I am at an appointment with my younger son
when my purse begins to vibrate..
My phone is ringing.
I don't usually get that many calls and definitely not right in a row.
I wonder who is calling.
I wonder if everything is ok with my Arizona baby.
I reach into my purse.
Steal a quick glance at the number.
A 719 area code.
Not my son. That would be 623.
719 is Colorado.
I wonder if my mom is ok.
The appointment is almost over. I flip the phone off
and slip it back into my purse.
When we get outside, I call the number.
A voice I have not heard in almost a year.
The boys' sister.
R, my boys, and an older brother (now incarcerated)
were in foster care together.
R attended the school where I worked, then went on to middle school.
When I adopted the boys, I offered to take her too.
The social worker thought R had been a "mom" too long
and needed a break.
So she put the two older kids in one home
and the boys came to me.
Every Wednesday and every Saturday
we picked R up
and she spent the day with us
attended her brothers' sporting events
carved jack-o-lanterns and dyed Easter eggs
shared meals with her brothers.
When she was 16
I got a phone call.
R was living with an older brother.
Things were not working out.
Could she come and live with us?
I am not one to turn away a child.
And so she came.
We decorated her room.
Enrolled her in school.
Got her a cell phone
and a lab mix puppy
out of the back of a truck at the grocery store.
After about six months
R decided that my rules--
school and some kind of physical activity every day
homework every night
limited screen time during the week
were too much
she called her social worker
said she was being abused
and was yanked out of our home
My boys were furious
not with R
but with me.
Not quite a year later
Wants to apologize
"you treated me better than anyone ever had
and I lied," she says.
She is graduating from high school
wants us to attend.
Of course we go.
Two years later.
R is attending college downtown
working at Coors Field
living in a transitional studio apartment
provided by Denver Human Services
the boys are in high school
busy with sports and girls and friends
but they maintain contact with their sister
we see R
but not as often
One day, in early August,
days before I am supposed to start a new job
teaching fourth grade
after 15 years as a literacy coach
R comes over to the house
tells me she hates her apartment
because the tenants,
all kids like R,
in the process of being emancipated
from the foster care system,
"don't know how to act"
She wants to move in with us.
We have moved closer to town
are living in a much smaller house
do not even have an extra bedroom.
R says she will sleep on the couch in the family room
We spend the afternoon converting my office
a tiny basement room
not wide enough for a double bed
into a bedroom
and R moves in the next day.
we last a year.
R is older
she attends classes downtown
works at a department store
learns to drive
buys a car.
But there is still conflict
I am a single mom
struggling with the demands
of parenting teenage boys
with a lot of baggage
R loves her brothers
was their "mom" for 9 years
doesn't always agree with my parenting decisions
feels compelled to let me know
when she disagrees
after 11 months
will not speak to me
as she carries her boxes to the car
does not leave a forwarding address
does not come to say goodbye to Son #1
when he leaves for college
or see him when he is home at Christmas.
My boys are furious
not with R
but with me.
And now, 8 months later, she is calling
"Did you check your Facebook page?" she asks.
"I sent you a message."
I tell her I have not been home since early morning
we are not allowed to check Facebook at school.
"I was wondering…"
she says, then pauses.
"The people I'm living with are moving out of their apartment
I don't have any place to go.
I was wondering if you would let me move in for a few days."
I take a deep breath.
I feel like I have been
living in a war zone.
For the past three years.
I am exhausted
I do not think I can stand one more source of conflict.
And now R wants to move back in.
"When will you come?"
has once again become
the dresser drawers are filled with file folders and pens and notebooks
Two huge boxes of books
are sitting in the middle of the floor
waiting to be re-shelfed
after a presentation two weeks ago
My half-finished taxes are spread
all over the family room.
She could sleep in Son #1's room
but Son #2 has been using it as a music studio.
and there are no sheets on the bed
I am not even sure there is a set of clean double bed sheets
in the linen closet.
I head home to try and make a space.
R calls about 11
has decided not to come that night
will come the next day
she arrives while I'm at dinner
with a friend
I come home
to a living room filled with boxes
and three huge garbage bags of laundry.
And so now we are three again.
And I am struggling
to have my attitude
and my words
and my actions
match the Father's
to try again
to love unconditionally
I would really
rather not love