He was twelve years old. He’d had more than a few foster parents. He bounced from foster homes like a tennis ball.
Sometimes, it seemed like he lived out of a suitcase.
In his world he was ancient. People don’t adopt older kids. They want younger, cuter kids. Not those on the edge of puberty.
That year, his fosters forgot about his birthday. None of his teachers mentioned it, either. He bawled into his pillow. He felt so alone it stung his chest.
When everyone went to sleep that night, he walked out the door and decided not to go back. He didn’t know where he was going. Twelve-year-olds seldom do.
He wandered through a dark neighborhood for hours. He sat on a curb. He got scared. He turned around and headed for home. The police found him first.
They transferred him.
He became a difficult child, rebellious. Lost. By thirteen, he found himself in an after-school program for rowdy kids, led by a woman.
She was outgoing. She talked too much. She smiled too much. She helped the kids make art, and taught them to sing in four-part harmony. She read books aloud.
He resisted her. He was disobedient, quiet. So, she approached him one day with soft words.
And, she handed him a scrapbook. “Here,” she said. “I brought this especially for you.”
Inside were hundreds of Polaroids. The pictures all had the same girl in them. The girl was doing all sorts of things. The beach, amusement parks, playing, grinning, running, wearing graduation gowns.
The girl in the pictures aged with each photo. In the newer photos, she was riding scooters, visiting Paris, cheering at horse races.
“Those are pictures of me,” she said.
She told him she’d grown up in foster care. She told him about the counselor who suggested she make a scrapbook of her life when she was just a little girl.
“But, why?” he said.
“Because, this is my life. And these are my memories.”
Then, she handed him a blank photo album. It was leatherbound. Red.
“Let’s get started,” she said.
She pointed a camera at him and pressed the button.
“We’ve got work to do,” she remarked. “If we’re gonna fill your book.”
Well, lucky for him that she helped. She snapped lots of photos over the years.
There he is, holding a bat, eating pizza, fishing on a pier. He’s riding a bike. He’s at the beach. There he is with her. They’re renting movies, watching the television in their PJ’s. They’re dressed up for church.
Photos of the basketball playoffs. Summer camp. Birthdays. High-school graduation. College. There he is at his wedding. There she is on the front row.
There are recent photos, too. The one of his first daughter—who is a toddler now. She took that photo in the delivery room. And that toddler calls her “Bee Bee.”
The boy is no boy. He’s a man. He has a nice life, and a pretty family. And she is prouder than anyone on this earth could be.
Maybe that’s why she’s in most of his photos. Maybe that’s why she does this.
Maybe that’s why he’s been calling her “Mother” ever since she signed those papers so many years ago.