Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Life is Short, but the Days and Nights are Long*

As we cleaned out the office and spare room to turn them into two bedrooms, I went through piles of my dad's stuff.  In other words, piles of pictures.  I came across a bunch of snapshots from my parents' trip to Australia.  A koala up a tree, the view from their hotel balcony of Sydney, each of them with parrots all over their arms, shoulders, and head.  The scenic shots I ruthlessly tossed; the photos of my parents, I kept.  They look, if not young, then healthy, active, and full of life.  I did some mental math.  Let's see, that was the fall before I first went to Latvia, and Daddy turned 60 that next March...so they were 58 and 59 in these photos.  Not much older than my sisters are now.  Now Mom is dead and Daddy sits in a wheelchair all day wearing sweatpants pulled up to his armpits.  I've been feeling sad that my mom won't meet her youngest grandkids, that my kids won't know my dad to be the person he still is in my head.  From there I started thinking...it's going to go by so fast.  All the good things about parenting, all the struggles we have ahead, it's all going to slip by.  I will try to bear that in mind when I am at my wit's end, so I don't drown in the sorrow.  I will try to bear it in mind when we are full of a warm golden glow, so I appreciate the moment. 

*From a song by Cheryl Wheeler

We're moving!

To a jointly built blog.  Check us out further at http://squared4us.blogspot.com/

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Fairly boring update.

Today I graded from 9 to 3.  About an hour of that was spent enjoying a visit from our friend, and an indeterminate amount of time was spent taking minibreaks online.  But for the most part, it was grade, grade, grade.

 I got all emotional early on when a kid who was a steady D and F student in most of his classes when I taught him in 7th, and 8th, and now 10th grade, actually turned in a well-put together persuasive essay that earned him his first ever passing score on a writing sample, and got him a solid C in sophomore English.  We're talking he went from a 2.8% first semester to a 76% this semester.  One major factor is that he started going out with a girl who isn't into dummies.  The two of them stayed after school in my room a couple days a week nearly all semester.  And I think then he started realizing--hey, I can actually do this.  We started the semester with me pre-teaching him the next day's stuff, so he could really focus in class and get it done.  Then he went to just checking in with me regularly about what he should be working on next to keep his grade up.  If he spaced out in class, he'd come by after school more regularly.  If he was doing his work in class, I wouldn't see him after school until another big assignment started.  At this point, I don't see a huge future in writing for him, but he learned now to structure the basic 5 paragraph essay, and he learned that if he doesn't get behind, he can actually pass classes.  And he did get beyond the really superficial stuff in his writing, so I think he also learned a little bit about what it's FOR, how you can think things through and express your thoughts by writing. 

Of course, the kid on the other side of the room went from a 2.8 first semester to a 1.6 this semester, so I have yet to unlock the secret key of reaching all students.  Well, I know that hot girls who like smart boys are helpful, but I'm not sure how to keep a steady supply of those around. 

How is this adoption related? Well, I had to get it done before the trip, and I did, so yay me.  And yay, continued employment.  They take this grading thing pretty seriously at the high school level.  I understand there's some ritual involving credits and graduation that people put a lot of stock into.

Then we went to the library and made printouts and copies of all the documents we're supposed to bring with us.  One of my fears is being in some lawyer's office and them gasping, "You don't have your EJQ 79723 form?!?" 

My sister brought us a casserole, because I stopped cooking last week.  Jon has been supplying us with pizza and Chipotle dinners.  Ironically, I am perpetually STARVING.  You'd think I was pregnant.  But I can't find time to cook.  So Pat brought us an old family favorite, called Father's Delight.  She pointed out they chose that on purpose.  Jon was delighted.

Jon went to Home Depot to get stuff to fix our bathroom sink.  I went looking for a Court Dress.  Luckily, it's just Civil Court, not Royal Court, so I started at Ross, then went to Fred Meyers, where I found a nice summer dress that a) does not make me look like I'm smuggling a bowling ball and b) does not make me look like my sisters in pictures from my babyhood.  Seventies prints and maxi lengths seem to be in, at least if the grocery store clothing racks are any indication. 

See, I SAID it would be fairly boring.  Kudos to you if you stuck with it. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Shopped. Dropped.

Today, Jon and I spent more time (and money) in Target than we ever have before.  We'd gone through all the gifts and tried to figure out what clothes we had for the kids and what clothes we still needed.  This after some comedy of deciding we had their sizes wrong, carefully rechecking each step along the way, and coming up with the exact same answer our friend Nicole had already supplied us with.  (We weren't doubting you, Nicole, we just thought we'd given you false data in the first place.)  So we made up a list and went off to Target, and within minutes were aimlessly wandering, picking stuff up, putting it down, putting it in the basket, taking it out of the basket...It's really overwhelming.  First, Target.  Already overwhelmed.  Then the plethora of decisions.  Okay, undies, size 6--does that mean medium or small?  Does she want briefs, high cut briefs, bikinis, or boy shorts?  Does he want boxers, briefs, or hybrids?  Why are all the girl colors day-glow?  Why do all the boys' t-shirts have writing on them?  Will she want plain jeans or jeans with embroidered hearts?  Will he want skinny jeans, baggy jeans, or cargo?  Is she a dresses girl or a shorts girl?  Does he like crew socks or footies?  It went on for approximately seventeen hours, although Jon may tell you it took far longer.  He, incidentally, was a trouper. (Or possibly a trooper.)  When I was disappointed to find no long-sleeved tops for Inesa, he suggested we try Old Navy, Ross, and Goodwill, which is where we finally got lucky*, since Goodwill knows no seasonal orders.

We also managed to get waterproof mattress covers, because we decided better safe than sorry on that one.  Now both beds are made up.  It is really something to walk upstairs and see two bedrooms just waiting for their inhabitants. 

Tomorrow I must grade.  We also have a number of people stopping by in various capacities, so we will probably stay home.  It will all be rather Victorian.  "The Gassaways are receiving today." 

*I just mean we found some long-sleeved tops.  In case you were confused.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Shower? More like a flood.

We had an astounding show of support from my work friends and others today.  With less than a week to organize it, my buddies at my once and future work place organized a shower.  While not many people could make it on a Friday afternoon, lots and lots of people made sure we got presents for the kids.  Most of our wish list was taken care of--yay!  we don't have to shop for booster seats!--and then there were some brilliant things we never would have thought of, like kid-sized camping chairs and kid toiletries, including strawberry flavored toothpaste and Kermit the Frog bandaids. 

Our flight leaves Wednesday at 6:20 am.  Jon's wonderful brother is picking us up at 4 am.  Extra Lithuanian socks for that guy.  (Oh, have I mentioned?  Everyone is getting Lithuanian socks for Christmas this year.)  Jon did a huge job getting the rooms ready this week--cleaned out our storage space so we could move my dad's stuff from the spare rooms into there, converted the spare rooms into actual bedrooms by putting together the beds and getting bookshelves and bureaus into both rooms, and even installed the required smoke alarm. It makes me feel MUCH better to know we have places for them to sleep. 

 I still have a s--t ton of grading, then entering final grades, and we suddenly realized today that we should probably bring the kids some clothes. And undies.  And socks.  And pjs.  The Lithuanian Adoption Yahoo Group, my number one resource for all this, is a little confusing on this topic--some say the kids walk away from the care home with only the clothes on their back, while others were handed bags of clothes.  However, it also sounds like all the parents showed up with at least several full outfits.  While I know for certain you can actually buy children's clothes in Lithuania, and in some way would prefer to be able to have the kids try stuff on and have some input into color and style, I also think we don't want to be in a position of HAVING to go clothes shopping with two kids hours after meeting them.  So we'll make some guesses and get at least some things here for them.

I would love to write more, but I am dropping with exhaustion.  We'll try to keep updates coming.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Link for our Village

Back when I thought we'd have a couple of months to get our act together, I thought I'd summarize this wonderful post and send it out to people who have been sincerely asking how they can help.  But since time is of the essence, I'm just giving you the link. 


It's great.  She's great.  There are some GREAT adoption blogs out there.  Sigh.

In one week...

In one week, we'll be in Lithuania.  We'll be putting our bags in the apartment that will be our temporary home, fighting jet lag, and intently listening to the representative from the Family Law Centre tell us what time the next day we'll get to go meet our kids. 

This blog, formerly about learning to care for aging parents, is about to become adoption obsessed.  Welcome.  I wanted to have a forum where our friends and family can get some information about what's going on.  I know you want pictures, but we can't post photos of the kids online until they are legally ours, so for now you get this cute picture of us in Cathedral Square, taken on a visit during the year we lived in Riga.  Man, we were skinny that year. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When I First Realized I was an Adult

I wrote this last fall, when things were a little bit bleak.  I came across it when cleaning out my computer, and my first thought was that it reminds me of my niece's poem about how all her poems turn out to really be paragraphs.  So, no claims to greatness here.

When I first realized I was an adult,

I was so pleased.

Walking down a city street in a strange land,

carrying a sack of groceries

purchased with money I’d earned myself.

A few years later, another sign.

The twelve-year old looks up trustingly from her desk

and asks me to feel her forehead

to see if she has a fever. 

Becoming an adult

is what you spend childhood preparing for

especially those of us who spend our adolescence rolling our eyes at our classmates’ antics.

But now it seems that time

insists on carrying me along

in her insistent march.

My mother gone

too soon for her, with projects started in her studio

seeds ordered for the garden

talk of a camping trip next summer

and too soon for me.

I still need her guidance.

“How do I do this?”

I want to ask

as I lay on the table while the technician

rolls a wand over my belly.

She peers at the screen, not looking for a telltale tail

but just to determine if this unending ellipses of a period

is merely my body giving up on fertility in yet another way

or the sign of something more malignant.

This ultrasound won’t become my profile picture

won’t be posted on my fridge

at best, it signals hormone therapy and hot flashes.

“How do I do this?”

I want to ask Mom,

veteran of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer.

But when I get home, feeling forlorn,

there’s no Mom to call.

So I find comfort in some chocolate

and the nook of my husband’s neck.

Younger than me, but feeling his age as well.

Twelve years without his father,

and the young bucks during harvest season reaching over to help with the heavy loads.

How do we do this?  It keeps getting harder.

And our foundations have disappeared.

So we do what they did.

We lean on each other.  We keep going. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let me call you sweetheart

It's a rather odd experience sending a birthday card to someone we've never met.  Specifically, someone that we anticipate will be our daughter.  First, I looked up "happy birthday" in Lithuanian.  But I know GoogleTranslate is a fickle, fickle beast, so I also checked out a few other sites.  All three had different variations.  I went with Lithuanian Out Loud, because Jack and Raminta are da bomb.  Plus, they're actual human beings, one of whom is an actual native speaker.   Then the next question--do we just say "Happy Birthday" or do we say, "Happy birthday, sweetie"?  Because, you know, she's our little girl.  But then again, is it weird to call someone sweetie when they don't know you?  And what if I screw it up and use the masculine form of sweetie?  (Again, I deferred to the collective wisdom of Jack and Raminta.)  When I asked the Winemaker if we should add on a term of endearment, he wrinkled his eyebrows at me becomingly, then said yes.  We should say Happy birthday sweetie.  So I did.

Phew.  Parenting is exhausting. 

(little joke, there.) 

Then I did my own becoming eyebrow thing at the Winemaker and asked if I could cannabalize two awards from his former job in order to frame some prints I just had made of the photos we got from the Children's Home.  Cheap is the new thrifty, right?  Perfectly good frames sitting in a box for years on end, when they could be sitting on our dresser, surrounding two serious and sweet little faces.  So that's all taken care of.  Logging off now, to go stare at their pictures.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sandwich Moment

My husband and I go to our credit union early on a Saturday.  My sister and brother-in-law are bringing my dad, and we're finally going to get a power of attorney signed.  Sis and I tried the day before, but we needed two witnesses, and for some weird reason, the bank wouldn't let us use their employees.  So The Winemaker and I are sitting there, when the teenager young man who's notarized all our adoption paperwork notices us.  He says, "Hi, Jon and Wendy!  Do you need me to notarize something?"  I couldn't believe he knew us by name!

So there we have it.  Our adoption journey and the aging dad thing right up against each other.

Damn, we have good friends.

We decided to adopt kids.  We decided specifically to adopt kids who live far away.  We made this decision when one of us was unemployed.  Now, suddenly, the kids are on the way, and there are all these huge bills, and we're kind of freaking out.  So, after much hemming and hawing,  we asked our friends for help.  (Turns out that ALREADY parenthood is changing us.  Something I would be mortified to do for myself I'm willing to do for the sake of getting my kids home.) 

I would not have been shocked if our friends responded with "Um, sure, and can you help us with our bills too?"  Or by sending us five bucks apiece.  Because, like I said, WE decided to do this.  How is it THEIR problem?

In the, oh, ten days since we started asking for help, various friends have:
  • donated enough money to cover the finalization fees, and the re-adoption fees.
  • gotten one of their friends--a stranger to us--to turn their moving sale into a multi-family garage sale with all proceeds going to us
  • written letters for us supporting our application for a grant--letters, I add, that are heartfelt and persuasive and much better written than our actual grant application.  If we get the grant, it's all due to those letters. 
  • offered us a bed for the girl's bedroom
  • sent emails, invited us to dinner, taken us out for coffee, and actually REQUESTED that we show the adoption video and let us talk ad nauseum about the kids and the process
  • offered sage advice on continuing fundraising, and in a few cases, offered to host specific events
  • donated items for a proposed silent auction
  • probably other stuff that I'm forgetting right now
I'm not a religious feeling, but the only way to describe how all this makes me feel is blessed.  Blessed by our friends' generosity.  Blessed even more by the love behind it.  And two things occur to me:

  1. If we hadn't swallowed our pride and asked for help, we never would have known the full extent of our friends' love and generosity.
  2. People love kids.  They love their own family, so they want us to have a family.  They love their own children, so they want these children to have a home.  It really resonates with them. 
I've been doing so much reading lately, and one theme that comes up over and over is that adoption comes from deep loss,and international adoption adds an extra layer.  If childhood goes the way its supposed to, you don't need to be adopted.  But if your parents aren't able to care for you, then family should be stepping in.  If that's not possible, then someone in your own country who actually, you  know, speaks your language could adopt you.  To be sent halfway around the world to live with strangers you can't communicate with, who keep trying to make you eat weird food and follow strange customs--and in the meantime, you're still trying to process all the crap you've lived through already, to deal with your fear and guilt and enormous sense of loss and alienation--not a joyful occasion.  (And just for the record--infertility is not a hugely joyful thing either, although it didn't rip us to pieces like it does for some.)

Our friends, however, see joy here.  And they are not wrong.  Children leaving an orphanage and coming into a family is joy.  Would-be parents finding children to love is joy.  I must stay aware of and supportive of my children's struggles, but I must also expect and accept joy, for them, for us.  So I am grateful for the love, I am grateful for the generosity, and I am grateful for the reminder to be joyful. 

Friday, March 30, 2012

Completely Obsessed

It’s a good thing I was on spring break this week, because it allowed me time to:

·         Stay up until ridiculous hours of the early morning night obsessively reading adoption blogs.  May I recommend http://my--fascinating--life.blogspot.com/ and http://anymommyoutthere.com/adoption and http://www.welcometomybrain.net/ ?  And will someone please teach me how to embed links that look like words instead the actual website address?  And how to write like these amazing women?

·         Obsess about fundraising.  Brainstorm ideas for raising money.  Set up a website for donations.  Rapidly get on a first name basis with the website's help desk person.  Ask a dozen people for feedback.  Hyperventilate about getting our first donations.  Decide we need to design cheap but lovely cards to send to people who donate.  Obsess about said card’s design.  Find myself about to announce, “I need a giant piece of paper, so I can write all the fundraising ideas down in different parts of the paper and see how they overlap and figure out a workable schedule.  Do we have a giant piece of paper?  Can I use the back of one of your posters?”   Decide to hold off on this request.  Email to friends to ask for letters of reference for grant applications.  Decide one friend is taking too long (four hours) to respond, and email another friend.  Realize I sent the first request to the work email of another teacher on vacation. 

·         Test out lullabies.  “You Are My Sunshine.”   The other night, as I lay sleeping. I dreamt I held you in my arms.  When I awoke dear, I was mistaken, so I hung my head and cried. Hell no.  “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”  When you’re down and out, when you need a friend… I thought I had a winner, then I tried  singing it, and discovered I don’t quite have Paul Simon’s vocal range.  “Make You Feel My Love.”  There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do to make you feel my love.   Nice!  Or how about “Three Little Birds?”  Don’t worry ‘bout a thing, ‘cause every little thing is gonna be alright.  Now we’re talking.  And of course, the classic “For Baby (For Bobbie)” What?  You’re not familiar with John Denver’s entire oeuvre?  I’ll be there when you’re feeling down to kiss away the tears that you cry.  I’ll give to you the happiness I’ve found: a reflection of the love in your eyes.  Then it occurred to me that I’m adopting children who a) don’t speak English and b) weren’t alive in the 1970s. 

·         Nervously scan sections of seven different adoption books.  Decide that I can handle anything except peeing everywhere.  Or putting knives under our pillows.  Or sexually molesting each other.   Come to think of it, peeing everywhere is probably something I could cope with. 

·         Fill out paperwork.  Realize the I-800 form is not savable after filling out. Drive to the library and fill it out again so I can print it.  Print out the I-684 so I can fill it out at home, in pen.  Worry that it will look shabby and they won’t be able to read my printing.  Start filling it out at home, and realize that actually I need the I-864W.  Go back to the library and print that out.  Realize that I forgot to print out the supplemental page I had to add to the I-800, because they give you four whole spots to enter your adoption expenses to date, and even just focusing on agency and legal fees, I needed many more than that.   Go back to the library.  Get home and get an email that I have 15 overdue books and 2 overdue videos.  Go back to the library to return the books, and to print papers for the adoption grant applications, feeling like a criminal because I owe them so much money, yet here I sit, using their computers.  Get another overdue notice.  Call the library and point out that I turned that stuff in YESTERDAY, geez, and get them to knock $4.30 off the fines.   

·         Read a parenting magazine.  In the doctor’s office.  Like I’m a parent or something.  Take pictures with my phone of two different great ideas.  Like I’m a lunatic or something.

I'm so not ready to go back to work on Monday.  Not only do I have this vague feeling that people will expect me to have a lesson plan and pay attention to what my students are doing, but there is SO MUCH MORE TO DO to get ready for our family. 

Adoption Journey Overview

We've been thinking about adoption for a long time.  Back when I was getting pretty comfortably settled into being single for my whole life, I assumed I'd adopt a kid when I was in my 30s.  Then I met the Winemaker when I was 31, and first we wanted a few years to ourselves, then a couple more went by while we were still trying both the old fashioned way and a few of the new-fangled ways they have nowadays for those for whom the old fashioned way isn't working.  Then we left the country for a year, came back, changed jobs, and generally had a hectic period in which we had agreed we'd adopt, but didn't start working on it.

So I guess we've been actually working on it for 2 years, with about a year's lead-in of occasional conversations, light research, and an agency intro session.  I spent summer of 2010 in massive research mode, looking at programs and agencies.  Domestic or international?  Latvia, Georgia, Nepal, Guatemala, Marshall Islands, India?  How many kids?  How old?  How...healthy?  We took a few steps down the path towards Latvia and Georgia. It became clear that both programs would involve not only a long wait, but that these countries only allowed international adoptions in cases where a) there were severe medical needs, b) the children were older than nine, or c) there was a sibling group of 3 or more.  There was one group of  four boys on the list for Latvia, and I daydreamed about bunkbeds in our upstairs bedrooms.  They sounded so sweet...but four?  When we were starting from zero?

So I checked out Lithuania.  Unlike Georgia, we don't have close friends there whom we know would help us out while in country.  Unlike Latvia, we don't speak the language.  But their restrictions on international adoption were somewhat less.  They favored adoptive parents of Lithuanian heritage.  We knew there would be many cultural overlaps with Latvia, so we knew it would be a country we would enjoy bringing into our home, and place we'd scrimp and save to return to with our children, a place we could instill a sense of pride in.  When I first thought of it, I worried that The Winemaker would see it as too much my family connection, and not enough his.  But his eyes lit up, and I remembered how after each visit to Lithuania, he couldn't stop talking about how warm and friendly the people were, compared to the average person on the street or trollybus in Riga.  Then I read that the adoptions seemed to go quickest when the applicants were a married couple.  We are!  When the prospective mother was of proven Lithuanian descent.  That's me!  When the couple had no prior children.  That's us!

We went out looking for an agency.  Because Lithuania is careful and cautious about their adoption process (this is a good thing), they only allow screened and authorized agencies to work with them. Not just Hague Accredited, which I won't explain here (either you're adopting, and you already know, or you're not adopting, and you don't really care), but agencies that were specifically approved by the Child Welfare Ministry in Lithuania.  There were three of these in fall of 2010.  Two were specifically religious; one required a statement regarding your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.   I am a lapsed Episcopalean, and even if I weren't lapsed, I'd feel like that is way too personal of a question.  We applied to the third agency.

They were conveniently located in Chicago.  (We're on the west coast, so that sentence should be in sarcasm font.)  We also needed a local agency to do our home study.  Then we had to get the two agencies talking to each other and offering mutual approval.  It was spring of 2011 by the time we had an appointment for a home study.  We were nervous, although not as freaked out as some families I'd read about.  When I opened the door to our social worker, we both stared for a second, then I figured it out first.  "Oh!  You were in my knitting class last month!"  So things got off to a good start with her.  Two visits and some phone calls later, we had our approved home study.  There was much notarizing, and then much apostilling. That one I will explain, because it's slightly interesting.

See, a notary is authorized by the state.  They examine your documents and then certify that they are what you say they are.  For example, "This is a true copy of X's passport."  Or, "X and Y signed this agreement in front of me and showed me identification that proves that they are indeed X and Y."  Notaries can charge up to $10 for this service; our wonderful credit union offers it as a free service.  How many papers need to be notarized for the adoption process?  Well, the kid young man who notarizes at our local branch now says, "Hi X and Y!  Got some papers for me?" when we walk in the door.  (Note to self: I need an alias for this blog.)

But see, Lithuania doesn't know if we went to our local bank and saw a notary, or if we bought a fancy stamp and used it liberally.  This is where apostilles come in.  We take our notarized documents down to the state capitol and find the Secretary of State's office.  The Secretary, I suspect has an ACTUAL office upstairs somewhere, because this place looks kind of like the DMV.  There's a counter, and you hand your papers to a harassed looking lady, who tells you to come back in 20 minutes.  If it's a sunny day, you buy yourself a cup of coffee and go sit on the bench outside, immediately spilling the whole damn cup of coffee all over the bench.  So you go back inside for paper towels, because you don't want any of the nice government workers to sit down on the bench at lunch and soak their pants.  Then you play "hunt for the garbage can" with a handful of dripping wet paper towels in your hand.  Finally, you go inside and wash the coffee smell off your hands.  By this time, the twenty minutes are about up.  (I understand that when The Winemaker did one of these trips, he skipped some parts of this procedure, but that's how it went for me.)

In the meantime, the harassed looking lady is looking up your notary's license on file, and comparing his signature and seal to what he should be using.  Since everything is in order, a super fancy stamp is put on all of it, with some official language about certifying that this is a true notary's seal.  For $10/page.  This becomes a significant sum by the time you're done with the process.

We got everything signed and sealed--hey!  That's what that means!  Not stuck in an envelope, but with a seal put on it!  Then we sent it to our Chicago agency, and they sent it to the law firm they work with in Lithuania, and they translated everything (including letters of reference, personal statements, and the 20 page home study), and submitted it to the Lithuanian government.  (I skipped some stuff, like all the fingerprinting and Homeland Security hoops we jumped through.)  In October of 2011, our dossier was accepted, and we entered the registry of prospective adoptive parents at, oh 263 in line, or something like that.

We'd been told to expect a wait of 3 years or more.  I'd been reading the blog of a family that had been waiting that long already.  Days after we got on the registry, there was a flurry in the online Lithuania adoption community about whether or not Lithuania was closing to international adoption.  I contacted the agency and was told no worries.  Then I was told that our agency was closing their international program, and we needed to find a new agency.  Our choices were the two religious based agencies we hadn't applied to before.  It seemed that one of them, despite having "Christian" in their name, would accept a non church going family.  They waived their application fee and lowered their lawyer's fees, since we'd already paid a few thousand to the other agency, and both use same Lithuanian lawyers.  After that exciting round of paperwork (yes, more notarizing and apostilling took place), we figured we had 3 or more years to learn about adoptive parenting, save some money, clean out the bedrooms, etc.

Then one Friday in February I got an email at work.  "You have a referral.  We can't get ahold of you by phone (because oddly enough, I don't keep my phone on while I'm teaching), and we're about to leave for the weekend (because yes, we traded in an agency that's two hours ahead of us for one that's three hours ahead of us), so I'm just going to attach the information to this email."  Luckily, I was done teaching for the day, although I couldn't actually leave for another 2 hours.  I tore out of the door at 3:30 precisely, for the first time all year, and bounced in my chair while The Winemaker brought up the email on the computer.  He paused to see who else had emailed him that day, and I about came unglued.  Later he said, "I think the only time I've ever seen you nearly that excited was when I proposed."

Just like I did with his proposal, we accepted the referral.  Well, first we had an adoption specialist MD look at a video of the kids. I omitted that step with the proposal, but then, I'd had 10 months to do my own evaluations in first.

We hope we'll bring them home this summer.  But it's perfectly clear at this point that WE ARE NOT IN CONTROL OF THE TIMELINE.  Or anything, really.  So we'll just see what happens.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Happy 80th Birthday, Daddy

We're taking him out for dinner tonight.  To McGrath's Fish House, which is your basic strip mall chain restaurant.  The thing is, they serve fish & chips.  This is my dad's dream meal.  Total comfort food.  Growing up in Vancouver B.C. in the 1930's, he'd get his fish and chips wrapped in newspaper and doused in vinegar.  He has very specific ideas about what makes good fish & chips.  Really crappy, frozen types obviously offend him, but so do upscale gourmet types.  A few months ago my sister took him out for lunch here--his first meal out in a long time--and he loved it.  So we're repeating the experiment for his birthday dinner.

We had a party for him last weekend.  Just family and some of his closest (um, and still living) friends.  My sister and I both took pictures.  What I noticed when I saw the pictures is a) he still looks his best in blue and b) he is smiling all the way to his eyes for the first time in a long time.  He's physically pretty weak right now, and every hiccup in his health makes me wonder if it's the beginning of the end.  But I think I'd feel better about him dying now, when he is taking some pleasure in life again, than if he'd died last year, when he was feeling suicidal.  It sounds backwards, but I'd rather have him remember joy before he leaves this world. 

Happy Birthday, Daddy.  We love you. 

(And on a completely unrelated side note, we are so glad we are not the guy out in the pouring rain pushing an enormous lawnmower around the soggy common area.  Sheesh.)

You Know What Else is Not For Sissies?

Parenting.  Adopting.
Taking your busy life as a full time teacher --with a husband who runs a garage winery--and a very needy aging father--and adding two kids who have survived more trauma than I can imagine to the mix.

THAT is not for sissies.
So I'll be blogging about that too. 

Every since we got the call (about 3 years sooner than we expected, God help us), I've been compulsively reading adoption blogs.  I started with Lithuanian adoption blogs, as that's where we're adopting from.  I was trying to glean hints about what to expect over the next few months. as we tackle the next big round of paperwork, make travel arrangements, and then (gulp) meet the kids.  Then I got into post-adotion blogs.  There are some amazing writers out there who are fearless in sharing their stories.  I can, and have, spent HOURS devouring their words.  I can't write like that.  I have no idea if I can parent like that.  But there is enormous power in sharing experiences, especially experiences that make you feel isolated if you can't find anyone else who has been there. 

So here I go.  Is that a weird mix?  Aging parents and international adoption?  I have a feeling that it is not that uncommon of a combo, actually.  Many adoptive parents are a bit older--either our biological clocks were in a different time zone, or our first attempts at starting a family didn't go as planned.  So our parents are also older.  At any rate, I'm writing this blog 95% for myself, so I guess it doesn't matter if it's kishmish*.  See, I can even transliterate colloquial Latvian, and you can't stop me.

*a big mixed-up mess; literally, porridge.  I so loved this phrase that I never learned the actual term one would use if one didn't want to sound like a 2 year old.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Medicaid, Part Five Hundred and Seventy-Three (or whatever)

The good news:  My dad got onto Medicaid.

The bad news: They weren't going to pay the foster home enough to cover all the things they actually do.  This freaked my dad out, as he was convinced that he was going to have to give himself his insulin shots ("I can't work those new needles!") and not get any night-time care ("I need help when my leg hurts!  Or when I need the bathroom!  I can't get up by myself!"). 

The good news: The foster care owner contacted Medicaid and seemed pretty confident he could work it out.  He arranged for the social worker to come out two days later and clarify the situation.

The bad news:  The social worker cancelled.  More panic ensued.  "It's the damn government!  They don't care!  You don't cancel, you re-schedule!  I can't work those new needles!"  etc.

The good news:  She showed up two days after that.  She seemed nice.  Everything will be covered that should be covered. 

The bad news:  The foster home guy tells my sister he's about out of seven different medications, and all she has to do is show the pharmacy the paperwork, and it will be paid for.  Um, what paperwork?  We got notice about them paying the foster care rent, but not about medication.  More panic.  "How am I going to get my medicine?"  etc.  Despite my sister repeatedly reassuring him that he already has a huge supply of insulin, he also keeps going back to, "Am I out of insulin?!?"   

I just started spring break.  Since we've already established that calling the medicaid office is useless, I'll be driving over Monday morning to see if we can get this straightened out.  In the meantime, the pharmacy gave sold my sister a few days worth of most of the meds, except of course for the painkiller, which (other than the insulin) is probably the one that our dad will freak out the most about.

Monday, February 6, 2012

More about housing

Here's something I wish I had known: there are real estate agents for the elderly.  That's not what they're called, but that's what they do.  You call, you tell them what you're looking for, they give you a list of suitable places to check out, you choose one.  Presumably, the places give them a cut, so they're not entirely unbiased, but that's the case with all real estate agents, right?  They want you to guy so they get their percentage, right?  We wish we'd known about this when we were looking for a retirement home, but we did hear about them in time to get help with the foster care move.  In Oregon, here are a few websites:

I do not endorse any of these specific businesses, nor do they know I exist.  I'm just hooking you up with some websites so you can see what I'm talking about.  Nobody sue me. 

Location, location, location

Probably not the key to real estate in the elderly set.  More like "handicapped accessible toilet, competent person in charge of the meds, some form of engagement besides a TV."  We've tested a huge range of living options on our dad.  At times, it was about as humane as testing mascara on rabbits.  Here's what he's gone through in the 13 months since Mom died:

1) Live-in roommate.  This fell into our laps.  I stayed with Daddy the week after Mom died, and it was pretty clear he needed help.  Then his neighbor suggested that one of her tenants move in with him.  The man was just a few years younger than our dad, but much healthier, and with a distinct ex-hippie California vibe.  He was renting a room from the neighbor.  Daddy invited him over for a chat, and they decided that Roger could move in rent-free in exchange for dealing with groceries, cooking, dishes and laundry.  It lasted a couple of months.  It sort of drove my dad nuts to have this stranger living in his house, eating wheat germ and saying "Far out!" But it gave everyone great peace of mind, while it lasted.  Roger was a rolling stone, and by late March had rolled along the way.

2) Independent living with structured help.  We set up a schedule where one of us was down there every weekend.  Meals on Wheels came by each weekday.  The neighbors checked in.  His old climbing buddy came by often. Some church people drove him to the physical therapist twice  a week.  We wrote out directions for him--how to use the microwave, how to run the laundry, which leftovers to heat for which night's dinner.  His blood sugar was whack, and he was scarfing Hershey bars.  The cat box only got changed when we visited.  I think he got a UTI and a brief hospital stay in there.  We kept having to drive down and help him clean up after bouts of diarreah.  Nobody should have to wait 90 minutes to get cleaned up after shitting themselves.  Nobody should have to take unpaid time off work to drive 3 hours round trip to deal with that.  It was pretty much a complete disaster, but he didn't die, and it got us through until summer.  It finally got hard enough that he admitted it was time to consider leaving the house.  He lived 90 minutes from 3 of us (add 4 hours for the other daughter), so we really wanted him closer.  I was initially thinking some apartment or rental home near us, but he was really not able to do anything for himself. So we started looking at... 

3) Retirement homes.  This didn't work for us, but it could be a good option, if you had a bunch of money and were reasonably mobile.  He had a two bedroom apartment with a kitchenette, but ate his meals in the dining hall.  They had assigned seats, so if he didn't show up for a meal, someone would notice.  The shower was too hard to get into and out of, so he really only showered when we helped him.  It seemed like it was working pretty well for a few weeks, then his legs got all wobbly and he fell, and wound up in the hospital.

4) Assisted living.  When you can't take care of yourself much, you move to the other wing, where people take care of you.  It costs more, and apparantly, if you're going to run out of money and go on Medicaid, they don't really want to take you.  They have "limited staff" for "high needs residents" and they come to the hospital and watch you shuffle up and down the hall with your walker and tell you regretfully that they just don't fee like they'd be able to offer you the level of support you need.  So we actually didn't get to try this option. 

5) Rehab Center.  He spent over a month here.  The best part was daily physical therapy.  There were a lot of worst parts.  The food sucked, which is no big deal if you're there for three days, but for six weeks?  They were understaffed.  The rooms were shared, and the whole ambiance was both loud and lonely.  Since he'd flunked out of assisted living, when he checked out, we moved on to...

6) Adult foster care.  Does this thought make you queasy?  There are time when I just want to shoot myself for putting my dad in a group home.  But it's not creepy, really.  We interviewed 3 places, all of which were run by Romanians. What's with that?  We chose the place he's at because they have three cats, the guy is authorized to deal with the highest level of care (e.g. he can offer hospice when it comes to that, so we will never have to move Daddy if he gets worse off), it's about half a mile from my sister's house, they have a beautiful porch and garden, and, well, those three cats sure were cute.  No wait, it was also because his room has a private bathroom with a handicapped toilet (the toilet itself is not handicapped, but you know what I mean), and the place has a spiffy walk-in shower.  Plus the guy who runs it has a reputation for actually improving the health of his residents, instead of just watching over their decline.  It also has a TV in the living room that is ON 24 HOURS A DAY, I KID YOU NOT.  My dad hasn't had a TV since 1965.  He grumbles about seeing the same Bonanza episode over and over again, but he admits to liking "that funny show with the older ladies" and Jeopardy.  He has announced that he like to watch football, which is staggeringly weird to me.  My dad hates sports.  He's also a total pacifist. Just two years ago he tried to make male bonding talk with my husband by saying, "So, I hear there's some big game on soon," the week before Superbowl.  And THAT surprised me. 

Oh wait, I was talking about foster care, not my dad's strange metamorphis into a football fan.  I guess it's related.  If the TV weren't on all the fucking time, he might have been able to remain oblivous.  Anyway.  The most obvious benefit to this living situation is that with meals coming like clockwork, and medicine, including insulin, also being doled out in precise amounts and at exact times, his blood sugar is more stable than it's been in years.  My dad should probably be in the Guiness Book for having lived with diabetes longer than anyone else (since about 1945).  As a result, people don't really know what to do with him--there's not much precedence.  He's been very lucky, and my mom was very good about taking care of him.  But even before she died, things were getting wonky.  Then when he was on his own, his sugars were completely out of control.  Now it's great.  And the people that run the place don't sleep.  One of them is there all the time, and as far as we can tell, someone is always awake.  He needs a pain pill at 3 in the morning, the guy comes in and give him one, logging it into his record book.  When he was at the rehab center, I once sat with him for 20 minutes while he waited for someone to respond to his call light.  This is by far the safest of all the things we've tried.  Honestly, it's probably even safer than the last few years he was living with my mom.  Which doesn't mean it's great.  Instead of living in his own sunny home, with friends all around, classes to teach, an office to work in, and all the trappings of a normal life, he's living in a small bedroom in someone else's house.  He gets homecooked meals, but they're not tailored to his tastes.  There is company around, but they aren't his friends.  The cats aren't even his pets.  I'm surprised he doesn't hate it, but it really seems like he's doing okay.  In just the past month, he's come out of his year of mourning and depression and has started to enjoy life. He's suggested outings to us, he's gotten a library card, he's talking about a trip to the mountain this summer, he's reminding us that his 80th birthday is coming up.  He was so low last spring and summer that I felt like we were taking him there to die closer to us.  But he's "not dead yet" and in fact, seems to be perking up.  So despite the f'ing TV, and my residual guilt for pawning my father off on strangers, I am very happy with this arrangement.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Finally poor enough to get some help

Let's not beat around the bush: you need to be poor to qualify for Medicaid.  But let's also be realistic--if you live long enough, yet are not the picture of health, chances are you'll be poor eventually.  When my parents had their home (damn the reverse mortgage, but it allowed them to stay there indefinitely), one car, Medicare health insureance, and a small but steady income, it was a tenable situation.  With the home, car, and income stream, they couldn't have qualified for Medicaid.  When Daddy had to leave the house, he didn't get any money because of the damn reverse mortgage.  Whether it's a retirement home, assisted living, nursing facility, or adult foster care home (and if you're good, someday I'll explain each of those in detail), the rent is more than his monthly income, so it didn't take long to blow through his limited savings and Mom's life insurance payoff.  But because he has so few expenses beyond rent and medical, after dropping his savings drastically,  he hasn't emptied the account quite as quickly as we anticipated.  They really don't want to even TALK to you until you are moments away from dropping below $2,000 in total assets.  The first time I called, she told me to call back a month later, because we were sure to get rejected at that point. 

Now we're there--the January payment for February's rent will drop him below 2K.  Then we get a bank statement and send it to our social worker, and she gets him signed up.  What does that mean?  We finally got a pretty good answer to that.

Last things first, he gets to hang onto about $160 pocket money a month.   This is for things like toothpaste ("That's a lot of toothpaste" my dad deadpanned when she mentioned that as an example), haircuts, magazines, and whatever other little toiletries or treats one needs.  The rest of his money he pays towards the rent.  But he earns less than his rent, so Medicaid covers the rest of it.  He also gets a Medicaid card to flash wherever he currently flashes his Medicare card.  This means Medicaid picks up the co-pays or whatever else isn't covered by Medicare.  (Wasn't it brilliant of them to name the two services almost the same thing?  Keeps things nice and bewildering.)  If he somehow ends up making a health-related payment out of pocket, he is supposed to give a receipt to Medicaid.  They deduct that amount of that month's portion of the rent he's responsible for, and cover that gap on their end.  So instead of just reimbursing him, they adjust the rent.  Sounds a little clunky to me, but who am I to question the mysterious workings of Government? 

This is one of those entitlement programs people keep bitching about, am I right?  Like my dad is so damn SPOILED and GREEDY for being old, sick, and broke.

I love Medicaid.  I love that they make sure you're out of money before they qualify you, because really, even an extra month or two of rent makes a difference when you multiply it by all the old people in the country.  I've hated the rigamorale we've gone through, but I respect the purpose.  I am deeply disturbed that it is so hard to find out about the program in the first place.  Without Aunt Margaret, I wonder how long it would have taken us to figure out how to do this.  We really thought one of us would have to take him in.   That's not just a matter of bad American daughters valuing their independent lifestyles over their aged parents.  None of us have first floor bedrooms or showers, none of us have wheelchair friendly houses, all of us work full time because we need the income, and he needs round-the-clock care available.  The only alternative we saw was all of us pitching in to cover his rent, and that would have been somewhere between tough and impossible.  So to have a program there to cover the basics gives all of us enormous peace of mind.  He's willing to live with just the basics.  Former world traveler who owned his own home since he was 23, he sits in a small room with a single bed and a couple pieces of borrowed furniture and is relieved he won't be asked to leave.

Remember what I said about saying something?

The first anniversary of my mom's death was a week and a half ago. 

In today's mail, I got two sympathy cards.  One was from a woman I worked for in college, decades ago and a long ways away.  We exchange Christmas cards, and when I saw her handwriting on the envelope I thought, "Oh, maybe Fleur's getting a little confused and when she got my card, thought she hadn't sent me one yet."  But in my card, I had mentioned mom's death early in 2011, and Fleur, wise and kind woman that she is, knew that the right thing to do was say something, even though a year had gone by. 

The other wasn't a sympathy card per se, but another dear old friend that we communicate with once a year had gotten the news in this year's letter from us, and expressed her sympathy in her letter back. 

They both did right.

Mountains of Paperwork

The rescheduled meeting with the Medicaid social worker went well.  She seemed quite nice, and was confident Daddy will qualify for the program.

Before the meeting, she'd sent a list of about 16 different documents to collect.  We went into a tizzy about finding out his burial plan, because we thought they were trying to establish if they'd have to pay for it when he died.  He's signed up to donate his body to science, but if he were to die of an infectious disease, the donation wouldn't be taken.  We would DEFINITELY deal with that when the time came, but we worried that Medicaid wouldn't just take our word for it.  The heroic Winemaker* made a trip to the Medicaid office to try to get this addressed before the meeting, because there seems to be some sort of DHS policy against answering your phone or returning phone calls.  It turns out they just want to know if you have a policy that could be turned into cash. 

In the meantime, my sisters and I got together for a gathering of the paperwork.  We all have piles and boxes from our parents' house in our garages.  Because my dad moved a total of three times this summer, boxes came in and out and got mixed up and nobody really knows where anything is anymore.  So we each rummaged through our own piles and brought in the things that looked most official, and after 3 hours, a lot of coffee, and one more trip back to my house for another file I suddenly recalled, we had everything together.  And a serious caffeine buzz. 

At the meeting, here's what she actually looked at: driver's license, social security card, bank statement, and paystubs from his income sources (social security, annuity, and pension). 

On the other hand, we now have all the important paperwork in one file, and we know where it is. 

*He also makes baklava.  How did I get so lucky?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

One year

Mom died 364 days and two hours ago, give or take.   The whole holiday season was a little odd this year, but not as painful as I had expected.  She had gone into the hospital on Dec. 5, so last year's holiday season was decidedly unfestive.  That Christmas day, the Winemaker and I drove down to her hospital (about 2 hours each way) to sit and hold her hand for awhile.  She was unresponsive, all tubed up after surviving heart surgery.  On New Year's, she was able to communicate, but was still tubed up and our optimism was decidedly guarded. A few days after that, she asked to have the machines disconnected. This year felt wonderfully relaxing in contrast, and I was actually able to enjoy my time off and enjoy being with my family.  Which made me think maybe this whole anniversary thing would go okay.

My plan today (and there was my first problem; the one thing last year seemed determined to teach me was to eliminate the word 'plan' from my vocabulary) was to get up before the Winemaker, so I could do my lesson planning and correcting, then go see my dad before lunch, then have the afternoon and evening free to take a walk, play some board games, read, knit, etc. 

Instead, I slept late.  Really late.  Then I got up and read the end of a book.  Brilliantly, I chose this week to finally read the memoir I've heard is so good.  It's by a middle aged mom who got breast cancer, and in the middle of her treatment, her adored father gets bladder cancer.  Yep.  Truly a brilliant choice.  So then I kind of sat on the couch for awhile.  The Winemaker came by to cuddle with me, and I started crying.  After awhile of that, I decided to make cookies.  I made a terrific new recipe I tried for the first time last month.  But today it didn't turn out right, and I couldn't figure out how to solve it.  My niece stopped by to pick something up around 2:30, and very politely ignored the fact that I was still in my pajamas and robe.  I sat down on the couch again to look at some gardening books, and instead fell asleep for a few hours.  Missed a phone call from my dad, who wanted to know if I've called the Medicaid lady to reschedule (nope) and if I knew that the anniversary of mom's death was tomorrow (yep).  Then I made nachos for dinner and proceeded to overeat.  Now I'm sitting on the couch again.  Did not visit my dad.  Did not do my work.  Did not get any exercise.  I don't think my mother ever had an unproductive day in her life, barring when she was in the hospital.  So that's an extra layer of guilt over the whole wasted day--that I'm incapacitated by grief over someone who would never have been so self indulgent.  

The Winemaker, in addition to giving me lots of hugs today, figured out a solution for my cookies, worked on the car that's been giving me issues lately, and chopped up the Christmas tree to put in the debris bin.  I'm glad someone around here is functioning.   But it's the kind of day when my husband being wonderful makes me want to cry, because someday he'll die, and how will I survive that?  Or I'll go first, and what will he do?  Okay, I take that back--it's the kind of day where these thoughts make me actually cry, not just feel weepy.  I'm really hoping that 180 chaotic sophomores do a good job distracting me tomorrow. 

And after 10 hours of sleep last night and a two hour nap this afternoon, I think I'm heading to bed early.  Grief.  It's tiring.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Just the facts, ma'am

In the meantime, I'm going to follow through on my promise to list what DHS wants to know at a Medicaid Screening.  That's a phone call or office visit where you give them the info on the applicant, and they let you know if it's even worth going further.  The most frustrating part for me was how hard it was to get ahold of people at these offices.  I realize it's an issue of underfunding and understaffing, but it's still maddening.  I can't exactly take phone calls while I'm teaching, so we got into a pattern of me calling during my prep, them returning the call the next morning around 10 am, me calling back and getting voice mail again...I finally got a sympathetic receptionist to email the social worker and ask her to please take my call, because she knew the SW was in her office right then.

When you do finally get a human on the line, this is what they need to know about the applicant:
  1. social security number
  2. date of birth
  3. full name
  4. current address
  5. emergency contact names and numbers
  6. primary care doctor and contact info
  7. diagnoses
  8. income and financial resources (They wanted to know exactly how much he had in each bank account)
  9. isurance programs and numbers for medical, life, and burial insurance
  10. monthly expenses--rent, utilities, medical bills, insurance on house, car, etc.
  11. medication
  12. what daily funcitons the applicant can and can't perform on their own (walk, dress, feed, shower, cook, laundry, etc.)
  13. cognitive ability
It took me awhile to even figure out who to call.  If you're in Oregon, they're at this website:
It's Department of Human Services, Seniors and People with Disabilities division.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Well, that was a fail.  I took the time off work, wrote the sub plans, dashed home for my phone, and got a message that the lady was taking a sick day and we'll have to reschedule.  Hmph.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


For years, I thought that Medicare and Medicaid were two different terms for the same program.  Like ESL and ELD, or Iran and Iraq.  (I jest.  But I do, embarrassingly, always confuse the two.)  Then my parents got old and went on Medicare, and I still didn't know the difference.  Then, in a chance conversation with my aunt about how we couldn't afford the kind of help my dad needed, she explained a bit about Medicaid.  Bless you, Aunt Margaret.  Four decades of extremely distant aunthood compensated for in an offhand comment that looks like it will save our butts.

Here's the scoop.  Medicare is a health insurance program for people over 65 or disabled.  Basically, if you qualify for social security disbursements, you qualify for Medicare.  It's not just one government program, but a group of health insurance plans approved, and, I believe, subsidised by the Medicare office.  Since my dad was self employed and my mom was, um, also self employed, they had crap insurance for much of their middle age and beyond.  As their dependent, in college I twice visited the emergency room for stuff a family doctor could have handled, just because our insurance was so lame.  In their 60s and 70s, Mom and Dad had a lot more medical issues than your average college student, so medical bills were eating up a huge amount of their income.  As a result, they were actually kind of excited to go on Medicare.  A few years ago, they got into a program that didn't even require any premiums at all, which was definitely more in line with their budget.  I don't know the details, but I think that their limited income is why they qualified for that particular arm of the program. 

Medicaid is different.  Because aid and care are different, see?  Medicaid provides financial support not just for health insurance, but for living expenses.  In order to qualify, you have to be seriously broke.  Last spring my dad was living in his own home (although with a reverse mortgage--more on that later, in the meantime, DON'T LET YOUR PARENTS GET ONE), owned a car, had a few thousand in the bank from my mom's life insurance, plus his whopping social security check and over $300 a month in pension funds heading his way.  We thought he was basically broke, but when we tried to get him Medicaid, he didn't qualify.  He was livid.  I pointed out that it meant there were people worse off than him. Somehow this didn't mollify him.

He had too much money and assets to qualify.  As long as he could stay in his house, his measley income worked out.  But when he needed more care, any option we looked at, from home help to assisted living to an adult foster care home, cost more than his income, and his savings weren't going to last long.  We were all entering a state of terror.  His main concern was that he'd end up on the streets.  This didn't seem terribly realistic to his four daughters--I mean, come on, this ain't King Lear.  But we were all wondering which of us was going to have to move into a house with ground floor bedrooms and quit her job to take care of him.  At which point, it might have become rather Shakespearean after all.  That's when Margaret said, "You need to go into a Medicaid spend-down.  They'll let him keep $2,000."  We had very little idea what she meant, but we started looking into it. 

They're serious about the $2,000.  Now that he's in adult foster care, where the rent is double his monthly income, we knew we needed to get him signed up.  But when I talked to someone at DHS and she heard he still had $5,000 in the bank, she told me to call back the next month.  So we payed the $3,300 for rent and tried again a month later.  I answered questions, and tomorrow is our intake interview.  Wish us luck.  If he qualifies, Medicaid takes over paying the rent.  They have an option to pay for food as well, if that were needed separately. 

Next time I'll go over the questions you need to be able to answer for the screening and the paperwork you need to gather for the intake interview.  Since your odds of actually getting a human being on the line at DHS are about equal to the odds of  hitting all green lights on your way to work when you're running late, it helps to know up front what they're going to ask, so you don't waste an actual conversation on just finding out what you need to know the next time you're lucky enough to get someone to pick up the phone.  And hopefully, I will also tell you that he passed the interview stage.  Did you wish us luck back in the previous paragraph?  If not, take a minute to do so now.  Thanks.

Monday, January 2, 2012


I've never blogged before.  Can you tell?  Wait, don't answer that.  Here's what I've discovered after about twenty minutes and one post.  Names are awkward.  I refuse to call my husband DH.  I don't really want to use his name, because he's a private kind of guy.  I thought about calling him Pillar of Strength, but that has a truly unfortunate acronym. But to keep calling him "my husband" is sure awkward.  I suddenly understand why Malboro Man and Mommy Scratches exist.  I mean, why their pseudonyms exist.  Oh, never mind. 

I think we'll go with the Winemaker.  Because Vitner and Enologist both sound kind of stuffy. 

What Not to Say

When my mom died last year, people were kind.  It's quite natural to want to comfort someone when they lose a loved one.  The problem is, there isn't anything you can say that actually helps.  You can, however, be annoying while not helping, or just be kind while not helping. 

In the first category, we have all the variations of  "She's in your heart" or "You'll always have her with you."  Fine.  True enough, and nearly a year into it, I'm beginning to see what you mean.  But in the thick of grieving, this is somewhat like telling someone who just lost their eyesight that they can at least remember what things look like.  I don't want memories of my mom in my heart; I want my real, loving, creative, pain-in-the-ass mother in her own damn house.  Same with telling me that the pain will recede with time.  So, you're saying you suspect I'm a callous traitor?  Now that time has passed and the pain has, yes, receded, I know that this is basically the only way we as a species, let alone me as an individual, can carry on.  But to tell me in the weeks after my mom died that I would not always be in pain felt like an accusation of betrayal.  Mom doesn't get to move on from being dead, why should I get to move on from grieving? 

And don't even get me started on the "God's plan" or "God needed an angel" people.  Come one, seriously?  God needed a bunch of dead Rwandans, everyone who was on a beach in Thailand during the tsunami, dozens of teenagers in a Colorado high school,  that little kid whose stepmom murdered him last summer--AND an old lady with limitless energy but limited patience?   The idea that there is a God who goes around intentionally slaying people in order to get more harpists is so not a comfort.  Luckily, I don't know many people who went there. 

Here's what is helpful.  Say something.  Yes, even if you say something stupid.  I resisted rolling my eyes because I knew you were trying to be kind, and it sucks to want to help when someone is dead, because you can't. But out of the grey fog that surrounds the entire time mom was sick, then in the hospital, then dying, then recently dead, I have surprisingly clear recollections of who realized the impossibility of consoling me and gave it a go anyway.  The first sympathy card I got was from the mom of a woman I've been friends with since 3rd grade.  Our moms hadn't even seen each other in 20 years, and I've only seen J. a few times in there myself.  But she sent me a card, and it was so sweet, and I will always think even better of her than I did before.  My godparents sent each of us a letter.  An old friend of my dad wrote a nice note about what that friendship has meant to him, my mom's childhood friend wrote several pages of recollections, and one of my friends who probably was briefly introduced to my mom at my wedding stopped by the house with food. I wasn't even home; I was staying with my dad, but just the idea that she took the time meant a lot.  My dad kept all the sympathy notes he received in a little basket, and all of us went through them compulsively for a few months.   Nobody can do a damn thing, but somehow it's still important to try.

Here's a funny story--well, okay, maybe not.  After missing most of the December and a huge chunk of January, I went back to work.  And nobody said anything.  It was surreal.  Then one woman, whose dad had died the year before, asked me out for a beer, and expressed her sympathy.  I thanked her, and mentioned the eerie silence I was getting from the rest of our colleagues.  She explained that our principal had asked everyone to respect my privacy and not bring it up unless I did first.  I know he meant well, but wow.  You need to say something, people.  Acknowledge it.  You can't fix it, but you can honor it by acknowledging it.

In all that time, I heard two things that actually worked for me.  First, the day mom died, I posted her birth and death dates and a photo of her on Facebook.  Then I instantly felt like an idiot, and posted a comment calling myself tacky for having done that.  A FB friend, who is more of a distant acquaintance in the real world, responded with something she had learned when her own mom died.  "There is no wrong way to grieve."  I hung on to that thought pretty tightly.  With three sisters and a dad reeling from the same pain, it didn't just help me deal with my own grief, but also helped me allow them theirs. 

My husband was every (positive) cliche possible.  Pillar of strength, shoulder to cry on, shelter in the storm--he took them all on.  His dad died a year before we met, so he had wisdom to spare.  Most of which he put to the wise use of not saying much.  But he did tell me that what would be worse than the pain and sadness would be losing a parent and not feeling very bad about it.  This didn't make much difference in the pain, but did at least make sense to me.  Months later, I was in the middle of a group of people grousing about their mothers, saying how they avoided talking to her.  I was briefly bitter, wishing as I do that I could talk to mine, then I saw my husband's point--I was so much better off for having had a close and loving relationship with my mom.

Ready for the recap?  Avoid "God's plan" crap unless you know for a fact the person you're talking to really thinks like that (and while they might have before the death, they may be revisiting that, so maybe just avoid it altogether).  Go light on the "you carry them with you," but if it's all you can think of to say, go for it.  Say something, and not just once, but the next several times you see the mourner.  And if it's you in mourning, however you're handling it is probably the right way for you.  Unless you're, y'know, mainlining heroin or beating people up.  (Bonus tip: alcohol doesn't help, but you'll probably try it a few times anyway, so you may as well buy a bottle of something you like.)