The first photo we have of the big kids was likely snapped when they were around 6 and 8 years of age. It must have been taken when it was warm out because Bubaloo is wearing a Tilly hat and Bella has a short sleeved shirt on. I guess it was May or June. The grey washed concrete of the school yard fills the background of the image as the kids stand with their heads upturned and eyes squinting from the bright glare of the sun.
When I asked them about this photo they told me it was taken by a teacher at the first school they went to soon after they were placed in foster care. This is the first photographic evidence we have of their existence.
When kids are placed in foster care, the foster parents are supposed to keep a life book. This compilation of images, memories, tokens, is a collection of anything of significance that documents the history of a child. Because they often have nothing that documents their lives before this point in time.
We looked forward to seeing Bella and Bubaloo’s life books of the 2.5 years they spent in foster care. Only when they came to live with us, a life book wasn’t contained in the single garbage bag of clothing and box of toys that each of them possessed. We asked about them, were told that they weren’t done yet, and in the five years we’ve been a family they’ve never manifested.
Bella was lucky enough that her birth father put together an album that was eventually forwarded to us so we now have a handful of pictures that capture her as a baby and as a young child.
The first photo we have of Bubaloo is the one above taken by his teacher. There’s no photographic evidence of who Bubaloo was during his first six years on the planet. That’s nearly half of his life. Not a single image or artifact that can speak to who this child was, what captured his interest, toys and objects he treasured, snippets of his personality or people whom he loved.
We can never pull out a photo album to sit with the kids and talk about lives that began with their births. All they have memories, often constructed as something that they were told about themselves, and as time passes, these fade and become muddled. Stories blend and overlap, what each child says contradicts the other’s version of events, and we’re left to referee a past we were not privy to.
It’s been so important for us to collect what pieces of the kids’ past that we can. We’ve managed to copy shards that give fragmented clues to their past. Social histories, school records and report cards. It’s limited, but it’s something we’ve tucked away for whenever they want or need it.
On the eve of our 5th gotcha day, we got in a heated debate at the dinner table over which kid had repeated which grade. Bella thought one thing, Bubaloo another; I said one thing, and Wifey said another.
Usually there’s no way to resolve these conflicts. There’s only one person’s version of events versus another. The children who lived it, and the adults who heard it through a social worker. Only this time, we had something. We had photocopies of the kids’ school records.
While the past was quickly corrected (Bella had repeated grade 1 because she had missed 72 days of school as wasn’t quite socially mature, and Bubaloo had repeated kindergarten), the files stayed on the table the entire night. Bella and Bubaloo poured over their past as documented by their teachers and by what their birth mother had told the Children’s Aid about them.
I’ve never been so thankful for the lengthy details about the kids’ that the teachers took the time to include in their report cards which extended way beyond academic observations. We noted what had changed about them and what had remained the same. We noted how they had grown up and matured. It was amazing to watch our kids gain insight into themselves, to learn new information about themselves and remember things they had long forgotten.
For this small documentation, I am thankful. I am glad we can gift some piece of the past to our kids.