Saturday, August 29, 2009

Direct from the Barrio: Blaine

Many children bring home stray cats and dogs. Mine did not do that although we did have a pet cat, Fluffy, who died from feline leukemia when the kids were very young, and a stray cat that adopted us, who also died from feline leukemia when the kids were a little older. No, why would the Mahlou kids do something normal? Instead of a stray cat, they brought home a stray kid. Welcome, Blaine!

Blaine was the oldest of three sons, born to a drug-addicted mother who had her children by three different men. Blaine's parents lived in the barrio of Salts until his father disappeared, leaving his mother to raise Blaine alone (followed, of course, by the other two children, whose parents did not stay around, either). The news on the street was that Blaine's father (we do not even know his name) had returned to Mexico, from where no one ever heard from him again.

Blaine, it turned out, was a gifted student, and he met my children in the public school's GATE program. He had come to the house a few times with Shane, and we were all comfortable with him as Shane's friend. He seemed comfortable with us, too, and fit in nicely with our children. Still, we were not quite prepared for a children-parent meeting that was requested by our children when Blaine was 13. (We had a habit of holding weekly family meetings to make decisions on finances and other things, e.g., if there was not enough money for both electricity and a normal range of food, a typical dilemma in the days of medical bills in the hundreds of thousands of dollars while I was a mere graduate student, we would vote on what to forego for a few days.)

Lizzie led this specially called meeting. All the children were in attendance and fully united in how they planned to vote. Blaine's mother had just put him out on the street. Now that he was a teenager, she expected him to drop out of school and help her in her drug business. He refused, telling her he wanted to finish school and go to college. That was unheard of and not even understood in the barrio, so his mother assumed that he was just being disobedient out of obnoxiousness. She threw him and his things out into the street, telling him he would have to make his own way if he did not appreciate her support. She was serious. Either he sold drugs, or he stayed on the street.

My kids wanted to take Blaine into our family. They parried every argument quite deftly. Blaine is well behaved. True. The finances would be okay because they would all eat less -- they did not have to; God provides -- and Blaine and Shane could share clothes -- they did not have to; God provides. Blaine could sleep in Doah's lower bunk (Shane had the upper bunk) since Doah always insisted on sleeping in a nest, anyway.

(Detour here re Doah's nest. Doah was a very Mommy-attached little boy, and considering the many times he had stopped breathing, we did not discourage him from wanting to sleep with or near us. As an infant, he had to be in our bed. Born prior to the wide-spread use of home apnea monitors, he would not have survived. Once we were able to get a home apnea monitor, a really new device not distributed within the state of Pennsylvania at the time, through the intercession of Boston Children's Hospital, Doah still slept in our room because the monitor so frequently alarmed. As he grew older, he loved to bring a huge pile of blankets and pillows and stuff them under my desk where I was working, nestling at my feet. If I took him back to his bed, pretty soon he would show up again, asking to sleep in his "nest." I always hoped that he would never tell any of his teachers at school that he slept in a nest! They would have had some doubts about us as parents.)

So, Blaine moved in with us. His mother knew and seemed not to care. She once came to the house not stoned about four years after Blaine had moved in. She needed his signature on a document. At that time, she told me that she was happy he was with us because he would have a better life. It was the only time we ever talked. We did not adopt Blaine because his mother would have fought it, and the demand to join the family drug business would have begun all over again. Therefore, she collected welfare payments for Blaine and used them for drugs. Perhaps it was wrong not to report all of this, but the system would have worked out worse circumstances for Blaine. So, right or wrong, Blaine became a pseudo-Mahlou until 13 years later when he married Lizzie. (We did not see that one coming!)

In the interim, Blaine's mother was killed in a drug deal when he was 19. He took care of the funeral, then moved to San Diego where Lizzie and Noelle were attending college. He, too, enrolled in college there, having completed a year locally. (It should have been two years, but his freshman year his mother stole his scholarship check to use for drug money and he had to spend a year working to replace it.) While there, he got one of his brothers, who is moderately mentally challenged, enrolled in a work program in San Diego, and he and Lizzie watched out for both Noelle and John while there. (The third boy had a father who was almost local, and he took him to live with him after Blaine's mother died.)

When Lizzie moved to Illinois to work on her PhD, Blaine was offered a computer job at the university and so moved with her. John moved, too, but somewhat later, to Illinois where Blaine could continue to help him while working and finishing his degree on line. Noelle came back to Salts, where she still lives.

Lizzie has been teaching in New York but has just moved to South Carolina. Blaine stayed at his job in Illinois, but he has now found a position near Lizzie in South Carolina. As for John, he is still in Illinois and has a girl friend there. He knows where to find his big brother, Blaine, who seems to have learned very early the importance of family.

(more later...)


  1. Where in new york did lizzie teacher?

    I'm going to check out your blog.

  2. SO glad you commented on my blog so I could find YOURS! Wow... what a story & amazing family!

  3. Hi Sue,

    I sent a response to your email.


  4. American in Norway,

    I sensed your frustration with the ex-pat experience, especially education. Hang in there! I have spent some ex-pat time, and I know the mixed feelings, but I think it is worth the experience (for the kids, too).

  5. chain of kindness.. you changed a life, and he extended the chain. people like you and your children make this world a beautiful place.

  6. Thank you, Agnitrisha, for your kind comment!

  7. What a beautiful family story. You should write a book. Sounds like Blaine used every blessing that came his way.

  8. Great to meet you! What wonderful stories you have to tell!

  9. Nice to meet you! You do have amazing stories to share with others!
    May God Bless you all the days of your life


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