A few days have passed since the whole world shouted out how amazing their mothers are. I was not left behind. Beautiful cards and flowers decorate our home. However, it’s the sweet faces around my table that are the most beautiful part of my life. Our lives together have been hard-fought. We are a family built by unexpected pregnancy, foster care, adoption and choice. It never fails on days like these where celebrations and cheers ring out that I am aware my celebration is the sound of heartbreak to someone else.
This particular Mother’s Day was different than most. I stayed home with my little ones while our son recovered from surgery. A small part of me was thankful to be home instead of at church– I am not much of a fan of church on Mother’s Day. While I love fellowshipping with other believers, Mother’s Day is complicated for so many, myself included. I happily sat with my two youngest as they colored at our dining room table. There were cereal bowls and milk mustaches, stealing each other’s crayons, and lots of shrieking. It was just like every other morning. It’s mornings like these that I think of her, their first mom. I have tried over the years to love her well, to be willing to see her beyond the heartbreak of her life. As I look at these two little ones I know I need to see her today. I need to see the woman who made me the mom of the milk mustached little ones I love.
Thankfully, my husband gets me, and he gets it, just how unconventional our life is. So I kissed my family goodbye and made the short drive to the women’s correctional facility in our state. I stood in line with my ID and my bag of quarters ready for the metal detector and the stern faced officer to signal my entry. I was finally let back and we sat across from one another, two women in a sea of mothers and children reunited for a brief moment. I watched mothers hold their children close and breathe them in, I saw weary caretakers, grandparents, foster parents and friends do the same thing I had come to do. Together we all hoped to offer encouragement and love as we try to fit in days, weeks, maybe even years of memories to share about the children these women brought into this world.
I spent our time telling her all about our children. I told her our sweet daughter is starting to read, how she taught herself to do a cartwheel and handstand. We discuss her love for PBJ and how excited she is that she’s able to take a break from OT and that day by day she comes out of her shell a little more. I answer all her questions big and small. We then talk about our little wonder boy. At two years old he just wants to fly. I try to demonstrate his beautiful smile. We speak of his therapies, but most of all we talk about how joyful and busy he is. She asks about his surgery, her eyes filled with tears. I reassure her it went well, and he continues to amaze us. For the first time she shares with me about her brother, saying my stories about our son remind her of him. How similar they both seem. Her brother was not placed in foster care with her. Instead he was sent to a group home for teen boys. He had once been her only protector and she lost him. First when he was sent to a group home, then as he was admitted to juvenile detention. Once there, he joined a gang to survive. He was murdered a few weeks after being released. The loss of her protector has shaped her life. It is not lost on me how she wanted to connect them, her brother and her son, both orphaned because of drugs, with very different outcomes. I know she cannot help to compare the life her children have with us versus what was offered to her and her siblings.
I remind her I am not perfect. I am not a perfect mother. I yell and get frustrated. I cry at night thinking I am failing them. I don’t want to live on a pedestal. My greatest hope is to love my kids well. She seems to understand that. As I prepare to leave, I try to encourage her. She will be leaving the relative safety of the prison walls soon. She is returning to the sameness of her life before. She finished drug and alcohol treatment, she completed many classes and received many certificates, but ultimately it’s her ability to apply what she has learned that will change things for her. I offer her the only truth I know– that she is worth more than what was given to her. She is loved. We love her. I give her a hug, and she whispers, “Thank you, thank you for loving my babies.” I walk to my car in tears. Life is beautiful and messy, and unfair. I get to go home to my babies– our babies. Her whisper of thanks speaks louder than any card could. It was offered despite her loss. I don’t know what will happen when she is released. I am hopeful, and fearful and just believing at some point she will believe in herself enough to thrive beyond the structure of prison walls. I hope this is the last Mother’s Day she celebrates in prison, and if it’s not, I will be back.