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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Give and Take

Elly Swartz

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)



Baby Girl

Baby Girl is the name written on her birth certificate, but I think that’s a bit sad. Mom calls her Isabelle. That feels way too formal for a silky-soft, chubby day-old baby who smells like powder. So I name her Izzie.

I know I’m not supposed to get attached. To the baby or her name. Both are temporary. That’s what Rita said. She’s the woman with the rainbow-striped sweater who owns Caring Adoptions. She said this little one is with us for only a speck of time. Then she’ll go to her forever family. Who will give her a forever name.

But truth is, I got attached the second I saw this bundle of sweetness. I mean, only a zombie or my big brother, Dillon, wouldn’t fall in love with this tiny human with long, slender fingers that wrap around my thumb. But I’m not the only one attached.

Last night, my little brother, Charlie, said, “I love my new baby sister,” as he hopped onto my lap to read Where the Wild Things Are.

“You know she’s not your sister for keeps,” I reminded him.

And myself.

“But maybe if I’m really good, she’ll stay,” he said, “and I’ll get to be somebody’s big brother.”

I hugged Charlie. “It doesn’t work that way, Bear.”

Sadness stretched across his freckled face.

I repeated what Rita had told us—that Izzie isn’t our sister for keeps. She’s our sister for a smidgen. Rita said it had to do with the birth parents needing that time to make a plan. A really good plan. To decide if adoption is right for them. And, if it is, to find a loving home with a loving family. So in two days, two weeks, or a month, we’ll need to return our little bundle to Rita and the agency.

Like a library book.

But I don’t want to tell Charlie that.

Because to me, she feels like my baby sister.

Even if it’s for just a few days.


The Green Jell -O Declaration

I’m not really supposed to call her my sister. That was another thing Rita told me in our meeting after the green Jell-O declaration.

It was Try-This Tuesday family dinner. No one had guessed the experimental ingredient in our maybe-meat lasagna. Not Gramps, Dad, Dillon, Charlie, or me. Green Jell-O with yellow and red fruit chunks was for dessert. Mom was superproud of it. I’ve never really been a fan of desserts that jiggle and contain no chocolate. But Mom told me it was a special one that Nana used to make when Mom was a little girl, so I took a bite. Then Mom stood up and said, “Dad and I have an announcement.”

Dillon and I looked at each other. The last big announcement was that they’d bought new salt and pepper shakers shaped like our dog Batman. I’m not sure that qualified as announcement-worthy. But then Mom said, “We’ve decided to take in a newborn baby awaiting adoption.”

Mom smiled like she was full of happiness, so I told my parents that I thought it was a good idea. Dillon wanted to know if this meant he couldn’t try out for the travel basketball team, and Charlie danced around the kitchen, chanting, “I’m going to be a big brother!”

The next day, after my parents reassured Dillon that he could still try out and told Charlie that our fostering was short-term, we took a family field trip to Caring Adoptions. Mom said Rita had to be certain we’d be good temporaries.

I wasn’t sure what that meant until Izzie arrived with tiny fingers and steel-blue eyes and the smell of powder. Now I know that taking care of little ones for a speck of time is an important job. Maybe the most important.

Caring Adoptions was bright, and the bells on the office door chimed when we entered. Rita greeted us, and said that she’d talk to Dillon first, me second, then Charlie with Mom and Dad. While Dillon met with her, Charlie sat on the green carpet, playing with a floppy teddy bear. Mom and Dad held hands at the too-small table. Mom looked happier than I’d seen her in a while. Her face was soft and warm. And less sad. After Nana died a year ago from some infection that crept into her lung, Mom had a great big hole in her heart. I know because I had one, too. Mom said I shouldn’t worry. She just needed time. To heal.

But then last month, Mom put on her Women-in-Charge T-shirt and went to a conference for women-run small businesses. Mom joined the group when she started The Application Adviser, to helps kids applying to college. At the morning workshop on networking strategies, she met Rita and learned that a newborn was coming who needed a home. A loving home. For a short time.

After Mom’s big announcement, I realized that maybe Mom didn’t really need time. Maybe she just needed a new little human to love.

I sank into the big, fluffy blue couch in the waiting room and wondered if it was that way on purpose. To make visitors like me feel safe. And tucked-in. Then I looked around and realized I was surrounded by hundreds of cards with pictures of smiling babies and happy parents, and words like wonder, peace, miracle, and joy.

When Dillon came out of Rita’s office, it was my turn to go in.

Rita was wearing a sweater with all the colors of the rainbow. I liked the orange stripe best. It reminded me of Pumpkin Pie, my favorite colored pencil. The sign above Rita’s desk said:


“Hi, Maggie. Thanks for coming.” Rita offered me a piece of butterscotch candy from the bowl on her desk. The candy reminded me of Nana. Butterscotch was her favorite. I wondered if that’s something she remembers in heaven.

We talked for a while about seventh grade, apple picking at Billow’s Orchard, and how chocolate cake with chocolate icing and chocolate chips might be the best dessert ever. Then she asked, “How do you feel about being a foster sister?”

“Sounds good. I mean, I like being a sister, so I think I’ll like this, too. Plus, babies are supercute, and Mom and Dad said these babies really need us.”

“That’s true. These babies do need lots of love. This is an important job, Maggie. A special kind of fostering. It’s for a few days, a week, or a handful of weeks at most, until the babies can go to their forever families.”

I twirled the candy around my mouth with my tongue. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure. Anything.” Rita popped one of the butterscotch candies into her mouth.

“If these little ones are going to be adopted, why do they need us? I mean, why don’t they just go right to their forever families?”

“In Massachusetts, birth parents can’t sign papers allowing an adoption until four days after birth.”


“It gives the birth parents time to select their baby’s forever family and to make sure adoption is the best decision for them and the baby. That’s where I come in. I help them find a loving short-term foster family that can take care of their baby while they’re figuring these things out.”

“Like us.”

“Yes, like all of you,” Rita said. “But remember, Maggie, you’re not the baby’s forever sister.” She smiled. “Your family’s job is to help this little one have a wonderful start to life. And not to get too attached.”

Turns out I’m not so good at that last part.

Copyright © 2019 by Elly Swartz