There are stories we yell out to the world with a megaphone, stories we tell only in the dark, and other stories we keep buried under the rubble in our thick skin, the skin thickening with time, loss, disappointment, and hurt.
Recently my mini me, a proud and soulful preteen, had the chance to scratch the surface and get a pinhole view of her mom as a child. She had 3 full days with my adoptive brother, whose stories of our time together in foster care, she never heard. I watched her face light up and dim all weekend. Some were stories of hope, others of fear and mayhem. This weekend was my daughter’s first real lessons about her mother’s personal past. With so much unknown history from my side of her family at all, this was her chance to scribble the first few pages of her own history book as well.
I’ve been very skillful in my disclosures to her. The stories in between the basic timelines, I usually gloss over. My daughter knows a lot about children in foster care, but I am often impersonal about my experiences because they are part of her also and I want her to be nothing but proud of her background. There are a lot of things to not be proud of in my history, but I never wanted her to see the blemishes. As she’s gotten older I feel uncomfortable with some of her questions. They are no longer shallow and easily answered. I write academically about transitioning foster children at universities and about strong mothers in literature. But, often talking about my own vulnerabilities is not easy for me.
“I am sorry I was born and caused you so much pain.” The scribbling in my old dusty notebook brought back an old familiar pain, long forgotten and buried in the rubble of my foster sister’s basement. As an introspective young girl and a bit of a loner, I filled notebook after notebook with endless internal observation. My private thoughts were not entirely meant to be private. Someday I hoped to hand them to my mother, who I was taken from at 5 and saw sporadically through my elementary school years. I never had that chance. In 2004, holding my own newborn daughter in my arms, I was told my mother died years before and did not want me notified. In my daughter’s big blue eyes, I found a solace that notebook never brought me. Motherhood closed the door on most of the past, but not all.
The day I found out I was pregnant with my mini me, I sat in my car crying alone before I called anyone with the news. Fear, excitement, nervousness washed over me. What would she look like, a relative? I knew none. I never even saw a baby photo of myself: What mysteries would my genes bring? Would I know how to be a mother? I never really saw one for very long. Before having my daughter, I envied my friends families with their normal family struggles and battles. Their photos on the wall. Their smiling parents at games, graduations, their shared expressions, their family fights, and their tangled emotions. I was envious but just carefully observed. Now, with this new person growing inside me I had the chance to see myself in someone else. I had the chance to undo the past and bring a loved person into the world.
Anytimethe umbilical cord is snapped, unnaturally broken, or tethered, the child on the other end suffers. The world seems so large and life feels so alone. As a foster child, the disconnect and mystery surrounding my young life appeared in every friendship, relationship, failure, success, happiness, or sadness.
As a child in foster care, nothing was worse than seemingly meaningless holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. As an elementary school girl, being forced into making empty family trees and pottery gifts brought the sting of unworthiness and a not-belonging that was at times difficult.
I was put in foster care at age 5 after I was found locked and hidden in my mothers-basement abused, not fed, unable to walk or speak. I was found with other children who were also abused. I did have adopted parents for a few short years, but they both died a couple of years after the adoption.
So for me, as a child, the idea of “parenting” was elusive. I heard stories and complaints about tough parents from friends. My friends complained about rules, regulations, bad marriages and the usual identity crises of my female friends with their mothers. To me, it was a foreign land.
Having a past that is strewn with missing links can make becoming a woman feel like a bad carnival ride. Lines are long and the scenery is dizzying.
Through years of mandated court visits with my mother, I found myself finally at age 10, studying her for those few quick moments with her. She was so mysterious to me. She was a violent woman, she was a neglectful woman, she had allowed abuses against me and other children. But she was always smiling and playing the part of victim during those visits. Her skin, her hands, her hair were like looking in a fast forwarded mirror. It was challenge not to feel a hatred and love or pity for this elusive woman who was so transient and confusing. I cared for her but feared her.
It was hard to catch up to my idea of her. Once she vanished for good, my young mind created fantasies of her. Maybe she was some lost, desperate soul who really thought the world of me, if only she could get past things that happened to her? If only. But truth is, that following year she was long gone, and at some point so was the fantasy of her, or of a father or male figure. And so I navigated alone and sometimes the compass I used was shaky at best.
I identified myself with friends’ parents, only to sometimes feel the sting of jealousy when I could see I was not truly apart of their circle. I did identify myself with other women, foster sisters, and again found myself as a person apart from them. Without sharing the same childhood or environment it was hard to build a deeper connection. Their influences though, were invaluable to me.
As I got older, it was easy to fall into place in lover’s families. I was always the first to attach to someone’s mother, more so than the man who shared my bed. I reveled in this idea of motherhood, womanhood, long before I was a mother or a woman. I found it intoxicating. This idea of steadiness, of sometimes craziness, this idea of protectiveness; it was foreign to me. It was also the driving force of many dreams.
Becoming a mother to me was the pinnacle of these hidden wishes. Looking at mini me’s face when she was born gave me a purpose. It was not just the purpose of creating a life, it also gave me some type of lineage; a source of pride instead of pain. I finally had someone who looked like me, someone who would feel that sense of protection,love, discipline, fairness from me….just as I had sought as a child.
Ok, my stop in at Cupcake bakery on Lincoln Street in Columbia, SC had nothing to do with nutrition or good eating habits today. In my defense, me and mini me are planning a nice dinner (Ill be posting) and I wanted to surprise her with a sweet taste testing afterward. I also have a heavy heart today and some sweets works as a nice little bandaid:) A vegan vanilla cupcake, banana pudding cupcake and a pink cupcake for breast cancer awareness will do the trick! We have a long night ahead of us. Be on the lookout for a healthful recipe tonight and our big gluttonous smiles! This weekend I’ll be on the road with my toes in the sand writing away. And I am sure I will find some treats along the way to share:)