We are at a pool party. Our lovely friends are there. There is laughing, and chatting and a clinging to the end of Summer.
Just a little longer. One more dive off the board.
A girl, about 7, is swimming with our foster son.
“Where is your Mom,”? I hear her ask.
He points to me, sitting on the edge, my feet dangling. The baby is between my knees, sitting on a shallow step, slapping the water.
“No, I mean, where is your Mom?…your real Mom?”
Our boy points again at me, as if she didn’t catch it the first time.
I know what’s going to happen next. First, because I’m adopted, and I’ve answered this line of questioning many times in my life. Also, because I have no idea what he will say, and I’m free-falling a bit, knowing I will simply back up whatever he says, but not knowing what to expect.
We’ll see how this goes…
This is the first time we have done this, answered these pointed, specific questions from a kid. Grown-ups are more coy. They want to hear the hardship tale and the happy ending. But they can handle a No or an “I’m sorry, I can’t.” Kids are different. If they want to know the nitty-gritty of your shit, they’ll keep on asking you until they drive you to your knees. They give zero fucks if they offend your sensibilities. So, I’m freakin’.
But the boy has no idea what the girl is talking about.
“That’s my Mom,” he says, and kind of blows her off, blowing bubbles into the water. He gets she is getting at something, but he isn’t quite sure what.
“That’s not your Mom,” the girls says with so much clarity and confidence in her voice.
“You are a foster kid.”
Boom. She said the words.
I take a breath and hold it. But I let it go when I see his blank stare, and I realize he has no idea he is a foster kid, or even what a foster kid is. And since our last name is Foster, this also confuses the issue altogether. Like, maybe he is a Foster kid, like all of my kids.
This makes me smile.
I step in then. I say to the little girl, “I’m his Mommy.” I say it loud and strong so he hears, and he looks at me like, “duh”.
“The rest is hard to explain,” I say to her gently, when she looks like she might challenge me.
“He has a lot of people who love him.”
This seems to satisfy her and she swims away, the boy after her.
There. That’s settled. For now.
Our family exists in the undefinable in-between – until some court makes it permanent, or doesn’t. Until then, these two are ours and not ours. Someone else’s, but not theirs either. We plan as if every plan will come to fruition. We push them, support them, challenge them, heal them, soothe them, cuddle the hell out of them, as if we will see the results of this work. We might. We might not. We love like it’s always, in the most brazen, in-your-face, I-don’t-give-a-flying-fuck-about-the-future-and-how-it-will-crush-us-way.
We do. Because foster parents do. It’s the job.
They tell you this going in, of course, but you don’t get it until you realize it’s a one-way street, and there are no brakes on your go-cart, and you are barreling ahead 100 MPH. You are just in it, clutching the wheel and screaming your lungs out for dear fucking life, while the wind rips at your face. That’s the emotional side of foster parenting. All in. 100 MPH.
So this is how I explain us – maybe not to kids in pools, but to myself – I’m the Mom. So is she. It’s complicated. Love is big enough to include all of us. The future is uncertain and scary and unknowable. And full of amazing possibilities. This is family. Crazy, messed up, weird family. But still family. And it’s all worth it.
These kids, all of my kids, are worth it.
Love – even love that comes from loss – is magic.