Guest post by Denise Beeman Sasiain, foster mother to Summer, 17, who will stay with her foster family as she enters adulthood; Isabella Hope, 3, who they’ve had since birth and adopted last year; Xavier (aka X-man), 2, who they are in the process of adopting; and Daniella Joy, 1, who they’ve also had from birth and recently adopted.
Lunch time! From left to right: Isabella, Daniella, Summer, Denise and X-man
Yesterday Summer and I had lunch with her mother. As we munched on artichoke dip and tortilla chips, we talked about the past and about the fond memories of their life here in Dalton, Georgia. We were just passing through on vacation and wanted to stop into town to reminisce. In her vulnerability she mentioned how close she had felt to her mother during the time they lived here. Summer ordered the ribs. I ordered corn dogs and hamburgers for the kids and a mandarin chicken salad for myself. Summer’s mom, Paulette, didn’t order anything. Not because she wouldn’t have wanted to, but because she was there in spirit only; she passed away four years ago.
Leaving on summer vacation the day after X-man was discharged from the hospital, we had just visited for several days with Summer’s youngest sister, who now lives with her uncle in Georgia. As we were driving in the northern part of the state, not far from the Tennessee border, Summer said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we passed through Dalton.” I remarked that after having driven through almost the entire state, what was the likelihood that we would happen upon her childhood town in the last 30 miles before we crossed into Tennessee?
But as luck, or destiny, or happenstance, would arrange it … we came upon Dalton! Of course, we HAD to drive the route through town. Summer reminisced continually about what a happy time that it was for her. Not remembering exactly what years they were here, she estimates that she was between 8 and 10 years old. Passing by a school, she said, “The best school I ever went to was in this town.” She commented that she wished her father hadn’t made them move back to Miami, where they ended up homeless shortly afterwards.
Having lived in the same house for the two years they were in Dalton, Summer spoke of the uncommon stability that her family found here. Her mother was working as a waitress at Applebees. As we drove down the hill and around the next bend, there sat the Applebees. We went in to eat lunch.
As we sat in our booth, Summer remembered the times that her mother occasionally brought her to work, pointing out where she would sit and color while her mom finished her shift. We spoke, like we often do, about all of her mother’s good qualities. But this day, we didn’t shift the conversation to the painful. Summer just wanted to remember the good, “the years in this town were ones in which I can remember feeling close to my mom.”
At Applebees, one of the waitresses was particularly friendly and took the time to say hello to all the kids. She got them extra crayons, and walked Xavier a few feet down to the big party room so he could see it. Summer commented that her mother worked as a waitress and how friendly her mom was with people, “just like our waitress.”
As we drove out of Georgia and into Tennessee, Summer mentioned how happy it made her to not only go back to a town of her childhood, but also to the fond memories: “It was good to remember.” She also mentioned how about what a good place she was in her life right now, and how happy she was to be where she is. I wholeheartedly agreed.
The best thing that we can do for our children is to give them the space to talk, to mourn, and to reminisce. Feeling safe and secure in her life right now, Summer often speaks of the chaos that was once her life. But it takes time to develop the perspective that is lacking when one is not only a child, but a child in survival mode. It needs to be done at each child’s own individual pace.
As Summer remembers and talks about the pain and trauma that she’s endured in her past, it is my hope that she can move through it and find peace. I am not her therapist, I am her mom. I wholeheartedly wish that I could have spared her from her painful past and I tell her so. We have sometimes cried together at the horribleness of it all. Other times we respond with humor at the irony and craziness that was her life. But it is my hope that as Summer reflects on her past, now secure in her present life, that she will know unequivocally that her past does not define her future.
But for today we focused on the happy memories. In the past, Summer and I have felt that her mom has been with us in heart when we’ve gone to Denny’s to celebrate her mom’s birthday or have had an in-depth conversation about her. But there was something extraordinarily special about today. Today, Summer was able to go to a tangible place where fun and happy memories took place. She was able to vividly remember, and miss, and love the mother she had while she lived here. What a special gift she was given yesterday!