Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial issues. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes mention of a mother's death, extremely strained father-daughter relationship, a thrice-exceptional child (blind, gifted, with superpowers), intolerance, ethnic issues, failure to accommodate special needs, trial separation, struggling to find a suitable foster family, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.
"The Light of Intelligence"
It was obvious from the moment
Heidi first met Benedick Smith
that his daughter Millaray
needed a new placement.
When asked what brought them
to her office, Benedick said,
"My daughter has ... issues.
She can't see, she's slow and
clumsy. Perhaps she would
be happier in an institution."
Heidi looked at Millaray.
The girl had some baby fat,
but she wasn't really overweight,
and her movements seemed
more deliberate than sluggish.
What's more, she was
enchanted by the aquarium.
"Do you like my fish tank?"
Heidi asked, pointing toward it.
"Yes," Millaray said eagerly.
"I can hear it bubbling, but if I
click at your fish, I'll scare them.
They don't like echolocation."
"It's like tapping on the tank, isn't it?"
Heidi said. "We don't want to scare
the fish. Why don't you come over here
and find out what else you can discover?"
She showed Millaray how to put a hand
on the smooth glass of the tank.
"It's warm!" the girl exclaimed.
"They must be tropical fish."
"They sure are," Heidi said.
"Do you want to guess what kinds?"
"I can't see shapes very well,
especially up close," Millaray said.
"Do you have live plants? I think
I can smell leaves and mud."
"I do have live plants," Heidi said.
"I also have angelfish, which are
triangle-shaped; gourami, which
are oval-shaped; and zebra danios,
which are torpedo-shaped and striped."
"They sound fun," Millaray said.
"They are," Heidi said. "Lots of clients
like to watch the fish and listen to the tank.
It helps them feel calm in a new place."
Millaray leaned against her for comfort,
and Heidi wrapped an arm around her.
"I don't think my daddy likes me much,"
she whispered into Heidi's side.
"I miss my mommy a lot."
"Why do you miss her?"
Heidi asked. That was in
the paperwork, but she still
wanted to know what Millaray
would say about the topic. Or not.
"She died in a car crash,"
Millaray said. "I miss her
because she spoke Mapuche
with me, and daddy doesn't.
She let me run around with
my eyes closed, and he won't,
so now I bump into things
more often, and that hurts."
That was what had inspired
someone to call Family Services,
a steadily increasing show of bruises
and visits to the community clinic.
"Bumping into things is no fun,"
Heidi said. "Do you know why
that happens more now?"
Millaray sighed. "I can sort of
see things far away, but not as well
close up. I can echolocate really well,"
she said. "But when I try to do both
at the same time, sometimes it's
too distracting. Things don't look
the same way as they sound."
"That does sound distracting,"
Heidi said. "No wonder it's hard."
She turned around. "Mr. Smith,
is there a reason for asking Millaray
to keep her eyes open? It doesn't
seem to work very well for her."
"That's not important," Benedick said.
"She has to learn how to get by in
the real world, because people won't
put up with her incessant noise. If she
can't, then she belongs in an institution
where she can do whatever she wants
without bothering normal people."
"Mmm," Heidi said. "Let's go through
a checklist of family dynamics and find out
what that tells us about this situation."
What it told them was exactly what
her gut had said twenty minutes ago:
Benedick and Millaray were badly matched
and not very compatible without Calfuray.
That car crash had cost them the interface
that had made their family functional.
Benedick couldn't seem to appreciate
Millaray's strengths; he only noticed
her weaknesses, and he was unhappy
about the SPOON report that she had
traits from the Chilean myotis bat.
Conversely, Millaray felt that she
couldn't live up to her father's standards,
and she was starving for affection
as well as accommodations for
all of her special needs.
"What do you two think about
taking a break from each other?"
Heidi said. "There's no need to stay
miserable if you don't get along. We
can find another place for Millaray to live
while we figure out if you two just need
some help to mesh better, or if you
would do better off apart."
"I think that's for the best,"
Benedick said firmly.
"Yes, please," Millaray said
in her slow, soft voice.
"Okay," Heidi said. "Millaray,
can you tell me what kind of family
you might like? Would you enjoy
being around other blind people?"
"Oh yes. I can read Braille 3,"
Millaray said proudly. "It's fun
being with other blind kids."
"Wow, I can barely read
a number pad in the dark,"
Heidi said. "You must have
worked so hard on that!"
"Mommy made it fun,"
said Millaray. "She labeled
all our spices in Braille and I
had to know the name before
I could put that one on my food."
"Let me check my files and find out
if we have any foster families with
a blind parent or child," Heidi said.
"Your superpowers make it tricky,
though, so this may take a while."
"We'll wait," Benedick said.
"Then you can go back to
our waiting room," Heidi said.
"Millaray, we have Taxxi if you
enjoy tactile magazines."
Millaray was out the door
before Heidi had even
finished the sentence.
Heidi could just barely hear
some of the clicks and squeaks
that Millaray made to navigate.
Half an hour of fruitless searching later,
Heidi had to admit defeat. There wasn't
a suitable family anywhere in her lists,
either blind or sighted, and few that
would consider superpowers at all.
Desperate, she called Aidan and
explained the situation to him.
"I don't know what to do," she said.
"I think that Millaray is still hurting
from the loss of her mother, and
doesn't get along with her father,
but has the potential to bond with
a more compatible family. Which
I do not have available here."
"What about the Saltes?" Aidan said.
"I met them recently at the support group
for Calaveras County foster families.
Cecilia is blind and Elwyn is Deaf."
Heidi ran a search again to make sure
she hadn't overlooked them. She hadn't.
"Why aren't they in my database?"
"Their paperwork may not be finished
yet," Aidan said. "The support group is
open to people considering foster care,
and the Saltes just started coming."
"Do you have their contact information?"
Heidi said, grasping at straws. "Millaray is
a soup, so we can expedite if necessary."
Aidan gave her a vdress for the Saltes
and the website for the support group.
After wrapping up with him, Heidi
contacted the Saltes to ask if they would
consider a thrice-exceptional child.
"My darkness has been filled with
the light of intelligence, and behold,
the outer day-lit world was stumbling and
groping in social blindness," Cecilia quoted.
"We'd be delighted. When can we meet her?"
Crossing her fingers, Heidi said, "How soon
can you two make it over to my office?"
They made it in two hours, and it
only took that long because Cecilia
insisted on stopping to pick up
some toys for blind children.
They already had Scrabble and Uno,
so Heidi suggested Bananagrams since
Millaray was so interested in Braille,
while Cecilia added several puzzles
and a big bucket of Squigz.
The moment they arrived,
Hiding her annoyance at him,
Heidi made the introductions.
"Do you know Mapuche?"
Millaray asked eagerly,
her new fosters.
"No, we don't, but
now Elwyn wants to learn
whatever it is," Cecilia said.
She was translating back and forth
for Elwyn, which was good, because
Heidi's sign language was about
as bad as her Braille was.
"It's my mother's language from
Araucanía," said Millaray. "It's
really hard to find in America."
"Don't worry about that," said Cecilia.
"Elwyn is such a word nerd, he knows
people at lots of universities. If that
doesn't work, he can always contact
the folks at Mapuche Mail and ask them."
"I get a discount from Mapuche Mail
because my mommy's Mapuche, so
I am too," Millaray said helpfully.
"That should help," Cecilia said.
"Can I learn his hand talk if
he's learning my Mapuche?"
Millaray said. "I can hear
his hands moving but it's
hard for me to see them."
Heidi looked at her watch.
It had taken less than ten minutes
for Millaray to request language lessons.
And Benedick thought this kid was stupid?
"We'll be happy to teach you that,"
Cecilia said. "Right now, we're using
pro-tactile American Sign Language,
because Elwyn is Deaf and I'm blind,
but he knows several more languages."
"That sounds fun!" Millaray said, playing with
the Squigz. Then she heaved a sigh. "I still
miss my mommy, and I wish my daddy liked
me better, but at least you're nice people."
"You'll always miss your mommy, but
you can make new ties," Cecilia said.
"Okay," Millaray said, putting
her small hand into Cecilia's.
Heidi felt better already.
* * *
Benedick Smith -- He has fair skin, gray eyes, and dark brown hair cut short. He has a full mustache and beard. Benedick moves from one college to another, teaching advanced classes in geography. Most recently, he has been teaching at the Modesto Junior College in Modesto, California about 52 miles from Avery. While traveling in Araucanía, he fell in love with a Mapuche woman, Calfuray, who had beautiful violet eyes and long black hair. They married and had a daughter, Millaray. Benedick has always been disappointed by his daughter's marginal vision and slow movements. After Calfuray's death in a car accident, Benedick has become so unsupportive of his daughter's needs that someone finally called Family Services to complain.
Qualities: Master (+6) Professor of Geography, Good (+2) Assertive, Good (+2) Traveler
Poor (-2) Father
Millaray Smith -- She has tinted skin, black eyes, and long straight black hair. Legally blind, she can see shapes at a distance and distinguish reddish colors from bluish colors, but that's about it. She is currently 6 years old. She speaks English and Mapuche. She is fluent in Grade 2 Braille and learning Grade 3. Millaray is the daughter of Calfuray and Benedick Smith. After Calfuray's death in a car accident, Benedick has become so unsupportive of his daughter's needs that someone finally called Family Services to complain. Millaray enjoys gardening for pollinators, and pretty much anything else to do with flowers or insects. She is smart, but her father doesn't believe it due to her slow movements and poor vision.
Origin: Possibly Millaray inherited superpowers through her mother.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Smart, Good (+2) Agility, Good (+2) Gardener
Poor (-2) Slow
Uniform: Play clothes. She loves flowers, birds, butterflies, and other tropical motifs.
Powers: Good (+2) Bat Powers
Millaray has traits from the Chilean myotis. Her voice is powerful enough to shatter glass. She can echolocate fluently, and she sees best in twilight when human vision isn't very effective. Her sense of smell is also strong enough to distinguish individuals by scent. She can track through the air to find someone, but can't follow a trail on the ground like a dog. Millaray can avoid obstacles just fine -- with her eyes closed. With them open, sometimes the vision distracts her from echolocation and she bumps into things. Like many people with insectivore traits, she loves eating bugs, which disgusts her father.
Motivation: To explore the world.
Bat vision is poor, but they aren't blind. They see best in dim light, can distinguish some shapes especially at a distance, and may have a little bit of color vision but not much. Mesopic vision functions in low light. When mixing vision with echolocation, however, bats may become confused and crash more.
Echolocation is generally thought of as something bats do, but some humans can do it too.
Braille is a system of writing for the blind.
Cecilia Salte -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and light brown hair cut short. She is legally blind, but can see some things at short range. She has a guide dog, a yellow labrador retriever, named Sunflower. Cecilia speaks English, Esperanto, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and American Sign Language (including pro-tactile ASL). She is fluent in all grades of Braille. She is married to Elwyn and they are fostering a young girl, Millaray Smith. They live in California. Cecilia works as a travel agent, concentrating on clients with special needs. She has friends all over, but her travel schedule makes it hard for her to keep in touch, so she relies on other folks to maintain contact.
Qualities: Master (+6) Interpersonal Intelligence, Expert (+4) Travel Agent, Expert (+4) Traveler, Good (+2) Balance, Good (+2) Conversationalist, Good (+2) Dog Lover
Poor (-2) Keeping in Touch
Elwyn Salte -- He has ruddy skin, blue eyes, and light brown hair cut short. He is Deaf. He signs American Sign Language (including pro-tactile ASL), Plains Indian Sign, Chinese Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, and Gestuno (aka International Sign Language). He can read English (including all grades of Braille), Esperanto, and Portuguese. Elwyn is married to Cecilia and they are fostering a young girl, Millaray Smith. They live in California. Elwyn tutors people with special needs and their families, particularly sign languages and other forms of alternative/augmented communication. His allergy to cats is challenging because so many of his clients have therapy animals.
Qualities: Master (+6) Patience, Expert (+4) Languages, Expert (+4) Tutor, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Making Friends, Good (+2) Traveler
Poor (-2) Allergic to Cats
Elwyn knows the most common sign languages.
* * *
"My darkness has been filled with the light of intelligence, and behold, the outer day-lit world was stumbling and groping in social blindness."
-- Helen Keller
Araucanía is a historic region of local-South America belonging to the Mapuche people.
1557 -- The Mapuche leader Galvarino fought against the Spaniards, which led to them cutting off his hands. He subsequently manifested as a Berserker. On November 30, 1557, he went into battle with knives strapped to his arms. In Terramagne, he survived and contributed to the Mapuche remaining free. Today their nation of Araucanía shares borders with North Chile, South Chile, and Argentina. North Chile and South Chile are connected by the Pan-American Highway. Araucanía has a substantial population of Jewish immigrants dating from around World War II, a source of conflict due to Argentina hosting so many Nazi immigrants. It is notable for its development of advanced prosthetics, and for the Araucana breed of chickens.
This map shows the triangular shape of Araucanía. While much smaller than ancestral Mapuche lands, it remains a substantial area.
See Heidi Langenberg's office.
Avery, California is Aidan's town. Read about nearby features. It belongs to Calaveras County. Here is a map of Calaveras County. Angels Camp is the only incorporated city in the county.
Death has a massive impact on family dynamics, especially for children. It's also hard when the remaining parent isn't close with his child. This can leave the family fighting a lot. In extreme cases, it may lead to irreconcilable differences. Know how to deal with a parent's death and help children cope with it.
Family dynamics may be assessed in various ways. Here is a Child-Parent Relationship Scale and its scoring. This is a Father Engagement Scale and its instructions. Here is a Children's Happiness Scale. Another useful tool with young children is a Happy-OK-Sad Scale, which children can use to show how they feel about topics on a list such as their parents, house, or school.
Twice-exceptional refers to people who have both a gift and a disability. In Terramagne, thrice-exceptional adds superpowers to that pair. Sometimes one trait eclipses another, or they seem to cancel each other out, but they're all still there. There are many misconceptions about this, and they can make people miserable. Know how to support a 2E or 3E child.
Taxxi -- a tactile magazine with heavy pages embossed or otherwise embellished with patterns to feel and things to do, including both Braille and raised letters; more expensive than most magazines, but extremely popular with children and other tactile people.
Young children can learn to read Braille. These are Braille reading standards. Braille has several grades or levels. Grade 1 is simple, where each cell represents one letter or other character. Grade 2 introduces contractions and other space-saving features. Grade 3 is a type of shorthand, not fully standardized.
There are Braille toys and other toys good for children with vision impairment. Squigz are rubbery toys consisting of a ball and one or more suction cups, so you can stick them to a wall or each other. There's even a set with long stems that bend. They have a lot of tactile and audio appeal.
Mapuche Mail is a corporation similar to Amazon.com. It was launched out of Araucanía, which lies between North Chile, South Chile, and Argentina. What began as a fair trade initiative to give local crafters wider reach has grown into a global sales and shipping business. Later on, it added the teleportation-based VORP Mail service. That one can't ship live or volatile products, but does well with stable items.