Steve had begun to realize that his wife might never agree to the idea of adopting his former colleague’s daughter, Heather. But in just a few weeks, things began to take an unexpected turn.
“Only my wife can send me, a policeman, into a state of panic with a single text on my phone.” Steve would joke with his colleagues at the precinct.
That joke came back to him on a sunny afternoon as he stared at his phone, wondering how to respond to his wife Alice’s text asking him where he was.
“Is that your wife?”
Heather asked, gulping another spoonful of her bubblegum ice cream.
“Yes. She’s going to be so mad at me! I was supposed to be home an hour ago. It’s a Saturday, and I’m the one who makes dinner on Saturdays.”
“She makes you cook? I like her already!” Heather giggled.
“Oh, do you, Heather? Since when are you on her side?”
“Well, she just sounds a lot like my mother. She was punctual, had a timetable for everything, and was the only one my dad was afraid of. Oh, and she was beautiful…so beautiful!”
To be loved unconditionally is a blessing you mustn’t let go of.
That last line left both Heather and Steve speechless. Steve held the little girl’s hand as she thought of her mother, who had died when Heather was only two years old.
In another cruel twist of fate, Heather’s father had lost his life on the exact date two years later.
Steve still remembered his last conversation with his old fellow police officer and friend, Jack.
“Mate, you and I have seen some dark days in our careers as cops. And the weight of all those difficult times was halved because you and I stuck together. Life through me a lot of curveballs, man. But you always sensed what was wrong before I told you. You were always there, with money, words of support, or even a bag of groceries at my door.”
“That’s right. Where do I send the bills to be reimbursed?” Steve had asked him, giving Jack the final reason to laugh.
“I must be a terrible friend because even as I know I’m dying, I have nothing to give back; only one last favor to ask.”
Steve knew what his friend was about to say.
“Steve, mate, my girl has never known an easy childhood so far. I did the best I could for her. But now, she’s going to be all alone in this scary world. I’ve got no family who would take her in, so she’s going to be living at a local shelter. She will be provided for, but I’m afraid my little girl will grow up without knowing what it is to be loved.
“So I want you to promise me that you’ll be there for Heather. Just like you’ve been there for me.
“She’s going to learn pretty soon that life can be harsh, and I want you to be by her side through it all, as much as you can. She’s your daughter now, mate. Promise me that you’ll accept her…”
“I will, Jack. I promise.”
A sweet kiss from little Heather brought Steve back to the present moment.
“Off you go, now. You have dinner to make…dad!”
Steve never made Heather conscious about calling him dad. Smiling at the innocence in her voice, he wished that his wife would finally agree to adopt her.
A week later, Steve and his wife Alice were on their way for their weekly visit to check up on Heather. “That’s not fair, Steve,” Alice said. “You know I loved Jack and his wife. But you also know that there’s a reason I don’t want to adopt Heather. I’ve been working hard to build a career, Steve. You know how much I care about bringing accountability and decency back to daily news.”
“That’s my calling, and it hasn’t changed in the past 12 years that we’ve been married. Why should it change now?”
At that moment Steve understood that he had to make a choice – to stand by his wife’s decision or to keep his promise and to adopt little Heather as a man of his word. “Oh, hi Heather!” Alice changed her tone on seeing Heather behind her, hoping the little girl hadn’t heard her. “How are you, sweetie?”
Heather couldn’t help but stare in awe at Alice’s gentle mannerisms, her hearty laughter, and her kind-heartedness.
“This right here,” Alice said, handing Heather a big bag, “is a bunch of brand new clothes for you, sweetie. Steve told me you love bright colors. I think you’re going to like what you find inside!”
An hour flew by, and Steve took out his car keys, preparing to leave.
“Thank you…Mom!” Heather said the last word nervously under her breath, without making eye contact with the woman she adored.
Alice stood speechless for a moment, for she had never imagined being called a mom. She took a deep breath, got herself together, and kissed Heather goodbye.
Heather’s voice resounded in Alice’s head for the rest of the week. ‘Something feels different,’ she thought, but she was too scared to admit it.
‘Why am I faltering? I can’t risk allowing this sudden new feeling. There’s too much at stake. But still…’
Steve had never seen Alice lost in such a silent dilemma before. Her restless leg-shaking and daydreaming made him smile.
The following week, Alice was rearranging the closet at home when she noticed a folded piece of paper fall out of one of Steve’s uniform trousers.
“What’s this?” Alice took the paper to Steve.
Steve looked surprised. “Oh, that? That’s just a little drawing that Heather made when I visited her two days ago. I thought I had lost it, but I’m so happy you found it! Did you see the drawing?”
Alice opened the sheet of paper. There were three stick figures holding hands against the backdrop of the sunset sky. The stock figures were labeled ‘Mom,’ ‘Dad,’ and ‘Me.’
At first, it looked like Heather had drawn her own departed parents. But when she looked closely, the drawing became infinitely more meaningful to her.
The stick figure of the mom had short hair, a green watch, high heels, and a tiny suitcase. Alice felt her heart melt as she recognized it was her.
Steve stood by silently as Alice wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. “She’s such a sweet girl, Heather. It’s not that I don’t think about her or love her. It’s just that—”
“I know, darling. I’m not trying to change your mind. I want what you want.”
Steve appeared to have moved on from wanting to adopt Heather. But now, all Alice could think about was how she could try and make room for a daughter in her life.
She would make imaginary timetables in her head. She would visualize picking Heather up from school, taking her to debate practice, enjoying her favorite bubblegum ice cream together.
But all of it was still only in Alice’s mind. ‘This is a different kind of wonderland you’ve created in your head, Alice!’ she chuckled at her own silly thought.
She tried to hold her new dream down. She even avoided visiting Heather for two weeks, hoping it would help her forget. But one day, out of nowhere, Alice showed up at Steve’s precinct in the middle of the workday.
“Hey, I was thinking,” Alice said as calmly as she could. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen Heather. Why don’t we give Heather a surprise visit tomorrow? We can take her out for ice cream at that new place…”
“You came all the way to ask me that? Isn’t your show on in, like, 15 minutes?” Steve thought he was hallucinating because that seemed more likely than his wife skipping work.
“Yeah, well, don’t change the subject. Do you think we could go tomorrow?”
Steve, still in shock, muttered, “Yeah, of course. Of course, we can go see her.”
Alice was beyond excited to meet the girl who loved her so much. She went a bit overboard in her excitement and bought another big bag of clothes, shoes, and books for her.
But as Alice got out of the car at the shelter, Heather was getting into another one.
‘Where are they taking her?’
Just then, one of the supervisors at the shelter spotted Alice and Steve.
“Oh, hello, Steve! Hi Alice! You’ve come just in time to say goodbye.”
Alice’s heart sank as she saw a teary-eyed Heather looking back at her through the car window.
“Heather is a lucky girl. A well-to-do young couple may be interested in fostering her. Today, Heather’s going to try and spend the day with them, and if all goes well, she will soon have a foster family. For a while, at least.”
Steve couldn’t focus on the supervisor’s words. He, too, was shattered by the forced smile on the little angel’s face.
While the car began to drive away, Heather fogged up the glass window and wrote the word ‘mom’ on it with a heart sign.
Alice couldn’t hold back her tears as she saw Heather fading into the end of the road, blowing her kisses.
“I can’t do this anymore. Steve, we can’t let Heather go!”
“Alice, honey, are you sure?” Steve asked, wiping his own tears.
“I am. I know that my career will take a backseat for a while. But I can’t pretend I don’t see how much she needs me to love her like a mother.”
“I can’t turn a blind eye to her adoring, seeking eyes. I just…will figure out the rest. We need to bring her home, Steve!”
Steve and Alice made a perfectly warm, loving, and comfortable home for their newest family member. Alice decided she wanted to be there while Heather got used to living with them. So one of the ambitious news anchors on local television chose to take a few weeks off to get to know her daughter.
One beautiful afternoon, Heather ran to Alice with a drawing in her hand. “Look, mom!”
“Ah! It’s just like the one you drew for dad a few weeks ago. And you’ve come a long way from drawing stick figures…”
“Stick figures? I never drew stick figures. And I never gave dad any of my drawings…”
Alice and Heather stood staring at the old drawing that had been put up on the refrigerator.
It took a moment, but Alice turned to look at Steve. He was staring into the abyss, whistling away, desperately trying to look like he had nothing to do with the little lie.
Alice hugged her confused daughter and caught Steve’s eyes. “Well played, Officer!” She muttered and chuckled playfully.
What do we learn from this story?
Children have a way of breaking through our inhibitions and opening our hearts. Alice thought she would never want to raise children. But Heather’s genuine love and admiration for her as a mother figure ultimately changed her mind.
To be loved unconditionally is a blessing you mustn’t let go of. Both Alice and Steve knew how much little Heather had grown to love them. Even though Alice took a while, she ultimately embraced the child’s love and called her her own.