I felt so unsure of everything for a moment. I had just put Mima back into the car, she still had the dolly—she wouldn’t give it back, so I suppose he’ll add that to the bill. I was looking at a spectrum which could encompass losing Mima anytime the council decided to take her off me, to fostering her for up to the time she leaves home as an adult. Quite a wide variation in both our fortunes. As for adoption, that wouldn’t be an issue for some time and presupposed successful fostering.
On the other side of the coin, my career could end up on hold for anything from a few days to years, mirroring what happened with Mima. Which should be more important?
If one looked at it cold-bloodedly, Mima was no blood relative, so my career could reasonably come first. However, here was a defenceless child who fate had dumped in my lap, who needed protection and nurturing, and who had somehow become bonded with me. I’d seen it with goslings when we did experiments on them at Sussex—they follow the first ‘animate’ object they see, because they are programmed to. As that object would usually be a mother, occasionally their father, it works most of the time. However, it can go wrong, and they have been tricked into following a balloon.
How much of Mima’s bonding was conditioned or purely innate survival mechanisms, I have no idea—for some reason they won’t let us experiment on children. But her mechanisms weren’t the issue here were they, it was mine that were the problem. What did I want out of this?
“Mummmmeeeee, dowee, wants a dwink.”
“I’m sorry, darling, dolly will have to wait until we get home, and we need to go shopping first.”
“MummMMEEE, dowee needs a dwink, NOW!”
“Please don’t raise your voice to me, Jemima, I don’t like it and I won’t accept it. Dolly can have a drink when we get home.”
“Mummeeee cwuell to dowee.” She began to sob loudly.
“You ain’t seen nothin’ et kid. I tortured hundreds of fruit flies when I was an undergraduate, just ‘cos I wanted their DNA. So don’t push your luck.” I muttered to myself.
I put my cogitations on hold and set off for the local supermarket. With Jemima stuffed into the seat of the shopping trolley, I pushed her around the aisles, still crying and waving dolly at me. I got some black looks from several shoppers, who assumed I was a child murderer selecting my next victim. Thank goodness we didn’t bump into an off duty social worker or health visitor.
She was still whimpering when we went through the checkouts, “What’s the matter cutie-pie?” asked the middle aged woman serving us.
“Mummy won’t give dowee a dwink,” was said amidst copious sobs and snorts, followed by hiccups.
“Naughty mummy,” said the woman, to whom I was beginning to take an active dislike.
“Would you like to borrow her, say for twenty years?” I asked facetiously.
“What a dreadful thing to say?” said the seemingly outraged checkout assistant.
“I’m only looking after her until I can sell her to a white slaver, keep your eye on ebay.”
“That’s a dreadful thing to say,” she said accusingly.
“Well you’re accusing me of being naughty, I’m just living up to expectations.”
“I was joking, madam, humouring your daughter.”
“She isn’t mine, I found her on a bus on the way here.”
“Now you’re being ridiculous.”
“Yes, I frequently am, can I pay the bill so I can take her home and drown her with the rest of the litter.”
“You don’t deserve to have such a lovely child.”
“Probably not, but I told you she’s not mine, I bought her in a baby shop.”
“Dear little sweetheart, your mummy says awful things about you, do you want to come home with me, instead?”
“No,” said Mima, and to emphasise the point bashed her on the head with dolly. “Mima go home wiv Mummy.”
“Sorry about that,” I said trying not to snigger, “Looks like I’m stuck with her.” I left the supermarket as quickly as I could, the best part was Mima had stopped whingeing presumably dolly now had concussion and didn’t need a drink.
I stowed all the shopping in the car boot and pushed the trolley back to the collection point and recovered my pound coin. It was only across the width of one of the roads through the car park, so when I’d lifted Mima out and she stood, albeit unsteadily, I asked her if she wanted to walk to the car.
It took a couple of minutes to do what a couple or more months ago, she’d have done in seconds, but she made it. I scooped her up and hugged her, kissing her on the cheek, “You clever girl,” I said and kissed her again.
“Mima, wike, Mummy.”
“Mummy wikes, Mima, too,” I replied.
“Speak pwoperwee,” she protested.
“How about we go home and bake some bread for tomorrow’s breakfast?”
“Yes pwease, Mummy.”
“And if you’re not too tired you show Grampy Tom and Auntie Stella that you can walk a little bit.”
“All wight, Mummy.” She gave me a huge smile which would have melted the stoniest heart, apart from the bogies up her nose, which we disposed of via a tissue.
The drive back caught us up in the rush hour traffic and progress was slow to static. I can’t remember how many verses of, ‘One man went to mow,’ we sang before she fell asleep, but it was into double figures by some distance. I yawned myself, my stress levels were up and my future as uncertain as it had ever been. However, one question I’d asked, had been answered before I had even asked it—there was no alternative, I would attempt to foster Jemima and if necessary put my career on hold.
It might be possible to make the second film and look after Mima, especially if Stella and Simon helped out, not to mention Tom, plus of course, there was no reason why I couldn’t pay someone to help me if things got too difficult—I’d have to check that out, but it seemed logical to me. The intention would be if on the odd occasion when I was too busy, I could get some help in, then it seemed like a good idea.
Of course, all this sudden bonding might be seen as adverse to fostering by the powers that be, or maybe they encouraged it, I don’t know. I would definitely go with the policy that I regularly remind Jemima that I am not her natural mother, so she has one somewhere. I would also be against suggesting her natural mother dumped her, not being privy to the reasons why that seemed to be what happened.
I was pleased with my progress as we pulled into Tom’s drive. I’d made one or two decisions and felt better for it. I hoped I wouldn’t live to regret them.
“Where have you been?” said Tom, until I hushed him lest he wake my sleeping cargo. He repeated it in a whisper.
“Can you get the shopping in while I put her down for a nap?”
He looked at me in astonishment, but went out of the door clutching the car keys. I set my precious bundle down on the sofa, and went out to the kitchen.
“Where the hell have you been?” He demanded as he brought in the shopping.
“I think the answer is in your own hands.”
“Don’t give me that, Cathy, I had a phone call from a social worker who had called to see you at three. It’s now half past six, even you don’t take that long in Tesco.”
“I went to get some legal advice.”
I shook my head in disbelief, “What do you think?”
“I don’t know, why do you think I’m asking, to pass the time of bloody day?”
“Okay, okay keep your hair on, the bit you have left.” He frowned at that. “Okay, I went to see Mr Henstridge who specialises in juvenile and family law, about how we defend ourselves against the powers that be.”
“You’ve decided you want to keep her?”
“No, she decided that days ago, I simply wanted to see what our position was if we attempted to go down the fostering path.”
“And it looks possible, my history is a complication as is the way she was dumped on us, but we’re in with a shout. Oh, by the way, she walked a bit this afternoon.”
“We have a chance of keeping her, good. She walked, SHE WALKED, THAT’S WONDERFUL,” he hugged me and kissed me.
“Hush you silly old bugger, you’ll wake her up.”
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