Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Good Dad Day vs. a Bad After-School Day

Last Saturday was a pretty busy/crazy day for our little family, but for me, I look back on it as a "Good Dad Day".  Why?  Because I was able to spend quality time with each of my children:
  • I studied with my oldest son for a test he was to take on Monday for an hour -- alone with him, with no distractions.
  • I watched my oldest daughter compete in a karate competition, winning 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in various events.
  • I watched my middle son compete in the same karate competition, winning 3rd place in two events.  I also helped him sand his boat for his upcoming "raingutter regatta".
  • I participated in my youngest son's soccer "game" (we mostly just practiced soccer skills and then he complained how he didn't want to chase the ball during the "game" portion of the hour).
  • I played for about an hour with my baby girl before she went to bed.
Generally, there just isn't enough time in my day to spend individual, quality time with all 5 of my children, so when the stars align and I'm actually able to do so in a single day, it's pretty amazing.

And then ...

Monday came.  It was back to the grind.  The after-school routine is a real challenge for my wife, as she has to manage a toddler who gets into everything and get the older kids to do their homework while having to actually sit down with our 4-year-old because he won't otherwise do his homework.  If you know my wife, you know that she doesn't really sit -- busy moms don't -- so this is a real challenge for her.

This after school routine conveniently lands right on top of the time when she usually needs to be making dinner, or when we need to get the older kids off to some extra-curricular activity.  Usually, I'm able to be home before it gets too crazy so that I can take some of her burden while she gets dinner together, but last night I had work that needed to be done, and so didn't become available until it was too late.  By the time the night came, my wife was so stressed out she was nearly in tears.  Then she found out one of her best friends is moving away, and that really did make her cry.

I was unable to provide much comfort.

The hardest part is that this after-school routine will continue like this for a very long time.  And all of the stress of this is greatly multiplied by the emotional difficulties of our youngest son, who comes home from school stressed and tired and quick to explode.  If all the kids were well-behaved, it wouldn't be an issue, but when our oldest son starts whining about wanting to play on his iPod, our oldest daughter hides in a corner reading a book (thus being unhelpful in every way), our middle son outright refuses to do his homework, our youngest son starts in with tantrums, and our baby girl starts pulling things out of every cupboard that isn't locked ... wow.  Stress!

We often remind ourselves that "it won't always be this way."  After yesterday afternoon's Bad After-School Day, that is a cheerful thought indeed.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Story (So Far) of My Adopted Daughter

I had a few free moments (not really sure how that happened), so I thought I'd write up the story of my adopted daughter.  Eventually, she'll want to know this stuff, and it is important not to forget where we come from.  Her story doesn't begin too well, but hopefully it can be said that it leads to a happy place.

Her story began 7 months before she was born (of course).  At some point and under conditions we do not know, her biological mother became pregnant.  We do not know who the father is, as he has never been identified.  For that we are somewhat grateful, for were it not so our adoption of our little girl may not have been so straightforward.

In any case, 7 months passed with her in her mother's womb, and during that time it is clear that her mother failed to refrain from substances that could harm the baby she was carrying.  The full ramifications of those failures we have yet to discover.  Even so, we do know that when our baby girl was born, she was fully addicted to methamphetamines.

Her birth wasn't an easy one, as we estimate that she was born a full two months before she was due.  According to medical records, we know that her mother was hemorrhaging -- blood everywhere -- and the doctors at the hospital decided to perform an emergency C-section.  The date was February 4th, 2012.

Once delivered out of her biological mother, the doctors whisked the child away to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to help her recover from her addiction and to care for her frail little body.  Her mother walked out of the hospital as soon as she could without signing any paperwork, including that required to name her baby girl.  This was the 5th child that the mother had born alive and she expressed no interest in her newborn child.  It was clear that the long legal path to keeping her, having born her drug-addicted, was one she would not follow.

Being premature and addicted to drugs, the poor little thing -- all 4 pounds 2 ounces of her -- proved to be a fighter.  Just a few weeks later, she had fully recovered from the methamphetamines and was making good progress.

The nurses in the NICU soon came to love the little child, though they couldn't keep her forever.  Without a name, the nurses took to calling her Annie.  At some point, her grandmother called the hospital (though never visited) and said she wanted the child to be called Heather.  This wasn't to be, either, as will soon be told.

Some unknown number of days before we picked her up on February 23rd, the social workers with the Department of Child and Family Services were busy trying to coordinate the placement of the baby's 3-year-older half-brother into a foster home.  It seemed likely that he would need a permanent home (and so would she), so they contacted the Children's Bureau of Southern California, an organization that specializes in placing foster children that are likely to be adoptable.  With two children needing a place to go, they looked in their files and discovered my wife and I, who had just finished our certification for foster care a week before.

We had told the Children's Bureau that we would take up to two children under the age of 5, as long as one of them was a girl.  With three older children, we were experienced parents, and my wife's background in special education was a bonus, as it was quite possible that these children would eventually need that kind of help.  We were a perfect match, and they called us on February 22nd. 

My wife received the call in the morning.  It was a Wednesday.  They asked if we could come to the hospital that very day to pick up the baby girl and the next day to pick up the toddler boy.  The only things they told us was that there was a little boy that was 3-years-old, and a newborn girl who was premature but doing well who had been born addicted to methamphetamines.  Oh, and they were Caucasian.  This latter detail was perplexing to us, as will be told in a moment.

My wife said she needed to call me to confirm, which she did.  We took a few moments to pray about it -- something we had been doing in a general sense for a very long time -- and I told her over the phone, "Let's do it."  My wife called the social worker back and told her we would take them.  A few phone calls later, we were told that we shouldn't arrive that day, as there was some concern on the part of the agency of placing a baby as diminutive as she was.  At that point, she weighed just under 5 pounds, and they had a policy against taking children as small as that.

So, we had a night to think things over, but we never once contemplated not taking them.  We spent the afternoon preparing our 3 older children, the evening talking between ourselves about what needed doing, and the night attempting to sleep in our anticipation.  Come the morning, we made our way down to the Children's Hospital of Orange County, where the baby had been moved weeks before.  It was a long drive that I don't remember, so distracted was I with my thoughts.

Our arrival at the hospital was without fanfare.  I remember it was a sunny day, pleasant temperatures.  We were a rarity in the crowds -- Caucasian, middle class, blonde.  After some inquiries, we finally made our way to the NICU and rang the bell to the outer door.  The nurses were expecting us and quickly ushered us in.  Two baby stations to the right was a rocking chair and a glass case with a most precious treasure inside.  The attending nurse pointed us to it and we locked eyes on our new baby for the first time.

My first thought: "She's so small!"  Indeed, our own biological children had been born exceeding a sturdy 8 pounds, so that little thing was tiny to us indeed.

My second thought: "Are you sure this is the right one?"  The last thing we wanted to do was become too familiar with the wrong baby!  After we had been assured that she was indeed the right one, somehow I ended up being the one to take her out of the crib.  She was so very, very small.  She easily fit into one hand, even wrapped up in a blanket.  Babies in general look very much alike -- small, squished, rolls of fat -- but we were stunned by how much she looked like one of our babies.  I handed her to my good wife, whose face was filled with awe and a pure love.

And in that moment, she was ours.  We had an intellectual understanding that we were "just" fostering her, and that there was a chance she could be reunited with her biological family, but in our hearts we knew: she was ours, for then and for forever.  It would be a year-and-a-half to make it so, but we still knew.

I ended up changing her diaper first -- no biggie, as I am an experienced, hands-on father.  My wife watched in bemusement.  The day progressed boringly.  We had to wait for the agency social worker to arrive to sign the right paperwork, for the child to endure a "car seat test" to make sure she could handle the stress of travel, and for a small mountain (we have a whole mountain range now) of paperwork to get copied for us.  All the while, my wife and I pondered a name.

In the years we had been trying to have another child on our own, we had settled positively on the name Eliza Karen (two solid family names that pleased us when put together) if we ever had another baby girl.  It took us only seconds to realize that it didn't fit the baby at all, so we spent much of the afternoon mulling over names.

For my wife and I, choosing a name for our older children had always been a rather scientific process.  We would generate lengthy (!) lists of options, import them into a spreadsheet for highlighting and annotation, and go through them slowly removing the names we didn't like until we had a few final candidates.  From there the negotiating began between us, but we usually settled pretty quickly.  For this new baby girl, it wasn't so easy.  First, we had no spreadsheet, little access to the internet, and very few other ideas.  Ultimately, though, we felt really happy with Olivia -- a name we both thought was beautiful and from which we could derive several cute diminutives.  We weren't totally convinced, though, so by the time we were finally allowed to leave the hospital, we were calling her that tentatively.  It took us only a few days, though, for it to settle in without any doubt, then the hunt for a middle name commenced.

As it was, leaving the hospital was a very strange thing.  First, it was done while my wife was in full health -- indeed, we often joke that she looked her absolute best when leaving the hospital with our last baby and that it was the easiest recovery she had ever had.  Second, the baby wasn't ours!  We had a borrowed car seat, a borrowed baby bag, even diapers that had been given to us as a gift.  With only a day to prepare, everything we had for her was donated from our most amazing friends who lived nearby.  Even the baby girl was borrowed!  It was just plain weird driving away with somebody else's baby.

Then we were off to the offices of the social workers, where the baby's older half-brother was waiting to be picked up.  That story will be told another time, but even so, when we saw him, a blonde haired boy with fair skin and features, we wondered if she would be the same.  Time would confirm, surprisingly, that she, too, would look so very much like our own biological children.  Indeed, it will likely prove to be that nobody will ever doubt that she is our own flesh and blood because she looks so much like us.

This fact alone is amazing in its own right, but considering that most children in "the system" (~90%) are children of Hispanic or African-American descent, which we were prepared to accept, the fact we would end up with children that were not only Caucasian, but blonde and fair like our own children ... truly God aligned things this way for the eventual benefit of these children, who will never feel apart or different from our other children.

Upon arriving home with the two new children, she did what babies her size do.  She slept a lot, ate when she didn't, and pooped when she was doing those two other things.  Being born premature, she needed to be fed every 2 hours, which was downright exhausting.  My wife and I took turns feeding her, and we were exceptionally blessed that she was a well-mannered child who had no colic, ate as she should have, and only cried when she was truly uncomfortable.  Even so, we were terribly sleep-deprived.  Taking turns still meant that we would, at best, get 4 hours of sleep at a time.

After taking care of our older children -- who endured the difficulties in the home as champions -- and managing the extreme and difficult transition of the 3-year-old (again, another story!), we would go to bed facing a night where there would be too little sleep.  However, we looked forward to it.  The baby girl was warm and cuddly, didn't fuss unexpectedly, and didn't mind if we watched something on Netflix while she was eating.  (Indeed, we would both watch A LOT of TV in the middle of the night, something we had NEVER in our lives done before.)

These early days felt like the Twilight Zone to us.  We don't remember them well because they were such a blur.  I was managing a full load at work, my wife was taking care of a challenging toddler while home-schooling my pre-teen daughter, and the other two older boys needed attention to keep their school and other activities on track.  But we recall it as a happy time with her.

Soon, though, something didn't quite seem right with her upper lip.  We had seen children have a fat upper lip before due to the pressures of eating a bottle (or even nursing).  Hers, though, began to grow out in an unexpected manner.  When we took her to the doctor, we learned a new word: hemangioma.  Her blood vessels in her upper lip were growing beyond control.  The doctor indicated that it would eventually resolve itself, but it could take up to 10 years before it would return to a normal size; he recommended surgery immediately.

But that was not to be.  As a foster child, everything has to move through the courts, and the courts move excruciatingly slow.  It took over 9 months before we finally got approval to move forward with the surgery, and that only after we had to get grumpy with the county social workers who several times dropped the ball.  By that time, the hemangioma had grown excessively and she looked like she had a permanent fat lip -- or was a duck.  Her appearance was charmingly quaint in its own way, but as she grew we knew it wouldn't remain so.

Finally, after all that waiting, her surgery occurred on February 1st, almost a year after she was born.  The doctor's final report after the surgery indicated that he had removed about a golf-ball sized amount of flesh from her upper palate.  He was surprised by how far inside her upper mouth the hemangioma had grown, which accounted for why the surgery took several more hours than expected.  Nobody was pleased with the fact it had taken so long, and because of it, the surgery was more difficult for her than it would have been had the surgery happened six or more months earlier.  She may even have longer-term effects, but that remains to be seen.  Today, her upper lip is still enlarged, but not exceptionally, and she may have another surgery or two in her future to correct the shape of her mouth and to remove additional growth that wasn't cleared in the first place. 

Otherwise, she seems to have grown normally in almost every way, if a bit behind schedule.  She has received all sorts of services to help her out, including physical therapy and occupational therapy, and she is going to begin speech therapy in a few months because she's still not speaking as much as she should.  How much of these delays are inherent, how much are from the prenatal drug exposure, and how much from being born premature we do not know.  We love her even so.

A few months after bringing the baby home, we learned that her grandmother's sister was expressing interest in taking her.  We were exceedingly alarmed.  We came to find out that the grand-aunt had recently married an older fellow with grown children from a previous marriage.  We surmised he wasn't too keen on starting over with a baby, but she was interested in "starting" a family.  She lived out-of-state, though, which complicated matters for her.

At one point, she came into town to visit family, and a meeting was arranged between her and the baby girl.  We were exceptionally unhappy about this, but we didn't have the right to refuse.  My wife and I both went to this visit (which was unusual, because when it came to family visitations for the baby's half-brother, I always went alone while she took care of all the other kids).  We wanted her to see my wife and I together, so she could see that the baby was well loved and well cared for.  We think our gambit worked because a few excruciating months later we discovered that she had changed her mind about offering to take the baby and instead offered to take one of the baby's other half-sisters who also needed a place to go.  To us, this was always the more logical thing to do, and we were greatly relieved that she had come to this same conclusion.

(As an aside, had the grand-aunt lived in California, we most likely would have lost the baby immediately on her original whim to take her.  Happily for us, this wasn't to be, but unfortunately for the grand-aunt and for the baby's older half-sister, the cross-state-line-boundary problem, to date, still hasn't been resolved and they haven't been able to place the older half-sister with the grand-aunt, despite being willing and able to take her.)

On a lighter note, did I mention the baby is a total Daddy's girl?  Big time.  When I come home from work, she only wants to be with me.  When she's unhappy or hurt or bored or hungry or excited or thirsty or cold or warm or just right, she only wants to be with me.  I'm flattered to be the favored parent, and I love it.  Someday it'll probably be annoying, but a year-and-a-half later someday has not yet come.

Throughout all that time until just last month, we had social workers coming to our home on average once a week.  This was on top of the therapists coming and going to provide services for her.  We had social workers from the county, social workers from the agency, social workers from adoption services ... so many people who cared for the well-being of this precious little girl.  She'll never know how many people were involved in bringing her into our family, but we do, and we are amazed at the small army that it took.  Most proved to be competent and helpful, others not so much, but all of them played a role in her life.

Eventually, the courts worked their work and the parental rights of her mother were terminated.  No other biological family members were identified who could take her, so an offer was eventually extended to us to adopt her.  Would we take it?  Of course!!  There was never a doubt.  She is our baby!

From that point on, it was a matter of finalizing the adoption in the courts.  We arranged for a lawyer, the same one who had facilitated the adoption of her older half-brother a few months before; and this lawyer took care of the details of getting things in order and scheduling a court date.  Then, finally - finally! -- on August 30th, we were able to take this precious little girl before a very kind judge, who waved his hand, said a few magic words, and made her legally ours.  She cried through the whole thing.  (Of course, it was the middle of her nap time and the lawyer was late ...)  Our two favorite social workers terribly inconvenienced themselves (this is no exaggeration) to be there, which was wonderful!

But we weren't yet done.  While she was legally ours here on Earth, that wasn't good enough for us.  So we very quickly arranged for interviews with our bishop and stake president and scheduled time in the temple to take her to have her sealed to our family.  We decided that we wanted our parents in Utah to be able to attend the sealing, and we further concluded it would be fitting and poetic if we were to have this baby girl sealed to us -- our last child -- in the same place where my wife and I were sealed as husband and wife 15 years ago.

The Sunday prior to the sealing, we took our baby girl to church in a beautiful white dress and I gave her a "baby" blessing.  She wasn't a baby anymore, but it was a truly special experience for me to finally be able to stand before Heavenly Father and pronounce her name upon her.  After not being named by her biological mother, a temporary name by the nurses, and yet another temporary name used by the social workers as pronounced by her grandmother, it was with great pleasure that I was finally able to make her name her own, both here on Earth and in Heaven.  We named her Olivia Grace.  It was a fantastic feeling to finally make her name her own!  Her middle name was intentionally chosen, as we do indeed feel that she has been a gift to us, delivered by the grace of God.

The following weekend, we made a pilgrimage to the Jordan River Temple.  There, each of our other children were able to be in the room with our parents and many of our siblings and their spouses (and one of their children) when we were sealed to her.

That day, September 7th, was very special.  We first had lunch with my family at an all-you-can-eat buffet, which my older kids absolutely loved.  Those of my family who were able to be there joined us and it was wonderful to see my siblings celebrate the day with us.  One of my sisters actually traveled for 5 hours to be there (and then turned around and drove 5 hours home afterwards ... so amazing!).

My father wasn't doing so well, having had surgery on his foot a few weeks earlier.  He was in a wheelchair, but made the trip, anyway.  In truth, had my parents not been able to make it, we would have rescheduled, so we were glad they were able!

After lunch, we rushed off to the temple, where we took all 5 of our kids in the front doors with us -- a singular experience that we won't be able to repeat again until they are all grown.  We ran to the front bathrooms and changed clothes to put the kids in their church clothes, and our baby girl in her beautiful white dress.  After that, we ran outside to get a few pictures.

Returning to the front desk, we showed our temple recommends and took our children, hand-in-hand, inside the temple.  We delivered them to the children's waiting area, which had plenty of toys to keep their attention for a while.

My wife and I turned around and were led to the records area where we worked through the paperwork to be sure everything was in order (it was -- we didn't leave any of that to chance).  Then we were led into the changing rooms where we changed into our temple clothes and then led up to the main hallway where the sealing rooms were.  The attendant deposited us in a sealing room right next to the records office to wait for all our family members to be in place.  As it turned out, it was the same room that my wife and I had waited in prior to our own sealing 15 years earlier.  It was surreal to be in the same place as all those years before, holding my wife's hand, who was still my beautiful bride after all this time -- only more beautiful.

We sat there and appreciated the solemness of the moment.  15 years earlier, we were all atwitter with young love and were overwhelmed with the emotion of the moment.  The details of that long ago day remain a blur in my mind, but this past weekend my mind was clear, focused, and determined.  It was a day we had worked for, anticipated, waited on, and prepared for.  We had taught our older children the importance of the day and carefully crafted the order of events in the mind of our littlest boy so that the day would go smoothly for him.  It all came to that moment, and we were well-prepared and relaxed.  It was glorious.

Finally the sealer came for us.  He sat and asked us a few questions.  Asked us if we had any questions.  We had none.  We were ready, and he seemed unsure what to say to us after that.  I found it somewhat amusing.

One surprise we did have was that were not to hold the little girl during the sealing itself, but that we needed somebody else to do that.  We hadn't anticipated that, so we had no one in mind.  After some short discussion, we elected to have my wife's mother wrestle with her.  Did I mention our baby is a Daddy's girl?  We figured there were no good solutions, and that my wife's mother would be the most patient with a struggling infant.  It was the right decision.

Eventually, we were led to the sealing room.  We entered and saw both of our fathers on the left, ready to be the witnesses to the sealing.  That was a special treat in itself, as they also served as the witnesses at our wedding.  Our mothers and those siblings who were there made up the rest of the company.  Everybody just watched us.  My wife and I smiled graciously and took our seats.  The sealer came in and spoke a few words to us about what a great blessing it was to be able to adopt children and to bring them into the fold of God.

Then the moment came.  The children were brought in.  The older children were asked to stand to one side of the altar of the temple while my wife and I knelt on either end.  My mother-in-law carried our baby girl in her arms and leaned her over to be near us.  As the words of the sealing prayer were said, I held her little hand on ours while she just grinned in my face (Daddy's girl!).  She thought the whole thing was funny, and I couldn't help but beam with happiness back at her.  My wife, on the other hand, was caught up in the emotion of it all and quietly wept with joy as our family was finally brought to completion.  The daughter we had wanted, the one we knew had been prepared for us, was finally ours.

And just like that, it was over.  We stood and I, of course, took my newest baby girl into my arms, and we went around the room expressing thanks for people's attendance and giving hugs.  It was the sweetest of sweet moments.  All 5 (finally!) of my kids were well-behaved (miracle!) and it was with reluctance that we cleared the room.

The moment over, we went outside for a few more pictures and then to another family meal, this time with my wife's family, and the following morning we made the long drive home.  It was done.

And now we honestly, truly have 5 children, for now and for forever.  I always refer to them as my "handful", a not-too-witty expression which has the obvious double-meaning.  Clearly the road ahead is still long.  She's just a baby, and there will be problems as she grows.  We still don't know the extent to which she will be affected by the drugs and alcohol exposure she had in the womb.  Her developmental delays are obviously part of that, but how much more -- how much worse -- we will not know until time makes it evident.  Even so, she is finally ours!  No matter what the future brings, we will endure, we will wait, we will support her, and most importantly, we will love her with all of our hearts, for that is what true mothers and fathers do.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Disaster ... blessing!

I am now, FINALLY, a father of five! My wife and I adopted our foster daughter a few weeks back and then last Saturday we took her to the temple to have her sealed to us for eternity! It's amazing how things in life work out, sometimes and most importantly when you don't plan them. My wife and I were talking the other day how some of the greatest blessings in life come in the aftermath of disaster. A few examples from our life:
  • We had to sell our old home in order to be in escrow to purchase a new home. The one we wanted fell through (stupid lottery), so we were stuck in escrow with no place to go ... then ... home. We found our wonderful home that fits our family and which we love so much. Disaster ... blessing!
  • Our oldest son was being horribly bullied in his elementary school, so we elected to pull him out and home school him for a while.  Eventually, we enrolled him in a local charter school, and moved our other 2 children there, too.  It was a complete disaster -- no traditional teaching, unsafe environment, and our kids fell further behind in school (my daughter is still struggling with the math she didn't learn when she should have there ...).  We pulled the two youngest out right away and returned them to the original elementary school, but left our oldest son there, hoping things would get better.  They didn't, but they did bump him up a grade and because the charter school was in a different school district than the other elementary school, he was able to be put at the top of the waiting list for a different junior high/high charter school that we had heard good things about.  He soon got accepted, and the difference in the schools was night and day.  He finally had a place where he was being challenged, where no bullying was tolerated, and where he could fit in.  The new school has proven to exceed all our greatest hopes and is perfect for our family -- my daughter now attends there, too; and because they are there, the younger children were able to get into a new, affiliated charter elementary school.  Disaster ... blessing!
  • We tried for 2 years to get pregnant, only to have our happy pregnancy end in a horrible miscarriage.  After that, we tried for 4 (!) more years, with no success, secretly fearing that we were never going to have children again ... then ... adoption.  We fostered two children that complete our family and have recently adopted them and taken them to the temple to be sealed to our family for eternity.  Disaster ... blessing!
Through these experiences, we've learned to always be patient and to wait for the blessing that follows disaster, because, in our experience, they always come.  It is, of course, hard to see them on the horizon when our vision is clouded by the struggles of the day.  Even so, we press on!  (What else would we do?)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Our 1-Year-Old's Birthday

My brother-in-law noted that not one of his family members who keeps a blog has actually posted to their blogs since November of last year. Well, here's a post just to spite you, thou brother-in-law who has to point out my deficiencies!!

Anyway, so yesterday was our foster baby's first birthday. It came and went without much fanfare, which was rather unusual for us. Typically, birthdays in our house are rather eventful affairs and we always try to make them special for the child. Yes, even for 1-year-olds. This isn't to say that we didn't do the traditional stuff -- we did indeed open presents (mostly on her behalf as she just didn't get it, yet), eat cake, blow out a candle (also on her behalf, of course), and gave her her very own cake to eat all by herself (she wasn't so into that).

Later in the evening, my wife and I pondered the significance of allowing a one-year-old child who won't even hold her own bottle, yet, to get her hands all yucky and gross with shortening-based frosting that she would inevitably get in her hair and her ears and her eyes. Why do we do that to little babies? All we could think of was that it is tradition, and we dismissed the curiosity with the understanding that this is our last baby, so let it be.

The day itself seemed to come and go and my wife and I pondered why it didn't seem to be such a milestone. Perhaps it's because we weren't there for her birth, and didn't suffer through the whole pregnancy and birthing process for her. Perhaps it's because we haven't quite had her for a full year, yet -- that's still 3 weeks away. And perhaps, maybe just a little, it's because she's not yet ours.

I don't really know, but I do know we love her fiercely and our lack of enthusiasm is surely not for a lack of love for her.

Probably it's because we're just so very, very tired -- we have 2 people down with a nasty cold (myself included) and our baby girl is recovering from surgery that she had last weekend to "de-mass" her hemangioma. I think that's it ... I think I need to go take a nap ...

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.

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