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Right now, nothing else matters to her. She has put her whole self, every ounce of her energy and every hour of her days and nights into sitting on a fake egg and two brown eggs which will never develop into chickens. “Poor girl,” as my friend pointed out, “just wants to be a mama.”

I actually jumped up and down as I listened to what the investigator had to say. Of course, we would love to take a fourteen-month-old little girl. As I waited for my son to finish a late evening band practice, the air of this early fall evening was fresh and full of promise as I thought of this little girl who liked bananas and was just getting over the chicken pox. Soon, she would be sitting on the counter making buns with me. When I heard the message that the little girl would not be coming after all, that things had been worked out with her family, I was, admittedly, a little disappointed. It hadn’t occurred to me, in my wave of selfish excitement, that somewhere, on the other side of this story, someone’s world was crumbling, coming undone. It had nothing to do with bananas, baking, or me.

There was a good chance that one of my hens could go broody, that her mothering instinct would kick in. There was also a good chance that I could fall in love with every child that walked through my door.

Any time my phone would ring, I would secretly hope to see the caller identification light up with the words, “State of Illinois”. Each time the answer was, “yes,” my mission and purpose would be further defined. In the days that would follow, there would be meetings, visits, appointments, and encounters to pepper my calendar and fill my hours. It seemed our house was at capacity all the time. The months, then the years, passed. I turned around to see that, whether we felt this way or not, we had become seasoned foster parents. There was much joy and much healing, but there was also the stark reality of the weight of forever, and the heaviness of things that cannot be undone.

In the wake of it all, the aftermath is a vivid reminder of the gravity of our commitments, of the importance of standing up and honoring what we signed up to do.

In the deepest dark of the night, when I am with people that are not here anymore, I hear music that my children have stopped playing.

On some of the days, sometimes, I wonder if the stuff inside your soul can be undone. Can the paths which we once walked with such confidence be covered and forgotten?

The state licensing worker had left a message. Some time ago, I had stopped jumping up and down at the prospect of a call for a new foster placement. We have not had an opening in a long time. Further had been my realization that there is no reason to celebrate when these calls, due to one sort of unthinkable trauma or another, must be made. This was not, though, the purpose of his contact. Our license is nearing renewal, and his call was to find out if we would be keeping our foster license for another four years.

I don’t know if I am ready to be done. Somehow, though, I don’t think it is up to me. Not anymore.

It was time to let him know, to make it official. I waited a few days to return the call. The noise in my ear was harsh and drawn out; I was relieved at the sound of the recorded message. I didn’t have to say it out loud. I didn’t have to tell him that our days were done. Not today; not yet.

I waited several more days after the first time that I put the light up to the eggs in the darkness of the chicken coop. My chicken-keeping friend urged me give it a while longer, but this time I knew. Nothing is growing inside those two eggs to which Fried Chicken has been so dedicated. I slipped them, still warm, back under the hen. I offered her a handful of scratch, playing along. I wished her a good night and locked the door to the coop. I am just not ready to take her eggs… or her purpose…from her.

When the door closes, what if there are no more words to write? How do we really, truly, know when it’s done? If we were to have just one more day, one more turn, would it change the course, or would it merely allow us to be here, in our space just as we are, putting off the uncertainty of tomorrow? I wonder if we will ever be ready.

Maybe the part of not wanting it to be over is our way of holding on to the comfort and certainty of how we want things to be. Just maybe, when we allow ourselves to come undone, we will be free to discover what awaits in another nest.

As for Fried Chicken, I think she knows. And I hope she takes great delight in the new little chicks, soon to arrive from the hatchery. I hope she will love them just as if they had found their way out of the eggs that she had faithfully warmed for so long.

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