the first meeting
I was very nervous as I pulled up and parked in front of the two-story house with odds and ends (ok, junk) piled all over the porch. I heard children’s voices and saw faces pressed against an upstairs window. I gave a knock and the woman I recognized as M’s maternal aunt opened the door. I was holding M but as soon as she saw her aunt, she dove into her arms and hugged her for a long time. Her aunt K was crying. I’ll be darned, but my child does not hug strangers, so obviously she felt an instant connection with the woman who had named her and cared for her for most of the first 5 weeks of her life (I found this out later).
We were immediately surrounded by her cousins, who knew her by sight. She instantly began playing with them, again not the slightest bit shy. When her maternal grandmother came in the room, she ran to her and hugged her, and again I was amazed that she seemed to recognize and even love these people I had just met. We also met the maternal grandfather, his wife (the one M’s other mom does not like), and a maternal uncle.
All in all, M has six biological cousins and two step-cousins, and of course four siblings, three of which we may be able to see. I wanted to do a little something for christmas for the kids at our next visit, but god knows I can’t afford much. So I ended up getting $1 stockings and each cousin got a color/sticker book (cooler ones for the older girls), a box of new crayons, and mini candy bites. Her two siblings who are younger (6 and 4) got special stockings and a few other small things inside. For her grandma, aunt, and grandpa I got a photo frame to put M’s pic inside, from the Christmas photo shoot we are having this Saturday.
It was overwhelming, all of the emotions that I felt and feel still at this first meeting. First there are all of the emotions that M’s family is feeling, all of the jitters we both have about each other, the dynamics of power (me holding the power to allow M to see her family or not, they holding a biological power over her and a history that I never will). Then there are my own opinions to sort through, trying to figure out who seems stable and safe, who doesn’t, how to parent in the presence of her family, what I’m ok with (her eating fudge) and what I’m not (her leaving my eyesight, for now).
Everything was really good, though. They showed me that they respected my role as mother in M’s life by remarking on what a “mama’s girl” M is, and asking questions about what I changed her name to and if M had cousins through my siblings. I made it clear from the start that I wanted to visit them regularly so M always knows her first family. I was disappointed that the aunt hadn’t found her newborn pics, but she thinks they are in a box in storage. The cousins, well, there is one who has a lot of behavioral and emotional problems but nothing I can’t handle in small doses. The other three were great, very sweet kids. They were eager to know when we were coming back and if they could come to my house.
The oldest cousin was especially great with M, watched out for her and protected her from hazards. She asked to see pics of when M first came to stay with me, and asked if we had a dog. She also made a comment about “the day that M was…” and then she stopped, looked down at the ground, and said, “I don’t want to say it.” I said, “when she was taken?” She nodded silently. I said, “it’s ok, you can say it. That was a very sad day for you and for her.” Bless this child who could express so clearly what had obviously been a traumatic even in the psyche of the family.
I’ve been trying to just marinate in all of the thoughts and feelings I have about the visit, everything it brings up. But I’m 100% sure it was the right thing and I’m very happy with how it went!