As you may recall, I found my kids by looking in my local county binder. This was great news, because it meant less of a physical transition for them. What I found out, after my worker (Heather) connected with theirs (Amy), was that they actually lived in a little town about four hours away from Oakland. Even though they were wards of my county, Amy found the best placement with Ms. Reed, a grandmotherly-type who was doing foster care way down in the valley. So much for best-laid plans.
For the first visit, in early December, Heather and I made the 4-hour drive together. The visit itself was scheduled for an hour, which meant we were looking at an 8:1 driving time-to-visit time ratio. Amy, who was also based in Oakland, made the drive separately. So now you had three adults, driving a total of 16 hours, for this one-hour look at the kids. But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is: For your first visit, there’s no commitment on anybody’s part—you’re just meeting. Because of this, the kids were not supposed to know who I was—Heather and I were going to be there as “Amy’s friends.”
What actually happened was, that morning, the foster mom told the boys: “Your new dad is coming today.” So from the minute I got there, they seemed awfully happy to see me. In retrospect, I suppose this is better than them knowing who I was, and being awfully unhappy to see me. I guess I owe Ms. Reed a belated thanks, even if she went outside the lines.
Anyway: We showed up, and there they were. Two bundles of crazy-cute energy. One small, slim-featured, darker, gregarious. The other fairer, larger, broader, holding a little more in reserve. The six of us sat in the dining room and chatted a bit, then the boys and I went outside and played some wall dodge ball and Nerf football in the cul-de-sac. They cheated at both blatantly and often—shades of things to come. I asked them questions about the important stuff: favorite TV shows, favorite sports and games, favorite foods, etc. They answered easily and pleasantly, with Mr. Gregarious mostly running the show. After an hour Heather and I drove home. So far, so good. No red flags.
The second trip, I went down by myself for the weekend—the drive-to-visit time ratio was getting better here. I stayed in a funky B&B about 20 minutes away from their town, with the idea that we would spend Saturday and Sunday afternoons together, getting them home in time for dinner. I remember two outings: one to an airplane museum, where we saw—you know, airplane stuff—and one to the movies. I think it was an animated Disney film called “Treasure Planet,” but all I really remember is that Mark got a headache and we had to leave about halfway through. Maybe a slightly pale pink flag? Did being around me make him sick?
I guess not, because we scheduled our next round of visits to coincide with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. Fortunately, the driving gods clearly decided I had done enough. Ms. Reed had an adult daughter who lived less than 45 minutes from me in San Jose, with whom she (Ms. Reed) and the boys were going to stay for about two weeks over the holidays. Heather called me on December 23 to see if the boys could come by that afternoon to stay through the 26th—basically, instant family Christmas. Which was fine, except at that point, I didn’t have anywhere for them to sleep. This is the part where Aunt Leigh and I had our frantic, curse-filled IKEA bunk bed-building episode.
On this first “in our house” visit, we had our first family taste of magic. Being a single dude cottage-dweller for many years prior, I didn’t really “do” Christmas. I hadn’t bought a tree in … well, maybe ever, I didn’t have any decorations, lights, etc. On December 24 (after a good night’s sleep in their NEW BED), the boys and I made the trek out to get some basics. The store where we bought the ornaments, tinsel, and other goodies had one tree left on the lot. They gave it to us for free.
Not a bad start.
I have a picture from that visit of the boys standing on my bed, waving—their heads not even touching the ceiling. Given how enormous they are now, that picture, which has a permanent home on my fridge, is pretty much guaranteed to bring out a few tears. So much yet to come …
Anyway, I brought the kids back to the foster mom on December 26, and we repeated the cycle the next week: The boys came up just before New Year’s and stayed with me through the holiday, and I drove them back to San Jose a day or two later. This visit was apparently a bit less magical—my only memory is sending them to bed by 9 on New Year’s Eve, because they were being such butt-heads. As with most “crises” through our time together, a few days later I couldn’t even tell you what the problem was. It couldn’t have been too bad, though, because 10 days later, they were …
Next: Moving In
(Note: I am writing this on January 11, 2014. Today is the 12-year anniversary of the day the boys moved in. More magic.)