“There isn’t anything more rewarding than taking in a child that just wants to have a family and be loved. I think we all can agree that every child deserves that, right?” Ethan said, glancing at the clock behind the couple inquiring about foster parenting.
Work hours encroached into dinnertime as Ethan spoke with a couple interested in foster parenting. Ever since Maria mentioned she was cooking enchiladas for dinner when he had spoke to her after lunch, his stomach repeatedly rumbled in anticipation.
Because of the negative stigma associated with foster parenting, where people assume most children placed in foster care are delinquents, Ethan felt he had to sell the idea to anyone interested.
Ethan escorted the couple from his cubicle to the family visitation room. “While the child lives with foster parents, he or she will have supervised visitations from either potential adoptive parents that want to meet the child, or the primary parent or guardian seeking to regain custody. We work with all parties to ascertain the best time for those visitations.”
Ethan held his hands out in front of him with palms toward the couple. “Feel free to stop me if you have any questions.”
The couple nodded.
“Your average couple looking to adopt takes in one to two children. It’s a lifelong commitment just like baring one’s own children. On top of that, adoptive parents accept full financial responsibility. Many people want to help these children, but not everyone is suited to be an adoptive parent because of these burdens. Luckily, that doesn’t mean a child can’t experience the benefit of a family oriented household.”
The husband, Tony, signaled his comprehension by nodding his head again. His wife, Layla, listened intently.
“That’s why foster parents are so important. If you chose to, and became certified, you would be taking in children for limited amounts of time until they can find adoptive parents. During the time that they live at your home, you would be paid by the state.”
“We would like to start the process, Mr. Harper. We have mulled it over for quite some time,” Tony said.
“Mulled? I apologize for my skepticism, but I basically see two different types of foster parents. Those that are dedicated to showing children the love and attention of parents in a stable household, while the other type just provide the minimum requirements to foster a child simply for the money.”
“We are definitely the type that wants to show these children the care and attention they deserve,” Layla said.
Ethan could see the sincerity in Layla’s eyes. “That’s great to hear. You also have to keep in mind two important things. First, some of these children come with a lot of baggage. They come from broken homes where most are victims of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse. We determine if they require special treatment before placing them with you, but even the ones that don’t can be difficult. You and I think about transitioning from a broken home to a happy one as a Godsend, but that type of assimilation can be difficult for children. Especially if they were so young that they have no way of knowing what normal is.”
“We actually didn’t consider that,” Tony said.
“The second thing is that you may become attached to the children. You can decide to adopt a child if you so wish, but if that’s not your intention, it’s important to consider emotional attachment. You share your life and love with these kids, eventually having to let them go when they are adopted or of age to live on their own. You will most likely watch many children come and go.”
“We have actually thought about that, Mr. Harper,” Tony said, squeezing his wife’s hand. “We plan on leaving adoption on the table, if we really do become attached.”
“Great! If you can handle those two things, and really want to change the lives of these children, you would make great foster parents. It’s a selfless endeavor much like parenting.”
Tony and Layla looked at one another as if they were speaking telepathically. “That’s very helpful information, Mr. Harper. We will definitely take it all into consideration,” Tony said.
“I hope I didn’t scare you off. The most important part of my job is placing children in a healthy foster home after removing them from a bad environment. I take it very seriously and ensure that potential parents do, too.”
“No, not at all,” Layla said, looking at Tony again. “I think we both agree that you reassured us how important foster parenting is to the children.”
“That’s good to hear. If you two have any further questions or need more information, you can call us or just attend the Foster Parent Orientation. It’s free of charge on the first Monday of every month,” Ethan said as he shook their hands.
“Thank you for all your help,” Tony said.
Once the couple left his office, he pulled out his car keys and phone to call Maria.
“Hello, honey. I’m finally on my way home. Would you mind heating me up some of those enchiladas?”
“You’re in luck. I’m just about to pull them out of the oven. I started cooking a little later than anticipated.”
“I’ll leave you to it, then. Should be home while they’re still warm, babe.” Ethan hung up and sprinted for the parking lot, his mouth watering.
Sitting in the living room of their six-hundred square foot apartment, Ethan and Maria watched the evening news while eating dinner. She had cooked extra-cheesy enchiladas for dinner. Her enchiladas were always made to perfection. One major benefit he had quickly come to realize when dating a Mexican woman, was that she was one hell of a good cook on top of being a sexy and beautiful woman.
Maria had brunette hair that was naturally smooth and shiny. It reminded him of hair he had seen in shampoo commercials, glistening and bouncing in slow motion. Her skin was soft like microfiber and light brown in shade, which would rarely get darker because she avoided the sun like a plague.
Ethan was typically stress free while at home, however, the nightly news usually raised his blood pressure. More often than not, the news was sad and depressing. He would find himself trying to fathom how human beings were capable of doing such unimaginable things to one another, much like he did at work.
Every night the news reported a murder, kidnapping, or some other form of abuse. Positive and uplifting stories were much more scarce. Anyone not aware of all the good people in the world could be deluded into thinking the world was nearing apocalypse. The crimes involving children were the most atrocious, inciting more disgust within him than adult crimes. That anger was the main reason that he focused his efforts on child protection. Children are, after all, the most defenseless and innocent victims.
The two ate dinner together, sitting on the couch next to one another. Ethan took a moment to admire how beautiful Maria was as she took a bite of her enchilada. Looking over at him with a string of melted cheese dangling from her lower lip, she attempted to sweep it into her mouth by swiping at it with her tongue. Knowing that she wasn’t feeling attractive at the moment, he knew it was the perfect time to remind her how beautiful he thought she was. “You are gorgeous.”
Maria swallowed the food in her mouth and began blushing. “Shut up. You’re so ridiculous.”
“I’m serious, babe. Especially in moments like these.”
“Thank you, honey. You must want to get frisky tonight?”
Ethan knew how much she appreciated him for being an honest and selfless person, and he appreciated her for being caring and gentle. He didn’t consider himself all that handsome, exhibiting average looks and build, but his character made up for it. He kept himself in shape but didn’t put as much effort into it as she did, who obsessively exercised and dieted.
Every evening around dinner time she asked him how his day was, but he could not help but give her one word answers like a typical man does. While his simple responses often irritated her, they never persuaded her to stop asking. She just couldn’t resist. “So, how was work today, babe? Anything interesting happen?”
Ethan looked at her with his mouth full of food, causing his cheeks to bulge. “Nothing special today,” he mumbled while trying to prevent drooling all over himself. He quickly gulped, swallowing the food in his mouth.
Maria, staring at him with her head tilted and one eyebrow raised, was impossible to ignore. He had seen that look many times and knew that it meant his response was too basic. She was obviously fishing for a more detailed conversation. “Remember that trial I went to? The twelve-year-old boy, Kevin?”
Pausing for a moment, he knew that no response or acknowledgment from her meant he should continue. “He was abused by his father. That same father also molested his five-year-old daughter, Bailey. Kevin was supposed to testify against his father, but he changed his mind while in the courtroom and the father was cleared of all charges. Well, he murdered that boy today, and I had your sister come meet Bailey.”
Maria cocked her head and raised one eyebrow. “How come she hasn’t called to tell me about this yet?”
Ethan was at a loss. “I don’t know, dear. I’m guessing because it happened pretty suddenly. The good news is that she’s going to give it a try; Foster parenting Bailey with the possibility of adoption.”
“Why did you get Elena involved? Don’t you think you’re taking this case too personally?”
Ethan put his fork down and wiped his mouth with a napkin. “Why does everyone keep saying that? This isn’t my first case. I’ve gotten to know Bailey pretty well and knew that Elena would be a perfect mother to her.”
Maria narrowed her eyes at Ethan. “So you’re not feeling guilty and responsible about what happened? I know you, Ethan, and you took the trial pretty hard.”
“Well, of course I’m partially responsible. I just want the best for that poor girl, and calling Elena was me doing everything I can for her.”
Feeling bad for snapping at Maria, he figured he should change the subject and focus on her. “How are you feeling? Not nauseous I hope?”
She placed her hands on her stomach as if trying to conceal something. “Yes, babe, I started feeling a little better this afternoon.”
He shoveled another fork full of enchilada into his mouth before noticing Maria sigh, raising her hand to cover her mouth. Looking at the television, he realized she was reacting to a terrible news story. An eleven-year-old girl had been raped and murdered by her stepfather, who confessed to abusing her for at least two years.
Ethan noticed Maria shaking her head and figured she was thinking the same thing he was. “Every night we watch the news and hear about such terrible things. It really seems like the world is going crazy. I can’t imagine bringing a child into this world, can you, dear?”
She stared at him with wide, teary eyes. “You don’t honestly mean that, do you?”
Judging by Maria’s reaction, he could tell that the conversation suddenly took a serious turn. “Why do you ask? I feel like I just triggered a touchy subject for you.”
“Well,” she said bowing her head, “I was going to wait to say anything until I took a second pregnancy test . . . ”
Ethan quickly stood up from the couch, his dinner plate falling off his lap and onto the floor. Without thinking, he could not help but blurt out, “No!”
Looking down and seeing that she displayed a distraught and confused expression on her face, he defused the situation by grabbing her right hand with both of his. “You’re not messing with me right now, are you?”
“Yeah, Ethan, I’m messing with you about being pregnant, you dick.” she said, looking up at him with tears running down her cheeks.
He gave her a huge hug and laughed excitedly. “Honey, that’s great, seriously. My comment about bringing a child into this world was just an exaggeration. I have more faith in us as parents than anyone else.”
Maria still looked sad. She reached up and grabbed his face with both hands. “I know that, Ethan, but I’m more concerned about whether or not we’re ready to be parents. I’m glad you’re excited and all, but we’re not even married yet.”
Still giggling from the excitement, he leaned over and kissed her. “We don’t have to be married to be good parents. Are you certain you’re ready to marry me anyway?”
Before she could respond, Ethan jumped up off the couch and into a light jog straight for the bedroom. He dug around in his dresser drawer until his fingers wrapped around a palm sized, cubed box. Before closing the drawer, he ran out of the bedroom and kneeled on one knee in front of Maria.
“I too was waiting until our anniversary to tell you something. Well, ask you something I suppose.” Ethan presented the box to her.
Now it was Maria who giggled with excitement. More tears began streaming down her cheeks, but this time tears of joy. “Of course, yes!” She hugged him tight and gave him a passionate kiss.
“Hey, you didn’t even let me pop the question!”
“Oh stop,” she said, “did you really think you had to ask?”
“That is the tradition you know.”
Ethan opened the box, attracting Maria’s attention down toward the three, gleaming diamonds set in a fourteen karat, white-gold band. She wiped away tears that she only just realized were dripping off her chin. “Just so you know, the tears are from the fact that you were going to wait eight months until our anniversary to propose, you asshole.”
He took the ring out of the box and slid it on her right hand’s ring finger. They embraced each other tightly again, and as they sat with their arms around one another, she whispered in his ear. “You put it on the wrong hand.”
Not sure which of them were correct, but sure that he didn’t want to argue, Ethan pulled the ring off and put it on her other hand. “Sorry, dear.” Looking into her brown eyes, he noticed that Maria’s expression was still sad and nervous about something. “What’s bothering you?”
“I’m dreading having to tell my sister the news. Don’t you remember? She found out only a month ago that she couldn’t have children. I feel like my pregnancy news might make her resent me, but it’s not like we planned on this.”
Ethan wrapped his arms around her again, squeezing her tight. “Come on now. Elena will be happy for you. She can’t possibly hold her own infertility against you. She’s got her own child to focus on now. I think she’ll be delighted that you both get to be mothers.”
Maria gave Ethan the look, the look that only a pissed off Spanish woman could give. “You act like you don’t know my sister. Because we both went in drastically different directions after high school, everything is like a competition.”“Relax, honey. I’m sure she’ll be fine.”