Mara was so excited about Mothers’ Day this year and how she was going to cook us breakfast, though she ended up just doing her usual Sunday morning egg-mixing to help me along. Lee got a text from Mara’s dad wishing us a happy Mothers’ Day, though I think she may have responded with a bit of a guilt trip about how he should make plans to see Mara if he’s trying to reach out. We spent one day last week with Mara’s siblings (all but the eldest) and many of her cousins, some of whom we were meeting for the first time. And then Saturday morning we went to the zoo with one of Mara’s student teachers (the one in a wheelchair who so impressed Lee by calling Mara “gifted”) and some members of her family, including their little one who’s in foster care. After that, Lee dropped Mara and me at the mall to hang out with Mara’s cousins and her grandmother, though her siblings had dropped out of the trip and we didn’t realize that or I might not have bothered. I’m glad I did, though, because her cousins (11, 9, and 3ish) are great kids and were super sweet with Mara.
We didn’t have any contact with Mara’s mom, which is not surprising since we haven’t for a long time. Her own mother hasn’t heard from her since Christmas, but one of the aunts has a friend who sees her regularly and so knows that she’s alive and okay even if she’s not reaching out to any of us.
So when the latest <a href=”http://openadoptionbloggers.com/2012/05/08/roundtable-38-mothers-day-open-adoption/“>Open Adoption Blogger Roundtable</a> was about what you’d want to say to someone on Mothers’ Day, I knew I’d want to talk to Mara’s mom, Veronica, but I don’t actually feel comfortable just writing an open letter. I know (or at least I’m awfully, awfully close to complete certainty) that she’s not reading here and that all I’d be doing is rehearsing what I might say to her someday if we get to the point where we can talk about this.
In some sense, I’ve already told her what I’d want to say. When we talked on Christmas, I hugged her and said, “We pray for you.” That’s a strange thing to say when I’m an atheist and don’t pray for anyone, but I do lead Mara in somewhat wishy-washy prayers (sometimes bracketed as “Someone who prays might say, ‘God, I am thinking of my Mom and Dad and brothers and sisters with love and I hope that they had a good day and….’”) because I want her to feel comfortable praying about her family if that’s what she wants to do when she gets older. I do wish Veronica well and hope for great things for her. I would love to get a chance to know her better, to see all the wonderful things that must be inside her because she’s passed them on to her children. But I don’t pray because I don’t think there’s anyone I’m praying to, and getting into that in our first conversation seemed entirely unnecessary.
Last year, Mothers’ Day was the day before the hearing that would terminate Mara’s parents’ parental rights. Both years, it was also the anniversary of a life event I know has traumatic resonance for Veronica. So I took Mara to church because back then I was better about making an effort to take her to a church where she’d hear the kind of music her siblings hear in church but where she’ll also see a whole room full of other kids with brown skin like hers and two moms like hers (except not interracial like us, since the only other interracial couple broke up). Church ends with an altar call and the only time I’ve ever gone up is when I’ve specifically been asked to, like when there was a prayer for everyone involved with the tutoring ministry. The ministers know I don’t pray, and so does most of the congregation since it was considered juicy gossip for a time.
On Mothers’ Day last year, though, I asked Mara if she thought we should go up and have the ministers pray for us and for her mom. She was only 3 and I don’t know what she understood of that request, but she said yes. So I picked her up and walked to the altar and I don’t think I invented the gasps I heard from people who were probably assuming I’d finally accepted Jesus and wanted to join up. Instead, I said to one of the ministers that Mara’s mom’s rights were going to be severed the next day and that even though I thought it was the right decision, my heart was breaking for her and I wanted the ministers to pray for peace for her. I don’t remember many of the details, just that I held Mara and several of the ministers surrounded us and put their arms on ours and around us and they prayed and we cried. Mara didn’t squirm but cuddled against me, seemed to listen and feel soothed. I sobbed and it was cathartic to be able to sob around people who understood why I was crying and felt peace and love for me, as they did for Mara’s other moms. At least one of the ministers had an addiction history, and I know they were drawing on their own lives and their own families to understand the pain of a parent who can’t parent and the child who loves and yearns for that parenting anyway. I thanked them then, but maybe I should thank them again now.
Mothers’ Day never gets to be an unmixed joy for me. I miss Mara’s mother and I hurt for her and hurt for Mara, missing her. Mara has gone from calling her “my mom” or “my Veronica” to “my mommy,” the same name she uses for me. But when she told Lee she wanted her mommy and Lee said, “Mommy’s in the kitchen” or wherever I was, Mara immediately responded, “No, I want <em>MY</em> mommy.” This isn’t the infamous “real mom” comment, but it’s close and I think it shows that Mara’s moved through some of her anger toward her mom and into grief. She still wants to talk a lot about breastfeeding, not sure she believes me that Veronica wouldn’t have milk for her anymore if she asked for it. While Mara and Lee have gotten so much closer in ways that are impressive and exciting to me, it’s clear that she connects me to the sort of primal baby-nurturing role (maybe because my parental leave meant I got to play that role for her first few months with us when she sort of became an extension of myself) and so I’m not surprised that my name-term has transitioned to being her name for the nurturing and comforting aspect of her mom.
There’s also the complication of being one of her two day-to-day moms, and the one without legal standing. I don’t think about it much anymore, but occasionally something will pop up and I’ll have to tell someone or think about having no rights to Mara. I’m her mother, sure, and we celebrate that, but it’s complicated and sad beneath the joy that I feel in being a mom and specifically Mara’s mommy.
So what I want to say is something I did get to say to Mara’s mom, that I do see our connection as being based on loss and sadness as well as on this amazing little girl. I got to tell her that we pray for her, that we think of her and talk about her, that we call her Mara’s mom. I got to tell her how sorry I am for the trauma that I think set off the rest of the intervening decade of hard times, how I think of that too. I love her daughter, I love her family, I have a certain love for her from even before the time we met. And yes, I prayed for her as best I could. She and Mara deserve that.