Archive for June, 2012

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going swimmingly

June 26, 2012

We drove over to Nia’s current foster home on Saturday afternoon. We got to meet the other kids in the home (both permanently and non-foster visitors from the neighborhood) and then all the kids got in the family’s pool. I’d told Nia that she could decide when she was ready to leave for her sleepover party, which she did once a tween boy got too annoying. We packed both girls in their booster seats and headed back toward our house.

Mara and Nia chatted happily in the car. Nia was very interested in our family makeup and didn’t seem to know what adoption meant, which I guess hasn’t been discussed in her current home. She wanted to know why Mara’s parents weren’t able to take care of her, which is a question that so far I’ve only gotten from other kids in care. I didn’t give her a specific answer, said that it was Mara’s story, but Lee mentioned a little bit of her own history so Nia could see the similarities to her own story. 

Mara showed Nia the house and then the two got down to the hard work of playing. There was a tea party, some costume changes (featuring the first time Mara’d ever let anyone wear her ladybug costume), time in the sprinkler, chalk drawing, bubbles, dolls, and that was all just in the two hours before dinner. One thing that really impressed me was the extent to which Mara and Nia were able and willing to build off one another in play. As they pranced under the sprinkler in their bathing suits, Nia said, “Oh no! It’s raining!” Mara then picked a sprig of clover, held it over her head and said, “That’s okay! I have an umbrella!” Then Nia mimed putting on a coat and handing one to Mara, saying, “Great! And I have a raincoat! Now we can run in the rain!” and then they ran and squealed. 

Both girls wanted to help make dinner, so I let them cut up chunks of watermelon with their plastic knives and help stir the macaroni and cheese. After, neighbor/friends let us go to the private swim club in our neighborhood with them, so the girls and I spent several hours splashing around. Nia has gone from a total non-swimmer at the start of summer to someone who really grasps the basics, though for almost all the time I made both of them keep floating vests on. Following Nia’s lead, Mara finally started putting her face under the water and is now close to being able to do a flip, which is pretty amazing to watch. Both were just laughing and laughing.

It was late when we left, so we put pajamas on, got a movie started and I made popcorn. The girls were thrilled with the popcorn, but Nia soon said that she was tired and ready for bed. Mara really wanted to sleep on the bottom bunk in Nia’s room but didn’t feel ready, so I held her in my lap on the couch in there until she fell asleep, by which time Nia was snoozing too. I popped Mara into the bunk, slipped downstairs to Lee, and realized it was not even 10 pm and we’d successfully navigated the sleep part of the sleepover!

On Sunday Nia woke to find that Mara had snuck out to our bed when she woke in the night, but I was already awake and so the two of us went downstairs. Apparently Mara’s first words on waking were, “Where’s my friend???” The  morning meant meant making breakfast, going to a local park I really like. After lunch Lee had to go to a work function, and the girls and I ended up spending hours at the YMCA’s outdoor pool and splash park. Mara got mopey and needy in the afternoon, I think because she was uncomfortable with how much attention Lee and I had diverted to Nia. She came and lay down on my lap while I read and watched Nia play with the fountains and slide. Both girls pressed me throughout the day to confirm exactly what day their next sleepover could be. I assured them that we’d try to make it soon, then eventually wrestled them into swimsuit coverups and back into the car to take Nia back to her foster family, where I thanked both girls for being such great friends throughout the weekend.

Mara and I went to a used bookstore after as a reward of sorts. During dinner, I talked to her about whether we should be a home for Nia if Nia needed another family to take care of her, and Mara was adamant about saying YES. We talked about how it might make her feel sad again to see her moms taking care of someone else and she agreed but said that she’s good at being happy and sad, which is true. (She also assured me that eating teriyaki “chicken on a stick” makes her feel better, which it certainly seemed to!) 

Nia apparently told her foster mom that she had a great time and likes all three of us, but she didn’t want to talk in too many specifics. Her foster mom suggests this is because the other kids are already jealous and pushing her for details and she doesn’t want to have to bring them along or share something that’s specially hers. To my knowledge, she has not yet been told that she’s going to move in with us. In fact, we didn’t confirm that she would until yesterday. Lee had a bit of a crisis of confidence because it’s scary to look at such a big, uncertain future. We have a great life right now and is it worth potentially messing it up by doing something scary and new? After a lot of talking and thinking, we both decided that yes, it absolutely is.

Tomorrow I’ll get Nia when I finish work and take her to Mara’s gymnastics class at the Y. A new session starts up next month and I’m hoping to have both girls enrolled in the same class. Even though Nia is older, I think her lack of experience will mean that this class is the right one for her. (I think it’s for ages 4-6 but there’s also a 6-8 one, but the teachers understood why it would make my life easier and maybe help Nia and Mara to have them learning the same things at the same time.) There’s a swim class that’s one level more advanced than Mara’s and meets at the same time as hers, and the extra plus is that there are three girls of color out of the four girls in the class already. 

Lee has talked to the director of Mara’s school program and at this point there is a place for Nia in the school-aged kids summer program, sort of like a day camp, which should be a lot of fun for her and will give her both the comfort of being in the same place as Mara plus some physical distance from Mara since their programs don’t overlap much. There she’ll be in a racially and economically diverse setting rather than the not-quite-1% black suburb where she lives and goes to school now.

I think today is when the transition details will get hacked out. We’d been expecting this weekend to be the transition, but our caseworker (who was out sick yesterday and understandably not very involved) suggested doing a whole-weekend visit instead. Nia’s current foster dad thinks a quick transition would be better and her foster mom can see both sides. They do seem happy with the idea of her coming here and I hope it will be easy for them to be supportive and help things go as smoothly as they can for her. I do think the transition will be hard, but I like that she’s clicked with each of us in different ways. Like Mara, she has a lot of resilience and a spark that pushes her to connect in open and accepting rather than fearful ways. I know she will have hard times, too, but she has a lot of strengths to draw from during them and I know we as foster parents will appreciate that. I’m feeling very positive and peaceful about this decision. The current foster mom is convinced this will end up an adoption case, but I don’t have a problem doing the concurrent planning in my head. For now, we’re waiting and will be waiting a while to hear if she can go live with one relative. Well, for now we’re waiting to have her live with us and then we’ll be actively parenting Nia and Mara, which is where a lot of our energy will go. But I don’t have anything invested in the outcome of this process, just a lot of hope that we’ll all have much to enjoy along the way.

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meeting Nia

June 22, 2012

We had told Mara that we were going to meet a new friend, a girl with brown skin who has a worker like she used to, and we told her Nia’s name, which is much more complicated than “Nia” but was no problem for Mara to say or remember. Then both Lee and I got her from school early and headed out to the park in the suburbs where we were scheduled to meet.

Maybe I should backtrack a little and say that Lee and I had counseling in the morning. The way Lee talked about the meeting and the possibility of parenting Nia (which she was talking about as if it were far less than a certainty) really scared me that she was trying to distance herself and that maybe we were making a mistake. Our counselor called her on that and talked to us a lot about how Lee projects her own fear from the hard parts of her childhood onto Mara, who deals with things differently. So Lee is scared to trust and love another child but that doesn’t mean that Mara is. And Lee, to her huge credit, really got it and was able to talk through what’s threatening to her and we both talked about our plans for what to do if things go badly and how to try to keep things going well. I have been so proud of Lee in her parenting during these last months, even including the tail end of the time Val and Alex were with us. She’s growing so much in ways that clearly start out uncomfortable for her, and I’m inspired by that.

So anyway, I was more nervous than I had been because I worried Lee would meet Nia and decide that there was no way this was going to work and then our worker would have to scramble to find a new family for Nia. Instead, it was Lee who asked Nia’s foster mom when we should schedule the upcoming slumber party, since Nia had been told that our worker knew she ‘d been desperate with envy that  her 8-year-old foster sister got to have a slumber party and thought she might be ready to have one with Mara. (That foster sister, the adopted daughter of Nia’s foster parents, has been around the block a few times and apparently said, “Mom, why are you taking Nia to see some people without bringing the rest of us? Is she going to go live with them? Promise you’ll bring her back!” so that idea is out there in the ether now and Nia definitely knew that something was up and was acting more reserved than she normally would.) Anyway, Nia would have preferred to have the slumber party last night and I think Lee was almost as eager as she was.

She is indeed a lot like Mara in terms of temperament. They’re both smart, funny, gentle, warm girls. They didn’t play too intensely together, in part because Nia kept coming to check in on the talking grownups, but they got along well and worked well together and were also comfortable doing their own things. Nia, who just turned 6, is about an inch taller than Mara and her skin and hair are a bit darker. Both Lee and I are sure that people will assume they’re biological sisters, though, as they do have similar body and face shapes. I think her hair is more like Lee’s 4c crimp than Mara’s tiny coils and it’s definitely not as short as I’d been envisioning.

Nia had one bantu knot in the back of her hair and the front parted in the middle with one knot on each side. Lee kept saying afterward that she looked like an adorable little bear, and I think the “ears” may have added to that impression. It’s also the way she sticks out her chin when thinking about something. And she does seem to be both thoughtful and adorable. We got to talk to her and her foster mom for about an hour, after which we were all feeling sweaty and disgusting and done with the park.

Tomorrow all three of us will go over to the foster home, where Nia and Mara can play in the pool. Then the plan is that Nia will come back to play at our house and spend the night. All of this is supposed to happen before Nia or Mara knows the plan is to have Nia move in, but I can see about a million ways that could fall apart and am trying to preplan my responses. In any event, Nia will get to spend time with us and meet our animals and play in our newly beautified back yard, and everything else will go from there. All three of us in the home already are very positive and excited about that.

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so, wow

June 20, 2012

Lee and I talked and talked and talked some more and then told our worker that we’ll accept placement of this 6-year-old girl, whom I’ll call Nia. We’ll meet with her tomorrow in a very casual play-date way, because she doesn’t know yet that she’s going to be moved and our worker (unlike in Mara’s case, her foster family has the same worker we do) and her supervisor think it will be less threatening if she first gets to know us and Mara a bit and then gets used to the idea that she’ll be leaving to go to people who are nice and fun and all the wonderful things we’ll have convinced her we are. Obviously she’s in for a bit of a shock, and I think the transition is going to be really difficult for her, but there’s no real way around it.

Also unlike Mara’s situation, I really like Nia’s foster mother and connected with her well when we talked on the phone yesterday. She’s got lots of great insights into Nia’s behavior and personality and has managed to learn a lot about Nia’s family situation in the months Nia has been with them. It sounds like Nia and Mara are very much alike in a lot of ways, both in terms of their strengths and what’s difficult for them, in part because of the similarities in their backgrounds. Nia is endearing and charismatic, genuinely sweet with other children and animals. She’s thoughtful, resourceful, adventurous but not foolhardy, a good listener. She settled in quickly when moved from her mother’s care to this foster home, where there are plenty of other kids, but her foster mom thinks she’ll do well in a situation that’s not quite so busy, since she’s used to being an only child and being alone.

It’s really unclear what her permanency plan is going to be. Right now it’s technically reunification with her mother, but our worker sounded much more negative about that than I’ve ever heard her before. One out-of-state relative has already been denied custody, though she’s still a great resource for the foster mother and for Nia, who has at least phone contact with her. There’s another one who’s offered to take Nia in, but the process of evaluating her and her living situation hasn’t even begun yet and could take some time. At this point, we’re assuming Nia will at least start school here and it’s completely unclear where things might go from there.

Oh, and before she came into care, Nia was living a few doors down from Mara’s Grandma Joyce. Since the largest point of origin for kids in care in our region is that city and the largest concentrations of poverty in that city are the two places Mara’s relatives live, it’s not a surprise that we’re running into some overlap. I can trust Mara’s family not to spread gossip about Nia, but this means we won’t be having more general playdates over there until we know what’s going on with Nia’s mom. From this, you can tell that there are more reasons to be concerned about contact than there are with Mara’s parents, though I don’t know anything for sure. I’d rather be cautious and work from there, and since this is a pure fostering situation, decisions about visits are made by the judge anyway.

And why did we say yes to Nia so soon after saying no to Talia? There are recent changes in the annoyingl unbloggable situation that hint at resolution, though it’s hard to tell. And it really matters that this is a foster placement rather than an adoptive one. We’re not going into this expecting it to be short-term or to fail, but the dynamics are just different. Talia is an amazing kid and I really wanted to parent her, but because she has so many awesome qualities I think she’ll have an easy time finding a family that recognizes them. While Nia is also described by her worker and her foster mom as “just a great kid,” she has specific struggles that are very similar to some of Mara’s and so we feel comfortable with our ability to at least get a handle on them. (And there’s a hair element to this; apparently Nia has a short afro and hates having it cared for, and while it sounds like her foster mom does a great job styling her biracial kids’ hair and has done what she could for Nia, just being around Mara and Lee and their skin and hair might have some impact on her feelings and preferences. But yeah, after getting Mara’s hair long and healthy, now I’ll get popped right back in the boat of being the white woman whose black daughter’s hair isn’t going to meet community standards. That’s probably good for me, actually!)

While in an adoption situation, I liked the idea of there being four years between Mara and Talia so they’d each have their own identities, on a practical level it’s nice to look into having a girl 16 months older than Mara who can be in the same tumbling class, be in the next swim class up that meets at the same time. If Nia does stick around long-term, because of where their birthdays fall (Nia’s already happened this month, Mara’s not until November) there will be a full grade gap between them, which I also like from an education perspective. Like Val, as far as I know, Nia will be starting first grade in our local school this fall.

I’ll know more tomorrow after I meet her, but the plan is that we’ll try to make sure she and Mara hit it off, then plan a “playdate” at our house for this weekend that can include an overnight if Nia feels ready. Then early next week, the grownups will explain to her why the foster family won’t be able to take care of her anymore, that she’ll be going to us and not losing them forever, and from her response we’ll try to gauge what the best transition plan will be. I really expect this part to be brutal, but we’ll see. The part of the plan that requires an element of surprise means we can’t tell Mara that Nia will be coming to live with us until Nia has been told. But this whole plan is also about giving us an out if we get through this weekend and Lee or I decide we absolutely can’t do it. I’m not expecting that to be the case, but there is some safety built in there.

More to come, obviously!

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follow-up

June 19, 2012

I did send Mara’s dad a Father’s Day text asking when would be a good time for her to call and talk to him. He wrote back that he didn’t have talk minutes on his phone and would put some on and call Monday. I didn’t tell Mara because I didn’t want her to be disappointed if he didn’t do what he’d said he would, but he did call Lee while I had Mara at tumbling, so they got to have a good conversation.

He’s living in our town now, in the area where Mara’s mom hangs out (and maybe lives? I don’t know) and so even though she’s out of contact with us, he’ll probably at least be able to give us general updates about whether she looks like she’s doing okay. I don’t feel any guilt about that because that’s what Mara’s aunts and grandma do, rely on people who live there to pass on information about her condition and if she ever says anything about the kids, since at the moment she’s not in touch with any of them directly. He’s also exactly on my commute to work, since I drive past his complex and then past his place of work, so I do think the carpool thing may end up working out at least sometimes. His walk is not as bad as I’d feared it would be, though, and that’s a relief.

He told Lee where he lived in part because he wanted to let her know that there’s a park right near him and he’d love to have a visit soon where Mara could play in the park. Our past visits have always involved taking Mara to the restaurant where he works when he’s getting off a shift (so first driving by without her that day or the day before to make sure he’ll be free and ready) and then letting her draw on a placemat while we all talk with him. That works, but I’m so excited that he’s following through on doing something different and more fun, that this will be a special occasion he has chosen. Plus it’s not a park we’ve gone to before, though she’s seen it and asked to play there, so she’ll be excited and get to show off some of her climbing and tumbling skills to her proud dad. I’m really excited and relieved about this.

Oh, and our worker asked if we could take a six-year-old girl from her caseload whose foster home is closing. I’m not going to give her a pseudonym yet because we’re in major talks about this and I have no idea what the outcome will be. We’d gotten a comment from our worker a few weeks back that let us know this might be in the pipeline (I believe it’s a medical problem one of the family members is having) and at that point Lee was excited about the possibility and I was very nervous about the age. Yesterday led to my working through what the practicalities would be and getting answers from our worker to a lot of the questions I had and Lee basically freaking out that she doesn’t know how to make a decision about something like this. I guess we’ll talk later, obviously. If we don’t say yes today, our worker will start looking for other families. As you’d probably guess, one of the reasons she’d fit with us is that she’s black and the worker thinks it would help to have her in a home where others are too. (I don’t know if I’d said here that we formally said we weren’t able to commit to Talia at this time, though then Lee brought her up again last night although she was the one who wasn’t feeling ready. Argh, this stuff is hard. Anyway, the workers are looking for an adoptive home for Talia but this 6-year-old girl hasn’t been in care long and still has some relatives who might qualify as guardianship resources for her if she’s not able to go back to her mother’s care.) I’m just throwing this out here in case we end up saying yes, but I don’t have much to say about it yet. Lee has done a lot of work in therapy that’s convinced me we can avoid her response to Val and Alex, but there are lots of other pressures in our life too and it’s hard to feel like we’re trying to predict the future. This paragraph is already longer than I meant it to be, so I’ll just stop.

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Gearing up for Father’s Day

June 15, 2012

I saw Mara’s dad this morning. I was driving to work and he was right there, walking on the sidewalk in the uniform he wears for his job. I thought about stopping to offer him a ride, but he only had a little over a block to go, and so I just kept moving. The other time I’ve seen him walking, I was crossing a bridge and he was walking in the other direction. I waved, but I don’t think he figured out who I was until I’d gone on, because I saw him turning around when I looked in my rear-view mirror.

We haven’t taken Mara to see her dad since April, when I took her siblings (who have their own dads) with us. I knew we’d send him a text on Father’s Day and make plans to see him soon, but now I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to ask if he’d like a ride to work on the days that I’m going that way at the same time. Last I heard, he was moving from the town where he works to the town we used to live in or maybe one beyond that, but it wouldn’t add much time to my commute to pick him up since it’s getting awfully hot to do that much walking comfortably.

Is that weird? I hesitate a bit because it does feels weird, but we’re in a weird situation no matter what. We’ve been in contact for less than a year, so last summer was the time when Mara talked about him incessantly and we tried to give her room to do that without fueling her fantasies. Then we got to meet him and were delighted at how friendly and welcoming he is and how much he clearly adores Mara. I know he’s a hard worker who’s dedicated to what he does, but he can’t be making all that much money and I know a lot of that goes to child support, so he’s probably wisely making the calculation not to spend $4 a day on the bus rides when he can walk instead.

The new <a href=”http://openadoptionbloggers.com/2012/06/13/roundtable-39-fathers-day-open-adoption/“>Open Adoption Roundtable prompt</a> is about Father’s Day. As with Mother’s Day, I don’t really have an open letter to write. I just want to find a way to tell Mara’s dad that we like having him in Mara’s life. We do that by showing up, dropping by with her. We’ve given him pictures of her and of them and pictures she’s drawn. We do that, unfortunately, by explaining to her when she’s upset about it that sometimes he doesn’t follow through on what he’s told her he will do and that this is one of the reasons she needed someone else to take care of her.

Mara hasn’t been talking about her parents as much lately, though she’s still doing quite a lot of baby play. Lee is Daddy Koala, which she’s said she’s okay with, and I’m still Mommy Koala. Again, I figure she’s working things out that way and I’m fine with whatever she’s doing. The other night, though, Mara came racing into our bedroom sobbing and barely awake. She ended up repeating that pattern several times through the night, shrieking and crying. The only thing she could tell me was that it was about her mom, about LuLu-Veronica, as she often calls her now. It was the first time she’d mentioned her mom in almost a week, which is a long time for her. She’s brought her dad up even less. But I know her grief and sadness are still inside somewhere, as is the love that she feels for them and the emotional memories she has from her time before foster care. (And she had a hard time this part of June last year, too. I know it’s got a date that would be a huge trauma trigger for her mom, though I don’t know what Veronica would have been like in the two Junes Mara spent in her care. Her summer in foster care with the family before us was bumpy, I know, and it’s possible that something about heading for summer solstice makes some of her grief bubble to the surface. And I’m thinking of Veronica in what I suspect is a hard time for her every summer, too.)

But there are lots of things going on in our lives. We’ll find a way to tell her dad Happy Father’s Day and that’s an awesome start. Last year we had nothing and no one could figure out where he was living to serve him with the papers to terminate his parental rights. Mara is only 4 and we have a lot of time, all of us, to get things right for her. But I’m so glad we have had at least superficial contact with her parents and now deep connections to her siblings. There’s lots of room for all of ust to grow from here, and Mara has so many people who love her and whom she loves.

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growing familiarity

June 1, 2012

Last summer, our neighborhood wasn’t yet our neighborhood and we decided to go on the garden tour to get a look at things while we waited to find out whether the bank had gotten its act together and was going to have all the mortgage documents done in time to close on our house as scheduled. So there we were, seeing the beauty of the neighborhood, hopeful that we’d soon be a part of that and terrified that our dreams were about to fall apart.

Not quite a year later, our new (110-year-old) house just keeps getting better and better. We’re gearing up to go on the garden tour with a friend of mine from work and my mother, though Lee and I will also be working the welcome booth since we’re garden club members. I remember the excited stress last year, introducing ourselves at times, holding back in case we didn’t end up able to close on the house. Now, though, we’ve got our own garden and I’m hoping we can be the “beginner garden” on next year’s tour, though I don’t expect to do anything fancy until Mara’s older and doesn’t use the whole back yard to play. She chose the vegetables she wants and helped pick out what flowers we’d put in. There are two blueberry bushes that won’t bear fruit this year because the dog ate all the unripe berries but should be ready to meet her blueberry needs (which are extensive!) next summer.

This year we’ll be walking around a neighborhood that is and feels like ours. We’ll go past the house where the dog wears little boots when the garden is wet, the block where Alex’s one friend from preschool lives, the house of the other family who adopted from foster care, the blocks where Mara and I deliver the neighborhood newsletter each month. We are part of a community now and it sometimes it shows up in ways I don’t expect or things I take for granted.

This may not be a natural segue, but I pay a lot of attention to how Mara talks about her parents and how that’s evolved. We talked last night about all her names, that she’s got her first name from her dad and his ancestor (though she likes to use the phrase “first name” as something that flows out of “first parents” and consists of her whole pre-adoption name with her old last name) and her middle name from her mom in honor of a friend and then her two last names from Lee and me. I don’t currently regret that we dropped the last name she got from her mother, because she absolutely identifies with that part of her identity and with being a part of that family despite not sharing the last name. Her brothers have their dads’ last names, so she’s not the only one of the siblings who doesn’t have the family name.

And then there’s the issue of her mom’s name and what to call her. It’s funny because last summer all she wanted to do was talk about her dad and it was easy enough to respond to that with empathy, saying, “Hmm, maybe your dad does like pizza; lots of people do!” or “I wish we knew what your dad was doing and I hope we’ll get to find out soon.” I wasn’t sure at the time whether that was because she had good memories of her dad or because missing her mom was too raw and she wasn’t ready to feel it yet, but I’m definitely tending toward the latter interpretation. After the last time we went out with her relatives two weeks ago, she finally called her mom by the nickname (let’s say LuLu) her family uses for the first time . We’d dropped her sister and cousins off and headed off to a festival where Mara could watch some folk dancing and she reached for me and wailed “I want LuLu” and started sobbing. There is something so primal about this sadness, and I hate that I have to tell her that I’m sorry, that I wish we could see her mom and I hope we will as soon as her mom is ready for that. (Lee has asked me not to go to the projects where I know she hangs out to look for her, and I’m respecting that. If she no longer has my number, and I’m not sure she has the phone I text sometimes to ask, she knows what relatives and caseworkers she could approach if she wanted to get a message to us.)

Mara’s latest major game has been pretending to be a baby koala. This can be annoying from the parental side of things, since koalas want to be held and cuddled at inopportune moments and they also don’t talk. This means you can ask her to do something a few times before she says, “I’m being a koala!” and then you have to ask if she’s a koala who can talk, which is usually the case once she realizes it makes the game easier. She’ll also say, “Mommy Koala!” and I have to say, “Yes, Baby Koala?” before she’ll tell me whatever it is she wants to talk about. She’s started asking me to be LuLu Koala and it’s hard for me to know how to respond to that. Mostly I say, “What would LuLu Koala do?” because this always ends up being another conversation about mom jobs and I don’t want to minimize the good things her mother did but I also don’t want to pretend that everything was great in their home when Mara was a baby, because that’s clearly not the case. For now, I let her set the tone the same way I did in not trying to invent any stories about what her dad might have done or might be doing. That worked out well, but I have a feeling this won’t be as satisfying for her. Figuring out how she feels about her mom, about all of us who are her moms, is going to be a life-long process. But she’s making progress and I’m so proud of that in her.

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