Avoiding Asphyxiation

::blows the cobwebs from the corners and coughs a bit on the dust:: Is anyone still here? It has been four months since my last blog post and at the tail end of the coldest winter in recorded history, it has been a very long four months. My lack of posts can be attributed to a few things; the holiday season, a two week family vacation across said holidays, and a vast and echoing nothingness coming from our licensing rep.

It was four months ago that we had completed our home study interviews. We sent Rep 2 off with pages and pages of, what we felt were, five solid hours of heartfelt and honest answers to her probing, yet necessary, questions. We told her that we weren’t in a rush to be licensed quite yet because of our upcoming family vacation that didn’t include one or two extra plane tickets for suddenly placed small children. Perhaps saying we weren’t in a rush was our biggest mistake, but we had the general agreement that we’d touch base after the first of the year to see what else, if anything, needed to be done.

(Recap: Rep 2 was assigned to us when Rep 1 was transferred to another office. The agency didn’t assign us a new rep until an afternoon of phone calls up the ladder got us some results. Unfortunately, they were hasty results and our case was thrown at a caseworker that never licensed anyone before and was more accustomed to working with families after children were placed in the home. Translation: She really didn’t know what she was doing.)

So, like planned, after the first of the year Mr. Something called up Rep 2 to see how things were coming along. She was short with him, said she didn’t have any information, that our background checks hadn’t come through, that there was nothing she could do right now.

Okay.

Latching on her comment about the background checks, we looked into the fingerprinting company that we had both gone through back in October to see if our prints had made it out of their database. They confirmed that they were sent to both the State Police and the FBI months ago. Thank goodness Mr. Something has a desk job that allows for him to make and take calls a little more freely than my roomful of second graders would, because next he called the State Police. Surprised by how pleasant and helpful they were, he found out that our state background checks had been completed and forwarded on to DCFS, again, months ago. The FBI background check might be harder to track so Mr. Something made yet another call (seriously, Husband of the Year award here!) to DCFS.

At first, the representative at DCFS said that she could not release the state of our licensing process to us, that she could only report to agencies and to have our rep call her. Mr. Something explained that Rep 2 was being far from helpful and that she told him that she couldn’t get the information from DCFS. Well, Mr. Something found an angel that day. She whispered into the phone that she would look into it and call him back.

It was like this scene from Pixar’s The Incredibles, finally someone goodhearted on the other end of the line that realized that “the rules” don’t always apply. She called him back.

“Actually, Mr. Something, I am the one that processed your license,” at this point she spouted off our home address. “It should be in the mail and arriving in a few days.” Finally, a small victory! Mr. Something professed his gratitude for her help and that if he was there he’d hug her. She was happy to accept the sentiment of the hug, because after all, it was Friday and who doesn’t want to end their week with making someone’s day?

The information from DCFS was the final straw of our decision to find another agency the moment our license was in our hands. Yes, it most likely means starting the home study process over again, but once again I am left feeling like I want to stand on the roof and shout, “WE JUST WANT TO HELP CHILDREN!!!!” It’s heartbreaking how difficult to has been to squeak our way into getting our license.

Our elation has been short lived. That angel on the phone at DCFS said that our license would arrive in the mail within a few days. That was now a week and a half ago. There’s a bitter chuckle that rises within me when I think of our first meeting with Rep 1, the woman that we thought would be our guide on this journey. She said that we could be licensed and ready for placement within three months. We weren’t ready for placements in three months and, at the time, the estimation startled me, but as months slip by I’m wondering how Rep 1 ever gets away with making that claim. It’s been 11 months since that meeting.

I’m still trying to decipher the algorithm needed to translate “foster care licensing” time into “real” time. If anyone knows the secret, please let me in on it.

So, for now, I am opening the mailbox each evening and hopefully scanning the envelopes for a DCFS return address. I have sent off an email inquiry to a new foster care agency 13 months after I stood in line at the post office to mail our application to our first agency. Waiting seems to be the name of the game.

Monday is our 2 year idea-versary for this Tiny Human Project. (Where we were two years ago and last year.) Maybe something poetic is in the works with the universe and we will have our license in our hands on that very anniversary. Since then we have ebbed and flowed through a sense of incredible urgency about the whole thing to the exact opposite feeling of, “life is good, why would we complicate it now?” But in my heart I know that our children are out there. In the meantime we are enjoying lazy weekends and quiet weeknights knowing that if our second agency is actually functioning at a normal speed, things could happen quickly from here on out.

I won’t hold my breath.

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This is Your Life!

Three weeks ago we had our second meeting with Licensing Rep No. 2. We didn’t know what to expect. We had set the date at our previous (and first) meeting with her where we were given a new stack of paperwork and gave her a tour of our house. We were prepared to hand over our newly completed forms but were at a loss for what else we might do.

Upon arriving, as laid back as ever, she announced, “Well, I figured we could start the home study questions.” Surprised, but ready to jump in, Mr. Something volunteered to go first. So, sitting around the end of our dining room table, lead by Rep 2’s questions, Mr. Something recounted his childhood. Who were the people that made up his immediate and extended family? How was he disciplined? How did he know he was loved? What were his parents views on education? What are his? What is his highest degree?  What was the demographic of his school? Did anyone in his family have substance abuse problems? Did he ever make reckless decisions?

blogger-therapy-gary-larsonWe joked that perhaps he should lie down on the couch or perhaps share a bottle of wine with Rep 2 to ease this seemingly one-sided first date conversation. We jested that it wasn’t quite fair that she was getting to the very core of who we are and, yet, we knew next to nothing about her. She tossed it right back at us saying that she actually wasn’t with the agency but just showed up at our door to learn about every tedious detail of our lives. Again, I was relieved that she shares our knack for sarcasm and relaxed nature.

After two hours she drew the evening to a close, with still uncompleted questions for Mr. Something and my own questions untouched. We set another date on the calendar to continue and our evening came to a close.

Rep 2 has shared with us that she has never licensed anyone before. She is predominately a caseworker for the agency and works with families and children after placement. She would make side comments about the questions she had to ask us, many became redundant or were just worded strangely. As tedious as it was, I was constantly aware that she was working to build a profile of us as individuals and as a family, a profile that would be the first impression of us that a caseworker would receive when deciding if we would be a good fit for a child or children in need of a home and care. Suddenly, poorly worded questions and jokes about this impromptu therapy session became very real and very heavy.

Our followup meeting got cancelled and rescheduled just once, so after a few weeks when she returned I knew it was my turn to share. Before she arrived we did a quick cleanup of the house. The weekend before we had hosted our annual Halloween Party for 31 of our closest friends and family. Halloween is a serious holiday in our circle of friends and we tend to go all out.

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This year I dressed as the woman in a painting that we have in our living room. Everyone always thinks that she is me so for one night I got to be her!Mr. Something went as the “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” Tony Stark aka Ironman. (Nerdom runs rampant in my house and I love it!) 1457679_10151655107800044_1898175691_n

So, Wednesday night, as I pulled shot glasses out of the dishwasher and stowed bottles and bottles of alcohol back on the top of the fridge, I couldn’t help but be slightly amused. Our Halloween parties tend to be far from tame, not that we partake in anything illegal, but no less than five people ended up getting sick before the end of the night. Our final guests went home around 4am (that was old time, daylight savings turned it into 3am but my brain was still saying 4.) We had guests for over 9 hours, not counting the friend that spent the night, and just four days later we were preparing take another step toward proving that we are suitable for raising children with special needs.  The juxtaposition of these two sides of ourselves were amusing at the time, if nothing else. Mr. Something and I discussed before the party on Saturday that next year might look very different. There are so many unknowns about the children that may end up with us and the timing of it all that we must simply be prepared for things to be different and take it all as it comes.

Knowing that this meeting would be another lengthy evening, we included Rep 2 on our pizza order and planned to continue the home study over dinner. I set the table, leaving enough room for papers and notepads. We checked and double checked the plates and silverware for spots or food that somehow survived the dishwasher as if the completion of our licensing depended upon clean dishes. Some day she will be coming by to check up on our foster children and I know that spotty glasses will be the furthest thing from my mind.

She wanted to start my questions to get me caught up to Mr. Something and then we’d do the remainder of the questions together. Either she was abbreviating the questions or I am simply not as wordy as Mr. Something but mine went by much quicker. It was still interesting to walk through the halls of my past. Thinking about what did my parents do exactly to make me feel loved. How did I know the difference between right and wrong? And the million dollar question, “Who was the single most influential person in your life?” Talk about loaded! Even then I had to say, “Aren’t we all the product of everyone we have encountered in our lives?” I could easily answer it if you asked me, “Who is the single most influential person of your professional life? Or in terms of your educational career?” But when it comes down to the fabric of family, and your own parenting philosophies (which we had to define by the way) we are a tapestry of both of our parents, our friends’ parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and siblings. We have grown our ideals through watching peers enter into parenthood and endless discussions about, what would you do if that was your child, your situation? I was surprised by my final answer and not sure if it really answered the question but, no matter what, it gave her an additional window in who I am and that really is the ultimate goal of the home study.

After I caught up to Mr. Something the questions continued about our current relationship and parenting philosophies. At one point when answering a question about how we communicate or deal with conflict in our relationship, Rep 2 said, “That’s very insightful, you could be a therapist.”  I had to laugh, having a sister that is a mental health counselor for adults with developmental disabilities shows that perhaps insight runs in the family but it also proves that we really are a tapestry of everyone in our lives.

At this point we also got to exercise some of the knowledge we gained during our 27 hours of PRIDE class that we completed over the summer. There were questions about how we felt about maintaining contact with birthparents/families, how we would handle having a child that might require an IEP (Hah! As a teacher I live in the land of IEPs and have often battled to get students on them to get them what they need for the future. Cake and pie.) and what we would do to accommodate a child living with trauma and grief.

After three hours I was mentally exhausted and felt like I had relived the last 31 years of my life and then some! It reminded me of “This is Your Life” which, sadly, I don’t have the real-life connection to but the Sesame Street parody was a regular clip during my PBS watching days.

We went from laughing about childhood memories to waves of emotions recalling some of the more difficult lessons learned. Another checkmark on the list. Rep 2 left us with a bit of homework, charged with taking her pages and pages of hand scribbled notes and turning it into a veritable term paper on “The Somethings” All I can do is hope that we were honest and clear and that she was able to build a picture of us in order to match us with the children that are meant to be our forever children. So for now, we wait.

Paperworking

Photo Oct 07, 7 03 52 PMWith our next meeting with Licensing Rep #2 just about a week away, we have been grateful for the deadline and have been moving through the paperwork involved with this step rather quickly. Reading, signing, making backup copies, digging up house measurements, running bath water over a kitchen thermometer, fire escape plans, work schedules, financial information… it goes on and on. At this point, with a few left to copy, we have over 60 pages of completed forms. So far they haven’t been all that bad. Nothing as complicated or laced with legal jargon as refinancing a house, which has been much appreciated.

Today, a few hours apart and about 50 miles between the two locations, Mr. Something and I got fingerprinted. He ran out on his lunch break. It turns out I didn’t give him one of the forms that he needed for them but the people working the service were kind enough to look up the form and print it for him. I was grateful that they were so accommodating and celebrated a “Thank goodness for the internet!” moment. I made a stop on my way home at our local community college. A fingerprinting service sets up shop in one of the main entryways once a week to provide the service. I was hoping to ask the person if I could take a picture of the process, which is like something from the future nowadays, but she was a bit gruff. (I did run in about ten minutes before she was supposed to close but the whole process didn’t even take ten minutes.)

Photo Oct 07, 5 47 10 PMAs I was sitting there waiting for her to enter my information into the computer, a rush of college students were coming into and out of the building. Evening classes start at 6:00? Mr. Something started his college career in that very building. On days I had early or late classes on my own college campus, I would come here and meet him for lunch. We’d shoot pool in the rec center or just steal some moments together during our “busy” college lives. It feels like a lifetime ago. 11 years? We were such different people then but somehow very much the same. Even then we were committed to a future together but what college student can even pretend to know what the future holds? If I could wander those halls and catch a glimpse of the ghost of myself sitting at a table, reading my education textbooks or researching Niccolo Paganini for my music history term paper, killing time before Mr. Something got out of class, what would I say to her?

Our Tiny Human Project has felt so right from the beginning. (Despite the “What the F- are we doing?” moments that Mr. Something and I pass back and forth every now and then.) But a decade ago I wasn’t dreaming of building my family this way. Was I dreaming of building a family at all? I always knew that there were children in my future but I never dreamed of being pregnant, giving birth, having a baby of our own. I’ve often related to other foster families that share that they were “called” to this life. Was there a seed of this calling in that 20 year-old armed with a pack of glitter gel pens struggling to take notes on the history of education in the common area of this very community college building? Even now, hours later, I still don’t know what I’d say to that ghost of me. What pearls of wisdom or insight could I impart? As far as I can see, life is turning out pretty damn good and I got here without a word of advice from future-me. I think I’d merely watch her from afar. I’d watch for the way she’d glance up every time someone came down the hallway, watching for him. I’d watch the way that their eyes would meet and they would greet each other when he finally did come out of class. I’d smile with the secret knowledge of how good things were going to be over a decade later for those two. Not always easy but definitely arriving at something so comfortable and right. Maybe I’d brush by as they embraced and whisper, “You’ve got this.” and return to my warm and happy present.

After I got the fingerprinting lady to chat a little bit, she finalized my paperwork and showed me what I needed to turn into our licensing rep. She sent me away with a, “Have a good evening, Mrs. Something, and good luck.” How am I going to look back on this moment a decade from now? Will I need every ounce of that “good luck” from this stranger? Will future-me have a secret smile, looking back at present-me knowing that it’s just going to get better from here? Or will I be wanting to shout to myself, “Brace yourself! You have no idea what you are getting into!” If it’s any sign, God had his water colors out tonight. This was the glorious sunset that I drove into the rest of the way home. For now, I’ll take that stranger’s “luck”, stash it in my pocket, and enjoy the glorious now.

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Added Later: Being pre-digital camera, 11 years ago was a bit tough to find without raiding photo albums and scanning. I did dig up this one though, give or take a few months… (I just love this guy!)

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Pleased

Well my day of incessant phone calls about not having a licensing rep paid off! By that evening I had a return call from the licensing supervisor of our agency. He just wanted to let me know that he had received my message, and although he did not have any information for me, he assured me that he would look into it. Faith in humanity restored! Less than 24 hours later, Mr. Something received a call from our new licensing rep. She would be coming to our house to start getting to know us the following week.

Last weekend we were once again, cleaning, organizing, preparing to meet the woman that could potentially be matching us with foster children (or maybe we will never see her again like our last rep!) Five months ago we were in the same boat, nervously preparing our home and ourselves for this next step in our foster care journey but this time it felt different. There were still butterflies that erupted in my stomach the moment the bell rang on Tuesday as my students filed out of the classroom. I needed to hit the road so we’d have time to grab some dinner before she arrived at our house.

There were still those moments of Mr. Something and I just sort of sitting and waiting for the doorbell to ring. We were watching Netflix on his tablet, easier to close up and put away when the doorbell did ring. Turning off the TV would, what, take too long? Who knows. I was relieved when she called and said that she might be a little early. We were ready and just sitting and waiting was driving me nuts.

When she arrived she came to the door with a warm smile. She was casual and relaxed. She had some paperwork with her and an iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. This was significant because five months ago, Mr. Something and I were so caught up in the moment of meeting Rep #1 that we never offered her something to drink. The poor woman drove over an hour to meet us and we didn’t even get her a glass of ice water! We weren’t going to make the same inhospitable mistake twice but Rep #2 came prepared. Upon her arrival, we automatically apologized in advance for our two cats and dog who are harmless but don’t always understand the concept of personal space. I understand that not everyone enjoys animals in their business or can suffer from allergies. She just smiled and loved on them, she has three cats and a dog of her own at home. Call it petty but I knew that we’d get along. 🙂

When we sat down and started talking with her about where we are in the process and questions that we still have, I realized that this time was different. We are different people than we were five months ago. A lot of it came from our 27 hours of PRIDE classes, but our questions were thoughtful and we nodded along to much of what she shared with us. Talking with her was so easy and comfortable. Rep #1 wasn’t nearly as personable.

We gave her a tour of our house. Rep #1 was surprised and slightly disappointed when we said we didn’t have a basement, but Rep #2 smiled and commented on how nice our home is and how cozy it feels. We shared our ongoing plans with the second bedroom, which still needs beds, and our loft which will also become a kid space. She loved everything we shared and everything we had to say.

Pet loving aside, the moment that impressed me the most was when she shared why she got into the foster care system in the first place. (She is predominately a case worker and has never licensed anyone before. I worried about this at first but in the end was excited that she is an expert on everything that comes after the licensing. That’s where all of our questions stem from!) We didn’t have to ask her, like Rep #1, she simply offered it up in the conversation. “That’s why I love what I do… I get to see children transform. I see them grow and change as soon as they are in a happy, stable home. I get to see whole families grow and change through the process. It’s amazing.” My heart swelled. I hope we get to keep her.

With a new stack of paperwork (We have to sign off on the maximum water temperature in our home?) and a second meeting already on the calendar for mid-October we are picking up momentum once again. We are in no hurry to finish our licensing, we don’t have plans to open our home for placements until well after the first of the year but it’s nice to not feel stalled anymore. Let’s file this experience under the “feeling good” category. Looking forward to more!

Spreading Christmas Cheer!

Yep, you read it right! I am just passing along the word from a fellow foster care/adoption blogger that I have been following for quite some time. The Ahlbrandt’s are an incredible little family that have unknowingly provided me with endless inspiration. Today Martina wrote to promote her husband’s latest musical endeavor, a CD of acoustic guitar Christmas Classics. Just the little preview in their promotional video was so yummy! (I really am hankering for a snow day instead of a heat day aren’t I?) Anyway, wander over to Martina’s “My Mid-Century Modern Life” blog, check out this fabulous lady and her husbands beautiful music. You might even want to crank the AC and imagine it’s sweater weather. 🙂 Enjoy!

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http://mymcmlife.com/2013/09/10/merry-christmas-2/

 

Pecking at a Trail of Breadcrumbs

We are on week six of trying to get ahold of our agency’s office supervisor to find out who our new licensing rep will be. I’ve left countless messages, each one getting decidedly less friendly and a bit more passive aggressive. It’s petty, I know, but all through our training we kept hearing about this shortage of foster parents. Here we are, practically begging to continue the licensing process and no one will return our call! We were cautioned by our instructors to not change agencies until we are officially licensed, at the risk of paperwork or proof of our class completion being lost in the shuffle. The PRIDE classes were important and enlightening, but I don’t need to take them for a second time just because someone forgot to transfer all of our info to a new agency.

I’m home from school today on account of high temperatures. It’s the summer equivalent of a snow day. It’s my first ever and it’s decidedly less magical than a snow day. Especially because it could be completely prevented by this wonderful new-fangled invention called air-conditioning. The first few weeks of school have been so interrupted and inconsistent with early releases (because of high temps), holidays (Labor Day, Rosh Hashanah), and students being absent (why not take a week’s vacation during the second week of school? I had 5 students absent on Friday!)  Am I complaining that I’ve had lots of days off? Yes! It’s the beginning of the year, we are trying to establish routines and expectations, parents are already calling to know how their children are doing in math and reading, I’d like a normal five day week to get settled.

Here’s a little inside tip from a teacher to any parents out there. Your child’s teacher won’t really know what kind of reader your child is until October. Don’t even ask before then. Think of the logistics. If I want to sit down and read with your child one-on-one, which is the ultimate goal, there are 20 other seven year olds in the room that have to be doing something 100% independently, quietly, and without interrupting what I’m doing with your child. It takes a lot of work and practice to get to that point. I’m READY to be at that point but the calendar and mother nature have different ideas. Okay, rant over. Let’s try this again…

I’m home from school today on account of high temperatures so I seized the opportunity to track down SOMEONE that could help us with this licensing rep situation. I tried my good friend, the supervisor, one more time for good measure. Voicemail. At this point I went back to the agency’s website and clicked on the “Interested in Foster Care?” link like I did a million years ago to start this whole process. I started calling the contact numbers at each of the agency’s offices. I didn’t care if they were hours and miles outside of my area. Someone was going to help me. When a real human being actually did answer the phone (three calls later) I almost forgot how to engage in a conversation. He was initially confused as to why I was calling his office since I live nowhere near it but was happy to give me the numbers of two people that might help me.

I called the first and he told me to call the second name I had been given. He told me that the second person was the licensing supervisor for the whole agency. I liked the sound of that.  The number he gave me was different than the one I had been given previously. He also gave me the name and number of the licensing supervisor’s supervisor. (Seriously? I work at a school. We have students, teachers, a principal, and a superintendent. That’s as complicated as it ever gets!) In the end after calling three more numbers, I left voicemails for both the supervisor and the supervisor’s supervisor. I don’t really know what to do if they don’t call me back. Even if we decided to switch agencies who would I even tell? Who has our file? Let’s hope the phone rings.

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It’s almost New Year’s Eve

Historically there have been dozens of calendars used by civilizations and religions around the world. They all center on their own significant events, whether spiritual, astrological, or business driven. Today may be Sunday, August 18th for all intensive purposes but in my world I am on the cusp of a new year. This week my students come back to school and this past week’s preparations in my classroom will lead to the faster tempo of “back to school.”

I’ve always been grateful that my life follows a yearly rhythm. Each fall I get to start the new year with a blank slate. New students, new parents, new instructional ideas, no mistakes. It’s only with my fellow educators that I can use the phrase “last year” and they understand that I could very well be talking about something that happened three months ago. Wednesday night is my New Year’s Eve. It is generally celebrated by trying to get to bed early and struggling to quiet my mind and reassure myself that, yes, everything is as ready as it can be for Day 1. As with any New Year, these final days leading up to it lend themselves to a lot of reflection about the year I am putting behind me, more specifically the summer I am putting behind me.

As I reconnect with colleagues the standard questions is always, “How was your summer?” I’m finding it difficult that perhaps the most significant part of my summer, completing our foster care licensing classes, is something that I’m still not sharing with a lot of people. Mr. Something and I are telling people if they happen to ask us about children, but I’m not quite ready for the work announcement until we have a better idea of our timeline. So, I smile, I tell them it was quiet and relaxing, which it was. I did a lot of reading, please don’t ask me to recommend books because most of my reading was countless pages published by DCFS about types of abuse, trauma, the importance of family, community, and culture.

Another Blank Slate:

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The “before” picture for now.

Over the last few months Mr. Something and I also continued to prepare our second bedroom for the arrival of tiny humans. After redoing a second hand dresser last spring the room sat untouched until school was out. As I shuffled furniture and prepared the walls for painting, I realized that this second bedroom of ours was very much a blank slate. We have lived in our house for 5 1/2 years but I struggle to even recall even 2 or 3 significant memories that take place in that space. It served as an office for a while, but upon receiving a laptop from my district, I rarely found myself sitting at my personal desktop computer. At some point we flipped the room with our loft area and it turned into a TV room.  Again, it was rarely used. Mr. Something and I don’t often do things in separate parts of the house. When we are home together we like to be doing things together.

So, my blank builder-white walls became the soft grey of gentle rain. (Who is lucky enough to get the job of naming paint colors? Who wouldn’t want to sleep in a bedroom covered in something called gentle rain?) The walls were practically flawless given the lack of use the room has received over the years, but suddenly it was becoming a real room. Photo Jul 14, 12 00 57 PMI took down the tension rod that held up the white curtains that were left over “closet doors” from my junior year dorm room and installed actual hardware and a pair of Ikea curtains that I’ve had my eye on for months. With some colorful paper lanterns from WorldMarket, it’s taking shape, and the promise of some incredibly significant memories to come is making our little house feel more and more like a home. 

So, how was my summer? Special. Exciting. And exactly what I needed to prepare for the “New Year” to come.

(In the meantime we are in week three of waiting to hear back from our agency supervisor so we can find out who our new licensing rep will be. I’ll call again tomorrow…)