Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

The Day I Met My Daughter

I was going to learn to play piano. I had three weeks off work, and two burly men happen to be lugging a perfectly adequate free piano through my front door. So who could ask for a better opportunity?

            I always could almost play piano. I played guitar and bass for many years with bands, so learning a third instrument was only a matter of putting forth sufficient effort. In high school, some friends and I would pair up, one playing the melody and the other the bass line, and we could get through a few songs this way. I eventually learned a couple of tunes and managed to pick out a few riffs here and there. I even wrote a lullaby on a toy piano called Toy Piano Lullaby.

            Now it was a perfect opportunity to really learn to play.

            I paid the burly men for their services as they ventured back out into the August heat.  Immediately, I took a seat on the bench and banged out The Young and the Restless, more affectionately known to me as Nadia’s Theme.           

Nadia

            Nadia was a 14-year-old gymnast whom I had the biggest crush on back in 1976. She was really cute – in addition to being nimble, graceful, powerful and flexible – and had caught the attention of this then 11 5/7-year-old boy. Unfortunately, Nadia spoke no English and was utterly ignorant of my existence. She was busy wowing the world and winning gold medals at the time.

            Then the phone rang. It was my wife. As far as I knew, she was unaware of my earlier affections for any Romanian gymnasts.

            “I just spoke to Carla. She said that they need to move that Bernadette girl to a new placement, so if we are interested, this would be the time to act.”

            Carla was our Division of Family Services adoption case worker. For the past nine months, my wife and I had been going through the preparations to become foster parents with the hopes of eventually adopting.

            My wife filled me in on all the details.    

            It comes as a surprise to most people to discover that when you adopt through DFS, you don’t get to meet the child prior to him or her being placed with you. The Powers That Be view this as an unethical practice and liken it to going to the pound and picking out a puppy. Instead, following a brief orientation, an in-depth screening process, several months of extensive training and a comprehensive home study, potential foster/adoptive parents are presented with profiles of children whom the department sees as being a good fit.

            Unlike those of other children, Bernadette’s profile was lackluster and unimpressive, doing nothing to “sell” her. It might as well have said she is a 7-year-old girl who likes to bowl and has no personality. End of story.

            So we deliberated. We were allowed to go to the department and look at records and discuss this child with people who knew her, ever mindful that Bernadette’s current placement had been deemed unhealthy and they were eager to move her quickly. “Everybody loves Bernie!” they would say. After a few days, we decided that Bernadette would move in with us.

            Although we had plenty to do, the anticipation over meeting our little girl and having a child in the home was overwhelming. After eight years of marriage and three heartbreaking miscarriages, we felt more than ready to start a family. Nevertheless, on the eve of such a life changing event, emotions and anxieties ran rampant. Yes, we were really going through with this!

           

            We waited impatiently for our special arrival, both of us pacing about our house, nervously straightening and re-straightening things behind each other. The anticipation was overwhelming.

            Then the Stork Mobile finally arrived in the form of an SUV. In the backseat I spied a laughing little face with no front teeth. “They’re here!” I announced.

            My wife and I stepped out into the heat to greet our child. Bernadette – she preferred Bernie – was tall, thin and full of nervous energy. Her complexion had been described as “chocolate,” and I now understood what this meant. Picture the candy commercials where they pour milk chocolate into a wooden bowl, the lighting revealing its smooth, rich texture. She had the most beautiful brown eyes with long lashes and naturally lined lids. Her hair was medium length, straightened and combed back off her face. It would need some attention soon. Bernie had arrived wearing pink Capri pants, a white shirt with stripes and sandals.

            My wife and I had been asked to create this book, a portfolio, as we completed the training process. This Life Book was to serve the purpose of introducing our family and our home to a child. It included pictures of the room where she would sleep, the school she would attend and the pets that would live with her. The descriptions were brief and written on an elementary level. As she clumsily paged through her Life Book, Bernadette found it absolutely remarkable that everything looked exactly as it did in the pictures.

            Bernie was accompanied by her case worker and two women who were working with us. We gave Bernadette a tour of the house, she being excited and frequently commenting “that’s tight” as we showed her things.

            Then we came to her room, the focus of much recent intensive effort. After having invested our labor, handiwork, creativity and money into the project, Bernie’s room was the pride of our humble home. The walls were two-tone painted, the ceiling and the top two feet of the walls were purple and the remainder was an aquamarine. The trim, doors and furniture were a clean, acrylic white. We had new carpet laid. Fancy window treatments, a hanging star lamp and giant butterflies mounted on the walls completed the magazine-feature look of the room.

            “This is tight!” Bernie exclaimed, plopping down on her bed. The social workers were even more impressed, making it a point to comment on all the ammenities for the child’s benefit. They took pictures of the three of us on the bed, the first pics of our new family.

            Eventually, we made our way into the living room to fill out paperwork and to take care of business. As my wife and the ladies discussed everything from pediatricians, the legal process to the care of African-descendent hair, I found myself hanging out with Bernie in the kitchen. A teenage daughter from her previous placement had assembled a pocket photo album of their family. Bernadette paged through this book telling me all about the people she would likely never see again. She also showed me this doll the workers in her daycare facility gave her as a going away present.

            Bernadette seemed naively unaware of the magnitude of the next few days’ events, so I thought. She chattered away, again looking over the Life Book, matching the real life images with those in the pictures. She had been with about five different placements before us. It appeared that she accepted such changes as a normal condition of life. Maybe, on some level, this chatter was indicative of the anxiety she was feeling.

            I became aware that my wife was in the other room tending to all the “serious” details with the social workers while I was joking around with the child. Perhaps I should go in there and take notes or something, I thought. Then it occurred to me that this would be my only opportunity to meet my daughter for the first time, so I concluded that I was doing exactly what I needed to be doing at that moment.

            Then my mother called. “Is she there yet? What does she look like?”

            “She’s beautiful, mom.”

            Eventually, the ladies left us alone with this strange child  . . . forever.

            During our first few hours together, we went outside and played what Bernie called “hosscotch,” which was like hopscotch except it involved a more random, impossible arrangement of squares. Then we abandoned the oppressive heat and came inside. Bernadette discovered the piano, the other new arrival in our home, and began tickling the ivories. She “knew” a song called I Love You Forever, which actually involved randomly picking out an ascending scale-like progression as she sung.

            That evening, we went out to eat at an Italian restaurant. There, we addressed the awkward topic of what she will call us. We suggested our last names, our first names, and then Bernadette offered “Why not mommy and daddy?” We were floored! We expected to need to ease into this gradually. This all seemed to be moving along so quickly!

            When we got home, we had a few family members over to meet the child. They brought her gifts, and Bernie reciprocated by singing, dancing and playing the piano for them (again nervous energy). And everybody loved Bernie!

            After company had left, it was time for Bernie to retire following her long and exciting day. She changed in her PJ’s, then my wife and I tucked her in together. We read to her from one of the books that Bernie received as a gift, Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. This happened to contain the song Bernie was “playing” on the piano. We took turns reading the pages, and we sang the refrain in unison:

I love you forever

I like you for always

As long as I am living

My baby, you’ll be.

 This would become our bedtime ritual for years to come.

            We closed the door behind us as we left Bernadette to sleep. I gazed into my wife’s eyes seeing amazement, pride, excitement, humility and anxiety all in one look. We kissed, wrapped arms around each other and walked down the hall together. Thus began our journey.

 

            During the next few weeks, Bernadette got acquainted with our extensive family and her new environs. We had a big “Welcome to the Family” party and, of course, everybody loved her! We watched with pride and tearful eyes as Bernadette got on the bus for her first day at her new school. And my wife took lots of pictures. We would eventually adopt Bernie just as soon as the Powers That Be would allow.

            I never did learn to play that piano. As with so many other parents in the history of the world, my personal desires got put on the back burner with the arrival of children. Of course, Bernadette continued to bang away and, eventually, this activity began to slowly resemble music. When she was older, I would use this piano to show her things as she practiced the saxophone for her junior high concert band. And I taught her the Toy Piano Lullaby for grins, which she instantly forgot.

            I can still almost play piano, and this has its benefits.

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One Response to “The Day I Met My Daughter”

  1. That is truly a heartwarming and beautiful story of how you met your daughter. Bernie is a sweet girl with a gorgeous smile! You and your wife have done a wonderful job in your role of parents. Any advice on how to handle kids during the teenage years? (for future reference)

    Mary Powers


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