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I know I haven't been around much in the past few months.
Life has become a bit complicated.
I'll try to keep this short and sweet but the past four months have been a relative whirlwind for me.
I previously wrote about one new addition to my extended family. That situation hasn't gone smoothly.
There are issues with child services in the county and some of the rules they insist upon are contrary to state law on the subject. There have also been boundary issues with other family members.
The new arrival lived most of her life with simply a foster mom and dad. Now she's with a group of lunatics that number in the hundreds.
It's been hard to convince the extended family members that we're not just integrating her into our lives. She's forced to integrate all of us into her new world.
There have been harsh words and hard feelings but I've got enough going on now that I don't have time to play diplomat (not that diplomacy was ever a strong suit).
You see, my new granddaughter isn't the only new addition in my life.
Circumstances have dictated that my wife and I also open our home to two new faces.
One face really isn't new. He's my son and he's been a part-time resident at our house for the past 10 years. Now he's full-time. His mom wanted to move him 2,500 miles across the country. I said no. The courts backed me up. She went anyway.
As with above, the transition hasn't been without problems - because he would prefer to live with his mother.
But 250 miles had become increasingly difficult to navigate for visitation and custody. I wasn't about to let the distance be multiplied tenfold.
If I had inkling of what was coming a few weeks later, I might have let him go west with her if only to preserve my sanity.
In mid-September, my wife and I accepted guardianship of yet another child.
A long-time friend was diagnosed with a terminal illness and he was no longer able to provide full-time care to his daughter (not that he really ever did).
The mother wasn't in a position to help. The grandparents had no interest in taking her in.
The girl is 17. She spent the first half of her life with a mother who was addicted to alcohol, painkillers and opioids. She spent the last half of her life with a man who was more interested in career and money than fatherhood.
To say she has issues would be the world's worst understatement and her decisions reflect the lack of structure in her life.
She was busted driving a stolen car and charged with extreme DUI - at age 14!
She can't get a driver's license until she's 21. She won't be off probation until she's 20.
We can no longer have alcohol in the household or even go to visit my daughter without getting prior authorization from the probation department.
Of course, child services in that county is thrilled to death that we're bringing a juvenile delinquent to visit a foster child. (You'll be thrilled to know that the term "juvenile delinquent" isn't just a trite expression from the 1950s; it's a real legal term. At least I was thrilled when that bit of information was revealed).
The terms of her probation mean we can't leave her "unattended" for "extended periods" either. It's a mess and a half.
And she gives less than two shits about it.
Some changes at work had already increased the stress level at home. The addition of my son and the situation with my daughter and her husband added to it.
I thought we were pretty close to the max, to be honest.
Then the stress doubled with the addition of this teenager to the mix.
We'll keep trying to show her that she matters, that she is important. In a few months, she'll be 18 but she has a year-and-a-half of school left (and the probation department won't let her quit unless she wants to do jail time instead).
So, yeah, finishing Azkoval and writing anything new has been pushed down the list pretty far. I'd like to write. I need the distraction; I need to immerse myself into a fantasy world where all problems are solvable, all people are salvageable.
Right now, pretty much every second of the day is spent focusing on things that might not reach a conclusion I like.
My job might go away. My new granddaughter might be sent to live somewhere else. My son might not be able to adapt to living with me full-time and I'll have damaged our relationship for nothing. And our newcomer might just hop a bus one afternoon, bound for a future that's uncertain that will certainly be filled with difficulties.
For now, my family and I are just putting one foot in front of the other until we fight our way out of the forest.
I delved into my folder for the next chapter of Azkoval -- only to find it empty.
I was certain I had one or two left that were ready to go but, as often happens, I was full of shit.
I have a couple more chapters hanging around by nobody has looked at them but me. I'll get those off for Zom to peruse so I can buy time to finish writing the damned story.
The upshot: No post this week.
Over the past few months I've used this space to write about a couple of men who have helped shaped the way I try to live my every day life.
Today I want to tell you about another personal hero.
First, as usual, a little backstory is necessary.
My immediate family (my bothers and sisters, their children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and a single great-great-grandchild) numbers more than 120 souls.
We're scattered along the eastern portion of the United States (except for the military members who are stationed wherever they happened to be stationed at any given time).
Family get-togethers take a bit of effort.
Of these people, about 1 in 7 were adopted at varying stages of childhood.
I have six living nieces and nephews (and one, who sadly passed away at age 19 while trying to save a friend) that were adopted at ages ranging from birth to 13. I have a dozen great-nieces or great-nephews who came into this world as a member of somebody else's family but who are now proudly claimed by mine.
My family isn't wealthy. In fact, in the greater scheme of things, most would consider us lower-middle class to downright poor.
And, yeah, there are a bunch of us running around in the world. But we have a simple rule we try to live by:
If there is a child out there with nobody else to look after them, we make room. We'll give them a home and a family that loves them without reservation. We always have and, I hope, we always will.
I think we can all admit that the foster care system in the United States is substandard (and I'm doing my best to be generous here). It is staffed by many well-meaning people but it is run as a bureaucracy.
I am not a raging conservative but I come to understand a few things in my 49 years on the plant.
One truism: If the government gets involved, it pretty much becomes a cluster-hump sooner than later.
But this isn't a political diatribe.
This is about some spreading the joys (and terrors) of familial life.
In about six days, I will welcome my first granddaughter in a non-traditional way.
My oldest child shares no genetics with me. I married her mother and I help to raise her,
In all practical ways, she is my daughter and I am her dad.
In all legal ways, we are unrelated in any fashion.
A couple of years ago, she asked me to be the one to give her away during her wedding ceremony - much to the consternation of her birth father and her mother's current husband.
If I didn't already love her as much as humanly possible, I would have started just because of that.
But that says more about me than her - and this is supposed to be about my Oldest Little Girl.
My Oldest Little Girl knows about my family's heritage.
She knows that the medical conditions that cut my oldest sister's life short also kept her from conceiving a child. So she and her husband adopted.
She knows that my oldest brother learned that a child was being abused at home and took him in and eventually adopted him.
She knows that one of my middle sisters adopted the child of a daughter's friend when the girl OD'ed.
She knows that my youngest brother (whose deeds of heroism I mentioned in passing in another blog post), helped to rescue four children from a life in the foster care system by adopting them a few short weeks after his oldest child graduated high school and moved out of the house.
You might have thought I was being hyperbolic when I said his acts of kindness and generosity would take more space than I'm allowed here. But, in hindsight, the same is true with all the children my mother raised before I came along.
My Oldest Little Girl knows that my family does whatever it has to do in order to protect the weakest among us.
She didn't learn that lesson from me.
She learned that from being around the people that I love and who I am luck enough to be loved by in return.
So my Oldest Little Girl and her husband (who is exactly the man that every father hopes his daughter will marry) will open their home to foster daughter next week - and immediately begin adoption proceedings.
The little girl's story is tragic. In fact, it's a story I knew about a couple of years ago when I wrote Runaway Train. I changed circumstances to protect anonymity but the little girl is the impetus for a small character in the story.
Suffice it to say that her story only validates my hatred for 75 percent of the population (and the hatred isn't predicated on skin color, gender or sexual orientation - it's because people are generally assholes).
The woman that gave birth to her didn't want her - but she wanted a paycheck for her. So she arranged a private adoption.
But when the prospective parents found out the child wasn't 100 percent white they reneged on the deal.
The little girl went without a name for more than a month while various court rulings were handed down.
Then the little angel went into foster care where, after a few more months, she was placed with a nice family.
But the nice family has issues of its own and they can't keep her. They wanted to keep her but ALS is a cruel and relentless disease.
So my Oldest Little Girl and the man who was lucky enough to marry her will step into the void.
They will provide another loving home for a darling child that was unwanted by people too stupid to see past superficial things and continue the work begun by the girl's first foster family.
And my wife and I will have our first grandchild to spoil. We are both ecstatic - although it validates the absurd notion that we're getting old.
My children will have their first niece to love and entertain. My brother and my sisters will have a fresh mind to impart the lessons they taught me and my children. All but one of my nieces and nephews (most of whom are within 10 years of my age) can say I became a grandparent before they did (so Ha Ha Rebecca, you can't say that! But your granddaughter is a treasure so I think you'll accept the trade off). My great-nieces and great-nephews will have a new child to teach all the mischief that older children teach the younger ones.
And my great-great-niece will have a contemporary. My Oldest Little Girl's new daughter was born four days after my great-niece's daughter.
I missed the first few years of my Oldest Little Girl's life. I didn't see her first steps or hear her first words. That's the case for three of the four children I claim as my own.
But through exposure to the best people I know, she has grown into an adult that displays love and kindness and empathy to all people who are worthy of it (after all, some people are just assholes).
I sat with my Oldest Little Girl when she called her uncle (my brother) to tell him the news.
My brother is gentle man wrapped in a tough facade. He's the guy you see at funerals with his arms crossed and his face set so nobody knows how sad he is. I saw this very pose only a few short weeks ago - and it was the same exact pose I saw when our mother, our oldest sister and another older brother died.
But he's also the guy that makes sure that every child in our family gets to play Little League or Pop Warner football or take ballet lessons or piano lessons or taekwondo even if he has to pay for the equipment or the lessons himself.
He believes every child should be happy to be a kid (and I agree with him). He is the one that, even at 75 years old, you'll see out with the kids under the sprinkler when the weather is hot or rolling the first snowball in the wintertime.
He is one of the few men of his age I've met that cares nothing about gender or race or sexual orientation. But aside from laughing with the kids, he shows little to no emotion.
He broke down in tears when my Oldest Little Girl told him the news and he thanked her for carrying on the legacy of looking out for those who can't look after themselves..
She learned the lessons that people around her offered and she has taken the lessons to heart.
My Oldest Little Girl has chosen to be a part of my family. It is not genetics or random chance. She has made a conscious decision to be a good human being - or, more likely, this was always her destiny and I didn't screw things up too badly.
She is truly who I want to be if I ever decide to grow up.
I've loved her since a few weeks after I met her. I've respected her since she was old enough to make decisions on her own.
For the past 20 years, I've always hoped that I was a hero to her. I've always tried to be a hero to her. I doubt sincerely that I've always succeeded but I've always tried to be the sort of person my children can be proud to say "That's my Dad."
Now I hope she knows that she is a hero to me.
I have and always will tell everyone I meet: "That's my daughter!"
Now I can add: "And that's my granddaughter!"
I will close this with a new benedictory:
A proud grandfather to be,
I left for vacation without getting a chapter ready.
I will toss up two chapters next Monday.
Today is a day that I've dreaded for some time.
From 2010 until his death in April 2016, BlackIrish culled through close to 850 chapters that I had written. My standard chapters are normally 10 Word pages. That's 8,500 pages (give or take) of shitty prose, missing words, misnamed characters and forgotten plot points.
He helped me take these pages that sometimes seemed more like a random jumble of words than a coherent train of thought and turn them into stories that I have posted on this site.
BlackIrish kept a running tally of where the plot had moved so he could ensure that I didn't leave too many threads dangling. He kept a list of character traits and personalities to make certain that I kept the players consistent. He would ask questions about the character actions and interactions so I would think about why one of my creations would say or do something - instead of just writing what was expedient at the moment.
He managed to do this while helping out others on the site - including working with G Younger on the starting portions of his Stupid Boy series.
Today's post marks the last of the chapters from my stories that were edited by the late BlackIrish.
The others he worked with seem to have done a better job of keeping current with their postings. I somehow developed a two-and-a-half year backlog.
So I suspect that today might be the last time a chapter edited by BlackIrish will appear on SOL.
If that is true, the site will be a little worse off tomorrow.
Thanks, Bill. You are missed.
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