Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Try, Try Again

Last week, we failed our electrical inspection, in part because I'm no electrician. The inspector only comes this way on Wednesdays, so tomorrow is try #2 for the "rough-in" inspection. I expect we've met his expectations, but you never know.

Needless to say, with the electrical stuff, sheetrocking in the garage to satisfy the fire inspector, working a ton of hours (including last Friday, which I wasn't supposed to work) and generally spinning in circles, I haven't had a moment to think, much less write.

So now I've just finished writing a program for work and I'm sitting here listening to "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel.

Seems appropriate, somehow.

I think I'll grab the traditional bedtime bowl of cereal, watch an episode of "Friends", and pass out.

Wish us luck tomorrow. The inspector was not what you would really call cordial last week. He really, really, REALLY wanted us to hire an electrician. Sorry, Charlie. The budget's maxed out. This isn't rocket science. Deal with it. It's us or nobody.

If you've been keeping up with our saga, you're probably understanding by now why it is that they're crying out for foster homes. It's because it's physically impossible to become one.

Monday, November 21, 2005

To Inspect or Not to Inspect

If you build a house, obviously you're going to have to deal with various inspectors...there's no way around it. There seems to be more of a grey area when you're dealing with improvements to an existing home, however.

One school of thought says everything should be above board. When in doubt, get the inspector on the phone and line up to pay higher taxes when the assessment hits. These are the people that keep the public coffers from going bust (talking local here...the feds bust theirs year after year and it doesn't seem to matter). They have the distinct advantage of not having to worry about nasty surprises down the road due to unexpected problems with their home-improvement work, but they also have many more headaches along the way.

The opposing school of thought can be boiled down to a simple question. "Inspector? What inspector?"

This is true of all the basic sectors of home improvement, from plumbing to electrical to cement work and everything in between. A few years ago, Dad bought a permit to reshingle his roof. Yes, that's right. He had to pay a tax to maintain his house. Gee, I hope this year they'll let me pay a bunch of money to shovel the snow off my walk.

All of this is pretty academic in our case. As I've mentioned, we needed to cover up the foam insulation in our basement with wallboard, and as part of that effort we needed to wire up some outlets for the outside basement wall. I considered not bothering to get it inspected, but there are just too many potential problems when foster kids will be living here, especially given the litigious public atmosphere these days. I can hear it now: "There was a fire? Naw, it couldn't be the severely disturbed pyromaniac 13-year-old they're taking care of...must be the wiring they didn't pay a boatload of cash to have inspected."

Sigh. We have to do two rounds of inspections. We have the outlets "roughed in", which means they're in place and the wire is run out and dug into channels in the insulation, but nothing is hooked up yet. I imagine this allows the inspector to see that we're using the proper guage of wire, that we're not hiding anything behind the wallboard, and that we haven't stashed any dead bodies behind the basement walls. Then, upon receiving that first blessing, we are allowed to continue on and put up the wallboard, finish wiring the outlets, and call for the second inspection.

At that point, either the inspector signs off on this stuff or I sic Sophie on him. That'll show 'im.

Man, but these foster kids had better be worth it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Finally, News

As you may have noticed, we've had an extended period of enforced hibernation waiting for somebody to tell us something. Today we finally had our fire inspection...and the news is mixed.

On the one hand, we've been assured that our house has not burned down...nor is it particularly likely to do so due to bad wiring, inappropriate storage of flammables, or any of the usual hazards. On the other hand, if a fire were to start in our basement, we would probably die before we knew there was a problem.

Talk about your wake-up call.

The people who built this house clearly ran out of money before giving the house back to the bank. They sank a lot into it before giving it up as a bad job, so we have excellent siding, shingles and foundation; they did not, however, finish the basement. And when I say they didn't finish it, I'm not kidding. No wall board or anything. They used forms for pouring the basement that came with styrofoam insulation preattached on the inside, which is fine...until it catches on fire and eliminates all forms of life in the house from the fumes. Bacteria would not survive.

The fire marshall, being on top of his game, blithely informed us that along with a couple of other minor things that can be taken care of in an evening with materials we already have, we must also put up wallboard over all exposed styrofoam on the walls before being allowed to be showered with the blessings of pseudo-parenthood. That's bad enough in itself, but further problems arise when you consider that we want that basement to be finished and finished well. We had planned to do so all along, but only as we got the money, time and energy. Now we have to do it right now, which means that we have to get the electrical wiring in place before putting up the wallboard. Who wants a basement when you can't have a pinball machine, soda fountain and cheesy decorative light above the pool table?

Who you gonna call? Dad!

My parents are the most wonderful, forebearing people on the face of this planet or any other. They were here within 4 hours to begin emergency operations, and will be here for an unknown period of days. Ya think they want grandchildren out of this deal?

I call the electrical inspector in the morning to arrange for a permit and get any necessary instructions so we won't have to rip out a bunch of wallboard because something doesn't meet expectations. Tonight we picked up some special glue-caulk and 250 ft. of 12-guage wire. The Wife and Dad will be running to Menard's tomorrow to get junction boxes, extra sheetrock screws, and assorted other electrical and sheetrocking materials, and they will begin operations that I will join immediately upon getting home from work.

No rest for the wicked...but I hope and pray and plan to have this gig in the bag by Thanksgiving. Looks like we'll have the basement-finishing project much further along much faster than I thought even this morning.

The greatest news is that I think we're done with the fire inspector. The three changes he ordered simply need to be verified when they're done by our licensing social worker, and that would be the day we sign contracts and become officially licensed. "Vicki" has already informed us that when that day gets here, if there are placements available she'll probably be on our step with some Little Darlings in tow.

This is much, much, MUCH easier to take when there are concrete actions we can take ourselves to hurry the process along. Sitting around waiting for who-knows-what was starting to stress my vital organs. This I can handle.


Friday, November 04, 2005

Self Doubt

Since we started out on the road to fostering, I've found myself growing more and more acutely aware of children. Children in the neighborhood, children on television, coworkers' kids who sometimes show up in the office, and so on.

I've also become far more acutely aware of how people treat their kids. It never ceases to amaze me when I see parents who are lucky enough to have their own child, or two, or however many, and they consistently treat these children with the same attitude I might have toward my car. It's a good car, sure, but it's nothing special, and I don't really have to think about it much unless it's acting up. People who treat their kids like that just have no idea how lucky they are, and I wish it was my place to slap them across the face just to make them wake up and understand that in 15 or 20 years, they'll sorely wish to have these days back.

Thinking about all this, I also have a lot of doubts about my ability to help kids that have gotten off the right track. I've never had kids. Who am I to give direction to someone else's child? Why should I even be interested in trying? I don't know the answers to these questions yet, and I'm 100% positive they will be hurled at me (along with some really juicy invectives) by angry parents who have had their children removed from the home and are looking for someone to vent on. The foster parents always make an appealing target.

But I know I do have some ability. Today a neighbor lady came over to visit with her child and their dog. She's a nice enough lady...I've only met her once or twice before, though The Wife sees her regularly lately for coffee and visiting. I was sitting in the living room and the little boy, perhaps 5 or 6, came in and asked me if it was okay to play with the dogs. I decided this was a chance to see if I could still relate to someone his age, so I told him sure, that would be okay, just be careful of the new puppy since he gets overexcited sometimes.

I then told him he should be careful with Tasha, as she is friendly but much older and can't play as hard. He went through a litany of questions about whether the dogs' bones were real bones or fake, how we got those dogs, and a bunch of others. We went outside, and while playing he found a screw in the grass left over from when we installed raingutters and brought it to me. I thanked him and told him to bring me any others he found, as they wouldn't be good for someone to step on.

Back inside, he noticed my computer game (Civilization II), so I had to explain that this was about growing a country and fighting wars and making peace and so forth. Back into the other room (he moves at amazing speed) and he sees some decorative perfume bottles, which he pronounced "magic potion bottles". I agreed, and told him they were The Wife's, and he'd better be careful with them because she's a magical lady. "Really?" "Yes. That's why I married her. She's the most magical lady I know." He paused and thought about that. Then a big grin, as if to say "I don't know if you're having me on or not, but she's pretty neat and I like her, so she could be magical!" Then back outside, where he tried unsuccessfully to teach the puppy to fetch, and so on.

He was such a little man, and behaved wonderfully. His parents should be congratulated. But today's experience was a reaffirmation to me that if you treat a child just like a small person, without talking down to them or condescending to them, they tend to rise to the challenge (within their natural limits, of course) and can be very entertaining company. I'd spend an afternoon with that little boy far sooner than I'd spend the same afternoon with many software engineers or middle managers I've worked with.

That's all pretty easy with a child from a good home who doesn't have any critical issues he's fighting. I really hope I can keep the same unjaded, naive attitude toward these things when I'm faced with my 20th kid that's been sexually abused, neglected, beaten or whatever and is acting out horribly. That's the real grinding task for a foster parent...to be able to treat the 50th kid the same way you treated the first one that walked in your door, with no preconceptions and an open heart and mind after 5 kids in a row have violated your trust every way they could think of.

I just don't know if I have the kind of stamina for this that Mom and Dad had. I also don't know if I have the stomach for sending a kid back into an environment where I feel positive he or she will be abused again. I don't know how cops do it. How do you not just pull out your service revolver and pop a cap into the back of some guy's head when you catch him in the act of sodomizing a little boy or girl? How do you not punch some smirking lawyer in the yap when he knowingly convinces a judge to order a child sent back into a home where the mom is a drunk, the dad is a drug dealer and the older brother routinely abuses the child in ways that make a pimp cringe? What's legal is most certainly not always what is right. They often have little to do with each other.

But I'm not truly worried about my temper getting the best of me...at least not like I used to be. It's a small chance I would be put in most of the graphic, immediate situations cops would have to deal with. I'll be able to keep myself from doing anything really foolish, I'm pretty sure of that now. I guess what I'm not so sure about is my ability to keep knowledge of that sort of thing from staining my soul too deeply. For a guy in his late 30s, I've got a pretty idealistic outlook in general, and I don't want to lose that. I know many people who are very worldly, and cynical, and oh-so-sophisticated...but not one of them is genuinely happy.

Many people believe that the opposite of happy is sad or angry. I believe the opposite of happy is cynical. To me, cynicism is actually an acknowledgement of hopelessness, fatalism and maybe even nihilism. I don't indulge in those very much...yet. And I don't want them to overtake me.

Will I make it? Do I dare try? I guess I do. I'm in the game now. God be with me.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Avian Flu

I'm pretty sure I have it. I saw a bird in the yard just the other day, and I'm sure it was contaminated, and I went and caught it. Either that, or it's just November and I've got my yearly chestquake going on. Whatever, it wasn't enough to keep me from work.

Speaking of which, wonder of wonders, I actually made my big deadline on Tuesday, clearing the way for a period of less-intense work and more bandwidth available to deal with those millions of children you hear about that desperately need foster homes. I've even got tomorrow and next Friday off as comp time for the hundred or two extra hours I put in over the last month. It would be a good day to come calling and wrap things up, wouldn't you say, "Vicki"?

I really didn't mean for this site to degenerate into a personal diary. I wanted to provide sparkling wit and incisive commentary on the challenges presented to modern foster parents, and perhaps a tip or two for others in the same situation on how to deal with or avoid the kinds of problems we encounter. But I have to admit, dealing with the bureaucracy--or more accurately, getting the bureaucracy to admit we even exist--has been even more trying than I expected.

So I guess I'm reduced to mumbling to myself and whining to whoever stops by to check up on my "life". Sigh. Such is life.

But whatever you do, don't believe that they really need foster parents. It can't possibly be true, after the amount of flak we've had to dodge and the tremendous ignoring we've had to endure for many weeks now. And I'm pretty sure it's not "Vicki". I don't know who it is, but I just have a feeling she's as trapped as we are in this quicksand.

Is there anybody steering the ship for these kids? Tune in next time. I'm going on the offensive when I'm feeling better, and if there's not some movement, or at least acknowledgement of our existence, it's gonna get ugly.

Real ugly.