Thursday, August 30, 2012

The "Go To" Girl for Foster/Adopt Infants

It's funny how things change after four years of fostering.  When I first started out, I remember begging my agency to find me a baby.  It took four months before I got my first placement.  Four years later, having developed relationships with caseworkers, CASA volunteers, GALs, my children's teachers, etc. it seems I am the "go to" girl for placing babies.

If you don't follow Trippin' on FB, you probably don't know the latest development in my string of "there's this baby, and I thought of you..." moments.  Ever since Monkey was returned to his daddy back in March, I have had multiple phone calls from people with "potential" foster/adopt situations...  all outside the "norm" as far as how regular placements work.  I think everyone is now bound and determined to get me a baby.  More specifically, a baby that I can actually keep!

It all started back in April when I received an out of the blue phone call from the Invisible One.  She was in court, and was in the midst of a conversation with one of the GALs about two separate cases where the babies needed foster-to-adopt homes.  One was a newborn in the NICU.  The other was an 11-month-old little girl whose TPR hearing is scheduled in October.  She told the GAL about me and apparently just sang my praises.  I said "no" to the newborn because the baby has to be old enough for daycare, but I said "absolutely!" to the 11-month-old.  It's a very slow process, but the last I heard is that I am one of a few families still "being considered" for her.

Since then, I've received several potential placement calls from my agency.  I've received calls from friends and family with conversations that start out like, "So I know this person whose relative's baby is about to go into foster care, and I told them about you."  People tend to call me when they have questions about foster care and for specific cases, and the conversation usually ends with something along the lines of "Well, if CPS does step in, at least we know a great foster mom!"

Most recently, the Invisible One called me on Tuesday to tell me about a 7-week-old baby boy who is on her caseload who she'd like to have moved into an adoptive home (meaning mine).  She didn't give many details because she was in a rush, but from what I could gather it's a pretty messy case.  It's still very early in the case, but she is fairly certain it will end in TPR and adoption and she doesn't want him to be in a foster-only home for very long.  After I got that little bit (along with a few hurried case details), she exclaims "I'll call you back!" and promptly hangs up.  I haven't heard from her since.  She didn't earn her name of "Invisible One" for no reason.

So here I sit, two days later, impatient as all get out!!!  I emailed yesterday right after I initially spoke to her (just a quick "I'm so excited to hear more!" email so she'd remember that she talked to me).  I tried calling her yesterday afternoon, but her voicemail was full.  This morning, I emailed her again:
"Girl, I'm DYING here!  Don't tease me with a baby and not call me back!  ;-P  Are we talking 'there's a really good chance of this happening,' or is it more like 'it MIGHT possibly MAYBE happen if...'  I've got baby fever BAD. (If you couldn't tell... :-)"
Fortunately, the Invisible One responds well to casual, friendly banter so I'm hopeful she'll get back to me sooner rather than later.  I just want to find out if she thinks this move will actually happen, or if it's just one of those "would you be interested if..." kind of things.  I am out of my mind fiending for a new placement, but I am trying so hard to be patient and wait until after Baby Girl's TPR hearing in October before I open back up.  With my luck, if I took a new foster placement now, they'd call me in a month and tell me that they've chosen me to adopt Baby Girl.  Then the Invisible One will call and ask "when can I bring you Baby Boy?"  With Monkey still with me half of the week, I would be able to rival the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe!

So this is me...  Trying desperately to have a little patience...  But I have to admit I am currently composing a broadcast email to everyone who has mentioned a "possible" baby to me telling them that I have room for no more than two (plus Monkey).  I draw the line!  ___________________  You see that?!?  That's the line!  No more than three kiddos total!  First come, first served!  There's only one of me, and I don't own a bus!  (However, if anyone knows of a good deal on a bus... ;-)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Meatballs at Midnight

Last night just before midnight, I had just laid down for bed when the familiar "ring, ring" alarm sounded on my cell phone.  I had a text message from my BFF.

Katie:  "I want a meatball.  I'm pretty sure I have issues with food.  Pitiful."

Me:  "You're a mess, and I am totally going to blog about you tomorrow.  :-)"

Katie:  "I mean, this is ridic.  It's midnight, and I'm thinking about meatballs!"

Me:  "Perhaps this veganism isn't your thing..."

Katie:  "I'm committed to 30 days.  I keep telling myself it's for my health.  It'll get better.  Right?!?!?!?!?"

Me:  "Oh totally!  :-)"

Katie:  "I sense sarcasm."

Me:  "From ME???  Never!!!"

Katie:  "I hear vegans are really in touch with their bodies and surroundings.  I think my special vegan power must have picked up your sarcasm."

Me:  "That must be it...  Who wants a meatball when you can have superhuman abilities???"

Katie:  "Exactly!  Well, off to dream about dancing steaks and hamburgers.  Nighty night!"

You see, Katie is beginning Day Three of a 30-day Vegan challenge.  She doesn't do anything half-way when it comes to diet and exercise.  She's always trying to convince me to do some crazy "health" plan.  And by "crazy," I mean things that involved sweating and/or diets consisting of weird four letter foods that no normal person would consume like kale and tofu.  I like foods that end with "a" like "enchilada" and "lasagna" thank you very much!  There was the time that Katie tried to get me to train for a 5K "Fun Run."  When that didn't work, she tried to convince me to sign up for an Elite Boot Camp.  F'real!  Do I strike you as the type of person who would willingly wake up at 5:00am to go sweat???  She's even managed to sucker me into joining Fat Class at work (aka. Weight Watchers) before!

When Katie presented her "let's go vegan" proposal, she attempted to win me over with a picture of a super yummy looking smoothie.  It really did look good, and I made the mistake of mentioning that.  Katie replied with "It is good!  So you just need to take the plunge and go vegan with me!!!"  I proposed a counter offer of "modified vegan..."  You know...  Where I get to still eat meat, cheese, and other dairy products...  Katie wasn't impressed.  At least she can't say I'm not supportive!  I offered!  :-)

I have gone vegetarian before for about a year, and am giving that some serious thought as a good compromise on the vegan thing.  I was almost convinced that it was a good idea this morning until Katie made the mistake of sending me a photo of this morning's smoothie.  It was green and runny, and her "you need to go vegan" spiel was "You really can't taste it.  Just didn't get the texture right so it sticks to me teeth."  In the past 48 hours I have heard, "It's hard not to be jealous, but I'm eating apple slices for breakfast!"  "I think my stomach is shrinking." and "I considered eating my own finger a few minutes ago just to get some meat in my mouth."  Um, yeah...  I think she needs to work on her marketing skills a bit.

So here I sit, trying to decide just how far I am willing to go as the supportive BFF.  I'm thinking "vegetarian" with one "free day" a week so I can still get my Tex-Mex fix.  I wonder if Katie will find that acceptable...  I just can't bring myself to do vegan.  If I'm going to eat spinach lasagna, it had better darn well be packed full of cheese!  Wish me luck!  I think I'll have to start tomorrow (seeing as how I've already had a meaty breakfast burrito this morning. ;-)  Stay tuned as I give a play by play of my attempt at vegetarianism in the days to come!  :-)

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kid Quotes

Oh, my Buddy and Ka-Diva...  I swear, these two kids crack me up like no one can!  At 7-years-old, my niece and nephew have hit that "kids say the darnedest things" phase full force.  I told my sister that we had to write this stuff down where we can find it again, and because she doesn't have time to blog herself, I promised to take it upon myself to save their best quotes here on Trippin'.  All of these moments brought to you by Christy's and my mom's FB status updates...  Enjoy!  :-)
Buddy Moments:
"Almost regretting the conversation I had with the big kids the other day about how important it is to conserve water and electricity right now.  I was just scolded by Buddy for leaving a light on!  In my defense though, I was still in the room!  Apparently we are all supposed to sit in the dark now...  :-)"
"Awesome homemade Mother's Day card from Buddy.  'I love my mommy.  She is so nice.  She made me really special.  She is 100% right on whatever she says.  Her name is Christy.'  :-)"  - I think Christy needs to have this thing framed and point to it any time Buddy argues with her about anything.
"Tonight Buddy told me that he would really like to hold a fundraiser.  I was very impressed!  When I asked him for what he said, 'To get some more money!!!'  Hmm...  I'm thinking I need to explain this a little better!  LOL"
"Buddy just said to me, 'Mommy.  Promise me something.  Focus on the greatness!' ???  lol"
"Buddy is such an overachiever.  He has been writing a book called 'All About Frogs' for a few days now.  He told me he is almost done.  He just needs to finish the glossary, the index, and the 'About the Author' pages...  lol"
"Buddy told me today that 'Ladies go first in America!'  Such a little gentleman.  :-)"

"Buddy asked if I can take him shopping this weekend so he can buy Valentine's gifts for 'all of his girlfriends.'  Little player!"
"Walked out of church tonight into a torrential downpour.  Buddy said, 'Man!  Jesus is REALLY trying to wash our sins away!!!'  :-)"
"Ha!  I found a paper that Buddy had been writing song lyrics on.  My two favorites were, 'She thinks my tractor's secksie.  She wants to turn it on.'  (Kenny Chesney) and 'Pa Pa Pa poke her face Pa Pa poke her face!'  (Lady GaGa) :-)"
"Buddy to me.  'I love you so much Mom, I would even rub your naked feet!'  Wow!  Now that is true love!  lol"
"So our sweet grandson goes into the office to get some paper to draw on.  He says, 'Wow!  You might have to be on that show 'Hoarders.'  I hope this stuff doesn't get up the the ceiling!'"  I had to remind him that this is all the baby stuff that his mom is getting ready for a big garage sale and it came from HIS house!  It was kind of sweet.  He sounded really concerned about me.  :-)"
Ka-Diva Moments:

"Had the most entertaining conversation with Ka-Diva tonight where she desperately tried to convince me that 'for her safety' it was more important for me to put her in horseback riding lessons this summer instead of swimming lessons.  'But Mom!  What if I get lost in the country and I can only find a horse?!?  I need to know how to ride it so I can find my way back to you!'" 

"Round two of Ka-Diva trying to convince me that horseback riding lessons are more important 'for her safety' than swimming lessons.  This time she said, 'If I was lost in the woods and had to cross a river, I would have my horse with me and HE would know how to swim!  So see?!?  I need to learn how to ride that horse!'  Love that girl.  :-)" - You have to admit, she does make a convincing arguement. 

"Got Ka-Diva her first Cabbage Patch Kid for her birthday and it is a HUGE hit!  We had an adoption ceremony, filled out the official adoption paperwork, etc. and she is taking the responsibility VERY seriously!  She now wants to adopt all of the other Cabbage Patch babies in the world that need a mommy." - That's my niece!  :-)

"In case anyone is wondering, her name is Jae Jordan and she was born on November 9th...  Ka-Diva was just amazed that she already had a name and official papers!  But I think it was the adoption ceremony where she had to raise her right hand and vow to take great care of this baby for the rest of her life that really made her heart melt. :-)"

"Lol!  I was giving Ka-Diva a hard time tonight because she forgot her Cabbage Patch kid's name.  She said, 'Whatever Mom!  You can't even remember how old you are!'  Touche' Ka-Diva.  Touche'."

"And I wonder why germs keep spreading at our house...  Ka-Diva just suggested that she LICK the rim of the orange juice container so Daddy will stop drinking all of it." - Have to admit this was a good idea.  I know I won't be drinking orange juice at their house anymore!"

"Haha...  The doctor told Ka-Diva to rate her pain.  0 is no pain and 10 means you are crying.  She said, 'If I had no pain, why would I be at the doctor?!?'"

"Ka-Diva to Buddy...  'You know, you are pretty lovable.'  Of course, they were back to bickering two minutes later, but it was sweet while it lasted."

"Hmm...  The crying fits of seven-year-old girls are quite dramatic.  And apparently can last a VERY long time!  Lord, please give the patience to make it through this lovely little phase and remember that I was once a seven-year-old girl too!!!"

"I am now getting the silent treatment, I believe...  And the occasional sideways glance to see if I am NOTICING that she is giving me the silent treatment.  lol!"

Twin Moments:

"So the big kids were grumpy and picking on each other this morning.  Ka-Diva told Buddy that she is going to make a chart of how often he plays on my phone (since she apparently thinks he is on it too much), and then Buddy said he is going to make a chart of how often she is mean to him.  Geez.  Gotta love Monday mornings!"

"Played a joke on Buddy tonight that backfired on me.  Had him convinced that I had locked Ka-Diva outside in the cold, dark night because she didn't come in when I told her to (in reality she was hiding from him in his room).  He got so upset at the thought of her out there by herself that he was ready to take swings at anyone that stood in his way of rescuing her!  Guess the protectivce twin brother mode kicked in!  Now if the roles had been reversed and Ka-Diva thought Buddy was outside she would have been making faces at him through the window!"

As funny as the twins are, the other kids in my life crack me up just as much!  Here are a few funnies from my other favorite kiddos!

Colton, my BFF Katie's almost 4-year-old little boy:

"I learned a little something from my BFF's son this afternoon.  Apparently there are monsters in his attic.  When I asked if they were nice monsters or mean monsters, he replied 'they're MEAN monsters.'  Me - 'Oh no!  What are we gonna do about that?'  Colton - 'We have to be nice to them.  Monsters are God's creatures too!' (Like, DUH, Tammy! ;-)"

(From my BFF's blog)  "So obviously this isn't a brag, but rather something I should write down so we remember it.  Good grief this kid is something else.  Colton's birthday is on Tuesday and so pretty much this whole month has been, 'I want _____ for my birthday' every. single. day.  I finally told him he was being greedy and explained what it meant, and that being greedy is something we don't want to be and that we would continue to give to the children's hospital because it's the right thing to do and we are grateful and not a greedy little turd.  Anyway, so fast forward to the other day in the car. 

Katie:  Do you know what grade you are going to be in?
Colton: Yeah, I'm greedy.
Katie:  No, you're going to be in pre-k.
Colton:  But I want to be greedy!
Katie:  Do you know what greedy is?
Colton:  Yeah, it's when you have all the toys, and that's what I want...  all the toys.  I want to be greedy.

Epic fail."

Booger Bear:

"Favorite quote of the day...  I said something to Heaven and Kama about how I was excited because I get to cuddle my baby tonight (meaning Monkey).  Booger looked up and asked, 'You mean I get to spend the night?!?'  :-)  Ugh!  I LOVE THAT BOY!!! :-)"

(from Heaven's FB) - "So, Booger comes out of his room telling me he has to go potty, so I tell him to go.  Well, five minutes later he comes out, soaked, whining, and won't tell me why.  After asking 'why' a million times he tells me 'I put my head in the toilet!'  Ugh...  Kids...  At least he was honest.  He told me he put his head in the toilet because he was BORED!  lol  Only Booger..."

(During one particularly obnoxious temper tantrum) "Booger was screaming and pitching a fit, so I decided to go all 'therapeutic parenting' on him and threw my own temper tantrum to rival his.  He immediately stopped, looked at me like I had lost my mind, and exclaimed 'Tammy, that's annoying.'  Ha!  Ya think, kid?!?"

"Out of the blue, Booger exclaimed, 'Tammy, I love you...'  'I love you too, kiddo!'  Booger, 'You're gonna be really pretty when you grow up.'  'Why thank you!  That's very nice.'  Booger, 'You're welcome.  (pause)  Can I have a popsicle?'  Mm-hmm...  I see how it is!  ;-)"

So there you have it!  Some of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite kids!  I'm going to try to post these more frequently because these kids crack me up!  :-)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bring on the Crazy!!!

Step AWAY from the children!!!

Yes, this is a phrase that I hear quite often from friends and family when they catch a glimpse of "that look" on my face.  If you're a foster parent, I'm sure you know the one.  The look that you get when you see a pregnant teenager or spot a small child playing alone in a parking lot...  The look that you get when you see children dressed in nothing but shorts and a t-shirt on a cold, winter day when their parents are bundled up in heavy coats...  The look that you get when you meet a child who tells you about their less than desirable home life, and you immediately want to scoop them up and take them home with you...  The look that you get every single time the phone rings and you hear these children's stories from your placement worker...  The look that sends your friends and family into panic mode and leaves them scrambling to find ways to help you out because they know that despite their "step away from the children" warning, you're about to add another child (or three) to your ever-growing tribe.

Things have been so mind-numbingly slow right now for me in Foster/Adopt Land.  I don't want to take a placement right now, only to get the call that they chose me to take the girls when the TPR hearing rolls around in October.  The problem I'm having is that I'm bored out of my mind!  You know you're a foster parent when you've got the shakes because your life is "too easy" and you're craving the chaos and insanity that foster care brings into your life.  I have clearly lost my mind.

I've had an awesome summer with a constant stream of kiddos in and out of the house.  Monkey Sunday-Thursday...  Booger, Banana, Buddy, and Ka-Diva most weekends...  Lots of visits with Butterfly and Pooper...  I even had my Respite Three one weekend!  But as much fun as I've had this summer, I'm still ready for more.


I want a bunch of people coming in and out of my home every month!  I want to lock up my Tums!  I want gobs of paperwork and medication logs!  I want to take my 6-month-old to the dentist!  I want to break out my binders and awesome day planner!  I want to sit in the sticky seats at the WIC office!  I want to add another family to my family (because goodness knows, that's how we do things here in the Trippin' household :-).  But mostly, I just want another child to love...


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"Foster Friday" Tips - Keeping Organized

So I'm finally getting around to writing this particular "Foster Friday" Tips post after having to put it off for months now.  Things have been crazy busy with moving into the new place, respite, power outages, and other random things and all.  Probably not the best way to start out a post on keeping organized and on track, but... ;-)  I don't have any placements right now, so I can afford to let a few things slide.

I briefly touched on my method of keeping organized amidst the madness in this month's "Foster Friday Q & A."  Fortunately for me, I am a Documentation and Organizational Queen!  In other words, I am ever so slightly OCD and anal retentive.  Both are fantastic traits for foster parents when it comes to keeping the paperwork and everyone's schedules together and on track...  I'm actually so good at keeping organized that my agency recently asked me to help with the curriculum for a mandatory documentation training class.  Here are my awesome tips for staying on top of things:

  • Binders - Set up a permanent binder for each child in your home upon placement.  My binders include everything related to that child from placement paperwork to shot records to receipts to contact information for CASAs, caseworkers, etc.  Cherub Mamma and Melissa over at Fostering Love both wrote great posts about their organization methods utilizing binders for each child.  When Cherub Mamma wrote her post, I almost thought she was stalking me because her binder is almost identical to mine!  :-)  Melissa wrote about her binder method that also included visit logs and documentation of contact with the bio families.  Rather than go into great detail here on the individual sections in my binders, I'll let you follow the links to their posts.

  • Appointment Folder - Within my children's permanent binders, I keep a smaller "frequent use" appointment folder.  This folder has everything that I need on a more frequent basis so I can "grab and go" for doctor, dentist, and therapist appointments without having to lug around a huge binder.  Medical consent paperwork, blank forms for medical appointments, contact information, medication lists, Medicaid card, etc.  It's definitely easier to grab a small folder, throw it into the diaper bag, and head out the door than it is to haul around a massive binder or have to dig for the necessary paperwork each time you leave for an appointment.

  • "To Do" Folder - Another small folder that I tend to bring to work with me.  This folder contains everything that I need to turn in to my agency or to follow up with for the week.  Weekly Status Reports, Recreation Logs, Medication Logs, Clothing Reimbursement paperwork, etc.  If I need to send copies of updated insurance cards or shot records, I put those in the "To Do" folder as well.  I will occasionally jot down notes to myself and throw them in the folder too.  Things like "email the Invisible One about..."   Having my "homework" together in one place definitely helps to keep me on top of everything.  

  • Super-cool, Mega-sized Day Planner - I have an awesome planner/calendar that never leaves my side when I have a placement.  I use it to keep track of everyone's schedules as well as to jot down notes about visitations, milestones, behavior problems, giving medications, etc.  It comes in incredibly handy when I complete my progress reports and other paperwork.  Keeping it with me has also helped when I get the inevitable phone calls asking, "When did so-and-so last go to the dentist?" or "How many visits have the kids had with their parents now?"  It's a great way to keep track of schedules as well as doubles as a diary of sorts.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to go back and reference notes and other pertinent information in mine.
  • Get Into a Paperwork Routine - I can't stress enough how important it is to get yourself on a "homework schedule."  I do all of my paperwork every Monday morning as soon as I get to the office. (Shhh...  Don't tell my boss!)  Having a set time and place to complete your weekly reports goes a long way towards helping you stay on top of all of the required documentation without having it pile up and become overwhelming.  Have multiple children or have trouble remembering what all needs to be completed each week/month/year?  Make a checklist.  I love me some lists, and they really do help.

So what do I do after my kids return home?  I always send important health information and records home with them.  Shot records, test results, etc.  I always scan and save soft copies of everything on my computer so if for some reason the children ever return to my care, I still have their records.  I empty their binders and put everything into an expandable folder initially because I use their status updates and other logs when I put together their lifebooks and albums for myself.  I also keep anything that I might need for tax-related purposes.  After I finish putting the books together, I discard the majority of the paperwork.  I do keep their initial placement papers, their social security and birth information, and the contact information for the important people in each child's case.  Having that information can help in the future if I ever want to try to track down my kiddos.

All of the paperwork that comes with foster care can be overwhelming if you don't have a good organizational system in place.  Making documentation and organization a habit as well as a priority can make your life as a foster parent much, much easier.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

It's a Good Thing He's Cute

I do believe we are entering the kingdom of the Terrible Twos...  I'm not entirely certain what Monkey's daddy did with my super sweet, loving little Mama's boy over the weekend, but the child who was returned to me on Sunday is clearly not the same one who left last Thursday!  He is most definitely an imposter in Monkey's body.

It started on Sunday night when I told Monkey that it was time to get his "night night" diaper on.  My little creature of habit who normally runs straight for the changing table took off in the opposite direction yelling "NO! NO! NO!"  I was stunned.  Did he really just do that?!?  I followed him, and the little snot took off running in the opposite direction again shouting, "NO! NO! NO!"

Oh, no you didn't, Little Man!  You don't tell Mama "no."  I'm not your foster mama any more, Mister.  I can paddle your little behind if I need to!

I managed to corral him and carried him kicking and screaming to the changing table.  I have to admit, my recent Emergency Behavior Intervention and Restraint Training class came in rather handy as I tried to wrestle the Screaming Sumo Wrestling Octopus with Superhuman Strength.  I'm glad the child is no longer in CPS care so I could avoid the mandatory paperwork for necessary restraint.  Fortunately, his attitude improved and we were incident-free the rest of the night.

Monday was fairly uneventful.  I had taken the day off work, so we headed over to my sister's house for a playdate with the Mini Munchkins.  Monkey spent the majority of the morning trying to avoid Butterfly as she chased him around the house planting kisses on him.  He made the fatal error of indulging her one time, and paid the price for the next hour and a half.  For the most part, we had very few outbursts or fits from any of the toddlers, and Monkey was on his best behavior.  Then we went home...  Monkey did not want to be home.  He wanted to go "bye."  And he spent a good 20 minutes trying to get out the back door.

Tuesday rolled around, and my mom got to be the lucky recipient of Monkey's full-fledged bipolar baby meltdowns for the morning.  I walked in the door at lunch and she immediately told me "I'm calling in 'sick' tomorrow.  Your child is possessed.  I want a raise."  This coming from the mouth of the woman who has always told me that she feels guilty for taking money for watching him because he's so insanely easy!  She grabbed her purse, hightailed it out the front door, and left me to fend for myself with The Ranting One.

Man O' Mercy, Monkey was in rare form, indeed!  Smiling and playing one second...  Screaming at the top of his lungs and chunking his toys across the room the next...  He then decided that he wanted a second popsicle after lunch, and when I told him "no," WWIII began.  He stood in front of the refrigerator, banging on the door, screaming "POP-POP!!!  GRRRRRRRRR!!!  POP-POP!!!  AAAAAHHHHHH!!!"  I ended up doing The Great Staredown (the only thing that works occasionally) and even got the whole thing on video for future blackmail.

By the time Monkey's daddy showed up to take him home for the afternoon, I was fully embracing the whole "co-parenting" thing.  I warned him, "Monkey is IN A MOOD!"  Although I don't think the warning was very necessary.  Monkey took one look at his dad and ran into the other room like a wild man screaming "NOOOO!!!"  Monkey's dad looked like a dear in the headlights.  I sighed, and told him "I'll be right back" and I set out to retrieve The Screaming One.

"NOOO!!!  NOOO!!  NOOO!!!"

"Don't you tell Mama 'No,' young man!  Daddy's waiting for you.  Time to go!"

I scooped him up and carried him back to the living room as he writhed and kicked and screamed.

"You have fun with that," I exclaimed as I practically threw the little snot into his daddy's arms and shoved them out the front door.  Yep.  It was definitely one of those "Co-Parenting ROCKS" days as I sat in my now silent house and giggled to myself thinking about the super-fun time that I'm sure Monkey's daddy was about to have for the rest of the afternoon.  :-)

I really do hope this Reign of Terror phase doesn't last too long.  I think God really knew what he was doing when he chose to make children go psycho around this age as opposed to later down the road.  At least toddlers can be cute.  I can guarantee this would be an entirely different post if a teenager tried to pull these stunts.  As it is, I have found myself chanting the mantra "it's a good thing he's cute" over and over again in an attempt to keep from throttling the little booger.  At least he's smart enough to know when to flash a smile my way to remind me!  :-)

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Friday, August 17, 2012

"Foster Friday" Panel - Our Biggest Mistakes as Foster Parents

Now that I've been fostering for a few years, I often get questions about my experiences from newcomers to Foster/Adopt Land.  One of the most frequently asked questions:

"What are some of your biggest foster care mistakes?"

I know we've all had them.  Everything from logistical mistakes to letting our emotions get the better of us at times...  I posed this question to our "Foster Friday" panel members to get their take on the subject, and here are some of their responses.

Debbie ("Always and Forever Family") - One of my biggest fostering mistakes...

I'd ordered two copies of pictures, one for us and one for the family member our girls were taken from who we were about to visit.  I put family member's pictures in a small album and gave them to her at the visit.

Two days later I got a call saying legal dad was in town and wanted a visit in 3 hours.  And the visit was 90 minutes away!  So we rushed to feed three girls lunch and get them ready.  Had to fix their hair!!  And I just grabbed the second set of pictures to give to him.  I gave them to him in the envelope that came from the store which had my email address and phone number.  About two days after the visit I got a call from him on my cell phone.  Huge mistake!  But I'm glad it was to him and not the other family member since he lives out of state and seemed like a decent guy.  Don't think I'll ever make that mistake again!

And from my email, he could find me on F@cebook and find my blog!  So I quickly changed my blog email address and searched the web for my email which pops up in comments I've left on blogs sometimes.  I deleted all that I could.

Andrea ("Live with Laughter")

My Biggest Mistake:

Our first placement was 12 weeks old.  He obviously was on formula.  I had heard horror stories about the local WIC office.  I didn't want to deal with them.  So I used my own money to buy all his supplies.  Our next placement was a little girl, 8 months old, still on formula.  Once again, pride cometh before the fall and I used my own money.

Then came Baby M, a tiny 35 day old.  I knew I couldn't afford his special formula, so I sucked it up and went into the WIC office.  I was flabbergasted, it was so simple.  In and out in 15 minutes with formula checks in hand.  His whole formula usage, I maybe had to buy 3 cans myself.  

I was kicking myself for not wanting to use the WIC office.  I worried about what people would think using WIC checks.  We now have two children on WIC and I don't care one bit about the scowls I get from people in line when I use my checks. 

I would place my mistake in trust that the system would have set me up with WIC like they promised.  When it didn't happen, I just let it go.  Also, I let my pride get in the way.  A big mistake! Thankfully, both my babies are on WIC and I've actually received compliments from their workers for doing it myself.

(*Note from Mimi - I wrote about the WIC stuff myself a while back!  I had made the same mistake, and won't be making that one again. :-)

Cherub Mamma ("Cherub Mamma") - My Biggest Mistake

I've tried like crazy to come up with an official post to submit.  All I can come up with is the mistake that I honestly thought I was prepared for how bad it could hurt sometimes.  In reality, I had no flipping clue!  There is no way to prepare for the emotional realities of foster care other than to just do it.

On the other side of that coin, I also had no idea how strong I really am.  I've weathered through things that I couldn't ever imagined and I'm out on the other side alive.  I guess my mistake there is that I didn't give myself enough credit for what I really could do.

~Cherub Mamma

aka. Mimi - 

I've certainly made some doozies over the past four years, but I think my biggest mistakes occurred early on in my first three placements.  "Newbie" mistakes that I definitely learned from, and now life is much, much easier...  (As "easy" as foster care can be, that is... :-)  Here is a list of what I consider to be a few of my biggest mistakes over the years:

  • Not acknowledging my own limitations - I have to admit, I still struggle with this one occasionally.  When you have a heart that is bigger than your brain, you tend to take on more than you can chew.  Know your limits when it comes to ages, number of children, behaviors, etc. and don't be afraid to say "no" if you have doubts about a potential placement.  It's much better to say "no" up front than to have to disrupt a placement later.  I learned that the hard way.

  • Allowing myself to believe a caseworker when they said that a placement would most likely end up in adoption - When Booger Bear was placed with me, my caseworker said from day one that his case would probably go to adoption.  I made the mistake of believing her.  From day one, I just knew that Booger was my son.  When I lost him after nearly a year, I thought I'd never be whole again.  Since then, I made the conscious decision to go into each placement expecting and actively promoting reunification regardless of what the child's caseworker tells me about the potential of adoption.  Do I want to adopt?  Yes, but it's not the "be all, end all" of my fostering experience.  If/when I finally am able to adopt, it will be a happy surprise.  Do I love my children with the same ferocity as I loved Booger Bear?  Absolutely!  Does it still break my heart to pieces when they leave?  Without a doubt.  But the pain is different.  I mourn the loss of my child, but I don't have to combine that with the loss of "what should have been."  Because this is foster care, and as much as we might want differently, what "should be" is a healed family rather than a broken one.

  • Allowing my 1st agency to run my life - As foster parents, we must adhere to "Minimum Standards" that often seem crazy-ridiculous in order to maintain our licenses.  As a new foster parent, I assumed that one of the "rules" was to basically do whatever my agency or my children's caseworkers told me to do whenever they told me to do it or I'd lose my license and my kids.  When my agency told me to jump, I asked "how high?"  Turns out, I allowed my 1st agency to walk over me and nearly lost my job because of it.  After a year of being pulled in ten different directions, being "required" to be in three different places at once, and having my agency expect me to leave work every time they called in order to run an errand for them, I'd had enough.  Now I am very firm on when I will leave my job for CPS.  And surprise surprise!  My agency is still operational, I have easily maintained my foster care license, and my children's caseworkers have all managed to survive.
I think for me, the one thing that has helped me the most has been to slow down, take a step back, and make a conscious effort to think with my brain as well as my heart.  When you're fostering for the right reasons because you genuinely care about these children and want the very best for them, it can be all-consuming when it comes to the emotional toll it can take.  For me, thinking only with my heart led to much more pain, frustration, stress, and heartache than I would have experienced had I allowed myself to use my brain as well.  Not always an easy thing to do for those of us whose hearts tend to lead the way...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Can We Say, "Proofread?!?"

When Nice Lady submitted my homestudy for the girls back in June, she copied me on the email.  I was excited because in four years of fostering, I had never actually seen a copy of my completed homestudy.  Curious to see what it said, I sat down and began reading.

OMG!!!  Now I know why it really takes me so long to get placements!  All this time I thought it was because I'm a single, full-time working mom.  Oh no, my friends!  After reading the mess they made of my homestudy, I'm not sure that I would place a child with me!!!  The entire thing was an editor's nightmare (or dream, depending on how much one likes using red pens to make corrections).  I am highly tempted to revise the whole thing myself, turn it back in, and then offer to do the same for the other families at the agency.  Honestly, you would think after taking nearly two months to write it in the first place, she would have at least been able to form a coherent sentence and not repeat herself twenty times.  (Homestudy lady is no longer with my agency, although I doubt that's why.)

If one could completely ignore the horrifically-written mess of my homestudy, I'm not sure they could ignore its content.  I suppose for the most part, if a stranger was reading it, they wouldn't know any better.  I, on the other hand, am left shaking my head and wondering where on earth she came up with some of this stuff!

  • They have me living in a non-existent address.  Not a problem, I suppose...  Until the caseworker tries to come to my house!
  • "Mimi describes herself as stubborn, friendly, helpful, reserved, a good listener, and a good judge of character."  Um, yes.  I did say all of that, but could we perhaps not lead with "stubborn?!?"  As practically the first sentence of the homestudy, I'm thinking saying that "this foster mom says she's stubborn" is probably not going to win over any potential caseworkers.
  • I "appear mentally sound with no issues."  Praise, indeed!  I know that would win me over!
  • "Mimi would take the children to the doctor."  Isn't that a given?  
  • "No family members will be allowed to run around the home nude, as Mimi believes that nudity has a time and a place."  Oh. My. Word.  Thank you for pointing out that I won't be running around my house naked in front of my foster kids.  I'm fairly certain my response to the "nudity" question was that everyone will dress in their own rooms or bathrooms with the doors closed.  I don't recall mentioning running around the home all wild and free... 

After reading so much that had me shaking my head in wonder, I came across the one thing that had me immediately sending an email to Nice Lady and telling her that this must be corrected ASAP.  There on the page that documents all of my safety plans is what they determined was this potential foster mama's idea of a safe evacuation plan for myself and my infants and toddlers in the event of a fire.
"As stated by Mimi, once children are placed in the home, they will be made aware of what they should do should the home catch fire.  She will inform them they are all to run across the street and out of danger of the fire."
Um...  NO!!!  I didn't say anything of the sort!  My kids are infants and toddlers!  I can just see it now, "RUN, Monkey, RUN!!!  RUN your little 17-month-old self across the busy street!!!  At least you'll be safe from the fire."  Ugh!  It's no wonder I can't get a placement based off of my homestudy!  I look like an idiot!  (But not a naked idiot, because I agree not to run around my house nude!)

Fortunately, Nice Lady was just as appalled as I was and assured me that they would update my fire evacuation plan ASAP.  While that doesn't save the rest of the document, at least no one can accuse me of making my toddlers fend for themselves and play in traffic in the event of a fire.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

"Foster Friday" Q & A - All About Mimi

For August's "Foster Friday" Q & A, I thought it might be a good time to dedicate an entire post to any questions that you guys might have about me and my foster care experiences.  I've received lots of questions recently, and I know many of you new readers haven't had a chance to go back and read 500 old posts (who does, right?!?).  So here it is!  The "Who, What, When, Where, How, and Why" of my personal foster care experiences...

"Who are you?"

Okay, so no one actually asked me that question, but I thought it was a good place to start.  I'm "Mimi."  37-year-old single lady with an obnoxious cat, daughter, sister, friend, cool aunt, honorary "mom," honorary "grandma," bio mom to none, but foster mom to six kiddos and counting...  I work full-time in the Finance department of a large not-for-profit organization near my home.  It's not an overly-exciting job seeing as how I mostly just pay bills, but it's been the perfect place for me to be as I navigate Foster/Adopt Land.  I love to write (hence, the blog).  I love to advocate for foster care.  I love being able to provide emotional support and advice to other new and experienced foster parents.  But more than anything, I love my family...  The family that I was born into and the family that has grown in ways that I never could have imagined all because I chose to open up my heart, my life, and my home to children and families who need me.

"What all do you file for each foster child, and how do you organize it?  For example: expenses, family visits, etc?"

This is actually going to be the topic for this month's "Foster Friday Tips" on the 24th, but the short answer is "pretty much everything."  Cherub Mamma wrote a great post detailing her awesome binder method (almost identical to mine) and Melissa wrote about her binder method that also included visit logs and documentation of contact with the bio families.  I tend to do most of my communication through email so there is no doubt as to what was said, when it was said, to whom it was said, etc.  A caseworker can't argue that they never received an email that was time-stamped and addressed to them the way they can with a voicemail message.  My other main tip is to get yourself a day planner with lots of room for notes.  I use mine to keep track of everyone's schedules as well as to jot down notes about visitations, milestones, behavioral problems, etc.  I can't tell you how many times I've had to go back and reference mine to find answers for caseworkers and for noting details when filling out monthly reports.  The day planner is small enough to be able to carry with me all the time, while the binder gets to stay safely put away until it's needed.  Stay tuned on August 24th for a more detailed post about keeping organized in mountains of paperwork.

"When and how did you know that foster care was right for you?"

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a mom.  I always dreamed of homeschooling my five children as we traveled the country in our RV.  The odd thing about that dream is that I always imagined those five children would come to me through adoption, rather than through my own pregnancies.  I struggled with endometriosis for years.  After two surgeries, hormone injections, and more hours than I care to count curled up around a hot water bottle, I finally had a hysterectomy at the age of thirty.  I was surprisingly okay with it.  I think when you've been in that much pain for that long, the permanent end to the pain marks a new beginning to a new chapter in your life (not to mention, I would have made a horrible pregnant woman!  God knew what He was doing when he made me barren. ;-)

(Excerpt from my Mother's Day guest post at Attempting Agape.  I think this explains it best...)
In the fall of 2008, I decided to take a leap of faith and become a foster parent.  I had always shied away from foster care because of the usual fears related to having to say goodbye to children who I loved as my own, but as time went on I finally began to trust that God wouldn't have planted this seed in my heart only to leave me hurting and devastated.  I began to trust that He would heal me through the hurt as I loved my children and let them go.  So I dove headfirst into the crazy, unpredictable world of foster care, and allowed myself to love my kids with my whole heart despite the inevitable hurt.
I suppose what it boils down to is:  I love children.  I have a heart that wants to love, protect, and nurture and a desire to help.  Every time I open my front door and see Monkey and his daddy grinning from ear to ear...  Every time Heaven sends me special messages from Booger Bear...  Every time we have a family gathering and the number of family members continues to grow, I know that foster care is right for me.

"Where have you found the most support (moral support, financial, etc.) since you've been fostering?"

For me, my biggest source of moral support outside of close friends and family has been online!  When I started this blog, it was initially just to keep friends and family updated on what was going on in my life and to give me a place to put down my thoughts and feelings.  It turned into so much more than I ever expected!  I have "met" some amazing women along the way who share similar experiences and who "get it" like no one else can.  I became a "blog stalker."  Clicking away on follower profiles of other foster parent blogs and locating their blogs...  And I'm so glad I did!!! 

My agency has also been a fantastic source of support when it comes to finding financial assistance for my kids.  They keep us appraised of available reimbursements for clothing, summer camps and graduation expenses, foster care-related events, stores that offer discounts for foster parents, great sales for things like diapers, etc.  Yes, having an additional person in your home every month can get tiresome, but the support that I receive from my agency far outweighs the inconvenience.

"How are you able to juggle working full-time and all of the foster care appointments as a single?"

Simple answer...  FMLA!!!  Placement of a foster child is a qualifying event for FMLA, and I use every bit of it.  I don't do the traditional "maternity leave" though.  I use it intermittantly for foster care-related appointments, medical appointments and illnesses for my child, court dates, etc.  As long as you don't go over 90 days in a 12 month period, you're covered.  I am also extremely blessed to have a very understanding and supportive boss and co-workers.  After four years of fostering, they're "old pros" as well.  :-)

As far as the necessary time off work, the first two weeks or so after getting a new placement are pretty busy with all of the initial required appointments, but after that, I am very firm on when caseworkers, CASAs, etc. may come to the house during the work week.  I tend to take the third Wednesday of the month off every month and tell everyone three weeks in advance that if they want to come to the house during the workday, they need to come that day.  For the most part, they usually show up.  My children's CASAs have always been flexible and can come on weekends or evenings.

When it comes to weekly visitations for my children and their families, I tell their caseworkers up front that they will need to provide transportation most of the time.  On "slow" months, I will occassionally take off work part of the day to transport myself because I like to develop relationships with my children's parents if at all possible.

I think the main thing to remember is that you can say "No, I am not taking off work at 1:00pm to meet you at my house.  I will leave an hour early at 4:00pm, and be your last appointment of the day or you can come any time on the third Wednesday of the month like everyone else."  In the beginning I was very hesitant to say "no," but over the years I have learned that it's okay.  They might not be happy about it, but they'd be less happy if you lost your job and they had to find a new home for your children.  ;-)

"What did you do to support the families that you fostered for so that you were able to have such successful relationships with them after the kids reunited?"

I've thought about this question a lot lately because I do tend to have such great relationships with my kids and their families after they return home.  All of the children that I had long-term are still in my life.  My cases have been a bit different in that they haven't been horrific abuse cases.  For the most part, their parents have just made mistakes or just needed some time to get their lives on a more positive path.  It's also important to keep in mind that (with the exception of Angel), I've only fostered infants.  I think the dynamics will change a bit with older children.

I've tried to step back and look at what I may or may not have done to develop these relationships along the way, and here's what I've come up with:

  • Compliment their kids and reassure their parents that they are the parents - One of the very first things (if not the first thing) that I say when I meet my children's parents is usually something along the lines of "It's so nice to finally meet you.  Your son is a joy!"  That one statement usually goes a long way towards establishing a relationship.

  • Keep the conversation light and friendly unless they want to have a more serious conversation - Most of my parents have initially been hesitant and uncomfortable around me.  I'm sure they think I must be judging them for their mistakes or thinking all sorts of negative thoughts.  I very, very quickly try to put them at ease by treating them like long-time friends.  It's difficult to be afraid of or intimidated by someone who will laugh with you about your child's funny moments or talk about your pets.

  • Active listening - I'm pretty good at reading people.  I can usually tell when they need a sympathic ear, some lighthearted conversation, or just someone to reassure them.  All of my children's parents have needed something different from me at different times.  Pay attention, and try to follow their lead when it comes to the more serious conversations that might come up. 

  • Show compassion and understanding -  I remember early on thinking how argumentative and desperate Monkey's dad was.  He is completely different now.  I tried to put myself in his shoes and realized that if my child were taken away from me, I would be just as desperate.  I know that people make mistakes and poor decisions.  Imagine making a mistake that cost you your child, and treat them the way you would want to be treated.

  • Open and constant communication regarding their children - I take tons of pictures that I send for their parents.  I make monthly photo books for my kids' parents that talk about milestones and funny stories.  I pass notes back and forth in the diaper bag.  When I am able to see the parents in person, I answer each and every question they might have as well as offer information about their little ones.  A picture speaks a thousand words, and seeing their child smiling and happy goes a long way towards reassuring their parents that they are safe, loved, and doing well.

  • Whenever possible, include their parents on outings or special occassions - This is something that you definitely have to clear with your child's caseworker, and will usually only apply to situations where reunification is likely.  Clearly I'm not suggesting you invite convicted felons or drug dealers to your home for a pool party.  :-)  With Booger Bear, I got permission to invite his dad to join us on Booger's first trip to the zoo.  After that outing went well, we would occassionally meet for dinner or to go swimming.  When he started getting longer, unsupervised visits, he came straight to my house to pick up and drop off.  With Monkey, I began transporting him to his weekly visits with his dad at the CPS office several weeks before unsupervised visits began.  By the time his first unsupervised visit occurred, his father and I had already worked out childcare, schedules, etc. for when Monkey returned home.  I invited his dad to Monkey's first birthday party as well, but he wasn't able to make it.  He just said, "I'll know he'll have a good time, and I'll get lots of pictures."  (He knows me too well... ;-)

  • Advocate for parents who are doing well, as well as the child - When Monkey was able to return to his father's care, his dad told me, "Thank you for helping me get my son back sooner.  I know it was only possible because of you."  He was referring to my offer to continue to provide child care for Monkey while his dad was at work as he works nights, and finding nighttime care can be difficult.  When parents are doing well, following their service plans, and are really trying to do whatever it takes to bring their children home, I do everything in my power to get them longer or more frequent visits.  I try to encourage good transitions that include overnights in their home.  I try to get extra visits around holidays and birthdays.  What it boils down to is, advocating for my children's parents ultimately makes things easier for my babies as well.  It shows them that you are on their side and want to see them succeed as a family.  I think that knowing you are on their side helps develop a long-lasting relationship.  Parents don't feel that they are fighting another person for their child...  They are turning to you for support.

"Why do you continue to foster?"

After gaining a family and a life like this, why wouldn't I?!?  (I love that I can share their pictures now!!!  :-)

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Growing Up "Country"

I grew up in a small town out in the sticks.  The kind of place where it took twenty minutes to get to a road that wasn't made of dirt and gravel...  Where everyone knew everyone and the majority of the town was comprised of three main families.  Chances are, you or your best friends were related to at least one of them.  Country living had its perks, and I wouldn't change a thing about growing up in a small town, but there were times when the "city girl" of my early childhood proved that she was still alive and kickin' in me.

It happened one afternoon when I was in college.  My parents had left that morning to go out of town for the week, and I had come to spend the weekend at the house so my 17-year-old sister wouldn't be alone.  I remember it clearly...  I was in the living room when Christy came running out of the bathroom.

"Oh my gosh!  You have GOT to go look in the toilet!!!"

My first reaction was to look at her as if she had lost her mind.  "Aren't you a little old for that, Christy?"  I mean, toddlers are all about having people look at what they've done in the potty, but Christy was 17-years-old!  I told her I'd take her word for it.

"No!  I'm serious!  You have got to go look in the toilet."

I rolled my eyes and grudgingly made my way into the restroom.  The lid was down, and I just knew she was playing a horrible joke on me at this point.  I looked at her and ever-so-slowly lifted the lid when I saw exactly why she came running out of the bathroom in a frenzy.  Spread out along the inside of the toilet bowl was a Gigantic Toad of Massive Proportions!  (If I knew the HTML to make that statement blink in neon colors, I would do it in order to stress the seriousness of the situation.)  I swear, the thing was huge!  And I just knew he was coming after us.

"City Girl" let out a shriek that would call dogs, slammed the lid back down, and if I remember correctly, put something on top of it in order to prevent the massive beast from opening the lid and getting loose in the house.  Then Christy asked me what I was going to do about it.

"What I'm going to do about it?!?  Why me?!?  You found it!!!"

"You're the oldest."  (Figures she would have chosen this exact moment to solidify my place of authority over her. ;-)

My first thought was to call my grandparents.  They lived across the street and had chickens and horses and stuff, so they were more "country" than we were.  But they weren't there!!!  I will admit that I was highly tempted to call my parents and have them come home.  They hadn't been gone that long.  It wouldn't shorten their trip too much, right?  But I decided to be a grown-up and find a solution to our predicament on my own.

I called 9-1-1.

Yep.  That's right!  I called 9-1-1 because there was a massive amphibian in my commode.

Okay, so I didn't actually dial "9-1-1."  I called the police station dispatch office.  My best friend was the dispatcher there (which also meant he was the 9-1-1 dispatcher), and I knew he could handle any emergency that was thrown his way.  Hence, my call to 9-1-1...

"You have to help us, Tom!!!"

Tom put on his "calm, professional 9-1-1 dispatcher voice" and tried to talk me down from my panic attack.  Although, to this day I can still hear the laughter in his voice.  He was kind and didn't laugh outright though, so for that, I am thankful.  And I am even more thankful for what he did next.  He called his younger brother and had him drive the 20 minutes to our house in order to save us from the Gigantic Toad of Massive Proportions.

When Eric pulled up the drive, Christy and I went running out to meet him.  I'm certain we were falling all over ourselves with cries of gratitude.  Our hero had come to save us!!!  Eric, bless his heart, did his best to stifle his chuckling as well and set out to remove the monster from our home.

We followed him into the bathroom.  We didn't necessarily want to have contact with the beast, but we wanted to make sure that no harm would come to him as well.  (We're compassionate like that ;-).  We prepared ourselves, and Eric opened the lid.

You could have heard crickets chirping it was so silent in that bathroom.

Sitting on top of the toilet seat, having made his way from inside the toilet bowl, was a teeny tiny little frog about the size of a quarter staring up at us with his super cute itty bitty little eyes.

Huh...  How 'bout that?

"He looked so much bigger before...  He's kind of cute!"  Christy and I proceeded to talk to the adorable little froggy.  "Hi, little froggy!  How cute are you, little froggy?!?"  Poor Eric just stood there shaking his head in disbelief.  "Do you still want me to take him outside," he asked us.  Um, yeah!  Little Froggy might be cute and all, but I still don't want him in my toilet!

So Eric picked up Little Froggy, carried him out the front door, and off of the patio where he leaned down to release him.  Christy and I quickly suggested he maybe take him a wee bit farther away from the house.  Little Froggy was clearly a smart one.  If he was able to find his way inside once, we wanted to make it a little bit more difficult for him to find his way in again.  Eric humored us and took our new amphibious friend into the pasture.  He managed to maintain his composure and not laugh at us, but I can only imagine the conversation that he and Tom must have had after he had left!

I no longer live in the country, but I do still check my toilet before sitting down.  Some things you just don't get past.  And a Gigantic Toad of Massive Proportions in your potty is one of them.  :-)

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