Five years ago, child, you came to me, delivered not by a doctor, but by a social worker. You arrived at my front door with your entire world in a sad plastic sack: two changes of clothes, a pink hoodie, and a quilt that your last foster mom had given you. Before that, I couldn’t conceive of motherhood, because the doctors had told us it was impossible. Then I saw you, seven years old and fragile, dressed in pink capris with holes in the knee, a fringe of bangs above your beautiful blue eyes and a pink pad of paper in hand, already full of your colorful drawings.
“Can you take her?” your social worker asked me.
Five years ago, I said, “Yes,” and I’ve been learning how to love you ever since.
It has been five years, child. Five rich, hard, beautiful, and complicated years.
Five years of your sweet voice calling me “Mommy,” which you only called me in those first few weeks because you didn’t have another word for me.
Five years of gradually becoming your mother—not in an instant as in birth, but over the course of time, feeling my heart warm and reshape and melt around you, transforming you from complete stranger into my daughter.
Five years of pink dryer lint spangled with glitter.
Five years of you looking for my hand and squeezing it tightly in yours. Five years of breathing silent prayers of thanksgiving at the miracle of your touch.
Five years of watching you make fairy gardens out of antique jewelry and bird nests out of scraps to house eggs blown out of their tree by a storm.
Five years of “What Shape Is My Food?” played at the dinner table as we examine our meals bite-by-bite.
Five years of the sweetest nicknames: Doodlebug and Twinkles and Snuggle Nugget from me to you, and Poopy Loops from you to me.
Five years of Bob’s Burgers on the TV and snuggles on the couch, my favorite way to spend a Sunday night with you.
Five years of junk food picnics on the living room floor.
Five years of pet houses crafted from cardboard and duct tape and yarn and whatever things you found in the garage and probably weren’t supposed to take.
Five years of being moved to tears by the beauty of your voice as you sing in the shower, unaware that I am listening outside your door.
Five years of being completely amazed by your artistic ability. Five years of your drawings lining my office walls.
Five years of making space for you. Five years of learning how to push myself aside for you, of putting your needs before my own.
Five years of crying over dead grasshoppers and butterflies and raccoons with you. Five years of your tender little heart breaking at the sight of baby animals without a mother nearby, of swallowing my tears as you ask why the mother animal isn’t taking care of her babies.
Five years of tiptoeing around discussions of the past you don’t know that I know you have.
Five years of hearing you scream, “Mommy, don’t leave me!” when I walk into the next room and out of your sight because you are so afraid that I will leave you as you have been left before.
Five years of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Five years of “I love you’s” given but rarely returned.
Five years of you pushing me away and pulling me close, of alternately rejecting and demanding my affection. Five years of trying to love you but feeling like I just don’t know how.
Five years of crying in secret over your broken sense of attachment. Five years of locking myself in the bathroom and filling the bathtub so the rush of water drowns out my sobs.
Five years of hiding the pain you’ve caused me because I don’t want you to hurt.
Five years of finding the strength to keep trying to show you love and push past the feelings of rejection.
Five years of catching you up in sweeping hugs as you run past me, of holding you as long as I physically can because I know that both you and I need it.
Five years of not having answers to the hard questions you have about your other family. Five years of only being able to offer you my arms, which always feel like not enough but are all I have to give.
Five years of holding you while you sob and ask, “Why did they leave me?”
Five years of only being able to say, “I don’t know.”
Five years of watching your understanding of your past grow, piece by awful piece. Five years of watching your confusion, of watching your love for your other family mingle with your pain at what they have done to you.
Five years of watching my own words, of being careful not to tarnish your precious memories of them with my judgment and disapproval. I know they are all you have left anymore.
Five years of biting my tongue to hold in my rage about the circumstances that brought you to me in the first place.
Five years of tempering that judgment, disapproval, and rage with joy and gratitude, because those ugly circumstances are what brought us together.
Five years, child.
Five years that feel at once instant and eternal: I always feel as though I’ve known you forever and yet have only just met you.
Five years ago, I said, “Yes.” I became your mother, and you saved me from the crush of loneliness, the landslide of infertility that had buried me.
Five years ago, you gave me hope for the future, for both mine and yours.
Five years ago, I met you, child, and nothing was ever the same.