feet,” Harriet said without flaw. She’s had this question before. “She pulls herself up on things and bounces, which is normally seen in an eight month old infant. She’s about ten months slower than toddlers her age. It is typical of a child of Downs.”
Steve nodded. “We’re familiar with Downs but haven’t seen a toddler not walking at seventeen months…” His attention drifted to his wife at his right whose eyes still remained on Sadie. Steve raised an eyebrow at Misty. Misty blinked and averted her eyes to Harriet.
“We’ve read up on Sadie and met with her doctor. She had a heart defect at birth?” Misty spoke as if she had read it from a script. “How will that affect her future?”
“She did have a birth defect, which was repaired two days after birth,” Harriet said, choosing her words carefully. “It is typical of a child of Downs to be born with birth defects and complications. Sadie is lucky to have caught it early, so that fixing it with one surgery was possible. She should be just fine from here out although regular doctor appointments are necessary not just for the heart defect but also for motor skills testing and your typical checkups.”
Nods followed again and Misty and Steve smiled at each other. Harriet noted that as a good sign. The interview went from questions to interactions with Sadie. The couple explained their situation of not being able to get pregnant and Misty’s profession as a special education teacher in the public school district. She worked with middle school kids and said she found her passion through a camp she volunteered at in high school with handicapped, autistic and Downs teens. Steve was a lawyer specializing in family issues. Harriet noted the wife’s biased and the husband’s will to comply with her passion.
All three heads whipped to the small toy shelf under the window that was streaming sunshine squares on the blue carpet. Sadie had found the yellow piano button like predicted and Harriet chuckled to herself. “She loves the Wheels on the Bus song,” Harriet commented, still smiling Sadie’s way.
After sleeping overnight on the stiff maroon recliner at the hospital for six nights and never leaving the yellow wiggler’s plastic bedside, Harriet began to feel the yellow wiggler growing on her. Harriet stumbled over pros and cons and what ifs and whys for countless hours about the yellow wiggler’s chances in an orphanage. She came to her conclusion while sitting in an oak meeting room thumbing through the infant’s documents for the twentieth time. The doctors had left her to think and after ten minutes of any final thoughts, Harriet found herself signing her name in loopy cursive on a line that read, “Guardian signature.” A temporary guardianship, of course, after all she was a social worker for the state of Ohio and the city of greater Cincinnati.
She filled out the birth certificate and decided on the name Sadie, meaning princess. If any child deserved the royal treatment, Harriet thought, Sadie did after all her short new life had endured. The birth certificate was then stamped by the official stamper-of-birth-certificates and when Sadie snuggled into Harriet’s arms that night, Harriet cried silently, overwhelmed with nerves on her big decision. Three tubes – air for breathing, heart monitor, and IV – strung from Sadie’s small but plump body as she slumbered. With Harriet being 38 with a birthday in December, she knew she’d only be short term and finding Sadie a committed family was her only goal from here out. Everything else became later priorities.
Misty scooted on her behind to inch her way closer to Sadie who was still pushing the yellow button all too often at the toy shelf. As she landed to Sadie’s left side, Misty placed a hand on the arch of Sadie’s hunched-over back. “Hello there, Miss Sadie,” Misty squealed. Sadie cocked her head slowly up to meet eyes and smiled a rounded-toothed smile, the same one she’d given Harriet since her first tooth broke at six months. Harriet felt a shiver shoot through her… she ignored its coloring of green – jealousy.
Misty extended two pointer fingers that instructed Sadie to grab on and stand. Sadie wrapped her pearly chubby fingers around Misty’s and pushed her butt out to arch herself into a standing position. Their faces matched at the pride they both felt for themselves – each for their own success. Sadie bounced and squealed and once Misty rose on her feet, they trucked around the room on two feet, Sadie’s hands vertical in the air. Harriet sunk into the background as if to give them more space to bond. Her heart tugged from her chest and she excused herself to the viewing room to blot at her wet eyes with a tissue. Harriet tapped at the wall as she leaned against it for support. She could feel another big decision brewing in the other room.
The yellow and pink birthday banner Harriet had bought from the Parties and Events Store downtown was perfectly hung above the kitchen’s entryway. There were yellow table clothes, yellow balloons, and yellow cake with pink icing that sketched block text reading, “Happy 1st Birthday, Sadie!” Harriet’s family and friends had piled into the living room, waiting on Sadie’s parade downstairs from her usual afternoon nap. The baby monitor’s red lights began to ripple as the volume of complete silence turned to Sadie’s cry.
Harriet took the stairs two by two and reached for Sadie’s outstretched arms. “Are you ready to turn one, Miss Sadie?” Harriet asked with no expectation of an answer. She flipped the yellow blanket over her shoulder and like clockwork, Sadie’s head fell into the same spot. The crowd sang out with the traditional happy birthday tune and a smile crept across Sadie’s boxy face, raising her head from Harriet’s shoulder.
The party went on and cake was smeared all over Sadie, presents were opened – a yellow ball with ducks on it, a set of building blocks, new pink shoes. And although Sadie was passed from one aunt to one uncle to friend to coworker, whenever Harriet passed, Sadie would reach out to her. Harriet would respond with, “You’re all right,” a pitch always too high. Once on the floor, Sadie would crawl to Harriet’s heals and put her hands in the air. Harriet obliged and propped Sadie on her hip. It just felt natural… it was natural… it was their life.
As Harriet focused back on the interview at hand, she noticed Sadie was looking around, ignoring the Talyn’s completely. Standing in the viewing room, behind the one-way mirror, Harriet moved closer as Sadie crawled out of sight. “Where are you going, Sadie?” Harriet mumbled with no volume to herself. As she leaned in as far as the glass would let her, she saw Sadie standing upright without anything to cling to by the door that led into the hallway. Sadie was standing. Sadie was standing! All by herself… Sadie was standing!
After the initial shock had subsided she exited the door that led into the hallway and back into the conference room. Sadie was wailing, not just crying, but wailing. She pulled open the door as fast as she could and picked up the standing toddler. Harriet shushed her and bounced her and once she started swaying, Sadie’s head hit Harriet’s shoulder. Sadie inserted her thumb and clicked repeatedly – first fast then slower and slower. “Shhh, it’s okay. It’s okay. Mama’s here…” She stopped swaying and bouncing to meet eyes with Misty and Steve. For that moment, she had forgotten they were there.
“It looks like you’ve gotten pretty attached to Sadie, huh?” Misty asked her tone a little low.
This made Harriet think she just ruined the best chance of Sadie being adopted. Misty and Steve seemed perfect, if not for the way they interacted with Sadie, but for their familiarity with children of Downs. Harriet remained silent… speechless. This question had never been asked before. She hadn’t rehearsed this one. “I… I… I guess I have,” is all Harriet said.
“We’ll be in touch,” the words came out of Steve with hesitation. Misty rolled around and pushed at her husband as if to ask him to say the inevitable. “I mean, we love Sadie, but it looks like she’s already found her home… with you.”
Harriet tried to mumble her way out of them walking away from Sadie and Sadie’s amazing chance at a life with these people. These people who were perfect. These people who would have signed the papers within the week if Harriet didn’t use the “forbidden” social worker word, “Mama.”
Steve wondered out of the conference room first, but Misty stayed behind. She outreached her hand, placed it upon Harriet’s shoulder, and whispered sincerely, “Think about it, Harriet. Sadie loves you, and you, obviously love her… It seems like common sense.”
Harriet stood, again swaying mother-like, in the now empty conference room. Sadie asleep on her shoulder, thumb clicking like normal. The yellow blanket was crumpled up into a ball by the yellow slide and lying on top of it was the small piano. Carefully, Harriet put the piano back on the toy shelf, situated the padded gym, and covered Sadie in her yellow blanket. As she reached for the light switch, Harriet knew she’d never step foot in this room again. The door behind her closed and without another hesitation, she walked to the front desk and asked for Sadie’s adoption papers.