Baby formula: the light to foster ‘artworks’

Art comes in all forms, however when we think of Art – it is mainly thought to be in a form of something we can see: a painting, sculpture, pottery; or hear: voice, instrument, actors; or in literary: prose, novel, written word. Although all these forms induce our emotions to react, it does not take any less or anymore thought to realize that creativity exhibits itself in so many other ways outside the box.

     I never gave it a second thought that my Midwest rural roots had so many children with homes and were homeless in them because they were left unattended for not just a few hours; moreover half-day’s time throughout and regularly, especially after the midnight hours. Even though springtime warm temperatures were making their presence during daylight, Old Man Winter was still around in the wee hours of dark when I met Tommy and his bundles of joys.

     It was very chilly on that Sunday at 1:30 a.m. and the winds were brisk and biting. No stars and dark as our woods, but the 24/7 carryout was well-lit on all three sides and it was packed with cars which left me no choice to use the back, where they kept the trash containers.

     I zipped into the store, but on my way out, I got sidetrack and went around the other side. There he was. At first glance, it looked like an adult sitting and crouched between the ice maker and trash container. I recall asking “What you doing? Who are you? You okay?” I was startled because he looked overweight and the hood of his coat covered his entire face.

     Slowly he pushed back the coat’s hood and my eyes widen. I started to shake. He must have been no older than my seven year old Billy. He had big brown eyes, smudges of dirt on his cheeks, and badly in need of a haircut; in fact, a whole cleaning including his clothes. I asked him again if he was lost, needed help. He told me he was waiting for his Dad to pick him up, and softly expressed, “I was tired and the carryout was noisy.” Tommy also assured me that his Dad knows where to look if he was not inside.

     My watch showed 2:15 a.m. and I asked him what time was his Dad is coming? “At 3:00,” he said. Then suddenly that bulge around his waist moved and made a noise. “What is that?” I asked. He zipped his coat down and she pops her head out. She was cute as a button, sleepy eyes, pillow-like blonde hairdo, and a smile that could melt ice. “My sister Mandy,” Tommy said. Again, his right side moved and made a wimping sound. He shows his face and “this is my Buddy,” he said smiling broadly. My eyes immediately swelled with water.

     At this time, my ticker was totally confused, but I knew I had to do something. I invited them inside for a treat, but Tommy was hesitating, yet Mandy agreed and then all four of us headed to the deli counter.

     As a father of four, ages 12, 10, 7, and a toddler of 5 months, my wife never had to do it all, carry the load because tending to the needs and wants of our children was so natural for me. We all learn by example – so Father like Son was no different in my case, but my Dad juggled a dozen during a much cheaper time and at a time when Mothers usually didn’t work outside the home, however our home was not the norm.

     My Mother only took off the time she wanted after each of my new sibling’s arrival, and then back to her job as a teacher, and oddly she did not work because our large family needed the income. This was Mom’s career path before she and Dad said I Do and it gave her much joy – a joy she always shared with us.

     My Dad was not necessary more flexible with his time, but eventually this workplace allowed him to stop and go when needed. Just before I entered the first grade, he quit teaching and took over the family farms and the rest is history. I never can recall a day when my parents were never within easy access – sometimes too easy for growing children wanting to taste the forbidden fruits or walk on their own; discover the downfalls of risk or the thrills of I won.

     As a parent of three active youngsters, all involved in after-school events, I could always schedule my time to be there for them, and I wanted to because all what the professionals have said is true when it comes to a child’s growth. Week by week and as they aged, their choices were so visible when it came to the rights and wrongs. On the other hand, there were times I couldn’t attend, but their Mother did. 

     Saturdays were always SOP (standard operating procedure) for the kids and me. After Breakfast, we headed to the Y where my clan was part of the many youth activities, but there was one that was open to all ages: volleyball in the pool. That was a time when the man in me sat on the edge and the kid in me was in the pool. I sensed my children might have felt a tinge of embarrassment during some of the games, yet eventually they all ended up on my team. Afterwards and whomever was next in the weekly line, could choose their place for lunch.

     Saturdays also were when we did our weekly food shopping and I liked doing it much more than my wife, but she always kept track of what we needed. Since we lived in the country, our pantry is always well-stocked, however the usual needs: milk, bread, fruits, vegetables, meats, including cereals go fast. Another item we rarely run out of, baby formula, the store did not this week; in fact, they were out last week, but I was able pickup it up at the 24/7 carryout on the way home. Unfortunately, I did not have the same luck as last week and when I got home, the item was lower than lower; in fact, almost out.

     Three o’clock came and went for us all. Tommy, Mandy and Buddy were in the back of the van, soundly asleep and I drifted in and out, propped up against the driver’s side window. The tapping on the passenger window was light and as my eyes opened, I saw an adult image of boy and girl I saw earlier. Hooded coat, hair askew, facial dirt, tired eyes, however the voice had a tenderly sound with an audio of desperation. “I am looking for my kids. If I didn’t work the overtime, they hinted that I would be fired,” he rattled.

     I got out of my van and did a finger-shush and told him everything is okay. He agreed to my offer to treat him to breakfast. As we talked, Dan’s story was no different than my best of friend brother Joey’s, who is gone now, however he had a network when his first wife passed unexpectedly and even when his second and third wife left him. On the other hand, Dan did not have a ‘cheaper-by-the-dozen’ support system; he had to go it alone, but unfortunately on this night, his usual supervision he counted upon, did not show.

     I told him why I was out so early, needing baby formula. Dan said, “Sounds somewhat spiritual and you ended up with two kids!” Right then and there, aside from the laughter it created, I knew this man was far from the bridge of foster care. It even showed more because here they came, Tommy, Mandy and Buddy. I saw Dan’s eyes swell as did my own earlier. Words of ‘I Love You’ flowed freely among them all. “What about Uncle Joe? Doesn’t he get a hug? A big thanks for helping me out by watching over you?” Like the speed of light, Tommy on my right thigh, Mandy, left and Buddy between us all, I wrapped them all in my arms and asked as I was looking at Dan, “What you doing Saturday and would you like to spend a day with some of my best friends?”

     That Saturday came and many more throughout the week and months ahead where our household of youngsters along with our four-legged children, Rocky, Mickey, Sissy, Skipper, Ginger, and Buddy took on what fostering is all about, a care every person feels when part of them resurfaces in a different look on Earth, a care every man and woman feels once they put their firstborn in their arms.

     Although this writing has been fictionalized in parts, there are more children like Tommy and Mandy in the thousands, who are also homeless in their home, that cannot be tabulated because they are only on the ‘bridge’ that could lead to the foster care roster, if no steps are taken.

     Getting involved before as did Uncle Joe, who recognized what a family is all about was his first step. From his own experience, he knew troubled times can be eased with the usage of the right tools of the trade – respect, kindness, care, helping hand, and love expressed whether on Earth or the Moon; Uncle Joe put into action on a different platform, the words by Neil Armstrong for humanity:  “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”

By Ben Rayman

Published by on September 2010. Filed under Archives, Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Storybook Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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