What does being a mother mean to me? I have never given birth. I have never adopted a child. How in the world could I possibly know what it means to be a “mom?” Well… you taught me, child. You taught me EXACTLY what it means to be a mother.
You were born when I was 14 years old. At the time I was a freshman in high school- infatuated with the idea of Prom proposals and college applications. I did not know that a tiny soul had been brought into this world that would change my life forever. Shortly after your birth your father committed suicide, and your mother- ridden with pain began drinking and doing drugs. You were permanently removed from her care and put into the hands of a woman who adopted you.
I cannot call this woman your ‘mother,’ and it pains me to admit that I despise the fact that she, out of anyone in the world, was the person who held you in her arms and raised you. Four years later I moved to a little Native community Alaska where I would meet you for the first time. You were a spunky, smart-allec little 5 year old when we first said “Hello”. I did volunteer kids activities around town and you, although shy, were in my ‘crew of followers’. I gave you piggy-back rides at the playground and band-aided your booboos when you fell on the gravel road outside of my house. At six years of age you were taken away, abruptly from the town. I did not know where you had gone. I had barely known you, but I realized you were missing.
Fast forward a couple months and I was becoming certified through the Tribe to be a foster parent. They had a sibling group of three ready to come to me from a village nearby. They’d been staying with relatives. The tribal leader told me, “Well, the oldest girl and the young boy- they’re good kids. But the middle girl… she has some problems. She’s the reason they’re moving up here. She couldn’t stay where she was at.” I smiled and nodded. I was just so eager to meet my kids- I didn’t care how rotten they were, I swore I’d love them. When the truck pulled up in my driveaway with you, your brother, and your sister, I ran out with open arms. I was so unbelievably excited. I had kids! Kids I recognized and kids I knew! All three of you were terrified, holding back tears as you pulled your belongings from the back of the truck and cautiously walked into my home. We sat down and had snacks. You each picked out a bed and we unpacked your stuff.
That’s when, for the first time, I realized there was something different about you. Both of your brother and sister had many nice clothes, toys, and school supplies. Their stuff was packed away in new suitcases. You, on the other hand, had two pairs of underwear, three shirts, a pair of pants, and one dirty old pair of white socks. And your stuff was not in a suitcase- but a trashbag. The difference astounded me. How could one child be treated so poorly when the rest were treated so well? I chose not to question it. I bought you (and your brother and sister) a ton of new clothes, bedding, school supplies, toys- everything I could think of that you didn’t already have. But each time you got a new item, you offered it to your sister. “She gets all of my stuff,” you’d say. And I’d argue. ”No- these are your things. I bought them for you. I bought your sister her own things. You keep these ones.”
You’d get upset and cry. You’d demand that your sister have your stuff. You’d tell me that you didn’t deserve it and you weren’t allowed to have nice things. You’d get hurt if you took the nice things. And that’s when I began to realize that there was something very very wrong with your situation. The more I talked with you, the more I realized things had never been okay for you. You were the ‘adopted child’, the ‘black sheep’ of the family. The woman who adopted you told you that your father committed suicide because he knew you’d be a rotten child and he couldn’t bare to live with you. Your mother threw you away for drugs and alcohol. And she was your savior parent- the one who came in and saved you and was a “good mom”. And yet, she bought you nothing. You had two pairs of clothes. You had bruises I couldn’t explain when you’d come back from visitations.
You’d cry and plead with me not to see her. And you’d slowly open up and tell me the truth of the secrets you’d kept behind the closed doors of your childhood home. Truths I cannot write here. Truths too awful for me to ever write and relive hearing again. The turning point for me came when I was called into a Tribal meeting to discuss how you’d been. YOU- specifically. Your other siblings were of no worry. They were “good kids”, you were the “troubled one”. I dressed nicely and arrived in court next to your intoxicated (yes- drunk) woman who adopted you. Also at court were your last foster parents. The woman who had fostered you last told everyone that you had been an awful child and she just couldn’t bare to be around you. I scoffed. What a pathetic excuse for a foster parent- I thought. I butted in mid-sentence and said “I have had no issues with her. She has been a perfect child for me.
She always listens. She helps out around the house. I love her dearly- I cannot imagine why she would have misbehaved elsewhere.” The room fell quiet. “Good,” one of the elders finally spoke up. “That’s very good.” And that was the day I decided I would always be your voice. Three hard years have followed that day. You have been put back with your birth family three times. And you have been placed with me three times. Each year you spend half of the year in my custody, and the other half with the woman who adopted you. You are currently with the woman who adopted you. And by the looks of it, that is where you will stay. Child services seems to have given up. I hate saying that. But they’re overwhelmed. You’re no longer a baby- you can fend for yourself.
They’re worried about younger kids. The kids who can’t clean and feed themselves. You’ve reached the age where the system quits worrying so much about you. But that doesn’t mean I will ever stop worrying. I have never so sincerely, in my entire life, looked at a child and wondered why they were given the life they were. Your resilient smile and positive attitude amidst the most horrific of situations humbles me… inspires me. You are so strong at such a young age. You are so beautiful, wonderful, smart, and kind- and you are not told that nearly often enough. I am sorry. I am sorry that you were not given the family you deserved. I am sorry that you have had to live the life you were given. I apologize for the fact you are not doing well in school, and you are malnourished, and you don’t know what it’s like to be in a stable environment for longer than the 7 months, each year- that you end up with me. I know that you have asked- no wait, pleaded with OCS and the Troopers for me to be your ‘real mom’, not just your ‘foster mom.’
You quit calling your mother by ‘mom’, and instead began calling her by her first name. A defiant act for a nine-year-old girl. You gave up her parental rights to you. You made the decision that she was not your mother- I was. Amidst every legal battle we fought, amidst every custody hearing and court order and call to the Troopers at midnight when you arrived at my door in awful condition; you stood beside me. You have given me more courage than I ever could have imagined I could have. I have squashed spiders for you. I have locked my bathroom shut, and buried away with you while we hid from your intoxicated woman who adopted you banging down my door. I have held back tears when you asked for me to be the one you told ‘your story’ to as OCS listened in the background. I have screamed and cried and pleaded on the phone to troopers to “Just do something! Please!” when nothing was done after that story was told. I have lost all control in the middle of the school and cried my heart out at the cops at the counselors for not caring as much as I do. I have done everything I possibly could of, and I’m sorry that it wasn’t enough.
I’m sorry that you are still required to wear dirty clothes, to have bruises you don’t deserve, and to hear insults no child should ever be subject to. I’m sorry that I am not your legal mother. If you don’t think that it kills me every day to see your smiling face and not be able to cradle you in my arms and tell you over and over again how much I love you and want you- you’re wrong. I want you with every fiber of my being. I’ve debated kidnap on more occasions than I’d like to admit. I’ve driven past your house at midnight, just to make sure you weren’t locked outside- a thousand times. I’ve prayed to Gods I don’t believe in, pleaded with fate, begged every person who would listen to just PLEASE let me have you. But the world doesn’t work that way.
With that being said, I want you to know that today your teacher called. He said you were having a bad day and you needed your mom. A few of the elders in town thank me- they tell me every time they see me that I am the best mom you’ve ever had. Everyone knows, darling- everyone knows you’re my child. Not on paper- not yet anyways. Maybe you’ll never be legally mine. But you will ALWAYS- ALWAYS be my child. I will worry for and love you from sunrise to sunset- and all through the night. I will be here, every day- and I will never not pick up when your teacher calls. It pains me to think that fate may take us apart permanently someday, but you will never be stripped from my heart. I will never quit fighting for you- I will never quit screaming to anyone who will listen that you deserve to be mine. Call me selfish or foolish. Call me ignorant to ‘the system’, but you have always been my kid, and you always will be. I got too attached. But I refuse to admit that was a bad thing. It never was. It was a blessing. The best damn thing that could ever happen to a 23-year-old girl.
My crazy little, hippie, free-spirit, intelligent beyond her knowledge 9-year-old child. You are, every day, mine. And I hope you never quit calling me ‘mom’, because not a day will go by where you are not my daughter. I have learned what every ounce of being a mother means, because of you. And although our story is a tragic one, and our lives have not ended in Hollywood movie perfection- I would not trade the moments I have had with you for a million, billion, zillion dollars. If I could rip out my heart and lay it down, and in doing so I would give you a better life- I would do it in an instant. I would sell everything. I would give up anything anyone asked of me, if I could just be promised that you would live the happiest of lives. I will always be a mother because of you. I will always be a mother to you. And I cannot thank you enough for every beautiful blessing you have given me. I will forever treasure you, and speak for you, and fight for you. And most of all I will forever love you.