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© Gail Underwood Parker

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Off to Nashville....Wish me luck

Well, dear blog followers, tomorrow I leave for a week, well a school week anyway. Five days away from my cherubs and their challenges and their joys. I am headed to Music City....Nashville, Tennessee. Why? you ask? I am headed for the only national conference on independent living. It focuses on the needs of children aging out of foster care into the wild world, and how to equip said kiddos for a successful transition. Sponsored by Daniel Kids of Florida, I found it online and decided to attend this one rather than the regular foster care conference because of its focus. On top of that, I am actually presenting a workshop there. The workshop is called "Build Your Own Parachute" and will [hopefully] teach foster parents how to use independence trunks, independence notebooks, and practice apartments to prepare their charges for a successful transition. Getting everything ready and set for presenting has kept me busy and offline for over a week, but I think I am ready. I even managed to put all my workshop handouts in pdf form onto CDs so that participants can carry home a CD rather than a stack of papers. Wheee... score one for the trees and the environment!

I am going with the world's scariest looking splint still on my hand. I am sure its wires and contraptions will make the airport security people scurry about and will set off countless alarms. Getting ready and going would be much simpler if I had the cooperation of that still pretty useless hand. The porters and bell boys will profit from my inability to pull the bags of books etc. that I am taking.

This will also be the debut of my new book, The Caring Heart Speaks. Hot off the press I am hoping that it is well received. That is something like hoping everyone thinks your baby is cute. Of course, you aren't trying to sell your baby. All the locasl folks have made the appropriate oooh and ahhhhs about the book, but this will be the first roll-out not in home territory. All in all, a slightly intimidating looking week. I'll be out of touch until I get back. Wish me luck...see you soon...and if any of you happen to be going to the same conference...Say Hello!!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Memories of Car Travel

When I was a child my family traveled by car about 10 hours to our annual vacation spot.  We usually broke it into two days since my grandparents lived 4 hours along the way.  My parents used the suitcases for our one month stay to fill the well between front and back seats. They were carefully wedged up to the level of the back seat with pillows to soften the hump between the two sides.  [Yes, there was really spacious leg room between seats in those days of long, tank-like cars.] Covering the whole thing with blankets created a bed across the whole seat and space.  As children we stretched out and could sleep away some of the long hours.  When there were three of us, two could sit [either cross legged, or facing each other with our backs to the windows] while one got to "sleep" or at least stretch out. We were completely untethered in those days before seat belts, much less should belts and safety seats! The only "air bags" we had were inflatable pillows to cradle our heads from bouncing against the window. One truly lucky young child might get permission to stretch out on the back windowledge... a space far wider than in today's cars.  It was like sleeping and resting in the viewing bubble-top of touring trains...the ultimate window seat.  I loved it!

We traveled along the spanking new New York State Thruway perched precariously on wooden toy boxes with painted-on names.... the safety polar opposite of today's car seats!  No one had yet figured out that a child sleeping on the back windowledge [the prized spot] risked becoming a flying projectile.  No one noticed that the toy steering wheel [mounted on the front of the baby seat] could impale, and the baby seat [which hooked over the top of the back of the front seat so the child could see out the windshield] could propel forward at windshield height. Not that my parents were not safety minded. We were never allowed to play with pointed objects in the car...crayons, no pencils [through crayons left on said rear windowledge invariably melted into colored pools of wax.]. We had accident "drills."  If Dad hollered "Down!" we all immediately threw ourselves onto the floor sheltered between the front and back seats. 

When I think about it, I wonder that we all survived.  The danger seems so obvious now.  Actually, it's kind of funny that the same people who were so worried about atomic war that many scrambled to build basement fallout shelters [totally inadequate against nuclear war] were oblivious to the easily prevented dangers of daily car travel! And yet, I admit to a bit of melancholy that none of my children got to experience that freedom of movement, the privileged views, ..... the innocence  and lack of fear.  

Monday, August 17, 2009

Memories of Car Travel #1... fighting

Riding in a car can be a challenge with kids. I was the middle child of three in the days before mini-vans and DVD players for the backseat passengers... when we still looked out the windows for amusement. I do remember admonitions of "Keep your hands to yourself," and "Yes it IS your turn to sit in the middle," but for the most part I don't remember much fighting.  Perhaps that is selective memory.  Perhaps the same endorphins they say make women forget the actual feeling of labor pains also numbs the memories of childhood fights. I only remember my father actually pulling the car over to the shoulder once. We were fighting in the back and repeatedly had been told to quiet down with the barest of temporary response.  Dad never said a word, simply pulled over and tuned the car off.  There we sat as big trucks roared by.  As car after car passed on their way, we continued to sit at road's edge. Eventually we figured out that these cars must be filled with better  behaved children and we quieted... nothing from the front seat. Then we pledged cooperation....still nothing, no motor restarting, no comment.  

At that moment a state trooper pulled up behind us and the tallest man I had ever seen stepped up and asked my father what the problem was.  Dad explained that he had pulled over because the noise in the backseat had made it impossible for him to concentrate on driving. He had pulled over until he was confident that he could drive safely.  The trooper shone his flashlight into the backseat when we sat frozen in its beam.  "Three kids?,"  he asked Dad.  "I have two young ones myself....They sure can make a racket sometimes."  The two exchanged a glance, no doubt of sympathetic understanding one dad to another.  "How much farther do you have to go?" "We're headed another four hours to the shore," Mother answered wearily.  The trooper nodded again and then peered back into the backseat.  "Be nice if you could get there in time to sleep tonight wouldn't it Sir? ....Shame if you had to stop too often along the way.... You might be too tired tomorrow to drive to the beach." With one more stern look at us, and [I later was told] a conspiratorial wink at Mother and Dad, he stepped back and said... "Take the time you need, then you folks go ahead and drive safely."  

After he drove off,  Dad started the car back up and pulled back onto the highway blessed by peaceful quiet in the back seat, and a spirit of desperate cooperation that lasted  for the remainder of the trip.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

School Morning -Not-so-Routines

Anybody else out there hate the morning hassle getting kids ready?  With school starting soon I am getting my kids ready for the morning routine yet again.  My kids ride the bus to school so being ready on time is essential.  Unfortunately, done independently they would manage it by skipping some part of the routine I consider "normal." Basics I am trying to teach as essential, [such as brushing your teeth and at least running a comb through your hair], become the things they see as time-permitting. This is of course means that on a rainy morning when choosing between rolling out of bed and getting started OR turning over for another 5 minutes and cutting corners.... unbrushed teeth, uncombed hair.  

Experts say that if you do an action every day at the same time, in the same way, for 17 days in a row, it will become a habit, no longer needing the effort of reminders.  The experts clearly have never met my crew! However, I have found one thing which has helped a LOT. I started doing it several years ago after seeing this approach used to help students with autism spectrum.  

Use your digital camera and take a picture of your child DOing each step of the morning routine.  Then download the pics to your computer and shrink them.  Paste them into a document checklist of the desired morning pattern. [If your child can read, add brief captions. If your child can tell time, add goal time captions.] I put mine on a clipboard hung in each child's bedroom. I got the kids involved in getting them ready... making a game of estimating then timing how long it took for each step.  The younger ones chose the fonts and colors before I printed up the charts. The kids also chose the order they would do things [with a bit of guidance so that teeth were brushed after breakfast for example.] 

In my house using photo checklist/charts saved some of the morning hassles, reduced arguments, and made the list be the bad guy instead of me. I did them low-tech before digital cameras and computers, but it sure is a lot easier now.  Try it and see how it works for you. 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Monkey List

Today I hope to cross a very big item off my monkey list.  Or at least change it to a small item farther down my monkey list. What is my monkey list, you ask?  Do you know the old expression "monkey on your back" that refers to something that is clinging to you and you can't seem to get rid off? My monkey list is a running list I keep of all the tasks or obligations that are feeling like monkeys on my back.  Some of them are beloved monkeys, some of them not so beloved.  They are some of those jobs that we list under "Urgent" or "Must Do" that we never seem to fully complete, sometimes barely get to.  Sometimes we spend hours and hours and hours, but they are still there.  

Today I hope to usher in and welcome the first official, paying, lease signed, tenants to what used to be my mother and father's home.  I have spent inordinate amounts of time over the last year and a half changing it from their home to a rentable oasis for other families.  Today is the first test of how well I have accomplished that task.  At the very least, it will mark the beginning of the first week in that year and a half that I will not, CANnot go over there and work on the house.  That alone lessens the monkey grip.  Like any house, there will always be things I could do to improve it or the yard around it.  But it is now ready for renters.  

Yes, there are a few things left yet.  I have a box of newly sewn curtains from my sister, just arrived yesterday via UPS that are not yet hung to replace some of the less attractive ones now up.  Yes, there is a new double curtain rod in my car that will not be up over the sliding doors for this tenant.  But... the house is ready.  God has blessed us with a beautiful blue sky and sunny clear forecast to add to the welcome and the ocean view for the tenants. I am ready to be the gracious hostess and then leave!.....

Or at least I will be if my clothes will just finish drying so that I can get dressed and get over there!

Friday, August 14, 2009

24-7 seems not enough

Whose idea was it to have 24 hours in a day? For the last few weeks I have had an especially hard time prioritizing responsibilities. All parents are familiar with that struggle, especially other single parents. My physical therapist an doctor think my first priority must be rehab on my hand [at least 30 min an hour]. My kiddos think I should drop everything the moment they are bored and amuse them. The writer in me is desperately eager to get publicity stuff ready for the book. The presenter in me is panicking that in 17 days I will be presenting at a national foster care conference and do not yet have all my presentation materials done. The sibling in me is eager to have my dad's home really finished to perfection and ready for tenants [lst set arrives Saturday!]. The devil in me wants to curl up on a glider and immerse myself in pillows and a book. The mom in me wants my house to be tidy and ready for a daughter to enjoy when she arrives this weekend. [At the moment the best-seeming solution alternates between starting with a front loader or with a small bomb.] Sound familiar to anyone reading out in cyber space?

The only solution it seems would be for me to have a few "days" of biblical proportions....If God created light and dark and separated the into day and night in one day, perhaps little old me could actually get MY room cleanly organized into separate areas in a biblical day? If in one day God created all the creatures of the sea and sky, surely in one biblical day I could teach my four not-so-small land creatures to get along?

But, I along with the rest of us mere humans, only get a 24-hour day, and only 7 of them per week. So I am back to prioritizing. If I ever find a system that really works, you won't read about it n my blog, because the sound of my ecstatic celebration will no doubt be heard all the way to wherever you are. If you have already found the solution.... stop hiding it from the rest of us! Share!!!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Listening and Hearing

I am feeling guilty. Feeling guilty seems to be a lifestyle for me and I suspect for most parents. Now that I have a blog I have a new guilt on my list. I feel guilty when I haven't made an entry in a few days [or more]. On the other hand, sometimes I feel that blogging is like a tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. Are my rants, raves, thoughts and ideas going out to an empty field? If so, they is an irony here, because when I speak thoughts, ideas, rants, and even rave [positive that is] to my kiddos I also feel like it is speaking to an empty field. If any of you are fans of Broadway musicals.... perhaps you know "1776" which also became a movie. In it a tired and battle weary George Washington ends one of his hundreds of battlefield reports to the Continental Congress.... "Is anybody listening? Does anybody care?"

My blog is hardly the equivalent of an army general's report to the leaders of his country. [And, if I had hundreds of readers, which I clearly do not, then my guilt would be higher when I get busy and fall behind my personal blog goals.] So, today I started by thinking about blogging and debating whether it is more diary/catharsis or more communication. But it quickly became thoughts about our parenting communication. More often than not, one is tempted to feel that much of our parenting is falling on deaf ears. That is, ears that have chosen to tune us out. But like the Continental Congress, the children are hearing even if they try not to listen. And as for caring... well we know that they don't often care now. But I think the only reason we want them to care is so that what we say makes a difference. And for that I have come to believe that what we say does make a difference, even if they don't listen, even if they don't care.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Almost a real book

Woo hoo! The proof copy of my newest book arrived via FedEx this morning. Easy proofing this time around, because the pages were provided to them camera ready so pretty much all I have to check is the cover [which I adore], so I just need to make sure it looked the way it should and then get it sent back approved.

This book has been a special project for me because it is the first I have written specifically for foster, adoptive and kinship parents. It certainly is not limited to them, but has grown out of my experiences and those of other adoptive, kinship, and foster parents I know. Titled The Caring Heart Speaks, it is a collection of almost 200 meditations on the milestones, hurdles, and celebrations of that parenting journey. From the first day a new child arrives in your home, through the many ups and downs, and beyond when they leave your care and influence, I have tried to put into words the whoops, whines, giggles, sobs, and cheers of our hearts and minds.

Hopefully the final books will be shipped and in my hands before the end of the month and I can start sharing it with those who are interested. If any of you know of an individual or especially an organization that might be interested in info, or reviewing it, etc. please let me know. Stay tuned for a pic of the cover and more updates as publication date gets closer! Cross your fingers for me..

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

There are worse things

Yesterday I was reminded that my challenges with my kiddos are not the worst thing that can be. The challenges you are having are not the worst. We all know that in our heads. We even know it in our hearts. But when we are dealing with tantrumming, or soiling, or stealing, or lying, the ragin hormones of puberty, or even just the summer whines... we just forget. We forget that we are blessed to have the time to experience ordinary [or even unusual] challenges with which we struggle as parents.

Two colleagues of mine raised two sons through the minefields of adolescence, the trauma of a classmate friend's suicide, the struggle to succeed in college, and had a lot to celebrate about their boys. Monday afternoon their 21 year old was swimming at a nearby lake with friends, suddenly went underwater, and never resurfaced. His father, who worked for years of summer vacations as a lifeguard, and his mother waited for confirmation and yesterday afternoon their son's body was recovered. I didn't get the news until late last night, too late to call my grown children and tell them yet again how much I love them, or to wake my little guys to hold them tight.

I know when I go to see my friends today I will hear people saying "No one should outlive their child" and similar things. I can't imagine anything more painful. But I also know that it has not been long, even in this country since parents could expect to outlive at least some of their children. Wars, epidemics, even infant mortality of years past. So today I have a new, renewed , more palpable appreciation that I live in a country and a time when parents can realistically hope to raise all of their children and see them live full, long lives. Enough so that we feel betrayed and angry when a tragedy strikes.

So today, no commiserating about the challenges of fostering, no hints on surviving the hurdles, or easing the burdens. Today I invite all of you to join me in my personal goal. I am challenging myself to respond to each behavior or issue FIRST with celebration that I still have time to love them and talk to them . To be consciously grateful that they still have time to grow and to love. Chances are we will have plenty of opportunity for discipline. But there are no guarantees. So, First let us celebrate time.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What do you mean it's August?

It's August. I'm not quite sure how it got to be August. I'm quite sure that it was just June, so how can July be done and gone? There must be some mistake!

Perhaps part of the answer is that July was NOT done.... just gone. Here in Maine, we have not had very typical summer weather. A day here and a day there, but not enough days in a row to make you really feel like it was summer. So how can "summer" be half over? Also, I had plans for things to do in July and another list of things for August. I have barely dented the July list, so again my mind starts can it be August?

If I feel this way, it certainly shouldn't surprise me that my kiddos are so cranky. So, here's to a sunnier August, to a full month more before the school routine begins, to the remaining days that we can enjoy, relax, explore, and maybe even learn to look past the weather and too-long-lists and enjoy what is left of the summer.