Diego arrived at the Mission Home as a newborn baby after being abandoned in the street. For the past three years, he has been loved and cared for by one missionary caregiver, Maria.
She was with him for every big milestone and every mundane moment in-between. From curing his reflux, to his transition to solid foods, learning to walk, potty training, and even his first full year of preschool.
About a month ago, my daughters and I attended a birthday party in Maria’s house for one of the toddlers in her care. At the time, there were 9 babies and toddlers living in the house – ages 2 months to 3 years old. They were just concluding the party, and the kids were extra hyper from all the snacks and dancing. Someone accidentally knocked over Diego’s water glass, and Diego began to wail hysterically. Maria carried him to another part of the room and gave him a loving embrace while continuing to oversee the safety of the 8 other children. It seemed like 5 children were simultaneously calling her name. Diego’s crying slowly escalated and became one constant scream. I caught Maria’s eye, and she asked if I could watch the children while she took a moment with Diego, a tear at the cusp of falling down her cheek.
I immediately empathized with Maria in this wholly human and maternal moment. I felt honored to jump into the chaos, having experienced many toddler meltdowns myself (and I only have 2 little ones to contend with!). Within minutes Maria was back in the mix of things, having consoled Diego with personal attention, and ready to take on the never-ending needs of the children in her care. She later told me that earlier in the day the Mission Home psychologist had told Diego that he had been matched with an adoptive family and would soon leave the Mission Home. Maria understood that his meltdown at the party was a reflection of his heightened emotions anticipating this upcoming change. She also shared that she herself was feeling emotional at the thought of saying goodbye to Diego. But she felt confident that her role was to bridge the gap for Diego, and all the children in her care. Not to replace a constant and loving caregiver, but to be there for the time when those people did not exist.
Last week, Maria packed all of Diego’s clothes and gave him one last hug before dropping him off with his mom and dad, his adoption having been finalized that morning. She shared that she cried tears of joy when she saw the three of them embrace.
Maria’s idea of “bridging the gap” reminded me of what we try to do at Mission Santa Maria. We cannot heal the trauma that each child at the Mission Home has endured or change the poverty of our families in our area who can’t afford to feed their children or send them to school. But we can try and bridge some gaps. Maria was the loving, sturdy bridge between Diego’s abandonment and his adoptive family, we can be the bridge for the children in our programs. A bridge to safe and sufficient shelter and care for the children at the Mission Home. A bridge to high quality education for all our scholars at the Mission School. A bridge to professional degrees and better employment opportunities for our university program graduates. We are honored to stand with women like Maria who carry out this work. Thank you for helping us build bridges this year.