A photo of birth Mom and birth Dad sits in Ainsley’s room on her dresser.
It is impossible to miss.
A paper printout captured fast, by Ainsley’s first fostermom, a gut reaction from an experienced foster parent who instinctively knew they were about to run. Caught in a lie of some sort involving drugs, alcohol, crimes that may or may not have meant they could parent a baby. The day after the photo, they fled the hospital. I am grateful to the core of my being for this tangible thing my daughter has, ever so small a mirror of her start. No baby would go home with them this time. I say this without judgment. I have never walked in their shoes.
Some mornings we stare at it. She looks seeking herself in them. She wonders. I do too. A bit different I suppose but still. She says often: They look sad.
I answer, sometimes fighting tears, sometimes hurried, on our way to school, sometimes the tiny hint of anger in me hard to disguise. They gave her some challenges I would never have thrown in her path. I remind myself they didn’t do so on purpose, but on nights when my child struggles I have no sympathy, empathy, very little love left in my heart for them. I never speak those words.
When she was two and would hammer her head off the floor because the lights were too bright, I held her and refused to give up my anger. I would sing her the alphabet in the bathroom in the dark. Still we were grateful for our girl.
If they did not drink..
If they did not do drugs..
If they did not hurt her..
They made her biologically who she is and sometimes the pieces in that puzzle are maddening. Other times a complete and utter mystery. Small surprising traits we have never had in our family and now they are here. These are charmed discoveries. They fill my heart with crazy pride that makes me hope her path will rise up and surround her with great opportunities to shine and share those gifts.
She is my girl. And not my girl.
“Why do you think, they are sad, Ains?”
“I don’t know.”
I tell her they know the tiny baby they are holding is about to go live somewhere else. I tell her they really wanted to parent her and loved her and were trying to keep her, but they couldn’t do it.
“But why are they sad, Mom?”
“Because I think they know they may never see you again. That makes them sad.”
I know it would shatter my heart.
This morning my Ainsley woke and puttered around as usual until her medicine which regulates moods kicked in and perhaps because it is a holiday and the world changes for her when the days shift like that, she is out of sorts. Out of sorts when you have FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) means screamy, hitty and generally miserable to be around. She barked herself awake and then when I exhaustedly hauled my lead feet into her room and walked downstairs to retrieve the medicines, she refused to get out of bed. Awakened for nothing, dog tired. The worst kind of awake.
In the kitchen I make coffee stumble forward as she grunts and loudly yells again. She is not communicating well this morning, at least not with words. Breakfast passes with more of the same. Grunts and moans and body parts pointed to or held insted of a simple: “I have to go to the bathroom.”
From somewhere comes an inability to feed herself. An eight-year-old who loses that skill is a strange sight.
About the time I am ready to run out the front door screaming and quit this life of guessing, her medicine begins working. Small sigh. Big intake of breath and we can begin flirting with normal.
Her sister is off at camp this week, a giant step towards independence and I have been framing this as Ainsley’s chance for undivided attention. To me, that would have been heaven as a child. Special attention. One on one Mommy time. To her it is just change. Difficult, threatening.
We move together and apart through morning routines.
I am drying my hair when she produces a piece of art she has finished.
“This is my birthmom,” she says.
It is a gorgeous picture for Ainsley, one that shows she is trying to pay more attention to detail. The long hair is clear, the hands each have five fingers. The feet are in the right places. There is a neck. (not always so in her pictures.)
It just so happens birth Mom and I look a lot alike. It is apparent and, at once a benefit and handicap to her understanding of self. Few people think her not my biological child. Her curls are the same as mine, her hair same shade of brown. She tans well and my skin often wears a similar shade of the sun. But when people find out she was adopted, it is a strange response: “You’d never know you were adopted.” I long to strangle those people who speak the phrase as if she should strive just to be same, when her differences make her Ainsley. I want to shout it is not a bad thing to be adopted. It is both beautiful and tragic, sad and happy too. Never uncomplicated.
“Beautiful,” I tell her as she hands me her art. “One of your greatest pictures yet.”
She doesn’t do it to hurt me. I know that and expect these tiny bombshell moments.
One time we were walking on the beach and my oldest child loudly told everyone: She was very sad thinking about her birthmom. At the time, she was six, a sensitive artsy, dramatic girl, her heart an open book to all. I knew her sadness was here months before she spoke it aloud. I was finally happy to hear her tell me what was happening in her small and difficult world.
Grandma reacted instantly as if I were five and the neighbourhood bully had punched me.
“You are lucky. You should be grateful, your Mom does everything for you. She’s a good mom.” Worst possible thing to tell an adopted child.
My daughter’s shoulders fell a little heavier then.
I am the lucky one. I am the Mom. The words always trip off my tongue. After all I have said this enough times to strangers and friends. The lucky one. Why is it grown adults need to tell a child she should feel lucky? What possible benefit? As it to imply they should be ever grateful just to be placed in a home with two parents. As if it is lucky first to be taken from the womb in which you grew. There are times I hate people who comment thoughtless and flippant. Lucky to be adopted. Lucky to be here. Lucky to have parents that give her what she needs? Really? Is that not a basic human right? I will never understand this statement. Lucky. I am certain lucky is not what her birth parents feel every mother’s day when they are thinking of her, or every birthday that passes. I know I will not raise my child feeling as if we have traded a life of poverty for one in which she should feel deep gratitude, humble spirit. There are no little orphan Annies here. There were childless parents, a home in need and then there was a match. Lucky had little to do with it.
Today my youngest is wondering about her birth Mom. Her picture, her only words.
It will come soon from this girl the words: You are not my real Mom. I can feel it. My oldest has never said them. My oldest is a type who would take others hurt and wear it. She hurts just to see others hurting. Her heart is magnificent and huge. I worry she takes on too much. I know this girl is different. She wounds often and is angry. I suppose I would be too. She lashes out striking anything in her path and typically that is her sister, or me.
I feel the words coming like little lances that will strike my body hard, stones. I hope I am ready to love her through the years of You Are Not My Real Mom.