The other night we met Mara’s kindergarten teacher, who has lots of experience and is excited to have Mara in the class. (And we met her teen daughter, who’s best friends with Nia’s best friend’s big sister, because this is a small town!) It’s a small class, not even 20 kids, and there will be several other children of color, I think one other black girl, one girl who looks biracial and has a white mom, at least two Latinas, and that’s just of the half the class who showed up to meet the teacher.
Mara and Nia took part in (and took gold in!) a long jump contest a few weeks ago, and the probably biracial girl was the other participant from our town, so they got to know her a bit. She’s also on the cheerleading team with Nia, so we’re seeing her twice a week at practices there. Mara’s cousin we’d hoped would be in her class has moved out of her district, but at least she got to see that there’s someone familiar, that there’s at least one other girl who seems to have brown skin and a white mom, that there’s a girl whose mom (like Lee) won’t be there on the first day because she’s a teacher. The other families from our neighborhood with kids in the public school will be gathering for dinner on the night before school starts, so we’re working on creating a community that will help her transition to her new school easily. Plus there’s Nia, who’s thrilled about getting to be the expert who will help the younger kids find their footing!
I guess I didn’t write about this here last year, but the girls and I had met up with Mara’s mom Veronica at last year’s back-to-school night, which she attended with a neighbor of hers, and then got to meet a family who used to babysit Mara sometimes when she was tiny. We haven’t talked to Veronica in months because the phone number I had wasn’t working anymore, but I reminded Mara that we’d seen her last year and so she might show up this year too. I didn’t think to remind Lee, who was coming with us this year, but while I was still talking to Mara’s teacher and the girls and Lee had headed outside to have snacks, Lee saw Mara take off toward some woman and give her a big hug, and it was only after she’d done a double-take that she realized it was Veronica. Mara couldn’t explain when Lee asked her later how she knew it was Veronica, whether she knew it was Veronica, but it clicked for her immediately and she got a hug she’d been waiting for since last fall.
Just hanging out with Veronica at the back-to-school carnival night meant sometimes she was sitting on the steps with her friend and sometimes she was holding Mara’s hand in line, sometimes I was chatting with the principal and at one point I held Mara and she was able to hug me and Veronica at the same time. It was upsetting for Mara because it brought forward all her sadness about missing her mom, and sad for Nia because she still doesn’t get to see her mom and is always a little unsettled when there’s contact with Mara’s family, and was of course a bit weird for Veronica. But the moments when Mara had three moms supporting her felt great and natural to me at least, and I’m quite sure they did to Mara.
Later, Lee mentioned this meeting to the principal, who wanted to make sure Mara would understand that school was a safe place and that only people who are allowed to be in the building can be there, that this open festival atmosphere was unusual. She encouraged us to make sure the girls’ parents names and pictures are at the front desk so that they can be denied entrance, which is something they recommend in all cases where someone doesn’t have custody. It’s probably a good idea just for safety in Nia’s case, because a TPR date is going to be set in the next week and I don’t know what kind of response her mom will have to that, though I’m thinking about calling to talk to her now that things seem more stable in terms of what’s going to happen in Nia’s future. It’s hard to imagine she’d show up at school and I definitely don’t think Nia would go with her willingly or that even without special scrutiny she’d even get past the front desk, since they called me for permission to let a different caseworker take Nia to a visit just to make sure I knew what was going on and approved of it (even though I’m pretty sure that caseworker I’ve never met has more right to say what happens to Nia than I do.) And it’s weird to be holding these thoughts simultaneously with working on open adoptions. If Mara sings in the chorus, of course we’ll invite her parents to the shows and probably offer them rides. Nia’s grandmother is already making plans to watch her cheerleading. They are part of our lives and part of our families, but there are also dividing lines too and that can be awkward for us as parents and certainly for the girls, who feel so much love but also loss and I’m sure divided loyalties. In the end, both girls held it together and had a nice time, then slept hard and got up for one of their last days at camp. Soon they’ll be back to school and starting a new chapter of their lives. I’m grateful to get to be there with them, but always mindful of the ones who aren’t in that position.