He is sleeping now, his long eyelashes resting on his freckled cheek. His deep and measured breathing belies the fury in which he spun through the day. I rest a hand on his pajama top and feel, beneath the rise and fall of his chest, an angry heartbeat fighting against the imposition of a few hours of unwelcome peace.
The social worker, Allison, has tried to prepare me for the difficulty of being a foster mother to Cody. For each placement in his three years of life, a colored tab adorns his thick file. It is a veritable rainbow; so many well-intentioned families have fallen for Cody’s cherubic face only to be defeated by his startling outbursts of anger.
Despite Allison’s pessimism, I have brought Cody home with me. I understand his rage; that same dark, cold fire burned in my own spirit until extinguished by a pair of pierced and weathered hands. Although I did not give birth to this little boy, surely the volume of love ripped from my heart when I first held his little hand was a sort of birth.
Here then, is Cody’s day: he emerges from sleep with a whimper, kicking at the blankets. When I pull him, half-awake, into my lap, he drapes his warm arms around me and burrows his face into my neck. He remains groggily compliant while I help him into shorts and a tee-shirt and lead him, yawning, into the kitchen.
Some time during breakfast, Cody’s anger is sparked. Perhaps the orange juice is too pulpy, or the grape jelly spread too thickly on his toast. The inevitable result is a sticky mess on the floor and the necessity of a change of clothes for both Cody and me. A few shards of shattered glass lodged in my heel have taught me to use paper and plastic for all of our meals.
Cody lisps sowwy, and sometimes he forgets to call me Moira and says mama instead, his fist grasped tightly around my soul. I look for pleasant ways to fill his hours then, and we play with Noah’s ark or Legos until something not right sends Cody back to that scarlet place where only screams can adequately express his pain.
I gather Cody into my lap and hold him close, my grip around his arms both restraining him and telling him I will stay here as long as you need me. I rock him and murmur shhh, shhh into his ear.
Father, will You teach me to heal this broken boy?
I prepare Cody’s lunch while he watches Veggie Tales, clinging to Morton, the stuffed alligator that has traveled with him to every foster home. He sucks his thumb so hard that it is red and cracked; it is a battle I have chosen to forego. If he takes comfort from Morton and his beleaguered thumb, so be it.
Lunch is always macaroni and cheese and canned peaches. My little tyrant insists that they must not touch, must not be too hot, must not fall off his spoon. A good lunch ends with only a few fierce tears; a bad one ends in another full-body embrace as I battle this 30-pound bundle of wrath.
After lunch, we explore the wooded area in the back of my property. Cody discovers nature with all of his senses—even, alarmingly, taste—and I allow him a restricted freedom, aware that it is my effort to keep him safe that most often precipitates an angry episode. So I hold my breath and pray as Cody finds a stone, a leaf, a fuzzy caterpillar. “Look, Moira!” he exclaims, his eyes wide and a blush spreading beneath his freckles. I hold out a hand to receive his treasures, and wait for the explosion.
It comes, it always comes, on the heels of the word no. There is a flurry of elbows and knees, accompanied by a soundtrack of dreadful screams and incoherent agony.
So this is the rhythm of Cody’s day, a pulse of alternating turbulence and tranquility. And here I am on Cody’s bed, my hand on his chest, when I see that his pudgy fingers are tightly fisted even in sleep. Oh, little one, relax, I breathe. I work my pinky into the clenched knot and realize that Cody is clutching something. He stirs and opens his eyes a little, gracing me with a sleepy smile. Mama, he whispers. A small, crimson wildflower uncrumples and falls at my feet.
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