once a week i pick lillee up, take her to our favorite coffee shop for hot chocolate, hang out and chitchat with her for an hour, and then drop her off at her morning preschool.
lillee always wants “candy on top” of her hot chocolate lid. truthfully, her cup could be full of dirt and she’d never notice, as long as there was candy on top. she starts ordering it before we’ve even gotten out of my car.
about a month ago, a new barista took our order. when lillee asked for candy on top, the barista looked at me sweetly and told lillee that she should “ask your mom if that’s OK.”
lillee scrunched up her face at the barista and said, “that’s not my mom.” then she turned to me and thought for a few seconds. she finally said, “who are you?”
good question. lillee was trying to do the math on how we ended up there together, which makes sense because she’s four. she’s just figuring out that her grandma penny is the same person as my mom – she’s only beginning to put those kinds of things things together.
i could have given lillee and the barista the long answer. lillee’s mom, karla, was my foster daughter – she was eight when she moved in with me, eleven when i adopted her, sixteen when i had major medical drama and she left home. we had a difficult relationship for many reasons: we’re very different people, kids generally end up in foster care because their biological parents aren’t meeting their needs very well and she had six years of that, and her teen years were especially rough (imagine that).
it was a pretty terrible time to be either one of us, but looking back at it i know that sixteen year-old karla made a good decision to leave corvallis and go back to humboldt county. she finished high school and started figuring out the kind of adult she was going to be, while i focused on my recovery. we grew apart during those years, and even though she’s now back living in corvallis (with her fiance and their new baby), we don’t spend time together. but my mom has a close relationship with karla, and she spends time with lillee. a year ago i started meeting up with them when my mom would have lillee for the day, and i always had a good time. when my mom found a summer preschool program for lillee, i volunteered to do the morning driving. lillee and i got to know each other better, and i really loved helping her transition into school. plus she’s just a cool kid. when karla signed her up for head start, i asked if i could still drive her to school once a week.
so that’s why lillee and i were standing at the counter ordering from the new barista, with that “who are you?” hanging in the air. instead of saying all of that, i looked at lillee and said, “i’m kriste.” lillee turned back to the barista and said, “that’s kriste.” obviously.
a few weeks back when i took lillee to class we ended up walking with her teacher to meet the bus. i introduced myself to her teacher as lillee’s aunt, because that feels like shorthand for our relationship. lillee looked at me like i was nuts and said, “you’re not my aunt. you’re my kriste.” and that’s how she introduced me this morning when one of the kids in the bus line asked who i was. “that’s my kriste.”