A couple of weeks into the second round of fostering, and it’s all coming back. The little things I’d forgotten. Those things that come up when parenting other people’s children.

Like, the other people.

Like, the mom who birthed this child who now sleeps under my roof and eats dinner at my kitchen table. The child I put on the bus each morning, and make a snack for when he gets home each day. The child who, let’s face it, has a lifetime of problems waiting for him because of the woman who carried him inside her for nine months and the father who disappeared.

So I take him for a visit.

I drop him off, go for coffee, kill time in the mall, and pick him up a few hours later. He and mom and the social worker come around the corner of the government building, and he can hardly carry the bags of stuff he’s bringing back with him. The dollar store stuff. More toys and more candy than one child can carry in his arms is, well, too much.

It’s way too much, and it’s not enough.

I’d forgotten this part of it. The heartbreak of mothers and fathers loading their children up with all this other, because they can’t take them home.

And I want to say, stop it. Stop substituting all this crap for the thing he really needs. Stop pretending this matters. Get your act together. Stop using. Quit being addicted. Get a job. Be a parent.

But I don’t. I exclaim over the new toy cars and I cringe inside at the bags of candy and I watch as she hugs him and promises him, again. This time detox will work and when she is done, they’ll be together.

I want to believe that.

I help him pick up his stuff, and we walk to the car. He fills the back seat with it all, unwraps a candy bar, and I stand outside to talk to the social worker for a minute.

We’ll see how it goes, she says.

And it makes me sad, because this is the most hopeful statement she can make.