Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Baby We Didn't Know We Wanted

I’ve written in this space before about how my wife and I are fostering a few children with the hope of adopting them.  When we started this process, we indicated we wanted two children and that we would accept children up to about 4 years of age.  We felt that our baby days were over, and our expectation was that we would receive two toddlers.  However, we were surprised that we ended up with one toddler and a newborn.

What surprised us even more was how exceptionally strong our emotional bonds with the baby would be and the ferocity of our love for her.  My wife had previously stated that this baby girl was the one we didn’t know we wanted, which states it pretty well.  One could attribute our attachment to typical parent-child bonding that happens with a newborn, but contrasting how strongly we feel for her with the experience with even our own biological children is surprising.

One should not misinterpret these statements as ones that indicate a lack of love for any of our other children, as we most assuredly do love them, but one should understand that she comes from a very different place.  Born of a drug-addled mother, two to three months premature, she was so very tiny when she came to us.  She was literally half the size of our largest biological child when she was born.  Her needs for care and attention were great.  It was initially exhausting, but we were surprised by our ability to care for her, perhaps because of our depth of parental experience with babies – nothing was “new” and we knew never to panic, but to just take every day as they came.

To complicate this, though, all along we have known that there is a risk that we may not be able to keep her, and I think it is this fear that has intensified our feelings for her.

Just yesterday, we received the news that we can now move forward to adopt our foster son.  This greatly pleases us as we love him and are grateful for him.  His half-sister, on the other hand, is further behind in the legal process, and we have learned that there are additional efforts being expended to identify if there are any options for placing her with a biological relative on her presumed father’s side.  Should this occur, our worst fears would be realized and we would lose this baby that we so dearly love.

So, we are in a bittersweet moment.  On the one hand, we are delighted to be able to move forward with adopting our foster son, but on the other hand we are filled with fear and dread at what could happen with his half-sister.  Should this fear be realized, this bittersweet moment would only extend and taint our experience when we are finally able to take our foster son to the temple to be sealed to our family forever – something we wish to do with both of them.

We understand there is a court date in January where the baby girl could (should) be made available for us to adopt, if no qualified biological family members are identified who are willing to take her.

It will be a long wait.

The emotional roller coaster goes on, and we love these children through every peak and trough, especially the baby we didn’t know we wanted.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are We Better Off Now?

Four years ago after Barack Obama was elected president, I wrote about how I would measure the success of his presidency. My criteria back then is interesting to read in hindsight, and reading through them I wish I had phrased them as crisp yes or no questions.

Even so, today I'm going to try to address these questions with my opinion on their answers. I will also attempt to write my explanation for my answers.

Here goes:
  • Has the U.S. economy stabilized, and is it growing to the benefit of American citizens?
  • No. I don't believe that the economy is any more "stable" today than it was four years ago. In fact, I think it's probably about the same. I do believe it is "growing", but not at a pace that anybody is happy with.
  • Has the standard of living continued to increase, with those who want to want to and can work working, and the level at which poverty is measured rising?
  • No. I don't believe that the standard of living has increased for most people. For me, personally, as an engineer with a stable job, I saw raises at work (when I got them) at an average of 1.5% per year, despite having remarkable and undeniable success at work. In the previous four years it was 4.5%. I believe my purchasing power today is less than what it was 4 years ago. The unemployment numbers are still around 8% (above or below that line, it's still a huge number of unemployed people) and I think there are more people living in poverty today than 4 years ago.
  • Do Americans have the ability to secure for themselves appropriate health care?
  • Undecided, but probably not. I don't think that "Obamacare" has come into play yet for most Americans, though I have personally seen the cost of healthcare for my healthy family rise sharply over the past 4 years.
  • Are Americans safer within the borders of the United States, free from terrorist attacks of any kind; and largely when traveling abroad?
  • Probably not. I don't "feel" any safer today than I did four years ago. If anything, all the stuff that is happening elsewhere makes me increasingly nervous about traveling to other countries. I will not go to nearby Mexico because of all the craziness of the drug wars going on down there. I sometimes travel for work to Germany, and even there -- a "safe" country -- I take great pains to not look too much like an American and to not attract attention to myself.
  • In making Americans safer, have any rights outlined in the constitutional amendments been curtailed, particularly freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and due process?
  • Undecided. I don't feel that this has changed much in the last 4 years as the result of homeland security changes, but see below on my comments on the "culture wars".
  • Has the ability of Americans to have dignity in their lives been improved?
  • I don't think so. I have some very close friends, bright and intelligent men both, who have been unemployed for over a year. They feel nothing short of downtrodden.
  • Has America socially moved towards a culture of responsibility for their life choices, economically, politically, socially, morally, and spiritually?
  • Absolutely not. I think our contentious and litigious society has only gotten worse in this regards. In general, I'd say that people are more likely to look for help from without for their problems rather than working to resolve them themselves.
  • Has the concept of "minority" groups become more irrelevant?
  • No. Racism and the "culture wars" have only gotten worse. Just this week, there is a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that is about a girl who believes her admittance to the University of Texas was denied because she is white, and that others who were equally qualified but of a different race were admitted. Similarly, you can barely open a web-browser without finding some news article pronouncing more injustices being done to the gay and lesbian community by all those horrible straight people who think that marriage is between a man and a woman. "Minority" groups? Most certainly they have not become more irrelevant. I applauded when Morgan Freeman said the only way to get rid of racism is to simply stop talking about it -- make it a non-issue.
  • Has the reputation of the U.S. improved throughout the world?
  • Hah. No.
  • Are the American borders secure in such a way as to protect American lives, to secure American interests, and to ensure America's sovereignty?
  • Again, no. The interesting thing here is that there are more people leaving the United States than illegally coming in because of the horrid economy.
  • Has America stood up for and protected those who are incapable of doing so for themselves, generously giving of its means to create a better and safer world?
  • Hmm, probably not. See: Syria. See also: U.S. unwillingness to commit in Libya.
  • Is American primacy in education, particularly with regards to science, engineering, and manufacturing; been strengthened and improved?
  • Nope. You won't find the U.S. at the top of any ranking of "best" educational systems. We still hold the most "top 100" universities in the world, but the rankings for U.S. universities are slipping. That said, we're still a powerhouse for engineering and science as evidenced by the sheer number of foreign students who come to the U.S. to be educated. Now if we could only get them jobs here ...
  • Has the spirit of exploration and scientific advancement been nurtured?
  • Nope. Why is it that the Mars rover Curiosity has had so much awesome news coverage and has people so excited? I honestly think (and I'm rather cynical on this) it is because it's the only game in town. Despite this, the fact that so many people are interested does show that there is a yearning for this kind of stuff, but there are so few like-programs for people to be excited about. Consider also that the Space Shuttle was retired and that the U.S. currently has no home-grown means of moving people to the Space Station, a facility largely bought and paid for by the U.S. I understand there are things in the works, but when? When?! It's an embarrassment.
  • Has America found a more appropriate balance of independence and globalization with regards to foreign, energy, and economic policies?
  • No. I think it has become more isolationist, our energy policies are confused (at best), and the growth of the economy is stalled.

So, let's count: 9 firm "no", 4 "probably not", and 1 "undecided". I don't think I'll be voting for Obama. My take is that when somebody isn't doing the job, you don't give 'em more time to not do it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Artifacts of a Major Event

Somehow I managed to weasel my way out of needing to be physically at work last night for the big Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) event of the Curiosity rover on Mars.  I was able to stay home and watch the proceedings with my wife and children, who stayed up WAY past their bedtime to see the festivities.

I don't think any of them truly comprehended just how critical a successful landing was to my career, and so while I was literally twitchy with anticipation and hanging on every word from the NASA feeds, they were nonchalant and overly chatty.  They were so noisy that much of the time I couldn't actually hear what was being said.  I finally had to snap at them towards the end to get them to be quiet.  Seriously, didn't they know that their Daddy REALLY needed to hear Every. Single. Word being said by the commentators and his co-workers?  Because, really, every word was of historic significance and were never to be heard again ... okay, I felt a little bad for snapping at them, but I was seriously stressed out.

In any case, the landing went exceptionally well.  The artifacts we've seen come out attest to that over the past little while, some of which I'll share below.  During EDL itself, the orbiter did experience a plasma blackout.  The recorded UHF spectrum from both of the orbiters we had overhead that were recording the events in an open-loop manner clearly showed the Doppler effects as the spacecraft decelerated from 13,000 mph to 0 mph in just 7 minutes.  I'd include one of the graphics here, but I don't think it's publicly releasable, yet.

During descent, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which I worked on for many years, took a picture of the rover as it was hanging from its parachute.  We first did this 4 years ago, when the Phoenix spacecraft had its own EDL.  We had a 50/50 chance of getting that picture, and it was a stunner; and we had a 40/60 chance of getting this one, and it's even more stunning, but in a different way.  For Phoenix, the picture was remarkable for the giant crater visible in the background.  For Curiosity, it's remarkable for the detail that can be seen in the image.

This first picture is the larger image and sets the context:

This next picture shows a zoomed in and slightly more processed view, which clearly illustrates the parachute with its "ring" around the perimeter and the hole in the middle.  Stunning.

We had maneuvered all 3 orbiters, namely NASA's MRO and Odyssey, and ESA's Mars Express; so that all three of them would be geometrically visible to MSL during its descent.  The hope was to record the signal being transmitted from the rover as it made its way to the surface.  We did manage to get all the vehicles in position, with MRO at +9 seconds from its intended overflight time (it was early), Odyssey at -25 seconds, and Mars Express at +41.5.  Considering these are orbital geometries, and we didn't expend a lot of fuel to get any one of them into position, that was pretty darn good.

Odyssey recorded the signal coming out of the rover and demodulated the signal to extract data at 8 kbps.  This was transferred directly to Earth during the EDL event and provided the primary means of information regarding the health and safety of the rover.  It was this signal that told us that the rover was passing through its various configuration changes on the way to the ground, and that it was safely on the ground.  Further, it was this signal that transferred from the rover on the surface the very first images received from the rover, which showed unambiguously that the rover was on Mars.

This first picture was from one of the rear HazCams ("hazard camera") which is used when driving around.  The project decided, somewhat late, to add the taking and transmission of this picture (with a thumbnail) as something to be done right after landing, in the event that Odyssey could transmit the picture.  Here, you can see the pebble-strewn surface behind a dirty lens.  This was the first picture from Mars returned by Curiosity.

 The dirty lens was expected, and so this is actually a picture taken through a faceplate that was later removed.

This next picture came from a front HazCam, and interestingly it shows the shadow of the rover in the afternoon sun.  Despite the dirty lens, it has an oddly beautiful quality to it.

This picture, though, reminded me of something I'd seen before ... hmm, what was that? Oh, yeah! When a Decepticon killed Beagle 2, that's it ...

But back to the first image.  Soon the cover plate, which was expected to get dirty in the mess of landing, was "blown" (explosive bolts are awesome) and the next image came back clear.  Yep, that looks like a barren wasteland.  It must be Mars.  Despite how boring this is to Martian neophytes, this image actually suggests a lot of juicy potential for scientific exploration and discovery. 

This next image was annotated to show some of the hardware in the image.

All the while this was coming down, the people in the control room were going nuts with excitement.  This following picture shows a fellow I know pointing ecstatically.  Ah, happy nerds ...

Come the morning, I showed up at work for an early 7 am meeting.  Everything was going normally.  The recorded signals from MRO and Mars Express had been processed, with beautiful spectrum diagrams clearly showing the recorded signal and the plasma blackout that occurred just after entry, and a remarkable swing in the Doppler as the spacecraft decelerated maniacally.

Later, images were returned from the descent imager, which have not yet been released, yet; which clearly show the heat shield falling away after the parachute was deployed and a long series of images which show the landing all the way to the ground.  I'm confident the images will be assembled into a movie quite shortly.  It is truly something to behold.

So, today's been quite exciting.  I haven't been able to get much done in all the excitement, but I suppose nerds get to enjoy the fruits of their labor every once in a while.  It's been a good day, and the mission hasn't even really started, yet ...

Until Today, Curiosity Was Just An Academic Exercise

I'm sitting here contemplating how to write about the events of the past day.  It's been pretty big news, and almost none of what's been happening is the result of my own efforts.  Well, that's not entirely true, but I'll get there.  With Curiosity - a.k.a. the Mars Science Laboratory - now securely landed in Gale Crater on Mars, I can now proceed with the rest of my life.

Too dramatic?  Sorry, but let me explain.  My job at work is to coordinate when and how spacecraft that are orbiting the planet Mars transfer data to and from spacecraft on the surface of Mars from and back to Earth.  We use UHF radios to communicate between the various spacecraft, and my job is to help all the good people who independently operate each spacecraft to figure out the details.  To that end, part of my work is in the day-to-day effort to schedule these "relay" sessions between the rovers and orbiters; and the other part of my work is to help the high-level managers for each of these spacecraft to agree on what is allowed to be done.

Sound a little esoteric?  Let me explain some more.  Say, for example, that you have an orbiter that goes around Mars once every two hours.  This is the case for the two NASA orbiters at Mars which both orbit in a north/south direction - a polar orbit - in a manner where when the orbiter passes over the Martian equator, the surface is at a relatively fixed angle to the sun.  This is called a sun-synchronous orbit and has the benefit of allowing the orbiters to image the surface of Mars with consistent sun exposure (i.e. the observed shadows aren't greatly variable).  The scientists love this.

Operators of landers on the surface of Mars also love this because, from the lander's perspective, the orbiter is always visible at roughly the same time every day.  For example, if an orbiter is at a "3 pm orbit", then the orbiter will be coming overhead every day at roughly 3 pm (and 3 am ...).  This makes planning easier because the rover operators then would always know roughly when they can have the rover transmit data to an orbiter.  However, we typically don't get just 1 "pass" at 3 pm - we usually get 2 because, again from the lander's perspective, the orbiter will come from the north (or south) and pass on the east side of the rover and then one orbit later it will pass on the west side as Mars rotates beneath the orbiter.

Sounds great, right?  Well, from a relay planning perspective it is.  Unfortunately, none of the orbiters are built in such a way that they can support both relay activities AND continue with other science activities simultaneously without impact.  This means that every time an orbiter has a relay session with a lander, there is some interruption to or other impact on ongoing science data acquisition.  The scientists hate this.

Therein lies the quandary for the second part of my work.  I have to get orbiter projects to agree to provide relay support to landed projects when it is not in their interests to do so.  As all the projects are independently funded and operated, this can be problematic.  In the case of Curiosity - an exceptionally capable vehicle that can generate far more bits of data than we can possibly return to Earth given the relay spacecraft we have at Mars - this meant we held extensive negotiations with the orbiter projects before they came to agreement on how many of those relay passes that are geometrically viable that the orbiters would support.  As Curiosity is the new kid on the block and all the other projects are in "extended mission" we did have a little weight to throw around, but that didn't mean the orbiters agreed to their needs easily or quietly.

In the end, I and others managed to get these agreements between the projects in order.  The lander is content and the orbiters begrudgingly agreed to the outlined plans.  Once these plans were in place, we had to go through all the exercises to test and verify the inter-project interfaces (both Earth-based networks and the radio-to-radio interfaces that were to be in place once Curiosity landed on Mars) and the operational test and training plans.  This effort has consumed my professional life for the past few years, but all of it - every bit - was purely academic until Curiosity made it to the ground.  Now it is real.  *phew*

So, my job is to help all the landers and all the orbiters at Mars to work together.  Before Curiosity made it safely to the ground, there was only one rover there, Opportunity - an aging rover which has been trundling epically around on Mars since early 2004.  There are 3 orbiters at Mars right now, 2 NASA vehicles and one from the European Space Agency.  The collection of all of these spacecraft at Mars consists what we call the "Mars Relay Network".  Now this network consists of 5 projects, and I have work to do ...

Friday, July 13, 2012

First Camping Trip for the Foster Children

We took our children camping for the first time since we received our foster children.  It was difficult to schedule, and we were greatly worried about the baby (5 months old, but really only 3 ... being a preemie and all ...) and about how the little boy would handle the change of scenery.  We had to get special permission from the county social worker to take them out of the county, and it was indeed the first time we've taken them out of the county since we received them.

We were suspicious that our foster son had not been to the beach before, as he didn't seem to comprehend what we meant when we talked about it.  We've been surprised by a lot of things lately as his mental gears shift into a more accepting mode of where he is and that he's likely to stay with us for a long time.  Just recently in the grocery store, he walked over and nearly hauled a case of beer off the shelf, insisting that I wanted to "buy some beer?"  We knew that his previous caretakers drank alcohol, but to have one as young as him internalize that all daddies do that -- even though I have never once drank a beer and we have never once purchased such a thing -- was kind of sad.

That coupled with the fact that he was so well-schooled in all of the various types of fast food ("Wanna go Taco Bell?" "Burger King?" "McDonalds?" "Wendy's?" "Jack-in-Box?" -- even though we only rarely go out to eat -- and we've never once actually named some of those places in his presence -- only emphasized the fact that his life experience was truly centered around junk food and TV.  His 3-year-old regaling me with his hope that he'd be able to go visit his family so he could wander the house while they took a nap and watched TV in bed was frightening and terribly sad at the same time.

So it was that we were quite interested to take him on this camping trip.  As we drove to the ocean and it came into sight, he called it a big "bathtub".  We knew right then he had never seen the ocean before, and that he had no idea what was in store.  Our day of arrival was filled mostly with driving, setting up camp, and the children bi-/tricycling around the campsite.  Each new experience was a new one for him.  He'd never seen an open fire before.  Never roasted a hot dog.  Never peed on a bush or had chipmunks and birds wander so close to us.  He was alarmed by the fact that bugs were all around us (though he was soon calling every pill bug he saw "my bug", and I'm pretty sure he thought there was just the one), and he had certainly never slept in a tent.  If it weren't for the fact that he's such a good sleeper, that might have been a problem, but he did well.

The next day we got up and the children continued to play around camp through the morning.  It was a little cold, so we didn't get to the beach until the afternoon.  As he was taken towards the water, he immediately began to panic, biting his nails of both hands simultaneously (we call it "corn-cobbing" and he only does that when he's <i>really</i> nervous).  As we got closer, he was soon grabbing legs and begging us not to throw him in (and no, it wasn't like he had an experience like that before, he just didn't know what to expect).

As we went down to the sand, my two oldest children quickly freed the shovels and started digging.  My seven-year-old got the sand trucks and started racing them around.  Seeing this, our foster son started to relax, but it took great coaxing to bring him towards the water.  He never would willingly get in the water, but he wasn't wise to the fact that the waves alternate the height of their lapping.  As we built "forts" which looked safe enough, he'd climb in the middle and soon have water swirling around his feet.  He looked at us in alarm, but took the cue from everybody that this was normal and not of concern -- he didn't freak out, but took it fairly well.

Even so, he would never come down into the waves with me, even when I offered to hold his hand or carry him.  We didn't take our body boards with us (no space in the van! we gotta figure that one out ...), which was just as well, as I'm very sure he wasn't quite ready for that little adventure just yet.  All in good time.  Next week we'll be back at the beach and we'll have all the gear with us.  My older three kids love the waves, so it will be interesting to watch him mentally process the fact that the four of us (my wife prefers to stay high and dry) are in the water.

As the camping trip came to a close, he soon was tantruming because he didn't want to leave.  We stopped at a playground in Santa Barbara on the way home to play for a few hours and have lunch, and when it was time to go he was tantruming that he didn't want to leave <i>there</i>, either.  And as we drove away from the ocean, he tantrumed that he didn't want to go home.  From this, I can conclude that he enjoyed himself, and it is good to see that he does not fear these new things very much.  We still have so much to teach him, though.  So much!

Ah, well.  At least we're enjoying the process ... now if only we could keep him from having those tantrums ...

Oh, and the baby did just fine - though she was cold the first night and ate in the middle of the night (something she hasn't done in weeks ...).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Social Black Hole

So I haven't posted in this space for quite a while.  In a sense, I feel like I've fallen into a social black hole.  The placement of two children into our home for foster care has certainly thrown our regular family routine into a tailspin.  We'd been getting used to doing more "grown up" stuff with the children, my youngest of whom just turned 7-years-old, such as having family game nights, going on more educational excursions to museums and the like, and having quiet reading time.  With the introduction of a needy 3-year-old and a needy-in-a-different-way premature baby, we're suddenly back in little kid mode.

So what's been happening with us?  Well, naturally our lives have been focused on the care of the foster children.  I've been taking the 3-year-old boy to visitations with his family once a week, which is in itself an adventure.  I've had the chance to visit with them quite a bit, and while there is no lack of love there for our foster son, they simply seem incapable of responsibly caring for him.  The court has yet to finalize things (obviously), but we still have high hopes of being able to keep him.

He's been improving in almost every conceivable way under our care.  His vocabulary and speech has been improving by leaps and bounds, his temper tantrums are being, well, tempered; and he is learning so very much.  We're still working to get him into speech and other forms of therapy, but we suspect he may not qualify when the "system" finally gets around to evaluating him due to his amazing progress.  That will be a disappointment because we think he would benefit, but we can see it happening because of how much he has improved without it.  We don't detect anything "wrong" with him as far as intellectual abilities and what-not (he's a good learner!), though, of course, other issues such as color blindness or learning disabilities or ADHD wouldn't necessarily manifest or be diagnosed until later.

As for his half-sister, there's been no visitations granted with her biological mother, largely because she (the mother) has been missing in action and hasn't attended any of the court dates.  We're just at the beginning of the very long court process, which could still conclude in practically any conceivable way, from us keeping the baby girl (which is what we want) to her being returned to the family (which we think is unlikely) to her being placed with an extended relative (which is more likely, much to our chagrin).

She's been growing very well.  She's still shy of 10 pounds in weight, but at 3 months old, she's doing well with lifting her head, tracking us in her vision, and she's even started smiling at us.  She's downright enchanting with her beautiful blue eyes.  She does have a hemangioma on her upper lip, which is the source of endless questions by others.  The pediatric plastic surgeon wants to wait and see how it progresses before doing anything -- particularly for one so small.

As for the rest of the family, we're trying to settle into a new normal.  Gone (for now) are my trips to the temple once a month -- replaced by the weekly visitations for our foster son.  Gone (for now) are our regular bedtime routine when my wife and I would go to sleep at the same time.  She now turns in as soon after 8 pm as possible so she can wake up for the early morning feeding, whereas I stay up through the late evening feeding so I can get enough rest to be a functioning person at work.

Gone also (for now) is any possibility of having a mature discussion on the scriptures as a family.  The 3-year-old knows nothing of the Gospel, and has no patience for lengthy discourse.  It will come with time, and he is 3, after all ...  Even so, it is frustrating because we had been in a very good habit of reading with the older kids, and that has been very hard to get jumpstarted again due to the bedtime routine for the 3-year-old and the baby's feeding which needs to occur whenever it needs to occur.  I've no doubt we'll figure it out, but we aren't quite there, yet.

Introduced (for now) are the visitations I've already mentioned, visits to the house by various social workers who come at least once a week, more trips to doctors and dentists and child psychologists and therapists than I can keep track of (thanks, wife!), and regular feedings of a baby that runs on her own time.

Regarding this latter bit, there's been quite a few people in our ward who have had babies recently.  It is weird, but even though we have a newborn in our home who is the same age as all those others, we don't feel in the same class as them.  As the baby isn't our biological child (and one we might not get to keep, no less), we don't get the same congratulations that others get.  In addition, we're experienced parents so the drama that a first- or second-born brings into a family is absent.  Worst of all, though, is that the baby doesn't receive the same adulation that other babies receive due to the hemangioma on her upper lip.  We love her fiercely, though, and treat her as if she were our own.  Frankly, when we're feeding her and she looks up at us with those beautiful blue eyes, I see no hemangioma ... I see the amazing spirit in my arms that I can't help but love.

Our other children continue with activities that keep us hopping in other ways.  Our oldest son is very busy with the Boy Scouts -- he is doing very well and has recently earned his Star Rank.  We're very proud of him, and are excited to see him continue to mature through this program.  He's also taking both piano and violin lessons, but I wouldn't say he is excelling at either one because he declines to practice as much as we'd like him to.

Our oldest daughter continues to be home schooled.  She seems to be running off the end of that's usefulness, as she seems to need more of a social environment lately.  We're planning to put her back into public school in the fall.  She's playing tennis, though, and also takes piano lessons with her big brother.  We have the same frustration with her lack of desire to practice, but we assume that most parents experience the same problem.  She also has started taking karate lessons, which she loves.  She has a desire to be a black belt, and we'll support her in that if she'll actually take it seriously.  She's just getting started, though, so we're preparing for the long haul.

Our now-middle son is also taking karate lessons.  For him it's more play time, but he benefits from it, too.  The balance of his time he well-uses playing at home.  He has developed an extraordinary love of the "Titanic" and has built models of it from both kits and out of Legos.  He's an amazing kid, and we are in awe at how well he has managed the introduction of the foster children to our home.  Being the youngest and the closest in age, he is naturally the most affected, and he has been making us proud with his accepting attitude, his increase in responsibility (he has to set the example now!), and his willingness to share.

My dear wife, somehow, manages to keep all of this straight.  I have no idea how she manages to feed the baby and deliver kids to their respective places and home school my daughter while a needy 3-year-old plays under foot while planning meals and getting to the grocery store and generally keeping the house from falling down.  She doesn't feel like she's juggling all those balls very well, but somehow they stay airborne (well, most of them most of the time ...).  We've had to become quite choosy in what we do outside the home, but I think we're doing all right.

As for me, work is going crazy.  Our next rover arrives at Mars the evening of August 5th, and we've got more software development to wrap up, test and training activities to conclude, and plenty of planning and coordination that needs to get done.

Frankly, I'm tired.

So if you don't hear from me again for a while, just assume I'm doing something related to anything I mentioned in this post.

Friday, March 2, 2012

It Takes a Village

There's an old proverb that says that "it takes a whole village to raise a child."  As it has been just over a week since we've had two foster children placed into our home, we have felt this proverb very keenly in our lives, and are filled with such gratitude that it is difficult to express.

The natural order of things is to have one child introduced into a home as a baby, and for the family to adapt to that introduction slowly and steadily.  In our case, as our family suddenly expanded from 3 to 5 children, we now do have a baby in the house, and we also have a toddler.  However, the baby is the least of our concerns.  Aside from the fact that she was born premature and has to be treated very lightly and fed extremely regularly, we do consider ourselves experienced parents and aren't intimidated by the demands of her care and maintenance.

The toddler, on the other hand, represents a larger challenge.  We do not know any of the minutiae of his rearing, so we don't know anything about his likes or dislikes.  His culinary tastes are a mystery, his darkest fears even more so.  We don't understand what makes him angry or why he gets sad.  We don't know what he is trying to say or why he tries to say it.  Truly he is a puzzle we are trying to put together, and we can't even see the pieces.

Yet through it all, we have received nothing but kindness from the people around us.  People from our ward, other friends, and our neighbors have been extraordinarily generous.  We have had lent to us or given to us clothing, furniture, toys, and other paraphernalia to help get us started.  So many have brought wonderful meals to us to ease us through this transition.

We feel so very, very grateful for all of this charity.  We're not used to being on the receiving end of this kind of service, and are astounded by how kind and loving people have been to us.  We could manage all this change to our family all by ourselves -- we have the know-how and the resources to do so -- but we are humbled to realize that so many great friends have surrounded and uplifted us so that we don't have to.

The agency with which we're working has all sorts of support groups available for people who are doing what we're doing, but we feel today that we don't need all that ... we already have our support group!  All these great people who have been here every day to wish us well and to encourage us when we're down really are more than just a group of friends -- they are our village and, indeed, our family.

Thank you, all!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Our Foster Children - The Story that We Know

I am so tired right now, but this story needs to be told, so I'm going to do my best without slurring my words.  My wife has basically been on the phone all day telling this to everybody who calls, but I'm going to tell it from my perspective.  It's a story that's much more egalitarian than a typical pregnancy, where the bulk of the pain and suffering is born by the wife.  Even so, she's more tired than me because ... well, I'll get there.

My wife and I were certified to be foster parents almost two weeks ago, on February 13th, through the Children's Bureau.  We were very anxious (see my previous post) and had been expecting a call at any time.  We had even been told that there was a specific family of 3 siblings that the Bureau had in mind that they wanted us to consider.  Even so, no call ever came, and we eventually did receive a phone call from our "matcher" from the Bureau who wanted to schedule a time to visit with us and to discuss with us more about our hopes and expectations.  We scheduled the appointment for yesterday (Thursday the 23rd), but we didn't make it that far.

On Tuesday the 21st, we received a phone call in the morning about a few children that needed a place to go.  We were informed that there was a little girl who had been born prematurely a few weeks ago whose mother intended to give up her parental rights.  This same mother had 4 other children, all of which were in "the system" and the youngest of which being in need of a place to go.  We were told that this child, a 3-year-old boy, had been removed from his grandmother's care because she was struggling with depression and couldn't care for him very well.  Aside from that, all we were told was that it appeared that the children were Caucasian and were healthy with no obvious developmental delays.

My wife and I consulted for a brief time -- we had about 20 minutes -- and prayed about it, and decided to take the plunge.  Despite the fact that they were looking for a place that would likely be a permanent placement, we still recognized that we could back out later if the situation turned out to not be what we expected.

So it was on Wednesday morning that we delivered all the kids to some good friends of ours who committed to shuttling them to and from school for us and to take care of them while we figured this whole thing out.  We left home just before 7 and began to make our way south to Orange.  We were met with ugly rush hour traffic and it took us almost 2 1/2 hours to get there.  There, at the Children's Hospital of Orange County (CHOC), we made our way to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and were suddenly face-to-face, so to speak, with this very little baby girl, swaddled and red-faced and looking so very, very helpless.

The nurses were very happy to see us, and they were seemingly anxious to be rid of her.  As it turned out, the baby had been born at roughly 31 weeks, though the mother had had no prenatal care, so they weren't sure.  We were told that the mother had been having a lot of bleeding so went to the hospital to discover that her placenta was separating.  One emergency C-section later and there was this little baby that the mother, who had arrived with amphetamines in her system and having smoked cigarettes and sipped margaritas throughout her pregnancy, decided she couldn't care for.  Frankly, from my perspective, I perceive her decision to be a rather responsible one.  She didn't even name her.

The baby had typical troubles for a premature birth, having been born at a measly 4 lbs 2 ounces, a birth weight half of what each of my own 3 biological children had been born at.  She had mostly lung troubles from swallowing blood in the birthing process, but some additional problems caused by the drugs that she'd received from her mother's bloodstream.  We were told that it took her about a week to kick most of it, and we soon figured that the little girl was a fighter, having shook off all that and was putting on weight fast.  She was at 4 lbs 9 ounces when we got the call, and was 4 lbs 11 ounces the day after.  She was hungry!

We weren't allowed to just pick her up and go, though.  First we had to demonstrate that we would be able to feed her, so we had to give her two feedings -- one at 11 am and one at 2 pm.  I took the first one, changing her diaper and getting peed on at the first opportunity.  It was a very strange thing for me.  Each of my biological children had nursed for their first year, and never took a bottle, so it was very strange for me to sit and stuff this big bottle in her tiny mouth and watch her chug away at it.  We also had to show that her preemie body could take the stress of sitting in a car seat for as long as it would take us to get home, so we had to sit there beside her while she slept in the car seat.

Just after the 2 pm feeding, our social worker showed up and started walking through the procedure of getting the little girl released to us.  Lots of paperwork and lots of signatures later, we finally were able to carry her out.  It was a strange feeling.

Interestingly, we did a little math and figured out that this little girl was conceived at around the same time that my wife and I decided we'd pursue this course for bringing more children into our family.  Even more interesting was the strange occurrences of numbers in her life.  She was born on 2/4 at 4:02 a.m. and was 4 lbs 2 ounces.  Notice the 4s and the 2s?  They also told us that she was 41 centimeters long at birth, but we supposed they mis-measured her, as clearly she must've been 42 centimeters!  42, the answer to ...

Finally departing the hospital after the social worker had to wrangle to get a copy of the baby's complete medical history, we made our way across town to Lakewood to the Department of Children of Family Services (DCFS).  By the time we arrived, we were an hour and a half late to meet this baby girl's big half-brother.  We were quickly rushed into a meeting room and were soon face-to-face with a 3 1/2-year-old boy with a dazzling smile.  We were stunned.  For one thing, all babies sort of look like space aliens, so there's no way you can really extrapolate what one is going to look like in the absence of the presence of the mother or the father.  We were desperate to know what this little girl might look like as she grew and suddenly we had her brother before us to give us a clue.

For a second thing, he was anything but what we expected.  Consider for a minute that most of the kids in the care of the State are Hispanic or African-American, yet here he was, not only Caucasian, but a dark blonde with blue eyes!  My wife got all teary eyed.  I was confused.  Yet there we were.

We spent another hour doing interminable paperwork while he played casually by our side.  He did not fear us, though he was a little uncertain at first.  We soon found out that he had been in the care of his grandmother for a while, but had been removed from her care last March -- almost a full year earlier.  He had been in two foster homes since that time and while he kept smiling, we could tell he was still uncertain.  I can't even imagine how frightening it must've been for him.

We found out that he and the baby have 3 more older siblings, the oldest being 13, and all of whom have different fathers and are "in the system".  It seems the mother is good at making babies, but is just not so good at caring for them.  We've chosen to be charitable and be grateful for what she's done, rather than angry for what she hasn't.

After all the paperwork was filled out, exchanged, and in triplicate, we finally were able to load him up in the van with his baby half-sister, after changing his really rank and really full diaper.  By this time, it was 6 pm and we were all very hungry.  We stopped by McDonald's and we were surprised when he clearly knew the difference between there and Burger King, but couldn't count to 10.

We made our way up the 405 and it took us another 2 1/2 hours to get home.  It was a painful drive, but he managed it well, as did his sister who slept the whole way.  When we got home, our 3 biological children were wide awake and very excited to see them.  Needless to say, it was a late night, and it wasn't even done for us.  I finally managed to get our foster son to go to sleep at around 9:30, but we had to get our biological children to sleep and then we were in the midst of feedings for the baby girl, who needs to eat every 3 hours.

Being a preemie is quite the life with a very lengthy handbook of instructions, which I quote here in its entirety: eat, sleep, poop, repeat.  She seems to handle it well, but I'm falling to pieces because I haven't slept.  We put her in our room last night because my wife was anxious about her, but this just kept us both awake, even when the baby was merely sleeping.  None of our biological children stayed in our room when they were babies, so this was new for us, and it didn't go well.  Tonight she'll be in a crib in the other room with a carefully tuned baby monitor.  We'll set an alarm to wake up at appropriate intervals for her nighttime feedings, which we've synchronized at 10 pm, 1 am, and 4 am, which means we only have 2 mid-night feedings.

As for our foster son, tonight he went to sleep without much of a fight.  I'm sure that will change when the novelty of this place wears off, but I could tell he was tired.  He spent the day playing and exploring his new home, while we shuttled kids to school, met with our social worker, and took the baby girl to a doctors appointment (she's doing just fine!).  We've been watching and evaluating, and it is clear that he is delayed in various ways.  At 3 1/2, he's not speaking in complete sentences, he's not potty-trained (but we see positive signs there), and he doesn't know very many colors.  He doesn't know his numbers nor the alphabet, and his speech appears stunted.  It breaks my heart that he doesn't even know Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.  It is clear that he is the product of plain and simple neglect.

Interestingly, he is quite independent and knows how to play well by himself, which we think is pretty much all he's been doing for a long time.  On the flip side, he is very polite, with a fine amount of please and thank you being spoken.  Tonight he told me "Goodnight, Daddy" and my heart melted.  It's going to be an interesting challenge to bring him up to speed, but we're ever hopeful.

Next Tuesday is a court date to determine the status for both of these children.  It is our understanding that the social workers will be recommending to the judge that parental rights be removed and that these two children be made available for adoption "immediately" -- meaning sometime within the next 4 to 8 months.  We shall see.

In the meantime, we have a preemie baby to keep as isolated as we can for the sake of her underdeveloped immune system and a toddler who needs to be taught pretty much everything.  It doesn't feel at all like we're "babysitting", which was a fear that we had, as it feels very natural to have them both in our home.  We've got a long way to go to get things normalized, though, and our biological children are being very patient.  Here's hoping for the best!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

On Anxiety Related to Fostering

My wife and I are NOW certified to be foster parents.  This is big.  Like, life-changing big.  Our plan is to foster two children (under the age of 4) with the intent of adopting them.  Since we, at present, have 3 children, we will soon have 66% more children!  That's a big change.  Granted, it's not first-born big (an infinitely large change), or even 2nd born big (100% ...), but it's bigger than 3rd born big!  (A measly 50% ... truthfully, for all those out there, having your 3rd child is a piece of cake compared to #1 and #2 ...)

Okay, so I'm running these numbers primarily to avoid talking about how I really feel about it.  Truth be told, it's very difficult to express how I feel.  On the one hand, we've been preparing and working towards this for a long time, dutifully making changes in our house, suffering through inspections and interviews, and attending classes (CPR yesterday, yay!).

On the other hand, this is a VERY big change we're making.  My wife and I have often stated that we're quite content with life as it is, with our children getting older and more capable of doing more grown-up things.  Now we're looking to (almost) hit the reset button on all that and again have very little people around.

My wife and I are also what we call "planning people".  No joke, we often sit down and compare our calendars out to six months or more, looking at every night to coordinate what's on our schedules.  This level of organization makes our lives run pretty smoothly, but now we're doing something that will remove a high-level of control from our lives.  Consider, for a moment, the following:

  1. We don't know how many children we're getting.  We've said we'd like two, which means we might only get 1.
  2. We don't know which sex they will be.  We've said we want at least one girl, which means we might get one girl, one boy, or one girl and one boy, or two girls.  Also, the girl might be older or the boy might be older, which will have its own implications.
  3. We don't know what kind of background they will be coming from.  Clearly they will have been removed from their biological parents, which may have been the result of drug abuse, spouse abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, emotional abuse ... there's a long list of possibilities.  Whatever their background, they will be coming with a bit of history.
  4. Their backgrounds will likely dictate the type of developmental challenges we will be faced with.  We've said we aren't willing to take any children that are handicapped or have severe disabilities (frankly, with 3 kids already, we simply can't volunteer for such a time-consuming challenge), but there's a whole spectrum of other more minor developmental challenges that they are likely to have.
  5. We don't know what kind of interactions we will need to have with the children's biological parents during this process.  We could need to take the children to extensive visits to their parents several times a week, as directed by the judge in the case.  This would be exceptionally inconvenient and time-consuming.
  6. We don't know how far along in the court process the children are.  If they have already been in the foster system, it is possible they are quite far along in the process, and their biological parents' rights may be terminated in the not too distant future ... or reinstated.  Either way, we're at the mercy of the court.

With all these uncertainties, how can we be expected to plan for all that?!  There's just no way.

But my wife and I have felt very strongly about this for a long time.  We've known in our hearts that our little family isn't quite complete, and we feel really good about this whole process.  It may be that we receive some children to care for and they end up being returned to their biological parents.  It may be that we receive some children and we eventually conclude that we aren't prepared to adopt them.  Or it may be that everything goes swimmingly ... who knows?

We do know, however, that whatever happens, we will have been able to help a few kids who desperately needed help.  Our hope is to keep them, but you never can tell.

So it is we are clearing our calendar and I've been making arrangements to take time off from work.  We've already cancelled our spring vacation (we were planning to go to Washington D.C. as a cap-stone for our two oldest children's school years, as they are both studying U.S. history this year).  We might go to the Grand Canyon, but there's just no knowing.  We'll see how it plays out.

The bottom line, though, is that I feel ...


At peace.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

On Home Inspections

The social worker assigned to inspecting our house came by yesterday.  Her intent for the visit was to go through our household to determine if it was a safe environment in which the State of California can place foster children.  This is yet another step in our ongoing efforts to foster some children with the intent of adopting them.

The inspection was extraordinarily intrusive to our household, and we had a lot of preparatory work to go through to be ready.  For example, we had to take everything that says "keep out of reach of children" and put them into a locked drawer or cupboard.  This means we had to first install some locks on the drawers and cupboards around the house.  I spent hours with a drill in my hand installing some nifty (and pricey, but they're worth it) locks called Tot Locks.  Being the not-so-handy guy that I am, I was very pleased that I only punched through one hole in a cupboard during all of the installations that I did!  (The repair process is going to take some time ...)

As we wandered the house looking at labels, we discovered that all sorts of stuff have those terrible words on them.  I urge you to look at stuff in your own house, just for the education of it.  Turn stuff over in your kitchen, your bathroom, your laundry room, and you'll find that such seemingly innocuous stuff such as toothpaste, sunscreen, and chap stick all are labeled thus.  All told, we ended up putting locks under the kitchen sink, in a cupboard above the sink, in two cupboards above the laundry machines, in three drawers in the two bathrooms upstairs, and under one of the bathroom sinks.  And those spaces are crowded!

The most painful one?  Putting the sharp kitchen knives in the locked cupboard in the kitchen.  As my wife cooks or bakes every day, several times a day, this was most distasteful to us.

In addition, we had to make similar preparations in our garage, so we ended up buying a large garage cabinet to put paint, fertilizers, and weed and pest killers.  Just going through the garage and the house, we found that we have so much "dangerous" stuff hanging around that by all rights my entire family should be dead.

We also had our cars inspected by a mechanic (we ending up replacing some wipers and tires), installed baby gates at the top and bottom of the stairs, adjusted the water temperature down (bummer), had somebody from the gas company come and inspect our appliances, and bought a lock for the outside freezer.

One interesting challenge was to clear the room we intend for the new children of all of our other stuff, including the closets.  This doesn't sound so hard, except that we've been using that room largely for storage for the last few years.  We had to move all that stuff to other places around the house.  My bedroom now has a craft table in it with all the related accoutrements, and my wife spent many hours going through the closets of the other kids to retire old stuff and to look for efficiencies in the utilization of their space.  All we could leave in the foster children's room was baby-related stuff.  It was quite a challenge!

So, now that we've passed our home inspection, we only need to complete one more regular training session and a CPR training session.  Once that's done in a few weeks, we will be certified to be foster parents!  It's all very exciting, but also somewhat emotional, too.  It's been a long road traveled, but we know the road stretches out far before us, too.

In any case, for your kicks and giggles and "for the record", I'm here posting the checklist that the social worker left with us.  Frankly, she was surprised that we passed on the first attempt, which, according to her, is quite rare.  Apparently most people still have some things that need to be tweaked before they are ready, but my wife and I went through this list very carefully and ensured we had everything ready.  It was a lot of work, but we're confident it will be worth it!

So, without further adieu, the list ...

Physical Plant (General):
  1. Walls and ceilings (paint/wallpaper) are clean and in good order.
  2. Windows, screens, and curtains/blinds are in good condition and operate properly.
  3. Doors are in good condition and operate properly.
  4. Smoke detectors operate properly and fire extinguishers are properly charged.
  5. Furniture and fixtures are in good repair.
  6. Equipment and supplies are not stored in the ayrd or areas used by children.  Tools safely stored.
  7. Weapons are locked up and ammunition is locked separately from firearms.
  8. Toxins, pesticides, insecticides, paint, bleach, cleanser, nail polish remover, disinfectants, cleaning solutions and any other items which could pose a danger to children are inaccessible (locked).
  9. Knives, scissors, razors, and other sharp objects are inaccessible to children (sharp knives must be locked).
  10. Passageways, stairways, and doors are not blocked or obstructed.
  11. Handrails and deck rails are securely fastened.
  12. Rooms are clean, safe, sanitary, and free of odors.
  13. Room temperature is a minimum of 68 degrees and a maximum of 85 degrees (in extreme heat, maximum temperature is 30 degrees less than outside).
  14. Pools, ponds, spas, hot tubs, and other bodies of water are made inaccessible through fencing at least 5 feet high, with a self-closing and self-latching gate that opens away from the pool, or a cover labeled F1346-91 by the American Society for Testing Materials, that can support the weight of an adult.  Pool is properly maintained for sanitation.
  15. Above-ground pools that are five feet high shall be made inaccessible when not in use by removing or making the ladder inaccessible or erecting a barricade to prevent access to decking.  Above-ground pools under five feet high must be fenced.
  16. All in-ground and above-ground pools which cannot be emptied after each use have an operative pump and filtering system.
  17. Windows that face a pool are separated by a fence.
  18. Fireplaces, open face heaters, and wood burning stoves are inaccessible to children.  Use of a fireplace screen or similar barrier will meet this requirement.
  19. There is a working phone on premises.
  20. Building and grounds are free from hazards and rubbish (e.g., broken glass, exposed electrical wiring, protruding nails, dog droppings, etc.).
  21. Fence is in good condition.
  22. Home is free of flies and other insects.  Wood pile has been re-stacked and checked for spiders in the last six months.
  23. Glass doors have decals at children's eye level.
  24. Lead-free paint for refinishing toys and furniture was used.
  25. Freezers or other large chests are locked and inaccessible.
  26. Home and yard checked for poisonous plants and out of reach of small children.  Examples are dieffenbachia, foxglove, rhubarb, potato leaves, laurel, azaleas, rhododendrons, castor beans, lantana, and oleander.
  27. Furnace and water heater have been checked within the last year.
  28. Parent is able to shut off gas, electricity, and water in case of emergency.
  29. Emergency items maintained (flashlight with batteries, first aid kit and instructional handbook, fire extinguisher, etc.)
  30. Keep a safe home environment by securing water heater, tall bookcases, etc.
  31. Breakout windows, ladders for homes with more than one story, etc. have been inspected.  If the home has bars on windows or doors, do they release easily and quickly from the inside without use of a key or other tool?
Client Rooms:
  1. Sheets, pillowcases, mattress pads, blankets, bedspreads are clean and in good condition.
  2. Mattresses, box springs, and pillows are in good repair.
  3. There is adequate dresser and closet space for children's clothing and belongings.  Closets and drawers cannot be used to store any of the foster parents' belongings (considered a personal space intrusion).  Clothes in dresser and closets are clean.
  4. There is a well-lit space for studying (if applicable).
  5. There are no more than 2 children to a room.
  6. Children of the opposite sex, including those of the certified parents, do not share a room unless under age 5.
  7. Children, including those of the certified parents, do not share a room with an adult unless they are under 2.
  8. No room commonly used for other purposes shall be used as a bedroom.  Such rooms shall include but not be limited to halls, stairways, unfinished attics or basements, garages, storage areas and sheds, or similar detached buildings.
  9. No bedroom shall be used as a public or general passageway to another room (this includes the garage or back yard).
  10. Linen is changed at least one a week and more often if necessary.
  11. Bunk beds have a rail on the upper tier, have no more than 2 tiers and are not used by children under five or by children unable to climb into them unassisted.
  1. Hot water is 105-120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Sinks, tubs, toilets, and showers are clean and operable.
  3. Common towels and washcloths are not used.
  1. Equipment and supplies for personal hygiene are available for children in sufficient amounts.
  2. There is a sufficient supply of clean linens to permit changing weekly or more often as needed.
Food Services:
  1. Food storage and preparation areas (pantries, cupboards, freezers, stoves, microwaves, refrigerators, counters) are clean.
  2. There are no pesticides or toxins (ant spray, rodent poison) stores in any food storage or preparation room or with utensils.
  3. Cleaning supplies are kept in areas separate from food supplies.
  4. Contaminated or spoiled food is discarded.
  5. Food supplies are kept covered and inaccessible to pets.
  6. Frozen foods are properly wrapped. Recommend that food supplies be dated and rotated to use old items first.
  7. Kitchen and outdoor trash cans have tight fitting covers.
  8. Snacks and beverages are available in the home at all times (e.g. fruit, milk, juice, etc.).
  9. Dishes, glasses, and utensils are clean and in good condition.
  10. Modified diets are provided as needed.
  11. Powdered milk is not used as a beverage.
  12. There is an adequate supply of fresh, perishable, and non-perishable food in the home to prepare the next three meals and snacks.  A 7-day supply of non-perishables is required.
  13. Infants younger than 7 months of age are held during bottle feeding.
  14. Children in placement have their meals with family members and are served food of the same quality as that served to family members.
  1. All medications (including over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, alcohol, aspirin, inhalers, etc.) are locked.
  2. All medications kept in the refrigerator are locked.
  3. Psychotropic medications are double-locked.
  4. Medications are stored in compliance with label instructions.
  5. There are no expired medications (including over-the-counter medicines).
  6. Each prescription medication bottle has been logged on the medication count record.
  7. Destroyed medications are logged on the medication count record.
  8. There is enough medications left in each bottle to order a refill before the current supply runs out.
  9. Medications are given according to label/physician instructions.
  10. Prescriptions and non-prescription (over-the-counter) PRN medication (that is to be taken on an "as need" basis) is only given after documented permission from child's doctor.
  11. Medication labels are not altered.
  12. Medications are not transferred from their bottles to other containers.
  13. There are no permanently discontinued medications or medications for former foster children in the home.
  14. There is documentation of contacting the doctor when children refuse medication.
  15. Current Psychotropic Medication Authorization is on file with expiration dates listed and reviewed every six months.
  1. Available activities include: activities requiring group interaction, physical and education activities, leisure time, and instruction in daily living skills.
  2. Toys, games, books, and recreational and education material appropriate to children's ages, and mental and physical development are available.
  3. Voluntary attendance at religious activities is available to children.
Personal Rights:
  1. Children are accorded dignity in their relationships with the foster family.
  2. Children are free from corporal or unusual punishment, infliction of pain, humiliation, intimidation, ridicule, coercion, threat, mental abuse or other action of a punitive nature including but not limited to: interference with daily living functions, such as eating, sleeping, and toileting; or withholding of shelter, clothing, medication, or aids to physical functioning.
  3. Exits from rooms and building (home) are not locked in a way that prevent children from leaving.
  4. Children are not placed in restraining devices.
  5. Children are allowed visitors unless prohibited by court order or the child's authorized representative.
  6. Children are allowed access to phones to make and receive confidential calls unless prohibited by court order or the child's authorized representative.
  7. Children can send and receive unopened mail unless prohibited by court order or the child's authorized representative.
  1. Changes in family composition reported immediately, with a social worker having completed an immediate assessment and written a home study update within two weeks.
  2. Vehicles used to transport children are maintained in safe operating condition and have the State's required auto insurance.
  3. Children are secured in car seats designed for their age, weight, and in accordance with current law.
  4. Individuals without appropriate fingerprint and child abuse index clearance (friends, family, neighbors) are not used as babysitters.  Foster or birth child cannot be used as a babysitter.
  5. The home is equipped with first aid supplies (sterile first aid dressing, bandages, adhesive tape, scissors, tweezers, thermometer, antiseptic solution) and a current first aid manual.  Commonly used items (such as band-aids) have been replenished.
  6. Medications and poisons that are commonly found in a first aid kit (such as aspirin, hydrogen peroxide, etc.) are kept in a locked medication are, not in the first aid kit.
  7. Dogs have had their rabies shots, and a record of current rabies shots is kept.
  8. A list of emergency numbers (emergency/disaster plan which includes indication of meeting place) and a floor plan (indicating emergency exits) are posted by the telephone. Family's goal should be to evacuate their home within 90 seconds.
  9. Fire/disaster drill completed every six months.
  10. Foster parent Certificate of Approval (certification) available and posted.
  11. Training hours for annual re-certification have been completed.
Providing Care for a Child 0-36 Months:
  1. All electrical outlets are protected by outlet covers.
  2. Foster parent reports that poisonous plants are kept out of reach of small children.
  3. A safety gate or door at the top and bottom of stairs prevents a child's access to stairs.
  4. The crib has no knobs or sharp edges.
  5. The crib is placed away from windows, pictures, and shelves.
  6. Infant sleeps in a crib that has a firm mattress (waterbed mattress not permitted).
  7. Quilts, blankets, comforters, sheepskin, or other similar soft material are not being placed in crib or under infant.
  8. Soft stuffed toys, pillows, bean bags, sheepskin, or thick blankets are not placed in the crib with the infant.
  9. The mattress on the crib is kept low enough so the child cannot climb out of the bed.
  10. The slats on the crib are less than 2 3/8 inches apart (a soda can, held vertically, is unable to fit through the opening).
  11. Cords to drapes and blinds are out of reach of children.
  12. There are no more than two infants under the age of 2 (both foster and birth) in the foster home without obtaining additional household help, or an exception from Licensing.
  13. A rear-facing infant car seat is used for children 0-19 pounds, and is placed in the back seat if tehre are front passenger seat air bags.
  14. A front-facing car seat is used for children 20-40 pounds, and is placed in the back seat if there are front passenger seat air bags.
  15. Foster parent has been notified that the baby is to be placed on his/her back or side only, to sleep (SIDS prevention).
  16. Foster parent reports that they do not smoke around an infant.
Personal Property:
  1. Children's cash records are current.
  2. Children's cash records balance with cash being safeguarded.
  3. Personal property list is updated with additions and deletions.

On Boy-Yow and Unanimous

So, my oldest son, being 12, is learning all sorts of interesting turns of phrases.  One he slaughtered tonight was when he attempted a sarcastic use of the term "boy-yow".

Me: "Boy-yow ... what's that mean?"

Him: "Er ... never mind."

Me (after contemplating what he said and how he said it): "You mean boo-yah?"

Him (red-faced): "Uh, yeah."

Love it.  Then, later when he was embarrassed that I was actually posting this to my blog, I reminded him that there's no names posted here, so it was extraordinarily unlikely that his friends from school would see it, he said, "Oh, so it's unanimous."

I just looked at him, then asked, "You mean anonymous?"

Too funny!  It's one of life's greatest joys to be able to embarrass your pre-teen ...

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Feel Good Moment

So the social worker came by yesterday from L.A. County to have interviews with my family as we continue our preparations to foster a few children with the hopes of adopting them.  The purpose of the interviews is to enable the social worker to write up a biography of my family so that she can add it to the record and make it available to judges who will place children in our home.

The best moment of the interview was when she looked at me and said, "I would describe your build as 'athletic'."  AWESOME!  Never in my life has anybody said such a thing to me, and I was wonderfully flattered.

I mentioned this to my wife with my kids in earshot, and my daughter, bless her heart, suggested that the social worker was just flirting with me.

Hmm ...

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