Parenting

New Skills To Add To My Resume

As I troll through job postings, knowing that I need to get cracking on looking for my next adventure, I find myself wanting to try to somehow add the experience of the past five months of unemployment and being a stay at home dad to my resume.   Here’s how the listing of the newfound skills I have acquired would look:

Employer – Stay At Home Daddy       September, 2013 – Present

Experience/Skills Acquired:

Multi-tasking: Can fix snack, give spelling test, start dinner preparations, fold laundry, and load dishwasher all at the same time.

Complex Negotiations: Can effectively end all-out war in relation to which Wii game should be played by two parties by simply giving the Wii a time out.

Attention To Detail: Have developed eyes in the back of my head and canine-level hearing to determine where two small boys are in the house at all times by listening for their footsteps or their mouth breathing and giggling while they try to hide from me or get into food that they don’t have permission to get into.

Physical Demands: Able to lift chairs, couches, and other pieces of furniture when they are toppled over or shoved across the room in a temper tantrum. Able to pry apart two children in the throes of physical conflict when disagreements happen.

Time Management: Can negotiate three-tiered subway journey and hail cab in rush hour to make an after school doctor appointment on-time with seven and eight year old in tow wanting to run off in different directions.

Powers Of Persuasion: Can make even Brussels Sprouts sound as appealing as chocolate coated pizza slices topped in sugar and whipped cream with an ice cream chaser.

With all this under my belt, I cannot imagine how anyone would not be itching to hire me.  Some days during this time I have grown convinced that stay at home parenting should come with combat pay….even if your children are in school for six hours of each day.

The experience of being a stay at home parent has taught me numerous things about myself:

1. I am never, ever bored….with two very active heightened needs children even the fine art of sitting inert staring dumbly at a section of the wall when they are either asleep or in school has a distinct appeal and even a zen-like quality to it.

2. Doing laundry sucks. Plain and simple. It sucks.  I hate it.  I’d rather take the pile of dirty clothes and set fire to it in the driveway and just watch it all burn than think about washing, drying, and folding it all.

3. I have more patience for noise than I do for opposition or defiance. I’d far rather hear my children laughing and carrying on while they are playing than hearing them whisper ‘no’ to me when it’s time to stop playing and do their homework, eat, or go to bed.

4. There is an amazing appeal to taking a hot bath in the middle of the day when no one is around to ask for food, or inquire as to why dogs wag their tails, or ask me to settle a disagreement over who would win; Spider-Man or a snow plow? I still don’t really know the answer to that question, even after five months.

5.  The meaning of ‘happy hour’ has morphed into something entirely different. It used to mean sitting in a bar with free food and cheaper drinks. Now it means ‘when the kids go to bed’. It means sitting down with a good book and a sandwich and cup of tea that no one is asking for bites or drinks of and yelling at me that they can’t have any. That magical time when SpongeTurtles no longer is on my t.v., I can be in the bathroom for more than thirty seconds without someone bursting through the door or kicking it because I locked it behind me, and the house is relatively quiet for a little while before my own bedtime.

6. Children’s television programming for seven and eight year olds is like a special ring of hell so low that even Dante could not imagine it.   Thankfully my kids will sit down and watch ‘America Unearthed’ or ‘Cities Of The Underworld’ type programming with me.  I’d far rather tune in to Nat Geo than Nickelodeon any day of the week.

7. I used to want to teach my dog neat tricks like ‘roll over’ and ‘sit up’. Now I am of the mind that it would be far more to his benefit to teach him ‘RUN, YOU FOOL! THEY’RE COMING!’

8. Some day my kids will understand that at the end of the day, if their homework is done, if they are fed, and if they are in bed on time, and if I have hugged them and kissed them and told them I love them, no matter how atrociously they have behaved during the day, they can call me the ‘worst dad ever’ and tell me they hate me all they want. I know the truth.  I am not the worst dad ever, nor am I the best. I don’t strive to be either one of those things.  But I’m a good dad.  That’s the most and the best I ever hope to be.

9. If you really want to give me a treat…don’t come to my house with a bottle of wine and hang out with me.  Bring the wine, leave the bottle, take my kids out for a while, and let me have an evening to myself in the house.

10. My new favorite phrase is ‘Asked and answered’.  It’s far more effective than ‘Because………’ and whatever follows because……

I’m not sure if these skills and acquired knowledge are really all that ‘marketable’ in the work force, without a teaching degree, but I think in some way, shape, or form they will come in quite handy once I re-enter the world of ‘working parents’.

Until that time, I’ll make good use of my six hours each weekday that the kids are in school. Admittedly I do wish some days that it were more than six hours.  Some days I would like it to be less, and can’t wait to see them and give them both a hug.  Soon enough they will be grown and off on their own, although to listen to my youngest he will live with me forever and ever and never wants to leave.  Some day I will be sitting in a comfortable chair with a book on my lap and no laundry to do and think ‘where did the time go?’

While I’m interviewing I will just have to remember that no matter how challenging a job looks, or how difficult a work environment might appear…..I survived several months of being a stay-at-home parent to two very, albeit wonderful and loving, challenging boys. That means I can handle pretty much anything that’s thrown at me now.  I can answer pretty much anything they ask me.

As long as no interviewer asks me who would win, Spider-Man or a snow plow…..that one is still a mystery.

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Reading

A Few Places I Find Some Of The Books I Read

For me nothing will ever take the place of that giddy, ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling that I get upon finding a well-stocked used book store. I do not own an e-reader personally, and don’t know that I ever will. I love the feel and smell of a book too much to give it up.  I’m happy to see that technology makes A TON of free literature available to others who might not have the means to get to a store regularly or have (insert horrified gasp here) any book stores in their area (which would be to me a ring of Hell so low I cannot possibly imagine it), or not a lot of money to spare for literature. To each their own…we all have our reasons for how we obtain our reading material, just as much as for what we choose to read.  I love the classics, and novels from 40, 50, and 60 years ago.  Finding a hardback copy of a ‘gem’ in a used bookstore is for me what I suppose finding a pair of shoes that matches your favorite outfit EXACTLY is like.

That said, there is also some excellent new fiction that I don’t want to miss out on as well.  Those I could get on an e-reader, but for my take on that, please see above. It’s just not for me. For this indulgence, I take to the internet, rather than visit large chain stores (which I do, occasionally, do) regularly and find ‘popular’ fiction taking up most of the shelf space and walking out empty handed.  I look for things that interest me, and if I can support a local store, I will…if not, I’ll order it online.

I love good historical fiction. Therefore, I’m always on the lookout for something to add to my collection.  I find Amazon gives me ‘stuff that other people buy’, and I have to filter out the non-historical fiction from these lists of ‘recommendations’…and therefore go to other sources where it’s purely a list of forthcoming (and past release) historical fiction novels.  There is some ability to categorize what you are looking for on these sites – but overall they are a treasure trove of suggested reading where it’s not limited to what’s ‘hot’, who has the biggest advertising budget, what some website ‘thinks’ you might like to read.

http://historicalnovelsociety.org/guides/forthcoming-historical-novels/My number one stop when I’m looking to see what’s coming for release that I might like to read.  

http://bippityboppitybook.blogspot.com/p/upcoming-historical-fiction-mar-aug-2013.htmlA blog, but a really good blog about upcoming books and past releases.

http://www.bookbrowse.com/browse/index.cfm?category_number=39Another great place to find books with descriptions, reviews, etc. 

Hopefully others find one or more of these sites helpful in finding their next great read.

Happy hunting!

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Strictly My Opinion

Why The School System Needs A ‘Snow Day’ Makeover

I awoke this morning, like many other parents in the Boston area, expecting 6 – 10 inches of snow in my driveway. There are perhaps four…if that.  My family was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner last night at 6:30 pm when the call came in that school was being cancelled for today.

The kids, as kids do, rejoiced having another day off this week, on top of the day off Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  They looked forward to mountains of snow to romp in with their friends when they got up today.  They’ll be lucky if there’s enough to make a decent snow dwarf, let alone a snow man.

This snow day comes on the heels of the first two school days of the calendar year also being cancelled due to snow…we did have ‘more’ on those two days..it was a bit more ‘treacherous’ out there than it looks to be today…..but not the ‘apocalyptic nightmare’ that was predicted….either then or now.

When I was a working person the company that employed me did not offer MLK Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday. If you took the day off you used either one of two personal days the company offered, or a vacation day.  The company, which more than 75% of the employees can perform their jobs for remotely (from home) did not, also, offer ‘work at home’ days for parents AND commuters alike.  Whether you travelled 5 or 50 miles to get to the office, you either came in or you took a day off from your personal/vacation days bank. This week, along with the two unscheduled days off January 2nd and 3rd, would have meant four full days of work being necessary to take off between January 1st and 22nd of the new year for me as a working parent.

In my childhood we woke at 4:30 in the morning on winter days where ‘inclement weather’ was predicted and sat down in front of the t.v. as soon as the news was on to watch the bottom of the screen ticker tape scroll of names for the schools that would not be open, praying to see our own school’s name in this Wall Street-esque NASDAC scroll of storm closings…..I’d sometimes watch it two, three times just to make certain there wasn’t some error and the school name was positioned out of alphabetical error, or added at the eleventh hour before I anticipated the arrival of the bus.

My mother, the custodial parent, likely prayed for school to be in session as hard as we prayed for it  to be out of session.  It’s a vastly different landscape when you have 2 or (if you are lucky) 3 weeks of vacation time allotted to you by your employer than the three months of summer and two additional weeks of vacation that school kids get.  If you have to use up all your vacation time for snow days, what’s the point of having kids on vacation at all, really?

That said….how realistic is our school administration being in relation to the working world of parents in the 21st century and their needs to cover all the vacation days, holidays, sick days, and storm days that our kids have? Gone is the era of ‘stay at home moms’ being the majority of the community. These days having both parents working is the norm.  Some families have one night shift worker parent and one day shift worker parent just to avoid the exorbitant cost of daycare, which isn’t really that much when you break it down hourly for a rate, but factored into a family budget each month, it’s a lot…especially for multiple children.  In most cases, it’s like making an additional mortgage payment each month to have childcare.

Ever since getting laid off, I have tried to come up with different scenarios in which I can earn a living (since unemployment won’t last forever) and contribute to the household finances but still avoid having to pay for childcare by being available to my kids and having to take unscheduled days off for storms/sick days/school holidays/vacations.  We can all have insurance through my spouse’s policy, thankfully, and no longer have to consider it as ‘income’ to me at tax time, so that is no longer a concern.  It does remain, however, that we cannot exist as a single-income family, even without childcare costs being a part of the equation.

In coming to this realization, I have to build into my search the school schedule and the needs of my kids for at least another five or six years until they are old enough to take care of themselves during the day (and even that estimate of the timeline involved is a stretch…a best case scenario).  In looking at potential employers, the list of items I need to consider before accepting a job, because I ‘choose’ to have children, has grown from ‘how much do they pay and what kind of insurance coverage do they offer and what is the environment like’ to many, many other considerations.

-How long is the commute from home in relation to sick days and time it would take me to get to the school to pick up one of the kids if they are sick, or if the school closes early for weather considerations?

-How flexible is the schedule for working parents on arrival/departure times?

-How many vacation days can I plan on simply to cover all the school holidays and snow days and MAYBE take a long weekend for myself during the year to recharge my batteries?

-How much leniency is there to work remotely on a snow day and not have to use a vacation day or a personal day?

-How flexible are they with the need to cover parent/teacher conferences each year and taking ‘hours’ off instead of entire days?

-How flexible are they with allowing a parent/caregiver to use a ‘sick day’ for someone they take care of/are parent to that is sick, rather than a vacation day?

This is just the ‘off the top of my head’ list of considerations for me.  It means a whole lot of research to be done on how a company considers the balance of work/personal life in relation to how they value their employees.  I understand that they have a business to run, and that is their top priority, but I know there has been some shift in the attitude of businesses in relation to their ’employees’ also being ‘people’ and ‘family members’ who have obligations outside of the office.  I estimate that my concerns and considerations are pretty much ‘the norm’ for the majority of working parents these days whereas most families do not have a ‘stay at home’ any longer.  I also do not have family members in the area to call on for ‘last minute’ things like sick days and snow days, unlike when I was a child and one of my aunts would show up in her curlers and head scarf and I’d go home with her for the day because Mom was working and my aunt worked at night (or not at all some times).

Speaking as a parent, I’m grateful that the safety of my children is important to the school administration.  Speaking as an ’employee’, to have to burn through an entire day for the LACK of snow that is on the ground as I used to have to, is beyond frustrating to see your vacation time dwindle or be depleted entirely throughout the first couple of months of the year for storm days as well as having to make arrangements for the school vacations coming up in February and April and explain to the kids that we aren’t actually ‘going anywhere’ as their time off does not mean their parents have the same time off.

It’s a changing world all around us, each and every day brings something new, something ‘re-imagined’, something ‘upgraded’, something ‘2.0’.  Having entered the realm of parenting eight years ago, and now having two school-aged children and a ‘two-fer’ on the amount of conferences, head colds that send them home, etc., that come with having children, I’m of the opinion that our school system needs a ‘makeover’ in their scheduling, or at the very least in their handling of storm days.  True, weather is not an ‘exact science’ – but having a storm day today in the Boston area, for three inches of snow, speaks to a need to re-evaluate how we determine what days are taken as storm days, and how quickly we pull the trigger on closing school for a day.  Though it is strictly my opinion, and I’m fortunate enough right at the moment to not HAVE to call out from work, eventually I will have to again. To look outside and see nowhere near the ‘Snowpocalypse’ that was predicted, I am of the opinion that this day off for the kids is nothing but a waste.

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Strictly My Opinion

Is My Problem As Big As Yours?

This may turn out to be one of the most random things I ever write…..

There is a ‘photo’ circulating on Facebook lately. It says ‘Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’ I do believe in the meaning I assign to this ‘saying’….that you can never tell what is going on with someone, that they might smile for you, but feel like they are dying inside, so treat others with respect and kindness.

I know that I fight my own battles every day. We all do.  We all have ‘demons’ that we cage up until they rattle the cage loud enough and long enough to get out, at least a little. You can’t see them. You can’t touch them. And you most certainly can’t lock them up for me again, but they are there.  The smile I may wear to help me pass through each day, while I dislike being disingenuous with others, may be the only thing holding me together at that point in time, and yet on the inside, the part I hide…the part most of us hide from others because it’s just too difficult and personal and raw to reveal it, is kicking and screaming and wants nothing but to get out from under the weight we are carrying.

My mother always used to say, to me and about others as well, ‘you’ve got the whole world going for you, I can’t see what you’d be unhappy about?’  I’ve tried to explain it to her….about myself and about others.  You can be good looking, educated, intelligent, talented, famous, wealthy, etc. – and none of that matters if you are battling a demon inside you every day of your life that always seems to have the upper hand like depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a whole list of other reasons….you can be sitting on top of the world and the only thing you can think about is the fear that you’re going to fall off.

Every one of us has a ‘trigger’ for hurt, anger, frustration, confusion, disappointment.  Sometimes there are multiple triggers for it.  Words, actions, etc., that bring all our baggage out and fling it open and let the contents spill out onto the floor and everyone can see it…all your dirty laundry, no matter how quickly you try to scoop it up, close the lid, and lock the catch on it again.  I have mine, definitely.  There are wounds so old and so deep in my personality that just one word can send me back over 35 years to a place I don’t know I’ll ever fully escape from in my mind and in my heart.  I like to think its possible to get away from there….that the only thing keeping me there is me…..but getting out of my own way proves to be an ongoing challenge.

All too often I hear people downplaying and devaluing their feelings…and their struggles…and comparing them to others and their difficulties and challenges.  People say things like ‘I shouldn’t complain, others have it so much harder’ or, even worse, I’ve heard people say ‘What are you complaining about, try my life for a change.’. I’m not referring to self-created drama, or imagined problems.  But it seems like we have become a society of people that think that someone else’s troubles are more important than our own, for whatever reason…..and that someone’s perception of a more immediate or pressing issue completely negates the struggle that someone else is having…and they shouldn’t even mention it. It’s not either/or….it’s both/and…..’your’ problem is just that….yours….it’s not ‘greater than or less than’ anyone else’s……you don’t have to deal with their issue…you have your own….and it’s an issue to you……..maybe it’s not the ‘same’….maybe it’s not a terminal illness vs a self-esteem issue, but that doesn’t make it any less important……you could wipe out all the terminal illnesses in the world and it wouldn’t take away your self-esteem issue…..so why tell yourself (or anyone else) that it doesn’t matter? It does matter.  I have come to realize that caring about my own issues, no matter how ‘large’ or ‘small’ they may seem to others does not take away at all from the concern and caring I give to others, no matter how ‘large’ or ‘small’ their issues may seem to me….it’s not a competition….it’s not a game of ‘Are You More Fucked Up Than Your Friends?’…..it’s life…it’s their life, and it’s your life, and life is a struggle each and every day we live it…..in so many ways.

I’m learning, more and more in life, that in order to understand people better I need to put on their shoes and walk the proverbial mile in them each and every day.  Whether to walk in those shoes causes me blisters or not (my half-hearted metaphor for if I find their life difficult or not) isn’t the point….the point is it may be causing blisters for them. Just as mine do for me.  You may never see them.  They may not tell you about them. They might smile and laugh instead of wincing in pain and crying.  It may be just a cloud that passed over their heads that looked like a heart and reminded them of a lost loved one…..and yet it can impact their whole day…..it might not seem like much in comparison to the suffering others go through, but there is no comparison…suffering is suffering….how can you devalue someone else’s just to elevate your own in order of importance?

I make judgments just like everyone does…..it’s hard not to.  But I also try to take inventory of myself at the same time, and ‘tend to my own garden’…..it has a lot of weeds that need pulling. I have little to no right to make comment on the gardens of others. I’ve been accused recently (by someone on here) that I don’t think I know personally of being a ‘nasty’ person who ridicules my friends, family, neighbors…everyone….and that I think I’m so far above everyone else, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m not above anyone…nor am I below. We’re playing on the same field…..the same team….we all just wear different colors.

I laugh about a lot of things….and smile at people every day and say ‘I’m well, how are you?’ when they ask. Some days it’s true, others its definitely not, but the answer is usually the same regardless.  I don’t do it to deceive people. I do it because I’m protecting myself.  I’m not the only one in the world who does it…in fact I think most of us do.  Most of us look at the darker corners of our minds and try to throw something over it so others don’t see it.  Some of us are blessed with friends, family, therapists, and others we can confess all to without fear of judgment or reprisal….some don’t even have that. Some just can’t even put words to their anxieties.

I make a lot of jokes about life, people, stuff in general…because it’s how I get through.  I don’t do it because ‘everything is a joke’ to me…I do it because very little is a joke to me…..but it’s a lot easier for me sometimes to get through the day by ‘making’ a joke of it. I have my problems, just like everyone. And just like everyone, they matter…..they matter to me.  My angst on any given day may seem a negligible amount when put up against someone else’s troubles.  But you know what? It isn’t…..I have to live with my troubles just like everyone does…and try to go on.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

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Miscellaneous

Four-legged Goodbyes

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The children, just this morning, were asking me about my beloved Chow, Dakota (the picture above) who I had to give ‘the most selfless gift’ to more than four years ago.  He had been with me for fourteen of his sixteen plus years of life.  It was love at first sight.  I adopted him from a shelter in Maine, and never ever had a moment of regret in all the wonderful years he gave me.  When I was happy, he wagged his tail. When I was sad, or sick, or hurting….he laid right by my side…if not on my feet.  His was the most ‘human’ canine soul I have ever encountered.  He was one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ pets. He wasn’t just ‘loving’….he was ‘love.’

Even non-dog people loved him.  Whenever I had a vacation to take or just someplace I was going that it wasn’t possible to have him join me…I had a line of people looking to take care of him. He rarely barked, was completely house trained…not at all aggressive or destructive…and a gentle, caring companion.  It’s not that I travelled much, but when I did, he was always very well cared for and gave as much in return as he was given.

As he aged, I kept making sure he was in the best shape he could be, and that I wasn’t ‘keeping him around’ longer than was humane for him…his vet noted how remarkably well he was for a dog his age, and was obviously doing okay, even in his senior years.  He told me ‘you’ll know when it’s time’…..and he was right. I did.  As terrible and gut-wrenching as it was…I knew when it was time.

I awoke in the middle of the night to hear him whimpering and laying on the floor. I at first suspected a bad dream (they do have them) but then realized he was awake.  He’d been piddling a little between outings….and walked a lot slower…was having trouble getting in and out of the house with the few stairs we had…all signs that the ‘inevitable’ was nearing, but this was a big indicator that his time had come, and he was telling me.  He was hurting.  How could I possibly allow that to continue?

I spent the night on the floor with him, alternately comforting him and crying, knowing I had to let him go.  Knowing that the years I’d dreaded this had flown by in such a short time, and no matter how ‘not ready’ I was to be without him…to not feel his furry mane pressed against me…to not come home and see his tail wagging through the window knowing I’d come back, I HAD to be ‘ready’ to do it, for him, even if a part of me would die right along with him that day….

I called in the morning to make the appointment. The vet clinic very kindly told me that they would fit him in that day, rather than make him suffer.  I called my ex, whereas we had adopted him together, although Dakota had stayed with me after our split, and let him know if he wanted to say goodbye, this was it….he had to come that day. He drove down and spent some time with Dakota, and even asked to go to the appointment with me and with my husband. I of course said yes, it only seemed right, and the more love surrounding Dakota as he left us, the better for him.

In the room where I saw him drift out of this life, the vet gave him a sedative to relax him, and asked if I was ready for her to administer the final shot for him. I requested she give me a minute, that I had to make this time last for the rest of my life, and she very compassionately left the room. My ex patted him and said goodbye….my husband spoke to him and said goodbye.

And then it was just me and him left.  My sweet little angel….so old, so frail….so ready to leave…..even if I couldn’t go with him.

I said my ‘goodbyes’ to him then. I thanked him for all the years together. I apologized for not being able to take this away for him, and promised him I’d never forget him.  He’d gone mostly blind by that time.  He laid his head on my lap and looked up, though neither of his eyes seemed focused on anything.  I kissed his head, and he licked me.  I told him how much I loved him, and then had my husband bring the vet back in.  I laid down with him on me, holding him, and looked into his eyes.  She put the shot in, and in that last moment his eyes, so cloudy with age, cleared completely, and the last thing he saw before his heart stopped was the face of the person who loved him most in life…and who would miss him for the rest of his own days…..he saw me clearly, without those years that had passed and the accompanying vision problems in the way.  He saw, I am certain, that he was loved.

Today my ex is saying goodbye to his ‘fur-child’….a standard poodle who has been with him for fourteen years.  I talked to him on the phone and heard the heartbreak in his voice when he was letting me know that ‘today is the day’.  There is no ‘good day’ to say goodbye to a loving, loyal companion.  There’s no way to explain to our beloved pets what is happening, to ask them if there is a last request or an enduring wish that they have, like we do with people.  There’s no way to explain to non ‘dog people’ the heartbreak some of us feel when we lose them.  It’s one of the greatest injustices that they have less than two decades of life to live.  It’s the hardest decision ever, no matter what, to know you have to say goodbye to them.

I miss my Dakota still. I have another dog who I do love, though Dakota was my ‘once in a lifetime’ dog. That’s just the way I am. It’s nothing against the furry little man I have now, but part of my heart went with Dakota and I’ll never get it back.  I have his ashes. When I die, I want them mixed with mine, he’ll be back in my arms then, and nothing will keep us apart any longer.

To my ex, who is one of my best friends….I get it. I get how much this sucks, and what all the emotions are you are feeling right now.  You and I both know it’s ‘the right thing’ and yet it’s the hardest thing….it sucks, plain and simple.  I know the pain you are in right now.  I’ve been there before.  It won’t ever ‘go away’…you just learn to put it someplace where you can live your life day to day and ‘visit it’ when you need to, when you’re really missing them, and let the tears fall.

RIP, Sebastian……thank you for giving my friend so many good years. He loves you, and this is breaking his heart, but he knows it’s the right thing to do for you.  I’ll talk him through it as best I can, even though I know from experience there are no words to take away the grief really……but I’ve got his back…..I know you’d want that for him.

And please….if you see Dakota, tell him I miss him….tell him how much I love him, and that he’s never forgotten, and never far from my mind…..since he’s always in my heart.  Play and run with him……..be good to one another……and tell him I can’t wait to see him again one day.

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Parenting

An Apology For Being The ‘Worst Parent Ever’

A Facebook post yesterday by a friend got me to thinking.  Her post was about being in a fast food place where a mother was telling her teenaged daughter that she had to pay for her own sub, and the daughter was acting out and called her mother a ‘cheap bitch’.

I think really the larger issue is not that so many teenagers have become total ingrates….but that our society has, to me, become such that we try to compete with everyone else to make sure our kids are ‘liked’ or ‘popular’ and hand them so much on a plate or it reflects poorly upon us as parents, that we would ‘deprive’ our children in such a way. I’m not saying my friend’s encounter above was with a mother who has spoiled her child, I’m saying that when you see parents spending ten, twenty thousand dollars on a ‘sweet sixteen’ party (and there’s a whole reality show based upon this practice) or go to a playground with kids jumping in mud puddles in two hundred dollar sneakers that they then refuse to wear because they are ‘messy’ and insist you buy them new ones…..is it really the ‘kids’ that are responsible for this….or the parents that do this and then the ones that follow suit just so their kid appears to be ‘just as popular’ as their friends?

I don’t really wish to judge anyone for how they parent their child or children, it’s just….I was raised very differently from that.  I see a society full of mink coat wearing tweens and Mercedes driving sixteen year olds and remember my own experience of growing up with labels that said ‘Sears’ and ‘Anderson-Little’ and driving an AMC Hornet that I bought myself with my own money and paid for my own gas and insurance, and know that I do recognize the value of a dollar, and learned early on that my mother was not a ‘cheap bitch’….she was both not able to afford ‘more’ and was trying to teach me a lesson in life that has served me, and her, very well as adults.

Recently one of my children wanted a winter hat that has a little air pump and hose inside it and makes little knitted hands flip up and down. They cost 19.99, plus tax. Both my kids have numerous winter hats already, and this is simply a fad item.  Were it up to me, I’d spend the money more wisely on something he needed and didn’t already have, but that’s just my mid-40’s middle class frugality speaking.  I don’t pay attention to trends, other than to read certain news stories now and again. I don’t follow any crowd, or any style other than my own.  That’s just the way I am, and have been for as far back as I can recall.

I told my son that if he wanted the hat, he had to pay for it with his own money…he’d received some for his birthday, and still had it tucked away.  He agreed, even after I did caution him that it would take up most of his money, and then he wouldn’t have as much. But he wanted it, so…I allowed him to buy it.  He’s been thrilled with it, up until the point where something happened to it yesterday and the hands no longer flipped. I discovered that the air hose inside had come loose, and put it back together for him.  He hasn’t once bemoaned the lack of funding inside his wallet now. He’s happy with his purchase, spent his own money on it, and apparently hasn’t once looked back and had a case of buyer’s remorse.

Several people commented on my friend’s post that the girl deserved one or more of the following:

1. A smack for her disrespect

2. To be taken home without a sub and made to eat something there, or nothing at all

3. Being grounded

My friend commented that though she isn’t a parent, it seems to her (paraphrasing here) that kids get so much handed to them that they have lost sight of the value of money.  I am a parent, and I agree with her.  I take my kids into stores on a weekly basis and they want everything in sight. I say no, most of the time, and get told any range of things like (A) I never buy them anything, (B) I’m the worst parent ever, (C) All their friends have one and everyone will make fun of them if they don’t, and (D) They hate me.

I grew up with divorced parents and a mom who worked three jobs to keep a roof over our heads and food on our plates.  Each year we engaged in the ‘new clothes for school’ shopping ritual.  We then picked up school supplies. There were three of us to do this for.  Each dollar was stretched more than the ‘truths’ that come out of politicians’ mouths. The sale rack was stop #1, and sometimes the only stop, on our journey through the Mall.  Mom didn’t put things on credit, she paid for them with cash.  She didn’t overextend herself to give us the latest, best, or most popular of anything. She couldn’t.

From age 11 I started earning my own money. I mowed lawns. I babysat.  I never turned down an opportunity to earn money for something, no matter what else was going on.  I spent Friday nights, Saturday nights, and even whole weekends babysitting for a family with three children in the neighboring town while their parents were active members of a Lions Club chapter and went out to socialize.  I made dinner for the kids at times, helped with homework, played with them…and kept them ‘safe’…..and got paid well for it, for the time.  For an entire weekend of babysitting, whether I stayed right there at their house or kept going back and forth to my own house, I would emerge with fifty dollars in my pocket.  For mowing a lawn, I got anywhere from seven to ten dollars depending on the size of the property.

One of the perks of babysitting where I did, other than the money I made, was that the family had a huge assortment of classic books, leather bound editions, in the ‘library’ they had, which was really more like an alcove in the upper part of their split-level home that went from the front of the house to the ‘office’ (a desk, a chair, a love seat, a television, and book shelves) to the back.  I found myself drawn to the look, feel, and smell of the books as much as I was to the stories contained therein. It was here that Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, and so many others became ‘friends’.  I also had free reign over the television from 8pm on (when the kids were in bed) and slaked my thirst for Dallas and Falcon Crest every Friday night.  They had an Atari system (which we didn’t) and cable t.v. (which we also didn’t). But my biggest joy of babysitting there was the books.  Secondary to that was the money.  Earning my own money gave me a sense of freedom that was overwhelmingly nice at the time. I could decide what I wanted to buy for clothing, books, music, and entertainment (to a large degree). I could walk into a store, and as long as I used my own money, I could pick out whatever I wanted. It didn’t have to be ‘affordable’ or ‘practical’…..it was up to me. Mom tried to steer me toward ‘affordable’ and ‘practical’, and sometimes I listened, but in the end, it was my choice.

It gave me a sense of the value of money early on, and the sense of reward that comes with having something that I both worked for AND earned.  I knew that when it was gone it was gone, and I tried to make my choices wisely, and rarely did I ever regret them.

It also gave me a sense of the struggle it takes to maintain a home with one or more children….especially when you are single parenting without help.  When you realize that there’s no fat guy in a red suit coming down your chimney once a year to deck your halls with all kinds of pretty packages and that mom/dad are the ones doing it….and you realize that they are struggling to maintain the home as it is, and how long they likely had to work to earn enough money to buy all the stuff you are unwrapping and then dismissing in ten minutes time on Christmas morning….you learn to value it, and hopefully them, a little more.  ‘Things’ don’t buy happiness, and I learned that early on…that the measure of a parent’s love is not ‘how much’ they buy for you.

So, to my kids who occasionally label me as the ‘worst parent ever’…..here’s an apology:

I’m sorry that I don’t buy you everything you want.  I’m even sorrier that you are in small ways learning how to earn money and manage your own finances.  I realize that to offer you the chance to rake leaves and get paid for it when there’s that episode of SpongeTurtles on that you have seen a million times is cruel and unusual punishment.  I know that your video games get boring after thirty seconds, and you NEED a new one, and it’s really testament to my laziness and lack of generosity that you have to play the same games you just played the day before because I either can’t afford or simply don’t want to buy you another one and then hear how boring it is after a day or two.

I am aware how gross vegetables and other healthy foods are in comparison with GMO’s, processed ‘chicken’ that is only really about 2% actual bird, deep fried everything, and it’s one of my favorite forms of torture to give you a healthy-ish diet.  I feel like such a failure about this I can’t tell you, but you must realize it when I give you ice cream for dinner now and again or something like that ‘just because’.

About bedtimes? You’ve found me out. I know I tell you you need your sleep, and that a lack of it can lead to a lot of difficulties…..but…..you apparently have discovered the truth. I do it to watch THE COOLEST THINGS EVER on television, or play with all your toys, or eat things I deny to you, and deprive you of all that fun.  I know, I know…..I suck.

I feel a confession is in order about something else, too.  School is really just a brick and glass torture chamber that I send you to each day and force you to learn things.  All parents, when we have kids, enter into this agreement that we will wreak havoc on our children’s lives in this manner, and not allow them to become uneducated, unemployable sloths, because we know how much fun it is to struggle for every dime you earn in today’s world, to lack the necessary ‘educational requirements’ to pursue something that might be a lifelong dream for us,….but we don’t want YOU to participate in that particular joy in life, and therefore we make it so that you have to suffer through class work and homework and go learn to integrate yourselves into society rather than sit on the couch all day and avoid human contact altogether.

That said, I know the downward shame spiral that can plague you your whole life after school is done when you aren’t dressed EXACTLY the same as your friends are or don’t have the RIGHT labels on your clothing or see every new movie that is released or have your pockets stuffed full of Wrestling Personality trading cards each day to show off to everyone else.  Don’t let the school fool you….grades are not important. The ONLY THING that goes on your ‘permanent record’ is what you wore each day or had in your lunch bag, or what kind of notebook you carried and what pop singer flavor of the month was on it, and what everyone thought of it.  That’s it.  They don’t even keep track of grades. I made that mistake, to think they did, and now, at age 45…..it’s the absolute ruination of my life that my entire wardrobe didn’t come from Chess King as a teenager, and that I missed seeing Friday The 13th part 53, Jason On Ice! at the theaters and had to view that piece of cinematic genius on something less than a 4,000 square foot screen although EVERYONE ELSE IN THE FREE WORLD got to go see it. My parents, like me, were sadists too….they hated me….they wanted me to miss out on the things that make someone a better person because they hated me, plain and simple.

Now that you know, I cannot promise that it will change, because obviously even if I could give you everything you ever want I don’t care enough to do it.  Even if I won the lottery tomorrow and could afford everything in the world that you wanted, I’m just having too much fun torturing you to stop!  I know you’ve promised me that if I will just buy you every shade of BeyBlade in the spectrum you will love me forever and will take THE BEST care of them, and they’ll ALWAYS be special to you, but….I really AM just that mean…..and beyond that, I just don’t ‘get it’…..I have no idea what it’s like to be a kid…..I’m so old, I can’t possibly relate to you or the day to day torments of being a kid.

So, for all this, and for ruining your life with rules, structure, nutrition, practicality, and discipline…..I really do apologize.  I hope you’ll be able to function in society one day, perhaps with years of therapy, despite all my bad parenting.

Love, Dad

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Strictly My Opinion

Dead Is Dead, Governor Patrick

As I waited in line at a store yesterday I couldn’t help but notice the Boston Herald’s giant headline proclaiming that the Department of Children and Families in Massachusetts is ‘under fire’ and our Governor, Deval Patrick is calling for an independent review of the system which is being termed ‘very broken’ by many.   With what I’ve read, the Governor does not agree with this determination.

As someone who has interacted with both the Massachusetts and Maine versions of DCF, while I admit I am no authority on either and really just have my own experiences and history to offer, I can speak about both.

A five year old boy from Fitchburg, MA is missing and presumed dead. The boy’s social worker, her supervisor, and the area supervisor were all allegedly negligent in conducting required home visits to assess the boy’s safety.  When the social worker failed to make the visits, this was covered by her supervisor (according to news reports) and then further tolerated and covered up by the area supervisor.  All three have been fired from their jobs.

Three separate 51a’s (reports you file when you suspect a child is at risk of neglect or abuse) were filed between June and September on this boy.  Three.  Three separate opportunities for a risk assessment to be done and the boy to be helped if at all possible rather than now being missing and presumed dead.  The social worker, without actually making a visit to the child’s home, filed reports that the boy’s home was a ‘clean and suitable’ environment, at the same time as teachers were putting up red flags about the boy that were being ignored.

If you’re feeling ‘outrage’ at what you just read, you’re not alone.  I feel it too.  I adopted a child from foster care.  His birth history, while I won’t detail it here, is a very ‘typical’ story from the tales of children in foster care.  He could easily have been this boy who has now disappeared and is presumed dead.

What angers me more than the social worker’s practice of filing false home visit reports and that being covered up by the supervisor and that person’s supervisor, though, is the comments made by Governor Deval Patrick that this is a ‘unique case’ and is not an indication that the ‘system’ is broken.  I beg to differ. Even a ‘unique case’ where this happens is one too many and absolutely unacceptable. Dead is dead, Governor Patrick. Dead is dead.

Governor Patrick has said that he is ‘satisfied’ with the investigation that DCF has conducted into how this case ‘slipped through the cracks’. A very polite term to use when a five year old boy is most likely dead.   He is not a ‘statistic’ or a ‘unique case’…he is a human life….a life that is likely ended before it had the chance to be lived.

The boy’s father has apparently been arrested for possession of heroin.  30 bags of heroin. He reportedly has taken an apartment in Connecticut and is seeking custody of his two other children.  The mother of the children, who is an alleged drug user and supposedly suffers from mental illness, lives in Massachusetts and until recently lived with her boyfriend.  The missing boy’s sister has reported that the boyfriend is ‘abusive’.  The boyfriend has also been arrested on alleged assault and battery charges.

A fourth party in the DCF structure has been demoted and suspended in connection with this case for the ‘mishandling’ of the welfare of the missing child by not completing required monthly home visits. The primary social worker apparently covered 18 cases in her work load.  In comparison to other social workers, this is considered a ‘light’ load.  In those 18 cases, the social worker apparently did not visit 8 of the 18 homes she was responsible for.  The DCF Commissioner has said that the other 7 homes are ‘doing fine’, despite the non-presence of the social worker.  That’s all well and good, Commissioner…but it’s not good enough for Jeremiah Oliver. Dead is dead, Commissioner.

When you take in a foster child, at least in Massachusetts, you have several people involved. The child has a social worker. You have a social worker.  The child also has a legal representative. All three of these people are, by law, required to check up regularly on the well-being of the child and the family under their watch.

I don’t wish to ‘generalize’ and say that all social workers are negligent. Quite the contrary. There are some very dedicated social workers who cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’ as the saying goes. They feel passionately about their work and the difference they make in the lives of families at risk.  I know, personally, social workers that I greatly admire and respect for their attention to and devotion to what they do, and their ability to keep on trying to make a difference despite the ‘horrors’ they regularly witness in their profession.  There are excellent social workers, just like there are bad ones.  We hear more about the bad ones than we do the excellent ones, because when the bad ones fail at their jobs just as monumentally as the excellent ones succeed…a life is either put at risk or ended, unnecessarily, rather than being saved.  The press seems to like to promote a horror story more than a happy ending.  Sad but true.  And as unfortunate as they are to read/hear about, it is the horror stories that seem to make something happen.

I have been witness to and involved with the child and family welfare system in two states now, and have seen things and learned things that have caused me to really question the effectiveness of the ‘system’ as it stands now.  Because this is a public blog that anyone can read, I am going to withhold the absolute ‘worst’ details that I have.  I would discuss them with someone I know personally, but they are not appropriate for widespread visibility. Other things, though, I can and will share with anyone.

When I was a foster parent, before adoption, my child had three different social workers assigned to his case in the mandatory waiting period before he could be adopted.  I have nothing ‘bad’ to say about two of them. The third is another story.  That person was simply a ‘warm body’ assigned to the case. I do not now recall her name. She showed no real ‘concern’ for the child assigned to her. The visits she made, which at times were not ‘once a month’ but were six, eight weeks apart, and most often well UNDER an hour (because there was no cause for concern for the child’s welfare) appeared to be, for her, simply the fulfillment of an obligation. She never sat and talked with my son. She didn’t play with him. She didn’t more than once ask to see his bedroom, and never opened the refrigerator or asked to see medical records from checkups.  I get that she didn’t ‘feel’ she needed to.  But she had no history with my child. She was an interim social worker assigned to the case after the initial social worker left her job for another, and before the final social worker we had came on board that was involved up through the adoption.  She had no real knowledge of him, as a child, as a person, to see that he was developing ‘as he should’, that he was being properly cared for.  She took our word for it, and he was.  By all appearances he was fine, and fortunately in this instance it was the truth. In many cases it isn’t the truth, and those are the ones that often result in tragedy.

My son also had an attorney assigned to his case that was supposed to, by law, conduct regular visits to check on his welfare and progress. I saw her once…..one time…..in the year that he was pre-adoptive.  I did make mention of this at the time.  It did not change the lack of visitation.

Below are some of the things I find most ‘concerning’ about the way the ‘system’ works now:

1. There are some 16,000 children/families with active cases with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 16,000. To fully assess the suitability of a home, you have to evaluate each and every member of that household, not just the one child (if it’s limited to one) that there are concerns around. I cannot find any conclusive number of social workers in the Commonwealth, but have found that 18 cases is the state imposed ‘limit’. A ‘case’ is not just one child. It is a ‘family’. A family can have, and most times does, more than one child. A social worker can have only 18 cases. If each of those cases has just two children, that’s still 36 lives the social worker is responsible for. Yet each child has parents, do they not? Therefore, if each of those 18 cases has a single parent raising kids, that is a minimum of 36 people still per social worker. If there are two children in each case, that’s up to 54 people. If the home contains either the second parent or a boyfriend/girlfriend, that’s 72 people covered by each social worker.  If there are three children, that number swells to 90.  If the parents are divorced and each parent has a boyfriend or girlfriend, then the number grows even further to well over 100.  More than 100 people that a social worker is expected to visit with and evaluate in a one hour visit once a month.

2. Home visits are ‘scheduled’ more often than they are not.  It’s an unfortunate reality that a social worker cannot simply visit a family any time of the day or night and do their job if the family is not at home.  If you call on a weekend to raise concerns about a family you think is at risk, the response is not immediate.  I know this first hand.  There is not more than a minimal staff available to handle any and all calls that are received raising flags that something is amiss and someone is at risk.  Only the initialization of the screening of potential risk takes place within a few hours of a report.  The process ‘begins’ within a few hours, which can be simply writing a report on the report you received. The Massachusetts DCF agency has, by their own standards, 2 hours to investigate an ’emergency’ situation and then 15 business days to complete a report. A ‘non-emergency’ situation allows for 2 business days (that does not include weekends) to assess the situation, and then the same 15 days to complete a report.  File a report on a Friday night, and unless it’s considered an emergency, it may be the following Tuesday before anyone does anything more than just write some words in a file.

3. Home visits look for the same standard things: Is the home clean? Are the children clean and properly clothed? Is there food in the home or diapers and other necessary items to properly care for a baby? These are the things social workers are looking for, primarily, though I’m sure there are other things they try to watch for. But in reality, how long does it take to throw things in a closet or in a basement or attic and ‘pick up your house’? How long does it take to run to the store and grab some milk, some eggs, some bread and put them away if you know someone is coming?  I live in a 8 room house. There is a small grocery store in my town. I can, in less than an hour, manage to make the house look very presentable, no matter what condition it starts out in, and put food in the fridge. It’s that easy. To pass an inspection, you don’t need to provide details on what your children are actually eating. You don’t need to make the floors shine.  You simply have to make the house look ‘safe’ and have some food in the fridge, and if you have a baby in the home, make sure you have diapers and formula (if they use it).  You don’t even have to let a social worker into your home, by law, if there is not a search warrant issued or if there is not legitimate, probable cause to believe there is ‘imminent danger’ to the children in the home.  You don’t have to answer any questions posed by a social worker, or let the children speak to a social worker independently without a court issued order to allow it.

4. As an adult, you’d think that children would do anything and everything to escape abuse and neglect by their parents. You’d think that would be a ‘no brainer’. Guess again.  Children will suffer day in and day out to ‘not tell’ and not risk removal from their parents, no matter how bad their home life is.  They will protect their parents and their routine, no matter how bad it truly is, for a very long time before they will report on it, if they ever do. Children are prompted by their parents, threatened even, to keep silent about what goes on in their home.  They have it drilled into their heads that they will be ‘taken’ from their family, and their home, and never see them again if they DO tell.  They will maintain that nothing is wrong, nothing is going on, rather than risk this, until sometimes it is just too late for anyone to do anything at all.  Teachers, neighbors, friends, and other family members can raise all the flags they want. As long as you can scare your child into covering for you, and give the very superficial appearance that everything is ‘okay’….there’s not much that can be done for at risk children.

5. You can hand a child welfare agency a 20 item list of concerns, involving animal feces on the floor, bruises on a child’s body, negligence in regular doctor or dental care visits, witnessing drug sales taking place out of a home, etc., etc., etc. – and unless a representative visits that home and actually SEES these things…there is really nothing they can do about it.  They may or may not schedule a follow up visit.  Many times they just file a report that they saw ‘nothing of concern’ and the case is closed.

I could offer so much more with far greater detail of my own experience with child welfare agencies, but it would reveal levels of information that I’m not comfortable sharing with a wider audience.  I could ‘wax horrific’ about the inherent flaws in the way in which states handle at risk family involvement due to THEIR OWN RESTRICTIONS of what they can and cannot do.

I have to disagree with our Governor.  This is not a ‘unique case’. In July 2013, two months before Jeremiah Oliver disappeared, Governor Patrick called the death of another child, Chase Gideika, a ‘horrible thing’ when the child was left in the home. Chase Gideika died of massive head trauma, after being beaten by Anthony Gideika, who had believed himself to be the child’s biological father, but had found out that that was likely not the case and had begun, per his own admission, abusing prescription drugs.  Chase Gideika was three months old at the time of his death.

In 2005, a 4-year-old in Boston was killed by his foster mother, Corinne Stephen. Stephen was sentenced to eight years in prison December 2007.

In 2006, a child from Westfield, who fell into a coma after a severe beating, was the subject of numerous allegations that were overlooked.

Jeremiah Oliver’s disappearance and likely death at age 5 is not a ‘unique’ case. It is one of many, far more than I have listed above here. It is not (just) ‘unfortunate’ and ‘difficult’ and ‘terrible’.  It is far more than that. Jeremiah Oliver, Chase Gideika, and so many other children that have died when the ‘system’ has failed them were not just ‘statistics’ and ‘regrettable oversights’.  They were human beings.

Fire anyone you like. Express all the concern you like. Hire anyone to ‘review’ policies and procedures that you like.  The general populace loves to have someone to blame….it mollifies many to believe that ‘someone’ has paid the price when something goes wrong and that it’s being ‘looked into’.  It settles the dust sufficiently until it can be ‘swept under the carpet’ and people then move on to the next scandal to latch onto. It provides many with a false sense of security that it ‘won’t happen again’.

Until it does.

Removing ineffective people from their jobs is not the answer.  Reviewing what that job entails, what restrictions are in place that PREVENT a person from doing that job, and painting a more accurate picture that shows that 18 ‘cases’ is in all likelihood far too much for one person to handle and to properly address at-risk children and families in more than a mandated ONE HOUR PER MONTH visit is a start.  Requiring absolute, incontrovertible proof that that visit took place is an even better start.

The average social worker makes roughly $47K per year in Mass. An ‘Accountant III’ position with the state division of banks paid ten thousand dollars per year more than that in 2007. An ‘Administrative Assistant’ at the division of campaign and political finance was paid eleven thousand dollars more per year than that in 2007. An ‘Accountant’ at the state lottery commission made almost twenty thousand dollars more than that in 2007.  Are we really spending more per state worker for someone to oversee finances for elections that take place every four years than we are to oversee the day to day lives of our children?

As I said, I know some great social workers.  Excellent ones. I don’t really think simply hiring someone ‘else’ will make the difference that is needed in overhauling a flawed system.  I also cannot at all agree with the Governor that the system is not broken, that there is no need for such concern as is being raised now following Jeremiah Oliver’s disappearance and probable death.  Even a ‘unique’ case is one too many.  With minimal ‘research’ I found two of these ‘unique’ cases that took place in Massachusetts in the last six months alone where the child welfare agencies were involved.  To call these instances (and all others) just unfortunate, terrible, or ‘unique’ is a complete and utter travesty and to do such a soft-shoe around the broader and obvious problems in the agency that was tasked with protecting their lives is in my opinion disgusting.  I would be ashamed to have made such a ‘p.c.’ mockery of the waste of two lives like that. These two boys (and all the rest who have died) will never have the chance to stand before you and tell you what horrors they suffered. You’ll never hear them ask for help or say they’re scared or listen to them cry in pain. You should have to.  Anyone who claims that the system that FAILED THEM is not broken should.. Unfortunately, you never will have to. Because Chase Gideiki, and most likely Jeremiah Oliver, are dead.

And dead is dead, Governor Patrick.

Dead is dead.

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