Don’t call us, we’ll call you

November 6, 2016

Foster parenting, Day 9

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 8:57 pm

13 September

Don’t ever wait in the lobby while your foster child visits with his parents.

That’s the piece of advice I wish I’d gotten. That’s the piece of advice that I’ll always give to new foster parents I encounter. It was our first day of visitation and I didn’t know what to expect. As the court supervisor came out to get baby B and his mom, I asked, “Am I supposed to wait here? Should I give her this diaper bag? Should I give her food to take back?” To all of the above, she just said that I could if I wanted to, and she would call me if they needed me. I felt in limbo, unsure what was expected of me. Nobody offered further explanation. (Now that we’re on Day 61, it’s obvious that limbo is the norm, and explanations are hard to come by.)

Baby B was okay with mom holding him as long as Neal or I were in sight, but as they started to inch further through the solid, locking door, he began to cry. And as the door slowly closed, and his vision of me got smaller and smaller, he became frantic. I wished it was a sound-proof door because I could still hear his screaming for what was probably 45 seconds, but felt like 15 minutes. Neal went to pick up wipes, puffs, and baby food. And I sat and stared at the gray door.

I brought my computer to work (focus on what I can control, I said that all the time in those first days and weeks), but I kept hearing the baby’s cries in my mind. And it’s both hard and a bit dangerous to type important emails through tears. It turns out I mentioned where I was and my current emotional state in about 75% of my emails that day (thank goodness I have colleagues that are also friends . . . and even therapists 😉 ).

The court supervisor called me about 45 minutes into the scheduled two hours. She told me he finally stopped crying after 20-30 minutes, but mom thought he was really hungry and she wanted to know if he’d eaten. The thought of him crying for the first quarter of the visit brought fresh tears.

Every time I managed to turn my attention back to work, a new foster parent came in to drop off a child. I saw an adorable little girl skip in holding her foster mother’s hand, her dark brown curls bouncing up and down. When the intake clerk commented on how cute she was, the foster mother said, “Oh she looks cute, but she’s horrible. She’s really mean.” Later a toddler was carried in. She was old enough to be walking, but a bright pink cast covered her entire lower body — from pelvis to ankle on each leg.

Then there were the kids coming back out from their supervised visits. They emerged and often ran toward their foster parents for hugs and greetings. But then there was the glance back to the bio parents. Watching their confused and conflicted faces, I could only imagine what was going through their minds. Did I seem too excited to see my “new” parents? Who do I belong with? Should I be happy with both? Or neither? One little boy, in particular, just broke me heart. They came out a few minutes late and the foster mom seemed anxious to get on their way. “Come on, ___, let’s go.” Bio mom, in the meantime, leaned down for a goodbye, “Give me a kiss.” He just stood there. Foster mom already had his hand to lead him to the door, but he’s frozen in place while bio mom’s face is just inches from his. “Give me a kiss.” I don’t think he wants to. Finally, bio mom swoops him up in her arms and gives him a kiss, hug, tries to be playful. He never smiles. Finally, the supervisor intervenes to say it’s time to go.

I cried a bit more loudly and visibly at that scene. He shouldn’t have to kiss her. He doesn’t owe her anything just because she brought him into the world. But at just 4 or 5 years old, he has no control and no voice. And as the courts seek to balance the rights of the bio parents, the children will inevitably be required to do many things with and for their bio parents as if they do owe them something. And this was just one visitation lobby, in one county, in one state, in one country in the world. This scene plays out millions of times in millions of places.

When baby B finally emerged, he was calm but withdrawn. Mom didn’t hand him back immediately and seemed about equally withdrawn. But when the court supervisor finally said, “If you’re ready, ___, you need to give him back,” she teared up, gave him one more squeeze, and held him out to me. I cried too; I don’t know if she saw.

I was just a hair above non-functional the rest of the day. I sat slumped on the couch for several hours, crying intermittently, but smiling and feigning excitement whenever baby B toddled over to me. I felt the same crushing weight I remembered from the night I wandered the streets of D.C., wringing my hands about my Oliver and all the Olivers in the world. So much pain and suffering in the world, and this HSP  was breaking apart after just nine days of foster parenting and two hours in the lobby.

Don’t ever wait in the lobby while your foster child visits with his parents.


October 28, 2016

This is helplessness.

Filed under: Family, foster parenting, Motherhood — Tags: , , , — llcall @ 7:58 pm

I’ve started writing about this roller-coaster that is foster parenting several times, but nothing fully formed or realized. Having to speak in church last Sunday forced me to make the time to finish something. Here it is. 

When Tammy asked me to speak in the Primary program several months ago, I had no idea that I would be in the midst of one of the most profound emotional roller-coasters of my life. But in a way having this traumatized, needy foster baby dropped in our laps 6 weeks ago was amazing preparation for this subject. My topic is Jesus Christ as our Savior and it’s a very challenging one for me.

See, I’m kind of a can-do person. If there’s a way to accomplish what I want to do, I will find it. I’m a professor and manager by trade so if a question comes up that I can’t answer, I’ll research it until I can. If an instructor has a problem, I’ll figure out how to address it.

You notice all those “I”s? I can do this; I do that. There’s something almost antithetical about my strong feelings of self-efficacy and capability versus an ability and willingness to accept and rely on a Savior. I just like to do things myself if I can – and I almost always feel like I can. Somehow, I’ll make it all work if I just make a couple more spreadsheets.

It’s not that I’ve never had times in my life where I cried out for divine help. I’ve shared from this pulpit before about my years-long battle with depression and how the teachings from my childhood and youth about loving Heavenly Parents and a Savior Jesus Christ came back to me at key times to quite literally save my life. It’s just that it’s extremely difficult to keep that feeling in my mind and heart when my innate personality often runs counter to it, and instead toward a belief that I can do it myself.

But enter this 10-month-old baby B, who joined us on Labor Day (very fitting for what was in store). He’s been through a lot in his short life and it’s led to a few things that certainly caught us off guard. For example, an intense traumatic reaction to diaper changes. I don’t mean that he just doesn’t like them or cries or tries to squirm away; I mean that he quite literally would hold his breath until he turned blue and went limp. The first time I watched him do that was about the most nerve-wracking moment of my life because I literally thought he was dying right in front of me.

He also has a hypervigilance unusual for a baby his age. He can be fast asleep and motionless one moment, but if you so much as move your foot to leave the room, he is looking at you wide-eyed and screaming. You’re suddenly a traitor in his eyes because you planned to leave him long enough to take a quick shower.

And then there’s just the inconsolable crying. Whatever pain he’s experienced sometimes just has to come out in hours of pitiful screaming and “extreme breath holding” — the pediatricians term for it — that won’t be soothed no matter how much rocking, shushing, or swaying you do. In those times, he seems every bit as scared and disturbed as we are, trying to help him breathe but unable to make much of a difference.

Now this is helplessness. Perhaps the most extreme feeling of helplessness I’ve ever experienced because while I’ve experienced helplessness before with clients I was trying to assist, even toward my own physical and mental health issues, there was always a level of understanding. What the challenges were, why they would be difficult to solve. But this little guy: he doesn’t know why his life was turned upside down, why he’s changed hands so many times, why he gets so upset that he literally can’t breathe. There is no can-do attitude here; there is nothing I can do to take away the challenges that he has faced and will continue to face over the next months no matter how much research I do, or how hard I work. He and we are at the mercy of forces completely outside of our control.

But aren’t we all? Constantly? Even if we feel like we can make it all work with a little more effort or a carefully planned spreadsheet or just powering through. During those hard days and night with B, I often sing to him more for me than for him:

Be still, my soul: The Lord is on thy side;

With patience bear thy cross of grief or pain.

Leave to thy God to order and provide;

In ev’ry change he faithful will remain.

On one particularly harrowing night, I prayed so fervently, very uncharacteristically, “Please send angels to be with this little guy. He needs angels to comfort him right now. There’s nothing I can do.” None of my child development knowledge or sincere desire to soothe him were making a dent in his terror and anguish. He needed a Savior and I did too.

If I had more time, I would tell you about the angel that He sent, in the form of one of my students and a game-changing phone call with her. Even my skeptical Neal had to acknowledge how almost miraculous it all felt. So even for all my doubting and focus on all that I can do, I am grateful to know that there is divine help available to us. That we do have someone waiting to save us from all our entirely helpless situations. And I’m grateful that I get to teach that to these beautiful children so that when they find themselves in the dark times of their lives that these teachings from their childhood may come back to them and they will know who to turn to.

August 24, 2016

Many phone calls, no kids

I haven’t felt much like recording every little twist and turn as we wait for foster placements. But I got the urge today, so here I am. Since we were officially certified in February, we’ve had a number of phone calls:

  • March: 1 and 3-year-old sisters — turned down because it was just about a week before Neal’s brother’s wedding out of state and we didn’t want to miss it.
  • May: 2 and 4-year-old brothers — turned down because with our small house and only 1 kids’ bedroom, we cannot take a boy older than 2
  • June: 2-year-old brother and 4-year-old sister — turned down because once again, for us to take a boy, he has to be under 2 so he can sleep in our bedroom
  • 15 August: 2-month-old girl — we said yes, but she ultimately went to someone else (infants were always a long-shot because they are more sought after)
  • 18 August: 8-month-old and 1-year-old sisters — we haven’t officially gotten “the call” for these girls, but we’ve been told to consider it in case the judge rules to seek a pre-adoptive home next month

For the most part, I think I’ve managed to stay pretty patient and even-keeled about the ones that got away. I don’t regret attending the wedding at all, but how I wish that call would have come just two weeks later! I wish that we had about 200 more square feet and a third bedroom! I wish that none of these kids ever had to experience what they’re experiencing! I’ve teared up a bit with every single call; the wanting is always there, but I’m usually too busy to think about it until presented with the possibility of actual little humans coming to our house that day — and then it’s hard to think about anything else.

The patterns of my responses vs. Neal’s have been incredibly predictable, of course:

*ring. ring*

Social worker: We have two…

Me: Yes! We’ll take them! Can we pick them up yesterday?!

Neal: Don’t listen to her. She’s crazy. I have this list of 67 questions and once they’re answered to my satisfaction, then we’ll discuss it.

I think after several calls, we’ve started to meet in the middle. On the two-month-old, we whittled it down to only 4 questions and about 10 minutes of deliberation. That’s basically living on the edge for a Neal. Addison’s response has been a bit more perplexing; we thought she’d LOVE the idea of some little baby girls, but instead we got:

OH NO! I don’t think so! I do NOT want a baby. That sounds like WAY too much work. I will be changing diapers ALL THE TIME. I won’t be able to do anything else. No way!

I’m not sure where she got the idea that she would be doing all the childcare. Maybe it’s a sign that I still lay in bed too much? Or just a manifestation of her general feeling that she is already an adult equivalent to her parents? Let’s go with the second one.

Despite Addison’s anti-diaper-changing outbursts, it’s definitely the most emotional journey for me. I continue to go back to this post periodically to remind myself of the lessons I need to keep in mind. Right now it’s this one: Focus on what I can control. (Which should include my house, currently looking nothing like the neat space that passed inspection, but for today, I’m pretending like that’s completely out of my control!)

I brought back several file boxes from my teen years when I got back from my parents’ house this summer. I’ve been haphazardly glancing through them in an effort to look engaged in the cleaning process.

Quote page

On this busy page, my eye was drawn to the one quote scrawled sideways:

“We never become truly spiritual by sitting down and wishing to become so. You must undertake something so great that you cannot accomplish it unaided.”

– Phillips Brooks

This whole foster/adopt journey would seem to fall in that category, but especially an infant/toddler combo and the accompanying sleep deprivation. We’ll keep waiting to see . . .

April 21, 2016

Project Kiva

Filed under: Uncategorized — llcall @ 2:58 am

Back in September, I mentioned that I was reading a fascinating book, The International Bank of Bob, about one man’s experience with micro-lending across the globe via Kiva. While I don’t have the kind of money Bob had, it just so happened that my thoughtful sister-in-law, Robin-Elise, had gifted me a $25 Kiva card — just enough to start my own international bank. It didn’t take long for Addison to take an interest in what I was doing and the teaching moments ensued.

A few months back a work colleague and co-founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children how to serve asked if I would write a guest post about our experience. In February, I finally obliged with this guest post.


Addison just won $50 in a photography contest, so another Kiva loan may be in our immediate future. May the prettiest dresses win! (And they will if Addison has anything to say about it.)

April 4, 2016

Twelve years in the making . . .

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 5:06 am

Although Neal, Addison, and I all have a “one-word theme” this year in the form of a character trait we’re trying to work on, I’ve also been gravitating toward monthly goals again since I took up the February writing challenge.

Back in my git ‘er done year of 2011, I intended to finish Rach and Todd’s “wedding” quilt. “Wedding” is now firmly in quotes because while I started it in 2004 as a wedding gift, a fairly large mishap (warning: piece quilting while hopping mad can be hazardous to your quilt — I thought I could make rage quilting a thing, but alas) made it impossible to complete in its original form. I had to improvise to turn it into anything resembling my vision, and thus it became a baby quilt for their firstborn. And then, second-born. And so on.

Well, their fifth-born came along in February and by happy coincidence, I was heading their way for my brother-in-law’s wedding. I determined to finally GIT ‘ER DONE. For real. I’m actually ridiculously impressed with myself about this one — disproportionately so, considering it took me 12 years and 5 kids to get there. BUT I was leaving on March 21 and pulled everything out on the 16th with the resolve to bust it out. I truly enjoy piecing the top of a quilt. I tolerate the layering and quilting it all together. But I despise binding them. (I’m sure it’s because I haven’t practiced enough to get proficient at that part and the perfectionist in me gets very frustrated about that.) But I finally did it! Woot woot!


Triple Irish Chain pattern


The inspiration fabric


I’m not sure if I don’t do the quilt justice or if it doesn’t do me justice, but what an ordeal trying to get a decent picture! (The more Neal tells me to stop making weird faces, the more they flow from within.)

It’s not as perfect as I wanted it to be but it’s done . . . and just in the nick of time, since I finished hand-binding it in the car on the way to Rach’s house the day before we drove home. I hope this sweet little guy makes all kinds of messes on it 🙂


I didn’t do Baby J justice at all

March 8, 2016

February: Wrote!

Filed under: Adoption, Personal — Tags: , , — llcall @ 4:50 am

While I didn’t manage the 30 minutes every day that I wrote in my writing challenge “contract,” as of tonight, I have written for exactly 870 minutes over the last month. Five blog posts published here. One guest post written for another blog, which I’ll share when it goes live. One additional guest post labored over for altogether too much time and still an absolute hot mess. Not too shabby.

I feel that I’m still far from my ultimate goal, which is to get back to the feeling of writing flowing more effortlessly out of me, instead of pushing so hard to put words to complicated thoughts and feelings. It still feels “different.” (But perhaps I’m romanticizing the past, considering I had 254 post drafts when I checked back in here.) I think it feels harder to self-reveal than it has at other times in my life. Perhaps that’s just the wisdom of getting older? But if it is, I would rather stay foolish and push back.

One thing I learned for certain (which I kind of already suspected) is that 30 minutes per day  doesn’t work for me all that well. More often, I wrote for 1.5 hours on one day and then none for a day or two after (although on the days I really couldn’t get in any sort of groove, it was nice to feel like I could just stop after 30 minutes). Going forward, my goal is to write for 1.5 hours on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays. I need to keep tying it to another activity that always happens, so I decided to make it Addison’s bedtime at 7:15.

During the writing sessions when nothing was coming to me, I combed through all 254 of my post drafts trying to see which ones were worth revisiting and deleting the others. I only deleted 14; no doubt incontrovertible proof that I value my own thoughts and opinions far too highly! I also tried to make a list of all the “series” that I’ve started and still have hanging around:

  • One-word Themes: 2012’s Stronger recap, 2016’s new theme (yes, I picked one again this year for the first time since 2013)
  • Mommy Update (35 and 36 years)
  • Dearest Addison (unfinished birthday letters from her 3rd and 5th birthdays)
  • Mental Illness (which was intended to be a single post, not a series, but I’ve started over about 6 times, so now it’s a series, apparently)
  • A Spiritual History (overlapping with mental illness, obviously, which is probably one reason both have been so hard to progress)
  • A Dating History
  • A Study of Grief (prelude and follow-up to this post)
  • Therapy Week (a look back at ALL the therapy, including Marriage counseling: 8 Lessons)
  • Happiness Project Wednesday (apparently 3 or 4 of these never made it to publish back in the day)
  • Thesis Thursday (I have about 6 or 7 of these that I never posted while I was laboring through that project)
  • My Life in Lists (a random personal history based on lists)
  • (Play)Lists: My Musical History
  • Historical Jesus Studies (ever since I wrote this post, I’ve been on a bit of a journey about Jesus and I’ve read books and listened to lectures by some of the most famous historical Jesus scholars)
  • Forgiveness and Restorative Justice (started here)

Sometimes it was quite a kick reading through my old drafts. For example, I found a post with nothing written except a title: “All messed up. Awesomely dramatic, and probably fitting perfectly in at least 50% of these series!

Over the years, I know I’ve felt the strongest compulsion to write on mental illness, my spiritual history, and therapy. But dang, if those aren’t the hardest ones! I’m trying to remind myself of two things:

  1. What Brene Brown says about shame: “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy.” (On the whole, I’m a fairly low shame person, I think, but if/when I feel it, it’s about those three aforementioned things, and motherhood.)
  2. The process of foster/adoptive parenting pushes ALL the buttons. It will activate all the complicated feelings, so working to express them now will only help.

You can tell I’m trying to psych myself up. Care to join me? 😉 Also, does anything jump out at you as worthy of finishing?

March 5, 2016

Politics and the “Aloha Spirit”

Filed under: Books, Personal, Politics — Tags: , , , , — llcall @ 12:24 am


About a year ago, I read the book Unfamiliar Fishes, a history of the colonization/Americanization of Hawaii, by a favorite of mine, Sarah Vowell. Hawaii is fascinating, yo! Such a fusion of peoples and cultures! Such a history tied to the island’s incredible natural beauty! I was especially interested to learn about their impressive educational achievements, literally becoming one of the most literate nations on earth in a span of just over 40 years by in the mid 1860s.

But what stood out to me most was a statement Vowell came across in an internet forum debating the meaning of a particular Hawaiian word. A Hawaiian named Hoopii had prefaced his comments with this:

“As I read the comments posted by each individual about this specific forum, I do so in respect to each and every single person’s beliefs. I sense the passion in each of your concerns and I hope that I do not offend in any way.”

Vowell contrasts this “Aloha Spirit” with the statement of French philosopher Denis Diderot when he was working to compile the Enlightenment era Encyclopedie:

“All things must be examined, debated, investigated without exception and without regard for anyone’s feelings.”

While I embrace examination and debate, what a different world it would be if all prefaced their debate with Hoopii’s level of respect and concern for others’ beliefs and passions! But it’s tricky too, isn’t it? Over the past couple of weeks, I have posted several negative videos about Donald Trump on my Facebook page. I have felt truly compelled to do so if for no other reason than to let others know where I stand. I find many things about that man reprehensible, but the one that perhaps weighs on me the most is how I believe he is fanning the flames of racism (well, that and the fact that he has the strongest record of flat-out lies I’ve ever seen in the years I’ve been following the fact-checking website PolitiFact). My Facebook feed is a testament to the pluralistic society we live in with friends on absolute extremes of the political spectrum and everywhere in between. Sadly, my feed has sometimes revealed the success that Trump is having inciting racial animus, and it deeply saddens me.

And yet, still, I seek to have respect for others’ views, to look for their legitimate motives and beliefs, to still concern myself with their feelings. I challenge my students almost weekly to find common ground. I remind them that we are all human, and as such, have more in common than what differentiates us. But I’m finding Trump support to be one of the wider chasms I’ve encountered. I’m still trying to understand (this article was excellently thought-provoking on that point, though I’m not sure Trump fans themselves would agree) and I believe that I am capable of not allowing a stark political or philosophical difference to undercut a friendship, but I can’t say that I’ve always been concerned about whether I’ve “offended in any way.”

I still have work to do to internalize a Hoopii attitude. But is it always desirable? Are there limits to his civil and forbearing attitude? Thank goodness I’m losing sleep over this whole Trump phenomenon so I have more time to ponder that! Any thoughts for me?


March 2, 2016

Dinner at the zoo

Filed under: Family, Motherhood, Personal — Tags: , — llcall @ 6:31 am

This is what dinner looks like now.

Dinner 1sm - Copy

I went to work one day last year leaving behind the stereotypical dinner set-up: table, chairs, you know the drill. I never gave it much thought, but the chairs were well-proportioned, allowing my feet to touch the ground, keeping my knees in a pleasant, neutral position. The backs offered just the right reclining angle for digestion. But most importantly, the chairs were evenly spaced around the table, well-appointed for comfortable conversation for our family of three while still preserving personal space.

When I came home from work that day, our table and chairs were gone. When I casually asked, “So, where did the table go?” I got a feigned, “What table?” from Neal while Addison giggled in the background. The table and chairs I took for granted the day before had been banished to the garage because “it was too cluttered” and in their place were three tall stools squeezed together under our retro yellow tiled bar. Because who needs personal space while you’re trying to chew your food?

Certainly not our girl, who thinks her stool is in fact a very small stage on which she is intended to reenact life at the zoo on a daily basis.

Dinner 5 - Copy

Some days she’s a giraffe and my hair strands are the leafy nourishment that her prehensile tongue is made for, while I chomp on actual greens and try to coax her to do the same.

Other days she’s more carnivorous and nothing but a bite on my ear will satiate her hunger. In those moments, I miss the days of being arms-distance away, buffered by an oak table. But at least I can count on this ferocious warning first.

Dinner 12 - Copy

This week we watched The Sound of Music and nothing would do but to sing, “Climb every Lindsay! Climb high and low!” at the top of her lungs while trying to perch on my head. Until she crumbled back down in a fit of glee.

Dinner 4 - Copy

She cracks herself up, throwing her head back with utter abandon.

Dinner 2 - Copy

Sometimes, though, the circus-zoo-asylum closes early and she turns contemplative. She wonders.

Dinner 11 - Copy

So, how did God get created? How did that even work?

What is Heavenly Mother’s name?

Do you think we’re like God’s robots or something? Like God just thinks in his head what to do and then we do it? Like, beep boop, beep boop, she says, accompanied by sweet Mr. Roboto moves.

Do you think it was just the leaders in part of the South that wanted to keep slaves, and the other people wanted to let them go, but they couldn’t because the leaders didn’t want them to?, after a troubling lesson on the Civil War.

I’m more at ease with questions on the unknowable than I am with this more common view:

Dinner 8 - Copy

At least every other day, Addison or I or both end up in a tirade about how much we hate the stools. The roots of our problems are, of course, opposite. I rant because the cramped proximity of the stools makes it more difficult to eat in stillness; self-preservation requires that I fend off predatory attacks with one hand while trying to balance my fork in the other. She rants about the stools’ dangers when she’s come crashing down on the floor after trying to once again scale one of the stools as if she were a caged monkey at the zoo.

Some days I feel like crawling out of my own skin just to get through a few bites without a finger entering my ear or a little tongue licking my cheek before I even know what’s hit me. But then, I look over to command one last time and the eyes of my little baby girl are staring back. And I’m transported. For a moment, she’s 10 days old again and we’re gazing intently into each other’s blue eyes. For a moment, she’s not a perpetual motion machine, but my baby again.

Dinner 10 - CopyAddison baby 2 cropped

How could I ever give up on a set of stools that make dinner look like that?

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.

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