August 13, 2014: Airborne With God’s Child

~by Louis Templeman

(This story happened about 15 years ago, in 1999)

I was aboard U S Airlines transporting a ten-month old child. I had not flown in over twenty years and had all the attendant rookie nervousness. Thankfully, I found the U S Air employees, especially the Flight Attendants, more than helpful.  The Florida Department of Children and Families placed me in coach, which I would have found comfortable, had I been alone. But I was juggling a child on my lap and had my feet straddling a diaper and bottle bag. I took pity on my seat-mates.

She was not mine but I would get the blame – the angry looks, the disturbed chilly silences – if she was to howl from Jacksonville to Chicago at a cruising altitude of 30,000 feet. I wonder how I appeared. A white male, nearly 50, and a 10-month old biracial child in my lap.

God’s child is pretty. A very pleasant toddler with soft curly hair, permanent tan and slightly flattened nose. Her eyes reach out and pull you in to a lucid reflecting pool; bright, inviting, innocent and fearful.

She was in a huge, loud, marvelously engineered metal tube hurling through space with strangers. Maybe she recognized me. I either visited her home or hosted her grandmother and her in my office one to four times a month since she was two months old.

My baby, God’s kid, has a crack cocaine smoking mother who occasionally resorts to crime (including blue-light special sexual favors on dangerous corners and strip club parking lots) to stave off homelessness and support her drug habit. Her daddy has been jailed several times this year. Once for beating his landlady for demanding rent and once for beating the child’s mother. However, when Mom and Dad were sober you couldn’t help hoping.  . . . Hoping for the best, however, getting a consensus on the definition of “the best” is not easy.

What bothered me most was God’s baby only visited with her Mom three times between the time she was a two-weeks and eight months old. At two weeks some anonymous tipster called the child abuse hotline after witnessing the distress of God’s child as Mom plied her trade in exchange for a roof, food and a fix.

Grandma stepped in. God bless her. And Grandma did well in the work of baby care and maintenance, i.e. diaper changing, feeding and basic protection.  Problem was in less than four months she introduced me to three paramours. One was verbally abusive, but at least he held a job and had a stable, however humble, abode. The other two were physically abusive. I have records from the Sheriff’s office and our Abuse Registry to fuel my concern.  The most recent lover, a female, was the subject of a police report that recounted a quarrel where Grandma was pinned to the ground on a public street corner and pummeled by her partner.

Grandma loved God’s baby, but she also loved fun. Yes, Grandma did good to God’s baby. But she enjoyed too much being the prize in a contest between three predatory paramours. I did not want God’s child to become the victory banner in a strange R rated Adult version of Capture the Flag.

So, I located Grandpa. The child’s mother agreed to the move stating, “I don’t want my baby growing up none like me,” so she signed an affidavit stating she approved of the Change of Custody to Grandpa and his wife.

Mom dragged Dad into my office to sign papers – both were sober, anxious. Neither had visited the child much. I suppose the cornerstone of a Florida Department of Children and Families Case Plan for reunification is parent/child visitation. Bonding is the key issue.

Chicago is a world away from Jacksonville. If the child is in Jacksonville, not visiting this month doesn’t mean they can’t visit next week. But, Chicago! This is change. However, love can override even a crack cocaine induced sorry-ness. Sometimes!

So, at 30,000 feet God’s child squirmed in my lap. Thank God for the Flight Attendants, especially Betty who kept me from missing my connection by carrying my baggage and guiding me to my seat).

I squeezed and stretched for the bottles of Kool-Aid Grandma prepared. The state will not buy God’s child a seat of her own. I weigh 220 pounds and on my right is some 1972 high school all-star defensive back complete with beer belly. On my left is a nerdy but sizable mechanical engineer who played king of the arm rest with me. I pull a muscle in my right shoulder but I find the Kool Aid in the bag at my feet. God’s child sucks. Mumbles. Fusses. Twists. Trusts. Sleeps.

Eventually, the plane lands. Baby meets new grandparents. Grandparents without violence. Siblings without drugs. Caregivers who do not rely on a combination of Welfare, Social Security Disability fraud, crime and the occasional generosity of problematic paramours.

They take my picture. Grandpa insists on buying my lunch. I am not allowed to accept gifts. Neither, can I reject a poor, grateful grandfather’s offer of thanks. After he leaves I give my bag of hamburgers and fries to a scraggly pair outside the airport who resembles the unfortunate parents of God’s child.

Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D.

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