My daughter, Alyssa, graduated from kindergarten a few days ago. I curled her hair and let her wear Chap Stick for the grand occasion. I helped her put on the little cap and gown and then I found a place with my family to watch her walk across the stage to get her diploma. There were the usual welcoming remarks followed by a slideshow. Each child had several pictures that her or his family had provided followed by a snapshot of them holding a chalkboard sign proclaiming what they want to be when they grow up. There were doctors, veterinarians and bull riders (we are in small town Texas after all). I expected Alyssa’s to say hair stylist or Elsa. Instead, it said mom. I heard the room sigh as the audience read that simple word. I imagine the others in the room thought it was sweet and cute for her to give that as an answer. I teared up as I stared at the screen though because I know what that word means to my baby girl.
I was never the little girl who dreamed of growing up to be a mom. I spent more time riding horses than playing with Barbies. When I was assigned the home economics doll in high school, I used it as a football and cracked the battery case. And yet, being a parent has been a key part of my identity for the past decade. Today, I am one of Alyssa’s two moms. She has a birth mother whose parental rights were terminated by the state for abusing and neglecting her children. She also has me. I was her foster mother for almost two years before my husband and I adopted her.
Alyssa was only two and a half years old when she came to us but she had already lived through more than most adults. This tiny little child was so full of rage that she would scream for hours. She didn’t speak but would flip people off if she did not like them. She hit me, kicked me, and spit in my face. She broke anything she could and sometimes hurt herself when she was angry. I spent countless hours sitting on the floor with her in my lap, holding her while she screamed. I also walked away frustrated many times. There have been moments when I completely rocked it and helped her work through the grief of being abandoned by her first family. There have been other times when I completely failed and did not react with the compassion she needed in that moment. Through the ups and downs, I have stayed though because I believe that family is forever and real love stays even when it’s hard.
Family and love were foreign concepts for my daughter when I met her. She had been bounced around between unhealthy homes and shelters. She had experienced loss and hunger and absolute fear. She had no reason to suspect when she came here that our home would be any different. Even after our adoption, Alyssa would ask several times each day if I was still her mom. She does that less now but that fear of abandonment still rears its ugly head sometimes when she gets in trouble and she goes back to being the scared little girl who believes no one really wants her. In those moments she occasionally asks if I will still be her mom as if I might disappear while she takes a timeout in the corner. “Always and forever” I tell her. “No matter what you do, we are family and family is forever.”
I’m just an ordinary mom. I’m way too busy and I burn dinner more often than I should. My house is messy and I couldn’t find a pair of matching socks to save my life but somehow, in all of that, my little girl found a definition of family different than the one that she was born into. As her picture flashed across that screen, I sat in amazement at how far she has come. The little girl who came to me so broken, now has an idea of what it means to be a part of a family and actually dreams of having her own someday.
I don’t know what the future holds for Alyssa. She still struggles with her past and her special needs add additional challenges to her future. I do know that she overcame the odds and learned to love in spite of the pain. Alyssa wants to be a mom and I couldn’t be more proud.