We threw a Quinceañera last night for our Mexican foster daughter, despite never having been to one ourselves. We were out of our element, but in an incredible way, and the party was fantastic—so fantastic, in fact, that one guest refused to leave.
Maybe “guest” is the wrong word. She wasn’t invited, and her presence was a bit shocking.
I’m talking about a dog.
She just wandered into our yard, looking scruffy and unkempt. Maybe she followed the taco truck, hoping for a free meal. Maybe she followed the crowd; I don’t know. Whatever the reason, she came for the party, and when I woke up this morning, she was asleep on the front steps of our house.
Like she belonged there.
I honestly wouldn’t mind if she stayed. She has a wonderful presence, at once sweet and serene. Her ears are scabby and she needs a good grooming, but she’s gentle and well-mannered. Guests at the party spent time pulling clumps of shedding fur from her coat and cockleburs from her tail. She has a beautiful, friendly face and those melt-your-heart eyes.
But she has a collar, even though there are no tags on it.
Someone owns this sweet creature.
(If she were my dog, I would want her back.)
I’ll keep her as long as she needs, but she already feels like my own. In my heart, I’ve already named her Quince, since she came to us on our foster daughter’s birthday. I can feel myself falling in love.
Hold on loosely, I keep telling myself. Just like you must with foster kids.
Our foster kids are never entirely ours, not even after an adoption is finalized. They are always and forever someone else’s first, and the goal of foster care is always reunification.
As a foster parent, I am always mindful of this. I was mindful of it as I planned and organized a Quinceañera—an event I knew almost nothing about. I was mindful of it as I did my best to wrap tamales in corn husks, as I built a dance playlist of songs in Spanish that I had never heard before, as I shopped for dresses and crowns and shoes. And I was especially mindful of this last night as I watched our Mexican foster daughter share a dance with her grandmother, as I watched my sweet husband take this woman gently by the elbow and lead her out to the dance floor to share a dance with her granddaughter. I was mindful of this as I watched them converse in rapid, fluid Spanish that I could not understand, though I sensed great love and a swell of family and cultural pride between them. It was such a private, beautiful moment that it brought tears to my eyes. Yet I was not part of it—I could only bear witness.
Although this beautiful girl has become like family to me, she will always belong to someone else in a way I can never replace. In a small way, I know that she will always be mine through this shared experience, even if I cannot call her such. I know that my role as foster parent is at once merely supplemental and so incredibly necessary. She could not have shared that moment with her grandmother had we not thrown her this party. I am a bridge between past and possibility.
In the meantime, however, we are doing our best to provide a safe and loving home, a welcoming space to live and grow until things get sorted out, whenever that may be.
So for now, I have a Mexican daughter.
And for now, I have a dog.
I don’t know how long I’ll have either of them. I know that they belong to others, that I have no right or claim to either of them. In my heart, I know that, as much as it pains me sometimes. But for now, they are with me, and I feel called to provide love and care until it is time for them to move on, and I know I must support the outcome no matter what, even if I am not part of it.
But I am always, always holding out hope for adoption.