Like most mothers, passing milestones are sometimes bittersweet. After all, my identity has been intertwined with motherhood for 12 years. Old habits are hard to break. Often, beaming with pride at another birthday or school year, I feel an almost stabbing in my heart. Change is coming, change is here, and the bubble of early childhood years will soon burst. As is, it is leaking.
For former foster children, becoming a parent can help mend the past or play it as a horrible rerun. They can repeat their cycle of abandonment, abuse or carelessness, or they can cradle the gift they have like a prized jewel. I have a jewel and I cradle it as much as she will let me! In many ways becoming a mother saved me. But, while some healing comes from the unconditional love of motherhood, some healing has to come from within.
Foster children, are children who were taken from their biological family due to abuse, neglect, or drug addiction. Of the hundreds of thousands in care now, thousands will never see their biological family again, thousands will spend their childhood living with stranger after stranger, thousands will sit in court rooms for their entire childhood, thousands will be reunited with abusers, thousands will live in homeless shelters, hundreds will commit suicide. A small percentage find stability.
I was taken from my mother when I was 5, after I was found abused, starved and burnt. I was left in a basement to die. For years, I saw my mother in supervised visits until one day she just vanished when I was about 10. I was adopted, and within 2 years my adoptive parents died. Change was part of my life. I learned quickly not to get too attached.
As I became an adult, I never felt jaded, but instead tried to save everyone around me, perhaps trying to heal the past. Perhaps because I felt to blame for my abuse. Still I always had some inner strength that kept me from dwelling. I hoped one day to have my own lineage, one that would be proud to be part of me.
The day I found out I was pregnant with mini me, I cried like I never cried before. I was happy, scared, fearful, and almost in a state of panic! I spent weeks reading everything I could about motherhood. The word “mother,” seemed so illusive. I felt like someone just threw me out of plane with no parachute. So, I did what any good English major would do; I read about the most heinous mothers in the world, I read about the best. I read something from every psychologist on the planet. And I felt prepared.
For those women with mothers they despised, they could simply do different. Though my memories of my mother were violent and even starkly sad, she was not a constant presence. I knew what I would not do, which was obvious, but I had no grandparents, aunts, or generational guidelines at all. No one was around long enough for me to emulate. I was in no one’s shadows. My size, shape and form matched no one. No one was in the bleachers and no one sought out to find me. And my restlessness was all my own. I had no idea what my child may look like, I feared she would look like a stranger or that her features would remind me of some forgotten part of the past.
Instead she looked like an angel. She reminded me of absolutely no one, she encompassed the best parts of me in every way. In some ways, motherhood saved me. I finally felt I was not all alone on the planet. I studied my new-born girl every day, I found her features exciting. They were mine! To me, she was a walking miracle, a gift for my past pain. I have enjoyed every minute, good and bad. For former foster children, sometimes having a blank slate helps us dig into our true maternal instincts. So her and I equally stumbled, mainly alone, through the years. We stayed locked together through the academic challenges, the bruised egos, the pains of childhood, the losses, the picnics in the park, the days of endless sunshine.
This year, as she reaches a new milestone, I cannot help but feel consumed with worry. Maybe I worry about the things that happened to me at her age and younger. Maybe she reminds me of that person. Her sideways smile looks like mine, after all.
Maybe I am afraid of what the real world outside of my cocoon will do to her someday. Maybe I am ashamed of my past and her ever-growing questions haunt me. I am somewhat hoping she does not ask anymore. Maybe I feel guilty that I have no grandparent to offer her. No branches on a family tree from my side. My history is limited and what I have is distorted, scary and ugly.
My girl has not been lacking in affection, especially since I think my aloneness makes me grip her even more. I am affectionate, sometimes needy. She has a lot of love from other family. I’m gentle and I sometimes do the usual Italian mother martyr act. The difference is that my whole hope for this cruel world, has rested in her gentle blue eyes. That is a lot on a little girl’s shoulders. Seeking my own happiness and fulfillment helps me be a better mother, it just took years to understand I needed to put my past to rest myself also, so I could be prepared for my girl’s impending independence.
The world will creep in. Our children will grow. For former foster children this growing up can almost feel like an abandonment. More so than the average mother’s fears, because they are our only family. I recognize that it is not a loss. It is success. Watching mini me grow through the years, seeing her empathetic soul, seeing her love being a kid, seeing how safe she feels to tell me anything, to be herself, even her moody self at times, means I succeeded.
I never felt safe or okay or loved as a child. I never let my guard down as a kid. I had so many fears and doubts and shame. Being discarded made me feel unwanted. Home never felt like home. All could be ripped out from below me at any time. My girl has never felt those emotions. She is secure, she is okay, and she somehow thinks the world of me too, which is a plus.
While I would like to cling on to my girl’s ankles and beg her to not go on her own some day, I will not. Instead, I will sit back and watch her become the woman I know she can be, and feel pride that I created a new story and maybe more will come.
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