Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Fifth Son

This is the story of how our fifth son arrived in our family.

And how he left. If you would like to read more of his story, follow the links in this post.
 The phone rang around 8:30 on the night of August 23, 2008.

"Hello?"  I answered, not knowing that my world was about to change.

"This is CPS, and we have a fourteen-month-old Native American baby boy down here at our Phoenix office that needs a place tonight.  Are you available?"

I couldn't believe that I was finally getting this call.  We had begun the process to be foster parents more than two years earlier, but we had never been picked for placement.

Born exposed to marijuana, this little boy had been living with his two older siblings and drug-addicted mother since his birth.  On August 20th, a baby sister had been born exposed to meth, marijuana and alcohol, and CPS had decided this was the final straw and all four kids were removed from his mother's care.

"I'll be down as soon as I can."  I slammed the phone down and turned to Heidi and Tucker who were cleaning up the kitchen.  "They have a baby for us.  I'm going to get him right now."  Their excitement at the news was almost as great as mine.  While I was gone, it would be their job to get a bed and jammies ready for his arrival.

Brad's sister Nancy was living next door to us at the time, so I skipped over to her house and asked her if she was up for an adventure.  As we drove the thirty miles to the CPS office, we wondered what he would be like and what was coming into our lives.

We walked into the office, and the sight that greeted me almost broke my heart--clad in a diaper and a grubby t-shirt that obviously belonged to his five-year-old brother, long hair down his back and filthy hands and knees and feet from crawling around, Baby's older siblings were doing their best to take care of him.  Big Brother was playing with him and trying to hold back his own tears.  Big Brother was five.  Older Sister told me she had packed his diaper bag with pajamas, a diaper, and his favorite book.  She was six.

Nancy and I got down on the floor, talked with his siblings and then introduced ourselves to the baby on the floor.  He was friendly and sweet from the second we made eye contact, but his older siblings knew I was there to take their brother away and their terror at the impending separation quickly rubbed off on him.  All three began to cry, and I could feel the tears welling behind my own eyes as well.  Just then, a second set of foster parents walked through the door, ready to take the older kids with them.  In the greatest of all miracles--with the hundreds of registered foster parents in the state of Arizona, the family that walked through the door not only lived less than a block from me, but I also knew them.  When we explained to the kids that they would all be living in the same neighborhood and that they could come visit any time they wanted, the tension lessened and I was able to leave with the meager contents of the diaper bag and a filthy, healthy baby.

When we got home, Heidi and Tucker were as excited as Christmas Eve, waiting with blankets and bottles and a quick bath to soothe the new arrival.  And the next morning was even more exciting--when Lily, Micah, and Hyrum awoke, they met their new brother--Angelo.
 August 24, 2008

Those first three days were rough.  We spent many hours sitting on the couch, me trying to calm him, trying to figure out what he needed or what was bothering him.  It was exhausting and emotional.  My social worker came to evaluate him and give me the little information she had on his mother, but she had little to offer me as far as solution to the problem.

Suddenly, on the third day, he changed.  Angelo realized that this was where he was staying, realized he was safe, realized it was okay to be happy.

And he was happy.

I had five sons.

I had twins.
 With birthdays only three months apart, these two shared everything from clothes to sippy cups to naptime.

He was part of our family.

Our Angelo.

Christmas 2008

Jell-O Joe.

Birthdays, holidays, everyday.  He was my son.  And I was his "Mama."  The only Mama he remembered.

We were ready to make it permanent.  It already felt like things had always been this way.

The Tohono O' Odam tribe said otherwise.

In June of 2009, the tribe stepped in, after ten months of neglecting his case, and they said that placing a Native child with a white family was unacceptable for the child.

In July, Grandma began a few visits with him.  He would always come back disoriented and confused.

For eleven months and three weeks and one day, Angelo was part of our family.
 His last night with us--August 16, 2009

On August 17, 2009, CPS took Angelo to live with his maternal grandmother and baby sister to Jeddito, AZ--the Indian Reservation.  We have heard nothing about him since that day almost three years ago.

Nine months later, I received the news that his birth mother's body had been found beaten to death in the desert.
 His only birthday with us--June 23, 2009

June 23, 2012 will be Angelo's fifth birthday.  He will never remember that he lived with our family.

 He will never remember the light saber fights or the Christmas pajamas or the fresh beets from our garden.  He will never know that he's been to Idaho and Utah or that he ever attended Church.

But I will never forget--because a part of me will always long to feel his arms around my neck--the arms of my fifth son.

Happy Birthday, my love.

Wherever you are, may you be safe and happy and know that I will love you always.


  1. That's so sweet! I'm so amazed at foster parents and the love that they show for a little child that may or may not get to stay with their family. It's an amazing display of selflessness and I LOVE that your children were so involved and so happy with it to begin with. He looks like he was incredibly happy while he was with you and I hope that he will have those fond tinglings of memories that come from your earliest childhood. I'm sure that somewhere in his heart and mind, he knows that he had another family for a short time and that he was well loved.

  2. This just kills me Jen. Truly wishing it could have turned out differently.

  3. Whew. I don't know how you did that. It says so much about you as a woman and as a mother and your family. If that is not a true example of Charity in it's purest form, I don't know what is.
    Happy Birthday, Angelo.

  4. Oh Jen...every time I read about him it breaks my heart!!! So wish the system worked better!

  5. I bawled through this one!! I very clearly remember the few days that I got to spend getting to know Jell-o. It only took a fraction of a moment to realize why your family loved this little boy so much. He instantly melted my heart! He may not remember your family, but he will remember that he was safe and loved during those months in Arizona. What a priceless gift for you to have given this precious child! Happy birthday A!!!

  6. There was a reason for all of this, both the heartache and the joy. Good will eventually come of all of it.

  7. I miss that little Jello boy! I hope he's happy, wherever he is now.

  8. You wee Fifth Son will always have a place in his heart that he may not understand, but it will open something for him someday. You have put your family's mark on his life and somehow, you know it, your love and care will move in him.

  9. Tragic. But I agree with Laraine that you started a path of goodness in his little life, and one day it will circle around to some sweet distant memories. And good will come.

  10. Oh my goodness, I love this. And I love you and your incredible ability to love.

  11. I'm going to come out of hiding to say that I think you are amazing, and very strong. This post made me think of you:

  12. Oh my word Jen. What an amazing story. And...with respect, I disagree. He will know.
    You are one amazing woman and have one amazing family my friend.

  13. I found your blog through Kara Pothier's and after seeing a post a while back about Angelo I've been wanting to know more (I even had to ask Kara while she was visiting last week). We have been foster parents for 3 years, we've had 13 kids placed with us, 6 consistant respites, and adopted 1, our 4 year old son, Brody. We have a 4 month old girl now that we picked up from the hospital at 16 hours old. Reading your post breaks my heart! As much as I know reunification is the first goal, I can't imagine life without Lila...and to know we're only 4 months into a very long processes.

  14. That last picture makes me cry. Happy birthday Angelo...where ever you are. I hope you are happy and loved.

  15. That last picture makes me cry. Happy birthday Angelo...where ever you are. I hope you are happy and loved.

  16. Ummmm, thanks for making me cry like a baby! Sheesh! He really was a sweet little boy. I remember so well when he came to your house, and how cute Tucker was with him. He was truly blessed to get those 11 mos. with you, and one can only hope that somewhere in the deep recesses of his heart and mind he will remember the happiness he had once.

  17. Still one of the saddest situations I've ever known, and I'm so sorry you guys had to go through it, Angelo included. I thought I was done getting emotional about this particular tragedy, but I guess not.

    I'm praying that he is healthy and happy, too, and I know he carries the imprint of your beautiful family with him.


  18. I can only imagine how blessed Angelo was to get to be a part of your family. Sometimes (many times) the system fails. Boy this makes me sad for your family and for that sweet little boy. I hope wherever he is he is happy and healthy. He sure looks like he fit right in with your family in those pictures. The last one really got me.

  19. Wow. I didn't know that story.
    So heartbreaking.
    Maybe he won't remember his time with you, but his spirit will. That is so incredibly sad that the Indian people couldn't see what was such a good thing for one of theirs.

  20. I just found your blog through Kerri's post today... and I am covered in tears right now from this post.
    I wish that things had turned out better for you, with him... and will pray that he is happy and being taken care of, wherever he is today.