I know you’ll be much older before you ever read this (if you ever read this), but I wanted to tell you the story of how you came to be my daughter. I wanted to tell you the story of how you changed me as a person. I wanted to tell you the story of how much you are loved. You see, you did not grow in my tummy, nor are you my permanent, legal daughter. Instead you came to me because placement called me very early one Friday morning – 1:27 AM to be exact – asking if I could take you and your brother on an emergency, over-night basis until they could find you and your brothers a permanent foster home the next morning. I remember thinking about how tired I was because the week had been a very long week already since daddy had been gone and wondering how I was going to fare at work the next day. It seemed like it took the investigator forever to arrive with you guys in tow, but when he pulled into the driveway at 4:32 AM, I was wide awake from having been thinking about you for the previous few hours. All I knew was your names and ages. I hadn’t really asked very many questions because I was not in the habit of taking placement calls anymore so all of my “good” foster parent skills were rusty from disuse.
When Mr. Byron opened the car and got you out I remember noting how little you seemed, but my goodness you were so brave for such a little munchkin. You came right over to me with your half-eaten happy meal in hand and jumped into my arms. I asked you if you were sleepy though I didn’t really need you to answer as you were already asleep before your head touched my shoulder. Mr. Bryon bought your brother inside; I carried you. Since all the other kids were asleep, we put you both on the couch in the living room, toes to toes, covered you up with warm blankets, and neither of you moved a muscle until I had to wake you for court a few hours later. You were both so exhausted.
I didn’t realize the significance of that morning at the time, my love. I had no idea that you would end up occupying more space in my heart and life than just the tiny fraction of the couch your sleeping form covered, and I had no idea how deeply I would end up loving you or how fiercely I would have to fight to be sure the people charged with your care would make wise decisions for your life. All I knew at that particular moment was that you and your brother needed to sleep and that we would all be heading in to court in less than four hours.
After the judge made it clear that you and your brothers would need to stay in care, the case manager began telling me that they would start looking for a home for you but that since there weren’t homes available locally that you and your brother would likely have to be moved to the central part of the state. I knew what that would ultimately mean for you so I got on the phone and started calling my foster family friends who might be able to help. We were able to find a family locally that could take your two youngest brothers, your other brother would stay with the family who initially took him that night and you would stay with us – I couldn’t keep your brother with you because you guys didn’t all fit into my van and the other family couldn’t take you because they didn’t have space either. I knew I was going to have to do a lot of explaining to daddy. I also knew I couldn’t just let them ship you guys all over the state willy nilly, and I figured this would only be for a few days until the placement team would be able to find a home that could take all four of you together. Even before I knew I loved you, I knew I needed to protect you.
What started out as me loudly nagging everyone on the case to see if a home had come available to accommodate all four of you eventually turned into the quiet questions during our monthly visit with the case manager. Daddy and I were both very clear with all the players that we were a temporary stop because you needed to be with your brothers longer term, but along the way, everyday life was happening. We signed you up for taekwondo (which you were lukewarm about at best), swimming lessons, a music class on occasion, and got you set up with our regular pediatrician and dentist. We worked on learning everyday skills like recognizing letters and colors and numbers, and we started learning your food preferences (I should tell you now that you were a McDonald’s junkie, sweet girl, and that you could smell a French fry a mile away). We figured out that you needed a nap in the middle of the day or you would fall asleep in the middle of taking a bite of dinner and that you absolutely loved the song “Drinking Class” because you would belt out every single word at the top of your lungs when it came on the radio. You eventually slipped out of calling me and daddy Miss Heather and Mr. Evan and started calling us mommy and daddy, though that seemed to happen quietly and before we really knew it, and I even heard you and Warren referring to each other as sissy and bubba a time or two when you weren’t too busy arguing with each other.
You and Warren would fight like cats and dogs one minute, but then two seconds later you were thick as thieves plotting some mission of mischief – do you remember the time the two of you locked the babysitter out of the house? Liam, who almost never uses anyone’s real name, would run around screaming “Naaaaana” because he couldn’t pronounce your whole name – but he couldn’t stand not being in the same room with you and would search all over until he found you. You guys would fight over the Leappad in the car but would gang up on Warren if he tried to intervene at all. You and Elie had a more tumultuous relationship because you shared a room and she would regularly steal your toys, but even so, you guys would sing together at night when it was time for bed, and I could hear you telling her bedtime stories long after we had told you guys lights out and good night.
I think we got so caught up in the swing of everyday life that the passage of time slipped quietly by until we were reminded that summer was coming to a close and you would be starting kindergarten soon. Somewhere in all the craziness of these last few months you took up permanent residence in mine and daddy’s hearts, and the conversations he and I were having about the time when you would have to leave us became almost unbearable for either of us. I think both of us had privately entertained the idea that you could be with us forever, but as selfish as both of us can be on occasion we also knew that you deserved to be with your brothers. We knew that the home and love you had with us would never be able to overcome that deep connection siblings share – no matter how much we loved you and no matter how much we tried to change that. We knew that all of us were going to hurt and that you were probably not going to understand things initially, but we also knew that if we didn’t push the system to try to get you back with your brothers now it would never happen. So to keep you from having to change schools and to give you a chance at getting your brothers back, my voice to the case manager and placement team grew loud again. Baby girl, if you know nothing else about any this, I want you to know that I have fought for your long term life with your brothers tooth and nail. I have pushed people to think about the consequences of their actions to the point of even doubting myself and my own motivations at times. My only regret is that I didn’t stay as loud as I should have the entire time – though I know that if I had I wouldn’t have had your sweet smile, infectious laughter and mischievous spirit with me as long as I did – so I am torn as to whether I did right by you or not.
Long story short, the system was not able to find a home with enough space or resources to take all four of you – though I pushed everyone really hard to carefully consider the long term implications for you and your brothers if we didn’t work hard enough now to try to keep you guys together. I tried very hard to make everyone understand how the loss of a sibling can hurt deeply – even decades later – though I know I was preaching to the choir most days. I was angry – and frustrated – that it didn’t seem like the folks making the big decisions understood what I was talking about on a personal level though. There were so many people all trying to look out for what was best for you and your brothers so I want you to know that none of the decisions about your life were ever taken lightly. Ultimately, we had to compromise and agree that being with one brother was better than being with no brothers at all – though I am really sad – no, angry – that we have to make choices like this.
Up to this point in my life, I’ve never had to make the kind of decisions that I’ve had to make in the last few months. Yes, we have had many children come through our home, but you were the only child we ever took in who was old enough to know what was happening. You were the only child I’ve ever had to have adult-level conversations with about things that would make most adults cringe and run away crying. Sweet pea, you have handled all of this chaos in your short life like a little champ and have shown so much strength and resilience that I know you’ll end up changing the world someday. You have amazed me continually with your ability to heal and grow and your capacity for love and wonder. My sweet child, I am not your permanent, legal, forever mommy, but you will forever be my permanent and forever daughter even without the legal paperwork. You grew love in my heart almost without me even realizing it, and you changed the way I view the world because you forced me to recognize the places in this world where things need to change. But because of you, I am a stronger person with a renewed sense of passion for fixing what’s wrong with the system that brought you into my life.
You came into my life in an unconventional manner for certain, but you’ll be in my heart and mind forever.