Spring Break Report

I put two applications in at the end of last week… My top preference is for for a house that is a little higher than I wanted to pay, but it's in a great neighborhood and walkable location, has a little patio back yard area, two bedrooms, accepts dogs and is pretty cute. Fingers crossed!

The second one is for the townhouse complex I mentioned in a previous email. It's good in many ways but the landscaping/grounds leaves something to be desired and it doesn't have any ground/yard space within the patio area for Zoey.  I could see wanting to move in a year or two, whereas with the house I could see staying there much longer.

I could possibly continue on here in my current house for another two or three months. What do you think about that option? I mentioned in the last post that commuting is driving me insane, so it would be a tough road. But moving, especially moving in a rushed way, is super stressful too. It would just be stressful over a couple weeks, though, versus months.

Being on spring break from the college last week was so nice. I am somewhat dreading returning to that job this week. :-/  I am, however, going to continue trying to make the work environment healthier and more manageable for me by setting up the office/computer just down the hall to be functional for counselors to use when there are two of us there, which is most of the time. Before I left for break, I also scheduled times in the calendar for all the students on my caseload and enlisting the help of the office administrator to notify them and send out reminders, as well.  I hope this will make connecting with the students less chaotic and unorganized.

In other news, I attended an adoption conference in Oakland yesterday, and learned a lot more about attachment and strategies to promote attachment with kids who have been traumatized or gone through significant separations/caregiver transitions. A good amount of the workshop content was more relevant for older youth, but a lot of it was also applicable to babies and infants. A few takeaway gems:

  • Kids may be developmentally regressed and benefit from nurturing them in ways usually done with younger children, such as holding them and feeding them or rocking and singing to them. 
  • Parts language (parts of self)can be really helpful in communicating with children who are traumatized, reactive or have experienced a lot of shame. Instead of saying, "You hit your brother. We don't hit in this family,"  you could say, "You are angry. You are using your hitting part. It's OK to be angry but it's not okay to hit others. Do you think you can use your stopping part to stop hitting?"  Something like that. I think it would take some practice.
  • I really liked the idea of using a positive/negative/positive communication sandwich when a kid has done something you don't want them to do.  This might look like, " I love you very much (said in a neutral or kind voice),  and eating cookies before dinner is against the rules ( said with some sternness). And I still love you (said with love)." 
  • They talked about not using "natural consequences" in the moment until they're old enough and capable of understanding that logic. They suggested waiting several hours or even a day until they are deescalated – if they were escalated or really upset – then talking about how you hope they might do something to contribute to the person or to the family in a way that makes up for what they did.  I think this was one of the biggest lessons I took away and want to remember… The lesson or response to behaviors doesn't need to happen in the moment...you can still talk about the situation or try to teach them about it later on. 

I guess a lot of these are more relevant for kids three and over, but I still want to remember them. I also want to remember that even if I am placed with a baby or toddler, they have likely experienced significant loss and caregiver transitions. The teachings in the conference also validated my desire to be placed with children under two, as they emphasized how many brain connections are being made before two or three, and I hope to contribute to those connections. Also, one presenter mentioned that if a child was able to bond with any caregiver in the past, that suggests they are capable of bonding and attaching in general. This supports what the social worker advised in my training, as well.


Researching and Regrouping

I don't know if I mentioned it on this blog, but my computer died a month or two ago. Since then, I've been using my iPad mini and iPhone to get by… They work fine for a lot of things but not so well for blogging and typing client notes.  Thank God for Siri or I don't think it would work at all.

Last Wednesday, the stress of working two jobs, commuting two to three hours a day, and looking for housing possibilities in Petaluma resulted in a small breakdown. Well, all those things plus not being able to sleep and taking a sleeping pill two nights in a row. I guess it could've been worse…my break down looked like arguing with one of our consultants at the nonprofit during a program meeting when he responded to my request for strategies to work more effectively with a very difficult client by saying, "You have to not take it personally, you have to remember the person has a brain injury, you have to not react when they swear," (all things I believe that I already do). He has responded in this unhelpful way before, which I think is because he manages his own frustrations by telling himself these things. Then my supervisor – who I normally get along wonderfully with - tried to talk to me about how I should've handled the situation differently, leading to me going back to my desk and breaking down in tears. Argh

Friday I felt much better and talked with her about it in a productive way, ending with us clearing the air and hugging, but I think that whole scenario is a warning flag that I'm not able to sustain this level of stress. I need to make sure I am  practicing better self-care through going to bed earlier, and, even though in the short term a move will be stressful in itself, it really nudges me in the direction of moving sooner rather than later.

On that front, I have looked at several places now, including houses, townhomes, and apartments.  My searching so far has helped clarify what I hope to find in a new place:

  • Located in Petaluma, within walking distance of downtown
  • Two bedroom home but don't care about the size
  • Accepts my dog and has an enclosed yard or patio where we could be outside, ideally with at least a small area of ground ( versus all concrete) for Zoey to do her business. 
  • Dishwasher and washer and dryer or washer/dryer hook-ups
  • Solid, relatively modern construction, especially in the kitchen and bathroom 
  • A functional bathtub that lends itself to bathing a small child
  • Rent between 1800 and 2300

I am finding places that fit most of the criteria, but it is challenging to find options that fit all of them.  I found a small house that would've worked pretty well. Ideally it would've been a little closer to downtown, but it was workable.  Unfortunately, I found it too late and other applications have been submitted previously, one of which he ended up accepting. A few places I've looked are just not well constructed or finished in a way that I would feel comfortable with when I am parenting a child.

I also looked at a couple of townhouses within a fairly large complex located an almost ideal distance from downtown. I liked the inside okay – pretty standard townhouse floor plan, with a nice enough kitchen, small dining area and living area downstairs and two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs.   The landscaping and common areas outside were not kept up super well. A lot of the ground was just dirt, versus ground cover or bushes, and I even saw one beer bottle laying on the ground. :-/  But apparently there are quite a few families living there, and the woman who manages the site was very friendly and nice. She had adopted through foster care herself and offered to help me get to know the area and local restaurants and recreation. Unfortunately, it only offers a concrete patio in the back. This place is my back up at this point. I'm continuing to look for a small house that would be a better fit, but I feel more secure knowing I can fall back on one of these townhouses if necessary.

My brother has been super helpful in talking things through with me and helped me realize a one bedroom apartment would not be functional for myself and a child. I was trying to imagine ways I could put up a screen or something and separate the bedroom into two spaces, but that wasn't realistic. The location was perfect and it was nice construction so I was trying to imagine how it could work.

Hopefully I will have some good news to report in my next post. Next week is spring break at the college, so I will have some extra time to search and catch up on sleep and me time. Yay


Spring Hope

Spring has Sprung and the weather is beautiful here in Northern California, so that helps alleviate some of the stress. I just wrote my landlord a final proposal, which does fit his requirement of getting current within two months. Yesterday I went and looked at several new places in Marin County, close to where I now work. Some of them were totally low quality, however, and one even had freestanding wobbly particleboard closets in the bedrooms.

Another place was in a great location and had a nice deck with some shade from an old pine tree. But the inside was pretty old, had low-quality cabinets etc. and there was no dishwasher, which I think I will really want when I have a little one. The woman was really nice, so I took an application but I don't think I'm going to apply.

I found a few houses online that look really nice, but they are outside my price range. It's amazing what you can get for just $500 more. I was looking again this morning and did find a two bedroom townhouse that accepts pets and is within a few blocks of the downtown area where I want to live. I'm going to go see it tomorrow evening, fingers crossed. It felt meant to be because the manager said she had fostered and adopted children while living there. She said the complex is family-friendly and within walking distance of the school, which has an awesome reputation. It's almost within my price range (a third of my monthly salary), stretching just a little.

Thinking through what I've loved about where I live now and imagining myself living in some of the places I looked at yesterday, I realized how crucial it is to me to be in a place that is walkable to local restaurants and stores and has a downtown core. I was considering one place that is in what is a sprawling suburban area, adjacent to a smaller town that did have a cohesive, if pretty rugged and earthy, downtown. I liked the downtown area pretty well, but I would have needed to hop on the freeway to get there, even if it is just a few minutes away. And there was nothing in terms of stores and restaurants that were walking distance from the house. I envision feeling pretty isolated in a place like that, which is definitely not what I want when I become a single mom.

I would still ideally like to put off moving for at least two or three months, but if I need to move at the end of this month I want to be prepared. I will know a lot more about the likelihood of those possibilities by the end of next week. I continue to feel grateful that all the work I've put into my homestudy will not be lost if I move, and I that I could complete the final steps towards safety and physical home requirements once I was settled.

I will share more about work stuff in my next post, but I will say that my new job has gotten a little easier as I learn the ropes and get to know the students, and I like my counseling colleagues, as well as my supervisor.


In response to comments…

Just a quick post to say thank you to those who wrote supportive, helpful comments on my last vulnerable share about financial struggles I'm having in this limbo I'm in after my housemate suddenly moved out and prior to receiving my first full paycheck from my new well-paying college job which will pay several thousand dollars a month, in addition to my nonprofit and self-employment income. They mean a lot.

I also want to say that the one long-winded, hurtful, holier-than-thou, and wholly unhelpful comment I received was most definitely unwelcome. To that person, I suggest that before you share a judgemental comment like that, please consider whether you know the person well and whether you have love in your heart for them. Then consider framing your judgment or anxiety in a way that helps them reflect versus a one page diatribe on why they are fucked up. Mkay?  And no, I don't want to get into a conversation with you – please do not comment again.


Spoke too soon

Well, I might have spoken too soon about that pulling the Winnebago back from the cliff thing. I really thought that once I started this new position – I was okay.  Now, I'm not so sure. Instead of depositing my rent check the normal way, my landlord decided to drive up to my credit union branch. I was short a little bit and depending on overdraft protection for checks, which of course didn't kick in when he went to the branch. Getting a flat tire the week before last didn't help things. When I took the car in, they said two additional tires needed replacement as well.  With the brutal commute I have, I just couldn't take the risk. My landlord is freaking out and wanting total payment immediately.

I see the light at the end of the tunnel on April 10, when I receive my first full paycheck from the new job. I'm talking with a potential new roommate this afternoon… I said in the ad it would just be for a few months. I also hope to get legal advice on Monday.  I reached out to my landlord to talk, once to explain the bank situation and once to ask to sit down with him and see if we might find something that works, but he's not responded. I am getting a small paycheck from the new job on March 10 and my nonprofit payment the 15th. I'm looking at other options to pay two months rent… If I do get a new roommate and she gives one month deposit that would go a long way.

Considering all possibilities, if I do have to move,  I found out the majority of my homestudy paper work would still be valid, she would just need to do a walk-through at the new place and ensure child safety measures in place. My new home also needs to be within one hour of their office, and the three places I'm considering – Petaluma, Larkspur, and San Rafael - are all within 50 miles. I really don't want an eviction on my record, however, and if I'm focused on paying my landlord with that first check, I won't have enough for a full deposit.

There are just some significant unknowns at this point… I'll check in again after my conversation with the potential tenant this afternoon and after I talk to the legal counsel on Monday. I feel foolish for buying that rug now. Although, realistically, $100 would not have made a bit of difference in this scenario.

As a sidenote, I have been having some difficulty picturing myself raising a child at this house. It's older, kind of drafty, I don't like the bathroom, and the two bedrooms are separated by the bathroom so not super close to hear a kid.  I think the child would be in my bedroom for at least the first few months to a year, but then the kids room almost seems extraneous. It seems like we would be hanging out in the front room where the TV is and there's room to play and lots of light.  I am really excited about decorating a space for a child, but the room that's here just doesn't seem like a great fit or location in the house. Maybe it would be different once I got curtains up, the rug laid out, decorations up etc. The  over an hour commute each way to work is also not child friendly.

Please send good thoughts that this situation unfolds in the best manner for all involved.