In the suburban living room of the foster parents with whom one of my clients has been placed since coming into care, I watch a bubbly five-year old dance around a new foster baby lying in his car seat. The baby has just arrived from the NICU, so fresh and sweet that the other two children in the home may not touch him without copious hand-washing. The two little girls turn outward for a time, drawn from the quagmire of their own wretched starts to the excitement of the infant. The foster mother bends down and explains that the baby has been ill, so very ill that we might not be able to hold him, but we can gently pet his forehead while he lies in the foster mother’s arms.
Later the two girls go upstairs to play, and I talk to the foster parents. We contemplate the progress which my client has made in therapy; her latest disclosures; the horrors which she must remember. She had given me a two-thumbs-up when I asked how she liked her house. I’ve seen the photos of the condemned hovel in which she, her brothers, and their mother and father had shared pallets on the floor amidst trash bags and rat feces. I knew the standard by which any other dwelling seems glorious.
As I made my way home, my heart pounded. Anger overcame me. All the damaged children! I cannot save them. I can manage to ease the suffering of a handful. This particular child tested positive for the same STD as her father. My gut wrenches. I can see no room for restorative justice. These outrages might be fodder for excusable complaint. I accelerated into a turn and left the highway, thinking of sleep, knowing that I would be drafting a memo to protect two other children from their drug-addicted mother before I could rest.
It’s the twenty-eighth day of the fiftieth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.