Last weekend was fun, scary, hilarious, perplexing, humbling, exhausting and deeply satisfying. Instead of doing our regular weekly vegetable shopping and house cleaning, we spent the weekend playing Monopoly, making bracelets and trying to braid the hair of the three little girls who stayed with us from Friday afternoon until Sunday evening.
We are so fortunate to spend most days working at Manos de Amor, a children’s home here in Bucerias. Most of the children have some type of family or extended family – but every one of them has a painful story of poverty, abuse and neglect. Even those parents who care, struggle to provide what their children need. I have written before about the three little girls whose mom pops in and out of their lives, depending on the desperation in her own circumstances. 2 of the girls have never received birth certificates so they cannot attend school. Usually we drive them to their grandmother’s home on Friday nights but since their mom and their grandmother recently had a falling out, that is no longer an option. Mom has recently moved to Bucerias and we were hoping that living closer would make the situation a bit safer for these young girls. Unfortunately, for the past 2 weeks Mom did not show up on Friday to get her children, nor did she call to explain. The first weekend they went home with the orphanage director and then came to our house for Saturday afternoon. On Sunday we all ran/walked/biked/skipped in a 5k together.
Our first weekend together away from the orphanage – some beach time and a 5k together
Last week they begged to spend the entire weekend with us. No one, not even these sweet children, expected their mother to show up. Of course, we agreed. We knew it would be fun and maybe a bit terrifying.
On Friday after our English class we loaded them into the golf cart along with the other 3 that we drive home to a neighboring village a few miles away. About a block from the home, we saw a couple sitting on the curb and one of the little girls quietly said to me “That’s my mama.” We slammed on the brakes, pulled a U Turn and signaled for the woman to follow us back to the orphanage. I could immediately tell she was in no shape to look after 3 children, and my own motherly instinct kicked in. I was not about to part with these children who deserved to be safe this weekend. I needn’t have worried. Mom was coming to tell us that she did not have a home to take the girls to, she had been evicted and would like them to stay at the orphanage for the weekend. I tried to see the positive in this – she had at least come to tell us. Unfortunately, she did not talk to her girls, did not hug her girls, did not acknowledge them. She walked away, and we drove down the dirt road out of town. I turned around and watched the middle girl – the 7-year-old – put her dirty little face in her hands and start to quietly sob for the mom she still loved and wanted to be with. The mom who hadn’t even said hello after not showing up for a number of weeks. I saw she had a paper in her hand and when I took it I saw a heart she had drawn and the word “mama” written on it. Even though she didn’t expect her mom to show up, she had drawn her a picture just in case.
Grant and I did all we knew to reduce some of the pain – we went into extreme grandparenting mode. Over the next 3 days we took the girls swimming, played all kinds of games, did crafts, cooked the foods they requested, went out for pancakes, watched movies with popcorn, went to church, and even got up in the middle of the night to get rid of a bug in their room. They chose which bedrooms they wanted, unpacked their few clothes into drawers, and claimed a stuffed animal each. We had a blast and they behaved really well. Each of them had a ‘moment’ but we were prepared, and they passed quickly. It was a great weekend and I was even called ‘Mama’ once by the littlest 5-year-old.
At the end of the weekend the oldest 9-year-old asked for my Spanish translator and typed in ‘divertido’ – FUN –“this weekend was divertido. Can we come again next week?” How do you answer that when everything about her life is so uncertain and unstable? I don’t know what next week holds for you little one.
Today during English class Mom showed up at Manos de Amor. She has found a new home, close to the orphanage. The director immediately took her by the arm and drove her to get a passport photo taken. That is the first of many steps to get birth certificates for her daughters. At first she argued because she wasn’t’ wearing makeup. Seriously? That’s what you’re concerned about? Obviously, I have mixed feelings. I am invested now. I have wiped away tears and combed away lice and cut up pancakes. But she is their mom and they love her and in her own brokenness, she must love them too. But she needs help and perhaps that is the best we can do – be there when she doesn’t show up to pick up the pieces. Suspend judgement and be a friend. Love her daughters when she can’t. Today I shook her hand and said, “It’s good to see you”. And then I came home and tidied two bedrooms, put stuffed dogs in the center of beds and prepared for visitors. Maybe these three will be back. Maybe it will be others. Whatever our assignment, we’re ready!