3rd Rep and 3 Weeks

Last week we had our first meeting with Licensing Rep #3. She works with the agency that we are switching to given the fact that our first agency was far from supportive throughout the licensing process. (See the last year’s worth of posts!) Apparently the third time’s a charm. She arrived at our house early (which was a refreshing change from our previous experiences.) It became obvious that she was very knowledgable about the licensing process and later shared that she has worked as a licensing rep for her agency for the last twenty years. That spoke volumes, not only for her expertise but for the credibility of the agency.

She was efficient, down to earth, and kept up with our sense of humor (What do you mean we can’t keep the children in a closet?) She got a quick tour of the house and explained that it would take three weeks to have the state reissue our license with the new agency’s name, then we are on the list as open for placements. Three weeks… it was the first time we had a definitive timeline for ANY step of this process. Three weeks also just happens to be my first day back at school. Of course.

She said that we could get a call right away or it could be six months before anything comes up. Either way, if we get a call in the next month I have to consider that it is the beginning of a new school year and I need to at least get a few weeks in with my new students before I take off. So much of the decision is situational, so we are going to take things as they come.

Overall, our meeting with Rep 3 was so positive. She will be the one calling us with potential placements and will be revisiting every six months to make sure our home is in compliance. Fingers crossed that our future caseworker is as knowledgable, prepared, and professional as she is!

Three weeks… cue the immediate nightmares. That night I tossed and turned with dreams of children showing up at our house and all we had to offer were two bare mattresses. Forget the fact that we really have NOTHING else in preparation, somehow the idea of not having bedding kept me up all night. Thank goodness for summer break, the next morning I headed out and filled my cart with sheets, pillows, and comforters. We have two fully-dressed beds, I can rest easy for now!

Curtains, beds, bedding, and stepstool (even with the stool I can't make the top bunk!) all from Ikea.

Curtains, beds, bedding, and stepstool (even with the stool I can’t make the top bunk!) all from Ikea.

As for everything else… We are open for children between 3-8 years old. To all my parent friends out there, what are your go-to kid supplies? Obviously, clothing, car seats, strollers, etc. will need to wait until we know the age/size of the children (be prepared for the frantic call for guidance when we do know the ages and gender!) but I’d love to hear from you about all the other good stuff you depend on! I feel like I have done a lot of homework about raising children that have experienced trauma but have no idea about the general everyday raising kids stuff. Any input is appreciated!

In preparation for “The Call” our PRIDE instructors gave us a great resource to use so we aren’t caught off guard when we do agree to a placement and we need know which questions to ask. Whether or not our Rep will have the answers is dependent on the situation but it’s a place to start. Here are the questions included on the form:

FOSTER PARENT ANSWER SHEET

Full Name of Child:

Nick Name:

Age/Sex:

Date Received:

Birthdate:

Do you have the Birth Certificate?

What is the Service Plan for this child?

Do you have the Medical Card?

Does the child have clothes/other possessions?

What is the legal state of the child?

Caseworker Name:

Caseworker Number:

Caseworker after-hours number:

Supervisor’s Name:

Supervisor Number:

Supervisor after-hours number:

What is the estimated length of time the child will be in our home?

Reason child was in the system:

Where is the child coming from? Own home? Another foster home?

Why did he/she have to leave?

What progress have the biological parents made toward reunification?

FAMILY VISITS

Where/Location?

What Day? Time? How often?

Can the time be changed if necessary?

Who will provide transportation?

Does the child have other siblings in the foster care system?

MEDICAL NEEDS

Date of most recent exam:

Does the child need medical care? If so, what kind?

 

So, we are quietly preparing and I’m bracing myself to take on this busy time of year!

 

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Mt. Metaphor

Two weeks ago I quite literally climbed a mountain. The bruises under my big toenails and my still-swollen patellar tendons remind me each day how very real that mountain was.

Our trek up Mt. Elbert started months ago as my group of high school friends began to plan a trip to Colorado. Our friend was getting married there and we all hoped to attend the nuptials but also planned on making quite a trip of it. I was reluctant to jump on board. Just a year ago we were planning a similar trip with the same friends and Mr. Something and I had to back out on account of needing to attend our foster care licensing classes. That change of plans derailed me and I was certain it was the beginning of life as I knew it coming to a complete end. I did a great job of downplaying it but I really struggled with the turn of events. (It’s a bit awful that here we are, a year later, and I am once again thinking that this will be our last childless summer. I’ve been blogging for almost 2 1/2 years and feel like I’ve been in the same place in this process this whole time. )

Anyway, as plans for this trip to Colorado began to unfold, we tentatively chimed in with a disclaimer that we might have to back out again if there was any movement on the foster care front. We booked accommodations that would allow us to cancel without fees up until two weeks before. We didn’t talk much about it and I tried desperately not to get excited. All of this considered, the trip sort of snuck up on both of us and suddenly it was summer and we were going.

Mt. Elbert (Wiki Commons photo)

Mt. Elbert (Wiki Commons photo)

As part of the preparations, a GoogleDoc popped up among my friends with potential activities, a schedule for the week, links to informational sites etc. One of the proposed activities was a hike to the top of Mt. Elbert, one of Colorado’s legendary “14ers” (the name bestowed upon any peak reaching above 14,000 feet.)  It came with an impressive resume boasting that, at 14,440 feet, it is the highest peak in the Rocky Mountains of North America, the second highest in the contiguous United States, and the highest of the 14ers in Colorado. I immediately became enamored with the idea and had to do it.

In an early morning text conversation with Mr. Something, months prior to the trip, I allowed some of my well-kept excitement to leak through and typed,

“I want to climb a mountain with you and celebrate at the top.”

As I hit send, the enormity of that statement overwhelmed me. It was no longer Mt. Elbert we were discussing but our very journey together through life and into the great unknown of foster care adoption. Mt. Elbert suddenly became a metaphor for everything that we were attempting to do here and I knew at once that if we could summit that very real mountain a thousand miles away, than we could do anything.

The trail was approximately 4 1/2 miles to the summit, however the 4,000 foot elevation gain was going to prove to be the struggle for this flatlander. I never doubted the physical challenge of the task. I equipped myself with a 3 liter hydropak, a set of shock absorbing hiking poles, $20 hiking socks, and dry-fit shirt. I mixed my own high-energy trail mix, and packed extra sunscreen, rain jacket, and poncho. No matter how prepared I thought I was, there was nothing I could have tucked into my backpack that would have prepared me for the mental and emotional challenge of reaching the summit of that mountain.

Shortly after setting off we separated into two groups. The first were dubbed either insane or super-human shortly after we began the ascent and they took off at an impossible pace, the latter being myself, Mr. Something (who very well could have been on Team Super-Human but preferred to share the torturous experience at my side) plus one of my oldest and dearest friends who was fairly closely matched with my own physical abilities.

Within an hour we named ourselves “Team Optimism” because it quickly became apparent that as long as two of us remained optimistic, the third would have no choice but to follow suit. We each took very real turns with defeat. It quickly became impossible to walk more than five steps without having to stop and catch our breath. My heart was pounding so mightily in my chest I was certain that at some point it would simply explode and I would die on that mountain trail. This is not a dramatic over-exaggeration of thoughts weeks later, we each actually came to terms with the fact that we truly felt like we might die on that mountain. At one point I told my friend quite earnestly, “If I die out here, don’t feel sorry for me because at least I died in one of the most beautiful places in the world and not someplace lame like driving to work.”

IMG_1943At about 2 1/2 hours into our ascent my phone buzzed in my pocket. It was an email notification. I received an evite for a barbecue from a friend back home. It might as well have been contact from another planet for how strange it felt to be struggling through such wild wilderness and to get something as ordinary as an evite sent to my pocket. I texted her to share the strangeness of the moment. I sent her this picture of the little piece of the world that was consuming me. I sent a plea, “I need some inspiration. This mountain is killing me.”

Her end was quiet for almost two hours, but it was those two hours later that I had sent my friend ahead to meet up with her husband and I called Mr. Something back to me on the trail. “I can’t do it.” I was crying (because anyone that knows me knows that any extreme emotion equals tears in my world.) I turned my back on the trail ahead and was looking out across the landscape we had been conquering one shuffling step at a time for over four hours. IMG_6148I was gasping for breath and struggling with the thought that out of the ten of us that embarked on that journey, I was going to be the one that didn’t make it to the top. The one that failed.

Mr. Something took me by the shoulders and moved into view. “We are going to do this. We are going to do this together. Don’t worry about the others. It is just us and we are going to get to the top.” My brain was fuzzy from the altitude but his words grounded me. I wiped my tears and turned back toward the trail ahead. Just as we began to move again, my pocket buzzed. It was my friend back home retuning my plea for inspiration from two hours before. We have a running joke that she can give inspirational speeches worth of a 1980s sports film, and that day she didn’t disappoint.

“Go climb that f-ing moutain! Think of dull flat home and make the climb with vigor and zest. Breathe in the glory of nature. Imagine that your legs are strong and your heart is happy.”

All I could manage at the time was a, “I so needed that right now. I’m struggling” as a response. However, “strong legs, happy heart” became my mantra over the next two hours to the summit.

Step. Strong legs. Step. Happy heart. Step. Strong legs. Step Happy heart.

Six hours after we left our cars at the trailhead we reached the summit of Mt. Elbert with ten friends (and two guys from England) cheering our arrival. We spent barely twenty minutes at the top due to some ominous clouds moving our way and I can only remember those twenty minutes now through a fog of hunger, exhaustion, and whatever almost 50% less oxygen than you are used to does to your brain. I clung to Mr. Something for our summit picture, my smile more of a fixed grimace than an expression of joy and it wasn’t until we were safely back down the mountain (chased down by distant thunder and the threat of being caught above the tree line with two metal hiking poles) that I was able to take in the enormity of what we had just accomplished.

July 9, 2014- Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft

July 9, 2014- Mt. Elbert 14,440 ft

Was it fun? No. There were moments of laughter as my friend pointed out rocks that looked like faces and distracted us with stories and facts about why exactly it felt like our hearts were going to burst. (Thank you pharmaceutical school.) Or when I reached into my pack to show her the trail mix I had made and pulled out an apple instead (far more impressive than trail mix!) But I can’t say that more than a moment here or there was actually fun.

Would I do it again? Yes. I want to do it again knowing what I know now about the experience. Knowing what I now know about myself. Because, let me tell you, when you summit the tallest mountain in the Rockies, you are left feeling like you can accomplish anything.

I later learned that moments before my own defeat on the trail, Mr. Something was at the bottom of his motivation as well. Ready to give up. It’s no doubt that we are stronger together. Members of Team Super-Human, who reached the summit an hour before us, later admitted to almost-defeat as well, teaching me another valuable lesson. We are all, every one of us, fighting our own battles no matter how brave of a face we put on for the world.

Enter Mt. Metaphor. It started months ago when I proclaimed to Mr. Something that I wanted to climb a mountain with him and celebrate at the top. It was in that climb that we realized that life is going to be climbing one mountain after another. Moving forward with foster care adoption is not choosing the easy path. We are going to struggle. Our hearts are going to feel like they are ready to burst. We won’t be able to catch our breath. We are going to want to give up, but we won’t. We are in it together and we are not alone. There are those to keep us optimistic along the way, to cheer for us when we reach the top, and others that will know just what to say at the exact moment we need it. (You know who you all are. Thank you!)

One step at a time, no matter how slow. Step. Strong legs. Step. Happy heart. Because the journey will always be worth it in the end.

Honest Words

A few months ago I was plowing through audiobooks like crazy during my hour+ commutes to and from work. I wandered a bit from my usual fictional fantasy genre choice and explored the nonfiction section of my local library phone app. Without meaning to I came upon Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos and embarked on a “read” that was akin to long chats with a good friend that simply gets it.

2013-04-03-instantmomThe book is autobiographical in nature and briefly highlights Nia Vardalos’ rise to success with writing and starring in My Big Fat Greek Wedding as well as her subsequent projects. This storyline is told in conjunction with her struggle with infertility and her road to discovering foster care adoption. She is candid about her experience with being matched with and adopting her two year old daughter from the foster care system.

More than once while listening to Instant Mom I caught myself nodding along and proclaiming, “Yes!” Nia explains it herself in the beginning of the book, being a private person made writing and publishing such a personal and honest account of her experiences extremely difficult but she saw the value and need for positive press for foster care adoption. The tricky part of listening to audiobooks is that I couldn’t easily dog-ear a page or reach for my highlighter when encountering passages I wanted to hang on to, so as soon as I finished listening I bought a copy and began to reread to find the gems that made me want to shout, “She gets it!” So without further commentary here are a few of those prize nuggets from Instant Mom that resonated with me.

“I was surrounded by positive stories of adoption, but of course the scary ones kept me up at night. And the media did a good job of it too. It’s just human nature to pick up on the things that cause us anxiety. I could hear a hundred fantastic adoption stories in a row and then be stopped in my tracks by one negative one. There was always some story of some drifter who’d decapitated a store clerk because he’d once been adopted. Or wasn’t adopted. Or something. Googling ‘adoption’ took me to strange places. It was all a late-night Internet search haze.”

“We were at the swing set at a park and he’d heard from a mutual friend that Ilaria was adopted from foster care. He asked, right in front of my daughter, ‘Aren’t you afraid she’s damaged?’ Truthfully, this man’s only crime was saying such a dumb thing within my daughter’s hearing range. I actually don’t judge the question because I myself once had these same prejudices about kids adopted from foster care. I worried they’d been through so much that they might not be affectionate or would have trouble bonding or would be violent. It’s ironic that we’d all be more likely to bring a stray dog into our homes than a child. A stray dog has fangs and can eat our faces as we sleep. An innocent child just needs love. I’ve done adoption fund raisers and have met children from abusive backgrounds who were raised in loving foster homes–the kids are doing just fine. They’re well adjusted and doing average things like you and me–graduating from college, getting married, holding down jobs. Many of them become social workers and help kids much like themselves because they were raised by kind foster parents who treated them with the respect and kindness all children deserve. Sure, many kids live in not-great conditions in foster care and group homes. But I’ve met inspiring families: parents who adopted kids from terrible backgrounds. The kids then become happy, well adjusted and do well. Loving kids, providing them with comfort and safety, is what it takes. Plus a lot of patience. And so many people do it. So many adults have changed kids’ lives. You will rarely hear these stories portrayed in the media. But I have met them at the many adoption fundraisers I get to be a part of now. I have met adults who were willing to get into these kids’ lives and let them know they’re loved. They’re the most valiant people I’ve ever met. To be honest, they’re also quite average. They’re not superhuman. They’re just people who stepped up and said to a kid: hey, you deserve better. So no, the kids are not damaged goods. They’re just kids looking for guidance and love–like all of us.”

“Most of us have been around kids from many varied backgrounds. We’ve seen that ten-year-old boy who stomps toys into pulp. We’ve met that six-year-old girl who eats snot. We’ve known that fourteen-year-old girl who entertained the football team behind the bleachers. Were any of those kids adopted? No, they’re being raised by their biological parents.”

“Additionally, I see now in preschool all the kids are going through something, from hitting to learning disorders to anger issues, to shyness to crying fits to over-assertiveness . . . because kids are kids.”

“Yep, we’re all kind of strange. Can any of us really be defined as normal? Nope. Therefore, I’m not afraid my daughter will display issues because she is adopted. She may have issues, sure. Just like any kid. Just like I did. Just like you did. Uh-huh–yes, you did. And so did I.”

“The fear of the unknown can be a powerful deterrent from anyone adopting. Again, I am not suggesting parenthood is for everyone, so if you feel it’s not for you, I agree your life will also be wonderful without kids. But if fear is stopping you, please don’t let it. I’m wondering why as a society some of us are afraid of what an adopted child might do to us, when it was the Menendez brothers who shot and killed their biological parents. No adopted. Shot their parents while they slept. Shot them. Sleep tight, everyone.”

“A bonus in raising a child you don’t have a biological tie to is you will never saddle them with watching their every move and declaring they musical talent as ‘that’s from your dad’s side; his old Auntie Beulah played pianola.’ Or their bad penmanship as ‘well, there’s Grandpa Frank’s meat paws once again.’ Also, when someone says, ‘Your daughter is beautiful,’ you don’t have to murmur modestly. You can just boomingly and boisterously concur at the gorgeousness that is your kid and even point out her perfect bow mouth and tiny fairy ears, ’til that person backs away slowly. The benefit in raising the child you got to adopt is you just get to watch them unfold and become who they are.”

Through honestly and humor Nia tells it like it is. Her book is candid and refreshing and I highly recommend it to anyone thinking of stepping into foster care, is already involved in the foster care world, or knows and cares about someone that is fostering.

On the home front, we don’t have much to report. Last week, my first of summer break (yay!), I emailed our new licensing rep (#3) at our new agency because it had been weeks since I’d heard from her. She confirmed that she has received our information and wants to meet with us next week. Why, oh why, is it so difficult to give us more than a few words worth of  a response? Do we have to redo our home study? Where in the process are we right now? Time will tell.

Official

Our quiet little Tiny Human Project is about to get blown wide open! Last week we received our official foster care license from DCFS. There it was, nestled between our regular ol’ mail. Photo Apr 30, 8 03 57 PM I opened it right there on the street. It’s flimsy like one leaf of a carbon copy pad, entirely unremarkable, but something we have been waiting for for a long time. Photo Apr 30, 8 00 54 PMThe more immediate news is that we are now able to pursue a new agency. I went right to work on the application packet and found myself filling out copies of the exact same forms I filled out a year ago, to the day. Once again I stood in line with a thick manilla envelope and tried to push away the sense of deja vu. One step forward, two steps back, right?

Photo May 05, 5 00 03 PMThe new licensing agent I have been in touch with seems a little more on top of things than our current Rep 2. It was almost a week by the time I received an email from Rep 2. “I received your license from DCFS. Did you?” No congratulations or here’s the next step… So I replied with an answer as simple as her correspondence “Yes, we did.” As soon as we have word that the new agency is interested in working with us, we are outa there!

In honor of becoming officially licensed, Mr. Something and I had been planning on sending out a formal announcement. Our circle of friends and family reaches far and wide so we wanted to share our news in our own way and not have it spread as hearsay. A talented friend of ours did a photo shoot with us last fall and I designed a card on Shutterfly. Photo May 08, 9 22 11 PMI was definitely inspired by the beautiful announcements created by Laurie over at The Adventures of S & L. After a few hours of addressing envelopes they are ready to be sent on their way come morning. Hence our little blog suddenly becoming very public!

With that, I’d like to welcome our friends and family, and thank you in advance for stopping by, checking in, and coming along with us on this journey. The one request I have is that for over two years we have existed as “Mr. and Mrs. Something” on this very public space. With respect to our own privacy and the sensitive privacy of our future children, please help us to remain as “Mr. and Mrs. Something.” With that said, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with thoughts, concerns, and questions. Our strong network of family and friends is one of the reasons we decided to pursue foster care adoption in the first place! We appreciate every one of you and we can’t wait to share this adventure with you!

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Lessons from a Pencil Skirt

BusinessPeopleSilhouetteWomanA few weeks ago I had parent/teacher conferences at school. It was a nice break in our routine and a good time to regroup and plan goals for each of my students for the remainder of the year. Plus, it provided three days in which I got to wear big girl clothes. We have a relaxed building when it comes to dress code, which is much appreciated considering most days I am sitting on the floor with my second graders. (I don’t trust primary teachers that come to work everyday looking like they’d never get on the floor.) In addition to working at the students’ level, on an average day I put in over three miles of walking. Don’t get me wrong, I love a pair of killer heels as much as the next girl but walk a 5k in heels and talk to me about fashion then. Uncomfortable shoes make me want to sit at my desk, when I’m sitting at my desk I am not working alongside my kids. Again, I don’t trust primary teachers that wear heels every day.

With that said, three days of sitting in a grownup chair, wanting to appear professional, and with the furthest distance I needed to cover being from my table to the door, it was a nice change to be in big girl clothes. On the last of our three days I busted out my black pencil skirt. It was originally purchased a few years ago for a Halloween costume in which Mr. Something and I dressed as the leading couple from Top Gun. 388492_10150481954097792_1834694537_nIt was perhaps my smartest Halloween costume ever; pencil skirt, white button-down, black heels, all great additions to my wardrobe (minus the blond wig! Ack!) As I went through my day I realized that functioning in my pencil skirt was teaching me a few important lessons. Since we don’t meet often I took notice and decided to take the lessons to heart.

1. A pencil skirt will immediately make you feel like you know what you’re talking about.

I’ve been teaching for eight years and given that these were the second round of conferences for the school year, I had an idea of which ones would be a breeze and which ones for which I needed to brace myself. It is a lot of stress and a lot of work leading up to the three days of conferences but when in the throws of them, I really do enjoy being able to sit down with my students’ parents and just talk about their child and what I love to do. However, because of a new report card format I was thrown off my game this time around and needed a confidence boost as I tried explaining something to parents that I was still unsure about myself. In addition to the pencil skirt induced confidence, it was helpful that my students selected work, prepared self-reflections and goals, and presented at the conference themselves. It is always so interesting to see which students sit at the table with confidence, sharing their prepared materials and which will barely glance up above their eyelashes. Students that are outspoken and confident in class can suddenly refuse to read their latest writing when at the table or, in reverse, the quiet and reserved ones can rise to the occasion with giggles and jokes, beaming with pride.

This year’s spring conferences were shaded with a different color. As I slid the folder of work across the table and excitedly announced, “<insert child’s name here> is going to start us off today with some work that he/she chose to share!” I wasn’t just waiting to see what version of my student was going to emerge, but instead I honed in on the family dynamic that was was now sitting at my table. At first the observations are superficial… he has his father’s eyes and his mother’s smile. Then I became a privileged spectator to twenty-two different child/parent relationships. If both parents were present, the child often spoke more directly to one, not the other. Some parents quietly allowed their child to share and nodded with approval over their child’s work. Some were grinning from ear-to-ear and exclaimed and high fived their child over each work sample. Some parents corrected their child while they were sharing or asked them more questions about the projects. Others sat quietly. I did not judge from my side of the table. Even now, weeks later, I have not drawn any conclusions from my three days of this unofficial sociological study, just an awareness. I often wonder what I will be like on the parent side of the table. When asked by Rep 2 about handling IEP meetings for our potential children I just smiled and chuckled a little,”My kids’ teachers are going to hate me.” I’ll have to wear my pencil skirt to the meetings.

2. No matter how much you try to hurry, your top speed is now significantly slower than normal.

This could seem like a detriment but as I attempted to hurry through our school library to return to my first family of the day that arrived ten minutes early when I still needed to get reports to be mailed delivered to the front office, I caught myself doing a little short step half jog. Pencil skirt combined with a pair of pointy black heels meant that this speed was just not going to happen today. I paused, took a deep breath and resumed my trek which inevitably turned into a saunter given the fact that heels were also involved. At my new pace I had a moment to greet our librarian and caught up with the parents of a former student. It’s a shame that pencil skirts are business wear. The pace they force you to take is more more suited to leisure time. It’s as if it was saying, “Slow down! Take in the world around you! You are rocking this skirt and heels! Soak it up!”

It’s easy to rush, to hurry, to find ways to save time but then fill the saved time with more work, more stress, more pencil skirted business. I’m reminded over and over again as we approach our fully licensed foster care status, that life is going to get very busy and very full very soon. I need to appreciate the pace my life has now while I have it. We are so close to being licensed. There are fully built and mattressed bunk beds in our second bedroom, there are plastic covers on our outlets, a new nightlight in the hallway, and a certified second floor fire escape ladder stashed in the closet. We are so close that most days it feels like an ache in my chest. There are kids out there right now that need us, we are going to help them heal and grow, and together we are going to be a family.

We saw Rep 2 last week. The “quick” checklist she needed to go over took about an hour and a half. 75% of the list did not apply to our current situation because there aren’t actually children in our home yet. But, on the upside, it was the last step needed before submitting our paperwork to the state and, thank goodness, the state says that she has two weeks to submit it. Finally a timeline that is not dictated by Rep 2, who really has no idea what she is doing. She followed up with us a few days later and said she asked another Rep that has actually licensed people and found out that our license should be arriving within the next month or so. As soon as we are licensed we can open our home to placements, or find a new agency which is the plan at the moment.

After calling the new agency every day requesting information, I finally heard back from someone. The cell phone buzzing in my pocket in the middle of one of my conferences drove me mad. I knew it was them but I couldn’t answer. She left a message telling me to call her back and leave my name and address so she could send us an informational packet. That was three weeks ago. I’ve only called and left my info once a week so far. Maybe I should go back to my every day calling like before to show that, yes, WE. WANT. TO. HELP. CHILDREN.

“Slow down. Enjoy the view for now.” Says pencil skirt. Okay, okay, I’ll listen for now but it’s not easy to resist the temptation to kick off the heels, hike it up, and start to run.

3. You thought you knew how to get into a car.

Once upon a time, ladies knew the proper way to get into a car. Sit. Lift both feet. Swivel. These ladies were never trying to get into the car with a school bag, a lunch bag, a purse, a yoga bag, and a violin case (welcome to my Tuesdays.) One of our second grade vocabulary words is clamber. It is safe to say that on a regular day, I clamber into my car and count it a success if I don’t drop my phone, my keys, or dump my lunch bag upside down in the process. Pencil skirt, had other plans. Sit. Lift. Swivel. Suddenly the mundanely familiar became complicated, even awkward. The other night, Mr. Something said to me, “Our relationship is going to change when we have kids, isn’t it?” It was a rhetorical question because the answer is apparent to both of us. The routine of our relationship is going to take a new shape. We will be forced to take a step back and decide upon a new approach to every situation. What was once easy and comfortable will somehow not work in quite the same way. One can’t deny the grace of: Sit. Lift. Swivel. But it will take some getting used to.

Am I worried? Not actively. Mr. Something and I have been together for 13 years, other than puberty, we’ve tackled all major life changes together so far.

-Graduating different high schools two years apart

-Attending different colleges, meeting new people, living with roommates

-Graduating from our respective colleges and moving back home

-Starting first jobs

-Getting engaged

-Building a house together

-Getting married

We both wavered in our relationship early on and we both made the decision to come back. We both committed to making it work and we have for over a decade. Think about who you were in high school. We are still here, together, as vastly different (kind of) grown up people. Just like before, there will be adjustments. The familiar will become uncertain and wrought with emotion but pencil skirt says, “It’s what you’ve done every day but this time just: Sit. Lift. Swivel. And you’ll be on your way.”

Two Year Idea-versary

Two years ago tonight I threw, what I thought might be my most ridiculous idea yet, across the table at Mr. Something and suddenly found us traveling down a two year path, arriving at our now. There’s a few different things happening with our now so I will break them down…

1. Giant Boxes

Yesterday, half fueled by the occasion of reaching our two year idea-versary and half by our tax return check, Mr. Something and I headed out to shop for furniture. So far our second bedroom sits about 1/3 of the way ready for children. There is a fresh coat of paint on the walls, curtains and lighting hung, and an empty dresser awaiting tiny human clothes. There is still a smattering of boxes, dresses, suit jackets, and tote bags still residing in the closet, which has been utilized as overflow storage for the last six years. These items are making a slow shuffle to donation piles and imaginary “elsewheres” in our home. However, one giant item was still waiting to be crossed off the list. A bed.

stick-familyLast Friday, Mr. Something sent me a message during a mid-day conversation. It was something to the effect of, “When I think about THP, there’s never just one child. There’s always two…” He may have typed something about “three” shortly there after but to avoid a mid-workday panic I let my eyes pass that one over. 😉

This is not the first time this has come up. We have been open and preferring a sibling group since the beginning. We learned early on that siblings are often separated because single children are more “adoptable.” The horror of this realization and the idea that a child in foster care is already losing his or her parents, extended family, neighbors, friends, teacher, classmates, etc. how could you possibly take away a sibling as well? Plus, growing up with parents that aren’t biological is a challenge within itself. A sibling can be a valuable ally when navigating a sense of self that comes with growing up. We’ve wanted two since the beginning so two means one thing… bunk beds!

There are currently three giant boxes leaning up against a dresser in the second bedroom right now waiting to be unpacked and assembled into a bunk bed. It is taking all of my willpower to sit here and compose the blog post that has been building itself in my head all day. It is taking all of my willpower not to stay up into the wee hours of the night to put it together despite the fact that my week is going to be nonstop work with report cards due and three days of parent teacher conferences. Not to mention that Mr. Something may lock me up if I tried to even get the parts out of the boxes that are too big or heavy for me to move alone. (However history has shown that that has not stopped me before!)

Nevertheless, we are days away from having two extra beds in our house awaiting the arrival of two little bodies. It’s such a simple and basic need that we are meeting; a safe place to sleep, but the importance of it speaks volumes compared to where our children may be coming from. They are out there, somewhere, and we are getting inch by inch closer to ready.

2. Brand New

I cannot ignore the biggest event of our weekend, the arrival of my sister’s second son, our second nephew. stick_figure_baby_c03070_1Being in the hospital, surrounded by all sorts of new babyness, my life-decision sensors were cranked to high. Five years ago when our first nephew was born, Mr. Something and I were still preparing for our wedding four months away. We’d been in our house just about a year and our life together was in its infancy. Babies were far off my radar. Becoming an aunt was awesome but I had enough big life changes happening in my own world that it was something my big sister was doing, I wasn’t there yet.

This time is different. We are preparing for children and since we are choosing foster care adoption as our Plan A, I am always listening to the female chromosome within me, will I feel the ache, the pull, to have a baby of my own? Saturday night I held my new nephew and fell so in love with him. Like my other nephew I knew that, within a moment of meeting him, if anything ever happened to my sister and brother-in-law I would be there. No matter how many children we end up with, those two boys will always have a place in our family and we wouldn’t think twice about it.

I may be biased but new nephew is freakin cute. He was announced “birth announcement ready” because, let’s be honest, not all newborns are. They are all precious, yes, but some littles just need time to beef up, to grow into their features a bit.

So it’s Saturday night, I’ve waiting all day… no.. I’ve waited months to meet this little guy and marvel at who he is going to become. He’s all bundled up in my arms, looking up at me, making little smooshy faces and inside I am so quiet, listening. Is my womb aching? Is there biological clock ticking? All I could think was, “I can’t wait to meet our kids.” Not, “I can’t wait to have our kids.” or “I can’t wait to have one of my own.” Major life decision reassured. In the wake of all that new babyness, Mr. Something and I rode the excitement of picking out bunk beds, not a crib, through the rest of the weekend. (I may have done a some gushing when a kid, about 7 years old, laid down on one of the beds we were looking at. “There’s a tiny human in the bed! It’s the perfect fit!” Yeah… I think we are on the right track.)

3. Clueless

After Mr. Something’s phone chase for the status of our licensing, we did hear from Rep 2. This is what her email said…

“I checked with DCFS and all of your background checks have gone through.  I should get confirmation in the mail soon and once I have that I can submit for your license.  If you have any questions please call me…”

Hmm… interesting. You checked with DCFS? We got our answers weeks ago when we called them and did your job. The bad news is that there’s more paperwork that has to go through Rep 2. We aren’t just awaiting an envelope from DCFS with our ticket to find a new agency. So we are waiting, again, for things to move along.

Today we got an email from Rep 2 of a different nature…

“We need to schedule a time when I can come out to do a full evaluation of your home (I fill out a big packet at this time), this needs to be completed within the next 30 days.  What time do you and [Mrs. Something] get home from work on a weekday?  I can come out early next week.”

checklist-clipartWhat? Home evaluation? I knew of these through my endless hours of internet research but the last time we saw Rep 2 we asked her about things that needed to be done in our home, outlet covers, knives off the counters, medication locked up, etc. and she made a passing comment about how our home looked okay. Thinking that she’s the professional and that every state is different, I took her response to mean that there wasn’t a rigorous list of home requirements to fulfill. Now we get this email and she wants to come by next week. We haven’t even received a list of things that need to be done. Of course we aren’t going to pass! Mr. Something responded ten minutes later…

“When you say full inspection do you mean we have to have locks on the cabinets and covers on outlets?

Could you please send out a list of everything we need for this inspection?

Also, could you please elaborate on the next steps and time frame for each step so we can be more prepared for things like this?”

She hasn’t responded.

There’s a joke going around on the internet. Who am I kidding? By “the internet” I mean Pinterest. It’s something to the effect of… “When you don’t get to the phone fast enough and you miss a call, then you call them right back and they don’t answer. What did they do? Call you, throw their phone, and run away?”

I mean, seriously, ten minutes later? I have fallen victim to overflowing email inboxes but ten minutes later at least allows us some sort of response.

Once the license is in our hands, we are outa there.

4. WE WANT TO HELP CHILDREN!

I finally said those words today. Out loud. To a voicemail recording.

Knowing that we want to switch agencies as soon as we are licensed means that I am trying to get in touch with other agencies. I found one that is a million times closer to our house and has all sorts of family and child services and therapies in our area. We want in.

I requested information through their website contact form a week or so ago, waited a few days, and called. Not knowing what extension I needed, I waited through all the menus and left a message at the beep, “Hello, my name is Mrs. Something. My husband and I are close to completing our foster care licensing through another agency and are looking to switch to an agency closer to home. We would love to get more information about fostering through your agency. Please get back to me…” After a day or so, I didn’t get a call or an email in return. So, on Thursday, I vowed to call everyday. I will call every day until someone calls me back. So I call, and leave various versions of my first message, with no results.

Finally tonight, fueled by Rep 2’s cluelessness, I call again and leave this message, “Hello my name is Mrs. Something. My husband and I are close to completing our foster care licensing and are interested in working with your agency. We would like more information because, honestly, WE WANT TO HELP CHILDREN. Please call me back at your soonest convenience.” I didn’t exactly shout it but it was punctuated.

We. Want. To. Help. Children.

It seems so ridiculous. I know that state agencies are vastly underfunded but shouldn’t they be pounding down our door? All I ever hear about is the unending need for good foster homes and we are here practically begging to be taken on and we can’t get a call returned. Sometimes I feel like we are going in circles.

Our now is currently a lot of things. Two years ago I didn’t know where we would be now but it’s a comfortable feeling knowing that, despite the frustrations, now still feels very right.

 

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.