She came into our lives dragging with her a huge, bedraggled stuffed tiger. It took up as much space on her bed as she did. But no one could deny a child her security blanket, her lovey, no matter how unwieldy, how cumbersome, at such a time. Life as she knew it was unraveling. As one social worker was bringing her to us, another was taking her sister to a foster home across town. Though she couldn’t grasp the truth, her stepfather was in jail. Her mother was home alone. The issues that led to her coming to us would lead us all to the State Supreme Court.
The tiger was a memory of a happy family time- a night at the fair, a daddy spending far too many dollars to win something for his little girl, the little girl starry-eyed in awe of her daddy and his impressive show. Then on the ordinary nights, nights when times were not fun anymore, the tiger became her protector.
She and tiger became very happy in our home, the red-headed imp with freckles on her nose and that big old stuffed animal. Sometimes the tiger came out to the living room and we all snuggled and watched TV together, or the tiger would be a silent observer at family game night.
We began to feel like a family. The court hearings were always there to remind us otherwise, and eventually the final order that separated us was pronounced.
A new, younger case worker came to take her away. He arrived in his two-seater sports car. He was aghast when he saw the tiger, and the other trappings of childhood that had joined her and tiger while they were with us. Most foster children come and go with only a bag of clothes and maybe a small stuffed animal. He soon came to understand that unless that tiger found a space in his car, she wasn’t going anywhere. With the bravest smiles we could manage, we said goodbye.
We looked out and watched them drive away, tiger hanging out the window. It was the last time we saw them.
The case worker came back the next day in the state car and took her other things away.