She's gained weight, she is the picture of health and she giggles when her baby sister does something others would find annoying but she finds adorable...in that way that big sisters do.
I wake her up each morning, door softly creaks, my head leaning into her space: "Wake up, baby, it's time for school!"
Usually all I can see of her is her sweet blond head, body curled into the fetal position under her Hello Kitty covers.
Maybe she dreams of a time before she was born, when the phrase "foster home" was unintelligible and a warm, safe space was all she knew.
"I'm so afraid because I feel like you're becoming my real mom," she said last night, tear-streaked cheeks glimmering softly in the light of her cozy, post-twilight room.
"I get so angry at myself for thinking you are my real mom when I have a real mom. I don't want my brain to be so mixed up."
And then the clincher:
"I love everyone but I just want us all to be together. Why doesn't anyone get that? Why does it have to be so hard?"
And then she cried, her body racked with sobs.
"Sometimes you just need a good cry, little girl."
The tears fall, more ferocious this time.
Time and time again I am asked how I can have a child call me mom, build that bond, then turn around and let her go.
"How could you let any foster child go back into a possibly dangerous situation?" People ask.
Well, that's not my decision. (You couldn't pay me 354,000 a year to be a judge, thankyouverymuch). These children do always want to be with their original families. It's just the way it is.
The wonderful thing about having an older child in our home is this:
She will remember.
She will remember a Christmas dinner around the table on mismatched Plates, each person quoting what they are thankful for in everyone else.
She will remember sitting on my dad's (Papa, to her) lap, he telling her the mechanics of how snowflakes can stick together to make a snowman. She wears her new shoes with pajamas, because every little girl loves black patent leather.
She will remember that woman she called mom for a time, the woman who let her sob her heart out when it was so, so broken.
She will remember a place with no yelling or screaming and conflict resolution that didn't involve jail sentences.
She will remember, in those times directly after her little lips utter, "why could God do this to me? What did I do wrong?" A shaky voice replying, "honey, God loves you and he's taking care of you today with a cozy house and love and a nice warm bed. I get mad at God sometimes, too, but know that He can handle your anger and your questions. Just keep talking to Him and he will hear you."
And then my oldest daughter and I watch her drift off to sleep, happy in her dreams.
In those moments, I know the path we are on as a family is the right one for us, indeed.
We foster because we know
She will always remember.