Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 28, 2016

A foster-adopt update

The last couple weeks of writing I’ve been trying to tackle those two guest posts that I’ve promised for other blogs. I am daily feeling how much “writer’s block” I still have. I think writing 30 minutes per day is the best way to get back on track. But it’s also occurred to me that maybe for a few days or weeks, I should just write whatever comes easiest. Or in this case, what everyone keeps asking about!

Back in May 2013, I published part IV of my “new life story.” (Incidentally, that post is an important example of why I need to write, even when it’s hard, especially when it’s hard. I remember how difficult it was to put some of those thoughts into words and it took me about 8 full months to do it to my satisfaction. But oh, the strength I’ve gotten from re-reading it! It reminds me of things that feel crucial to continuing to move forward in my life.) How often do you write a short synopsis of what you’re going to do over the next three years . . . and it actually ends up being accurate?

In a few months, we plan to move a few hours away to a different county in California. Once there, we’ll restart the process of understanding the local public and private adoption resources, particularly focusing on foster-to-adopt programs. When Addison is between five and six years old, we hope to foster-to-adopt a sibling set of two kids. Maybe a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Or a six-year-old and a three-year-old. Or possibly a five-year-old and twin babies. Or . . . you get the idea. There’s an endless number of specific combinations, but we’d like the older child to be around Addison’s age.

Um, nailed it! Addison is six now and we’re officially certified foster parents. Hurrah! We’re still hoping for a “sibling set” (which my friend Lindsay says sounds awkwardly like we’re buying furniture — totally not how we think of it, in case you were wondering, but it’s the lingo), with the older child being close to Addison’s age. We’re still open to various age combinations, though Neal is really really REALLY hoping that we still get to sleep (AKA not an infant).

In the intervening almost-three years, we feel like we’ve done our homework. We went to orientations with both our county and explored some private agencies before we settled on one. We’ve attended a foster-adopt support group off and on for about a year and a half. We’ve read more books (obviously) and loads of regulations and manuals. And then there were the official trainings: PRIDE, CPR, first aid, and water safety.

Of course all of that was easy compared to getting the house ready! Some foster families struggle with the little nitpicky things, like locking up all knives, household cleaners, scissors, and medications. But us? They had to gently recommend that we get ACTUAL BEDS. (Apparently, nobody can be sleeping on little foam pads in the closet. Who knew?) Neal used his massive collection of power tools — did I ever mention he won the Ryobi contest? THANK YOU! — to build us a new bed frame, locking medicine cabinet, and more garage storage. A sweet sister from our ward gifted us a nice cozy mattress for the kids’ room. I dejunked like crazy thanks to a Minimalism game my sister-in-law Robin-Elise started on Facebook. I jettisoned almost 2000 items in November and December, even spending New Year’s Eve cleaning just so I could finish (because: goals).

Our final inspection was on January 5 and the house never looked better. (And surely, never will with a couple more kids in the mix!) We passed with just one minor recommendation: to change the location of the carbon monoxide detector.

So now we wait for a phone call. And try to keep the house from seriously degrading in the meantime. And continue to help Addison understand the actual import of what will happen next — not just her idealized version of big sisterhood. One of those recent such conversations ended like this, “Well, I didn’t really think about the sharing so much. Maybe I just want it to stay you and me and dad forever.” Heaven help us!

February 22, 2016

The Sweet Spot

Filed under: Books, Personal — Tags: , , , , , — llcall @ 10:48 pm

sweet spot

“Another self-help book?” That’s what Neal said when he saw me reading this one Victoria recently recommended.

Always, is my response. I love nonfiction, in general, whether it’s about history or baseball or the recent financial crisis. But self-help books based on research into happiness and habits? Yes, please! I have to admit that after reading so many, portions begin to get repetitive. Like Gretchen Rubin, Christine Carter cites research from Daniel Gilbert and Sonja Lyubomirsky, for example, both of whom have their own excellent books I’ve read. But still, I enjoy seeing the different emphases each bring to the table. And as my life changes, I find that different pieces of advice apply that didn’t before — like setting boundaries around smartphone usage that I never had to worry about before last March.

In some ways, I struggled with The Sweet Spot because it is just SO packed with tips and suggestions. Gretchen’s Happiness Project and Happier at Home felt easier to digest because she was not so much attempting a formula or comprehensive how-to for success as sharing her story of efforts and attempts. I felt pressure to absorb what I could before I had to return The Sweet Spot to the library — as it was, I was two days overdue — and it just felt impossible. But I suppose that’s also an endorsement because I wanted to own it and mark it up.

While this is in no way a summary of suggestions from her book, I wanted to record some of the specific action items and insights I am taking away (some of these are efforts that I started before reading the book, but that I’ve tweaked based on some of her ideas):

  • Set “priority” calls. I’m very sensitive to noise (have I mentioned that a time or two or thirty?), especially when I’m trying to focus. Whenever we are all home together, you can bet my phone is probably muted simply because a ringing phone is extremely jarring for me. But ever since Addison started school, I’ve been paranoid about always having my phone on during the day. So when Carter said that during her work and writing time, she only takes calls from her kids’ school, I knew I had to get right on that. I guess they don’t call them “smart” phones for nothing! I’m still a little paranoid that my priority setting won’t work correctly and I’ll miss something essential, but if it works, this will be UH-MAZING for my life.
  • Stop multitasking. While we all multitask in some things, the biggest thing I’m working on is to keep my email closed whenever I’m not actively working on it. For much of the time, I’ve been teaching online, I’ve been in the habit of keeping my email open while grading or working in other areas of my course. I’m rededicating to keeping email separate from other tasks.
  • Have more fun. I keep coming back to this periodically . . . and I keep sucking at it. Ever since Neal’s sister Robin-Elise blessed us with Netflix, we’ve been pretty good about watching a comedy show together a couple times a week. But beyond that, I’ve created no specific escapist activities. Sometimes I’ll get sucked into watching comedy clips on YouTube or a funny animal video, but the sort of consistent “recess” Carter describes continues to elude me. (In looking back at some of my previous posts, I realized that I have even cut out some of the things I used to do for fun.) I’m trying something new this month: comedic audiobooks. I just finished both of Mindy Kaling’s books (the faux eulogy at the end of Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is HILARIOUS, by the way) and now I’m on NPR’s Laughter Therapy for the Chronically Serious because the title was just too perfect not to. I’m finding dishes and food prep much more enjoyable with this addition, though at the rate I’m going, I’m going to run out of the library’s humor offerings too soon.
  • Tie activities together temporally. Actually, I can’t remember what she called this strategy, but the point is this: if I want to write for 30 minutes per day, I have to tie it to another activity that always or almost always happens. Carter’s biggest example is her workout routine, which she does right after getting up because no matter where she is, she always has to get out of bed. Last fall I tried to carve out some writing time and even though I put it on my schedule, it never happened. So this month, I’m trying out tying it to two different parts of my day: (1) right when Neal leaves to pick Addison up from school — perfect because it’s in the middle of the day when I’m usually more energetic and they’re gone for about 30 minutes exactly; not so perfect because 3 days a week this event doesn’t occur (one day we volunteer at school and the weekend). (2) Right when Addison goes to bed — good because that happens every single night (hallelujah!); not so good because I usually feel exhausted by then and it’s prime time for my evening meetings. I wish I could find one set time every day, but for now, I think I will have to live with this fluidity. (The next activity I need to tie to something else is exercise. I’ve been walking periodically since October, motivating myself by listening to my favorite Marketplace podcast only while I’m walking, but it’s still hit or miss in part because I haven’t settled on a specific time and tied it to another activity that always happens. Any suggestions on that one?)

I think the most fascinating chunk of the book for me was the part on “cultivating relationships,” even though I didn’t necessarily come away with any action items. Her first sentence of that chapter is not news: “If we look back at the past two centuries of research in sociology and psychology, the single strongest finding about our well-being is that our health, happiness, and longevity are best predicted by the breadth and depth of our positive social connections . . . .” But she shared some interesting findings about the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, the social thinking part of our brain (also called the “default system” because it’s literally our brain’s default) that I was not familiar with. We moved to the mountains for many reasons — the natural beauty, cost of living, and reduced consumer culture, chief among them — but in doing so, we also moved away from some of our closest social connections. While we’ve made new ones up here, it’s hard to replace family, and reading study after study about social ties has got me reexamining some of our biggest decisions through that lens.

So, another self-help book? Heck yeah.

February 9, 2016

February: Write!

Filed under: Personal, Social Services — Tags: , — llcall @ 4:49 am

I managed all of 8 blog posts in 2015 — and most of those were before February 3, it turns out. Not a stellar year for my blog.

Which would be okay if I had moved on to some other outlet, but what actually happened is that I got numb. I know I’ve mentioned this to so many people over the last 8 months or so that you’re all like “Numbness . . . blah, blah, blah” when I say that, but hear me out! You know I’ve had years of experience with depression. Although I feel that I’ve mostly conquered that battle, sadness is still like a warm and comforting blanket for me. But numbness, not feeling anything, or at least not strongly enough to put it into words . . . now that is scary. It feels terrifyingly dehumanizing. That’s the wrestle I’ve been engaged in since about May 20th.

I know the date because I did write a blog post about it (entitled Wasted. if you were wondering — the period is important there). Someday that post may see the light of day, but for now: something traumatic happened. A child I cared about was harmed in a terrible way by another child, a sibling I cared about. And simultaneously, I realized that all the blood, sweat, and tears I had put into supporting that family was for naught. “That family” would never be a family again.

Of course, it’s not my fault. I did what I could. But isn’t that the most terrifying part?! I did everything I could and it still didn’t make any difference when faced with intergenerational poverty and cycles of family violence and substance abuse and . . . I hate to live in a world like that, but that is the brutal reality. In the face of this wrestle, I’ve struggled to express myself even in simple ways.

But that’s all prologue now.

In January, I went to the Life Writing class I used to participate in when I lived with my parents. I hadn’t been since last March (when I wrote and shared this). A group of women were participating in a writing challenge in the month of February. I didn’t think much of it that night because, you know, I might get two foster kids in the month of February and writing will be the least of my worries. But as I mulled it over, I realized that if I’m going to break through this numbness, I need to write again.

Back in August 2010, I took an online quiz about what “creative type” I am. (I know this because I wrote a blog post draft that also never came to fruition, one of 254 in that category.) This is what it told me:

Creativity gives you insight

You feel that creativity provides insight into your own being. In fact, it is like therapy for you, enabling you to get to know yourself better. You seem to be looking for a way into the mysteries of the subconscious. It’s not really self-expression you are seeking, but rather the tools of self-expression: discovering what your creation will reveal about yourself. Art helps you reflect on, analyse and expand your personality. You long to be creative, and it’s not just because you need to deal with your emotions. It’s the tension between contradictions, and the need to resolve doubt that drives you to be creative. Painting pictures, decorating rooms, arranging shells in the sand — these are all creative processes that allow your introspection to roam. You can trace your life through the different ways you have exercised your creativity. For you, art is there to make sense of life. You are more attracted to artistic activities that demand reflection, planning and solitude, and the personal discoveries you make often provide answers for others, too.

Let’s be honest, I don’t really understand what all of that means. I’m not seeking self-expression “but rather the tools of self-expression.” Um, okay. (Someone explain that to me in the comments.) But I must say that overall, it’s a pretty good descriptor of why I wrote and why I need to write again. How will I get through this life-altering experience of foster parenting if I don’t write about it?

So, although I decided to start my own challenge on February 8th to get past some busy weeks, I’ve officially carved out 30 minutes per day to write for the next month. I’ve promised a guest post to two other blogs, but you’ll see me here a bit more too.

I’ve missed this space and YOU! (The 5 or 6 yous that tell me you still check here occasionally.)

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