Today I dropped off her purple shoe, size 7.5. She had left it behind and I probably held onto it longer than I should have.
Who can blame me? She was mine for 11 months.
I was her foster mom, which means that the first time I saw her she was standing in my driveway, looking so little and scared and dirty and lost. I saw her through trips to the doctor and skinned knees on the sidewalk. I was there through tantrums in the parking lot and hearing her go from speaking single words to fully-formed sentences. My big hands presented a lovely little homemade strawberry cupcake to her waiting little ones on her second birthday. I texted a photo to her grandmother to commemorate the event.
We became foster parents because a string of miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy left me desperate for that long-awaited baby we had been trying for for four years. Eighteen months later we received a call for a little two-year-old girl, the little girl who owns the purple shoe. She was feisty and loving and crazy and sweet. A relative had dropped her off at the homeless shelter and left. She was an abandoned baby who needed a home.
She stayed those 11 months, and some days I wondered if I'd be able to stand another tantrum. Other days, I wondered how she could be so sweet and amazing and wonderful. Then, when it became obvious to us that her case was heading toward another adoption, we let her go.
We had to.
Still, today, walking up to her new Mama and dropping off that sweet little shoe, something stabbed my heart.
"We'll see you next month at the foster care conference!" her Mama said, and: "You know, you'll never stop being her mom. She's going to grab onto you next month and not let go. You know that, right?"
I started full-out crying, the ugly cry.
She hugged me and I headed back to my car.
There are five little names on a chain around my neck. Three of those names belong to the babies I bore biologically, and two of those little names are babies I got to raise for a short time and then let them go.
I used to have a quiet awe for mothers who choose to give their babies for adoption, but now it is loud and unabashed.
Like me, I suppose, those mothers loved those babies, carried those babies, prayed over those babies.
And then, all quiet and soft, they placed those babies' hands into the hands of other mothers and, holding tight to those beautiful names around their necks, they walked away.