Archive for November, 2011

Building Routines, part 1

We’ve been working with Blitzen and with ourselves to establish rhythm and pattern in our daily life.  This is not an easy thing for 2 reforming workaholics and a foster kid.  Coming home early for a Walton-family style meal at dinner time doesn’t quite come naturally to anyone in this trio.  Not to say that we ‘re not doing or that we’re not enjoying it.  It is just not like breathing yet.

We do have a great bedtime routine, though, which is mostly successful excepting total meltdown nights.  Blitzen gets to choose 2 books, we choose 1 additional book, and we all cuddle up to read and unwind.  3 books may seem like a lot but we need the unwind time.  Andrew and I get to choose a book because Blitzen only wants to read princess stories from Disney (damn the free book fair where she got all the horrible-sell-movies-and-plastic-toys books that she could lay her hands on!!!) and we are trying to get her interested in stories that don’t revolve around beauty, evil step-mothers, and handsome princes.  But I digress.  It is a good routine, we all enjoy it and it is a relaxing way to end our evening.

Now, it isn’t really the end of evening because darling Blitzen is not a good sleeper so it takes her another hour of quietly ‘reading’ to herself alternated with back pats from rotating parental units and generally at least one mug of milk with 2 crackers before she will actually close her eyes.  But it is predictable, it is comforting and it is definitely our new routine.

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So I have always known this but now I really, really know it.  Exercise is a miraculous thing.  Motion is liberating.  Movement is joyful and invigorating.  If Blitzen could swing 24 hours a day,  I think she would.  All she would need are brief breaks for games of tag and climbing on jungle gyms with the occassional power bar pitstop for energy.  The child is rarely grumpy at the playground even when things don’t go her way.  She is bold and friendly and cheerful.  She engages the other children, she is empathetic and caring, she is creative and full of laughter and life.   When she is unhappy, she briefly isolates herself until she is clam and ready to play again.

If only we could figure out how to do this at home…

But winter is coming and I fear it.  I will take any ideas for how to exercise an energetic young thing like Blitzen inside.  Balance ball, getting one.  Other ideas?  Keep in mind we’re talking NYC apartment living and we already owe our neighbors ginormous holiday gifts to compensate for all the 8 year old hollering, foot-stomping and occassional door slamming so a mini-trampoline is probably not going to work.

I also will take advice on kid-friendly, not bulky warm winter wear.  The child hates coats which is ok when it is 60, she can run around in a sweatshirt but when it is 40 and we just have to, have to go outside, we’ll need something lightweight and thermal, I think.

Thank you in advance, internet friends and child-rearing gurus.

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and third of all

Blitzen is a very articulate little girl in many ways, modeling much of what she has heard in the past in a very sophisticated way.  But one of her most amusing verbal ticks is when, in the heat of the argument, she lists her grievances by saying “and 3rd of all”.

The conversation will go something like this:

Blitzen, tv time is over.  Can you please turn off Disney?  (for the record, allowing Disney to be consumed in our home is a huge concession — the child has no idea!)

Blitzen to foster parental unit:  Third of all, it hasn’t been 15 minutes (the child cannot really tell time, by the way).  And third of all, I finished my homework.  And third of all, I always have to do what you want to do and never to get make any choices.

The ‘third of alls’ can string out for like an hour when she really gets going.

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In MAPP class, we heard discouraging tales of foster parents whose families and friends didn’t approve of their fostering. In contrast, our family and friends are finding creative and wonderful ways to support Blitzen and welcome her to the family.

Blitzen loves mail, and she rarely opens our mailbox without a happy surprise addressed to her.  Recent treasures included multiple Thanksgiving cards, a statue of Winnie the Pooh from my father, passed down rain and snow gear and homemade hats from a cousin, a card and favorite art supplies from our four year-old niece, a jewelry-making kit from our friends, an introduction to a rarely-seen fairy from a friend in Minnesota and a photo-filled letter from our cousin’s dog in Pennsylvania.  On the way are a package of hand-me-down rain and snow gear and We’re working on writing y’all back.  The concept of penpals is thrilling to Blitzen, who hopes to correspond with humans, dogs and fairies alike.

The in-person love is rolling in as well.  Blitzen was feted and gifted by aunts at Thanksgiving.  A friend at my school gave her a delightful assortment of beads.  A music teacher friend/backup provided child care and music lessons.  Friends have met us in the park and we’ve had playdates with their dogs.  Friends with two young children took a four-hour round-trip train journey to spend two hours playing with Blitzen.  This weekend, my mother, a child development expert and grandma extraordinaire, flew in and is spending several days working/playing with Blitzen and us, helping us establish routines and sprinkling loving pixie dust.

Blitzen feels the love. Carrie and I do.  Thanks, friends.

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a very, very tough day take 2


School tomorrow will be good.  There is a fine fine line between too much and too little and we’re still trying to figure it all out.

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Yesterday was a hard day, for Blitzen and for me.  I do understand that, to quote Piglet:

“It’s a little Anxious to be a Very Small Animal Entirely Surrounded by Water. Christopher Robin and Pooh could escape by Climbing Trees, and Kanga could escape by Jumping, and Rabbit could escape by Burrowing, and Owl could escape by Flying, and Eeyore could escape by Making a Loud Noise Until Rescued, and here am I, surrounded by water and I can’t do anything.”

I really cannot even imagine how terrible that feels.  To be helpless, choiceless, surrounded by strangers – loving strangers but the how the hell would one know that after only 2 weeks.

But it is also, some days, quite difficult to make a rescue boat out of an umbrella, if you know what I mean.


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Mornings in our house are the best kind of everything-is-new-again.  No matter how tough the night before was, Blitzen wakes up and bounds into our room with twinkling eyes and an enormous smile.  She reminisces about the fun stuff from the day before (“Remember when I turned flips in the playground!”), but the challenges and  anger have melted away.  Pretty great adaptation for a child who has experienced way too many hard times:  the ability to greet each morning with boundless optimism and a clean slate.

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Dasher and Dancer

Yesterday we volunteered to take Dasher and Dancer, Blitzen’s siblings, to give Blitzen’s Nana a well-deserved break.  It was all a little disorganized but great until it wasn’t great and then it was pretty bad.

First of all, 3 kids is a lot of kids. I don’t know how big families do it.

Second of all, the dynamics between the children is simultaneously endearing and heartbreaking, like all things Blitzen.  Blitzen is right in the middle and craves the attention and approval of Dancer who is a few years older in actual people years and lightyears older in other ways.  Blitzen also wants Dasher to look up to her the way that she herself looks up the big one.  There is a little mini-mothering train tumbling down, lots of comforting and reassuring thrown in between the usual sibling friction.

Third of all, meltdowns are so hard and even harder with an audience.  After several hours, poor Blitzen just couldn’t take it anymore and blew.  It was too long a visit – entirely our fault – and she let loose.  It was hard to watch though, as the anger (verbal only) was directed not only at us but at Dancer.  Many, many you hate mes and you never loved mes and you always leave mes.  Have I mentioned that Dancer is the ripe old age of 11?

Dancer was quite stoic throughout or maybe she just shut down.  I am sure that she has seen it all before and I felt foolish trying to reassure her that none of this had anything to do with her or how Blitzen really feels about her.

She quietly nodded, kept on coloring.  Sure, Miss Carrie, she said. I get it.

Sadly, I am all too certain that she does.


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New Friends

Thanksgiving was a really joyful day.

Blitzen spent the morning in the park, making new friends with other children whose parental units were smart enough to recognize the value of a good, sunshine-filled wearing out pre-feasting.

It is wonderful to watch Blitzen with other children especially those that are a bit younger than she is.  She is so open and happy and empathetic.  She recognizes very quickly when someone feels left out or unhappy and acts to remedy the situation.  She wants to help and engage and enjoy other people.

Blitzen also has an uncanny ability to work a room.  We all went to Thanksgiving at my aunt’s home yesterday — 30 grown people and Blitzen.  We came prepared with lots of distractions but we were nervous.  The getting ready portion of the day was clearly anxiety-filled for Blitzen with lots focus on her outfit and multiple attempts to get her hair just right.  The subway ride was grouchy. We told her that whenever she was ready to leave the party, she should just say so and we would boogy on out.

We arrived and everyone was delighted to meet her.  She was a little shy at first but she sat with us all and ate turkey and tried just about everything that was offered.  Post dinner, she really started to warm up.  Showed my cousins her favorites apps on the ipad, she did a little singing and dancing for small, select audiences and then she interviewed everyone in the room on video – what is your favorite color? who is your favorite singer? Lastly, she gathered the contact information of everyone at the party in the ipad and assigned them their own personality matching ringtones.  The child is a natural networker – I’ve rarely seen anything like it outside a political campaign.

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We spent Sunday morning raking and bagging leaves as part of a cleanup effort in our neighborhood park.  Blitzen was happy and proud, working alongside her neighbors with gloves on and rakes in her hands.

Park volunteer was a great role for Blitzen for several reasons:

1)  Physical work makes her body feel good.  She likes to run, to carry things, to do sit ups and yoga in P.E. class.  Many of her happiest times involve kinesthetic activity.

2)  She delights in making a visible impact on her environment.  It was great fun for her to watch the part of the park she was raking go from leaf-filled to green.

3)  She appreciates nature.  Every new stick, flower, acorn or seed is exciting to her.  All city children should spend at least one day every fall jumping into piles of leaves they’ve raked themselves.

4)  It connected Blitzen to neighbors and the neighborhood.  This was her coming out party — now everyone knows the smiling, joyful girl who loves to rake.  She met elderly neighbors and young children, and seemed to understand that all of us were working because we care about our park and our neighborhood.  When we swing again tomorrow and rake again next weekend, Blitzen may better understand that this park and this community belong to her.


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