By NICOLA MORIARTY
A tree came down in out backyard recently. Strong winds caused the trunk to splinter and crack, and then it fell. We’ve left it there, for now. Eventually, we’ll borrow my Dad’s chainsaw, and we’ll take it to pieces, and we’ll bundle it into piles and the council will come and collect it from our nature strip.
But for now, it stays. Slowly growing drier, browner, more withered and curled.
Recently I drove with my girls to my parent’s house. We were visiting after preschool, and as I pulled up out the front, a thought crossed my mind. What I were to drop the girls off, see them safely to the front door, and then just leave?
What if I got back in the car without a word? What if I drove away, kept driving. What if I never came back?
My insides are that tree. I am dried up, withered and curled. Most of all though, I am broken. As though something inside me has snapped, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t paste the pieces back together. And lately, there is one word that is always, always on my mind. It’s forever there, at the base of my throat waiting to leap onto my tongue.
I met a mother recently, who had just had her third baby. She looked incredible: healthy, glowing, gorgeous. I asked her how she was finding things – with three now. Fantastic! She exclaimed. Three is so much easier than two. She passed the baby over to someone else and pulled her two-year-old up onto her lap. Each move that she made was effortless. Flawless.
She is the sort of mother that I always thought I would be. I grew up surrounded by babies. My mother was a foster parent. After having the six of us, she began to take care of other people’s babies when they needed a home. Short-term foster care. From the age of two it was a part of my life. When Mum took a phone call from DOCs, I would be dancing by her side, waiting to hear the news. Is there a baby coming? How old? How long will he stay? When will he arrive?
Sometimes, Mum would let me take a day off school, just to stay home with her and play with the baby. Sometimes the baby’s cot would be in my room and I would help Mum in the middle of the night, nursing the warm bundle while Mum heated the baby’s bottle. Mum would always send me back to bed then though, sitting down on her own, wrapped up in her pale pink dressing gown, on the floral couch in the dimly lit lounge room, feeding the baby.
For just under twenty years Mum fostered babies. The last one, a ten-month-old Vietnamese girl named Sophie, became very attached to me. I don’t know why – perhaps something about me reminded her of her mother. When she left – to move on to long-term foster care, both Mum and I cried by the front door. Mum always sent a letter along with every baby to the next foster carer. The letter would give the next mother all of the details they needed about the baby – how she liked to sleep, how much milk she was drinking or what foods she liked if she was on solids – those kinds of things. At the end of the letter, Mum always wrote the exact same words: If you could give me just one phone call, just to let me know that she’s okay, I would be very grateful. And then she left her phone number. The foster mother that took Sophie never bothered to phone Mum. That was when Mum finally decided her life as a foster parent was over. She couldn’t take the heartbreak any more. Neither could I.