Once upon a time, my church extended the Women’s Session of General Conference to all female members of our faith, 8 years and up.
At the time, my daughter was not-yet-eight, but my foster daughter was, and desired and insisted on attending with me. There is something about exercising one’s age privilege that makes kids really, really excited.
So I took foster daughter to the Stake Super Saturday/ Women’s Conference. The female leadership in our stake had put together a grand day for us, where we worked together on a bunch of group humanitarian projects, then had a potluck luncheon, and then watched the Churchwide broadcast.
I followed foster daughter’s lead, and we meandered from one service project to another, before settling on tying baby quilts to donate. Foster daughter, always fiercely independent, wanted to do everything herself, but was soon struggling to thread a needle.
The matron of the project leaned over to her and encouragingly whispered, “I bet your Mom could help you with that.”
This, of course, is a terrible thing to say to a foster daughter struggling with all sorts of feelings of love and attachment and separation anxiety and abandonment and loyalty. Poor quilt matron, with no ill intent whatsoever, had opened a deep and painful wound.
Foster Daughter, with the same look one gives someone blowing an airhorn in a library, hissed, “she’s not my mom!”
Quilt tying matron glanced at me, then back at foster daughter, then down to the quilt, all the many unspoken questions evident on her face.
Her tact didn’t spare foster daughter the weight of the silence. Irritatedly, she elaborated, “I crawled through a fence in her backyard, and now I live with her!”
While it was all technically true, it did nothing to lighten the load of unasked questions. They bloomed around us like pond algae. But the emotional wherewithal for question answering had been exhausted.
During the broadcast, foster daughter curled up against me on the pew and doodled darkly hilarious comic strips.* They were all very original, but the premise of each was the same: stick figure man goes to do something perfectly ordinary, like pet a dog or smell a flower, and something utterly, extraordinarily terrifying happens, and stick figure man is decimated as a result.
It didn’t take a psychiatrist to understand what these represented.
Without the hope that was beautifully taught and articulated in this meeting, and countless others besides, the story of foster daughter, from past to present, would be irredeemably sad. But because of them I know, I know, I KNOW that 1) her story isn’t over yet, and 2) it has a happy ending.
*Foster Daughter was a highly creative little artist.