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“I’m her seventeenth.”
Foster mom’s voice was full of emotion. My eyes widened, my skin prickled. “Seventeenth? Home?”
“Yes, she’s seven, her sister is four, and I’m their seventeenth.”
A is seven years old and has lived in seventeen homes. D is four years old and has lived in nearly as many. For the seven year old, that means a new home roughly every four months. For the four year old, that means a new home roughly every three months. Some homes have had the girls together, some separately. Some wanted to keep one forever, but not the other, so the journey started again.
The conversation started when Mama M was telling me about her girls. The seven year old has been extra edgy lately, the sharp corners of her heart slashing at anyone who gets too close. The other child in the home, also seven, called them all “sisters.” For A, these were lethal words.
“You’re just a foster kid, like me. You don’t even have sisters. D isn’t your sister, she’s mine, we have the same mom. You’re not our family.” For T, a sensitive seven year old who opens her arms to the concept of family, this was a deep wound. Her eyes filled with tears and she looked to Mama M to find her footing.
Mama M said that her throat closed with sadness, sealing in the pain so she could find the right words for the moment. Three sets of eyes looking to her to define one of the most basic human rights: family.
“You know, there are lots of ways to be family. You know my big kids, B and T? They call you their sisters, they see you as their family. And even if you go back to your moms or to a forever family, they’ll see you as their sisters and remember you. So family can be a lot of things and you can be family who lives together or who doesn’t live together. Family is your heart.”
T glowed. D shrugged and kept playing. A glowered. This was not the answer she wanted.
They’ve been there for two months. They’re getting comfortable. They’re also getting uncomfortable. Uncomfortable because their internal clocks are ticking, the alarm almost ready to go off. They love Mama M and her family, but the schedule that has been hardwired into their spirit tells them they are going to have to leave soon. They will come home one day to find bags packed, or will go to the DCF office for a visit and be loaded into a stranger’s car and dropped on a stranger’s doorstep, starting over yet again. The behaviors are getting worse, because A is waiting for the shoe to drop. She’s guarding herself against the most vulnerable feeling. She’s guarding herself from loving too hard or believing she is worthy of having a family.
Mama M has strong arms, arms that hold tight and keep loving even when it gets hard. She has arms that will have to be stronger than sixteen sets of arms who have let go before her.
Her arms need to prepare the girls for their forever home, their final home, for Lucky Number Eighteen.