“I want to see my other mommy,” she says from behind me. We are halfway through the chaotic drive to school. I glance at her cheerful face in the rear view mirror. It is a simple thought, simply stated.
“Your Haiti mommy?” I ask her.
“Yes, my other mommy. In Haiti. I want to see her.”
My heart accelerates and my muscles tense. Not because I don’t want her to ask. I want to have this conversation often and openly. I don’t feel threatened or upset. Because I want to get this – this one thing – right so very badly that my teeth hurt where I have clenched them together. I don’t in general believe there is a “right” way to parent. I don’t think there are good moms and bad moms. I don’t subscribe to a certain philosophy of child raising in the hope that it will allow me to raise “better” children than other people raise. Raising children is hard. We all do the best we can. We are all best for our children and our decisions are best for our families.
But this. This thing that she must live with. This fact that I am not her first mother and this family is not the one that shares her genes or her features or even something so basic as her hair. This discussion about how to settle into the knowledge that she has another mother and how to carry that knowledge through her life, whether with acceptance or understanding or anger or pain. I would like to get this “right.” Where the definition of right is that, as an adult, she will look back on the way that I handled it with understanding and, perhaps, dare I hope, respect.
“Of course you do. You should want to see her. I’d love to take you to Haiti when you’re older. I’d love to go there with you. Right now, we can’t go because it’s so far and you’re so young, but we can later.
“We can see her?”
I hesitate. I don’t know the answer and there are words I won’t say to my five-year-old daughter. Earthquake. Death toll. Cholera. There are promises that I can’t make.
“We can try. Sometimes, people are hard to find in Haiti, but we can try our hardest.”
Quinn sings a loud nonsense song. Garrett stares out the window at the solid fleece-gray sky.
“My Haiti mommy has a dog,” Saige tells me in her blaringly loud speaking voice. I resist the urge to remind her to use her talking voice not her yelling voice. “A pink dog named Princess. She has a lot of crayons.”
I have a rudimentary knowledge of these things, enough to understand that fantasy is a way of processing for children, that I needn’t correct her. She won’t see it as a lie later. She will outgrow the need to create a world that her mother lives within.
“Mmmmmm.” I make a listening noise, neither affirmative or negative.
“And she has light skin.”
“No,” I tell her, unwilling to let this one pass, “she has beautiful brown just skin like yours. Do you remember the picture. We can look at it again.”
“Does she have brown eyes like ours?”
“Yes, just like yours.”
“Like ours,” she corrects me. “Does she have hair like mine.”
“Exactly like yours. In fact, I would bet that she’s a really good hair braider, much faster than mommy.”
She giggles. I glance quickly over my right shoulder at her again, strapped into her five-point harness, her hair in pigtails on the top of her head, her beautiful high cheekbones prominent when she smiles. Like her Haiti mother’s.
“I miss her.” This one is easy. There is no question or equivocation. Anyone who is a mother knows the answer. I choke on it only because I know that it’s true.
“She misses you too.”
We are in the drop off line and there are buckles to undue and backpacks to grab. One of the teachers helps them out of the car and I wave and kiss and call I love you hurriedly because I have to drive on, out of the way of the line of cars. I find myself, breathless and shaken, alone in the car with Quinn on the slow drive to toddler class, wishing for a soothsayer to appear beside me. A fortune teller with a crystal ball to look into the future for me, read the swirls and wisps of gray that echo the heavy, clouded sky and answer my deceptively simple questions. The questions we’d all like to ask, really. Am I doing this right? How the hell am I doing here?