The Whale Mother Gave Her Babies To the Porpoise Mother

While I was providing therapeutic services for children in the care of human services, I received a referral for three siblings – a boy and two girls – Aaron, twelve, Deanna, nine and Lisa, seven. The two girls would have been “black” as such things are labeled in our society, and the boy would have been labeled “white.” I saw them individually in play therapy.

The issue with the Brewer children concerned their abandonment by their mother, Rose. All three of the children were in foster care – Aaron in one home and the two girls in another one – waiting for adoptive parents to be found.

In the playroom I had an easel with magic markers in case my clients wanted to make pictures. One day Lisa partially disappeared behind the easel and went to work. The easel was easy to move around so a child could let me see their creation in progress or hide it until it was ready to be seen.

Not only was Lisa – at least the upper half of her – hidden from my sight but she worked in silence. I had the feeling she did not want to be bothered by my chatter so I also remain silent. Finally she turned the easel around so I could see it. A whale rendered by a single outline – took up the whole page. “This is the whale mama” Lisa explained. Despite the lack of detail on the “whale mama” it was somehow recognizable as a whale.

I nodded.

Inside the whale Lisa had drawn a number of whale eggs – just circles. Then, down closer to the back end of the whale, but still inside of her, she had drawn the small fish-like creatures. These, she explained to me, were the whale babies after they had hatched out of the eggs. Then, outside the whale and down close to its tail, she drew more baby whales that were various sizes. As she explained this to me I just nodded and said enough to let her know that I was understanding what she was telling me. Then she came to the crux of the matter. “The whale mother gave her babies to the porpoise mother,” she said.

I expressed some surprise. “The whale children look like nice babies to me.”

I don’t know why the whale mother gave her children to the porpoise mother,” Lisa said.

I think maybe there’s something wrong with that whale mother,” I said. “That must be why she gave the babies away. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her babies.”

If a child tells me something in the language of play, art or pretend, she has decided to share it with me in a manner that is one dimension removed from the real world. It would, I think, be very jarring if I were to bring it back into the realm of reality with an “interpretation.” There was no rush. We could begin to discuss the issues that were opened up in future sessions.

In one of Aaron’s sessions at about that time he disclosed an important factor me. He said that his mother had told him that she would be going to Mexico to establish a new home there with a man she knew. Then, when everything was arranged, she was going to come back and kidnap Aaron and take him to go live with her. This was a source of hope for Aaron.

What about your sisters?” I asked.

What about them?”

Is she going to come and get them to?”

No. Only me.”

Why is that?” I asked. “Why you are not your sister’s?”

There was a long pause. I said “is it because you’re white?”

He nodded. “She likes white better.”

I expressed some doubt about whether this would actually happen, but he was certain it would. She really was going to do this. The session was about over so I let the matter go for the moment.

During a session with Deanna at about that time, she took a red shirt out of the box where I kept some clothes that a child could play with if they liked, and she put on her head like a wig. Then she walked around the room and the provocative manner that you might see in a contestant from a beauty contest.

So now you’re a redhead,” I said. She nodded. “I don’t like my hair.”


It’s black and ugly.”

I told her I didn’t think this was true. I thought her Afro was very beautiful.

Apparently the preference for white pervaded the entire family.

Not long after that session I met again with Eric. He had decided to do a drawing. He drew a house with a very big tree in the yard. It was a fall picture with leaves falling from the tree. They could be seen on the ground. There was only one leaf left in the three. He indicated the leafs thoughts with a sort of balloon that they use in cartoons. The leaf was saying “Help. I’m the last one.” He explained.

We stared at the picture for several minutes without talking. Finally he saw what his picture was telling him.

That’s me, isn’t it,” he said.

Yes,” I said. “That’s you.”

He was admitting to himself that his mother would not be coming back for him.

In those days it was the policy of Human Services to do a “goodbye” visit with children who were going up for adoption. After that there was to be no contact between them. I wasn’t sure that this was always the best policy but had no objection to it in this case.

The “goodbye visit” was held at my office. Naturally it was very awkward. They said they loved each other and would never forget each other and things like that, but without a great deal of emotion. After they completed the visit and the children had left, the mother lingered for a few minutes. She wanted me to know that she had a new boyfriend. She thought she might have more children with him and start a new family.

Maybe it will work out better this time,” she said.

I was speechless.


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