On Quinceañeras and Stray Dogs.
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.
My daughter is a vehement supporter of LGBTQ+ rights.
I’m not entirely sure how she got that way. I mean, I’d like to take the credit, but I’m not sure it all belongs to me. She has a true passion for justice, though, and as her mom, that makes me super proud.
Perhaps it’s because of her own complicated history in the foster care system. She knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of bullying. She knows the sting of insult, the pain of rejection, and she recognizes it in others. She doesn’t want anyone to feel those things, so she speaks out against them. But this particular issue has captured her attention in a way that other injustices have not.
She makes signs and hangs them up around the house. (See below.)
She draws rainbows everywhere, and she strings beads in ROY G. BIV order onto necklaces. We made a rainbow chandelier for her bedroom. She paints rainbows onto rocks, and her wardrobe is absolutely flamboyant with them.
She’s loud and proud about her support of her gay aunts and uncles and transgender cousin.
Others make crude and careless comments about gays—seventh graders are ripe with newly-formed opinions—but she holds her ground. It’s one of the few things she actually does tell me about her school day: the awful comments she hears and how she responds to them.
An unfortunately common example: “That boy told me again that gay people are just wrong and shouldn’t be allowed to live, and I told him that he’s wrong and to go crawl in a hole and die.”
(We’re still working on tact, but I love her warrior spirit.)
In those moments, I’m simultaneously mortified and proud, which, I’m learning, is not all that uncommon in parenthood. When you see yourself reflected in your child’s behavior, good and bad alike, the experience can be quite humbling. (Although, to my credit, I have not ended an argument with “go crawl in a hole and die” in at least 25 years.)
I am a recovering (often relapsing, if I’m totally honest) challenger. I’ve never been afraid to speak my mind, and I often engage in argument simply for the sport of it, much to the irritation of my husband, who thinks far more carefully before he speaks. I argue to dominate rather than persuade, because winning an argument and having the last word just feels good.
(Even if it’s an ugly sort of good.)
“Winning” doesn’t accomplish anything if the other person feels too railroaded to actually consider your points. My husband’s gentle tactics aren’t ineffective. I've found that days after I "win" arguments, his thoughtful words still ring in my ears. Carefully chosen words can have an incredibly long half-life.
My daughter is totally right to be inflamed by those comments. I can’t fault her for that; I’m proud of her for that. She just needs to learn how to respond with respect, even when respect is not given in return.
She’ll be a far more effective force with respect in her arsenal.
The goal should be to persuade, not to belittle or demean. True persuasion cannot happen when the other party feels disrespected and unheard. As much as that boy’s comments grated on her nerves, I’m sure her aggressive response did the same to him.
The true goal of dissent must be effectiveness, not dominance, if it is to cause any sort of lasting change, and that's the lesson I most want to teach my child.
So while I’m so proud of my daughter for wanting equality enough to fight for it, I want her to be effective, and matching blows for blows is not the answer. There’s a better way, a higher way, and that way is mutual respect.
I need to model it.
We all do.
Because I truly do believe, like my daughter’s sign says: Love wins. Every time.
Happy Pride Month.
I’m not great at apologizing.
My attempts always feel so bumbling and awkward, and there’s an undercurrent of petulant resistance that tries to thwart my efforts. In such moments, I’m at war with my ego, and the 9,582 reasons why I most definitely should not have to apologize scroll through my mind like the end credits of a movie.
My ego loves to flatter itself, to believe that I was not wrong in the first place, or, if I obviously was, to believe that my offending behavior was somehow warranted or justified, and an apology is just not necessary. I know how bitter my pride tastes, and I have no interest in swallowing it. I want to hold on to that smug sense of superiority, to clutch it with selfish white knuckles. I do not want to give it up, and an apology requires that exchange.
So I’m not great at apologizing, but I am getting better.
We do foster care, and though we try to live at peace the best we can with the children in our care, arguments do break out between us. While I strive to not be the instigator, I am quick to the defensive, and exchanges become heated. It's not until the argument is over and the bedroom door slams that I'm flooded with shame and regret. I know that I should make amends, but it's hard to forget the blows I myself have suffered, especially when I did not strike first. I'm hurt and indignant, and I want an apology.
But that's a big thing to ask of kids who grew up in homes where apologies are seldom given. Demanded of them, yes, and often for things they didn’t even do wrong. But given to them?
Rarely, if ever.
They have just not seen such a thing. How are they supposed to learn how to repair broken relationships if they’ve never had an example?
So, as much as my ego wants to fight it, I know that I must be the one to show the way.
I hate this, I really do—but it is getting easier with practice.
I do want to be a person who is quick to apologize, even when I am not entirely in the wrong, even when I didn't start the argument. And when I am wrong, I want to own my mistakes and make them right. I want to be that person—I admire such strength of character in others, after all.
But it’s not easy.
As a foster mom, I know that I have to set the example.
I am being given a chance to impact not only my foster child, but potentially every relationship in that child’s life. I am being given a chance to teach my foster child how an apology can deescalate conflicts and restore broken relationships. I have to teach the skill of apology, to empower the children in my care to go forth and do likewise.
Apologies can be powerful things. They are hard to give, but when they are offered in good faith and humility, apologies are restorative. Taking that first step shows just how much you value that person and your relationship with them. It makes space for a response, but it does not expect or demand one. A sincere apology, no matter how awkwardly given, is always worth more than the words that convey it. I know that I wronged you, it says, and I care enough about you to wade through my own discomfort to reach out and make things right between us. And when they are accepted, they bring such relief, and I find myself wanting to be better, to not make the same mistake again. Apologies make us better people.
When I am mindful of this larger, broader goal, I soften, and it becomes easier to summon the integrity to apologize.
I’m still not great at it, but I don’t think that matters—the genuine attempt is what counts. And I’ve seen genuine attempts from our foster children in return. Their willingness to try is precious to me, and their apologies, even when given through gritted teeth with downcast eyes, are indeed worth more than the words that convey them.
I have never, not once, regretted making an apology.
In the end, our willingness to reestablish connection, to come together again and restore what has been broken, is what’s truly important, no matter how clumsy our efforts are.