Salvador. You don’t know him. You will probably never meet him. But I feel compelled to make sure you have heard of him. Its been on my heart for a week now and it hurts so bad my eyes tear up to even think of him. It’s such a real pain that I whisper his name when I say it in my head trying to soften the blow I know is coming.
I’m going to free write to get this out just to make sure I get it out and keep it short and concise.
Salvador is a two year old boy with a cast on his freshly broken arm. That is what you would notice first. The cast on his arm. I have a boy who is almost two so I immediately cataloged a list of things I would need to modify as I watched the half dozen toddlers I would be watching that day in the one and two year old children’s nursery for my churches late service. The hand off from the early service provider is usually swift as there are no kids there yet.
But here was Salvador, with his cast, and today was not going to be like any other day.
“This is Salvador,” she said. “This is one of Dotty’s three foster children she got this week.”
One of three foster kids? I distinctly remember Dotty stating a few weeks ago that she would be getting a foster child soon and I was so excited for her. But three foster kids. Three foster kids? A whole family of kids? That cast! I start to slowly shake my head because I don’t want to hear what she is going to say next but she whispers it to me anyway… “You see his cast? His dad did that.”
And now I have to make myself not cry. Not now and not then. Both times I fail. I remember looking down on this boy and his cast playing with a church train set and now I see the laceration on his freshly shaved head. The scratches on the back of his neck. The bruise on the non-broken arm and a rage builds in me that is hard to describe. Even harder to contain but what can I do as the other teacher tries to leave to attend service.
I put on a sweet smile and a calm presence because this baby doesn’t have to deal with my issues today. He doesn’t want to stay with me. He had just gotten use to her but when I go to pick him up he lets me. I say “let me” because chances are better a one year old is going to give you an earful if you aren’t on his list of approved picker uppers. But Salvador comes to me and I hug him tight. I pray over him. I try to push every happiness and strength god would let me out of my body and into is trying my hardest to believe in belief by osmosis. And then we go to the rug to play trains.
I have a 20 month old and him and Salvador are the same size but Salvador is obviously older. He has a seriousness about him that shouldn’t be there and I hate it. My son is a pure terror. Won’t let me out of his sight and will cry to vomiting if left in someone else care. A pure monster and the greatest beast on this planet. He has a vocabulary of dozens of words and is the king of one word sentences. And here is Salvador: A few days removed from an event I refuse to give vision to that leads to being removed from his home and parents, put into foster care, entering a new home, and going to a church to play on the floor with a woman he has never met. He says only two words as far as all of us can tell. Mommy and train.
Mommy and train. That is it. And in the hour and a half he was with me maybe he said those words five times. And it breaks my heart every time he says either because he says them the same. Same tone, same emotion. That there was an equal importance to the two things. And my brain is screaming, over and over, “Where was your Mommy? Why didn’t she protect you?” Its unfair, and I don’t know the circumstances but the momma bear in me wants to rip the head off of a handful of people and every time he says “Mommy” she gets back to second billing on the head removal list.
Four other babies come to the nursery for service but I cling to Salvador like the secret service at an outdoor parade. Luckily I have a great bunch of babies that day and they are cooperating and playing together nicely. That is just one of the three blessings that allowed me smother Salvador (purely to make myself feel better because this two year old was fine without me playing on the floor the entire time). The other two blessings were that I had left my son at home with his grandma and my husband had his MBA group project that morning so he came to church after me and when he stopped by on his way in to say hi I dragged him into the room and introduced him to Salvador.
So my husband didn’t go to service last Sunday. He played on the floor with Salvador and four other amazing little boys. This was a WONDERFUL moment for me because I got to see my husband, the man that is with me for the rest of this life, make this little battered boy laugh. It was like hearing sunshine. I of course never thought to even try to make him laugh. He’s been traumatized. Maybe I was projecting my personal history on him because it never once occurred to me that he would laugh if you tickled him. This serious, too grown for a two year old toddler, has the greatest laugh you ever heard. And my husband did that. They all got tickles and everyone seemed great… but me. I was and still am devastated.
At one point Salvador was retrieving his precious train from the hands of another boy and hit himself in the chest with the train and started to cry. The softest cry I’ve ever heard when compared to the noise that my children make. I swooped him up in bear hug so fast I think the wind from my speed messed up the hair of all the other kids in the room. I hugged him to me, promising that no one would ever hurt him again. An irrational reaction to a horrible situation. He was not hurt in my care but I felt as if I had failed him by allowing him to hit himself in the chest as he tried to navigate a train set and another toddler with one arm. But the “I will never let anybody hurt you ever again” feeling hasn’t gone away. It hasn’t lessened. I can honestly tell you that I had started working out the logistics of how I could escape with him and his 9 month old and 3 year old brother to an undisclosed country where there would be no possibility of them EVER going back to their parents. But I was pretty sure that would get his foster parents and my church in a whole lot of trouble.
I have an abused past and these things shape the adult that you become. I have been lucky enough to fall in love with a man who has a huge heart and like me wants to help the abused and discarded children of this earth. We have always planned to adopt a few kids once we relocated in the next year. And Salvador sits on the floor between us and confirms that it’s not only what we should do but it is what we will do. As many as we can afford to feed and nurture. And that brings a joy to me that I can not describe.
So I just really want you to know Salvador. And know that these kids are around you and they need your help. Salvador’s mature, tough as nails expression would make you believe otherwise but don’t fall for it. He needs you. The Salvadors in your neighborhoods need you.