We were shopping. Two babies in the cart, selected items piled around them. I spotted her glancing at us from the end of an isle. Once. Twice. She stared. I smiled at her, assuming she was family, but she purposefully avoided my gaze.
She approached us quickly as I navigated the cart past the racks of shoes. "Come see aunty" she said reaching for Jayde. Jayde turned away and whimpered for me. She tried again with Taya. "Come see me!" she said forcefully. Both girls just stared, solemnly.
I said hello. I told her the nickname that Taya responded to if she wanted to get her attention. She did not look at me. She did not respond to me. Again, she tried to grab Jayde from the cart. I noticed the hospital bracelet dangling from her wrist.
At that moment her cell phone rang and she became distracted. I smiled a quick and anxious smile and bolted for the back of the store. She found us again this time camera in hand. She reached to pull Jayde from the cart and I stepped between her and the babies.
"I am sorry, but you can't take their pictures unless I know who you are" I said I clearly and as gently as I could.
"Oh, I am their aunt" she said. For the first time acknowleging my existence. "They are my nieces and they love me" and again she tried to convince one to "come with aunty". Again it was if I was an invisible, yet unwelcome, presence.
The girls stared blankly at this related stranger. Someone they have not seen in at least sixteen months. The teenager accompanying us on our shopping trip tried to disappear behind me.
I held the girls while she took their picture and then we left the store. Quickly. The thump of my adrenaline fueled heart rang in my ears for hours.
Later that same day, in a bid to escape the heat of the day and the smokey evening air, we took the girls to the park. Off they ran playing and splashing with children. A faintly familiar woman I had met many months before approached me with a smile as we both attempted to bundle our tired children up. "The girls look so good" she said with a smile, "I cannot believe how big they are getting". She watched as her children and my daughters chased each other on the grass. Cousins. We chatted and compared parenting notes and as we left the girls smiled and waved.
We walked in the house today with cake in hand. "aaappyyyy irtday L" Taya said with a grin. "Taya make cake! Taya make cake!" she informed her other mother with an excited giggle. For the first time ever, Jayde ran to her and asked for a hug. The long days and long months of playing strange finally done.
Two good visits in a row. The last, Mother and babe spent painting toe nails and looking at pretties. A girly-girl to her core, we, her mothers, both laugh at the reality of this little girl who is so different from both of us. Today we sang happy birthday and shared a cake my daughters and I had baked for their other mother. They cuddle. Both girls' crawling into her lap. Both girls demanding to hold her hand as we walk down the street. Taya sleepily leaning on her lap as they sit on the floor sharing lunch from the same bowl. They love her differently than they love anyone else. I sense it. I see it. It is what it is, and it is different.
We say goodbye. "Kiss please" Taya says over and over again. Aunty, Grandpa, Uncle, Mother. Kisses asked for and given. She is buckled into her carseat. She waves, she giggles, she blows kisses. Then her Uncle climbs into the driver's seat of the truck in a simple attempt to see the car seat better to say goodbye.
Taya screams. Panic written all over her face "OUT! Mommy drive! OUT!!! NO! NO!" Turning to her mother standing by the open door of the truck she yells "LOCK IT!! MOMMY DRIVE NOW!". She cries until I am back in the driver's seat and her other mother closes the door with her inside.
We drive away.
Openness is what it is. It is neither easy or simple. But it is. This is our reality. Some relatives will be crazy. Some relatives will be kind. Some moments with biological family will be heart warming and some will be sad. There is tragedy and there is joy, there is peace and anxiety. This is our reality.