This past weekend, my husband and I went to a party where we knew the hosts but almost no one else. As we mingled and met people at the party, I was asked a few times how many children we had and what their ages were.
“Two boys and a girl,” I would answer. “Ten, seven and two.”
The conversations rolled on, but I had a hard time getting past that simple question.
Sometimes, the five-year age gap between seven-year-old Liam and two-year-old Jamilet looms large. We had two foster children in that gap before Jamilet joined our family. One of the two, who I now refer to in print as simply “T” to protect her privacy, was with us over a year. T is four years old now, and is back with her biological father, who met the necessary conditions to regain custody of his daughter.
T is four. And part of me thinks she belongs in my gap.
How old are your children?
Ten, seven, four and two.
It looks neater to me. It makes more sense. One baby every two or three years. Four all together.
I know the five-year gap between Liam and Jamilet probably feels as big as it ever will. Jamilet is still more baby than little girl, and Liam has just entered the big-kid world of soccer practice and chapter books. Five years might as well be a generation when it’s the difference between Teletubbies and Batman.
And that’s where the four-year-old would come in. Four-year-old T would be able to go up or down. She could kick the soccer ball around with Liam, and also be happy playing blocks with Jamilet. She would bridge that gap. Jamilet is in a car seat. Liam has graduated into the regular seat of the car. T would be in a booster, right in the middle.
I realize that with the ability to play up with Liam, or down, with Jamilet, T would also bring more sibling conflict into the family. Able to play with either, she would get into skirmishes with both. Even in my imagination, while the spacing is perfect, the children are not.
Maybe what also bothers me about that five-year gap is the lack of symmetry I sometimes feel in the family. I have a partner in Bill. Jacob and Liam have each other. And while, of course, Jamilet has all of us, she doesn’t have someone who lines up with her. She’s the only one in our family with her own room. T could share her room.
But T has been gone over a year. There is no reason to think she’s coming back. Yet, still she dances in my mind. Her giggle is what comes between Liam and Jamilet. T left our family, and in her place we have a span of sixty months between our second and third children. To me, that span will always be T’s place. A place she is always welcome to come back to, should she ever need it. A place she could reclaim in a heartbeat.
She lived with us for over a year, and in that time, she made us a better family. She expanded our notion of love — showing us how strangers become family. Her smile was testament to the resiliency of the human spirit, even as her case notes spoke to the fragility of family life. With limited details of her past, and social service’s uncertain plan for her future, T forced us to live in the present. She taught us that family is about who is here right now—not who was here before and who might come later. Maybe most importantly, T taught us that the hurt that comes after loving and then letting go is survivable. She helped us learn that the pushes on the swing and the Frisbee tosses and the fuzzy footed pajamas outweigh that very heavy moment of goodbye.
And because of all these things, her echo remains. Part of T’s echo is a five-year gap that shows that life is not always neat; not always symmetrical.
T’s echo is a gap that makes me pause at a party when I’m asked a very simple question.
How many children do you have?