After school every day, Lee or I will ask Mara what she did at school. Her first two answers are always the same, though they don’t always come in the same order. She’ll say, “I ate [whatever it was she ate]” and “I Shauna.” She’s been fascinated by her classmate Shauna since day one, and luckily Shauna liked her back, though one of her teachers thought there was a bit of a triangle dynamic where Mara swooned over Shauna while their classmate Shonte thought Mara was just the coolest thing ever. All three girls played well together, though, and got along well.
Yesterday and Monday, Mara’s answer about school included “and no Shauna!” Not knowing what was going on, we’d say, “Oh, that must have been hard for you to miss your favorite friend. Maybe she’ll be back tomorrow!” Today, though, Lee asked someone in charge and learned that Shauna’s family has moved away and she won’t be coming back. So when Mara was talking about moving to a new house to be able to play with Shauna, maybe she was connecting this with having been told that Shauna has moved to a new house. Maybe she thought she’d eventually be able to live with her beloved Shauna, which is not how it’s going to work. We have a lot to talk about with her, I think.
I’m planning to talk to the head teacher about what the transition was like for the class and how Mara’s addressing Shauna’s absence within the classroom. Maybe she can draw a picture and we can forward it along to Shauna with a note from us moms saying how much Shauna’s friendship meant to her. Meanwhile, though, Mara apparently started crying and calling Shauna’s name while Lee was trying to get her to sleep last night. After all the losses in Mara’s life, we’ve never really seen her grieve before, though we’ve seen moments of sadness and hints of loss.
I do think Shauna was Mara’s first friend, maybe first crush and first love in certain respects too. Even though her other foster family had kids in the same general age range as Mara (3 and 4 when she was 2) everyone’s feeling was that the two of them did things together and Mara either trailed behind or did her own thing. I think she was vaguely fond of them, but she’s been very clear about not wanting to talk about them or contact them since she’s been with us, though I still bring them up in case her answer changes. Now that she’s got language skills and is just older than she was before, though, she’s able to be friendly with the kids in her class and especially with Shauna.
For a long while, Mara’s word for a stranger was “friend,” as in, “Look, Mommy, a friend!” when we’d see a child walking across the street from us. That seems to have been overtaken by role descriptors like the ones she uses for people in books: princess (for a woman or girl in a skirt), mommy, daddy, grandma, grandpa, little boy, or little girl. She briefly thought that Lee and I were little boys and that my bearded father was a little girl, but she seems to recognize gender cues pretty well now and “little boy” or “little girl” seem to be settling as standards.
Shauna was just a little girl, though one who was almost as tall as Mara and who seemed to be especially kind and gentle. At a time when Mara needed it most, she was a friend. Even if Mara forgets her (and I don’t know how the hypervigilance works as a child ages and matures) I know Lee and I will always remember her and the times we smiled about her. Mara has a special finger symbol she makes when she mentions S-is-for-Shauna not unlike her own Mara M. Someday we’ll get to tell Mara these stories, tell her about the time she got frustrated because Shauna and Shonte both annoyed her by playing with the tulips I was carrying when I came to pick her up and then Shauna hugged Mara to make up for it in a way that was genuine and gentle and caring, kissed Mara on the cheek. She had a sweet and easy smile and I was so moved to know for sure that Mara’s adoration wasn’t unrequited.
Mara will have more friends, I’m sure, but today I’m grieving that this first and strongest one is gone. Maybe it seems silly that this loss is hitting me so hard, but Mara has lost so much and it’s really breaking my heart to know that Shauna is now gone too. I’d thought a lot about how to help a child like Mara deal with the losses that being involved with the foster care system brings, but I guess I hadn’t been ready for the losses of standard parenting and the way Mara’s history magnifies them. I just know that Shauna will be missed by all of us.