You want to meet the most charming, funny, and totally awesome little dude in the world? Let me introduce you to my little brother Bug.
Get him while he's still single, ladies. Actually, he's only 4 years old, so never mind. Just hold your freakin' horses, okay? Let the handsome little devil be a kid for another 15 or 20 years.
Bug is the greatest thing to happen to our family in forever. And you want to know who made sure he happened to us? My amazing Captain Mommypants. I'm going to write a book about my mom one day, and I'm going to call it The Collector of Living Things, because there is no better way to describe my mama. She gathers in people and animals that need a place to rest.
About three years ago, my mom (who is a minister) was working with a bunch of "A" groups (AA, NA, etc.) at her church. Mom has adopted many many MANY people over the years, but three years ago, she met a woman with a little baby boy. The woman was "in recovery" from a number of different addictions. Mom thought she was nice and wanted to help her out, so when she had to leave the halfway house she was staying at, Mom invited her to come stay with us for a while. This is pretty standard operating procedure for my mother, and we're all kind of used to it. Hey Mom, who's the strange lady staying in the guest room upstairs? Oh, she's a woman I met through church, she's down on her luck, and have you seen her little boy? The cutest thing ever. Cool, Mom. What's for dinner?
Bug really was the cutest thing ever. Big brown eyes, soft hair, adorable smile. When he smiled, that is. In her previous life of drug-induced excesses, his mother had apparently left him alone a lot. A lot. So when Bug first came to our house, he wouldn't ever make eye contact with anybody, resisted being held or hugged, and never cried, even when he was hungry and dirty. I believe that during the first 8 months of his life he spent a huge amount of time strapped into a baby car seat, parked in front of a television while his mom did her thing. My mother is a baby magnet, however, and a love blanket, and a hug machine, and Bug couldn't resist her for long. Here's a picture taken after he'd been with us for a couple of months.
To make a long, complicated, and highly emotional story a little shorter, I'll say this. Bug's birth mother was not the best woman, and before long, she'd been arrested again and had to go back to jail. Mom and Dad had a choice: send Bug off to the foster care system, or take temporary custody of him themselves. For Mom, there was no choice. He stayed. His mother never really got out of jail again (she's bounce out for a little bit, bounce back in, bounce out, bounce in) and she never reclaimed custody. Meanwhile, time was passing and my family was getting used to having Bug around.
After about a year and a half, my family had permanent custody of Bug, which is a legal term meaning that as long as we don't ask them to move him, and as long as his birth mother doesn't fulfill the requirements asked of her (sobriety, job, home, etc), the social service department would never move him. It's really sort of a legal limbo, because really, the mother isn't going to come back at that point. Bug's mother had already lost custody of three other sons over the years, and it didn't seem like she'd turn over a new leaf now. But in this legal limbo, Bug is ineligible for adoption. Fundamentally, it kind of sucks, because until he's 18, his life would have no legal bedrock. If, in 15 years, his mother came back and wanted to take him, she could, case closed, even if she hadn't laid eyes on him during those 15 years and he was deeply attached to another family.
At this point, much intra-family wrangling broke out. Aunts and brothers and sisters chimed in, my Dad hemmed and hawed, we kids worried about the whole situation. I mean, my parents were 55 years old. That's when you become grandparents, not parents of a toddler again, right? My mother stood firm against all nay-sayers. I love him as my own son, she said, and I will not give him up. And my Dad, a logical, rational, cautious dude, agreed to sue for termination of parental rights, a legal distinction that would make Bug adoptable.
But despite all this, the case wasn't closed. Were we suing so that somebody else could adopt him? Mom put out half-hearted feelers, but because of Bug's drug history (well, his mother's drug history, which by default was his drug history, given conditions in the uterus), there wasn't a whole lot of serious interest. People like to think they know what they're getting, you know? And honestly, who can blame them. Before Bug, I'd have said the same thing.
Then something great happened. My mom had to undergo double knee replacement surgery (which isn't great), and was mostly confined to her bed for several months during the recovery period. By default, Dad became the primary caretaker for Bug, and in spite of his best efforts to maintain some emotional distance, he fell in love. Bug worshipped Dad. Followed him around like a little puppy, cried when he left, wanted to be picked up and tossed around all the time, climbed up on the tractor and the riding mower with Dad when he went out to mow the field, sat on his lap while Dad futsed around on the computer. I don't care how much you want to stay somewhat aloof from a little kid -- when they look at you like you hung the moon, you're cooked.
I wish I had a shot of what they looked like on the tractor. Dad used to smoke a cigar, and he'd put on his funny-looking hat, puff away on a stogie, and chug around the farm with Bug perched on his knee, happy as clam. I'm glad he stopped smoking (Bug, we owe you big-time for that one!), but that image is permanently fixed in my brain. Here they are on the riding mower.
Isn't the look on his face funny? He's all, "listen, lady, hurry up, cause we've got business here."
Over the past year or two, Bug has gotten unbelievably huge, and so much healthier. He's demanding and funny and precious and getting better coordinated and more well spoken by the day. Mom walked in his room the other day to wake him up from his nap only to discover that he'd colored the walls and doors with magic marker. When she shrieked in horror, Bug looked at her with that "uh-oh, busted" look and held out his arms to her. "Wuv you, Mama. Hug?" What a stinker, right?
He's only 4 but weighs about 55 pounds, and he's I don't know how tall, but he can rest his chin on the top of a pool table. He can count, and add, and spell, and he loves cars. He loves the woods and dogs, he loves running, and playing outside. Mostly he loves the water. Here he is playing out by the pool.
I love this little guy. I wish I lived closer to home so I could be more a part of his life. It feels weird to have a baby brother I only see a few times a year, but there's not much I can do about it. Still, it's sad and frustrating for me. Up until this Christmas, actually, I didn't think he knew my name. Then one night I was taking care of him so Mom and Papa could go out for a hot date. I put him down to watch his favorite show (Sprout), and went back to the kitchen to finish the dishes. I was chatting with Crasey when all the sudden I heard somebody shrieking my name at the top of his lungs. I'd forgotten to press play, and it turns out Bug definitely knows my name. I was so happy I actually cried.