“Will she see what I made her? Can we mail it to her?” My 8-year-old daughter is looking at me with wide, hopeful eyes. How can I possibly explain this to her?
“Well sweetie, we can hold onto it for her. If we get an address or if she contacts anyone, then we can let her know we have this.” Mary looks crushed.
She has spent the better part of an hour making a “memory box” for her other mother. We decorated it with glitter and hearts and stickers. She has lined it with a soft felt lining. We have all of her school pictures and her sports pictures gathered to put inside. Mary has written her a letter.
I had the idea that making this memory box would be helpful for our children. They have a lot to say to her. That other mother. The mother who had them first. She had Mary until age 3 and Carl until age 5. In the years after they came into care the siblings were separated, their first mom came and went, tried at times and not at others. So much has happened.
In those first years, their years with her, bad things happened. Our children still carry the psychological and physical scars of their first home. There was severe neglect, physical abuse, and intermittent abandonment. Scary things happened to them. Painful things happened to them at the hands of this other mother.
Still. Love must have happened, too. No matter what, a child loves their parent. According to the older siblings there were some good times, too. It was her voice they heard in utero. They took their first steps with her and said their first words. It was in her house that they played together. That first home is the last place all six children lived together (the 7th baby came later.) She was the one who spent those first years with them good or bad. I am amazed at my daughter’s capacity to hold so much love in her heart. Beautiful Mary sees the good in people despite their struggles. I hope she knows that this first mother loved her. I believe this wholeheartedly.
I don’t have much to go on about their other mother. I have the DCF file, of course, and I have what our children and their siblings have told me. I’ve only met her once. She refused further visits and contact. In our adoption agreement my husband and I offered to send pictures and updates. She is entitled to three supervised visits per year.She refused. I imagine it’s too painful but I hope someday she will want to see how these beautiful children grew.
I don’t know her story. At least, I only know the parts that the children have told me. DCF has shared things with us but when it comes down to it, I believe my kids. I try not to judge her because her choices were influenced by mental health issues and narcotics. I believe the older siblings about what they remember from that first family. Adoption is hard. It all starts from a loss. Everyone with the exception of my husband and myself, has lost so much in this process.
My husband and I get the report cards and sports games. We will go to recitals and play dates and birthday parties. We get the hugs and kisses and cuddles. But we also get the trauma. We spend a huge chunk of our lives cleaning up the emotional mess left over from addiction, mental health concerns, and injuries from this other mother. They couldn’t fight back when they were little. They couldn’t fend for themselves and couldn’t defend themselves. Now that they are in a safe place they can let their anger out sometimes. We take the brunt of that anger from time to time. It’s OK because we are strong enough for all of their emotions.
They still hoard food sometimes just in case my husband and I stop providing. They still worry that I might get drunk and leave them because that’s what they think “moms do.” Things are getting better for them, though. They are safe now. They are healing.
Our kids will be OK because they have us to help them through. Who will help the older “aged out” siblings? Who will help her, the “other mother” through it? I hope she has someone.
We heard from Marcus the other day. He’s 18 now and just beginning to process the effects of growing up in care without a family there for him. He had been ranting and raging at her for never returning his calls or answering his Facebook posts or text messages. In 5 years of foster care, he has never stopped trying with her. Despite his struggles, he has a lot of love in him. Last month he managed to make contact. According to Marcus she told him she has a new man and another family now. She doesn’t want to look back on the life she had here. She is in Puerto Rico and won’t be coming back. He couldn’t understand how she just didn’t ask about the younger siblings. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t ask about how he was doing. He couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t give up the drugs.
I may never understand her choices but I understand the damage they caused. I see the wreckage every day. All I can do is save a box for her. A box filled with the childhoods she is missing. Maybe one day she will want to see. Maybe it’s too hard for her. Who knows?
What I do know is that I can help my children hold these memories for her. I can keep the lines open just in case she is ready someday. No, I won’t let her endanger my children again. They won’t be physically hurt anymore. Could we manage a phone call or a supervised visit? I believe we could. I believe the kids could handle it, but it would be hard. She can’t handle it. I will respect the distance she keeps by choice, but I will also respect my children’s feelings about what is and what once was.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
*If you’ve ever thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to consider an older child or sibling group.