The beginning of belonging.
I learned the meaning of belonging from a little girl. We have known her since she was not quite three. Little Miss and her younger brother came to live with us for a time. I learned how to care for her hair and what kind of comb to use. Our daughter and a friend learned to corn-row better than I could. I learned that, while baby oil on my babies left their skin smooth and soft, baby oil on these babies did the exact opposite on their skin. They learned colors and counting and stories and songs in our home. We loved them and, for a time, they became ours. During that time, I became Mama to them and Dave was Papa. They heard our kids call us so, and simply followed suit.
When the time was nearing for them to return home, we realized we needed to change some things at our house. I began calling myself “Mama Gert” and referred to their mom as “your Destiny* Mom.” It was necessary so they would recognize their biological mom (who loved them immensely) as their Mom. She needed to become more important, and I had to become less important. Was it hard? You betcha. Am I glad I did? Definitely. I recognized that, while what I gave them was different from their family, they belonged with them and not to me. Their home would now become home.
Belonging by family . . .
When we said “Goodbye”, we didn’t know how things would go or if we’d ever see them again. Night after night, I lay awake, wondering if they were okay, and praying for them to be safe.
Thankfully, Destiny and her husband willingly allowed us to be a part of their lives – and they became a part of ours. The relationship waxes and wanes, depending on schedules, wants, and needs. Yet eight years later, we still celebrate belonging. The way they love and discipline is different from how I raised mine, but they belong with family.
. . . and belonging by heart.
One evening several years ago when she was but eight, we sat next to each other at a campfire following a hay ride with friends from church. As she sat in her child-size lawn chair between both of her “moms”, she posed a question to me. It was out loud, for all the world to hear.
“Mama Gert,” she said, “Are we a part of your family?”
I paused. What was the right answer, especially with her mom sitting there? Breathing a prayer for wisdom, I answered.
“You are always a part of us,” I replied. “We don’t have any of the same blood in us, but you are all a part of us. We belong to each other in our hearts.”
She nodded her corn-rowed head, dark eyes shining in the firelight. Destiny sat on the other side of her, looking into the fire. One would think she didn’t hear the conversation, but her face spoke otherwise.
I wondered, Did I give the answer she wanted? Will both mother and child be satisfied with my answer? What if my answer was wrong?!
Later that evening she climbed onto my lap. I held her, my born-of-my-heart child, stroking her ebony-skinned arms. She nestled into my shoulder as I inhaled the familiar fragrance of hair gel. Then I spoke into the night air next to her ear and asked, “What made you ask me that question, do you know?”
“Oh,” she shrugged her shoulders. “I asked my mom if our family was a part of your family, and she said we are all in the same family. And I thought I’d ask you because I just wanted to know if you would say the same thing.”
I exhaled slowly, overwhelmed, and swallowed hard. I hugged this other-mother-child, feeling the warmth in my heart spread through me. Her sweet face became a blur as I exhaled slowly. And I knew in that moment we are making a difference.
Time changes things – yet they are the same
Time together comes and goes. We never know how soon we’ll see each other again, or for how long it will be. But we belong together. They call their place and ours home. They rush inside, claiming their territory, their rooms, and us as their family. I enter theirs with just a “Yoo hoo!” when I open their front door. We are welcome at Grandma’s house when we stop to pick up the kids or return them to her for child care. Sometimes I call just to check on Grandma because she is not always well. Other times she calls the kids while they are at my house, and she and I swap howdies.
At the supper table a few nights ago, I relayed a conversation with a friend to Dave. Little Miss and her brother were there, listening.
“I told her not to worry about my watching seven kids. Shoot, it’s just one more than we had. Why would seven be so hard, anyhow?”
“Oh no, Mama Gert,” she said. “You don’t have six kids, Mama Gert, you have eight! Your six kids, and me and Brother. That makes eight.”
Dave and I looked at each other. There were no words. We must be doing some things right. Yes, Little Miss, you and Brother make eight. And you will – forever and always – belong in my heart.