Ms. Jewel is an African American woman in her late sixties that just retired from The Mayor and The Rooster’s daycare center.
“I wasn’t expecting a white baby,” she said.
“No one told me the baby was white.
It’s not that I minded.
I was just so startled by it at first.
The social worker later told me she wished I could have
seen the look on my face when the baby arrived.”
She’s the mother of three of her own children as well as the adoptive mother of four children that originally came to her as foster children.
Sometimes when daycare is closed (as it is this week) Ms. Jewel comes and cares for The Mayor and The Rooster so K and I can carry on with our normal work week.
Yesterday at the end of the day, the kids were having the time of their lives hiding under an empty, five-dollar kiddie pool from Target while Ms. Jewel and I sat rocking on the front porch.
We were chatting about the daycare center.
“What’s it like to work for Ms. Light?” I asked.
Ms. Light, a white woman, is the center director.
“She and I have been through so much that we’re able to have our fights and carry on." Ms. Jewel said. "We go way back. ”
[Ms. Light didn’t speak to me for the entire fall semester because I went a little ballistic about how the television was not a childcare provider. Ms. Light didn’t particularly appreciate my position. I did not feel heard. Ugliness ensued. The television was turned off though. Snap!]
“You know Ms. Light’s eldest daughter, Flora?” Ms. Jewel asked me.
I’ve seen Flora around the daycare center since The Mayor was a baby. She’s long and lean, all limbs and joints. Flora wears glasses, has a bazillion freckles and generally seems like both a kooky and kind young girl.
“I had her first,” Ms. Jewel said.
“Had her?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
“I fostered her before Ms. Light adopted her.”
“Really? I knew she was adopted, but I didn’t know you fostered her.”
“I wasn’t expecting a white baby,” she said. “No one told me the baby was white. It’s not that I minded. I was just so startled by it at first. The social worker later told me she wished I could have seen the look on my face when the baby arrived.”
“Flora was only a month old when I got her.” Ms. Jewel told me. “They said she would only be with us for a few weeks.”
“I had never fostered a white child before. Because she was so little and up all night for feedings, my husband, my oldest daughter and I took turns sleeping with her. I don’t think she ever slept in a crib. She was always curled into the side of one of us.”
“I was working at the daycare center even back then,” she told me. “I told Ms. Light that I had to have a spot for the baby and she let Flora in. I’ll never forget the look of surprise on her face when she peered down at Flora and saw that she was white.”
Ms. Jewel told me how attached to Flora she and her family became.
“My extended family was surprised to see us with a white child but we all fell in love with her.”
At eighteen months, Flora was still being fostered by Ms. Jewel.
As we rocked on the porch, Ms. Jewel remembered.
“We had a screened in porch that ran the whole length of the house,” she said. “Back before you had to worry about crime, we used to make pallets and sleep out there. It was cool… nice. You can’t do that now.”
Ms. Jewel rocked.
“I remember Flora sitting on the steps of that porch when the whole family got together… this little white child that we all loved.”
Ms. Jewel turned to face me.
“You know, at the time, it was illegal for blacks to adopt white children.”
I didn’t know, but I quickly did the math. Flora is fourteen, so... Ms. Jewel was talking about 1994.
“We were really attached to Flora so we had to find her a home. In the end, Ms. Light adopted Flora. Her own firstborn was only thirteen months old, but she took Flora in and adopted her right around her second birthday.”
[Ms. Light? The Ms. Light I yelled at about the television being on that time at daycare?]
“To this day, Flora is part of both of our families. She tells everyone that she has a black family and a white family,” Ms. Jewel told me.
Laughing, she added, “and she always says she had black parents first.”
After Ms. Jewel left, I thought about the way that circumstances of love, need and relative proximity have forever entangled Ms. Jewel and Ms. Light’s families.
An employer and employee bound together through Flora.
It’s amazing how much you can’t tell about people just by looking at them.