When you grow up as a foster kid, adopting people becomes second nature, a kind of superpower. Or we could call it the stray-cat syndrome. Since you have no real parents, you conscript other people to fill that gap. Not like a stray dog, begging for something here or there, but really like a cat. They have a way of making people feel responsible for them, and that without ever really attaching themselves to any one exclusive relationship. There is an orange cat that comes and goes in our garden like she owns the place. She has “adopted” us as the people who provide her with a large, luscious green kitty litter.
So, I have an assorted collection of “adopted” parents, people I have elected to fill in the gaps left by mentally and socially shipwrecked biological parents and the debilitatingly dysfunctional foster families my brother and I were placed in.* I guess my collection began with concerned teachers, principals, and social workers, moved on to the concerned aunts and uncles and grandparents in my last foster family, and in the past 20 odd years has extended simply to other people’s parents. Most recently I have adopted the parents of our close friends here in Augsburg, the Balzers. Since we rarely get visits from any relatives State side, I make sure to get a slice of Colin’s parents when they come to visit all the way from Vancouver. I speak quite openly about this adoption and about the fact that his parents are the parents I always dreamed of having. Before that, and I guess the only legal adoption of my entire life, are my parents-in-law. Over the course of my 20 year marriage the “in-law” part of that title has slowly faded and blurred as I found ways to snuggle further under the “parent” part of the title like a warm protective blanket. And even before my in-laws, there was Christl, the mother-in-law of my husband’s best friend, or Claudia’s mother. I lived with Christl for the year and a half that I was in Munich before I got married and kept her through all the years since. Never was being mothered so delicious nor so eagerly lapped up.
But the other shoe has started to drop in this provisional arrangement. Having so many surrogates means that I have also more than my fair share of parental farewells. It seems that I have already had to say a thousand goodbyes: to my biological parents, the divorced foster parent, beloved teachers/professors, my grandfather in 2005. Now the next row of protective nurturers is beginning to fall like soldiers on the frontline. Christl is losing a long and grievous battle with dementia that is torturous to watch. My father-in-law, next to my grandfather, the most faithful and there-for-me-father I’ve ever known, is dying of thorax cancer. And I know that the abandonment will not end there. It never ends.
Emotionally I find within myself a large cavernous space and my inner canid wants to fill it with a loud lunar howling. But I will indulge it only for a short while, and then I will hurry back to my spot on the front line. For as much as I would like to ignore it or pretend it has nothing to do with me, there is still a great deal of mothering left to do in this world.