On Sundays, Pete and I try to spend quality time with kids who are left here, who do not go home to family members. We’ve started a practice of cooking Sunday night dinners, (which Molly and Peter, our predecessors, did as well) or we’ll take the kids out for dinner. Sunday is a family day here in Mexico and so it is especially important to offer these kids special family time, even if with their surrogate family.
Last weekend, we had a 5-day weekend due to el Día de los Santos, el Día de los Muertos and an extra day because the fair is in town. Therefore, the majority of kids did not return to the Casa until Thursday, and we were able to spend a few extra days with our special Sunday group.
On Tuesday and Wednesday night, Pete and I read stories to two of our favorite little ones. They’re siblings, ages 6 and 7 (almost 8) years old. They’re here every weekend and we’ve grown quite close to them. On Tuesday night, I read with the girl and Pete read with the boy, and on Wednesday, we switched. On Wednesday, I was reading with the boy and another little girl joined us, who had just arrived back at the Casa from her weekend at home. The boy was sitting on my lap and we were reading a book together. The little girl asked, “Are you his mother?” Usually, I could just respond, “No,” but in this case, I really did not know what to say. “I’m his friend,” I responded. I had heard him refer to another one of his caretakers as ‘his friend,’ earlier that evening, so I felt that was a safe bet. The little girl later asked again if I was his mother and I restated that I was his friend and that I enjoyed spending time with him on the weekends.
I think what made it so hard for me to respond is that I didn’t know what the little boy was thinking. Did he want me to say: “Yes! He’s my son!”? Did it make him think: “Where is my mother?” What was going through his head when the little girl asked me that? It was heart-wrenching for me also because we have grown so close to him and his sister. I wanted to say “yes, I’m kind of like his mother.” I spend more time with him, read more stories to him, cook more meals for him, and hug him more than his parents do right now. It’s also complicated because he does sometimes call Pete “Papa” and me “Mama” as does his sister. However, it’s not uncommon for kids at the Casa to give people who aren’t actually their parents those titles, because they care about them or because they’re just pretending, like playing house. If he were really feeling like we were his “Papa” and “Mama” figures, did my “No, I’m his friend,” answer disappoint him or break his heart? I didn’t want to say “Yes,” as if I were playing the pretend game, because I know we’ll be leaving in 6 months and if he were actually under the impression that we are like a “Mama” and “Papa” to him, then what does that communicate to him: that “Papas” and “Mamas” get attached then leave their children (as he’s experienced before)?
Can you tell how much I love this kid and his sister? I just want them to know that they’re loved, which is why I guess it was hard for me to find an answer to the little girl’s question. No, I’m not his mother, but I love him very much. I’ve come to the conclusion that that was probably the best thing I could have said at that moment, but I couldn’t find those exact words.
See when you love kids, especially in a situation like this, it gets complicated. It's not always easy or clean. People--the kids and us--can potentially get hurt. Something tells me though, that if we love extravagantly, but are careful and thoughtful in how we treat these relationships, then the time and love that we share will ultimately do more good than harm.