Friday, May 18, 2012

The New Foster Midgets

As of today, it has been two weeks since The Queen and I were charged with taking in two new tricycle motors*. I thought I would take a brief respite from my workday to give you their story.

It was a bright and sunshiney (not to mention freaking hot – temps were in the high 80s low 90s) Friday afternoon. I had just arrived in the lobby of the building where I work to await The Queen’s arrival in her chariot to whisk me away to faraway retail establishments for purpose of selecting new clothes for work when, at around 5:30, my iLeash rang. It was The Queen.

The Queen said, “I just got a call from Robin (who is the director of our foster parent/adoption agency), and she has an eight month old girl and a four year old boy that need a home right away. What do you think?”

After all we have been through over the last couple of months with M&M’s situation, “What Do You Think?” is a loaded question to be perfectly honest. However, in a moment of blissful insanity, I didn’t bother to think. I said, “Tell her to bring ‘em on.” Sometimes, you just have to lead with your chin. Which would explain why my jaw is occasionally very sore.

So, further shopping plans were abandoned like a campaign promise after the election returns are in, and we hurried home to meet the new minions. I should point out here that “hurried” is a relative term when applied to Dallas traffic on a Friday afternoon when combined with The Queen’s luck with navigation. She has won the Magellan Award for Creative Navigation on more than one occasion; however, that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say for now, that The Queen was a wee bit flustered by the call, missed her turn(s) and had to backtrack her way to my office.

We made it home just about a half hour ahead of the CPS caseworker (a different one from the one handling M&M’s case) which gave us just enough time to do a hasty, whirlwind tour of cleaning and straightening through the house. As you may recall, the heat pump at the castle was most thoroughly and totally dead at this point, and the thermostat in the house read a (un)breezy 89 degrees inside. We chose to wait for the kiddos outside where it was a little more bearable.

CPS arrived (in three separate cars no less – why, I have no idea – our tax dollars at work) at around 7:00, and we met our new feral house monkeys. The four year old boy, who I will henceforth refer to as Mini Me because he reminds me a lot of myself at his age, was very shy at first. He clutched a bag of Wendy’s chicken nuggets and fries in one hand and a soda in the other. He didn’t want to look anyone in the eye, and didn’t say anything.

His little eight month old sister (half sister actually as we later found out), however, had plenty to say. At full volume no less. She came out of the car in her car seat screaming bloody murder which I’m sure included several not so kind words and thinly veiled threats in her version of baby speak. I would like to refer to her as SCREAMER!!!!!11!!!!! in honor of the cute little killing machines with handy dandy saw blades from the scifi movie of the same name starring Peter Weller (better known for his role as Robocop); however, that is probably an insult to cute little mechanized killing machines and doesn’t do her vocal skills justice. To say that this little girl is the polar opposite of M&M is an understatement (not that it is her fault). So, I will call her Little Miss Cobra instead (after the A.C. Cobra designed by the recently departed Carroll Shelby – ‘cause both go from zero to loud in nothing flat…and there might be other reasons too…like a shared name and the fact that she strikes quick…or not).

The kids arrived with a large bin full of clothing. Most of which turned out to belong to Little Miss Cobra. A second bin arrived a few days later after their first supervised visit with mom at CPS which had mostly Mini Me’s clothing in it.

We were told initially that momma had been on the run from CPS for three months, that dad was in jail and that CPS finally caught up to them at a hotel. We were also told that Little Miss Cobra was born positive for prescription medications and had had to go through eight weeks of Methadone treatment when she was a newborn. Most of that has turned out to be more or less true as far as we have been able to determine.

The Queen has met momma, dad/stepdad and grandma. The story that has unfolded is that Mini Me’s dad is in jail for reasons still unknown. Momma hooked up with dad/stepdad not long after Mini Me’s dad went into the pokie and has been the father figure for most of his short life thus far. As is the way of things, momma got pregnant 17 months or so ago. However, while she was pregnant, she was addicted to the pain killers she had been taking due to a back injury. I’m not clear on whether the back injury came before or after she got pregnant. That is what got her onto CPS’ radar in the first place.

CPS apparently allowed momma to take Little Miss Cobra home without a fuss. I assume due to the fact that the drugs were not recreational pharmaceuticals. All was apparently happy and joy for about five months until someone (grandma we think) called CPS on momma. The reason for CPS’ reinvolvement remain unclear as of this writing, but momma said she was scared for her kids going into foster care which is why she ran and tried to hide in hotels for three months. They finally tracked her down at a Budget Inn & Suites and took the kids.

The Queen reports that momma seems like a nice person (which, coming from The Queen, is a pretty good endorsement), is sincerely distraught about losing her kids and very much wants them back. The Queen counseled her to do exactly what CPS tells her to do, and she will get them back.

The kids appear to be in overall decent health. There are some obvious nutritional issues that had to be dealt with right away. I previously mentioned Mini Me’s request for a sippy cup of soda. The dentist took one look at his mouth and immediately referred him out to a pediatric orthodontist for major work to repair his severely eroded teeth. He is not looking forward to going under the knife so to speak. We have had to guide his food and drink choices (would you like apple juice or water?) instead of giving him free reign with the kids’ menu. Little Miss Cobra has some allergies which necessitate that she have a certain type of pre-mixed formula. She is eating baby foods and some solids (she has a thing for Cantalope we discovered last night).

Personality and behavior wise, Mini Me warmed up after a little bit. We had a little defiance the first night over bath time which is to be expected in a four year old. He found out the hard way that trying to hide in the closet while whining doesn’t impress us. He’s been caught red handed in an outright lie. The incident would have been cute were it not for the seriousness of the issue:

Me: [walking into the kitchen to throw something away only to discover the Candyland game box in the trash can] Honey, did you intend to throw away the Candyland box?

The Queen: No, why?

Me: Mini Me, come with me please. [we walk into the kitchen and I show him the trash can contents] Did you throw that away?

Mini Me: Uh uh.

Me: You mean “no, sir”. Are you sure you didn’t throw that away?

Mini Me: [nodding his head vigorously]

Me: I don’t think you are telling the truth. [The Queen] didn’t do it, and I wasn’t here to do it. That leaves you. Did you throw it away?

Mini Me: [nodding his head and turning away]

He got a very simple but firm explanation of just how important the truth is in our house and why that is important. So far, we’ve not had a repeat.

Aside from that and some ongoing training in politeness that is required for many children his age, Mini Me is a really good kid. He is extremely helpful with and loving towards his sister. He loves to play and laugh. I’ve enjoyed having a boy to torment (counting ribs is always a hoot). He misses his mom dearly, and he really does not like the CPS lady. She’s “mean”. I can see why he would think that. She did take him away from momma. He seems to grasp that The Queen and I are not the enemy which is helpful.

Little Miss Cobra, on the other hand, is a whole different ball game. I’ve mentioned the SCREAMING. It really is piercing…it literally interferes with rational thought. She despises being on her back for any reason…which makes changing diapers a challenge. She and I fought tooth and nail for probably 30 or 45 minutes over a nasty, poopy diaper change on the first Saturday we had them (which, as you will recall, was when we still had no AC in the house). After the first fifteen minutes, I had to relocate us from the hot, stuffy bathroom where I had been trying to change her to the living room floor because a) there was no air circulating in the bathroom and it felt like a sauna, b) we were both hot and sweaty and I feared losing my grip on a slippery infant who is thrashing around while trying to roll over on the bathroom counter we use as our changing table and generally escape my grasp, c) did I mention how loud and piercing her SCREAMING can be?, d) especially in a hot, stuffy, 80 square foot bathroom with lots of reflective surfaces, and e) it seemed like a good idea at the time. This hatred of all things reclined extends to her car seat making trips in the car an absolute joy until we can get her to pass out.

Fortunately, all with Little Miss Cobra is not negative. She does like to be held (upright, not reclined). She is crawling and pulling up. She will walk with assistance for short distances meaning we will have a toddler on our hands sooner than we originally expected. She has what I think is an adorable habit when she gets tired. If you are holding her near night, night time (and she is not SCREAMING), she will fall asleep on your chest after head butting you several times in the chest to find the most comfortable spot. She will do the same thing in her crib if she is not already sound asleep when you put her in.

The Queen and I seem to be adjusting to the new circumstances fairly well. After our experience with M&M, we have held back a little emotionally with these two. We still care for them as we would for any child, but we are not allowing ourselves to become bonded in the same way we did with M&M. Part of that is due to the fact that the kids already have a strong bond with their momma and we don’t want to interfere with that. Part of it is for our own emotional protection. The Queen and I discussed the issue of adopting these two briefly amongst ourselves, and we both agree that we would if they became available. However, we’ve not mentioned it since, and we probably won’t even think about it again until after there is confirmation that momma’s rights will be terminated and there are no other viable family members (which is too early to tell right now).

At this point, we have no idea how long they will be with us. There was mention of an aunt who might take them; however, she has to get a job and an apartment before that can happen. As far as we are concerned right now, they are with us until they aren’t.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have some ribs to go count.

* A term for small children shamelessly stolen from conservative radio talk show host, Neil Boortz.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Page

FYI, in case you are interested, I added a page with a slightly more detailed profile about who I am and where I came from. More pages might follow. Maybe.

Wascally Wabbits and Other Mischief

Before I give you my lame excuse for not posting more info about the new foster kids, I need to take a moment to welcome DFW to the growing list of followers. Blogger does not show that DFW has a blog. DFW, if that is not correct, please let me know. In the meantime, welcome to the party. Feel free to join in the conversations, have a beer, and generally enjoy yourself. I don't have any lampshades for you to wear while dancing on the table though. Had to get rid of them after GunDiva shot them up last time she got in one of her "moods".

Now for the lame excuses: 1) The dogs ate my home work, 2) I've been really preoccuppied with the whole fighting for M&M thing, 3) two words: TWO INFANTS (also known as instant twins), 4) one infant screams bloody murder until held or she passes out...whichever comes first, 5) who has time to write anything?, 6) why didn't you tell me to get formula when I was at the store an hour ago?, 7) the dogs don't feed themselves, 8) FOUR YEAR OLD BOY with two speed settings - FULL THROTTLE and PASSED OUT, 9) have you seen the laundry pile?, 10) what's for dinner?....

So, in lieu of actual content, I present you with...

...cute bunny foo foo picture. Those are The Queen's hands by the way.

That picture was taken about a month ago after we discovered that Spanky McCloud...

...had inherited the title of bunny hunter extraordinaire from the dear departed Kiki.

The little turd has real talent though. The Queen and I heard the telltale squeak of a bunny in distress just in time to see Spanky carrying his first prize to the dining room for "playtime". While we were busy trying to chase the recently dropped bunny around the living room, Spanky went outside and caught bunny number two. The entire incident took less than five minutes. I know for a fact that there was a third bunny from the same nest that narrowly escaped his siblings fate as I saw him/her making a run for it as Spanky was bringing bunny number two in through the garage.

It's gonna be a long summer if the bunnies don't take the hint.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

My Life is a Bad Country Song - Part 2 of ?...

…The CPS Permanency Conference

Before I get into the details of what happened at M&M’s permanency conference including mundane details like exactly what the heck a permanency conference is, please allow me to satisfy your curiosity about Miss M&M. Despite a quick bout with the flu and an upper respiratory infection that left the poor boo boo coughing constantly and generally being miserable for a few days, M&M continues her steady march towards greatness…or at least toddlerhood.

As I write this, she will be six months old in just a little over a week from now. She weighs in at a healthy 18 pounds, measures in at around 27 inches long depending on how squirmy she is and is actually bigger than most babies her age and many babies older than her by a month or more. One of the concerns that all foster parents face is whether the children in their care will fail to thrive. If that happens, the children can be taken away, and the foster parent could potentially have their license taken away. Needless to say, M&M is thriving in our care.

She is still one of the most adorable babies on the planet in our humble opinion. I was told by CPS that I can set up a private Shutterfly site to upload photos of M&M for the birth family. If curious followers were to ask nicely, I might be persuaded to share the access information. In exchange for some small consideration. Hypothetically speaking of course. Send me your email address at krerick at google’s email domain, and I’ll see what I can do.

M&M is starting to rollover on her own, and she has started teething which has made for some serious droolage. I suspect we will have a crawler on our hands sometime in the next few weeks. Her smile will melt your heart, and her laugh will make anyone’s day brighter than the sun.

But…there is a black cloud hanging over the possibility of our continued parentage of Miss M&M. That would be the cousin.

About ten days ago, The Queen and I participated in the CPS Permanency Conference. This is a meeting at the CPS offices with all interested parties to determine what the long term plan is for the foster child. The main questions to be answered are 1) whether or not the parents are working and making progress on their services plan, and 2) if they are not making progress on the plan, what will be done with Miss M&M in the event the parents’ rights are terminated.

What follows is a redacted version of my notes from the meeting.

In Attendance:
The Foster Parents (that would be The Queen and I)
M&M’s Ad Litem (the attorney appointed by the court to represent M&M’s interests)
The CPS Case Worker
M&M’s Cousin (first cousin once removed actually I think) – [by phone from out of state]
The CPS Facilitator (this is the guy responsible for keeping the meeting on track and getting the information required to make a decision)
The Birth Father
The Birth Mother's atty (interestingly a third year law student working for Texas Wesleyan’s Family Law Clinic)
A Mentor from the Fathers and Children Together (FACT) program
A FACT program liason to CPS (who is also a former CPS case worker)

The Birth Mother was a no show. Her husband mumbled an excuse which I did not hear.

The CPS caseworker started out by discussing the parents’ efforts to comply with their reunification plan. She confirmed that the parents miss about one visit a month with M&M (I think it’s closer to a 50/50 average, but I wasn’t asked). She confirmed that an oral swab to test for drugs was negative on both parents. The birth mother has a psychiatric assessment in early June, and her doctor upped the dosage on her medications recently. CPS still has concerns regarding the parents’ relationship. They have not done individual or couples counseling.

The Queen and I were asked to give a brief summary of M&M’s current status in the home. We reported that she is a happy, healthy baby who is developmentally on target.

The Birth Father was asked to discuss why there had not been greater compliance with the plan. He attempted to explain that they were displaced from their apartment due to their financial situation. Their lease was up in February and had an agreement with their landlord to extend their lease by a month or so when they got their tax return. For reasons that were not clear, they lost their expected tax return. TBF stated that he is currently doing carpet and tile work but does not work on a consistent basis. They are now living at a friend’s house in a rural town between Cleburne and Glen Rose, Texas. TBF confirmed that he has not been taking the anger management classes and that he and his wife were dropped from the parenting classes for non-attendance. He attributes this to their financial situation and being evicted from their apartment.

TBF claims that they are in the process of moving back to Tarrant County. He states that he and his wife have been together for 4 years. They have had five pregnancies which resulted in two live births. Their first son, was taken away by CPS in another state. He was adopted out after the birth parents relinquished their parental rights, and he is now living in another state. The remaining three pregnancies (a set of twins and another child) were lost to miscarriage and stillbirth.

TBF stated that they will be able to complete the services plan. He advised that the birth mother is the one who is violent towards him and that she takes a lot of things out on him. TBF was born in Commiefornia, but he says he is from Texas. He advised that he had a son from another relationship who died about five years ago after being hit by a train in a suburb of Fort Worth. He and his wife met in shortly after that when they both worked at a Taco Bell in small town outside of Fort Worth. They started working there on the same day and became friends. They eventually grew closer. He advised that the birth mother’s mother is in Oregon. They now attend a church in another town outside of Fort Worth. Of interest, TBF arrived to the meeting wearing khaki pants and a blue and black polo style shirt. As he sat down, he pulled a huge (at least 6 inch long) brass crucifix out of his shirt. He tucked the crucifix back into his shirt upon leaving the meeting. It came across to me as if he was trying to demonstrate his new found family values.

With respect to the drug use, he acknowledged that they know it is not condoned. He claimed he had pancreatitis in June 2011 and was in and out of hospital five times over thirty days. He further claims that his medications weren’t working and he almost died. He says he turned to pot to help calm his stomach so he could eat. He stated that the birth mother was using it because of her manic depression/bi polar issues and the fact that she was prevented from taking her regular medications while pregnant.

The CPS case worker bluntly advised TBF that she will be recommending that CPS change the goal from reunification of M&M to the birth parents to termination of parental rights and to staff the case for termination of parental rights due to not seeing enough progress on the services plan.

The FACT program mentor and liason were no less direct with TBF if slightly less blunt and brusk than the caseworker. Their comments were that what has happened to this point no longer matters. What matters is what happens from here on out. They stated they are hearing a lot of excuses, and the time for excuses is over. They say it’s going to take results if they want M&M back.

The cousin advised that she has been trying to get M&M since late December. She is very concerned that the paperwork has still not been finalized. The caseworker confirmed that the paperwork has been sent to Nevada, and they are just waiting on the home study to be finalized. She also confirmed that the paperwork was submitted as a foster care placement instead of a relative adoption placement. This is a change from what the caseworker told The Queen and I previously.

The Queen and I both expressed our desire to adopt M&M if things do not work out with the parents or the cousin. We stated that we would be happy to accommodate an open adoption with visits to the family, etc. We also offered to open a private blog to post photos, etc regularly for the family. TBF was obviously disturbed by hearing the possibility of losing his daughter to another family; however, he did not voice any argument. The cousin, however, was very vocal in stating that M&M has a family in Nevada that loves her and wants her.

The Queen and I spoke with TBF for approximately ten minutes after the conference. He is an articulate person; however, it was fairly clear that he was trying to spin facts and events to be the most favorable towards he and his wife. It was equally apparent that no one present at the conference was buying what he was selling. We simply reiterated to him how much we love M&M and that we would consider it an honor to take care of her and raise her.

After the conference, The Queen and I had several conversations with the case worker and the ad litem. The case worker makes it a point every time we talk to remind us that we probably won’t get to keep M&M since the cousin is a viable family member. The Queen and I disagree on that point when you consider that the cousin is a single parent with a full time job versus The Queen who is a stay at home mom while I am the full time bread winner with a great job that means M&M will never want for anything. Admittedly, we are a little biased.

The timeline moving forward is that the state where the cousin lives will return the paperwork in about a month to three months. Assuming it is approved (which is expected), the court would then set a hearing date for the purpose of deciding M&M’s fate regardless of whether or not the parents rights issue has been resolved yet. If that hearing occurs after M&M has been in our home for at least six months (which is coming up in about a month), then The Queen and I would have the option of filing a Motion in Intervention to become a part of the court case officially as opposed to just care providers. That would give us legal standing to make an argument before the court as to why we should be allowed to keep M&M. The CPS caseworker has told me that she has never seen a judge rule against a viable family member before. I am hoping that there is a first time for everything.

Needless to say, these developments have really upset The Queen and I. The Queen is inconsolable at times thinking about the possibility of losing a beautiful, perfect baby. Thinking about it for any length of time makes me angry and frustrated which is something I do not need in my life, and it interferes with my ability to focus on what is important which is being the best father I can be to her and enjoy every single minute with her.

I have the luxury of distracting myself with work. The Queen does not. M&M is her work. She has no means of escape from being confronted with the unpleasant possibility of losing M&M.

So, now you are up to date on M&M. I would ask as a courtesy that no one try to cheer me up by telling me that at least we’ve made a difference in her life when she needed it most. That is not comforting right now even though I know it is meant well. Words fail me.

There is a scene from the movie Men in Black where Will Smith tells Tommie Lee Jones that it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. TLJ’s response is the way I feel right now: “Try it.”

Here’s to hoping that it won’t come to that.

Welcome to the Castle

Just a quick note before getting back to the M&M update. Friday night, The Queen and I welcomed a four year old boy and his eight month old sister into our household. I don't know yet how long they will be here, and we've learned not to take the initial information at face value or as gospel. We definitely have some challenges to work through like a little boy who thinks a sippy cup of caffeinated soda is what every kid gets to carry to bed with them while displaying a serious lack of front teeth likely due to over indulgence in sodas and poor nutrition. I will follow up later with their story.

My Life is a Bad Country Country Song - Part 1 of ?

I'm sure you all have heard the joke about what happens when you play a country song get your wife back, your truck back, your dog back, your hair.... Let that be a warning to those readers who are faint of heart or overly emotional...there be teary eyed moments to follow. I'm also going to break this up into at least two parts because 1) I don't feel like writing it all down in one sitting, 2) you probably don't need that much bad news in one sitting, and 3) did I mention I really don't feel like writing this all in one sitting? Heck, I've been avoiding thinking about parts of this much less even writing about it.  Before I go any further, I will tell you now to alleviate any concerns on your part that, though The Queen and M&M both have parts in these sad tales, both of them are more or less healthy, upright and able to take nourishment. M&M's part of the story is more or less a story unto itself. So, that will probably be part 2 (sorry Kymber).  Any story, our tales of woe begin with me traveling to Charlotte, NC for business a few weeks ago. On a Tuesday. Why is Tuesday important you ask? Well, The Queen and I are participating in a coed volleyball league on Tuesday evenings with folks from my office. It's been quite fun even though my grasp of the game is not dissimilar to a labrador retriever playing fetch. BALL! PLAY! I'LL GET IT! [slobber, drool, tongue hanging out, tail wagging]. My team mates are very kind to my handicap (the fact that i can't play) and gently suggest things like "how about you let me set for you". So, while I was busy having a networking dinner with about 150 people, The Queen was busy playing volleyball without me...and pulling her calf muscle. By all accounts, she wasn't even doing anything truly epic or graceful to warrant a pulled muscle.  Now, The Queen is a tough woman. As you will recall, this is the same woman who said "If you can keep up." when we first met. I've also watched in horror as she flipped a four wheeler over on top of herself only to run up and find her giggling maniacally. Crazy of my life. So, there I am about a thousand miles away on the phone with my wife who is crying in pain scared that she might have torn a tendon or ligament. Not unlike friend Stephen, wife tears are my kryptonite. I spent two years during the darkest days of The Queen's mystery illness being stuck in Houston due to work having to listen to my wife in Dallas suffer over the phone. It's not something I want to repeat. Ever.  Flying home was out as I had business commitments in Charlotte for the next two days including an active part in a presentation to a group of risk managers and safety directors about crazy claims that you just can't make up. Fortunately, The Queen's parents were at the house babysitting M&M while The Queen played. They stayed the night with her and helped her get to her regular doc the next day. As mentioned, it turned out to be just a badly pulled muscle. She's been on the gimp...I mean on the mend ever since. She's better than she was by far, but she still needs a week or two more before she will be dancing swan lake or playing volleyball again.  Day two in Charlotte dawned with The Queen informing me of two other minor crises. First, The Queen's carriage managed to pick up a length of wire in the right rear tire. In the sidewall no less. For those who are not mechanically inclined, tire shops won't even bother trying to fix a tire that has a puncture in the shoulder or sidewall. I've never heard a good explanation of why, but it's pretty much unanimous in my experience that they won't touch it with a 10 foot pole. Oh, and did I mention that The Queen's carriage runs on 20" tires the cheapest of which go for $150 before you add in tax, mounting, installation, disposal fee, air, road hazard insurance, etc. And, of course, they did not have the $150 tire in stock. They only had the $180 or the $220 tire in stock. That's $250 I had to spend for the safety and security of my family that I willingly but not happily spent in light of the fact that the existing tire had a lot of tread life left on it.  The other day two crisis is the heat pump at Castle Erickson. I reported on the effects of last summer's heat wave on the castle's HVAC system. Well, The Queen reported that we are in for a repeat as the system was not cooling the house. And we haven't even really gotten consistently above 90 yet much less 100. We had our regular AC guy (who is a friend and church member with my brother in law) come out a few days after I got back from Charlotte  and recharge the system which has historically at least helped the problem. 30 pounds of R22 later, we had cool air blowing...for all of two weeks. As of Wednesday of this week, there was no cold air and no frozen refrigerant lines meaning there was no refrigerant in the system. I had companies out on Thursday to bid on a replacement, and we made the decision yesterday on a 14 seer 5 ton system that will hopefully solve some if not all of our problems. At a low, low, highway robbery, they've got me over a barrel price of course. The winning bidder assures me he will give us priority since we have a baby in the house. So, hopefully by the middle of next week, we should be awash in cold air again.  Finally for part one, You've heard the saying that a friend helps you move, but real friends help you move bodies. Sometimes to body you move is that of your friend.  The Queen and I had to make the sad decision to have our oldest dog, Sasha, put to sleep. She was a lab shepherd mix who was thirteen years old. She's been suffering with degenerative arthritis for a while now. Our vet had been keeping her going with regular vitamin B injections in her acupuncture points. That would help for a while; however, we finally reached the point where she could no longer walk. She was a wonderful dog...far better to us than we ever could have been to her. I took her down to Mimi's place and buried her in the shade of a nice tree. She would have appreciated that.  More to follow.