Monday, September 24, 2012

On grieving for black little girls we never knew

Maggie, 10 months


I was in sixth grade. Every morning of middle school I caught the warm yellow bus at a very early hour to be transported to the magnet school across town. After collecting me and my brother and our friends from our white neighborhood the bus winded through many other neighborhoods, neighborhoods I would never see otherwise, and the black kids joined us on the social microcosm that is a school bus. And there we sat for the hour long bus ride to and fro, daily, in segregated integration. I didn't like the black girls only because I was afraid they didn't like me. They didn't like me because they were afraid I didn't like them. And so we disliked and misunderstood each other for two hours every day across the streets of Houston.

That morning the bus was at a stoplight in one of those other neighborhoods. My little girlfriends and I discussed the latest horror fiction we had snuck past our moms until we heard the bang. So loud. Then the school bus was completely silent and forty or so black and white children were unified for the first time ever by the shocking sight on the other side of the glass.

His car was completely sliced in two by the telephone pole. Like a knife through butter. But only in the back seat. Physically he was untouched. He stared out the window, his hand on his forehead. Had I not known I would think he was bored. He was not bored. I watched a man transform, missing the life he had led just five minutes ago.

The little girl looked like the girls on my bus that didn't like me. She lay in the street, silently, still, and her brown-orange coat flapped in the wind and I was very worried for her, that her dress would blow up and everyone on the bus would see her panties. Why doesn't she pull down her dress? I stared. Why doesn't she get up?

Her mother was not silent. She wailed and wailed and wailed and wailed as I and forty other black and white children watched from the windows of the school bus. She did not look at the girl on the cement. As she wailed, she danced a strange jerking stomping dance around the girl. She paced back and forth, collapsed to the ground, got up again, stomped her feet, waved her arms, held them to her head, collapsed again. My child heart did not understand this strange dance. My mother heart does, now. 

We sat there for what seemed like such a long time until finally the children began to talk again, the bus grew loud again, the traffic was cleared, and we continued our journey to school.

I don't even know if we were tardy. I don't remember talking about it, to anyone. The bus driver drove on, never mentioning it. Certainly no counselors were called. We got on the bus the next morning and rode through our neighborhoods to our school just like we had every other morning. It was like it never happened. But it did happen.

When I was a little girl I saw another little girl die.
I did not know that child but I was there, staring through a window, watching her die.
It happened to her. It happened to me.

That has to change a child. That experience, the memory of that experience, must seep inside a heart until the very DNA of the soul is transformed. I don't know how it changed me, and the other children on that bus. I only know that it did. It must have. It must have made me a different me than the me I was before. Made them a different them.

I can still see her brown-orange coat flapping in the wind. I still want to pull down her dress and protect her. I still want her to get up.

It's been thirty years and I'm a mother now and I'm at Costco with my children. My little girl gets in trouble. Nothing major, she simply took a second pasta sample when I told her she could only have one, so I took it away from her. Not a big deal. But her face collapses, and soon she is sobbing. We turn down an aisle and she continues to sob. Her heart is broken. This is about more than pasta.

I kneel down, cradle her face in my hands, "Maggie, why are you so sad?"
"Because you got mad a me!"
"I'm not even mad at you. I told you I forgive you. Now tell me, why are you so sad?"
"Because I'm afraid that you're going to send me away if I'm bad!"
 
I'm shocked. Stunned to hear this come from her. Shocked that she even felt it, said it. But mostly shocked because my friend Grace and I had talked just the night before about how Grace's daughter had said this very same sentence to her. And Grace was delighted that she had verbalized this fear because when our child's heart cries out loud, our child's heart can be comforted.

But Grace's daughter is adopted from Ethiopia. Grace's daughter has good reason to fear abandonment by a mother, because she's experienced it once before. She knows that it happens. It happened to her.

But why does my daughter have this fear?

My daughter has never been abandoned, my daughter has never been left.

But since she can remember, she's been thinking, talking, wondering, praying, waiting for an invisible someday-sister. And that someday-sister needs another mother because her first mother went away.

At some point, recently, my daughter realized that sometimes mothers leave their little girls. This horrible knowledge has seeped into her heart and transformed the DNA of her soul. And suddenly, kneeling on the cement, looking into her wet eyes, I realize that she is now a different she. 

"Maggie, I will never, ever send you away, no matter what you do. I will never, ever leave you."

She stares. I continue. "But sometimes, not here, but in Ethiopia, mommies don't have enough money to buy food for their babies. And when they don't, even though they love them, they have to leave them in an orphanage so that someone else can take care of them..."

"BUT THAT'S SO SAD!!" She wails, and she wails, and she wails, and she wails. I gather my daughter in my arms and she clings to me and I cling to her as we sit on the cement, together grieving for black little girls we never knew.


I'm linking up with The Parent 'Hood

46 comments:

  1. Heart.breaking. I grieve for the DNA transformation children suffer. As a therapist, I am consistently surprised by the awareness and depth that children display in relation to trauma. It buries deep. I don't [yet] have children, but I worry about how to provide security for my future babies without sheltering them. The life choices my husband and I have made and will make (like adoption and living in a developing nation) will likely mean they are exposed to trauma they wouldn't have had to experience had we made other choices- and that grieves me. However, I am consistently amazed at how strong and resilient God makes little ones, and how He heals. He knew this would happen when He laid it on your heart to adopt, but He also knew that He had provided the mommy to deal with this perfectly. Your kids are blessed to have you as their mama.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Throughout this whole adoption process, I've often thought, this is changing the way our children view the world. Shepherd was older when we started, and he's, well, a boy. Eva Rose processed it a while back and she's very precocious and verbal so we talked through it. It has already changed her life goals. But Maggie was only 3 when we started the process. She's 6 now and it seems like it's just starting to hit her, what this is all about. Sweet baby girl.

      Delete
  2. I think about this whenever we talked about my children's sister, the one who died. But I cannot change it, I can only pray and hope that it makes them compassionate and tender and more aware of the dark side of life. I think we need to be aware of the myriad of ways life doesn't turn out like the fairy tales. Few people get happy endings. That's why we need to help and share and give. But my mother heart aches and aches when I see my children hurting and struggling with these hard realities. I wish it away, until I remember that we can't because it won't go away and so they need to know.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Joy I thought of you when I wrote this post. I've often thought about how hard it must be for mothers to grieve when they are helping their children grieve at the same time. Come Lord.

      Delete
  3. I remember this feeling: the first time to be faced with something so sad, so terrible, and my mother didn't say it's only in stories. It was a real thing in real life. And that's the thing Maggie's confronted: that there are some terribly, terribly sad things that are real.

    But what a great example you're setting: faced with that sadness, there's prayer, and there's whatever actions we can take to make a difference.

    As a kid I recall thinking, I'll try to love *harder*, to make up for the sadness in the world.

    Still struggling with the make-a-difference part.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I want to comment but words fail me. I need to sit on this for a while. Powerful, Missy.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Missy, I only know you through reading your blog over the last few years, but your words are so powerful! You have a true gift from God. I have gotton to know you and your family through this blog, but I feel that you also have given me things to think about that have strengthened my faith in Christ Jesus! Thank you for your openess and honesty! You are a blessing to your family and those of us that are priveleged to read you!

    ReplyDelete
  6. The honesty here is so courageous and good. Your honesty about how things really were on that bus between black and white kids, and about the confusion you felt watching the accident unfold . . . And the honesty about adoption, which is obviously being "caught" by your kids. You've created safety for Maggie to be honest about loss in adoption -- which far too many adoptive parents gloss over. Adoption can be so beautiful, but there is so much loss at its core for the birth family, for the child, and even for adoptive parents (who grieve infertility, or the circmstances their children have lived through). Bethie is going to be in capable, brave, loving hands.
    Nancy

    ReplyDelete
  7. Beautiful. Thanks for the 8:52 am sob. :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. Powerful, heartbreaking. You are a good mama, Missy.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Oh m'lands, Missy! You've got to warn me when you're going to leave me with tear streaks on my cheeks!!!

    It sounds crazy, but as much as I love these three precious treasures the Lord has brought me through adoption, I wish--how I wish--that this world was different and their birth circumstances would have been different to where neither they nor their birth families would have had to suffer such loss.

    And yes, indeed, adding a child to your family changes your birthchildren. It opens their eyes and hearts with compassion. Our older children see things so much differently than I did as a teen!!

    Powerful post--thanks for sharing!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. You are an amazing storyteller! What a skill to take yourself back to that time as a child and remember it as a child. Most of us spend our lives trying to stuff away those kind of memories, our mind forgetting that they even happened. But in pulling that memory up, you reached into the heart of your child to comfort her.

    ReplyDelete
  11. And now I am crying at work. Where someone could come in at any moment and wonder why the receptionist has tears in her eyes.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Shoot, woman. All this someday-sister business is very familiar of course. No idea how it's changing my children yet. But I'd like to think that it's a good kind of change, a change that will engender compassion and empathy someday.

    ReplyDelete
  13. My kids are still processing that idea - that sometimes mommies and daddies leave and we don't know why. Because it is part of their stories, they know that it happens everywhere in the world, and it still sneaks up in the most unlikely of times.

    Thank you for writing this. I need to sit down with my kids next time they get overly upset about something and reassure them that THIS mommy is forever. Those fears linger for longer than we know.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Oh, Missy. My heart is in my throat, literally. Crying.

    ReplyDelete
  15. We've talked with our older two girls, 4 and 3, about the brother they will have someday through adoption. We've talked with them a lot about orphans. My 4 year old "got it" a couple of months ago during supper. We hadn't talked about orphans in a few days, but I could tell she was thinking hard. I asked her what she was thinking about, she said, "Mommy, if there's orphans in the world and they need a family...why don't they just come live here with us?" My heart filled with so much joy bc I knew she got it. I know this process will change our children, and us, too - and I really can't wait to see who we all are on the other side of this journey. Thank you for sharing this.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Such a powerful post. Thank you. I try to be as honest as possible with my children. I've had to be. We've been through a lot of bad stuff. Looking back, I see that the honesty has been like a golden thread, running through the good and the bad, and worth more than I could ever have foreseen.

    Maggie sounds like she is going to make a wonderful sister when her adoptive sibling arrives :-)

    I remember with sadness the first time I learned there were 'black' people and 'white' people. I must have been about 10. My school was 99.9% white, as was the town I lived in. There was a boy adopted from Brazil by a Christian missionary family who was in my class but the rest were Anglo-Saxon born and bred. It didn't occur to me then that he was different because of the colour of his skin, though. He was just annoying because he was a boy and he thought he was clever. Anyway, on the radio one day there was criticism that there were not enough black people on children's television. I was very puzzled by this. The colour of someone's skin seemed a very odd way to categorise people, like saying 'there aren't enough people with freckles on children's television'. And in my head I started trying to think of those I knew who had dark skin, and those who had light skin. The death of innocence is also the birth of wisdom... maybe... and compassion, I hope. Dunno if I'm making any sense, sorry!

    ReplyDelete
  17. I have shared this post on my blog. I don't know how to reblog from blogspot to wordpress, so I've copied and pasted the first couple of paragraphs with an exhortation to click the link to read more. I've entitled it 'Best of the Net' (a rather inadequate title). Just wanted to let you know. God bless.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I need to read this again. It felt like I saw the accident and don't know what to do. You are not the same after witnessing such horror but I love how the Lord has used that hurt and image to speak into your lives. Maybe because of the bus, because of the little girl you watched leave this earth, God sovereignly gave you the chance to see the preciousness of life. What a deeply moving, stirring, life changing post. I am not the same.

    ReplyDelete
  19. I hate that you write so damn well, that you can make me cry in front of a computer screen, cry like I have been trying not to cry for way too long now. I just celebrated one year of living in an impoverished country, seeing things this sheltered city girl from Texas never saw before, breathing it in everyday until I feel numb by it. But my heart has been crying for a year, crying the same cry that Maggie cried, " But that's so SAD!!!!" I want to fix it, I want to cover it up, run away, pretend I never came here, but I can't, because I am not the same me that I was. Thank you for putting into words the pain of grieving for people we don't even know, and the desire to try and know them and share God's love with them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Bethany. I just think of Jesus gazing at Jerusalem, crying, I so wanted to gather you in my arms...that's a holy love, Bethany. Holiness is always hard.

      Delete
  20. Oh, crap...and now I'm sniffling at my desk.

    ReplyDelete
  21. And the deeper truth is that we cannot even promise our daughters that we will never leave them. Because the only One with the power to do that is the One who loves their souls deeper than we do. My daughter had already lost her mother when I adopted her, as a single young woman living in the brokenness of South Africa. I think the fragility of earthly life is even more pronounced as a single... "if something were to happen to me..." ...well, then our daughters would still be okay. Because God's hand is still carrying them. His hand only allowing the loving growth that His grace will always meet. So those were the simple words I used to comfort my little precious one. God will always take care of you. He will always give you what you need. Such a comfort when I became gravely ill a year later and we were separated by an ocean, her little 5 year old heart held by Him while consulates took their time weighing the risk of granting another visa. And such a truth. He is so faithful. We can teach them that with confidence. The heart of a child can learn to trust in Him in the midst of the brokenness that He uses to show His glory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After our cry all the children and I did have a talk about how even if Mommy and Daddy were to die, then they would still be taken care of by other family. Talking about who she would want to go live with actually got Maggie chipper again. ;)

      Delete
  22. Recently I said to my mother "That day was not about me, and I knew it wasn't about me."

    Without all the details (long story, not unwilling to share, just too long for here), I know what it's like to be 11 and experiencing the loss of a life right in front of you.

    I am sorry you had to see that and not have any help with it. Maybe it changed you for the better? I think it did for me. God used it in me, and I was glad for at least that.

    Glad you could help Maggie sort through it a little bit. And at Costco, no less!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't even know how it changed me. I think for the better but I've no idea. My mom called me today and said, "What? I don't remember this at all!" and that's because WE JUST NEVER TALKED ABOUT IT. We all just went about our lives as though it was just another day...

      This teaches me so much about trauma too, and about children experiencing trauma. Because I have a really, really bad memory. I remember very little from middle school but this? I recall like it was last week.

      I think this - go on as though it never happened - with children, it obviously doesnt' work. I wasn't overly traumatized partly because I could tell myself that she had not died, although, it was obvious she had. The fact that her mother was not helping her, could not even look at her, says to me that she was dead.

      My point is, children see things - they file them away - they may never mention them. But it never leaves them. I think God wanted me to ponder this in my heart before my daughter comes home.

      Delete
    2. PS It's ridiculous how much I've learned about grace at Costco.

      http://itsalmostnaptime.blogspot.com/2010/01/grace-at-costco.html

      Delete
  23. These non-sheltering experiences are exactly what made me who I am. When I was in second grade, the boy who sat next to me died from leukemia, another classmate's brother died after being hit by a car outside our school and my grandmother, who lived with us, also died. I leanbed that year that you only live once and very little we do on this earth matters. Beautiful gifts can come from all things. Thanks for sharing your story. --Elaine

    ReplyDelete
  24. I am actually petrified that my children will have some fear, started from somewhere, that they won't verbalize and allow me to address with them. It is so amazing that Maggie felt like she could say it to you. I assume it was the power of Costco at work. :)

    ReplyDelete
  25. Wow.

    I had to comment but there is nothing left to say.

    Incredible post.

    ReplyDelete
  26. This is so powerful, Missy. I am blown away.

    And I'm so sorry for your daughter, internalizing the hardest parts of life right now, at this early age. But you have to believe God is going to use those wounds in her heart to make her into the person He's designed her to be.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I read this yesterday. Tears streaming down my cheeks. Its taken me a day to process and find time to come back to comment.
    Fractions of time truly change us as a person. Its beautiful to me to see adoptive moms think/grieve for the mom's that said goodbye to their babies.
    I'm one of those moms :)
    My husband & I (then h.s. boyfriend) had a little boy shortly after graduation. That was 24yrs ago.
    We will be married for 18 yrs. in November and also have 3 amazing kids.
    While I know the joy of raising my children my heart also goes to my son whom I briefly knew.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, Mary. My birthmom had me two months after her high school graduation. Y'all are both strong, amazing women.

      Delete
  28. wow. i don't have any words to add. my heart is hurting too... it is the good kind of hurt though - His compassion.

    thank you for sharing this story.

    my recent post: what i have learned having 5 kids....

    ReplyDelete
  29. This? Stopped me. Cold. I'm glad your arms were there for Sweet Maggie. I can't imagine how much you want to hold and heal your unmet Sweet Girl. And I'm pretty sure God is very pleased that your arms feel this way. Hugs and a Labrador kiss from Dallas.

    ReplyDelete
  30. This touched me to my very core. So beautifully, tragically told. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Wow. Just found your blog, and found this post. Wow. We have one adopted domestic AA boy, and two children adopted this year from Ethiopia. This post really touched my heart b/c I get it. I also find myself grieving for my kids first parents and the life with their child(ren) that they will never have.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Wow. Just found your blog, and found this post. Wow. We have one adopted domestic AA boy, and two children adopted this year from Ethiopia. This post really touched my heart b/c I get it. I also find myself grieving for my kids first parents and the life with their child(ren) that they will never have.

    ReplyDelete
  33. This is one of the best things I have read in a long time. I accompanied a friend back to Ethiopia this summer and we visited her daughter's original orphanage...just being in those places changed me in deep ways. My mother left me when I was a young teenager, and I certainly had some full circle moments for those sweet babies.

    ReplyDelete

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
 
Privacy Policy