Category Archives: Parenting

Quit It

“Nobody likes a quitter”.  This was the sentiment my mother instilled in me from an early age.  She identified what she saw as an emerging pattern during my childhood years that became cause for concern.  It started with Boy Scouts, after a poor showing at the Pinewood derby.  My dad didn’t have time to help me build my car and neither parent had the time or inclination to attend the event, missing the dramatic moment when my car lost a tire in the first race and flew off the track as I watched in horror.  For soccer I lasted a bit longer with maybe 3-4 seasons under my belt before realizing I wasn’t developing as a top-tier player, a fact I’d be reminded of daily when picked near last for scrimmage teams.  I saw no point in torturing myself or my teammates any longer so I opted out around the time I started middle school.   As the years passed I would go on to quit religious school following my Bar Mitzvah, the clarinet right before starting high school, and the cheesy karate class at the local YMCA almost immediately.

My mom called me a quitter, with nary a word minced or a feeling spared.  She said it had to stop.  I had to quit being a quitter.  The question is “when is quitting really quitting and when is quitting simply stopping”?  You can’t do everything forever, there’s not enough time in the day to continue on with every activity you’ve ever attempted.  There are some things you are just not well suited for.  You need to find your passion, something you have an affinity for and want to pursue indefinitely.  If you start something like martial arts or gymnastics what’s the acceptable endgame; earning a black belt or a regional championship, or do you shoot for grand master and Olympic medalist.  If you eliminate the option to “quit” what is the point at which you can say ‘I’ve given this a fair shot, I’ve learned what I can, I’m gonna move on’?

We can all agree that some things are good to quit.  We quit jobs we’re fed up with.  For Lent or New Year’s Resolutions we quit bad habits.  Smokers try to quit all the time with mixed success.  Actually in the case of smoking you have the opposite problem, where quitting isn’t even close to the endgame.  Every day you might be tempted to surrender the struggle to quit and just pick up the bad habit all over again.  You essentially quit quitting.

With all of that in mind, how does the concept of “quitting” apply to relationships? When is quitting really quitting and when is quitting realizing you are not the perfect match you once hoped for?  There are many opinions on the subject especially when it comes to divorce.  On the one side you’re advised to “stay together for the kids”, and told to work through the conflicts because “you made a commitment”.  On the other side you’re offered “happiness above all else” and “you only live once” as friends try to help you move on.  Blind commitment to a relationship seems to leave no room for the potential of a mismatch, whether it takes you seven days or seven years to discover it.  Certainly this sentiment can be overused and exploited as flimsy support of the male polygamy, but I’m talking about honest heart-felt relationships where a deal breaker surfaces for either party or someone simply falls out of love.  How much should you work through it in an attempt to keep the relationship alive and at what point is it time to cut bait and move on.    What is a valid reason to quit?  What differences are too different?  What offenses are too great to overlook?

A sense of commitment is the secret of a successful relationship.  Having a long view perspective on the relationship reduces stress and conflict in the daily grind.  If you can focus on the “we” and “us” in the long-term rather than the “you” and “me” of the short-term you will naturally approach hardships differently.  A national survey stated that 73% of couples sited “lack of commitment” as the major reason for divorce.  But what about conflicts with preexisting commitments; a friend they can’t stand, an in-law that doesn’t approve, or a child they don’t understand.  This leads to worse of all possible endings, where the love never quits.  The expression “sometimes love isn’t enough” sounds like a weak excuse until you’re grappling with it firsthand.  Conflicts with kids and parenting can cause a rift in a relationship that is elsewise resilient.  Can you justify breaking an earlier commitment to make a new commitment work?  How do you quit a relationship you don’t want to leave?

Oprah’s frequent guest, Gary Zukav, spoke of relationships in terms of growth and spiritual connections; a spiritual partnerships is a relationship between equals for the purpose of spiritual growth.  Each is responsible for their own spiritual growth but if the relationship should reach a point where one person is no longer able to grow then the relationship should be terminated.  Thus Mr. Zukav wisely provides a logical end point; when either person stops growing spiritually within the confines of the relationship.  Sounds great in theory but spiritual stagnation may be a difficult metric to measure. How do you separate stagnation from the many spiritual wounds a struggling couple may naturally inflict?

I become paralyzed in indecision, over thinking the whole dilemma but unable to ignore my mom’s voice in my head calling my childhood self a quitter.  I want to make sure it’s not true.  I want to be sure that quitting isn’t a faulty personal trait but a natural expression of free will.  There are plenty of things I didn’t quit.  I never stopped drawing. I never stopped gaming. I never stopped writing.  Some things, the important things, you don’t quit.  I will never stop loving my kids no matter what happens and I know I’m capable of a relationship I won’t quit.

I think in the end we never really know if the decision to quit is right, until after we’ve made it.  If quitting was the wrong call, we feel the strangling of our hearts almost instantly.  If quitting is the right call we feel a lightness in our hearts as it soars with relief and release.  Sometimes that choice is taken from us, and quitting is the only option. Either way we must continue forward.  We must continue to live, and to grow.  We will make mistakes and we will learn, hopefully, from those mistakes.  We must quit torturing ourselves for quitting, even if it was a mistake.

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Halos and Mickey Eyes

It was a typically beautiful spring day in Southern California; the skies were a clear, deep, blue and the soft morning breeze kept the heat at bay.   We had just entered the happiest place on earth, Disneyland, and paused to take our iconic picture in front of the Mickey flowers with the train depot backdrop.  I was filled with a sense of joy and nostalgia to be back on the sacred ground that held so many cherished childhood memories.  I turned around to share this joyous moment with my beloved children only find my six-year-old blubbering in tears.  She had been excited about the park in the days leading up to the trip and even moments before but apparently something had gone terribly wrong in the time it took to walk the 100ft from ticket booth to photo opp.  I leaned down to try and make out the soft mumbles between pitiful sobs. My sad little princess proceeded to tell me “there are no rides here, I want to go home”.  And thus our adventure began.

It was at the moment that I realized vacations are a lot like past relationships; regardless of the amount of grief you may have experienced at the time, it all falls away when you look back through the tinted glasses of nostalgia.   I read that for woman they describe a similar “halo effect” after giving birth.  Moms don’t actually forget the pain of delivery despite urban tales, but rather all the positive sensations that flood in following birth leaves a predominantly positive impression of the experience as a whole.  That, to a far lesser extent, is what happens on vacation.  Inching along perpetually winding lines in the heat of the afternoon sun for 60 minutes at a stretch feels downright torturous at the time, but once you finally board the boat and enter the swampy preamble of the Pirates of the Caribbean all that melts away and you’re left with the distilled thrill of Imagineering magic.

Of course when small children are involved the long lines become the least of your concerns.  I think I spent half of my time walking through the park backwards trying to wave my daughter along at a forced march; “Come on, keep walking. Yes, it’s a pretty butterfly.  No, you just had cotton candy.  Yes, there’s another bathroom just up ahead.  No, we’re not shopping for a toy.”  Though I must admit for all my impatience with her slothful speed she was the model of patience through those torturous long lines.  The questions “are we there yet?” and “how much longer?” were not uttered a single time in the park.  Lyft rides, yes, but park, no.

The requests that were ever-present were standard trio of hunger, thirst and fatigue.  Hunger was easily squelched with a backpack stuffed with store-bought staples, and thirst was managed by selling a kidney and investing a small fortune in bottled water.  But it was the fatigue that was hardest to deal with.  As an adult I’m thinking of vacation as an investment in fun and I had planned to suck every last once of fun out of the experience.  Wait, that doesn’t sound right.  What I’m saying is if it was up to me we’d be scurrying about the park from the minute it opened to ten minutes after it closed, having selected the most remote attraction as the final ride of the evening with a fleeting hope that we’d get locked in.  We’d stagger home, collapse into a dreamless stupor and wake up bright and early the next day to do it all over again.  With kids though I have to demonstrate a bit more restraint, lest my slothful rearguard become an unconsciously sack of potatoes.  Not only do we need to take breaks between rides but we also take mid-day breaks where there’s no expectations of movement or agenda and they can just veg quietly by poolside or bedside.  Once I see how much this recharging helps I realize how much we are taxing those little legs with an average of 25,000 steps each day; unless I want to do over a third of those steps with an unconscious sack of potatoes riding on my shoulders the down time is a minor concession.

Even with the rest stops we manage to rack up sufficient park time and all in all it turned out to be a really great trip; Ethan had memories of visits past and so got to enjoy the parks from a fresh teenage perspective while Emma had the height and the spirit to try every ride on our list, many for the first time.  After trying a warm up coaster in ToonTown we even tried her on Thunder Mountain.  This was quite a step up in intensity and I was worried it might be too much for her.  I needn’t have worried though; about half way through the ride I looked back to make sure she was doing ok and found her with arms waving in the air and a fierce smile shining on her lips.  The only hitch in the ride selection turned out to be the Matterhorn and the upgraded animatronics of the yeti; the previously laughable fuzzy dude originally only made a couple of appearances shifting stiffly from side to side.  Yeti 2.0 was transformed into a more terrifying threat jump-scaring around every turn.  Emma did not appreciate that one bit, and even Ethan thought it distracted from what was already not a thrilling ride.  I still liked it and one miss wasn’t such a bad thing.

We spent the final day exploring California Adventure.  At the suggestion of seasoned park goers we made our first stop at Fast Pass kiosk for the new Cars Ride (Radiator Springs Racer).  At the time we arrived, about an hour after the park’s initial opening, the Fast Pass reservations were already backed up to 6pm that evening.  Since we all had flights out later that night this was to be the last ride of the day.  Making good use of the Fast Pass system is key to optimizing your time in the parks, allowing you to alternate waits in the traditional lines with guaranteed slots in the express lines.  Even with the unexpected crowds filling the park on those non-peak Monday and Tuesday we still managed to hit most of the rides on our wish list, including two trips on the new and improved Space Mountain (now Hyperspace Mountain).  As the day wound to a close the only hold outs on our list were Peter Pan’s Flight and Toy Story Midway Mania.  What we did have though was a final golden ticket to one of the most popular new attractions in the park.  We returned to Cars Land a little early which was good because even the Fast Track lane was backed up beyond the ride entrance.   Progress was slow going and time ticked onward at a pucker-inducing rate; we still had to get out to the shuttle, back to the hotel, get a ride to LAX and catch the last flight for Sacramento.  As panic started to creep up the line finally surged forward and at last we were sitting in one of the shiny Car characters, looking around at the beautiful set design and anxiously awaiting the green light to race off into the desert scene.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Until finally the announcement was made; the ride was out of service with no estimated repair time.  The lights dimmed, the musical score silenced and the power flickered as they rebooted the Disney magic.  We filed out with the rest of the stunned crowd with a palpable sense of disappointment.

The chaotic ending made for a fitting bookend to the opening drama, since everything in between was filled with a wonderful collection of new memories.   We didn’t get that final thrilling new experience to instill a lasting halo effect, but all the bumps along the road way will still melt away with nostalgia to leave vacation memories I hope my kids will cherish for a long time,… until they can bring their kids and have them burst into tears in front of the happiest place on Earth.  Seriously?!

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Dolled Up

Last night I almost got lucky with a doll.  No, it wasn’t that kind of doll and it wasn’t as unseemly as it sounds.  It was an ordinary school night and I was enjoying some after dinner playtime with my daughter.  As a rare departure from the typical Ponyville excursions this session featured the dollhouse and its miniature suburban occupants.  I was cast in the role of the character known simply as “daddy” (I’m apparently a victim of type casting) and was living in a spacious house with my young toddler and my ever-present mother who was there to help with the care of the baby and assist with the cooking duties since “daddy” is notorious for always burning things – I tell ya, burn one marshmallow topping on a sweet potato casserole and you’re marked for life!

Anyway as the story picks up we are anxiously awaiting the arrival of “the new girl” and are doing our best to tidy up the house and repaint the exterior in the hope of impressing our guest.  Lucy, the young woman, is a school friend of my mother’s; I can only assume that mom has returned to school in order to get her masters in child development, in order to maintain her personal growth and lord over me with how to best raise my child.   Lucy is quite charming on first impression and very friendly to both junior and me.  She offers to take the little one for a walk to the park, so I decide to tag along in order to better acquaint ourselves and show off my mad skills as lava monster.  The outing is a success and I invite her to stay for dinner.  Mom, in a rare display of trust and encouragement, allows me to prepare the meal, though prompts me several times to be sure I don’t burn everything.  So while Lucy continues to play with junior I make my way to the kitchen to whip up a special dinner for all of us.  We have cherry pie, of course.  It’s cooked to perfection, because mom reminds me yet again to take it out before it burns.  Lucy is so impressed with the meal that she decides to spend the night.  I see this as a very good sign.  She heads up to the bedroom, and falls fast asleep.  Being the gentleman that I am, I let her have her space and go sleep in the bathtub.

The next morning we surprise our special guest with breakfast in bed.  This time mom isn’t taking any chances so she makes the strawberry waffles herself and sets it all up on a tray with tea for me to deliver to the bedroom.    The meal is delicious, and the entire 24 hour “date” ends on a high note.  Lucy is so impressed that she asks if she could stay with us forever.  It seems a little forward but who am I to deny a pretty girl.

The following day starts with a joyous milestone as the toddler learns to walk for the first time and also how to climb walls, and the day ends with an affectionate hug from Lucy.  All in all a pretty darn good day. As evening approaches I decide to take a big risk and try to move things to the next level.  I head up to the bedroom, intending to innocently claim the bed in hopes that Lucy might repeat her previous routine and join me there.  Unfortunately as I lay there waiting breathlessly in the dark, I am instead spooned by my mother while Lucy sleeps downstairs on the couch in order to take care of the baby and make sure she doesn’t start climbing the walls again.  Rats, foiled again.  It’s a disappointment but I figure I would have plenty of opportunities in the future considering Lucy was now a permanent resident.  All that is left to do is figure out a way to gracefully ask my mother to move out.

dolledup

I wouldn’t have the opportunity to attempt any further shenanigans or parental displacement however as things started to decline sharply from there; the next morning Lucy woke up with food poisoning, apparently due to the fact that daddy was allowed to prepare another gourmet dinner – really I’m a good cook, I don’t know where she gets this stuff!  The situation was dire; we needed magic and we needed it stat.  So obviously we called two magical pony doctors who flew in for a magical house call and magically took care of both Lucy and mother who was stricken with the same sickness later that day.  I won’t go into details but thanks to the diligence of those medicinal ponies everyone was restored to perfect health in a few short days.

In the end it was an interesting exercise in imagination.  I often wonder how my daughter experiences the non-traditional family structure in a house divided.  She may have been too young to remember the start of her mom’s relationship but she has experienced a couple from my side of the equation.  What must that role look like to her? What is it like from a child’s perspective to have a new grownup tossed into the family unit?  In all honesty I don’t think the relationship between Lucy and daddy even registered.  Lucy was just a friend of mom’s who came over to take care of a little one.  From my perspective though, it was still an interesting bit of role-playing.  I’m not ready for another relationship and even if I were I have no idea how I’d approach the idea of dating again.  All I know is that whatever path I might choose it will never be as simple as having a beautiful woman delivered to my front door, have her unequivocally adore my kids in a non-creepy fashion, and then decide after couple of extended dates to live with us happily ever after, no questions asked.  That’s all about as likely as a house call from a magical pony doctor,… or a magical doctor, or a pony doctor, or a magical house call or a,…. Well you get the idea, it’s not likely.

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What a Part Meant

Somewhere in my twenties, while away at college I was first introduced to apartment living.  At the time it wasn’t much different than sharing a house with friends, which had been the rental yardstick from which I measured life beyond my childhood home.  In both situations you had your own cramped messy room and shared a more cramped and much messier common area with your fellow roommates.  If anything the move to an apartment was a step up at the time since the first rental house was located in ghetto central, while the apartment was biking distance from the college campus, so less theft and vandalism, more coeds and beer consumption,…. Ok maybe a tie on the beer consumption, but the apartment was clean (when we moved in), the area was safe (no police dogs chasing suspects through our backyard,… yeah, that happened), and most of the appliances were both free and functional; perfect for cooling off your beer and cooking up your Rice-a-Roni.  What more could a young bachelor desire?  We didn’t care how many square feet the unit had, or read through the list of property amenities.   We weren’t concerned about the floor plan or how we were going to fit in all of our furniture.  At that age, having real furniture was like having a carton of cigarettes in prison, you had more sway as a roommate if you owned a comfortable couch; currency to hustle for the larger bedroom or purchase loyalty for future disputes over the last Pop Tart.  That single bit of furniture could become the inspiration piece on which all other home décor would be built upon.  That is if there were any home décor to speak of.  In the pre-Ikea era we filled in the gaps with creative arrangements of plywood and cinder blocks.  There were no picture frames, area rugs or accent pieces.  If you couldn’t eat on it or sit on it then why own it.  The apartment wasn’t so much a sanctuary as a safe place to pass out, and keep your post-hangover food stash.

Throughout my twenties and thirties I waffled between house rentals and apartment living.  My last apartment residence was at a place called “The Cowbarn Apartments” for reasons unknown to me, though considering the location and prevailing smells it could easily have been the previous predominant structure.  The Cowbarn had the distinct advantage of being located at the base of the hills surrounding the Broderbund campus, where I was working at the time.  I had a studio apartment with maybe three feet between the foot of my bed and the back of my couch.  My computer desk was where the kitchen table should be and other than my weird rattan basket chair from World Market the remainder of my possessions were stuffed into the walk-in closet that was about the size of my only bathroom.  A small folding chair sat on the balcony next to my bike to offer the option of outdoor living and a stunning view of the parking lot.  It wasn’t much, but again, at the time, it was all I really needed.

Fast forward roughly 15 years and I find myself in the surreal position of returning to apartment life after having graduated to home ownership for most of those formative years.  Even immediately following my divorce I was able to exit on a more graceful timeline and with the help of my aunt and uncle get a new home a couple of miles away.  At the time I remember coming across an article that stated that kids that grew up in a parentally owned house were more likely to attend and graduate from college than their apartment dwelling counterparts.  That had been the extra kick I needed to commit to home ownership again even though my career was imploding at the same time my escrow was finalizing.  I ended up with a house that was bigger than I needed, more expensive than I hoped, but centrally located by friends and conveniently equipped with every major appliance I was lacking.  It was two-stories, with four bedrooms and a fully open concept kitchen and living space.  It might have felt a bit empty when the kids were away but we really grew to love that house and made it our home for two years.

From there we had up-sized to a house with 5 bedrooms, twice the square footage and a corner lot yard complete with play structure and swimming pool out back.  The space felt expansive but with 5 more people and 3 more dogs, that house never felt empty.  Transitioning from that back to a two bedroom apartment, was jarring to say the least.  Not to say there weren’t some benefits; for all the lost space there was a proportional reduction in chaos and dog hair.   These trade-offs were somehow fitting, in the spirit of rallying the troops.  It was time to take stock of where we’d been and consider carefully the next step forward.

So with careful consideration I gathered up said troops, and started the search for a new home base.  Unlike those earlier, less discriminating years this time around I was all about weighing the options.  There was the balance of location and property rental prices, finding something affordable closer to schools than meth labs.  There was a balance of square footage and layout in the floor plans.  One place had an extra 100sqft but distributed it unevenly into a double-wide bathroom at the expense of a living area only slightly larger than a well stuffed beanbag.  There was a balance of amenities from necessity to trivial.  Would you rather have the in-unit washer dryer, with the clubhouse that smelled like sautéed jockstrap or the enclosed garage with the frothy lukewarm hot tub?  There was even a more subtle balance of presentation and security.  The one I picked lacked the unsightly iron bars on the front door but does require a half-dozen keys and a security card to get around the complex, not to mention the random guy in the hallway eager to provide a TSA style pat down,… I can only assume he works here.

After being here a few months I must admit there is a certain appeal to not having the added burdens of home ownership.  There is no yard to maintain.  There are no projects long neglected.  I have fewer reasons to frequent Home Depot.  I can vacuum the entire space from a single outlet.  The heater has been obsolete, even with my windows open in the dead of winter.  My commute to work is now even faster by one flight of stairs and a hallway.  Ok maybe that last one doesn’t really belong in the win column but all things considered the only two unacceptable compromises to apartment living so far are electric stovetops and noisy neighbors.  As a wannabe chef I cannot abide the use of non-responsive coils that slowly heat to the fires of hell and then slowly pitch down from there once everything has been suitably scorched.  More troublesome though, as a normal diurnal dwelling homebody I also cannot abide inconsiderate people.  I think of myself as a fairly tolerant person and have, over the years, had many a noisy roommate.  Granted, my current neighbors might even be excused their heavy footed stomping about if it were confined to daylight hours but for reasons incomprehensible to me he/she/they seem to stir into action around 11pm each evening and continue to prance about like a herd of drunken wildebeests until roughly 6am when they either collapse into slumber or go out to annoy people elsewhere.  I think it’s this unexplainable nighttime activity that bothers me the most.  I simply can’t understand what someone would be doing awake at dark o’clock.  If you worked the night shift, then shouldn’t you be at work,… and if you worked the day shift, then shouldn’t you be asleep?!  And if you worked the night shift, but worked at home, shouldn’t you be sitting at a desk the whole time like normal people?  That’s normal, right?!

Anyway, noisy neighbors aside I’m trying to make the best of apartment life while it lasts.  For my kids it’s like the excitement of going on a vacation and staying at a cool new hotel,… except all your toys are here.  For me it will serve as a transitional airlock helping me to decompress into a new space; any place I go from here will feel huge by comparison, and anything I’ve managed to live without during this time probably isn’t necessary going forward.  Either way my whole attitude towards ownership has shifted over the years.  No longer is there that pride of ownership I used to have when I was younger.  Back then you wanted to show off your new car or your new house.  It was a representation of who you were and how you’ve grown.  It reflected your personality.  Sharing it with others was like sharing part of yourself.  Most of my friends have had their homes for years, visiting them is like going to their folks place when we were kids.  It still represents who they are, but who they are is grownups, with established lifestyles.  Functionality has replaced fashion.  Those homes are like the worn comfy couches we used to prize during the college days, the ones you didn’t want to get up from for fear of someone taking your place.  There is no substitute for that subtle ass-imprinting aging process that settles into a joint.  I, on the other hand, continue to reset complete with new couch and new carpet smell.  I still have very few picture frames, area rugs and accent pieces.  My place represents me as a bachelor, which doesn’t have the same shiny quality it did even a few years ago.  Now it feels dangerously close to crazy old cat lady or whatever the male equivalent would be minus the cats.  Optimistically I could say this expresses my personality as a blank slate, ready for a rewrite, and not just a repeat loner with a growing list of failed relationships, but it’s hard to squeeze optimism into 1000sqft.  Maybe a new home will rekindle my nesting instincts and provide a fresh perspective. Best to get all this angst out now, tuck it tightly away in my little cramped apartment and leave it all behind along with the nocturnal neighbors, the coils from hell and the inevitable deductions from of my security deposit.

 

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Fostered, Freed

There was a tipping point at which the prospect of being a foster parent felt like a much-needed salvation rather than an act of final desperation.  There are many that approach the foster-care and foster-adopt programs from a purely altruistic place and simply open their hearts and homes to a child in need.  While there was an element of that in the decision-making, there were admittedly some underlying financial considerations as well.  After struggling for years with infertility, the remaining options with IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) were not only pricey, costing up to $10k per attempt, but with a success rate of about 25-30% it risked further frustration and disappointment.  Through random chance friends of ours were considering enrollment in an upcoming training program for prospective foster care parents around this same time.  At first glance it seemed like the perfect solution; it was not prohibitively expensive, it had a relatively good success rate and it felt like it put more of the power back in our hands, and anyone who’s ever been repeatedly disappointed by the results of pregnancy test can understand the benefits of empowerment.  Though there were a few dissenters in the family that feared for the welfare of our son or the potential for further heartbreak, most were extremely supportive, praising us for what appeared to be an entirely a selfless act.

For the next 6-8 months from orientation to final licensing, you become immersed in the foster care culture.  In addition to months of weekly night classes, you are required to submit to home inspections, and have all family members interviewed by a social worker.  You must be tested for TB.  You must go through finger printing and Livescan.  You must learn CPR and first aid.  You must learn to document all medications including any over-the-counter items that could come in contact with a child in your care.  It becomes an interesting editorial on parenthood, knowing that if all parents went through this degree of training and probing there would likely be far fewer kids in foster care in the first place.

Once you are completely official the real adventure begins.  The social worker is able to start calling you with potential matches and you are able to proactively begin your own independent searches.  This search process starts out with the most surreal checklist you’ll ever see, where parents are asked to mark off all of the things they would be “comfortable” with in a prospective child.  These questions range from the more benign preferences on gender, race and religion and build up to psychological issues, like (and I kid you not) biting, cutting, fire setting, and feces smearing.  Needless to say, a great many boxes were left unchecked for the safety of our son if nothing else.

The shopping methods were also disturbingly varied; you could catalog shop, browsing binders stacked high in the office, you could shop online through posted profiles, and you could even window shop at semi-annual picnic days for the local shelters.  Depending on your flexibility and tolerance level the available options could be wide open.  For us, more than anything else it was the siblings that seemed to be the most limiting factor.  There were a number of kids who, understandably, wanted to cling to their remaining family so they came as a package deal that we weren’t equipped to handle.  With that restriction along with other considerations we went through a few months of passing on the offers, until we got the one call we’d been waiting for.

The first pictures we received showed a sweet little girl (we’ll call her Leah) with big brown eyes staring up nervously at the camera.  Leah was staying with a temporary foster family who was helping her look for a permanent home.  Leah’s mother had abandoned her at 11 months old, leaving birth dad and daughter and moving to Washington State.  The young father had his own issues with life and realized he was unable to provide adequate care for his daughter.  The introductions with Leah were slow and methodical.  We visited her at the other foster family’s home a couple of times and then met her for a play date at the park near our house.  She was understandably shy and reserved but did come out of her shell in small bursts of tentative smiles.  Her connection with Jenean was almost immediate.  I think she longed for the missing mommy figure in her life and was able to build trust quickly from that.  The connection with me was slower in coming, which could have been caused by my own fumbling to form a fast bond mid-stream rather than building one slowly from birth.

She found security strapped into a high chair or stroller, which is how her dad often left her.  She hoarded food in her mouth, stuffing her cheeks like a squirrel.  She didn’t want to be left in her room alone.  She had tantrums if I went to get her out of the car instead of Jenean.  None of the problems were insurmountable and honestly many of them were not outside the toddler norm.  She soon found comfort in routine and stability.  She slowly started to thaw emotionally and found her place in the family.   We thought it was all going to work out.

Just as we were about to legally file for termination of parental rights from her birth parents, her mom flew back to California and demanded custody of her daughter.  Despite the abandonment and previous issues with substance abuse the rights of the birth mother in California hold up strong to the very end.  The social workers tried to calm our nerves, telling us it was unlikely that the mother would be able to meet the conditions of the court which were a number of rehab programs and proof of residence and income.    Surely she’d regress, or quit, or be unable to find a job.  It would all be too much and she’d return back to Washington within a couple of weeks.  We were all wrong.  In a way it was some meager consolation that her mom did fight so hard for her in the end.   Unfortunately she didn’t play nice along the way.

As one would expect the initial visitations were hard on Leah;  It was confusing to be taken from her new home to hang out with another woman she never really knew.  That in turn must have been equally hard to stomach for the birth-mom who had to hear references to this other family that was trying to steal her child.  Slowly those visits focused more on fun, like a visit to grandma’s with junk food and playful gifts.  She started telling Leah that we were not her parents and built up how she was going to take her away from all of that.   At this point the tantrums started up again before and after the visitations.  Even though we had been trained for the possibility of supporting reunification with a child and a birth parent, it was difficult to stomach when we had been so close to full adoption.   Over the course of a year and half, I was finally gaining some ground with the daddy-daughter relationship.  She enjoyed the playtime we shared together and I was able to see a future family with her in it.  But now, it was all changing again, and we had to be strong for her and help her get through the transition as best we could.

The last day she was with us, we got her ready for her “mommy time” like we would for all the other visits.  There really wasn’t a good way to explain to a 5-year-old what was about to happen, so we got her dressed, packed her backpack, along with some of her favorite toys and brought her outside to wait for the social worker to pick her up.  I think she started to suspect something was different from the prolonged goodbye hugs we gave her before buckling her in.  As they started to drive away Leah turned to wave goodbye, and I could hear her softly through the window say “goodbye daddy”.  It was the first time I remember her calling me that.  I went inside and cried for a very long time.

After all the work and all the turmoil, foster-adopt wasn’t salvation we had hoped for.   We felt more than a little betrayed by the system that would take a little girl out of a stable home and deliver her into an unknowable situation, and after that it was hard to stomach the idea of hopping back on the emotional roller coaster all over again, possibly multiple times before finding a perfect match.  Somewhere out there though a little girl is growing up with a very different life and maybe just a fleeting memory of the time she spent with another family while waiting for her mom to return.  Will she think fondly of us?  Will she think of us at all?  What started out as a promising solution to our problem, became a footnote in our personal history and the journey to find a child would continue down a different path.

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Less to the Story

There I was, fidgeting on one those folding metal chairs that only plague school gymnasiums and juror waiting rooms. The lights dimmed as the principle welcomed us to the annual Dance Show where proud parents spend $20, and an hour of their life to watch mostly kids they don’t know in an attempt to capture that one blurry picture of their child doing the coffee-grinder so they can post it to Instagram. While I waited for my daughter to grace the stage with “Who Let the Dogs Out”, I amused myself by watching the other children and imaging what was going through their minds as they struggled to keep pace with their classmates.   And then I had a moment that caught me off guard; I noticed a kid with no hair, he looked thin, and maybe a bit pale under the stage lighting. A scene played out in my head, of how he struggled against illness and bravely fought to take the stage with the rest of his class. I was moved by his courage and resilience in the face of adversity, wanting that one chance to shine and find a small slice of happiness amidst all his suffering. As I sat there, awash in emotions and trying to fight back tears, he fell out of step and began vigorously scratching his head. And then I thought “maybe he just has lice”.

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Tagged and Bragged

A school in Washington State recently attempted to correct a long neglected problem by banning the illicit activity known throughout the school yards as “Tag” (full article here). This so called “game” involves the incredibly dangerous practice of running down fellow classmates in an attempt to strike them with a taunting declaration of “you’re it”. This “tagged” individual is then compelled to further spread their “it-ness” to other victims like an infectious disease. The need for action was obvious; no good can come from propagating this horrific tradition.

Luckily this is not the first school to take such a decisive stance against the dangers of play. A district in San Diego was legally motivated to prohibit another playground plague known as “Red Rover”, where a child is repeatedly taunted until they throw themselves into their tormentors. Barbaric. Many districts throughout our great country have finally begun to recognize the threat that these activities pose to our precious youth along with the other more obvious blood sports such as dodge ball, and snowball fights. There is no question that this trend needs to continue; there are still many dangers lurking outside our double-insulated, suburban front doors. For example, with no regard for child safety, parks and playgrounds continue to install climbing bars that are much too high and slides that are much too steep, inviting ample opportunity for broken bones and skinned knees. Clearly these threats need to be removed. Even the benign looking sandbox offers the ever-present threat of blindness and accidental exposure to cat poop.

We need to teach our kids that youth is not to be wasted on silly, dangerous games that invite self-discovery and social interaction. We are trying to rescue them from the tragic fate that awaits all who engage in these physical experimentations; bike riding, fast walking and aggressive standing have all been linked to a shortened life expectancy in laboratory rats who really have no business being on bikes in the first place. We need to be proactive about safety not just for the survival of our children but for the survival of our very race. But this is not to say that we should prevent kids from having fun, on the contrary there are plenty of perfectly safe alternatives for our kids to engage in, such as sitting quietly under a tree,… as long as they are sitting upon a properly laundered drop cloth, dosed in triple digit SPF sunblock and maintaining enough distance from the tree to avoid splinters and squirrel cooties.

Please help spread the word so that we can avoid the mistakes of our parents who lost an entire generation of children to “The Great Tag” and who foolishly allowed frolicking to go unchecked until it became the devastating plague that historians now refer to as “childhood”.

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