Are you their Mother?
I still don’t know how to answer that question. A chain of events that started exactly nine years ago today would make the answer yes. Yet I still can’t answer it without saying no, if only to myself.
It was January 17, 2007 I woke up in my downtown Chicago loft apartment, getting ready to go to work when I got the phone call from my mother that my cousin Kiesha was killed in an attempted car jacking. I remember standing there thinking I must have heard her wrong through her tears. Then she said it again, Kiesha was dead. My next question was where were the girls. I often referred to them as “our girls”, or “the girls” but they were Kiesha’s daughters, 8, 7 and 5 at the time. My mother told me they were not with Kiesha and they were safe at home with my Grandmother. I’m not too sure what if anything she said after that but I found out that the incident had made the news. It was reported an unidentified woman was killed during an attempted car jacking. She was a Jane Doe so how did my mother no for sure it was her. I remember calling my grandmother hoping she would tell me my mother got it wrong but she didn’t.
I eventually made my way to my grandmothers house and wanted to see the girls. I don’t know who told them or how but I needed to see them. The oldest was the only one at the house. The other two were down the street at a friends house. As soon as she saw me she told me the news I was still hoping wasn’t true. My mother is dead. This is not something an 8 year old should be telling you. I could only reply, “I know”.
My Aunt, Kiesha’s mother, and another cousin had gone to the hospital to identify the body and the news was no longer reporting her as a Jane Doe. It was being broadcasted and in print, Kiesha Myles, a passenger, was killed in an attempted car jacking. No suspects in the case and the shooter didn’t even get the car. The driver had fled the seen. I couldn’t watch the news or read the paper for weeks until I knew the story was old news. It probably only took days before the next tragic headline. Before another family was forever changed by one headline.
With out question I was by my grandmothers side make the funeral arrangements, picking out caskets, writing the obituary. Kiesha was only 24, and she was already a mother of three but she lived a fast life, she didn’t finish high school and who know’s what she was doing that night on that street when this unknown man decided her life was worth less than the car. She had so much potential, she could draw, she was the neighborhood hair stylist.
While we were making the preparations I notice the girls trying to help out not knowing what to do when I decided to take them to my apartment. From that day on I had them every weekend taking them to movies, fairs in the city and I was attending all the school events. It only seemed natural when my grandmother asked me to be their legal guardian. My aunt couldn’t take them, she has been battling drug addiction and mental illness for years. My grandmother was 80 years old and couldn’t care for three young kids alone. I was the only person who didn’t already have kids of my own. I didn’t automatically say yes but given the circumstances it seemed like the only answer so I did.
It’s January 17, 2016 and I woke in my 5 bedroom house in the Northwest Indiana suburbs while now three teenage girls are sleeping still struggling with the answer to the question “Are you their mother?”. I don’t know if it’s hard for me to say yes because they have a mother. By saying yes it’s some how deceiving people. I didn’t gain weight from carrying them for 9 months, I didn’t go through labor. I didn’t even go through the walking, talking or potty training years. By all definitions I have earned the title for the 9 years I spent going through puberty. I have more than made up for not going through childbirth.
My hesitation could also be their reaction to the question. In the beginning they would respond with a disgusted sound and a No for even suggesting that I was their mother. Most of the time I’m introduced as their cousin. I learned recently they tell their friends I’m like their mother. So I guess we’re making progress.
I don’t know if I will ever feel like their mother but I can respond with a little more ease when I’m asked the question “Are you their mother?”.
Yes, I am.