Letter 1/ Dear Skipper: Even If You Hate Me, I Will Still Try to Love You
We’re in a pickle as legal guardians, caught between a rock and a jagged hard place. “Pickle” is putting it very, very mildly.
I won’t share the child’s name. (If you know us, I ask you please not to share it, either.)
She is a beautiful girl — a newly minted teenager, with all that entails, including a heightened interest in shampoos and skin cleansers. She is spunky, charming, talented: at singing in the shower, back flips, seasoning chicken breasts, concocting cocoa coffee drinks and caring for pets. She never met a dog she didn’t love; the bigger the German Shepherd, the tinier the baby Maltese, the better.
She has a smile that wins you over. I like to call her Skipper, after Barbie’s teenage sister. Her small black Vans remind me of Keds, which takes me back to my Barbie-playing childhood. (I wanted Skipper, sporty and cute, in addition to my Malibu Barbie, but never got more than that single doll.) Besides, we have our treasured older daughter, putting this one in the little sister slot. But that pretty behavior, those polite manners? They are reserved, almost exclusively, for those who do not live with her.
No. We, her legal guardians, who have drained battery packs of human energy and turned the hands on clocks and clocks of time to try and right her world, put it back on its steady axis, we are not treated kindly — not for the most part, and it’s only getting worse.
But if you are the owner of the chic craft chocolate boutique in town, the barista at Starbucks, the neighbor walking Jessie the rescue dog, the stylish young mom up the block, Skipper will grace you with a smile.
We have known her since babyhood. She has been living with us continuously since kindergarten. She often says she hates us, and it shows. These are the people we clearly are not: Her paternal grandma, her deceased dad, her birth mom. We are three people, and a fluffy white dog, who are not biologically related to Skip but who want the best for her. Yet we can’t seem to bring it out.
I don’t expect you, the reader, to understand. Even our friends, our family and Skipper’s therapists take a long time to grasp the full, complicated story — how the little girl’s life path went, why she came to our home in grade K. And of course, this public writing space limits how much I can or would share.
But if I could write a letter to Skipper right now, at 11:08 p.m. on a Thursday night, when she is cursing at us instead of brushing her teeth and going to bed, I would say
Even though you must carry big pain in your young heart and mind, I wish you could see that we carry big love in our hearts and hands for you. We try so hard to show you.
To serve your favorite breakfast at seven in the morning, before your virtual schoolday starts. You know, egg in a hole, or bacon and eggs, or sometimes, the Wake-Up Wraps you love from Dunkin’. To take you to the dentist, find your cleats and shin guards, drive you to soccer, cheer through doubleheaders. Get the flat tire fixed on your pink bike, and make sure you always wear a helmet.(Remember, as I’ve reminded you and your friends a hundred times, my cousin Stevie died on his bike in sixth grade.)
Writing this, I realize that your pain might be so acute, your trauma so heavy to hold, that even our family niceties don’t lighten it. I can’t imagine that, because we put in so much effort, and I guess I focus on that —but maybe it is the case.
I can’t see your pain. We can’t see your pain. I’m pretty sure you can’t see it, either. But I am a mother, and I know it is there, and it hurts, and I wish I could fix it or at least lighten the sting and burn. You know, like when I put a squiggle of Neosporin on a scrape.
I try to look the other way and let it roll off me when you say again and again and again “You’re not my mom.” My therapist, and your therapist, say the mean things you say to me have nothing to do with me, but only to do with your pain and anger.
Well, there’s much more to write, but I have to take a shower and go to bed. Dan (“not your dad”) and I have been taking turns getting up at 6:30 a.m. to get you going for your schoolday and tomorrow it’s my turn.
I will plan to write more soon.
Good night. May angels watch over you.