Merry Christmas, George Bailey! The Richest Man in Town

Nothing, I mean nothing, brings a tear faster to  my eye than the hapless, deeply conflicted and vastly complicated George Bailey played by the affable James Stewart in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Each year, hubs holds my Christmas movie obsession at bay as long as possible. It’s not that he doesn’t love Christmas or all the classic films, from the beloved Bing Crosby “White Christmas” to the overplayed but still necessary “A Christmas Story.”

I love them all and to his dismay, I would watch them endlessly from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day.

My absolutely favorite being the heart-string pulling “It’s a Wonderful Life.” It’s a magical combination of true and inconvenient love, business struggles, family strife and a spirit-crushing war. None of the characters lie flat on the screen; they’re human and fallible, most especially our hero George.

He loses his faith in all those things that give life meaning and wishes for nothing but to end it all.

George sacrifices his great dreams and aspirations, living out his life in his small hometown playing the rock in his family, business and love life. The once starry-eyed young man grows cynical and crooked with grief over the loss of things he once yearned to attain.

The older one grows, we see more and more of ourselves in George. He represents all that promise and hope of a bright future gone real.

But for all his despondency, George’s guardian angel (the truly lovely and sweet Clarence) sees what he also has in his life: people who love him. Though he doesn’t realize it until its nearly too late, the love of people you love, to love and be loved, gives us the spiritual and emotional motives to make life worth living.

Love might not pay the bills as George might wish or send him to far away lands, but it brought him a tender and funny wife, beautiful and dear children, family and friends who dote on and accept his every flaw.

Sadly, all he sees until Clarence literally drops into his life, is what he doesn’t have and in the end, his near financial collapse isn’t vindicated. That’s what my husband hates about the film; the bad guy wins.

But that’s where I disagree. When his family, his friends come to his aid they’re repaying all that emotional and spiritual debt he gave to make their lives better while old man Potter will die a bitter and lonely curmudgeon.

The world is full of George Baileys. He gives and gives, he feels like he’s a failure because he sees all the things in the world he wants and doesn’t have. From his old and drafty house to his ratty and threadbare clothes. He feels worthless.

But we, who faithfully watch our friend rise, fall and rise again, see all the virtuous and moral gifts he provides to those around him. He’s brave, gutsy and full of fight until he nearly slips off the edge. That’s when we see that people do love and appreciate him; for the first time, he sees it too.

And he finds it in the faces of those he once viewed with scorn. He even kisses the broken knob on his staircase railing; a symbolic, heartwarming scene.

Merry Christmas, George Bailey! You are truly the richest man in town.

Congratulations! It’s a Type A… (SPOILER ALERT)


After trying to conceive for four years and deciding to go the foster parent route, the response to our news of expecting (unexpectedly) has been touching, personal and highly emotional.

Even guy friends sent me emails and direct messages through Twitter telling me in their own way they shared in our joy.

Let’s face it: Babies are wonderful news. They’re miracles and what’s so beautiful about them is the hope they give us.

Since we waited to share our news publicly until week 14, or the start of our second trimester, it’s been a crush of responses in the last few weeks leading up for the half-way point, or week 20 starting today.

Many readers shared that my posts have inspired them, healed them and even brought them to tears. Fortunately, it’s also opened doors from those who reached out to share their own personal stories, some who say that they had never discussed their experiences before.

In some cases, they never became parents and worse, infertility struggles led to the destruction of relationships leaving aching holes in their hearts.

Other stories gave me a good giggle.

One friend, a man, confessed that he and his wife resorted to a “fertility charm’ of sorts and surprise, they conceived after years of heartbreak. He kept the charm until a second child was on the way.

The human connection to such a precious and deeply rooted desire knows no bounds.

The week of Thanksgiving, I entered my fifth month on the road to Houston. We stopped in a scenic area for a monthly “bump” profile picture. Even as I increasingly show, my mind still resists the reality. Perhaps it’s fear to feel too much excitement; a survival tactic.

Yet, every morning, I pull up my shirt and look at my protruding abdomen while I enjoy a rare moment flat on my back, which isn’t recommended nor comfortable. I watch Brian shave and as he’s about to walk out to start his early day, I point and request: “Kiss the baby.”

Much as I learned about society’s feelings and inability to respond well to infertility, they also respond strangely to pregnancy.

I’ve learned that I don’t look pregnant “enough,” and that they get a “boy feeling.” Even a client’s daughter outright proclaimed that I was having a boy.

Even I began to tell people I thought I felt I was having a boy. So, I decided to take a few of those silly online “old wives” gender quizzes and every single one said based on my responses, I was having a boy.

Years before we had started trying, I told Brian I would want to be surprised. But after years of wanting a baby, any baby, being pregnant is itself a huge surprise. But my sister and mom both insist they don’t want to know, which seems an exercise in futility.

I set my ultrasound appointment weeks ago at Naval Medical Center San Diego for today.

As I chugged my 32 ounces of water an hour before my appointment, I began to get nervous. I could learn something scary about the baby. Anything could be going on inside as the baby develops without me knowing.

Sitting in the waiting room, neither husband nor sister were there as I was called back by the ultrasound technician. As I walked in, husband sent a text asking where I was when he realized that my calendar invite was not wrong about the appointment location – he was. He even convinced my sister it was in a different building.

(Please, let this not be an indication of the hospital drive.)

As the technician began sliding the instrument around my stomach, I watched her face intently.

“I’m doing measurements for the doctor’s records and taking pictures of development,” she said.

“So, does it look good?” I asked.

She smiled, eyes still on the monitor, and gave a vague “u-huh.”

Husband and sister walked in to watch her wrap up her measurements when she turned the monitor toward me and switched on the wall screen for everyone to watch.

She pointed out all the important details of a healthy, well-developing baby. The baby never sat still for a second as the technician tried to show us the heart chambers, the spinal cord, feet and face.

“Strong heart at 146 beats a minute, blood flowing through the spinal cord, no club feet or cleft pallet concerns,” she concluded. “Looks real, real good.”

Once sister was safely out of the room, she rolled the wand over to the baby’s pelvis.

“So, here’s the hips and pelvic bones,” she said. “Want to guess?”

Brian leaned over my legs toward the monitor while we examined the shifting image.

“It’s a girl,” he said.

“Congratulations, it’s a girl,” she said.

She printed out some photos, like the one featured in this post. Finally, it’s real. Its not some fantasy. Come April, I’m going to be a mom.

As we walked out, my friend sent me a direct message begging me not to make her wait for this post.

Stories of all the baby activity gave her a sense that it might be a girl; her daughter also was a very active baby in utero.

Well, that’s just what the world needs, I laughed, one more Type A girl.

Dobby the Wonderdog, Truck Stop Coffee and Other Roadtrip Ruminations

At about three hours into our road trip to Houston from San Diego for a week of Thanksgiving eating, I finally decided to reach down for my neglected pile of public relations trade magazines.

Somehow, I wasn’t months behind in my reading, but I don’t imagine I gave the articles nearly the same attention as I did with nothing else but endless sky to distract me.

Road trips force you to slow down your brain, think deeply about what you want and also what you don’t want (another Sonic burger…).

I read some thought-provoking pieces out loud to my patient husband on the role of CEOs and the importance of self branding. Bridging those two takes time and I realized that I do what we all probably do throughout our workdays. I grind. There’s not a lot of personal thought that goes into my work sometimes and that causes a nasty side-effect: I lose the chance to tell stories.

My clients range from politically-adjacent to completely grassroots and independent-thinking, but they all have the same two basic goals: grow membership and increase influence.

But what makes a Steve Jobs stand out with his product compared to Bill Gates and his product? In recent years, we’ve grown to like Gates but not in the way that we love Jobs. Perhaps because we saw a person in Jobs, not just a CEO, who founded a company he ended up losing to another leader for a time. He learned much and humbled himself in later years at the helm once again making light of his failure.

Gates lost our support during the monopoly scandal and then started a nonprofit with his wife to benefit public education. We like him, but we don’t love him and the brand loyalty of Microsoft certainly isn’t as rabid or personal as Apple.

Perhaps that’s why CEO blogs rose in popularity for some companies. When used properly and with a certain level of transparency, our fondness grows for their product and perhaps we’re more forgiving of mistakes.

On the second day of driving, I enjoyed some of the most delicious coffee I’ve had in a while and it wasn’t from Starbucks. In fact, I hadn’t seen a designer coffee place anywhere between San Diego and San Antonio. No, it was from a Love’s truck stop. I liked the coffee and the unpolished, but friendly service so much, I stopped there on my way back for two tank fill ups – my car and my caffeine levels.

Road signs flew past me along the desolate West Texas highway. It seemed to take forever, but time does pass and experiences collect.

How do we capitalize on making a lasting impression on just one passer through enough to love and benefit our brand for life?

I shared some of my ruminations with my brother, Jeff, who handled human relations for some 15 years at Exxon. He learned much and some the hard way about what resonates with the public for CEOs and what doesn’t. He now works in a similar capacity in foreign relations for a private oil company, but the challenges to humanize CEOs remains a challenge.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the company CEO took a back burner and became a case study of what not to do. In the end, another “face” might have been better to look at than his but he needed to step up and learn how to be his company’s brand. It’s where we public relations professionals can make such a difference  by making sure our people are prepared for the sharp fork in the road.

“What the CEOs don’t get is that they’re the company,” he said, as we watched our hometown team lose – a long-standing Thanksgiving tradition for Detroit.

When the game was truly hopeless, Jeff walked me around his ranch grounds visit with his horses, sheep and some dang noisy chickens. As we walked, some plucky dogs and sneaky cats zipped in and out of fence lines.

One dog rescued in the 11th hour was fondly named Dobby for her strange appearance of large eyes and ears similar to that of the Harry Potter character. She’s not a traditional sheep dog, but she has the love and enthusiasm for it. The sheep resist at first, but then they respond eventually and go with the program more readily than they do with the other ranch dog more suited to the work. In fact, they actually try to bite the other dog.

You could say Dobby dresses for the job she wants and my brother happily encourages her good work.

Companies aren’t much different. Some people “look” the part, others work at being the part despite rough edges. In the end, it’s the heart and passion behind the job that motivates the best results and loyalty.

With the notion of being personal on my mind, I prepared a client during a conference call for what’s to be a great opportunity for her organization and decided that her focus shouldn’t be all work and no play.

“Be personal and visionary,” I suggested, while stretching out my mom’s house phone cord to my laptop. “Tell your story about what leading this organization means to you. With all the jobs in the world, why do you love this one?”

Sounds a tad touchy-feely, doesn’t it? But think back to those narratives that tells us about the lifes-blood of people’s work.

What drove Mark Twain to write about a poor boy in the south? Why did James Watt dedicate his life to building the steam engine? How did Tom Brady forge ahead after being a bench-sitter in college to winning three Super Bowls? Can a middle-aged Julia Child just rise to French-food stardom in a freezer-dinner world?

We’re suckers for the story behind the story.

And while most CEOs struggle to seem cool, calm and collected under pressure, as my brother pointed out, sometimes the best approach is the human one.

Standing at what seemed like my 20th fast-food counter somewhere in west Arizona, I thought about the parallel to my work ethic. I’m more of a from-scratch type who bakes my proposals with personal love.

As a friend who shares my mantra says to clients: “For better or worse, you get me.”

But I’ll admit, during a hard and heavy work week, those french-fry ideas do seem better. They save time, money and lots of people think they’re just fine. Plus, just imagine how many more clients I could serve with a few fry cooks. Fresh idea require research, vetting and sometimes, a few trials before they’re just right.

Even still, visions of poulet a la creme looking, smelling and tasting good enough to make Julia warble “Bon Appetit!”danced in my head as I looked contemptuously at my final handful of fries. I dumped the remainder in the bag.

After a full week away from my desk, I’m back to work cooking up new approaches to help my clients speak their language, not a “CEO” language, but in genuine terms that are practical, ambitious and true. We should all aspire for the lasting impressions Dobby the Wonder Dog and Love’s coffee.

Be real, be yourself, do what you love and do it well. And try to stay away from French fries – figuratively and literally.

Thank You for Your Business: What Holiday Gifts Say To Clients

Thank you for your business.

Such a simple sentiment, but so necessary to business survival. So it can be especially tough to express in a holiday gift.

Last year, I showered my burgeoning client list with homemade gift baskets filled with cardamom pear jam, rosemary-garlic infused olive oil, sugar cookies, chocolate truffles and of course, champagne splits. Just delicious and beautiful.

In the end, I spent nearly as much if not more doing it myself than buying ready-made baskets. But the big difference was personal sentiment and quality control. I was rewarded with generous words of appreciation all year through plus continued business support. Well worth the effort.

This year, my client roster has grown such that a similar endeavor would eat up weeks not to mention precious billable hours better spent serving my clients.

So, as I consider some of the ways I’m going to thank my terrific clients for a great 2011, it occurs to me that each client gift needs will vary. A large gift basket for an entire office might suffice for one whereas a carefully selected book might do the trick for another.

Here’s a few goals:

1 – Make it memorable by standing out and adding even just one personal touch. Take note of little office items, such as collectibles, or even scour social media pages for hints.

2 – Select from brands or gifts that represent you and your company’s values. The products, services or endeavors you appreciate say so much about you.

3 – Don’t eat all the good stuff. Include one thoughtful gift that sticks around all year to remind the client that you appreciate their business.

Simply put: The holiday gifts doesn’t mean all candy, all the time.

You can give the gift of giving. One year, I gave a co-worker the gift of a donation to Rescue Task Force to benefit wounded troops and another, I adopted a military family in their name through Operation Homefront.

Entertainment can be a great way to thank clients with a night out, especially if they’re artistically inclined. In San Diego, the options are endless with The Old Globe Theatre, the San Diego Opera, and the San Diego Symphony among many others.

Books and other industry-related materials can be a great way to mix business and pleasure. In my field, there’s no limit to political and public relations- related books. If you know them well enough, make a personal selection of a book they would enjoy.

And of course, a crowd-pleaser staple – edibles. Everything from chocolate and cookies to champagne and fruit can perk up a busy office. Delight a foodie client with a gift card to their favorite eatery. For clients outside the region, share a little taste of your local favorites from a beloved winery, farm or ranch.

What’s great about your client gift selections? They’re saying something to the client about who you are – be it that you support families in need, patron the arts, know the best writers in your field or enjoy a fine wine.

Still at a loss? Give the gift of business.

Order your holiday gifts from a client or make a holiday-time referral. Nothing shows you appreciate a business like giving them a little, especially if you can cross-promote clients to each other.

After all, business is all about connections.

Gifts to avoid:

Clothes. You don’t want your client gift to end up as the Ugly Sweater of the Day.

Fruitcake, figgy pudding, mince meat pies and other traditional holiday foods. They’re an acquired tasted typically not acquired by most.

What are the best — and worst — client gifts you’ve ever sent or received?

Expecting the Unexpected

Just a week after our Angels Foster Family Network classes concluded, Brian found out he finally made Chief Petty Officer after 14 years of service.

It’s an exciting and highly honorable distinction among enlisted sailors, but the time requirements during induction ate up his clock from 4 a.m. sometimes until midnight or later.

Reluctantly, I contacted our caseworker Emma to let her know our home visit would have to be rescheduled hoping there would be some way she could do the 2 to 4 hour visit without him. Of course, she couldn’t but said to contact her once we were ready. We still had just a few basic items to finish in our checklist, including the burdensome floor plan which requires square footage and diagrams of our entire house including outdoor landscaping.

Tedious. But I knew I wasn’t in control. I had to let go and follow the process; no use in fighting it.

During his many hours gone during the day, I busied myself with those foster paperwork chores, cleaned the house over and over, bought a combined carrier and stroller and a hiking backpack for a little one, searched online endlessly for baby furniture (why is it so expensive?) and found a few bedding sets I loved.

I was in full nesting mode.

Aside from all those baby tasks, I picked up a couple clients and got downright busy sun up to sundown and hardly stirred when he would collapse next to me in the wee hours of morning. Suddenly, I was tired every night and passing out before 9 p.m.

As he approached the end of his induction phase, I began to think of scheduling our home visit and finishing off those little red tape chores when one night, hubs made a startling declaration. The next day, he expected me to get an Aunt Flow visit.

Trouble was – I had no indications she would be in town. None. Zero. Zip.

A few days later, he was helping me unpack the groceries when he pulled out turkey lunch meat and a pint of mint chocolate chip gelato.

“What is this?” he asked, comically. “I don’t think I asked for this.”

“I wanted it,” I said. His eyes widened.

“Who are you?” he asked, laughing. “You want a sandwich and ice cream? You’re pregnant.”

But after a four-year struggle with infertility, one doesn’t jump to rash conclusions. In fact, you flat out ignore such things and move on.

In this case, I ignored it for five whole days.

Finally, on my way home from a Padres game with a client, I decided to stop at CVS and face what I’d faced many other tearful times before – a negative pregnancy test.

The clerk double-bagged the kit. I laughed, flashed my wedding ring and said: “It’s cool. I’m not worried.” He laughed and shrugged as if to say: “That’s not the norm in here.”

At 10 o’clock at night, I certainly didn’t expect the test to be positive even if I were preggers. Your hormone levels are quite low.

Shaking my head in disbelief that I was even going through with the exercise, I read the box, unsheathed the test strip and waited … about a second. My eyebrows crinkled. I grabbed the box, looked at the picture, then at the test strip and then back at the picture.

“Plus means positive,” I read out-loud quietly, slowly.

It was the first time I wept with joy holding a test strip.

I crept upstairs with the strip in my hand, touched hubs leg and switched on the light. His eyes barely cracked open. I couldn’t speak, I held the strip in front of his face.

He sat up, grabbed the strip, looked up at me and asked sleepily: “Did you just pee on this?”

“No,” I joked. “I’ve had it for years. Just been hiding it.”

He did the math. I was five weeks and all the signs hit us at once. In fact, I had lots of them beyond the dietary switch ups and fatigue, only how would we know?

The next day, I had a doctor’s appointment which happened to be pregnancy related. Hubs bolted home from work early, his first since induction started, and walked into the doctor’s office just as the results came back from the lab.

She greeted him at the door with a smile: “Congrats dad!”

That day, I called Angels and told the office manager Annika. She eased my strange feeling of survivor’s guilt when she burst into laughter: “So, you’re the couple.”

Apparently, there’s at least one couple a class who gets pregnant just before or right after a first placement. She prefers our situation because pregnancies can be stressful enough without dealing with the rigors of foster parenting. She put us on the respite list for now and told me to focus on having a healthy pregnancy.

At 10 weeks, I met hubs at Liberty Station to meet our certified nurse midwife for our first ultrasound. After all the questions and basic exam stuff, we got down to the moment we dreamed of.

Suddenly, it was there on the screen. It had a head, hands and feet, tiny fingers and toes, a fluttering heartbeat and then just like that, it kicked and jumped.

Pure magic.

“It’s a dancer,” I said.

Our midwife giggled and warned: “An indication of the months to come.”

I hope so. I’m enjoying every moment until I meet this miracle baby in April, who forever changed me in immeasurable ways because it wasn’t another obligatory check in the blocks of life. It forced me to really question how deeply I wanted to be a parent and to let go of controlling outcomes.

In our silent weeks since finding out, I’ve had to fib many times to many loving friends and family wanting to know when we’d start fostering.

A few nights ago, hubs and I celebrated our last day of the first trimester. He made a confession: “At first, I thought about Angels and felt bad. Then, I felt relief that we didn’t have to go through all that garbage right now.”

But we did go through “all that garbage.” It was just different than we expected and every new opportunity presented new challenges.

We didn’t choose our baby, like a luxury item we thought we deserved, it chose us when the time was right. It’s the pregnancy of none expected ever.

Perhaps, it’s the future older sibling of foster or adopted children. Maybe it will have other biological siblings, maybe not.

I’ve learned it’s best to leave the future alone. You’ll never figure it out, anyway.

Baby Steps…

After a few months of wrestling with the idea of open adoption, we reluctantly decided it could not be afforded right now. I sent an email to my friend, Mindy, who recommended the Adoption Center of San Diego and told her about our decision.

“I understand,” she wrote back. “But there are other ways. There’s Angels. I know its tough, but let me know how I can help.”

Fast forward six months, and here we are – eight weeks of classes completed and just a couple more steps to take before we foster a baby.

At first, we could not see ourselves providing care to a child we may not adopt. You love a baby, feed, cloth, change its diapers for possibly up to 18 months and then may relinquish your obligation. On one hand, that could feel good knowing the parents did right by their child. On the other hand, you will hurt and miss a baby you grew to love.

Oh, so many months ago, I wrote back to Mindy and told her I wanted to know more. We agreed to talk and before we met up, I called the Angels office to sign us up for the next orientation.

What could it hurt?

I remember back to the orientation where Angels’ founder Cathy Richman gave us an honest, full explanation of the program and answered our questions in about an hour.

Cathy worked in foster care for years and saw two things: babies residing in three living situations before their first birthday and a system that didn’t support the foster parents enough to succeed for the children. As a result, those children failed to attach to any one caregiver and learn empathy or trust. At worst,  the child develops reactive attachment disorder, which can lead to sociopath-like behavior.

Today, nearly 80 percent of those incarcerated were at one time in foster care.

“So what’s different about us?” she asked rhetorically. “Well, we do a lot of hand holding to make sure you and the babies you care for have the best experience possible. You will not go through this alone.”

Angels provides one caseworker to just a handful of families, provides the parental training and other arrangements to qualify as a licensed foster family, helps fascilitate the sometimes tense visitations with the birthparents, offers counseling and support for the families, and works through all the court-related matters.

What do they ask for in return?

You must submit to a mental health evaluation, background check, commit to only taking one foster child at a time possibly from birth to 18 months, and – the biggie – one parent must stay home during the length of the fostering.

In her 11th year, Cathy has placed more than 460 babies. When the county calls her with a referral, she goes down her list of waiting families and starts making calls. Sadly, there’s more babies than families.

During our classes from the wonderful Angels caseworkers, we learned about the power of human bonding and what breaks those bonds. It’s not always the physical abuse that leaves the most damage, but the neglect leading to failure to thrive. It’s hard to imagine leaving a child alone for hours at a time unattended, but it happens.

In basic, the system works like this: Angels receives a call, they place the child with a family, and then follow the orders of the court on reunification. If the judge determines the child was removed hastily, it will be reunified within a couple months. Otherwise, the judge sets a list of requirements that parents must abide by in order to regain custody and the case is reassessed every six months up to 18 months.

Roughly 50 percent of the Angels foster children are adopted.

Before she let us go at the orientation, she told us her last of many stories.

A 20-year-old drug addict gave birth, the baby tested positive for drugs in the hospital and was removed from her care. An Angels family fostered and eventually adopted the baby. Less than two years later, the same woman had another child that tested positive for drugs and the same family adopted that child to keep the siblings together.  

Eight years later, that Angels family had adopted all six of that woman’s children when Cathy received a call that the woman delivered her seventh child, which tested positive for drugs. The Angels family finally said no more – they had already moved twice into bigger homes.

“What we say around here is ‘be careful what you wish for,’ ” she said, half kidding. “Of the many struggles our biological parents have, fertility does not seem to be one of them.”

Our sweet caseworker, Emma, set our appointment to walk through our home in a couple weeks to make sure we have knives, chemicals, prescription drugs, and lighters under lock-and-key. We’ve nailed down a few options to install locks throughout the home. From all the mind-numbing paperwork to all the classes, plus a 4-hour CPR/ First Aide class, a 2-hour water-safety class, to the walk-through – we’re only just beginning.

Once we’re placed, we’ll see Emma, the County caseworker and the biological parents each at least once each week. We must document every clothing item purchased with a minimum expense required, register for WIC formula, take and file court notes from our bio-parent visits, take regular pictures and keep a memory book to go home with the child, run and log regular fire drills, maintain all our safety certifications and above all – make the child’s safety and care our top priority.

It’s a heck of a lot to keep track of and just thinking about what we’re in for sometimes gives me anxiety. But I try to take it one day at a time and reassure myself that it’s all going to be worth it.

Of all the emotions our Angels workers said foster parents experience, it’s anger and frustration. Anger at a system that puts so much pressure on us knowing the child came from an unsafe environment.

A friend recently told me he considered fostering, but he said all the paper work made him and his wife feel like criminals.

“What the heck does the County care what my home floor plan looks like?” he asked rhetorically. “These babies come from terrible conditions and somehow, what my lawn shrubbery looks like is a concern.”

It does feel silly, even downright aggravating. Especially when you find out that joblessness and homelessness are not reasons a child cannot be reunified with their parents. The standards are a bit askew. But you can’t fight city hall, I guess.

I visited my darling friend and new mommy, Tanya, this week to see her little man. She doesn’t have the space for a nursery at the moment. I instantly thought of all that would keep her from fostering, simply because of her home environment, and yet you couldn’t find a more doting mom.

It’s a damn shame; the world’s all topsy-turvy and a kid’s just lucky to survive.

But I’m going to jump these hurdles and keep jumping because somewhere out there, my little prince or princess needs me to keep going.

“No One Will Understand What You’re Going Through”

Angels Foster Family Network classes really take you on an emotional ride.

One session, we talked about our first experiences with grief and loss. Thankfully, I was the last one to talk and I breezed through the suicide of the brother’s friend quickly because everyone was drained.

In another session, we talked about actual foster baby cases that dealt with everything from physical and emotional abuse to basic care neglect and failure to thrive.

Thankfully, most of the faces in the room went blank when the words “spica cast” were used, which is a cast on an infant from ankle to under the nipple area due to a femur break. Breaking an infants femur, due to it’s relative flexibility, is pretty tough.

The reason for these emotionally-charged classes: we will indeed experience grief in knowing how these children came to be in the system, loss when they go back to their birth parents and perhaps the worst – anger. Anger at a system that sometimes fails these kids, who we will most assuredly love.

We are not fostering babies with the express intention of adoption and knowing how we’ll deal with that sadness becomes vital to how well we do as foster parents.

Our most recent session a couple nights ago brought us face-to-face with foster parents, their foster babies and a birth mom whose baby is currently in foster care.

The first couple had tried to get pregnant for seven years – seven! They finally decided to check out being foster mommies and the orientation sealed the deal. Their cases ran the gamet from having a baby for a couple weeks to more than a year before reunification. In one case, the reunification failed and they’re now adopting him and a second baby, whose reunification also failed.

The child they reunified with was born with severe heart defects, which they were unaware of at the time they first picked him up. A system loophole allowed him to reunify with his father, a known drug user, and the baby somehow ended up in the care of another family member. He was taken to Children’s Hospital when he became very ill. That’s when Angels called the foster parents to meet him at the hospital and found him “grey, almost blue.”

The other mom said, while holding her 10-month-old: “You have all these thoughts in your mind what these bio-parents are going to be like. It’s nothing like what you think; sometimes you end up feeling like you want to foster them too. They came from the same circumstances their own kids are coming from when we get them.”

The second couple foster just to help out families in trouble with no intention of adopting. They’re on their 9th placement with a baby girl, whose mom was there. Mom currently resides in a rehabilitation facility. Her first child lives in Mexico with his grandparents.

“Fostering fills a place in our family, our hearts,” said the foster mom. Referring to two of her present foster children: “This is my baby, this is my baby. They’re all my babies.”

The young mom, who shed a few tears, said: “The first foster family who cared for her was really mean to me. They would sit at visitations, arms crossed and look at me like I was a monster. I’m not a bad person. We all make mistakes; some of us just more than others. I’m so glad I have this new family for my baby until I’m ready.”

Overall, she’s making excellent progress in her program and could be reunified as early as the six-month trial. She’s hopeful, saying: “It’s all on me to do this and I want to succeed. I don’t have any family of my own. She’s all I’ve got.”

Our caseworkers cautioned us: she’s not a typical birth mom.

The last couple still has their one and only placement. At 10 months, the little boy has seen his mother very little since he was born positive for drugs. At the six month trial, the judge rendered what he considered a generous offer to continue offering county rehabilitation services. She’s spent less than a week in any one program.

The foster mom expressed as much sadness as confusion about the birth mom, who had her first child at 15. She comes from a family of nine siblings, and from what she can tell, all but one suffers from some form of drug or alcohol problem.

“She’s made an attempt at visitations maybe two or three times in 10 months,” the foster mom said. “During a second round of visits, she suddenly showed up with a brand new baby blanket saying it’s his favorite. He was six months old at the time.”

Their county caseworker recently changed the recommendation to terminate services for the birth mother, which is a step toward termination of parental rights. Despite what might seem like a possible path toward adoption could easily take a turn, depending on the judgement of the court.

I asked the couple how their friends and family react to their being foster parents and their situation.

“No one will understand what you’re going through,” she said. “They just assume he’s staying because they look at the case as black-and-white. We know that nothing means anything unless the courts decides it’s so. We have to keep telling ourselves he could go back tomorrow.”

I asked them all the same question: “Would you do this again?”

All gave a resounding “yes,” saying that the satisfaction you feel in helping a child in need outweighs any amount of grief you feel in the separation.

As we left, I realized this isn’t just be about us being foster parents. It will affect everyone in our lives and in ways we cannot know.

Unlike coming from the hospital after a nine-month pregnancy, we could be sitting at dinner with friends when we get an emergency call to fetch a child from a variety of situations in a multitude of conditions.

Prospects seem as exciting as scary and all the while, you hope you might do some good.

The first couple took in one 9-month-old girl for a few months who experienced severe neglect. She was so stiff from lack of physical interaction and activity that she couldn’t crawl. In just a couple months, she went from crawling to standing and eventually, tried to walk.

“You’re so overwhelmed sometimes and then you have one of those moments,” one foster mom said. “It’s hard to imagine life without these kids.”

It’s the closest to saving the world we may ever come close to.

Foster Babies Sometimes Lead to RAD Kids

Our fist Angels Foster Family Network class two Mondays ago left us with the word “RAD” ringing in our ears.

What’s RAD? Your first thought might be 1980s surfer lingo, but in this case, it’s a bit more serious than catching a sick wave.

RAD: Reactive Attachment Disorder. All our relationships throughout life stems back to these basic feelings in utero of feeling loved, wanted and cared for throughout our first three formative years, or just the opposite causing a break in the human bond.

Without those three qualities, some children develop RAD.

Researchers continue looking into root causes, but basically even the symbiotic in utero relationship can be strained if the mother is experiencing trauma of her own: abuse, domestic violence and other prenatal issues, such as drug and alcohol abuse. The stress hormones pump through their shared connection; and unborn babies can also hear.

More than 25 percent of Angels children separate from mom in the hospital due to being born positive for drugs. The numbers drop off significantly, but include basically physical neglect, abuse and emotional maltreatment in concert with other domestic violence or crime. Other reasons for separation include sexual abuse, parents with their own developmental delays and abandonment.

Nationwide, most children end up in foster care due to neglect, which is when the child’s basic needs of food, shelter and care are not being met. Statistically, foster agencies across the country report that bonding with children of sexual abuse tends to be the hardest and most frustrating for foster or adoptive parents.

I’ll spare you the descriptive words used by our fabulous case workers at Angels who explained how to spot sexual abuse. But let’s say, it’s tear worthy stuff.

Angels contracts its services to the County of San Diego system, as regulated by the State of California. But they operate under a different business model.

We agree, as an Angels family, to care for a little one – mostly infants – until the court-ordered reunification succeeds or the parental rights are terminated and the baby becomes available for adoption. In cases of reunification, that could take 16 months and for adoption, about two years.

The County allows for multiple children to be placed and there’s no commitment on the part of foster parents to provide care until the case resolves. Angels aims to provide just one home, rather than multiple temporary homes, to reduce the disturbances in living situations.

But it’s a heavy commitment – both of time and of heart.

Our class of about 15 couples seems dedicated, capable and split down the middle of those hoping to adopt and those wanting simply to provide a loving, nurturing home to these fragile children.

More than half of Angels babies do not reunify with their biological parents. What we’ll know about the biological parents will be limited to the reasons for separation. Should we make it to the adoption stage, we’ll get the “telling” of the parents – a case history of their lives and how they came to lose their kid. Often, these are sad stories showing a cycle of abuse they themselves experienced.

Though we love all the support we’ve received from family and friends, what we can tell you about our foster baby will also be limited. No identifying information can be made public about the child so long as it’s a foster child. Basically, you’ll have to visit us and take a turn (or two) holding that little darling.

And that’s a good thing. I’m learning more about the power of bonding than I ever would have before.

Bonding doesn’t just mean holding or touching, though those are powerful indicators. Bonding begins with the voice in utero and the eyes upon birth. It’s the two initial indicators a being has of connection with other humans.

Example: Ever talk to someone who looks around a room when you’re trying to engage in conversation upon first meeting? How does that make you feel? Often, I walk away thinking they were completely disinterested in me and generally lacked the confidence to look me in the eye.

Those signals tell of a deeper issue in human bonding, which begins at our basic foundations to experience confidence, love and trust. Without the ability to feel and develop those connections with other people, forming healthy human relationships becomes a tougher hurdle. In comes the feelings of isolation, abandonment and in rare, extreme cases, pathological behaviors leading to a complete lack of empathy for others.

Imagine never feeling sorry that you hurt someone because you never felt anyone cared if you were hurt? Sounds pretty lonely and can lead to those other dangerous, at-risk criminal behaviors.

After two and half of hours of these classes, I leave feeling down and drained. But it also motivates me to really dig deep for these little ones who might benefit from my contact in their lives.

Growing up in a family where my parents are still married and they raised four healthy, self-sufficient kids gives me a different perspective of “family” than these biological families.

One that tugged at my heart strings is about a toddler, though Angels doesn’t place many, who watched her foster mom make dinner in stone silence one night. As they sat down to dinner, the little girl finally asked cautiously: “Are you going to jail now?” The foster mom looked at her in confusion and asked why she might think that. The little girl pointed at her beer bottle.

At three, a child’s brain is nearly a 90 percent formed adult-sized brain. They’re little sponges soaking up every experience and in tough situations, trying to survive.

Early intervention in formative years becomes key and while some fear the “drug baby” scenario, we’re learning those kiddos have as good a chance at bouncing back as any other kid provided they’re in a supportive environment. Some of the tougher cases to rectify with corrective behavior tend to be the toddlers who experienced abuse and neglect over a couple years.

Tough, but not impossible.

As I go blind on paper work, I read through our lesson plans that discuss the sort of behavior issues we might face at the end of this eight-week journey. Even in my loving, two-parent family, was I prone to “aggressive behavior,” “yelling” and “tantrums?” You betcha.

No kid born is without challenges and as my friend Erin keeps reminding me, no path to parenthood is easy. At the end of the day, it’s about having a family and that sounds pretty rad (surfer meaning, of course).

Got a question about our experiences? Feel free to contact me at

Doctor Four and the Great Fainter

We have wandered down the road of infertility for nearly three years.

The stages of our path mimicked those of grief and we have emerged from those dark early days with hope. I’ve learned to be more open when folks ask those once painful questions.

Plus, we see ourselves as future foster/ adoptive parents, with a particular organization in mind. We just need a schedule to coincide with the classes.

But sometimes, I still get a gentle shoulder pat or a look of pity. But it rarely bothers me anymore. I know mostly what others struggle with in knowing we’re childless has more to do with them than me.

When I quit my job at the County of San Diego a few months back, Brian added me to his Navy health care plan which allowed me to keep my dentist and optometrist (woohoo!), but lose my longtime family doctor, Dr. Roth (boo!).

The process of finding a new doctor gives me hives.

It’s one more person who knows all about my medical history; truly, the most intimate nonsexual relationship we have. I had the same family doctor until I was 23 when I moved to California 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve had three.

But what I found behind doctor door number four has been a pleasant surprise so far.

“You’re 33, healthy and no babies,” Dr. Deckert began. “Let’s talk about that.”

I thought back to my early dark days struggling with depression at discussing this very topic.

“I wish my therapist had been this warm,” I thought.

She asked about all the testing I had been through, which had all come back suggesting on paper I was a Fertile Myrtle. One test, somehow, had escaped me and she wanted to eliminate that factor straight away.

I was game. My heart and mind was ready for whatever this final progesterone test revealed.

Over drinks with two of my close girlfriends, I told them I was going through another test. Their mouths dropped open.

“I thought this was all done,” one said.

Yep, me too.

The morning of my lab appointment, Brian sent me a text message: “Good luck, this morning, Pica.”

I’m notoriously bad at giving blood. The American Red Cross would not take me in a million years; I’m a faint risk. But I find if I tell the nurse I’m a baby upfront, breath slowly and pay no attention to what’s going on, I can get through it fine.

I sat in the chair while the nurse reviewed all the testing my doctor ordered for me. I felt fine and calm until I saw her pull five tubes.

“A lot of testing this morning, huh?” she asked. “Don’t worry. I have a gift from God; I’m the best at this.”

Turns out, God was off-duty during my visit.

First, I nearly fainted followed by an embarrassing bout of shock. She pinned me back in the chair until help arrived. By the time she and another nurse virtually dragged me to a table to elevate my legs, I had sweat through my clothes, my pupils looked like pin tips and all the blood drained from my face.

Eventually, all five tubes were filled while I lay limp and soggy on the table. I sat up very slowly to find three nurses peering in at me from the hall. Like a good little girl, my nurse rewarded me with a chocolate chip cookie and a can of Pepsi.

The next day, I was driving to meet Brian for dinner when my cell phone rang. I answered my silly earbuds headset and it was my cheerful doctor.

“So, I like to see a 10 or better for progesterone levels,” she said, getting right down to business. I took a deep breath. “You’re at 18.5. You have the fertility of a 20-year-old girl.”

I was silent.


“I’m here,” I said, and smiled. “Thank you for calling.”

She was right. It was good to know. And amazingly, I felt not one ounce of regret at how it all played out over the years.

I called Brian, emailed my girlfriends and then talked to my mom, who had her youngest child at 42.

Later at dinner, a cloud came across Brian’s face. He had been through his share of testing too and this meant more was likely on his horizon.

“So, it’s definitely me,” he said, sounding resigned. My heart broke.

I could see his wheels turning the information over in his mind. Then, the eternal optimist smiled.

“Well, if it has to be one of us, I’m glad it’s me,” he said.

“Oh? And why is that?”

“Well, for one, I can handle needles.”

End Run, Touchdown!

The quarterback gives the play in the huddle. Just after the snap, the defenders push to the center and the quarterback gets plowed from the side. The reason: the line decided to go with another play.

In case you’re wondering, the public is the quarterback in this end run on the tax cap increase for the Centre City Development Corp. By passing the cap increase through a state bill, proponents avoided the slower, publicly-involved vetting.

Bad governance.

Due process in government should occur in public with all the requisite scrutiny. The public is not a nuisance to be sidestepped.

Let’s put aside whether we all love football, the Chargers or were the team to leave, if it would cost taxpayers more in the end to attract another team back here. The fact remains the City Council approved a plan of action in a public meeting that seems abandoned for political expedience.

True – the bill was heard and approved “in public.” But we don’t live in Sacramento. The slick, last-minute dealings at the Capitol aren’t likely to catch anyone’s attention here, particularly when designed as such.

Perhaps all would have worked out: the cap would get raised, the stadium would get built by local workers and the Chargers would stay. But wouldn’t you like to know we’re all on the same page as a team?