Recap: Libby has a recurring scary dream where she’s freefalling from the sky. She starts her new job, and she has to go into the second-grade class where they already went through three teachers.
The little girl who was seated at her desk said, “You have to take the roll call and write the date.”
I cleared my throat and turned to the white board. I wrote February 12, 2001. Then I pulled out the class list from my bag and began calling names. I had to yell over the giggling and the fast runners who were also shouting at each other and knocking over books and boxes of markers and pencils as they ran.
The little girl who had told me to take role, raised her hand.
I put a check mark next to her name.
“He’s the one running around over there.” One of the giggling girls pointed to the tall boy.
I checked off his name.
Suri pointed at the other boy who was running after Michael. Ralph was chubby and wore mismatching socks – one was black and one was dark brown – and a stained white shirt.
“That’s me,” the girl who had pointed out who Michael was, said. She had long, dark hair pulled back in a severe ponytail. Her eyebrows were arched in what looked like a perpetual question. She smiled at me and in that instant, I knew I was going to like this little girl and that I might even be able to teach her.
The other girl who had been giggling with Lisa raised her hand. “You’re the fourth English teacher we had this year. No one stays long in our class.”
I was about to say I’m not your teacher – I’m the literacy coach – but I decided it would be too hard to explain that to them.
“Please take out your readers,” I said calmly.
Suri and Lisa pulled their readers from their desks.
Michael was still running around with Ralph chasing him.
Sima took out her reader.
I had to speak very loudly over the running, shouting boys.
“Turn to page 27.”
That was where the principal told me the class was up to.
“We read this story,” Sima said.
“Are you sure?”
Suri raised her hand. “We read part of it but then Michael threw the apple at Mrs. Mason and so we never finished it.”
I nodded. “So, I will read aloud, and you follow along.”
Lisa interrupted. “We read to ourselves.”
“I want to read it aloud this time,” I said biting my lower lip. This class was impossible. Stop, don’t give yourself time to be negative.
I began reading the Frog and Toad story about the list. The girls followed along. The boys were still running but I noticed from the corner of my eye that Ralph was slowing down.
After I finished reading, I asked, “Why do you think Frog made a list.”
Michael suddenly stopped running. “He wanted to remember things.”
“You have a good answer, but you need to be in your seat and raising your hand.“
He began running again.
What should I have done differently to pull him in?
I continued with the lesson and had the girls draw the part they could imagine and then write their own list.
Ralph and Michael never sat down the entire morning.
At the end of the hour, I was tired from watching Michael and Ralph running around and trying to keep Lisa from giggling with Sima.
I stopped by the principal’s office on our way out to recess.
“Michael and Ralph were just running in circles during my lesson.”
“You have to call their mothers,” she said.
“How did it go?” Avi asked when he came into the house for supper.
“Exhausting. I don’t want to be a classroom teacher but I‘m stuck doing it till they get a second-grade teacher.”
Just then the phone rang.
Avi answered. “Yes, I’m Mr. Perlman. You do? How old? Oh. I will discuss it with my wife and call you back. Yes, thank you.”
“Who was it?” I asked as I stacked dishes in the dishwasher. My hand was shaking.
“Rabbi Saleman must have contacted Ozer. It was a lady from Ozer. I was holding a dish and I held it mid-air. “Is it a bab––”
“They have a four-year-old, adorable little girl in need of a foster home. They want us to come down to meet her and fill out some paperwork. She said it’s not a commitment, but we should come down to see if––”
“I wanted a newborn or at least a baby.”
“I know but this little girl needs a home. Maybe Hashem is sending her––”
“I have to think about it.” I left the dish on the counter and headed towards our bedroom.
I pulled out my T’hilim. I said some of my favorite ones, Number 8, 45, 91, and 118. Then I plopped onto my bed. I closed my eyes and pictured a baby girl. I opened them and thought about a little four-year-old. Avi knocked.
“So, what do you think about the little girl ?” he asked.
“I guess we can go and meet her.”
Early the next morning, we drove to Brooklyn. “Libby, we‘re just meeting her.”
“Can we remind them we want a baby?”
“Yes. But remember its foster care, so the real parents will take the child back at some point.”
I sighed. I wanted to be the real parent.
“Libby, the kollel is so wonderful.”
“I feel like this is me. This is what I love.”
We pulled up to a tall, gray, stone building. There was a sign in front with a picture of smiling children. The sign said, “Welcome to Ozer.”
“This is it,” Avi said. I knew he was watching for me to show some enthusiasm.
I tried a weak smile.
The security guard greeted us and showed us where to sign in.
“We have a meeting with Mrs. Kahn.”
“Third floor, Room 206.”
We headed up the stairs. We never take elevators. I like to avoid the closed-in feeling of an elevator, and Avi likes the exercise.
Mrs. Kahn was waiting for us.
She was a petite woman with a short, cropped, dark sheitel and big, purple-framed glasses. She had a whole book of papers for us to look through and sign.
“We haven’t made a decision yet,” Avi told her.
“Yes, I understand. We think you two would be a good match for little Sabrina. She’s been shuffled about so much, and she really needs stability.”
She’s going to be a troubled child. She hasn’t had a stable home. How on earth could I take care of someone like that?
“We really wanted a new baby,” I heard my voice come out squeaky.
“Well, most parents want that, but we can’t pick and choose when there are children who need our help.”
Avi shot me a sympathetic glance.
“While you finish the paperwork, I’ll go get Sabrina. I know she is anxious to meet you.”
I was busy reading through lines and lines of regulations when a little voice interrupted me.
“Are you going to be my mommy?” The little girl had long, blonde curls that seemed to have a mind of their own. They were held back by two barrettes straining to hold back the mass of curls. She wore blue-framed glasses, and she had large, brown eyes.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
Avi bent down. “Nice to meet you, Sabrina Rachel. We’re Mr. and Mrs. Perlman.”
I noticed her tights had a hole and the shoes she was wearing were scuffed. Her pale, blue dress looked like it had been washed one too many times and it was also too short.
“My favorite color is pink. I hope you have a pink room for me. Do you have a dog? I love dogs.”
“We don’t have a dog,” I said.
“Sabrina, Mrs. Max will take you back. I have to speak with the Perlmans alone.”
Sabrina’s brown eyes met mine. “I hope you keep me,” she said as she followed the heavy woman out the door.
Watching her leave, I saw how her legs were just sticks. She was so skinny.
Mrs. Kahn put the paperwork into a folder.
“Sabrina is a well-mannered child. You wouldn’t have any trouble with her. I hope you will consider her.”
We were both quiet on the ride home. When Avi pulled up to our apartment, he turned towards me. “I know this is a big decision, and she’s not the baby you envisioned.”
Tears pricked my eyes.
“You don’t have to decide now. Think about it. I’ll see you later at lunchtime.”
I nodded and headed into the apartment.
I sat down on the couch and called Aliza. “We went to Ozer today. There’s a four-year-old girl who needs a home. I don’t know what to do. She’s a cute little girl. It’s just I really wanted a baby––”
“I hear you. It’s not what you thought would happen and you really want your own baby.”
“Yes,” I heard my voice crack. “I really want my own baby Aliza – so much. Why isn’t Hashem listening.”
“Hashem is listening. He’s always listening. Did you go to the Ohel?”
“Yes, I went.”
“You’ll make the right decision. I know you. Hashem will help.”
That night, I had trouble falling asleep. I kept thinking about that little girl with the flyaway blonde hair and the blue-green glasses. What should I do?
I glanced at the clock. It was 2 a.m. Avi was sound asleep. I tiptoed out of the room and headed to the living room. I took out my T’hilim and started davening. I lay back on the couch and before I knew it, I was dreaming. We brought Sabrina home and I was hugging her, and she was calling me Mommy. I woke with a start.
I rushed back to the bedroom. Avi was just waking to go to the early minyan.
“Yes, I want to bring Sabrina home.”
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Please Be Polite (Menucha Publishers 2022), A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishing 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in Binah Magazine and Binyan Magazine, and “Moon Song” in Binyan (2021-2022).