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Bumbling through CPS School Transfer, Part II: Comadres

In Mexican culture, comadres are women who share child-raising responsibilities. Traditionally, they are a bio-mom and a designated godmother. Less formally, close women family or very close friends who help each other out with their children might call themselves comadres. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of knowing a group of women in LA who write a whole blog about their experiences, called La Comadre.

Now, it’s my turn to step up and be one. And have one to help me with my own daughter.

But first, in case you missed Part I of this story, here’s a recap: After reading the CPS enrollment and transfer policy, I have decided the best strategy to help Neighbor Family’s Youngest avoid any potential problems with child welfare due to his dad’s possibly imminent immigration case, and also escape Not-So-Great School and return to Great Neighborhood School, is to pursue temporary guardianship of Youngest. 

After reaching this conclusion, I swallowed hard and slept on it. The next day, I went over to Neighbor Family’s house and sat down with Neighbor Family’s Mamá, Youngest’s mom.

A Platica (Chat) with Mamá

Mamá is a small, round woman who, with her small, round husband, has three six-foot sons. She’s small, but she’s tough. She reminds me of the time she made the video games disappear so the older boys would raise their grades. It worked for a while, then they fell back. The second time, she told them if they didn’t get them back up and keep them up, she’d break the game consoles and they’d have to buy themselves new ones after their grades improved and stayed that way. 

That second time, the grade improvements stuck.

I always have a little trouble when I have to explain complicated things to my neighbors who are mostly Spanish-speaking. My Spanish is OK for ordinary conversation, but when talking about law and school policy stuff, we end up in a Spanglish mashup and I have to have one of their kids help me. Knowing this, sometimes I get shy, too.

For this conversation, I’m feeling extra awkward. I don’t want Mamá to think I’m trying to take her son away from her. I’m not. I’m just trying to figure out how to keep him safe and stable while his dad rides out the rest of the immigration court case. If we can make this work so he gets to go back to his old school, that’s a bonus—a bonus I’m willing to work hard for and put all my highly-educated, white-middle-class mom privilege behind.

So, after we spend some time sitting in their living room, cooing over her 5-month-old grandson (whose education I will probably also be fighting for someday), I start explaining. Youngest is here with us, so I’m explaining to both of them. Fortunately, the Loyola Child Law clinic guidance is available online in Spanish, so I brought my computer over with the PDF already cued up to the relevant section.

Mamá reads the section. In Spanish, the phrase Loyola Law Clinic used for “temporary guardian” is “tutor a corto plazo.” It’s the easiest form of guardianship to undertake, because it doesn’t require a court appearance or legal fees, just a form signed by parents and the temporary guardian, and witnessed. The parents can revoke this at any time, and the longest it can last is one year.

The next step up in formality—and, really, the most appropriate for our situation—is what is called “standby guardianship,” which means if his parents can’t continue taking care of him because they are being deported, I would take over. This process requires a court appearance and fees, and we’d want some kind of local, low-cost legal help to make sure we do it right. I figure we can put the temporary guardianship in place now to cover Youngest while we work out standby guardianship, and it might suffice to get him an address in Great Neighborhood School’s zone.

‘Would You Really Do This for Us?’

After Mamá hears all this, she looks at me and starts crying. “Would you really do this for us?” she asked me.

“Of course! You all were the first family I made friends with here. You took me along for New Year’s with your family when I had nobody. You have been here for me so many times. Of course I will be here for you.” I jump from one sofa to the other and give her a tight hug.

Mamá’s words start tumbling out so fast I can barely keep up, but what I gather is that she has been thinking for months now about what to do about Youngest. She is terrified he could end up in a gang—some of his primos (cousins) have. “He could stay with his uncle, but…” she trails off.

“I am happy to do this,” I tell her. “I will do my very best to keep him safe and going to school, not getting in trouble.”

Then Mamá turns to her youngest and gives him a very serious look. “Ella es su otra mamá,” she says. (“She is your other mother.”) 

I tell her my daughter could use another mother, too—a Mexican mother. My daughter’s papá is from Mexico City. But she needs a mamá who knows all the cultural stuff I don’t know because I didn’t grow up Mexican! My daughter and I joke about how I’m not her perfect Mexican mother—a referent to the book I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, which we keep saying we are going to read together sometime soon.

Mamá wants to thank me some way, and asks if I can stay for caldo de res (beef broth with meat and vegetables). I ask if I can come back with my daughter after I pick her up from school and we can all hang out. 

We do. It’s a little party. My daughter eats half a raw serrano pepper with her caldo and speaks Spanish with Mamá. After almost two years of hardly seeing each other, she’s delighted to see my at-long-last-vaccinated daughter. I think we have some good comadre action happening here. I have the Loyola guardianship papers for Youngest with me, and we sign them.

Next step: cracking open the school doors for Youngest. Stay tuned….

Photo by Sarah Ardin on Unsplash

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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