"Baby on Board" by Phoebe Millerwhite

Lottie, she took in a foster child on New Year’s Eve, her first you see. She had wanted to adopt, had been on a list but one of her contacts, she called them her contacts, called her and asked if she and her wife, her wife was called Gwen, would take in a little boy for a little while. The first thing Lottie did was call her mother and then her sister, then her best friend whom she called Pal (she called her Pal so that everyone would know that they were very very special to each other). Then she texted two coworkers, sent an email to her boss that read “got a baby, may not be in Monday, will keep you updated”, and then posted the news to her online profile – then waited for the ding ding ding from her phone that told her people were liking what she wrote.

The baby was not such a baby but closer to six months old, and belonging, as it were, to a teenage mother, fifteen to be precise, who had no intention of giving him up. Baby, as he would be called until he was two years old, had a father who was thirty-one and who could not be named or else he would go to jail because a thirty-one-year-old cannot have sex with a fifteen-year-old, or really a thirteen-year-old if we’re being accurate, without going to jail, unless no one knows who he is. Lottie and Gwen went to the beige and cubicalled human services office and signed and signed papers that said that they did not have any claim to the baby, that they would not take the baby to Mexico or any other country, that they would not take the baby’s teenage mother to court and have him named their own. Lottie signed all the papers, but she did not really mean them, nor did Gwen but what Gwen thought was never very important.

Back at their little house, one room of which was home to several stray kittens, Lottie’s mother and sister and niece were already setting up the crib that had belonged to a cousin and filling the cabinets with baby food and diapers and washcloths. Lottie and Gwen bustled in with the baby, of course he was in Lottie’s arms, and the sister and mother and niece all cooed and awed and clicked that this was the luckiest baby because he was now with Lottie. And then they tisked and sighed and shook their heads because his no good teenage mother who grew up in foster care but should still know better had abandoned him. And he had been taken away and his deadbeat father was too scared to come forward and probably no good either anyway, and come to think of it, probably the father of many many more babies born to teenage mothers. Lottie bustled and cooed and shushed them all because she was now a mother and because the baby was sleepy and fussy and needed to be bathed and put to sleep in his very own crib.

Lottie, at work extra early on Monday morning, talked and talked about the baby and all her coworkers fussed and exclaimed that wasn’t she just so lucky and also wasn’t the baby just so in need of some real motherly care which only Lottie and sometimes Gwen could provide. All her coworkers except one, the one who seemed to think that the baby did not actually belong to Lottie although the coworker never said so, but Lottie could tell what she was thinking because this coworker did not exclaim or praise her for being so motherly and good and true. But never mind, it was only because this so-called coworker was a judgmental cow and anyway, Lottie didn’t care and she would show her, even though she did not care. Lottie posted photos of the baby every day or sometimes many times a day and the ding ding ding from her phone was such a wonderful sound, the comments that people wrote so uplifting and kind, the liking of her pictures so abundant.

When Lottie and Gwen were at their two separate jobs which were from nine to five, but really from eight-thirty to sometimes after six because Lottie was a busy woman and had many things to do at her job, the baby stayed with a neighbor or Lottie’s mother or with her sister who was about to become a grandmother. The baby did not seem to mind, although everybody could tell that Lottie was his favorite and why should she not be because really, she was his mother, in a way, and Lottie was happy because being at work for so much of the day gave her time to print photos of the baby on the office printer and to thank all of her followers who were sending her so much positive energy, and to talk to her coworkers, all except that spiteful bitch of course, lurking in her corner, about how much she loved being a mother.

Weekends, the teenage so-called real mother would come to visit, except for when she could not find a ride from her group home or for when she had other things to do like homework or seeing friends, although she did not really have any friends. Lottie, Gwen, the sister, mother, niece, the best friend called Pal, and all her coworkers who were also her very good friends, said how awful the teenager was, or at least they agreed with Lottie when she said it, for not even wanting to see her own son, except for when she did see him and then that was very awful too because the teenager treated the baby just as though he were her own and talked about how she was going to find a place for them both to live together as mother and son. There were many meetings with counselors and social workers, one of whom was attractive and who Lottie thought maybe had a little thing for her, but who can tell, and she was married to Gwen anyway. The social workers all told the teenager how lucky she was that Lottie and even Gwen had taken in her little boy and how she should be so so grateful.

After a month of having the baby in her house, under her roof, sometimes waking up at night and needing to be carried and patted on the back and whispered to by Lottie and almost never Gwen, Lottie threw herself a baby shower at her work, although she called it a reunion and let it be known that the baby shower was the idea of her boss, although of course she had planted it there in her boss’s mind because her boss could be very thick. The baby shower was supposed to be in the park near her work and she posted many many posts with many many pictures and also maps telling people where to go and when to be there and what to bring, although she was too tactful to mention gifts but her Pal mentioned them and what can you do when someone else says to bring gifts? The day of the shower it rained, which no one thought was funny even though they were having a shower, and the baby shower that was called a reunion had to be moved and took place inside of her work instead of near her work and people brought food and gifts and of course were very impressed with the baby who had large ears and was in her arms the whole afternoon except for when he was crawling on the floor.

Six weeks after the baby had come to stay with Lottie and Gwen, although it felt like years and years, almost Valentine’s Day it was then, and Lottie asked her very best work friend, who was like a little sister and also like a girlfriend and sometimes a little like a boyfriend, to help her take the baby to have his photograph shot in front of a giant heart by a real photographer at the Sears inside the mall near their work. Of course her very good work friend, who was a little like a best friend but also a little like a second wife but also very much like a child, said that of course she would come because she was very very supportive and was ever so happy that Lottie was finally a mother and what a good mother she was too. Lottie took the photograph once it was done, which was actually very professional if a little dark, to Costco the next day when she went to buy toilet paper, and there at Costco she had two sheets of little pictures printed and two sheets of medium pictures and then one very large picture all on its own sheet. Lottie bought a frame at Costco also and when she went home, she put a small picture of the baby sitting in front of the over-sized heart into the frame and then she wrote a card, that was more just a piece of paper that was colored yellow, that read ‘will you be my Valentine?’ and then on Valentine’s Day she gave the photo in the frame and the little note to her best work friend who was a little like a boy she had dated when she was ten but also a little like her niece. Actually, she was a lot like her niece and Lottie had told them both that very thing many times, although everybody knew that her niece liked men and preferred to sleep with them while her very best work friend liked women and sometimes liked to sleep with them although, to be honest, they made her uncomfortable and she would really rather just look at them while keeping her distance. Her best work friend exclaimed loudly over the photograph in the frame and the note, which was from the baby and everyone at work turned around and looked and said it was so cute, and Lottie could tell they were also a little jealous because she had chosen her friend and made her special and had not chosen them to be her baby’s valentine.

Many months passed, although not so many, and it was the fourth of July and Lottie was a little tired of the baby although she did like to have barbecues on the weekends at her mother’s house and invite her friends, who were mostly people from work, although not that bitch who was so mean and never would do squats in the break room with the rest of them when they were doing a thirty-day squat challenge. Lottie had even made a calendar so that they would know what squat to do on what day. She was not invited but Lottie’s other coworkers, who were also her friends, were there and especially her friend at work who was not her best work friend, you understand, but her friend who also had a baby herself, not really a baby so much as a seven-year-old child. She thought that Lottie was a good mother and she was a good mother too although her son did pull the fire alarm one time in a room full of children and people in wheelchairs and babies and then this mother of a seven-year-old had been so embarrassed and really, what could she do anyway, after the deed was done? So she had crept out the back door with her son and she had left the others to figure out what to do about the fire alarm because it was all too much, her son had only been being playful, although it made her face turn red and blotchy all over whenever anyone brought up fire alarms, even years later.

Halloween, Lottie’s favorite holiday because you can dress up and be anyone you want to be, also skulls are so fun to decorate with around the house. But the teenage mother so-called was threatening to spoil everything, wanting to take the baby and go away because she said that Lottie was acting too much like his real mother, which Lottie vehemently denied although if you think about it why should she since she really was the only true mother the baby had ever known. All the counselors and the social workers were called, although that good looking one was not their social worker any more, and even the teenager’s lawyer, if you can believe that the state pays for her to have a lawyer to tell her all of her rights which she of course used against Lottie and even Gwen, although Gwen was not really the point. Lottie and her mother and sister and niece and all her coworker friends thought that it was all very unfair but then what can you do? All of those papers had been signed and even though everybody knew that Lottie was the best mother that baby would ever have, even if she did work eight to six Monday through Friday and then only nine to one on Saturdays and groomed dogs on Sundays, which was really mostly so that she could buy her dog food and clothes and even beds very cheap or even get them for free with her employee discount or by ringing them up as damaged.

It was decided after many many meetings and even more therapy sessions that the teenager would move in with Lottie and Gwen and the baby so that the baby could stay with Lottie and not be taken to another home with the teenager, and really that was the best thing all around. It goes without saying that it would be so hard to have the teenager in her house because, of course, she was a teenager and had never been any good and didn’t even know how to be in a family because she had never had one, although she had many siblings that were somewhere but not with her. Gwen vowed solemnly to anyone who would listen that she would teach the teenager responsibility and needless to say Lottie was skeptical, but then Gwen vowed a lot of things that Lottie knew were silly or wrong but that is not the role of a wife to say so, at least not to her face.

A retirement party was held for the eldest, or nearly eldest of the coworker-friends, who had not really retired but had been forced out by the boss and then quickly replaced by Lottie herself, although it was not Lottie’s fault since it was the boss who did the pushing out and there was nothing Lottie could have done about it anyway especially since it simply hadn’t occurred to her to tell her coworker-friend that she was about to lose her job, and anyway Lottie had only known for a very short week before it actually happened. At the retirement party the coworker-friends clicked and clacked about the teenager’s luck to be taken in by two such wonderful women and to live such a privileged life and maybe be taught a thing or two but in a very kindly way of course. The mean coworker who was really the only one who was not a very special friend to Lottie, although Lottie still did not care and only took a little pleasure in loudly excluding her from a super fun girls’ night that she had planned not so long ago, well this coworker not-friend had her doubts about how Lottie would handle having the so-called mother in her very own house, but the coworker kept her thoughts to herself because she knew better and could only just watch from the side.

Three nights after the move, Lottie was forced to call the police on the teenager, in her very own home no less. The girl needed to be taught a lesson and really Lottie had very good reasons for doing it although she certainly felt bad about doing it, certainly she did, and would even say that she herself had said some not very nice things to the teenager, for example she had said that the teenager would ruin her son the same way her mother had ruined her. Lottie was the first to admit that she had said those not-so-nice things, but the teenager had been being so unreasonable, insisting that Lottie not be called ‘mom’ by the baby who did call her mom, which she was very proud of and bragged about and even showed a video of the baby calling her mom to everyone, although not in front of the teenager for just this reason. And the teenage mother had insisted that she spend time with the baby alone so that he could get to know her and she could get to know him and Lottie had only feared for the baby’s physical and psychological safety when she had called the police, because the teenager had locked the door to her bedroom with the baby inside and refused to let Lottie or even Gwen in. The police had been very nice and told the teenager just how lucky she was that she was living in this house that was not her own, that she had her own nice room and air-conditioning and enough food to eat, that she should be just so grateful and why wasn’t she being grateful and that they, the police, did not want to be called again, which they were not.

The teenager was unhappy at school too, which was tiresome. She did not know anyone at her new school and was not used to being a normal teenager who did homework and lived in someone else’s house, not in a group home where she could come and go as she pleased as she had always done. The girls at the teenager’s new school did not accept her, as teenage girls rarely do, and Lottie gave her very good advice, saying that she was a very special girl because how many of her classmates could say that they lived with two super cool lesbians? But still the teenager was unhappy and did not feel comfortable in Lottie and Gwen’s home where Lottie’s mother and sister and niece and best friend Pal and all her other friends were always coming over and giving her looks while pretending to be kind, and where the girl was reminded in so many ways that it was too late for her but that they all thought it was not too late for her son, yet.

A week before Thanksgiving and the teenager had requested formally, through her social worker and her state-appointed lawyer, to move out of Lottie’s house, back into a group home if necessary, and said that she was going to take the baby with her. More counselors and social workers and of course the lawyer and even a therapist came to the house and they all met together for hours and hours and hours until everyone was exhausted and still the teenager said she would go. What could Lottie do? Her family and coworker-friends were all so outraged on her behalf because why shouldn’t the baby call her ‘mom’ when really that was what she was? Lottie began sneaking the baby into her bed after the teenager went to sleep and as she snuggled him into her she would whisper in his ear that their love was a forbidden love and that no one could know about it, although Gwen didn’t count because she was there in bed too, or sometimes on the couch in the living room.

‘My heart is broken!’ Lottie posted and the sympathy poured in, as it should, and she said that this baby had been a one-time exception to her rule of life and that the next one would be for keeps, she would never never take a foster baby again and that Gwen could finally get that newt she’d been hoping for.  Lottie’s mother and sister and her best friend Pal all said ‘fight for him!’ but what could she do? Her hands were tied, weren’t they? And anyway she wanted that teenager to see just how not-cushy life was outside of her, Lottie’s, house even though the teenager already knew how it was because that had always been her life, on the outside. And if the teenager did not appreciate Lottie then she should go and only come back once she understood how good she’d had it, that really Lottie being called mom was a small price to pay for all that was done for the baby and, to be honest, for the teenager too. Never again! Lottie told her friends at work and even told that sneaky coworker who was not a friend but that could be told a thing or two when one was really really desperate, although she never did give the right reaction to Lottie’s stories.

On Boxing Day, Lottie did not know what that was, although she thought it might have something to do with dogs or packages, the teenager and the baby were whisked away to another town which was not so far away but not so close either, leaving Lottie and Gwen standing on their porch alone. Lottie thought that Gwen crying was a little over the top since she, Lottie, was losing the most, but she was a good wife and rubbed her back and pecked her on her cheek and then they went to the pet store to buy Gwen’s newt. Lottie feared that she herself was moving in the definite direction of a deep depression and so she booked a trip to Las Vegas with Gwen, although she did not like to gamble but she did like the bright colors and all the hustle and bustle and the long drive there and the long drive back, although that might have been more fun with her Pal or really with her very best friend at work who was a little like a lost boy trapped in the body of a little girl.

It occurred to Lottie then, after returning home from the bright lights and the hustle and bustle, that really it had not been so bad having a foster baby all that time and that maybe she and Gwen were not entirely ready for a baby of their own just yet, that another foster baby, perhaps a little girl baby this time, would be just the thing. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to get her foster parent license, anyway, and then they could take in as many babies as they wanted, or at least as many as the state would allow. All the kittens were gone by this time, had been gone since soon after the baby had arrived, and Lottie thought that yes, of course, a room full of babies might be just the thing.

Screen Shot 2020-01-31 at 2.22.47 PMPhoebe Millerwhite is an artist and writer living on the outskirts of Los Angeles. She has degrees in Writing, Literature, and most usefully, Folklore. Her work will appear in High Shelf Press in March 2020, and her nonfiction has appeared in The Los Angeles Times.