a strike for katey

August 19, 2008 at 12:55 pm Leave a comment

since she was little, my daughter has gone to almost every birthday party she’s ever been invited too. i think it’s important. whether i know the parents or not. if it’s convenient to our plans or out of the way. i’ll adjust. because what’s more important to a child than their birthday. cake. games. friends. fun. presents!!!

the summer is a hard time for a birthday. i knew it as a kid. i see it as a parent. kids come and go from summer camp. a constant revolving door of friends. so when the little girl came up to me and asked if s.a.b could come to her party i said of course. i’d never seen katey before. maybe in passing but she never stood out. she was quiet, unassuming. never near the circle of chatty girls my sab could always be found with at the end of the day. but that afternoon she was glowing with the excitement of turning eight. she had no invitation to give us ~ somehow it got lost. she knew it was on sunday ~ but wasn’t quite sure what time. they were going to be bowling ~ at one of the two local alleys. details to her seemed meaningless. it was her birthday. that’s all that mattered. her mom called the next day with specifics and i assured her we’d be there eager to share in the celebration.

it wasn’t until we were on the way to the party that sab told me that katey’s mom wasn’t her REAL mom. my first thought was a step-mom but i was quickly corrected though sab couldn’t remember the word. katey’s real mom was is jail she said. and her dad was too. or maybe he was just somewhere else.  so katey’s mom was her … what do you call it ? … foster mom. i admit i was a little shocked and extremely curious. why was the mom in jail? where was the dad? how long had katey ~ and the little sister i was soon to meet ~ been “in the system?” i bit my tongue, careful not to ask questions that seemed condemnatory. i teach sab not to judge and i try to do the same.

we got to the bowling alley right on time and i was surprised to see there was no one else there for the party. i don’t just mean other kids. even the birthday girl was no where to be seen. obviously no one came early to tie ballons to her chair or decorate the bare table set up behind the lanes we were to be on. maybe they were just running late. it happens.

katey’s mom was nice. her 18-year-old foster sister friendly. they set up a few things and let me know we had two lanes ~ one for the kids, one for the adults. to my dismay it became clear that we were the party. there were no others. one guest. one friend. as someone who throws big to-dos for my child, i couldn’t help but wonder if katey felt jaded. her little sister, punished from an earlier misbehavior, was grounded from bowling so sab and katey shared a lane alone. i joined katey’s mom and older “sister”. sort of bowling but paying more attention to encouraging sab as each ball thrown bounced off gutter guards and took down a random pin or two. as katey bowled, her every pin knocked down went unnoticed. no one cheered or even glanced her way. her “sister”, not quite the expert bowler, was pouting and frustrated with her game and mom’s attention obviously belonged to her “real” (adult) child. so i became the over-eager cheer squad anxious to ensure kately felt like the princess bowler she deserved to be on her day. katey seemed oblivious to the lack of attention from her family. though it quickly became apparent that her little sister wasn’t quite so content with living in the shadow of a different last name. she fought hard to steal the spotlight with tactics of blatant disregard for rules and respect. the negative attention craved over the alternative of being ignored. she worked so hard at demanding even my attention, hardly heeding the occasional warning of promised later punishment.

i admit i’m jaded in my perception of foster families. i’ve had little personal knowledge yet media stories focus on the failures of a system too easily manipulated and abused. maybe i can’t understand the difficulty in taking in two little girls and becoming their mom overnight. or the fear of getting too close only to have to send a child back to their “real” parents. katey and her sister had only been in this family for two months yet they threw her the party. bought a few presents and lit the candles on her cake. maybe this was more than katey had ever known on her birthday. maybe to her one friend to bowl with was the biggest celebration ever. but no party, big or small, can ever replace the unconditional love of a mother and i hoped that in spite of the appearance of displacement, katey and her little sister weren’t merely temporary nuisances. my heart breaks for katey ~ reserved and quiet, careful not to rock the boat. and for her sister ~ temperamental and lashing out, so young to be so angry.

on her last ball thrown, katey got a strike and there was no way she could have contained the excitement and pride that radiated. i cheered as loud as i could and as she ran to me for a hug i silently prayed the feeling of success from that one strike would stay with her a long, long time and somehow balance out the many she already has against her.

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Entry filed under: life, parenting, random. Tags: , , .

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