Fall Beginnings - and Endings

School started back up this week in my high school to college program. Ah yes,  I remember it well – the stress and disorganization. lol. The program has been existence for several years now but because of the revolving door of staff and counselors, the procedures and systems of operation are often revolving or unclear themselves. At least this year we three as counselors are all returning from spring semester, so there is consistency for the students and for us in terms of working together. 

The most frustrating part for me is the fact that, because the program is generally understaffed and right now down an office person even from that, we are being asked to do data entry and administrative updates that should not be on our plates. It doesn't really make sense for them, either, to pay counselor salaries for this type of work. Oh well, to be honest, I'm just grateful to have a stable job and to work my full schedule again after sparse hours this summer. And it feels great to know the students – at least most of the ones on my caseload - from last year and feel a greater sense of comfort and belonging in the program. 

In other work related news, I gave notice at my nonprofit. As you can imagine, I have very mixed feelings about this. The camaraderie and acceptance I felt there most of the time was unparalleled.  The pay, however, was paltry, and the time and effort spent commuting from my new home was far more than I initially hoped. I barely got through last semester, and a couple red flag experiences showed me it was not sustainable, especially considering that I'm teaching a class September to November. I will really miss my colleagues there and miss the friendships,  connection, and sense of emotional safety.  The gifts I will take with me when I leave at the beginning of September include:
  • Friendships that I truly hope will last over time 
  • Feeling safe enough there to talk through feelings and inevitable differences that came up, and experiencing growth as a result (i.e. Being more proactive, and knowing that I thrive as an employee with individual recognition and appreciation from my supervisor).
  • An agreement that they can call me to fill-in over the summer or holidays etc. when whomever they replace me with can't work -  basically being a substitute for that position.  
  • A vastly greater awareness of brain injuries and how they affect people's lives, as well as their loved ones. More empathy and understanding for those who have had concussions, traumatic brain injuries, and strokes. 
  • An inner feeling of fulfillment, knowing I made a difference in people's lives.  
I will definitely not miss the commute, and it will help me to focus and prioritize my college job, which is really my bread-and-butter income. Depending on how much bandwidth the class takes, I may even have time to work towards landing a few career counseling clients in my new area. 

Next week, regular high school and college class schedules begin –  last week was just welcome week –  and I also have my visit with the placement social worker. It seems like the wait for this visit  has been forever, for some reason. I need to clean the house over the next few days, which I hate doing, but it's for an excellent cause! After that, I will be waiting for a placement! 


A Long-Awaited Celebration

I finally received my certificate of approval for the homestudy yesterday! It's currently on my mantle where I can see it, along with an official card for my wallet proving I'm a certified foster parent. I would post a picture, but I don't want to put my details on up on the blog...I promise it is a beautiful sight to see and includes placement parameters of gender, age, and ethnicity, etc. 😃

I sent the news to my closest friends and family, but it was one of those times I wished I lived close to someone with whom I could actually celebrate in person. It would've been wonderful to go out and have a drink and discuss and toast this significant achievement.

My aunt asked me if I'm on the waiting list now… I don't think I am until I meet with my placement social worker on the 22nd, but I'm not sure. Actually,  now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure because I haven't given them the three copies of my family book yet, which I will do when she visits.

Apparently, as I think I shared before,  they take these books to the meetings with the various counties and show them to the folks who are representing the children who need placement. So that will be another milestone, but these pieces of paper provide a sense of huge accomplishment and are something that can't be taken away from me.

I might go to my local Mexican restaurant to celebrate for an early dinner tonight… On Sunday I'm meeting with a local SMC who is also pursuing adoption.  I'm looking forward to hearing her perspective and experience so far.

Other than that, my current excitement is watching Game of Thrones. It is so incredibly violent! But I'm pretty addicted now, and the acting is excellent. I have waited to watch it for a long time but I am now finishing season three. Kind of interesting hearing about how the Notre Dame cathedral in France is apparently crumbling because of pollution, over use, and plain old time. It was built 800 years ago in medieval times, similar to Game of Thrones era – without the Science fiction and  magic.


Anticipating Fall Changes

Summer definitely feels on the downward side, on its way out. I know the weather will be nice for a while longer, happily, but my school year - and returning to a 40-hour work week - is ramping up.

This is my last week working just a few hours at the college. Next week I am scheduled for three days there, and the following week I return to four, while continuing to fit in my 15 hours at the nonprofit. That week well actually entail longer days because of new student orientation and two days of staff retreat. So I'm a little nervous about the increased stress and energy demand, but overall I'm excited and ready for the return to a bigger paycheck!

A last minute twist in this semester schedule is that I was offered a one-unit career assessment class as part of a move towards more dual enrollment college classes at high schools. I have mixed feelings about it… the pros are that it increases my experience and value at my new college, as well as builds my resume in terms of teaching a new class. Plus, it's in my area of passion and expertise, and takes a few hours away from the high school to college program, which I appreciate.

On the con side, it's a half hour away and involves teaching high school students. I think they'll be relatively well-behaved students, in comparison to other schools where I've worked, but I still prefer college. It will also involve considerable time on the front end to prepare lesson plans, a syllabus, etc., as is always required for a new class. Since it's only one unit, though, it will only be an hour and a half of teaching, one day a week for eight weeks, and I'm sure it will fly by. Overall, it's a positive, and I'm glad for the opportunity.

I can't help but think about how my schedule will need to change if I'm placed with a child in the near future. My home study is complete - though they're late in getting my certificate. A small issue, but I can't wait to hold that official piece of paper in my hand! I have a meeting scheduled with my new placement social worker, B, in August, then she will start bringing my family book to county meetings, looking to match me with a child.

Everything is feeling more real to me now, and I notice a variety of feelings…First and foremost I'm feeling  excited and hopeful, and I also notice feeling some curiosity and anxiety about the dramatic changes that will unfold in my life. My trip to Tahoe and caring for my nieces and nephew, as well as, don't laugh, but watching Outdaughtered on TLC and other parenting shows, I'm anticipating the demands of parenting an infant or toddler more acutely.

I'm thinking this is a good thing, psychologically preparing me. At least I hope so! But in the end, as a friend told me, I can't really know how it will be until it happens. I do know that my work schedule will necessarily change, at least for a while. I will probably have to let go of the nonprofit work and will try to cluster my work hours into three or four days. A question for the parents out there, what were you most surprised by once your child arrived?  What changes did you have to make that you didn't anticipate?


Tahoe Fourth of July 2017

Back from Tahoe - the whole family did end up staying through the Fourth, though my Dad and his partner left on the third. Some fun experiences I want to remember:

  • Making red white and blue chocolate-covered marshmallows with my two oldest nieces. What a mess! But awesome! Always interesting  managing the controlled chaos of a project like this, keeping it upbeat and fun, while trying not to let the kitchen explode in stickiness, and ending up with a product the rest of the family can actually eat. lol
  • Dinner with my Dad and his partner, M, on the first night I arrived. It was a beautiful, sunny evening and we sat on the outside deck by the river. We had salads and calamari appetizer, then I had the most delicious sea scallops. I'm enjoying getting to know M and feel pretty comfortable around her now, and we all had good conversation, catching up. We shared humor, too, when my Dad related an article he'd read about a study showing that smiling contributes to good health. If you know my dad, you know he's not a real "smiley" guy.  He was practicing smiling in this big, and unatural-for-him way, and M and I were mirroring him. You probably had to be there but it was pretty funny.
  • Going out on the big wood boat the following day. My Dad restored this boat that used to be used in Florida for tours of the Miami Beach area. The boat is appropriately dubbed the "Miami." It provides a more-comfortable-than-average boat ride, and we rode all around the lake looking at various houses and developments along the shore, having a picnic of bagels and coffee, and just enjoying ourselves. Oh, and I was super excited for Zoey to experience her first boat ride! M has a dog that is super passive and mellow so there is no tension and both dogs enjoyed themselves.
  • Decorating the house with my niece J for the Fourth of July. This is a tradition that started with her Mima, so it's a little nostalgic but also feels good to carry on. We discussed where to hang various items, and ended up taping small American flags all around the deck railing, which was super cute. J hung red white and blue stars up and down the staircase, and I posted sparkly stars and pinwheels on each dining room chair.
  • Swimming and playing in the lake with everyone. We anchored and swam a few times off the speed boat, which has a platform that lowers down slightly into the water off the back and makes it ideal for kids (and adults) to get in and out of the water. I took videos of people holding hands and jumping in to the water together - so cute. We also sat/laid out quite a bit down on the dock, and this year I went kayaking and paddle boarding, too. My niece J and I went kayaking together and we agreed on various goals like paddling around the neighbors sailboat etc. The last time I tried paddle boarding, I used my little sisters paddleboard which was too small for me, and I kept flipping over and falling off. This one was bigger, and though I did have one hilarious feet-in-the-air backwards fall into the water, for the most part I was able to stay upright.
  • Watching fireworks on the end of the dock on the Fourth of July. The adults had deck chairs sipping wine and the kids sat on the blankets in front of us, as well as on their parents' laps. We didn't end up taking the boat out like we have in years past… I guess it's been decided that it's just too stressful and dangerous because of all the boat traffic and how dark it is. The fireworks were more distant, but we still had a great time. As a bonus, the accompanying music track was largely made up of artists we have lost in the last year or two – a bit nostalgic but really good music from David Bowie, Prince, George Michael, etc.

Overall, it was a fun and memorable trip, and I am grateful. The usual challenges did come up at times, such as my brother-in-law, and brother to a lesser extent, drinking a lot and creating more of a "party vibe" at times than I would like. A lot of conversations transpiring about money and house remodels and investing. All valid topics, though I prefer more personal conversations. But that's OK, and I had some good conversations on the side.

My brother and I got in a dumb disagreement on the fourth. I wondered why he didn't make me a drink or ask if I wanted one when he made them for others, which led to him criticizing me about not offering him anything (I reminded him of wine I'd shared and he'd forgot the breakfast I made for everyone the day before) or emptying the dishwasher...I don't really understand what he was talking about. I feel like I work hard to contribute and be helpful. In any case, I became really hurt and angry and had to leave and take a breather. We agreed to talk about this exchange more in the coming week or two.

I spent time supervising and caring for the kids sometimes when their parents left to go to the store or do another errand. Caring for three or four kids takes a lot of energy and focus. I admit that emptying the dishwasher was not on my mind during these times. I love my nieces and nephew to the moon and back, but a couple experiences I had this week confirm to me that I hope to have just one child! Regardless, it was good practice for parenting, which does involve juggling a lot of different demands.


Last Home Study Visit - Check!

The homestudy social worker came for her final visit this last Thursday…

I felt surprisingly nervous, but also excited. There was a flurry of activity and errands to run in the weeks leading up to her visit, including:

  • Getting the right safety latches, which took a couple of tries, since my complex does not allow drilling into any part of the cabinets. 
  • Procuring, then cleaning and setting up the crib and changing table.
  • Hanging a mirror and two art pieces in the nursery room, plus finally hanging the last of my art in the rest of the house, including a beautiful but heavy mirror I inherited from my grandparents. 
  • Buying a gray chevron crib sheet, that happens to match the gray chevron changing pad cover that came with the changing table. 😊
  • Getting Zoey a new dog bed and throwing out her raggedy one.
  • Unpacking the clothes and toys passed down to me from my brother and sister-in-law. It was so fun to hang the clothes on little hangers and put them away in drawers!

As I went through all these preparations,  I found myself imagining more and more my life with a little one; what I would be doing at various times that would be dramatically different than what I normally do. For example, playing on the floor with a little one instead of watching TV or going on a walk through the neighborhood after work with the stroller versus just Zoey.

At one point, I was standing in the nursery with Zoey, asking her if she was ready for a baby to be here, saying, "Pretty soon, there's going to be a little one here crying,"  then making crying noises. Lol  I guess I'm trying to get both Zoey and myself ready for a huge change.

The social worker visit itself was surprisingly anti-climactic. My as-mentioned very young social worker was friendly but down to business. I offered cookies and fresh strawberries, along with mineral water. I think she ate one, maybe two, strawberries, as she went down her required question list fairly rapid fire. She did seem a bit more enthusiastic about the nursery, and appeared to really like the hot air balloon wall decals I put up.

She said everything was fine, except I did forget a couple of safety items: first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and carbon monoxide detector. What would cause high levels of carbon monoxide, anyway? No idea… But I ordered these items on Amazon, and once they arrive I can send a picture to her and complete the checklist. Then, it will be likely around three weeks of writing up the report, sharing it with me in the supervisor, making edits, then issuing the certificate. Whew! I'm on the homestretch, though!


Next Step Considerations

After getting a white crib -  with all the pieces this time - and a nice, solid white changing table with drawers off of Next Door (I love that website!), I've pretty much got the nursery together now! I need to find a small, not too pricey glider and pick up some small clothes hangers.

In the rest of the house, I still need to get safety latches on a couple of the drawers and cupboards in the kitchen. I did get a safety mechanism for the front door knob and mats for the front door, kitchen, and bathroom. My bathroom is ridiculously small, y'all. It's sort of fitting because I'm definitely not a 'spend a lot of time in the bathroom' kind of a person. I do all my getting ready in my bedroom.  But I wonder how that will be with a kid… I guess I can make adjustments or add storage items later.

After the drama with the agency I'm working with, as well as word-of-mouth warnings I've been reading from friends and online, I admit I'm feeling some worry about whether I'll actually get placed with an infant within a few months. I'm thinking about whether I can get comfortable with the idea that I may need to foster a child or two before I connect with my forever child. There is so much potential loss associated with that idea, but also the opportunity to be a loving and stable influence on other children going through a traumatic time.

Once my homestudy is complete, I plan to consider all my options – both new options and those I've considered before. Summer seems like a good time to do that. My thought is that all I can do is keep taking the next step and making the best decisions I can.

Final social worker visit is a week from tomorrow – wish me luck!


Home Study Drama

My spring semester at the college ended yesterday. Our program graduation on Thursday went well,  and the speeches the graduates made were extraordinary and moving. After some stress around budget changes, we were given the same continuing hours for fall, and it feels great to have that continuity. Additionally, I was given a few hours a week during the last half of June and all of July before we have a full week of retreat and orientation when fall semester ramps up at the beginning of August. With these hours, the court disbursement I finally received last week, the non-profit work, and my career counseling business, it looks like it may be a little tight this summer but OK.

In this present moment, I'm looking around my house and recognizing there is a lot of cleaning to be done. I  feel jealous when I hear people being struck with spring or summer cleaning fever. I must have a strong immune system when it comes to that illness. haha  I do get motivated by outside catalysts, and  yesterday I scheduled a big one –  my final social worker visit on June 15th. I intend to make a list today of all the actions I need to take and what I need to get in place before she comes.

I had a scare last week when my social worker sent a lengthy email about additional policy changes which shift their demographic to a higher number of older and special needs children. I understood this was always the case, but I guess they are expanding relative searches for infants, among other things. She then asked me to expand my per age and or special-needs parameters. I wrote back that I was not comfortable with that and reminded her of previous in-depth conversations we had last year about it. She wrote back that in that case they would be unable to work with me. What? I was freaked out, needless to say, after jumping through inumerable hoops and literally being on the threshold of completing the homestudy. I wasn't sure she knew I've been communicating the past two months with their agency coordinator and completing all the replacement forms based on my move. So I sent those to both her and her supervisor and also left a voicemail with the supervisor Friday late afternoon.

And in my worried state, I also started doing some research with the county I live in now to see which parts of the homestudy might transfer. I will say I really liked the two women I spoke with in this county, but they needed to do further research about it...and regardless, I would need to redo the intensive interviewing process. I was clear I wanted to complete the homestudy with my current agency, since I'm so close, then consider options about how to move forward. Once completed, the homestudy can travel with me to other counties, etc.

So, long story short, I finally heard back from the supervisor on Wednesday, and she said there was a miscommunication and she did not mean they wouldn't work with me. She just wanted to stress the policy changes and likely longer timeline for placement with an infant. I said I understood but still wanted to complete the homestudy, which she was fine with, thank God. I think my social worker may have expressed things more strongly than she was supposed to. In any case, I'm super relieved!

No big plans this weekend, but I'm looking forward to attending the new church I found tomorrow and hiking with a friend on Monday. I hope you have a fun and relaxing holiday weekend!