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Archive for November, 2011

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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There’s a very tangible list of things of Blitzen’s that we don’t have that would be helpful for us.

We don’t have a stitch of her clothing, other than what she was wearing when she arrived.

We don’t have any of her toys or comfort items.

We don’t have her medications, or know what they were.

We don’t have her eyeglasses.   In fact, we just learned today that she wears glasses.  (It was mentioned on her IEP, which we’re thrilled to now have.)

We don’t have any photos of her family.

We can work with all of that.   We’ve been shopping for clothes and toys.  We have doctors’ appointments on Thursday, and our wonderful agency is working on therapy placements.   Blitzen’s nana is trying to get her hands on photos of important family members to hang in our house.

The hard part isn’t what we don’t have, it’s what we don’t know.

Where did Blitzen live when, with whom?   Where did she go to school before last year?  How did she get soothed to sleep when she as a baby? What was her favorite thing to play when she was three?  Who were her friends when she was seven, and where are they now?   Why was she hospitalized this year?    What has she witnessed that a eight-year-old  shouldn’t witness?  What has she seen that she’d like to un-see?  What people have been warm, loving influences on her?  What have been her happiest days?

Carrie and I want to know everything.  We want to unravel and better understand this stunning kid.  We want be archeologists, to excavate her past, to interview everyone who knows her, to meet her parents, her teachers, her friends, her former social workers and unearth every scrap of information we can to help us craft a narrative that makes sense about where Blitzen has come from and who she is now.

Blitzen feels mysterious to us.  Of course, every child, every human, is a bit of a mystery.   Our friends tend to be the kind of inspiring parents who have spent every possible minute playing with their kids, and those kids frequently do and say things that make their parents wonder who they are, where they came from and what combination of DNA and experience led to this little human being way more brilliant/beautiful/soulful than ought be possible.

Carrie and I will do our best to take some courses in the blossoming field of Blitzen Archeology, but what we’ll major in is Blitzen Appreciation.

(Edit: A big part of the reason we have so little and know so little is that Blizten was recently transferred to our agency.   They’re learning her story along with us.)

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We get to meet our foster child tomorrow morning.  My level of can’t-sleep anticipation rivals Christmas Eve when I was nine.  I’m not the most emotionally intelligent fellow, but I suspect feelings may be involved here.  In my effort to step out of my comfort zone and role model emotional intelligence, here’s my effort to unpack those feelings.

My first feeling is excited.  I just plain can’t wait to meet Blitzen.  We’ve been imaging her abstractly for a long time (Carrie asks me questions: “What foods will Blitzen like?  Will she like to plant in the garden?  Will she like paint?”).  Today, armed with a small amount of information, our speculation level is off the charts.  (She likes Beyoncé.  What do you think her favorite song is?  Will it be on my ipod?  Does she make jewelry out of beads or charms or yarn or…?)  I can’t wait until Blitzen becomes un-abstracted, humanized, her symbolic weight drowned out by actual characteristics, quirky and real like the rest of us.

I’m excited about other things too.  Watching Carrie parent.  Sharing things I like (Central Park, here we come.  Also, do you think Blitzen is a Cardinal fan yet?).  Reading a book together.  Seeing her play with our nieces, nephews and friends.

The second feeling I identify is nervousness.  Scared-out-of-my-wits.  Panic.  I’m nervous about practical things.   What will we eat for dinner tomorrow?  Where’s Blitzen gonna put her toys?  I’m a little obsessed right now, suggesting that we buy furniture online and have it rush delivered, after months of agreeing that we’d take our time and include Blitzen in decisions. Multiple motives for my mania:  I want to prepare, to do things that will help ease Blitzen’s pain, to cross things off a imaginary list.  (Funny how people like me (Americans?) often want to solve a complex problem with the following solution: Buy something.)

I’m nervous about other things too.  Some are selfish.  Will I be able to continue pouring myself into a job I love?  Will I still get Quality Time with Carrie?  Some are more serious.  Where will Blitzen go to school, and how will we decide?  How will we handle her medications?  How will we manage relationships with the folks in her life?  Do we really need to hide our breakables?  What if none of the things I’m excited about (see above) happen, or happen in the way I imagine them.

The third feeling is sadness.  I’m sad for the traumas that Blitzen has undergone.  I’m sad for the losses she’s experienced, and will experience.  I’m sad that she has no control over her life; that she’s a powerless pawn; that she’ll wake up tomorrow morning having no clue that her life will be upside down, from Brooklyn to Harlem by mid-afternoon.  I’m sad that she has not often enough felt safety, consistency and security.  I’m sad that no matter what a long, wonderful, love-filled life she lives, her formative years, her personal narrative, her roots will always include loss, trauma and pain.  I’m sad that Blitzen may never know carefree, or innocence, or trust in the same way I did on Christmas Eve 1978.

I’m pissed off too.  I’m pissed off at Blitzen’s birth parents, and a whole lot of other people and systems.

My strongest feeling on this eve of anticipation, however, is gratitude.  I feel lucky and grateful to be co-fostering with Carrie Ann, and for our peeps, the human resources who populate our lives.

From the moment that we got the call from our agency, Carrie and I have been surrounded by love.  The folks we’ve told have been supportive, generous and genuinely delighted.  Several cried with happiness.  The joy in our little NYC-centric community is palpable.

My gratitude is not just for the unconditional love we’ve received, it’s also for the resources and expertise.  We know child development specialists, therapists and teachers ready to call in favors and help us at the drop of a hat.  Our bosses invited us to take all the time off we need.  We told people that Blitzen likes to make jewelry and already have a beading expert sharing her stash with us.

We know how lucky we are to have a community like this.   We wouldn’t try to take on Blitzen-level responsibities without the fiercest, kindest village to ever have a rookie foster parent’s back.  We’re lucky.  We’re privileged.  Our opportunity is to try to pass it on.

The contrast between our good fortune and Blitzen’s  misfortune is glaring and painful. If her birth parents had access to what we have — unconditional love from dozens of folks; friends and relatives ready to help; extensive training in child development; spectacular medical insurance; a team of physical and mental health professionals; racial and economic privilege — it’s likely that the shape of Blitzen’s life would look very different right now.  These are things that allow ordinary people to be great parents.

Tomorrow, our lives and Blitzen’s life will collide violently.  After that, perhaps it will begin to intertwine gently.  I suspect the three of us will be good for each other and will learn a lot together.

Our stocking is already full.  If some small percentage of our community becomes Blitzen’s community, it will be a merry Christmas indeed.

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The Call

It came, today, in the morning.

Our wonderful homefinder asked if I had a few minutes to chat and could I conference Andrew in so we could all talk together?

Oh my gosh, he is at the airport, he is headed to Chicago – I babbled.
Let me try to get him before he gets on the plane. But in the meantime, is there anything you would like to talk to me about quickly, by chance, in case he is already on the flight and frankly I am dying to hear what you have to say so, you know, spill it…..

And she told me the tale, as much as she knows, which is surprisingly little. We’d been warned but still, surprisingly little on the substantial stuff.

It is a girl, she is in elementary school, she loves sparkly things and music and singing. Oh good, I like sparkly things and singing too. And I guess that is all I can say on the worldwide web except it is going to be traumatic for her, she has had a very hard life and we should put away any breakable stuff that we care about. Um, yeah, that ‘s right, homefinder said put away the breakables.

So tonight I am not baby proofing but sad-and-angry-little-girl-proofing my apartment to prepare for the arrival of fostwee – code name Blitzen.

And tomorrow is the day. It all begins.

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