Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How many siblings?

Much about Andrew's essay is cool and praiseworthy, and more or less what I knew he would be likely to say on the subject. The sentence that got me was, "I have one younger brother through birth, three older ones through fostering, two siblings both younger than me who didn't end up staying with us, and a bunch of other kids who have stayed with us for respite (temporary care.) "

He counts Frankie and Ann.

Neither of them lived with us for more than three months. Both of them were kids that he thinks we should not have taken. He was relieved to see them go.

And he counts them among his siblings.

THAT is the part that made my heart jump, that makes me want to cry, because I did not expect it.

I think of Frankie and Ann as kids were were almost one of mine, almost one of the family, but in the end were not. When people ask me how many kids I have I choose between several several answers. In a few contexts, the only appropriate answer is "two." Often I say, "Somewhere between two and five, I'm not exactly sure." Or, "Four or five, depending upon whether I count my nephew. He has lived with us and he certainly feels like one of ours." A lot of them time though I just say "five -- all boys."

I never say "seven."

When Andrew was filling out a college application months ago he came to me and said, "They want to know how many siblings I have. What do I tell them?" He had that look on his face, the expectant one, the one where you know your parents are about to do something to be proud of. I took a moment before I answered, before I let him down. Then I said, "Just one, honey. It's a legal thing. You can only claim Brian." He was crestfallen. I thought, "He wanted to know if should say three or four." Now I think, "He wanted to write 'six.' He wanted to claim them all."

What would it mean for me to claim them all, for me to answer "seven" when someone asks me how many kids I have? What would it mean to think of them not as children who were almost mine, but as a son and a daughter that couldn't stay?

Just thinking about that hurts. Could I hold them in my heart that way? "Look, here are photos of my son and daughter that I never see. No, I don't know where they are or how they are doing. The last time I heard anything..." I can barely imagine it. How would I respond when they asked, "Why don't they live with you?" What answer to give? "I wasn't strong enough, skilled enough, brave enough. I wasn't enough." I couldn't say, "They were too much for us." My usual way of putting it, "Their needs were greater than our abilties to meet them" isn't enough. And besides it isn't true with Ann, except that is sort of is, although it isn't.

I do not think I will ever list them as a son and daughter who could not live with me. Living THAT reality is too painful. I'm not that strong. I know it is not the same, quite for Andrew. To have siblings from foster care who couldn't stay just doesn't mean the same thing. He does not bear responsibility for them. Not the same way. It is not the same thing.

But it is something; a big something. Andrew claims them as sister and brother.

It makes me happy, and humble to know that.

I wonder how Frankie and Ann would feel to know it?


  1. Wow. This is really powerful. The whole time I was reading it I was thinking of the sister my Russian adopted siblings had before they were adopted. She died (probably of malnutrition). Totally different situation, but I know we would have adopted her too if she'd been alive and I always wonder about her.


  2. delurking...(jeesh...when did that become a verb?!LOL):

    I have one daughter through adoption (foster care) but there was one we didn't adopt and I still think of her every day...I too wasn't enough and she too was too much (although it was her decision to go...she gave us an ultimatum..her or the little one we had taken in) and although I always answer "1" when people ask how many I have in my heart I have two BUT I too can't list her as a daughter who doesn't live w/ me...too painful. Because although she brought about the separation I know in my heart of hearts that I could have probably fought harder but we were so tired...so very tired (RAD) that her decisions left us relieved...ugh..so painful. My daughter still thinks of her "remember mom, that little girl (she was much older but she sees the pictures) who was my sister for a little while" - breaks my heart.

    Anyway...just wanted to let you know how much this moved me (and your son's essay as well...please tell him).

    Thank you,
    Angela C.

    P.S. Is there an award for the excessive use of the adverb "too?" I went crazy!LOL

  3. Who is family? That's a tough one. Do we include people who don't share dna but mean that much to us? Do we include those whose dna we share but aren't part of our lives? Andrew obviously has a very big and loving answer to that question.

    I learned about it while coming out and seeing so many gay men who created a family of their own chosing. Did I say how impressed I was with Andrew's essay?

  4. I had a little boy who was almost mine. We had taken him in while his mom could not care for him - not true foster care as we knew her and were doing her a favor. Well, we expected a few months and it lasted three years. We loved him, he was in our wedding, he meant the world to us. Then one day he was gone. Mom took him away. We could have fought to remain in his life, but Mom really pushed at us. We gave up. I have a son and two on the way. I only list them when I talk about my children, but I think of this boy all the time. I still think of him as ours. At least as a part of our family. We love him and miss him.


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