the other mother

“Where are your socks at, bud? You need socks.”

I rifle through the pile of freshly laundered blue, yellow, green hand me downs for the lone pair of socks. Tiny socks that are still impossibly big on his newborn pink feet. We don’t wear socks in our house. I was raised barefoot in the country, dirty calloused feet in the creek, in the woods, in the house. To this day I can walk on gravel without wincing in pain. (They aren’t pretty though, so don’t look too closely.) 

I never put socks on Rosalyn’s feet as a baby either. I could barely keep up with the onesies, swaddles, muslin blankets, cloth diapers. Ain’t nobody got time for hunting down and matching baby socks. We live in Georgia, it’s 60-90 degrees most of the year – perfect bare feet weather. People stopped me all the time though, so concerned about her bare feet. “You put some socks on that poor baby’s feet!” “What a pretty girl. Tell your mama to get you some socks.” Some how, some way she survived her sockless infancy. Even now, if I can’t find her socks and I need the sweet serenity only a iced chai sipped in the clean, bright aisles of Target can provide I just toss her in the car and she swings those naked piggies to the market and all the way home.

Socks are important though. Not everyone shares my devil may care attitude about them. We talked about socks in foster training. “When you bring babies to visitation they need socks.” It seems so trivial and harmless. But when you see your child for only two hours twice a week every detail matters, everything becomes a message. Are their clothes stained, do they match, did I buy them or did you, how much did they cost, is it something I would have dressed them in, is their face clean, do they have any scratches or bruises or rashes, is their hair tidy and styled appropriately? Do they have socks?

Did you know foster parents are not allowed to have the child’s hair cut without explicit permission? It is a strange balance beam we walk – all of the responsibility and none of the authority.

I had to find his socks.

I finally find them tucked inside his bag from the hospital. They are white and in the babiest of blues read, “I Love My Mommy.”

Did she pull back pieces of baby shower tissue paper to find these at the bottom? (“Aw, thank you, Karen!”) Did she walk into Babies R Us post pregnancy test, desperate for something tangible for the poppyseed in her uterus? Did she buy these for him, his other mother? No, his mother. His other mother? His mother. I am the other.

We have an invasively one sided relationship, her and I. I have on my kitchen counter a thick envelope with intimate details of her labor and delivery, of his hospital stay and discharge. She doesn’t know my name. She doesn’t know I type this with one hand as the other rubs our son’s back after his bottle, mildly terrified because I am bravely/stupidly wearing my favorite sweater. 

Our son. Her son. All of the responsibility and none of the authority.

As we feel joy at how seamlessly he fits into our family, is every moment of her existence filled with panic, anxiety, sadness? Where is her son? Is he ok? She doesn’t know.

I’ve thought about dressing him in Mommy clothes for their visits. Will she see it as my intention of honoring her place in his life? Will it sting of mockery and overcompensation? Is it wrong if he wears them while he is in my arms, being cooed at by playground strangers? (“Aw, thank you Karen! He’s a week and a half old today.”)

I put on the socks. His toes look nothing like mine.

Walk the balance beam, hold the baby, don’t slip.