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.