October 23, 2012

I probably wrote here that Mara and Nia made it three months without an argument, which isn’t quite right. We were a day or two before the three-month mark when I heard “Mara needs to just leave me alone and STOP talking!” “You not TELL me, Nia!” But really, at this point (a week shy of four months) that’s still where we are. The two of them get along so well. And sure, yesterday Mara asked for an extra lollipop for Nia and then ate it and told Nia about it, at which point Nia blew up and announced that she’d saved a pack of Smarties she got from her teacher for Mara and now she was going to eat THEM, but it’s all normal stuff and they don’t take it personally even when Mara has asked when Nia can go back to her own family and Nia has cried that she doesn’t like Mara. (In both cases, those have happened while the kids were processing things about their families or their grief about missing them, which is still a topic that brings out amazing empathy in them. When Nia said she didn’t like Mara, Mara sort of shrugged and said, “It’s okay to cry, Nia. I think you miss you mom.” and then Nia cried more and didn’t complain about Mara wanting to sit in “Nia’s” carseat anymore.)

Part of why this works is that both girls are awesome! Cheerful and easygoing, thoughtful and imaginative, they complement each other well. Lee and I have been trying to make sure we do things with the girls individually, but that usually means putting up with whining and crying in the car about “Why can’t SHE come TOO???” before getting to wherever we’re going and having fun as a duo. They understand that they have different preferences, but they still enjoy doing things together and finding things the other would like and bringing them to her attention.

Part of it, too, might be the novelty. Nia’s previous foster home had an 8-year-old girl who shared Nia’s room and they were close, but I think Nia felt like a tagalong a lot of the time, being taken to her ball games and trying to keep up with the trio of friends who ran around the neighborhood and spent every day in the pool. There were boys, too, but she definitely didn’t consider them brothers and it doesn’t sound like she used “sister” as her word there. Now, though, she gets to take the nurturing, teaching role she loves, gets to be the one to show Mara how to do things, and that’s a good fit for her personality, which I think might be why she’s open to the idea. Mara knows and loves her sisters on her mom’s side, but never actually lived with any of them. Her 6-year-old sister is not much like Nia, though all three get along. So in some sense Nia’s filling in a role that would have existed for Mara if her family had been intact, but I don’t know whether this hypothetical world should include Trinity being able to achieve what she might have if her early life had been different. (Trinity is having a hard time and I’m not doing what I could to reach out to Mara’s family and help. I’m aware of this and it eats at me, but I’m trying so hard to have boundaries that mean not destroying myself to try to help other people. I may regret this deeply in the future, but I’m afraid I’d regret it if I got more involved too and let balls drop at home. I can suggest resources and try to get professionals involved and interested, but I just can’t be there on a day-to-day basis.)

At any rate, Mara and Nia are “sisters” to one another because that’s what best describes the relationship to them, and I think it makes sense but I’m not always sure what to do with that idea. They’re almost inseparable best friends of different ages who live together at least for the time being. When people ask me if they’re twins, which happens all the time, it’s easy to say “No, 6 and 4!” and let the conversation go on to how tall Mara is. (Nia’s 85% percentile for height and weight and Mara’s within an inch of her at 16 months younger, so height is noteworthy for both girls.) When I’m out with Nia and people who don’t know about Nia see us and comment how big Mara’s getting, it’s easy to introduce Nia and point out that she’s someone new, and luckily she’s very understanding about that and enjoys the attention. It’s much more rare that I’m asked if they’re sisters and I try to deflect the question because I don’t want to lie and say yes and I don’t want to devalue what they have and say no and also it’s really not anyone’s business. I really need to get them to weigh in on what they prefer right now.

(Sorry, readers, that there will probably be a lot of marginally vapid posts like this. One of the ways to feel like I have time to myself is to get back to writing, and that includes writing here. That means I need to find my creaky way to say my little things.)

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  1. Thanks for writing. I always appreciate your posts.

  2. Thank you for sharing your “little” things. I’m not a parent yet (nor super close to it), but I appreciate how much you share about both the lovely things and the hard things (for you in a couple and for the kids you love). I think your blog might be the best I’ve come across so far for good insight into self-aware and child-focused parenting that also keeps in mind what the world contributes (the specifics of how race/class/gender/sexuality/families exist), and your own self-care.

    I hope that doesn’t sound objectifying or buzzwordy; I just wanted to let you know the value of you sharing your words with this particular reader.

  3. I like the idea of getting them to wiegh in on what they want, and agree that it’s no one else’s business to know the details. I also wonder why it would be a lie to say they are sisters. What you wrote describes sisters. They just happen not be bonded by DNA or full legal status and yet still sisters. I think stories like this is what will help people reshape the definintion and idea of family. I’m not sayig you should say they are sisters if it doesn’t feel right to you, but I don’t think saying that they are is lying. I think it affirms what they are now in this moment.

    • That’s a really good point, Maruka. Something about fostering gives me a mental hangup about not wanting to “claim” too strongly. I mean, even though I’m not the one who legally adopted Mara, I absolutely say she’s my daughter. But before she was adopted, it felt presumptuous to deny that she’s also her parents’ daughter by claiming her as my own. I think I’m feeling that same kneejerk reaction to calling the girls sisters (and I’ve usually sidestepped the question by saying “They’re quite a pair!” or something like that) when talking to other people who don’t know what’s going on because I don’t want to feel like I’m trying to delude myself or anyone else. But you’re right that the legal status and the DNA status are not the only ones that matter, in our home or in many others, and you’ve given me a lot to think about!

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