Parts of my family have always been a little out of place. They want to be with us, but they want to do it on their own terms and they want us to be the vulnerable ones. This isn’t true with my whole family, but mostly my grandparents’ adopted and foster children. Namely Anna, Dina and Rennie (the adopted ones), and Francis, Terry, and Clara (three of the 500 fostered). Throughout my life, they have come and gone from immorality and salvation. But last year, I experienced the struggle of watching them do this first hand.
In November of 2003, my Aunt Anna needed a place to stay for the weekend. She had lost her job, her apartment, and motivation. Anna’s mother, my grandmother, lives with us so Anna called the house and asked if she could stay a couple of days. Being the loving family we are, we said yes. So Anna and her two children Michael and Becca came over for the weekend.
I didn’t have a problem with this at first. I loved Anna! But into January she started doing things I didn’t think she was capable of. She started stealing things from me, stealing my grandma’s money, and she sat around the house all day watching TV while her kids suffered from boredom and neglect. I’ve always had a deep love for Michael and Becca, and Anna’s actions—or lack thereof—forced me to take over.
Then again, I've been doing that all my life. I was Michael's first babysitter. Not only that, I taught Michael how to talk, crawl, walk, sing, tie his shoes, spell, how to go up and down stairs, and how to use a fork and spoon. I taught him how to love. It was during one of his painful fits that I gave him his first and only nickname, ‘Stormy’. I almost raised that child. I fed him, clothed him, changed his diapers, played with him until we laughed, laughed until there were tears, and I held him when he cried.
Over the years, Anna had found strange friends. One of them being the family of Esther, a woman who had about ten kids and most of them had some kind of disability. Her husband was confined to a wheelchair. The family had not only weird bodies and diseases, but weird motives. So when they told Anna that they were moving Oklahoma to see the rest of the clan, Anna decided to go with them.
That was in March, and no matter what my parents told Anna, she was going to leave. I was devastated and relieved at the same time. So was Michael. The evening before he left I taught him one of his most important lessons, how to speak his mind. He told me that it was because of Patty, the eldest of Esther’s children, that his mom wanted to move. He said he was mad at his mom and at Patty, and he didn’t want to leave.
Michael was six years old.
However, despite all we told Anna, she was going to leave. It was obvious she wasn't moving there for her children. She was moving there because she wanted to get away from her responsibilities. Oh, and they were hiring at Walmart. She took them, and didn't care. She didn't care if it made her kids miserable. She didn’t care if she made herself miserable.
But I did care. I loved those kids, and she didn't. I loved them and she was taking away and there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn't say “I love you” before they went to bed, I couldn’t kiss them good morning, I couldn't give them baths, I couldn't protect them from our evil cat or spiders that scared them. I couldn't do anything.
During their absence, I asked for a lot of prayer and confided in my practically omniscient history teacher, Mr. Burt. He told me that no matter how much it hurt, there wasn’t anything I could do to make Anna come back. But he helped me and reminded me that I could pray for them, and that God would take care of them.
God did take care of them. And then he brought them back to me.
Anna forced my Uncle Rennie to drive her home in August, and I saw Michael at a wedding. We were both surprised and excited to see each other. he barely left my side the entire time. I grabbed his hand once the wedding was over, and took him for a walk. I asked him about Oklahoma. He said there were bullies at his school, and the teachers were mean; there were spiders in his house, and he didn't have any friends,. I don't think I hated Anna more than in that moment. But at least they were home, and I could tell them “I love you” again.
Since August, Anna has lived with Clara, one of the foster children, and a few other friends. Recently she started living with Chris, Michael’s father. Back when Michael was young, Chris didn’t yet know how high-maintenance Anna was. He stuck around for about two years, but somewhere along the line something happened and he moved to Alaska. It wasn’t until December of 2004 that I heard about him again.
Anna was visiting my grandmother, and she kept mentioning how Michael’s daddy cut his hair. I was happy, but still worried. Was Chris really back? Could he possibly want to be back? He’d always said he wanted to marry Anna, but was that still true? And did he have the capacity to be around her any more? Maybe he’d come back because he was grown up, and finally ready to take care of Michael. Maybe he was finally ready to take care of Anna.
I decided it wasn’t worth asking Anna, because she would either be offended or just ignore me. So I left her alone for that visit to go play with Michael. I hugged him, kissed him, and did everything in my power to let him know he was loved before he went home. I knew that if I shoved affection down his throat, it would come out his ears and infect his parents.
Michael has always been the strong one of Anna’s “family.” He says what he wants, even if he knows he won’t get it, and knows that people’s responses will be painful. He also does what needs to be done, a quality that I like to think he learned from me. Being who he is, and doing what he does, Michael creates the turbulent atmosphere that gave him his nickname. It may aggravate his mother and confuse his little sister, but it’s made my life so much more complicated and I can’t help but thank him for it.