Last night, my nieces who have been living with us for five months went back to live with their mom. Which means a little more freedom in my house. Freedom to eat sushi and quinoa and goat cheese and other things that don’t require a slathering of ranch dressing. Freedom to do some housecleaning in my underwear. Freedom to stretch out on the carpet and make snow angels in the crushed Honey Nut Cheerio crumbs.
I know it sounds bitchy of me, but sometimes having other people in your house for extended periods of time, especially when they don’t want to fit in, forces you to change your own ways to be accomodating. Therefore you give up the things you love for the greater good. Like not making the caramel pull-apart my family loves so much because the girls hate it and not making lunches with smiley faces on the food because they “don’t want to eat things create-a-ful.”
I knew I would be stoked when the girls left. The 14-year-old never smiled, never spoke more than four or five words a day (not all in one sentence either). She rarely came out of her room. When she did she was pretty much a zombie.
The 7-year-old hated everything I cooked. In fact, she hated the fact that I cooked and said everything tasted “nasty.” That is until Ron had enough and told her how hurtful it is to call the food someone prepared for you “nasty.” He also took exception to the word itself and the scrunchy-faced way she would say it. “How can that cute little blond-haired, brown-eyed tiny fairy girl say ‘That tastes naaaassttyy!’?” he asked me.
Sebastian didn’t take to the 7-year-old right away. Even though he is 2 years old, they fought. My niece is mentally closer to 5 than she is her age, which is almost 8 in a couple of months. Sebastian would yell at her along with his brothers: “Stop Jake, Chase, … and … da utter one!” From that point on he called her “The Other One,” until he eventually shortened it to “One.”
The girls were a pain to wake up in the morning (at 9 a.m.) because until now they have been used to sleeping all day and staying up all night. School was an occasional inconvenience and homework was just filler for a backpack. They didn’t understand why they had to bother doing it. “One” constantly reminded me that she didn’t have to get up in the morning at “my mom’s house,” or that “my mom doesn’t make me eat my food, if I don’t want,” and the comparison was hard and often hurtful to me when all I wanted was to introduce a schedule, stability and routine.
So I knew that I’d be happy when they were gone. Except that I’m kinda not. Ron predicted that, I argued, as usual. But he was right. There were moments. Especially with One. She would sometimes confide in me, out of the blue, about her wish that her parents get married, or that her mom would take her to Disneyland so she could see Tinkerbell or about the night she was taken away from her home. Sometimes we’d talk about nail polish or hair and those other things that I forgot were subjects girls discuss. She spent the majority of her time drawing pictures with tons of crayons, markers and pens that always wound up lying around the house, but sometimes she’d share with me what she was drawing — almost always pictures of her family together standing outside of a house. Once, she drew herself with our family.
When they got in their mom’s car, One asked for my recipes to give her mom. She said I had promised I’d give them to her before they left. I had. So I promised her I’d get them to her another day. And that was that.
What was left of our family piled into the car and went out to dinner. Sebastian found a striped pencil on the floorboard and gasped. He picked it up and with his eyes wide said “Das One!” It was her pencil. He said it like he realized she was gone and had left it behind. Obviously on some level he understood she wasn’t just going for a visit with her mom.
My own reminder is the empty bedroom the girls shared with the stripped down bunk beds they shared. The same bedroom that I threatened I would move my guitars into the minute they left. That didn’t happen.
I’ll get my music room eventually and our family will certainly breath easier as we get back to normal routines, in the absence of two less people and the parade of social workers and other requirements and sacrifices that came with being a foster family. But for just a minute we will all silently recognize a small void.