You are a mom.

Wewe ni mama? (You are a mom?), my five-year-old sidekick told me.

It was a blend of a statement and a question.  I didn’t respond right away.  I wasn’t sure how.  Her relationship to her biological mom is complex.  And painful.  They haven’t met in over a year.

Wewe ni mama? (You are a mom?), she questioned.

She’s attached to me.  A lot.  Sometimes I worry what people think.  “Oh that girl, she’s becoming a mzungu (white person).  She is already five and she still sits on Colleen’s lap.”  All.  The.  Time.  Oh, the judgment.  Oh how I fear it.  Oh Lord, please extend your grace, love, and mercy to this sweet child of ?

Wewe ni mama?  She repeated it.

She met with our BEAM Kenya counselor  last week.  I was there.  Every time the counselor asked her a question, she looked at me for confirmation, for guidance.  She depends on me.

Is that healthy? I asked the counselor later.  She is really attached to me.  Do I need to do something about it?  I don’t want to reject her.  But I want her to be independent.

It is ok.  The counselor reassured me.  That is normal for a child who never had an attachment to anyone.  Give it some time.  She’ll grow out of this stage.  If not, we will talk about how to handle it. 

Wewe ni mama?  She said it again, looking directly into my eyes.

I loved being with her at the doctor today getting her treatment for Ecoli and whipworm (likely due to unclean drinking water in the slums).  She asks a lot of funny questions.  And she is cheeky.  The doctor told her to sit in her own separate chair instead of standing and leaning on my chair.  So she pulled “her” chair so it was overlapping mine and then sat down and laid her head on top of my arm.

Wewe ni mama.  She said confidently.  Her question became a statement.

Wewe ni mama ya nani?  (You are the mom of who?)

I know she was testing me.  She is smart, this five year old beauty.  She knows I don’t have my “own” kids.  I didn’t know how to answer.  I wanted to say “mimi ni mama yako” (I am your mom) and maybe that is what she wanted to hear.  But I didn’t want to confuse her.

Would that have been confusing or loving?

I don’t know.  I feel like I never know.

Niko na watoto weeeengi.  (I have many children).  I replied.  And it is true.  By some people’s definition I have so many children.  By others, I have none.

After my reply, her face changed to a scowl,  Eh!  Wewe sio mama.  (You are not a mom).

I don’t know what was going on in her inquisitve brain.  I know she is a deep thinker.  I see it in her eyes.  I’ve experienced her jealousy of other children.  Maybe she wanted me to say I am her mom.  Maybe not.  I didn’t want to confuse her.

Did I hurt her or protect her?

I don’t know.  I feel like I never know.

The last month I have been “co-parenting” with my social worker and an incredibly loving “auntie” for ten children who are staying in the BEAM Kenya safe house, a place that has been created temporarily for children in the slum who do not have a safe place to go during the school holidays.  I am experiencing deep joy and genuine overwhelm.  I am constantly asking myself about what is best for these children . . . “Am I helping them or hurting them?  Am I empowering them or creating dependence?  Am I healing wounds or creating new ones?  Am I too strict or too soft?  Am I giving them too much cake or not enough?

I don’t know.  I feel like I never know.

Mercy.  Grace.  Love.

This I know.  This I always want to know.

With love and gratitude,


*Please consider a monthly or one time donation to support the BEAM Kenya mission to advocate for the emotional, spiritual, and education needs of impoverished children in Kenya*


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  1. Colleen you are beautiful , your words are beautiful. Truly an inspiration to so many. Thank you for sharing. Xoxo

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