not you, too

All of those closest to me, and I imagine quite a few more that can not, for whatever reason, add their voices. Me too. Me too. Me too.

You too? Me too.

We shouldn’t require women to rip themselves open over and over again to give a shit. And yet, we do. Even worse, those who didn’t care before likely will not care any more now. It’s just a dance that we do. Please? Hello? Are you listening? Don’t be silly, you know the answer.

I spend a lot of time and energy examining the past and present. What did we do? What could we have done? What can we do now? Sometimes though, it feels a little too overwhelming, a little too hopeless. A little too fucking much. In those times I have to look to an imagined future, as fantastical as it may be. I have to look to my daughter.

Sweet(sour) girl, I must apologize. You will inherit this mess having had nothing to do with it’s creation – just as I did from my mother, just as she did from hers, and on and on it goes. You see, we are the granddaughters of the witches they could not burn and now we have the matches. I will do everything in my power to both protect and arm you – anything to prevent a, “Me too,” in your voice twenty years from now. It is nothing short of an incredible, suffocating honor to be the spark to your flame.

To those who offer you eggshells and unspoken rules, I hope you bark laughter in their faces and stomp it all to hell (both combat boots and high heels work well for this). Truthfully, it may not be the shushing fingers pulled to lips that sting but shrugged shoulders. I’m so sorry, baby. I haven’t figured out what to do about those yet. Let your mama know if you find out.

Know this: they will never stop trying to douse you out. I will be your kerosene. Burn them to the ground.

the other mother

“Where are your socks at, bud? You need socks.”

I rifle through the pile of freshly laundered blue, yellow, green hand me downs for the lone pair of socks. Tiny socks that are still impossibly big on his newborn pink feet. We don’t wear socks in our house. I was raised barefoot in the country, dirty calloused feet in the creek, in the woods, in the house. To this day I can walk on gravel without wincing in pain. (They aren’t pretty though, so don’t look too closely.) 

I never put socks on Rosalyn’s feet as a baby either. I could barely keep up with the onesies, swaddles, muslin blankets, cloth diapers. Ain’t nobody got time for hunting down and matching baby socks. We live in Georgia, it’s 60-90 degrees most of the year – perfect bare feet weather. People stopped me all the time though, so concerned about her bare feet. “You put some socks on that poor baby’s feet!” “What a pretty girl. Tell your mama to get you some socks.” Some how, some way she survived her sockless infancy. Even now, if I can’t find her socks and I need the sweet serenity only a iced chai sipped in the clean, bright aisles of Target can provide I just toss her in the car and she swings those naked piggies to the market and all the way home.

Socks are important though. Not everyone shares my devil may care attitude about them. We talked about socks in foster training. “When you bring babies to visitation they need socks.” It seems so trivial and harmless. But when you see your child for only two hours twice a week every detail matters, everything becomes a message. Are their clothes stained, do they match, did I buy them or did you, how much did they cost, is it something I would have dressed them in, is their face clean, do they have any scratches or bruises or rashes, is their hair tidy and styled appropriately? Do they have socks?

Did you know foster parents are not allowed to have the child’s hair cut without explicit permission? It is a strange balance beam we walk – all of the responsibility and none of the authority.

I had to find his socks.

I finally find them tucked inside his bag from the hospital. They are white and in the babiest of blues read, “I Love My Mommy.”

Did she pull back pieces of baby shower tissue paper to find these at the bottom? (“Aw, thank you, Karen!”) Did she walk into Babies R Us post pregnancy test, desperate for something tangible for the poppyseed in her uterus? Did she buy these for him, his other mother? No, his mother. His other mother? His mother. I am the other.

We have an invasively one sided relationship, her and I. I have on my kitchen counter a thick envelope with intimate details of her labor and delivery, of his hospital stay and discharge. She doesn’t know my name. She doesn’t know I type this with one hand as the other rubs our son’s back after his bottle, mildly terrified because I am bravely/stupidly wearing my favorite sweater. 

Our son. Her son. All of the responsibility and none of the authority.

As we feel joy at how seamlessly he fits into our family, is every moment of her existence filled with panic, anxiety, sadness? Where is her son? Is he ok? She doesn’t know.

I’ve thought about dressing him in Mommy clothes for their visits. Will she see it as my intention of honoring her place in his life? Will it sting of mockery and overcompensation? Is it wrong if he wears them while he is in my arms, being cooed at by playground strangers? (“Aw, thank you Karen! He’s a week and a half old today.”)

I put on the socks. His toes look nothing like mine.

Walk the balance beam, hold the baby, don’t slip.

foster sister

You didn’t sign up to have your heart broken, I know. You didn’t volunteer to have your space invaded and doled out to strangers. You didn’t want to halve your time and affection. You didn’t give your opinion because we didn’t ask. As we muscle our way through this transition and a thousand more I hope you know I am with you always. Hard stuff can be good stuff, too. I hope when it breaks, your heart heals bigger.

baby duck

It is incredible how much Rosalyn has to say, and how well she expresses herself when I just slow. down. and listen – when I can get on her level and speak her language. Today I said yes to (almost) everything she asked. We went for a walk and practiced riding her tricycle. We drew colorful shapes outside with chalk. She got chocolate almond milk instead of regular unsweetened. We played with her penguin coin bank and funfetti playdough. She ate her lunch in my lap. After nap time we got chocolate chip cake pops and ran all over an indoor play place for two hours. While in the Starbucks drive thru she clapped and exclaimed, “Mommy, I am so excited!”

Our house has been hectic the last two months as we work to get certified for foster care. It’s taking its toll on all of us, including or maybe even especially Rosalyn. Her eating, sleeping, digestion – it’s all out of wack. She’s a little extra sensitive and grumpy, though being two and a half it’s difficult to discern what’s age or circumstance. An entirely new development for her is the way she clings to me when we enter a new place or see new people. She’s always been a quiet observer before launching into insatiable energy and volume levels. But now she’s made a safe space tucked behind my legs and burrowed between my neck and shoulder. Her house is changing, her parents are shushing her while having Serious Conversations, the air is thrumming with nervous-happy-anxious energy, and (it bears repeating) she’s two and a half years old. It’s so much, it’s all so much. I worry with the deep guilt of a tired mother if I didn’t consider her needs enough before making this enormous, invasive, heavy choice for our lives. Should we have waited? Shoulds are suffocating.

Today, I said yes without hesitation.

“Will you play with me?” Yes, darling. “You play with me! We play! We do it together!” Her eyes lit up like Christmas and it is a joy burned into my chest.

I followed her exact instructions while molding the playdough. We made three ducks. We made a blanket. She tucked them into bed and named them. “Mommy duck. Daddy duck. Baby duck. They snuggle.” She looked down at them and cradled dimpled toddler hands to her cheeks. “Ohhh they’re so sweet, Mommy!” We fed them carrots and veggie burgers. They exchanged kisses and hugs. She had me make a fourth duck. “Mommy duck. Daddy duck. Baby duck. Baby duck.” They all snuggled again. 

I’m not sleeping or eating well these days, either. As she wakes through the night and refuses to eat dinner and screams until her face is dark I just want to curl up and cry. What do you need from me? Ok. I hear you. I’m so sorry. I’m here.

We can’t have cake pops and trampolines every time she feels upset. And the number of times I have to divide my attention is just going to grow, exponentially. But maybe we can have yes days – and yes minutes. You and me, kid. We do it together.