Saturday, September 30, 2006

Saturday Mornings...Aaaahhhhh

I sit here listening to the coffee perk, watching the sun rise and counting my blessings. I have two beautiful "daughters" and an even more beautiful wife snoring away in their respective bedrooms (she'll deny it, but The Wife snores like a Mack truck sometimes). It's silent and still outside, and it's nearly peak fall foliage season.

The aspen gives us sprays of bright yellow, here and there a maple glows that special orange, the oaks stand starkly in their solid brown robes, various kinds of trees and underbrush give us a more general yellow mellowing away to tan, and in our neck of the woods the plentiful sumac stitches a framework of fiery red through the whole portrait.

A few traces of clouds brilliantly reflect the rising sun down on the world. The upper reaches of the trees now brighten as the rays reach them, leaving the lower reaches of the woods to momentarily dwell on the last traces of the night's darkness before they too give in to the new day's promise and yield up the full measure of their color to this wondrous fall landscape.

Yes, winter is coming--and that will yield its own pleasures and sorrows--but look at what is here now. It's glorious, glorious autumn in full bloom, and he who doesn't drink it in and revel in it while he can is a damned fool.

A day will (hopefully) come when I'll be an old man sitting in my chair and contemplating a life nearly finished. I'll be looking back on all the people I shared my life with, counting the mistakes and triumphs, and pulling back certain memories to get me through the long remainder of my days.

This morning will certainly be one such memory.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Pounding Down the Home Stretch

I'm almost done with my current job...4 more business days, then a long weekend off and on to the next career adventure. Oh, I'll probably stay in touch with The Boss from time to time and maybe even do some contract work for him (since I know a lot of that system like the back of my hand), but The New Boss will have to take priority.

So now I'm just trying to make it to that long weekend, and this afternoon I developed a really bad stomach ache. I got done with work and went home to lay down, but of course dads don't always get to lay down when they want to. There was supper, and then "Jenny" to entertain for at least a little while (she deserves at least a LITTLE attention each and every day, right?) And then I had to compose a letter to a birthmom for our adoption profile, which ran me right out of interesting things to say for tonight.

Now my stomach is a bit better, so I think I'll go lay down and watch the Vikings get hammered again on NFL Replay.

Oh, and thanks for reading. I checked my sitemeter for the first time in awhile and it looks like there's been more than 50 of you today. Wow. I had no idea there was such a market for the maunderings of a guy sitting at his computer in rural Minnesota.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


When "Angel" first saw me, her first word was "Daddy!" Beth saw this immediately for what it was...RAD. I was forewarned, but I still enjoyed the sound of it coming from that little girl. There was a lot of heartache with the whole "Angel" saga, but there was good stuff in there too, as longer-term readers of this blog know.

Now I have a new "Daddy" situation.

"Jenny" likes me. A LOT. She's right there when I get home from work at night, and mostly stays with me until her bedtime. She's made the spot next to me at the supper table her own. I've had to make a nightly habit of walking Willy and telling "Jenny" that's our "guy time". Not because I don't like her, but because that's my alone time, which as a card-carrying introvert I need regularly.

"Jenny" wants me to tickle her. She wants me to watch TV and/or movies with her. She just wants to spend time with me...and I don't blame her. As far as I know, I'm the first steady, always-there father figure in her life who pays attention to her. Plus, I'm her main source of gumballs. Not only am I "Daddy", I'm also her sugar the most literal sense possible.

Last night, I finally tired her out enough that she started to mellow out. We had gone into the garage so she could play on the motorcycle and lawnmower (one of her favorite pastimes), we had several pillow fights, I tickled her until she almost threw up, and on and on until she laid down on the couch next to where I was sitting and put her head in my lap and watched TV with me.

Suddenly she lifted her head and looked at me with a quizzical expression on her face and said "Daddy..." Just like that, including the elipses. It was thoughtful, almost like she was trying the word on for size to see if it fit. Apparently it did, because a smile of something like relief lit her face, and she said more confidently "Daddy."

This is NOT a case of RAD. This girl seems very, very normal. Her home life has not been as problematic as some we've seen, she's very well-adjusted in most areas, and she's had some time to get used to us and her new (if temporary) home. She lives with her stepfather and mother, and her stepfather's work keeps him away from home a majority of the time, and the time he is there seems to be spent mostly either sleeping or on the computer.

This appears so far to be a simple case of not having a man who has stepped up to the plate and been there for her the way a dad should. Well, here I am, girl. I'm not your "real" daddy, and I can't be your daddy forever, but while you're here I'll do the best job I can. I'll help make sure you're clean, and fed, and get your exercise and your meds and I'll love you the best I can.

Parenting is powerful and important stuff, and I'm starting to get a sense of the awesome responsibility and difficulty I've invited into my life. There are things I can do for these kids and more things I can't. It gets difficult to keep them separated sometimes...but I think I can be a temporary daddy for this girl if that's what she's craving.

I know that feeling well. I've had my daddy in my life since I was born, he did a great job all my life, I still see him regularly and I still crave him sometimes when he's not around. Daddies don't grow on trees, and I guess people who don't have enough of a daddy will grab on to whatever looks like it might work to fill that void.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sharing and Support

Part of our training is attendance at "sharing and support" meetings. This is where all the local foster parents get together at one of our houses and kvetch about our latest problems to the group and pick up as many tips and tricks of the trade as you can. It's probably the most effective training available to us.

The lady who usually hosts these things is a real master of the art. She's a psychologist at the school "Josie" attended and they know each other well. She's also a foster parent of at least three teen girls herself, and her husband has the unique hobby/semi-profession of doing equine therapy with local teens. If you've seen the movie "28 Days" (with Sandra Bullock) then you may recall the scene where they have to deal with horses. This is that. "Josie" has participated in that, as well.

We discussed "Josie's" status as well as that of our current charges, and she expressed real concern for "Tammy". She says "Tammy" is one of those kids that she is always afraid she'll be getting a call in the night saying that she did herself in. Funny...I could see that out of her maybe, but certainly not right now. At least not until it gets closer to the time that she has to go home and deal with her family again.

Sigh. The life I've chosen for myself is a difficult one if I can put a positive spin on not having to deal with a suicidal girl "right away".

Anyway, it was very instructive to hear more of the history behind her situation. This girl is a deeper pool than I thought. She's definitely got a dark side...but she's also got a very gentle and kind side. I've seen it myself. And any girl who hugs like she does is a girl looking for someone who will just accept her hugs and return them.

Can do. But tonight and for the next day or two, it's been raining and her family is working the harvest, so they're idle and she's with them visiting. Wonder if she's getting to bed at a reasonable hour tonight. Wonder if they're treating her the way she deserves to be treated. Wonder if she'll need extra-long and extra-many hugs when the visit is up and she has to be parted from her mom again.

Wonder why Mom & Dad and The Wife and I care so much, when so few other people seem to. I guess that's one of the things I wonder about the most.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Big Surprise

Tonight I went to The Boss' house and tendered my resignation, effective the end of business two weeks from today.

That is the reason I've been...distracted. The original plan, you see, was to move to that town I've written of here before. I had already mentally packed my bags, since there just aren't that many software jobs outside of towns of a certain size.

Except that that's not true anymore. I began to look around and realized that there were several possibilities within a sane commuting distance...and I have a lot of good experience. I'm pretty hireable, as these things go. So one night while I was scouring the web, The Wife points me to an ad in the Minnesota Job Registry (or something like that) for a software engineer located only about 15 minutes away. Seemed too good to be true, but what the heck. I fired off a resume and promptly forgot about it.

It was after several interviews a couple of hours away that I received a call back on this job, and was I still interested? Sure. Let's talk.

We talked. We haggled. We got to know each other a little bit. Today I accepted the job, and I start October 9. I even get a 5-day weekend between jobs. What could be better? Dad needs help shingling the cabin, and I need to spend a long weekend working on the cabin with Dad.

I get a long weekend at the cabin working with Dad on a project. I get a new job, one that promises not only a retirement plan (one of the biggest lacks of my current job) but a higher salary, better all-around benefits, much more room for advancement and more interesting work.

I get to stay living in the most wonderful countryside on the planet outside of a Disney theme park. I get to stay in the house we've busted our asses fixing up for the last year and a half. We get to keep our wonderful social network, one like I haven't had since I was a kid. We can finally comfortably officially join the church we've been attending where we are already pretty much fixtures.

We get to keep fostering the great kids we have, and we get to keep our new-but-growing reputation as a good foster home for teen and younger girls. I get to keep dreaming of the time when I'll be able to afford to get our boatlift fixed up and in the lake with a dock and a boat on it, and I can fish when I get home from work in the summer.

I love my life. And now I get to keep it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

First Night of Fall

I know what the calendar says...but you don't go by that when it comes to The Coming Of Autumn, do you? No. You go a little by the colors popping up in the foliage and we're starting to get a little of that now, too--much better than last year already. A little fire-red in the sumac, the aspen is flaring yellow on a branch here and there, and the oaks are starting their fade to brown.

But what you really go by to mark the beginning of fall is the first time you feel that flash of chill on the wind. That first day when you feel that north wind and think "oh, crap". When you get that feeling that you are a very, very small, unprotected creature standing in the path of the frozen wind tunnel that is Minnesota in January.

Our strange little family is huddled up in the house together tonight. Everybody has an ache or a pain, a sniffle or a sneeze bothering them. We copped out and ate pizza tonight...the ladies are watching some new shows and us guys (by which I mean me and Willy) are gearing up for Monday Night Football and the rhythmic weekly denoument of my fantasy football addiction.

Only one thing of real note over the weekend...a connection I made with "Tammy" that felt very, very right to me. She is very attached to her mother and seems to have a real anger problem toward her father...for good reasons as I get the story. Suffice it to say that it always makes her deeply anxious and unhappy to say goodbye to her mother, and yesterday was no exception.

After her mother left, she went to her room, then walked out of her room and stood crying in the hall. Without really thinking about it, I walked up to her, kissed her on the forehead and cheek, and just took her into my arms and stood hugging her. We must have stood there for 15 minutes. The hitching sobs gradually quieted to sniffles, and then to the occasional gentle shudder. The Wife observed this happening and stood away to just let it happen, bless her.

At length, I stood away, put a hand on each shoulder and made her look at me. I said "you need to understand that whenever you feel bad, or depressed, or lonely, you always have [The Wife] and I to talk to or just be with. You understand?" She nodded. "Feel better?" She nodded and that lovely small smile crept back to the corners of her mouth. I smiled, hugged her quickly again, and we went on with our evening routines.

Fifteen minutes out of my life, and I was able to make a girl feel better. If everybody spent a lousy 15 minutes out of their day to help a child feel better, there would be no need for a foster care system. Do you realize that?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Surprise Update

The only news I can pass on about the "surprise" I spoke of before is that I don't have firm news yet...though I do have an amusing anecdote regarding my situation that I'll be passing on once the coast is clear...which I know now will DEFINITELY be happening next week.


Character: "Jenny"

"Jenny", at 9, is the oldest of the three that we did respite for last weekend (the other two being 8 and 8 months). Apparently there was some sort of blow-up at home this week, and "Jenny" had to be removed from home, at least for awhile.

"Jenny" is a tubby little girl. It's easy to see why when you eat a meal with her...not so much that she eats a lot. She does, but probably not outside of the general realm of normal. The problem is what and how she eats. Last weekend we had pancakes for breakfast Saturday, but looking at her plate you'd think it was some sort of butter stew with a little bread in it. Tonight we had taco soup, but hers looked more like sour cream soup with a few beans in it. We're going to have to work on that.

Other than that, she has promptly developed a worshipful attitude toward "Tammy", who seems rather nonplussed about the whole thing. She enjoys bouncing on my tramp (which I jog on for light exercise and stress release). She idolizes The Wife, seems to still have the jury out on me, and is clean, respectful and to all appearances--so far--an all-around good girl.

She also loves Willy, who returns the feeling with gusto, as he does with anyone who will pet him or give him food. Hey, he's a dog.

I'm not sure what all has happened at home for "Jenny", but I imagine we'll find out in due course and I'll reveal here as much as I can.

We now have two medium-to-long-term placements, where a little over a week ago we had zero. Life is good. And so are "Jenny" and "Tammy".

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Puppy Lovin'

I have a soft spot for dogs. The bigger the better, but really all dogs are just the best animals on earth in my book.

We occasionally volunteer at the Humane Society and participate in their events. They're not an Earth-shatteringly important charity next to ones like Compassion International or the Cystic Fibrosis foundation, but they're a great outfit nonetheless.

The local HS shelter where we volunteer is fairly new, and houses something like 15 dogs and a like number of cats maximum, though it's usually quite a few less than that. Last weekend at the dog walk we heard there was a "monster dog", a "huge" black lab at the shelter that had just come in. They were calling him "big Ben" or "gentle Ben", and I just had to meet him...

Well, he was big all right, but he was no monster. I know monster dogs when I see them, and that wasn't it. he probably wasn't even 100 pounds...though he was a REAL lover, and I could easily be happy with such a great dog.

I did manage to spend time with a number of the other dogs there, including Boscoe, who was the dog I happened to be walking on Saturday. If anybody reading this is anywhere near west-central MN and you're looking for a great dog, this dog is one you've got to check out. He's some sort of weird Great Dane cross, with one blue eye and one brown. He's got an incredibly sweet disposition and while he's a little larger than average, his build is actually pretty slight so he doesn't have a lot of power like a Saint or a Lab might have. He's young, he hasn't been wrecked in any way and he really, really needs a good home. I might even consider adopting him myself if Tasha shuffles off this mortal coil before Boscoe is gone.

Anyway, that was our family activity for tonight. "Tammy", The Wife and I went and petted puppies. So simple, and yet so effective. Because now it sounds like "Tammy" is interested in volunteering at the shelter and helping with the cats.


Y'know, next to "Josie", this one seems incredibly easy to steer in the right direction. I wonder when she drops the good-girl act, grows fangs, and sinks them into my neck. Because after "Josie" and "Angel", that seems more like a normal thing to see out of a foster kid than interest in volunteering for a charity.

Heh. Not really. But it's been a rough road, and it's nice to come to a smoother stretch, if only for awhile.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More on "Tammy"

The newest wolf in our pack continues to impress the more we interact with her. To all appearances so far, she is a very normal, likeable girl whose family has some problems that aren't likely to go away soon.

We had a meeting with her teachers, counselors and social workers today. It was quite the pow-wow, and we learned a lot about our new charge. The main thing people seem to be concerned about is her hurting herself. While we will be careful to supervise her closely, I haven't seen anything that alarms me yet. Her counsellors seemed ultra-concerned that she have a place where she can feel safe. I'm not sure what that's about, but we're supposed to see to it. Yes, drill sergeant!

We also discovered that she likes staying with us immensely, she enjoyed going to church as a family and it seems sitting down together as a family to eat dinner is a new and wonderful thing to her. Sigh. Eating dinner with your family should be a birthright of every child, not a novelty.

I got the "Hi, stranger" treatment again when I got home from work today, complete with that same cute little half-smile of hers. I do believe I'm charmed by this self-conscious little girl. I hope she stays with us a's very nice to have such a low-maintenance daughter for once.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Character: "Tammy"

"Tammy" came to us last week, and I wanted to get to know her a little bit before introducing her to you here. When I first met her she seemed a bit of a cipher to me, and I guess she still is.

She's 14, and I get the idea there is more in her background than they've told us (natch), but she seems so far to be a very nice girl. After dealing with "Josie", she seems preternaturally calm, quiet and unassuming. She enjoys quiet things like reading and playing games She has a history of cutting and has been judged by some to be a danger to herself (nobody else). We had three for respite this weekend, and the 7 and 8 year olds immediately decided she was the coolest person they knew (I, on the other hand, was "mister").

We met her mom, who struck me as a very strange lady but one who seemed to genuinely love her daughter...we weren't really told that much about the family situation but we were led to believe "Tammy" would be with us for at least a month and maybe longer.

On Saturday morning I got up and walked into the kitchen where she was sitting having breakfast. She looked up, smiled, and said "Hi, stranger." Those were the first words she spoke directly to me, I believe, and they seemed like strange ones. She had a small, friendly smile on her face as she said them, and I suppose she thought her comment was mildly amusing, as I guess it was. She said the same thing when I got home from work tonight. I was in a particularly jaunty mood, so I responded with a loud, boisterous "HI THERE!" I think I scared her a little with that one.

I don't even know if there will be many stories to tell about this one since she seems so withdrawn, but we know by now that that can certainly change quickly with familiarity, and anyway I thought I should introduce her--if for no other reason than to let you know that there is one more body now resident in Casa de Dan.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Visiting "Josie"

Wow. Just wow.

We drove two hours each way to visit "Josie" today. Due to the added kids this weekend, we had pretty much decided to scrap the trip for this weekend and do it next weekend or the one after...until The Wife spoke with her on the phone yesterday. She had a bit of a meltdown, with lots of tears...and for once they seemed to be real.

Well. I spoke with her, and my resolve lasted all of 30 seconds. Did I mention I love this girl? I told her we'd figure something out, and we did. On the road we go. As an added surprise, we brought Willy, who seems to be her favorite dog and who we thought she'd enjoy seeing.

We arrived and got out of the van. The Wife took Willy to do his business before we went to the building. Suddenly screetching broke out from the front door of the building, and the Tazmanian Devil came spinning down the stairs and across the lawn. She dropped to her knees and demanded kisses and hugs from a now-very-nervous Willy, who apparently liked her better when she wasn't hyperventilating and half-crying.

She stood up, turned to me, and grabbed me in a hug I'm not likely to forget for a long time. It went on for a long time, and I think I loved it as much as she did. That one hug made the whole trip well worth it. It's the first time I could recall that I felt like she was actually more attached to me than to The Wife...though I'm pretty sure that's not true in the long run. But it felt very, very good for a few moments.

We went to the mall, as we only had two hours and when you spring a teenage girl from a girls' home for a short visit, you of course must take care of the most important things. I lasted about 15 minutes before begging off and going to sit in the van. Keep in mind that I am male, which disqualifies me from the shopping olympics anyway. Plus I did give up my NFL opening weekend for this, ignoring my fantasy football addiction to attend to this family matter. I felt I deserved to spend a bit at least listening to a game on the radio. Besides, The Wife needs quality time with the little snot, too.

After that, we of course went to Subway and snarfed sandwiches. "Josie" and I were at the table and busily stuffing our faces before The Wife had even finished paying for them. We do have that in common, anyway. Suddenly she let out a remarkable belch, even for her. On the spur of the moment I decided to turn my own excess stomach air into an object lesson for her on who the real belch king was around here.


There were stares from neighboring tables. "Josie's" jaw dropped, her challenge to my gastronomical supremacy forgotten for the moment. The Wife covered her face with her hands, lost in her own private pain. I was proud. I am, as I said, most definitely male.

When we got back to the home, we began the painful process of detaching from each other again. We let her use our phone to call her mom, we talked a bit more, she asked if we could stay there a little and visit some more and we declined on the grounds that her counselor said "no way, your time is up".

And then another one of those delicious hugs. I kissed the tears from her cheeks and promised we'd be back again when we could (I suspect we'll try to go on her birthday, which happens to come next month). I told her I loved her again and she replied in kind. We waved to each other as I walked out, the tears back on her cheeks.

I then turned my thoughts to the coming week and began plotting strategy for the completion of my sooper-seekrit plans. More on those later in the week, I think.

I love my life.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Back in the Fostering Saddle

For the last month or two we've been in kind of a holding pattern, and there really hasn't been much to write about. That was need times like that in life, where you can just recharge your batteries. Ours are now about fully charged...and none too soon.

A couple days ago we got another 14-year-old girl. Tonight we got three girls, a sib group, ages 9, 8, and 8 months. Whew. Luckily those three are a weekend respite case and they're only for a couple of days. The other one may be longer, but we're not sure yet how long. Time will tell, I guess. I'll come up with a blog-name for her, do a background/introductory post and add her to the sidebar.

Thinking of blog names, you know it's funny...I got so used to referring to "Josie" as "Josie" in this space that I actually once called her that to her face. She looked at me like I was losing my mind. I've had a couple of other people who know "Josie" in real life mention that they think of her by that name more than her real name. Heh. I just thought that was worth mentioning.

And speaking of "Josie"...we had planned on going to visit her at the residential treatment place on Sunday, but the sudden full house may prevent that this week. I feel really bad about that and I wish we could make it...I was planning on ditching NFL opening Sunday just to go and be with my little brat for a couple of hours. But I guess we can delay it another week under the circumstances. I'll bring her a whole foot-long Subway sandwich to make up for it. Those are to her what heaping plates of spaghetti are to me.

In other news, adoption proceedings continue apace. I was looking back through the paperwork we've had to gather and came to my arrest record for my DUI in '99. Scary. My life was so very out of control then, and I was so pathetic. I have indeed come a long way in 7 years, my friends, and I'm so glad. The Wife never would have become The Wife if I was still that lost, lonely soul of only a few years ago. Anyway, we've got almost all our I's dotted and T's crossed. Our home study (the second in two years) was completed today and the last of our paperwork has been gathered as of today and will be in the mail tomorrow or Monday. The last item I'm aware of (The Wife has been handling most of this, but I'm something other than a disinterested observer in this) is our profile, which is basically our "please pick us" pamphlet. Advertising, ladies and gentlemen. We do live in America, after all. We're still trying to decide whether to do it ourselves or fork over $350 to have it done. We may just have it done to make sure it's right. We've already got a lot invested in this venture, and it would be horrible to risk that to save a couple of bucks. Plus, we sometimes tend to be lazy.

And finally, the surprise that I keep nattering on about was unofficially finalized in a phone conversation I had today. There were twists and turns over the last few weeks, and the result was far from what was a good way. This turned out better than I had dared hope. I can't yet elaborate on it more than that until probably sometime next week, but suffice it to say that there are a few very happy people this fine night. And there will be one or two pretty unhappy people next week.