As I’ve said a few times, Mara has been telling me that she wants me to go live somewhere else so everyone in the family can have brown skin. Two nights ago, she elaborated that she wanted Nia to go with me so that she could move her South Asian best friend in to be her little brother. I don’t know if I’m dealing with this the right way, but I didn’t get upset or anything, just pointed out that she knows her friend’s parents and that they are taking care of him the right way and that he shouldn’t need a foster family because of that. I didn’t really take it seriously because I know she’s working out her own view of the world and not trying to hurt my feelings.
The next morning, I was getting dressed for work when Mara woke up and went in to snuggle with Lee, who takes her to school later than Nia and I have to make our own morning trip. Suddenly I heard hysterical sobbing and went in to find that Mara was losing it over the thought that I was getting ready to go to work and never come back. I scooped her up, took her back to the rocker in her room, and eventually got her to calm down and talk to me. Obviously she’s learned that sometimes parents go away and don’t come back, so I knew that was part of her worry, but I decided to flat-out ask if she was feeling sorry that she’d told me she wanted me to go away, and she agreed that that was her impetus. We had the usual talk, about how it doesn’t matter what she says or what she does, that I’m going to keep being her mom and keep loving her. I think she felt better, though I can tell some of her sadness and confusion is still swirling around inside her.
Then yesterday Nia came home from school with a card she’d made me that read I LOVE MY MOM, which she confirmed was meant for me. She’s called me “Mommy” like Mara does, most recently saying “I need Mommy Time too!” and things like that, but I’ve only heard her refer to me as her mom once before. We’re quickly coming up on the anniversary of her removal and are expecting to see some behavioral and emotional fallout connected to that, and I think playing with putting me in that “mom” role is part of that. However, she blew the positive momentum she had going by passing Lee a card she’d made her that read I HAT MY MOM. On the plus side, she’s never actually called Lee anything close to “mom” before, but the negative side is pretty obvious. Lee’s feelings were hurt, which didn’t seem to have occurred to Nia as a likely outcome, and Lee stayed sort of cranky for the rest of the night, having a little conversation with Nia about how we don’t say “hate” (which she knows is on Mara’s banned words list right now) and how saying that is unacceptable, which is probably not how I would have put it but still what she was feeling. I’m not sure what feelings Nia had been trying to convey, but think it was a joke of sorts but also a comment on how she likes me more than she likes Lee most of the time.
One of the reasons I haven’t been writing here is that I keep reading all this stuff about how someday your children will read everything you’ve written about them. I know that’s true and I know it’s a possibility and so it’s been very hard to think about how to write about the confusion we feel about whether to agree to adopt Nia if her mom’s rights are terminated, which is a process that will probably begin as early as next month though stretch on from there. Lee and Nia butt heads a lot. Lee is not having the trouble she did with Val and Alex, but she’s a better adoptive and pre-adoptive parent than she is a foster parent. The uncertainty unsettles her and triggers some of her own concerns and just generally doesn’t bring out her best. I think some of this is race-based, that Nia also doesn’t expect the best from Lee because she knows what black moms are like and how they can let you down and be inconsistent. So they come at each other with their fight-or-flight responses at the ready and then wonder why things aren’t comfortable between them.
Also, Lee doesn’t know a ton about child development and since Mara is behind Nia age-wise, we’re going through stages with Nia first and some of them scare Lee. “Will she keep dropping her pencil on the floor while she does homework forever?” I dunno, probably not. She’s SIX, and soon she won’t be six anymore and she’ll do different things. Probably some of them will be annoying, but a lot of them will involve greater responsibilities and so forth. I’ve seen her grow in her time with us and I’m really not worried that she’s going to become a monster or anything, though I too have concerns about how good I’ll be at keeping up with her stereotypical girliness and how extreme her extroversion is.
If her fairy godmother showed up and said that she was sorry she’d been away but was ready to take Nia to a magical home where she’d be surrounded by friends at all times and have round-the-clock nurturing attention and get to watch magical Disney shows that aren’t all about looking cute to get a boyfriend but would still make her happy and where her clothes would always meet her standards as “cute,” well, I think we might be relieved that she’d be going somewhere perfect for her but very sad to see her go. I really have a hard time imagining how crushed Mara and I would be to lose Nia, because just thinking about it feels overwhelmingly sad. I think Lee would be very sad, too, but guarding her heart as strictly as she has means she doesn’t have as much to lose either, and I realize that’s the point.
Right now, though, there’s no fairy godmother on the horizon and all her known family members have been ruled out as options. So I’m stuck with feeling like we are not the best family for her in the whole entire world, but we’re a family where she’s found a place for herself and has flourished and I realize that’s not nothing. When she and Lee do end up stressing each other out, my initial response is to be sympathetic to Nia because Lee needs to act like the adult she is, and yet we have a policy of backing up each other’s parenting decisions as much as possible, so usually I’m walking a fine line there. And ultimately, there’s this family that we already have and if I believe Lee is not going to be able to function effectively and appropriately as Nia’s mom — which I’m not at all convinced is what’s going to happen, but it’s my worst-case scenario — then I can’t sign off on an adoption and I’m going to have to agree to break my own heart and have them find a new home for her. Ugh.
Lee is actually not a bad foster parent, and I want to make that clear. She’s not hurting Nia or hurting Nia’s feelings inappropriately (and you have to understand that Nia claims Lee hurt her feelings by asking her to put her dirty clothes in the hamper, so basically she’s six) but just doesn’t have the same sort of connection she has to Mara and doesn’t seem willing to put in the work she’d have to do to get to that point, or at least not while there’s still some chance Nia might go home. All of this, too, is heartbreaking for me because it turns out I’m pretty good at being a foster parent, and so here’s that whole potential future closing off to me because Lee can’t and won’t keep up. Of course it’s selfish of me to be hung up on that, but that’s part of it. Being a foster parent is just too much for Lee, though she’s still convinced it would be easier for her with a boy than with a girl and that she really wants to parent a boy, which will probably happen because she’s getting calls from the state pretty regularly.
I’m terrified to do more and I’m even scared to put this out here because I imagine people will talk about me and ask how could I even contemplate bringing a little boy into a home where he might not be loved and treated equally, where he might end up having to leave to go to another foster home rather than back to family. I know that stuff, really, and I’m honest about it. All of this is brutally hard for me, and there are plenty of times I’ve thought that we should just quit and not risk it. But if Lee is convinced she can do better and I’m convinced she can do better, I want to give her the chance to do that. And maybe adding a third will make it easier for her to find better emotional space for Nia. Maybe it will be a failure and they’ll both have to leave and we’ll close our home. I have no idea at all.
I didn’t really plan on going into so much detail here. Like I said, it feels inappropriate to even be talking about this, but it’s also what’s on my mind all the time. It will be there when I pick Nia up from school and hug her and ask about her day and when she bounds into the living room to hug Lee and talk to Lee about what went on at school. The truth is that she loves Lee, too, and Lee admits that she loves Nia even while she’s guilty about feeling that the love she has isn’t enough. They’ve both just been pushed off the path of easy, exuberant love by their tough early relationships with their moms, and I know they have the capacity to get through it and figure things out, especially the one of them who’s had decades to work on it. But Mara’s fantasy of a home for her and Lee is not on the table at all and wouldn’t be a good idea even if it were. We have the family we have and that will include Nia for as long as it can, I honestly hope forever. At least all four of us can enjoy it as best we can for what it is now, and most days we do that.
Whatever happens, I got to be a mom and I got to be loved, and that’s huge and so much more than I once would have thought I could have done. I have a lot of thoughts and big feelings about coming to the end of fostering in the next year or so, but I’m so glad and grateful that I got a chance to do it and I have so much love and respect for the children and families I’ve gotten to know in the process. I wouldn’t change that part for anything.