Thursday, November 20, 2008

Utah Mom Sir, Utah Mom Am I, Ki Yi

You might have heard of me, I live across the green? My gang it is the jolliest that you have ever seen? You know the one, catchy tune, loud staccato Ki Yi-ing at the end of the chorus? sure, you do. (And for those of you not familiar with the University of Utah fight song, make sure you really project on the Ki Yis!!! Because that’s how we do.) Well, I hadn’t heard of a Utah mom either until just the other day and I’m so glad I heard about it with a time delay, because I might have embarrassed myself a little bit in public if I hadn’t had a minute or two to digest my new label, Utah mom.

My YuYu, my dear one, my heart, prepared a power point autobiography at school. Many weeks ago, YuYu and I sat down at our computer and picked out pictures for her life story. We copied a couple dozen photos that her teacher scanned in for her in the computer lab (if I had known that it was for a computer presentation, I would have copied them to a disky thing, I’m pretty sure I can do that). She used the photos to prepare her Life of YuYu autobiography and I’m sure it was lovely, but I haven’t seen it yet, but I will, it’s saved, we can see it any time . . . I’m not screaming into the parking lot at 6:00 pm to pick them up from aftercare, the last nuts on the tree and they’re locking the doors behinds us.

So the kids in YuYu’s class invited the parents to attend the autobiography presentation on election day. I had back to back hearings at exactly the same time way across town from our school and there’s just the one of me. The one whose clients pay her to remember to show up at the hearings and not commit malpractice, so I just couldn’t be there for YuYu this time. And I get so resentful when that happens. I can’t volunteer in their classrooms for two reasons, really: I work like a mad woman during the hours they are at school and, a classroom full of randomly churning kids? it makes me nuts. There’s a reason I never considered education as a career, ever, I would be a tragically inept teacher. But I do what I have to do to my schedule to make sure that I drive or chaperone on at least two field trips for each of them (that’s eight field trips, so I’m in there pitching), and I make it a priority to attend any special productions their classes put together for parents. But I couldn’t make it to YuYu’s autobiography, so I asked her to tell me about it at dinner that night.

She told me how Ms. L taught them to start with the most important picture: her foster mom.

And then the next one: her foster mom and dad.

And the next one: her whole foster family:

And then, finally, she slipped in photo of her sisters and her Utah mom.

And I have to tell you, her order importance for the photos?, referring to me as the Utah mom?? it got to me a little. I was a little rattled. There we were, looking for all the world like a normal family (well, if normal families only had one parent and the parents and the kids don't match) all sitting around the dinner table, and I’m doing my level best not to act like an jealous pre-teen because I just found out that to YuYu, I'm distinct from her foster mom not by permanence, but by location. You know, really mature stuff. My precious love nugget thinks I’m just a Utah mom. Not a forever mom, not her real mom, just her Utah mom. And then I thought, oh thank gawd I wasn’t in a room full of other parents with YuYu narrating her story and labeling me as the Utah mom. They would not have understood, and I wouldn’t have been able to explain and I would have just died sitting there thinking that they thought I wasn’t a “real” parent. That I was just a space filler and YuYu's "real" parents were pining away for her, the victims in a sordid kidnapping scenario, which they kind of were, they wanted to adopt her but just couldn't afford the fees.

Do not get me wrong. It was only a twinge of hurt and jealousy. I am so grateful to and thankful for YuYu’s foster family. Sharing this beautiful girl with her wonderful foster family and being her Utah mom is Ay Oh Kay with me. But I wonder what the other parents were thinking, or did they even hear/care/note the difference.

I still have huge guilt for taking YuYu from her foster family after they watched her grow and grew to love her for four years. I am so happy for YuYu that she had such a strong start in less than ideal circumstances. She had a wonderful warm mother, a truly doting father and a very proud and protective big brother who adored her, still adore her, who wouldn’t? YuYu is adorable. I get misty, still, when I think of the pain YuYu’s adoption caused these good people. Wanting the best future for their treasure, wishing that future could have been with them. I know that YuYu thinks of them often and with great fondness, no grieving, just acceptance that she is here with a family she loves and the other family she loves is in China, loving her back. YuYu is so well-adjusted, so in love with her other parents, so content and in love with me, but always her foster parents are in her thoughts and I am the Utah mom. Not the only mom, not the forever mom, the Utah mom. And I can live with that.

We just celebrated our fourth year together. If YuYu went into foster care when she was probably nine months old, I’m quickly rounding up on the day when I will have had YuYu with me longer than her foster parents had her with them. But it is apparent that all of the changes in her family life haven’t quite settled out in YuYu’s mind. She knows that this is now her home and her life, but she has such wonderful memories of her life and family in China. Being reminded that I am a Utah mom was a good thing for me. I need to be more aware of what YuYu lost and make sure she knows that I know and that I remember and that I love her even more for what she had to give up to be my daughter.

And it was especially good to be reminded of YuYu’s connection to her foster family since I am already flipping out about taking time from my practice (and I really mean my business and livelihood, practice is a word that doesn’t adequately convey the cash flow aspects of a legal career, it’s not all parsing statutes and writing briefs) next summer to travel back to China to attend her foster brother’s college graduation. Not to mention how much this is going to cost for all of us to travel, makes me cringe to think of the $$$ it will take to just buy the plane tickets. But YuYu will see and feel her beloved foster family and they will see and feel her and even if I end up piling more $$$ on the big mountain of debt, I can’t think of any better reason to do it. YuYu talks and thinks about the upcoming trip all the time. She is ready to fly there tomorrow. I can’t even imagine how exited her parents are for her arrival, can’t even imagine. This is one very special child who has the potential to become an incredible adult and the honor of being her Utah mom, considering how deep YuYu’s love runs for each family, is plenty enough for me. I am a Utah mom sir, Ki Yi!


Denise said...

You are so lucky. What a beautiful little girl. I still remember sitting in your office looking at her oh so adorable placement picture and just wondering what it would be like for this little angel, how her life would be turned upside down. And she adjusted so well. She is such a beautiful girl. How lucky you are to be her "Utah Mom." And how lucky she is to have you. KI YI!!

jean.wylie said...

Oh Marji, you are so lucky that you can acknowledge what you felt (that yucky, ucky envy/jealousy/crud) and know it isn't the important part. Our little Eleanor has pushed away her memories of her foster family - as far as I can tell - and she was with them for four years until she was 7! How much better to have them so well integrated into oneself! These beloved children have three mothers who all clearly love them. It is up to us, their families, to make sure that they never, ever lose any of those moms. And dads. And brothers. And sisters.

So boo hoo to the "one man, one woman and their children is the only family" folks! (I think they're just jealous 'cause they only got one of each and didn't like the ones they got!)

Eleanor's Grandma Jean

Lisa and Tate said...

So touched by your daughter, the way she is and feels about both families. She truly is magnificent and a treasure.

Go Utah Mom!!! Ki Yi!!!!

Eliza2006 said...

You are a good girl, Marji. I would have felt those lovely feelings of HS jealousy too, but I'm not sure I could have practiced the self-control.

Anonymous said...

Marji, I wish thousands more folks could have their child keep their heart wide open as YuYu can for you.
I am often around folks who act as if their child's foster family is just a past. In 2005 when we visited our middle daughters foster family, she called the hotel the night a few days before and spoke chinese.... when we saw her days later and I asked her about the phone call with my interpreter, she said "she just needed to hear our voices because she couldn't believe
we were here and that she was going to see HER Fu WeiLi". That has stayed in my heart.
Kate china9799 @ juno