Nanny For The
Five Years Later
“Mrs. Dahlkemper?” the woman across the desk at the Social Services office said. “Have you come to a decision?”
I leaned forward and stared at the file in front of me. Two children, a brother and sister, ages five and seven. There was no mother in the picture, and the father was in and out of rehab.
We had been fostering for five years now. One thing I had learned: most cases were very similar to this one. Parents that were in and out of the kids lives, sometimes due to circumstances outside their control, and other times just because they were deadbeats. Some hardly cared, but others tried desperately to get their lives together so they could keep custody of their children.
We had fostered six groups of kids. Four of those had eventually gone back to their biological parents after being fostered by us. Two other groups were still with us.
It was emotionally exhausting. Opening your heart to children, knowing that they eventually might be taken away from you. It had caused many a night of tears for me.
But it was also immensely, deeply, wonderfully satisfying to take care of children in need, regardless of how things ended up.
I stared at the file with the two photographs in it. I wondered if it was too much for us to handle. Especially in light of newer circumstances…
I shook it off and smiled at the social worker. “We’ll do it. We’ll foster them.”
The woman sighed with relief. “I’m so glad to hear that. I try not to get emotionally attached to every case, but these kids? They need a lot of love, and you’re one of our highest-rated families. Thank you.”
“How soon should we expect them?” I asked.
“They have accommodations for the weekend, so we’ll bring them over on Monday. If that’s okay with you?”
“Absolutely,” I said warmly. “That’s plenty of time for us to get their bedroom ready.”
We spent the next twenty minutes signing paperwork and going over some specifics. I walked out of the Fresno office with a smile on my face and a skip in my step.
I had never figured out what I wanted to do for a career. Turns out I didn’t need to figure it out. This was what I was meant to do. Caring for children who were desperate for a warm, loving family. Children that had fallen through the cracks in society and needed someone to lift them out again.
That was more satisfying than any nine-to-five job.
I drove home to our house in Riverville. It was originally Derek’s house, but now it was ours. We had made a lot of changes, including buying the neighboring lot and combining them together (which was a pain in the butt thanks to the local zoning board.) Once we had the extra land, we built a two-story guest house that stood fifty feet away from the main house. Four bedrooms and a play room for the kids.
I pulled into the driveway and went inside. Taylor and Jordan were chatting in the kitchen, and their faces lit up when they saw me.
“There she is!” Taylor practically jogged down the hall and swept me up in his arms. When he was done, Jordan wrapped me in a bear hug and squeezed me tightly.
Miraculously, our weird relationship was still going strong. If anything, it was stronger than ever. The three of them were still sharing me without any problems.
It helped that they didn’t work in the same unit anymore—they all had different schedules. Jordan had been promoted to Captain of the Fresno station, while Taylor was still in the same position he had started in five years ago. But there was a rumor he was being considered for a Lieutenant position at one of the other Fresno stations. He was humble about it, and shook it off with that boyish shrug of his, but the rest of us knew he had the job in the bag.
“Where’s the Chief?” I asked. “I didn’t see his car in the driveway.”
Jordan grimaced. “Late. Again.”
I groaned. “He’s going to miss the game!”
Taylor shook his head. “You know how the main office is these days.”
Derek was a Chief—really a Chief, not just as a nickname. A month ago he had been promoted from Captain to the Fresno Fire Chief. What that meant was a lot of desk work and people-management. I was totally happy about that, since it meant he wouldn’t be putting his life in danger responding to fires. Having only two of my husbands doing that rather than three was a nice improvement to my mental health.
Husbands, you may be thinking? That’s right. Technically, on paper, I was only married to Derek; hence the change of my last name. But paper was stupid, and we had a private little ceremony with just the four of us. I gave Taylor, Jordan, and Derek each a tungsten ring (tungsten has an extremely high melting point, which I thought was poetic to give to three firemen) and they gave me a single diamond ring with three fiery rubies.
That was four years ago. And even though Derek was the only husband that the state of California recognized, it didn’t mean a different to the way we all felt.
I belonged to all of them, and all of them belonged to me.
“So?” Jordan asked. “How did the meeting go?”
I bit my lip. “I signed all the paperwork. The social worker is bringing them by on Monday, so we’ll need to spend the weekend prepping everything.”
Taylor hesitated. “Do you think we can handle it? Especially with…” He trailed off, and his hand lightly brushed against my belly.
Thats right: I was pregnant! Taylor and I had been trying for less than a year, and fortunately it didn’t take long for the pee-covered stick to give us the result we wanted.
I was ridiculously excited about my first pregnancy. Which was easy to say now, because I hadn’t had any morning sickness or crazy mood swings yet. But there was a little person growing inside me, and it was partly Taylor’s.
Of course, I intended to treat the baby just like all the other children we were fostering. I didn’t want to show any favoritism just because he or she shared my DNA. After taking care of Anthony and now fostering lots of other children, I knew more than anyone that blood relation wasn’t that important.
But I was still giddy with excitement about the next six months of pregnancy.
I smiled up at Taylor and brushed aside a lock of his blond hair. “I’m barely into my second trimester. We’ll be fine.”
“I’m more worried about how we’ll be when the baby is born,” Taylor clarified. “We’ll have seven children by then, if the others are all still here…”
I stood on my tip-toes to brush my lips against his. “We’ll figure it out. We always have, right?”
All doubt left his expression, and he hugged me again. “You’re right. We’ll figure it out together. And we have so much love to give.”
Jordan leaned in and the three of us shared a private group hug. We didn’t get a lot of private moments these days, so we had to savor them when we could.
“I’m going to check the monkey house.” I glanced at my watch. “Can one of you call Derek? We have to leave for the game in an hour.”
I left them and walked across the yard to the guest house. The front door opened right into the big living room area, which we used as a giant play room. All four children were inside, playing.
Baby Anthony was now Preschooler Anthony. It was shocking how quickly he was growing—he was almost four feet tall! All the parenting books and online forums claimed that was an average height for a six-year-old, but it still felt way too big to me.
Anthony was in the middle of the room, with a huge basket of building block toys open. He was standing in front of a giant toy skyscraper, and he eyed it like Michaelangelo surveying the block of marble that would eventually become David.
He was being helped by Peter and Rosalind, who were only a little younger than him—four and five, respectively. We had been fostering them for over a year now, and they were starting to feel like permanent members of the family. They were helping Anthony construct the other side of the tower, and the two of them argued playfully about which building block to use next.
Then there was Ginny. She was six, like Anthony. She was one of the first children we had begun fostering four years ago.
Ginny was sitting in a chair a respectable distance from the others. She wasn’t excluded—that’s just how she liked things. She preferred to watch, and occasionally gave her opinion or made a suggestion to contribute to whatever project the others were working on. Even when we were finger painting, she liked to watch the others work and point out things they could try.
That’s just how she was, although as she grew older she was coming out of her shell more and more.
We were in the process of formally adopting Ginny into our family. To go from foster parents to permanent parents. The paperwork was still months away from being finalized, but we were confident it would go through.
I couldn’t wait to see her face when it did. She had been calling me mommy since the first weekend we began fostering her.
Anthony turned and saw me standing in the doorway. “Mommy’s home!”
The four kids abandoned their construction site and ran over to hug me from all sides. I closed my eyes and savored their love. There was no feeling in the world like being needed, and being able to provide everything they craved: parenting, and support, and above all else, love. Endless, unconditional love.
The door to the adjacent bathroom opened and my mom stepped out.
“I saw your car in the driveway,” I said. “Couldn’t stay away?”
“How could I,” she shot back, “with all these beautiful children to play with?”
“Nonna was helping us build!” Anthony said.
“I sure was,” Mom said. She looked at me and said, “How did it go?”
I smiled, which was answer enough for her. She beamed and held her hands together with excitement.
While the kids were still around me, I knelt down so that I was on their level. This is going to be tougher once I’m in my third trimester, I thought as I looked at each of them.
“I just learned that two more little kids are going to be joining our family,” I said. “A boy and a girl.”
Anthony frowned. “Like Corey and Karen?”
Those were the two foster kids who had gone back with their biological family a few months ago. Anthony had taken their departure harder than the rest. Like I said, being a foster family was tough sometimes.
I gave Anthony a shrug. “Maybe. I don’t know how long these two will be with us. For however long they need, whether that’s only a couple of months, or a couple of years.” I smiled. “They’ll be here on Monday. Can we all get ready to welcome them with open arms?”
All four children nodded. Especially Ginny, Peter, and Rosalind. Anthony was too young to remember being adopted, but the other three knew what it was like to come to a new place that was unfamiliar.
They were so good to each other. I don’t know how I had gotten so lucky.
“I hope they like to play construction!” Anthony suddenly said. “The more people helping, the bigger we can make the tower!”
“Did you see the tower?” Ginny asked softly, pointing.
“I did,” I replied with a healthy amount of enthusiasm. “It’s huge! The biggest one yet!” I clapped my hands together. “We’re leaving for the baseball game in less than an hour. Let’s get ready!”
Mom and I helped the four kids clean up and then change clothes. They were normally well-behaved for me, but whenever my mom—their Nonna, they called her affectionately—was around, they were wilder than usual. Today was no different. It took us half an hour to get them changed and ready to leave. Derek liked to say it was like trying to catch a bunch of greased up pigs.
Anthony and Ginny wore their favorite Dodgers jerseys. Peter and Rosalind, however, had fallen prey to the anti-Dodgers propaganda spread by my three husbands, so they wore Fresno Grizzles jerseys instead.
At least they’re not Giants jerseys, I told myself.
By the time we walked over to the main house, Derek was home and standing in the living room. He was resplendent in his Fire Chief uniform, with gold bars on the cuffs and gold buttons up the front of his dark jacket. The kids all shouted and yelled with excitement when they saw him.
I gave him a look. “This new Chief job is making you late more often than I would like.”
Derek smiled and flourished a bouquet of red and yellow roses from behind his back. “I was late because I stopped to pick these up.”
I took the flowers and couldn’t help but smile. “You baited me into that.”
He grinned back at me. “Thanks for being patient with the new job.” When Derek saw my mom, he flourished another bouquet of roses from somewhere unseen. “And for you, Nonna.”
She let out a yelp of excitement and hugged him, then took the flowers and went into the kitchen to put them in a vase.
Derek knelt down and held up two individual flowers. Not roses, but something more simple, like the pincushion flowers that had gone into the rose bouquets. “Ginny. Rosalind. I didn’t forget about you.”
The girls took them slowly, surprise and astonishment on their little faces. “Thank you, daddy!” Ginny said.
“Thank you, Derek,” Rosalind added. She wasn’t quite ready to call Derek dad yet. That was okay. Everyone progressed at their own pace. Derek knew that more than anyone.
He poked Rosalind in the belly. “I like your Fresno Grizzlies jersey. It’s so much cooler than that one.” He jerked a thumb at Ginny.
Ginny shouted, “The Dodgers are the best!”
“Oh no they’re not!” Derek suddenly lifted the girl in the air, swirling her around in circles. Ginny squealed and play-fought with him, letting out a babble of noise that sounded like praise for the Dodgers and insults about the Giants.
When Derek put her down, he said, “I love you, Ginny-Whinny, even if you are a Dodgers fan like Mom.”
Ginny stuck her tongue out at him.
Yeah. She was going to be so happy wen the adoption went through.
Derek rose and caressed my cheek. “I am sorry about working late so many nights. I’m still getting used to this whole being-in-charge thing. I’m falling into a groove, though. I promise.”
I cupped his hand on my cheek. “Good. Because I just signed off on two new members of our family.”
He froze. “Really? The two we talked about?”
I nodded. “Monday.”
Derek took a shuddering breath and then hugged me so tightly I could feel the buttons of his jacket pressing against my chest. “Thank you,” he whispered into my hair. “Thank you, thank you.”
I knew he was thanking me for more than just the two new kids who would be joining us. He was thanking me for everything. For being with him, for accepting him, and for helping create a good home for all of them. To create a place so much better than the one he grew up in.
“I love you so much,” I whispered.
He kissed me. “I love you more.”
“Gross!” Anthony shouted. “Stop kissing! We have baseball to watch!”
Derek changed into casual clothes, and then we herded everyone out the front door. Sometimes I felt like I was the matriarch of an army. Three husbands, a varying number of children, and a Nonna who was always around and getting into trouble with the kids.
It was crazy. It was chaotic. It was stressful and emotional and sometimes left me crying into my pillow at night.
But the best things in life took hard work, and being a foster mother was no exception. This was the life I had never known I wanted, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.