Summer Camp

Another year, another death defying camp with pre-pubescent youth. This year was one for the record books though.

We loaded up the bus and headed for Camp Living Stones in Englewood, TN. My first reaction was it was not much different from other camps I had been to in the past, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The first major adventure we had was a cave hike. No problem I thought, a nice walk thru a cave with a tour guide shining a light on some stalagmites while remarking how it resembles two squirrels fighting- been there, done that. Again, I was wrong. Our guide, Marcus, took us up a nice trail thru the Tennessee woods and to a opening in the side of a hill that was about the size, give or take, of my butt. I (and my butt) started getting a little tense at this point. 

After shoving my gang of boys down the rabbit hole opening, I crawled in the cave with them. We looked around for a few seconds in a room that was just high enough to stand in and then proceeded on with our journey into middle earth. A few seconds later we were ankle deep in water. 

The next part of the adventure was down some narrow corridors and I was feeling pretty confident that the rest of the exploration was going to be a cake walk. Marcus had other plans. We went down a passage called the “Gas Chamber” which consisted of crawling on your hands and knees while starring down the rear end of the guy in front of you, hence the name “Gas Chamber”. About this point my four year old son was screaming “Why Daddy Why?” while I gently encouraged him by letting him know if we did not keep moving we would all die. It seemed to work. 

The next part was a little place they call the “Birth Canal”. It was a passage just big enough for you to get on your belly and crawl thru until you dropped out the other end into a rock crevice that took some fancy yoga moves to maneuver thru. I opted to go another route around the “Birth Canal”, I decided to call it the C- section route (Everyone else gets to give a cool name to places in the cave, why not me?). To get past the Birth Canal I had to get on my stomache and swim around a rock formation without a flashlight. Thats when I discovered I had to go under water and swim underneath a rock to get to the other side. Marcus did a great job encouraging me to get to the other side. At this point I started to get a feeling that I may get to see Jesus and all my dead relatives in the next few minutes, but I made it.  All the kids made it thru the Birth Canal and a few minutes later we were standing in sweet daylight. 

The next day we headed to a waterfall, where as you may have guessed, I decided to follow the crowd and jump off it. I slipped and landed side ways in the river below, but not before I let out a involuntary school girl shriek. I tried looking macho walking out of the river, but my wife still laughed at me. Lucky for me they got a picture of it. 

Some of our boys did the rope course and zip line, climbed a rock wall and did some work projects. All of this was combined with a devotions and services. The food was top notch and the atmosphere was very family oriented. The staff is very professional and dedicated to providing the best possible experience your group can have, spiritual and physical. We spent an afternoon on Buck Bald mountain overlooking the mountains, played sports, ate and had an evening service. All in all it was a great experience.

I do recommend that your kids be middle or high school age. All of our kids are elementary and that did stop us from being able to participate in everything. If I had older kids, I would be there every year. It is an experience all teens would remember for a lifetime and could very well be a defining moment in their walk with Christ. Check them out at Camp Living Stones.

-Launch

I’m Back

Feels like forever since I’ve had a chance to sit down and blog something. But I’m back after a week and a half of dealing with the last day of school, failed assanation attempts, two funerals, swim lessons, summer academic program, two going away parties for different kids on campus, two kids moving in and one kid leaving for a perfectly dysfunctional family. To top it all off I have to deal with those on campus that don’t work with kids that smile and say “Aren’t you glad it’s summer and you can relax some with the boy’s?”. In another time and place I would have choked those people out

Yep, been real busy in South Carolina. So much so, that when when Mike Hyde dropped by on his way home to Mississippi he mentioned there was a little facility in Idaho hiring that I may be interested in….(This was where my wife started screaming).

You see, summer for us is not laid back. If anything the schedule becomes more hectic and you are dealing with drama from the time you wake up and it stops when you pass out at the end of the day. This is a great facility, filled with great programs and events. But there is a point when to much programing and scheduling is as destructive as having no program. It’s kind of a yin and yan balance type of thing

But I’m happy. Mostly because I have enough Prozac to make it through until the end of August and also because I know I’m fighting the good fight. I can’t imagine life being anything else than what I do now with people I love, mostly. -Launchpad

I’m Sorry, Seriously Dude…

The following are some lessons I learned the hard way, some of them I did (I’ll never tell which ones) and some were committed by other residential staff. Enjoy the following painful lessons of your fellow HP’s and remember, some idiot with a blog is always watching….

1. That scary neck tattoo you got in Atlantic City last year might not have been a great move before your interview at the Baptist Children’s Home.

2. Paint ball guns are lots of fun! However, Johnny’s case worker was not impressed with the quarter size bruise on his tender forehead from the coup de grace shot between the eyes the opposing cottage gave him after he was captured and dragged from the fort.

3. Mosh pits at concerts are not for middle aged adults. Concerts that have mosh pits are not for eight year olds.

4. Sniffing fingers of teen boys after they come out of the rest room to see if they were the ones smoking can sometimes bring up unexpected hygiene issues.

5. Asking one of your kids to help DJ the facility Christmas party is not a good idea, unless the group home you work has a deep appreciation for 2Pac’s greatest hits.

6. Body piercings are cool! Showing off your nipple rings at the swimming pool on campus ain’t.

7. Make sure the moving truck is already packed before you tell your supervisor which side of eternity you’ll see him in. One couple I knew was fired and had to find a place to live while they were still living in facility quarters. Just a little awkward for all involved.

8. Do you ever just hand the meds to your kids without watching them being swallowed? School called today, Bobby has been selling his Adderall medication to the cheer leading squad.

9. Growing a plant on the windowsill in a Styrofoam cup is probably a school project. Ten plants growing in the closet is probably not. (They were growing marijuana for all you non-pot heads out there).

10. The walkie talkies all of the boys keep in thier rooms just turned into a sophisticated communication/ intelligence gathering tool. At 22:00 Zulu time they make a run for the girls cottage and grab a smoke while ten year old Danny radios in your position every time you get ready to do a bed check in the house.

11. Maybe letting a twelve year old drive your Jeep on the ranch, beside a ditch, was not the smartest move…

12. Lucky, the 4 year old dog that walks sideways and chews on her tongue makes a great pet…. (Sorry Craig, had to throw that in!).

13. Playing hide and go seek in the cemetery sounded really cool, until you had to tuck your seven year old into bed…

14. That bottle of wine back in our private quarters tastes like water….

15. I have complete confidence in the new internet filter I put on the boys computer… Wait whats this? Amish Porn????

16. A drum set is a cool idea for a Christmas present.

17. Working in a COED TEENAGE HOUSE. Enough said.

18. Trampoline + Pool= Really uncomfortable emergency room questions.

19. Doing written reports on curse words. (I asked for a two page report, Gary gave me a ten page thesis on the “F” word. He enjoyed writing the forbidden word as often as he could, using it as a noun, adjective and verb. After the research Gary used cursing as more of an artistic expression of life rather than in fits of anger like everyone else).

20. Mentioning little things over dinner conversation that come back to haunt you. Like stating that “Alka Seltzer” will make a Sea Gulls stomach blow up. The following beach trip was real ugly with dead birds and crying kids.

The point is we all make some bone headed moves at times, although the consequences differ on how bad the choice is. Playing hide and go seek in a grave yard will keep you up all night with freaked out six year olds. Getting nasty with the boss will result in loss of shelter and food and marijuana growing in the closet of your 16 year old will ensure a visit from the local sheriffs Department as soon as they start bragging about their “Bumper Crop” at school.

It’s all about choices folks. We all get em, just try not to screw things up too bad….-Launch

It Doesn’t Get Any Better Than This.

The past few days I’ve had a chance to reflect on my career in residential childcare. One of the big concerns my wife and I had when we decided to start a family was how we would raise our own family in the atmosphere of a group home.

Like most couples that find themselves in the same situation, we worried about one of the boys molesting or hitting the baby. We even briefly discussed other options to make a living. Thankfully, we put it all in Gods hands and decided to see how things would progress as we started our family in the shadow of the “System”.

Over time I have learned to appreciate the richness, vitality and love that comes along with living in a big house with several kids. At this point, I can’t imagine our family without the boys we live and work with. I can’t, and won’t, imagine any other scenario in which my daughter will grow up without having other kids around and helping in her own way, to make another person feel loved and part of a family.

I know all to well how blessed I am. There was a time when I drove a tractor trailer down the road and missed every moment of my kids lives. Birthdays, holidays and life milestones like taking a first step or saying that first real word. I ran the road chasing a dollar in the belief that the more I made the better everything at home would be. It didn’t take to long before I realized that it would never be enough money to justify being absent from my family.

There are ups and downs with any career, and living in a group home has it’s pros and cons. But it’s a place where I get to be a part of my daughters life. I have been there since the moment she took her first breath and her first steps. I have spent more time with my wife in the last few years than most couples do in 20. Our family has been given the opportunity to do the best we can to love and take care of kids that need somebody to care.

I’d be lying if I told you it was all gravy. I’m overweight and have an ulcer the size of a hub cap. My day starts at 5:30 am and normally goes until 11:00 at night before I can get a moment to myself. I work with a few adults that may very well be clinically insane and don’t even get me started about dealing with some of the teachers and familys of our kids.

But it’s all worth it. Every blasted waking moment that God gives me to settle a fight, wipe a tear, step in a puddle of pee, wrestle, play, stress about a non-existent budget, get my car keyed, teach a kid to read or tie their shoes, see a family get put back together, watch my cat get thrown out the second story window, take down a tobacco smuggler and go on a bike ride- it’s all worth it.

What can I say? I love what I do. It’s hard for me to understand sometimes why there is such a high turnover in this field. I think the best thing you can do is find humor in all the kids do and to remember, there’s always a tractor trailer out there with your name on it if you need to get away from your life.

-Launch

Shalom…

Many times before I have said the hardest part of residential childcare is the adults, not the kids. I can also tell you from first hand experience that none of us have all the answers. Relationships, both child and adult, are difficult and complex. What is the right answer now, will not be in twenty minutes. To sum up the last few days of my existence I would have to say that I truly do not enjoy being around any HP that does not approach our line of work as a ministry and as a professional.

Without dropping dimes on any particular individual that is really irritating me at the moment, I would like to share some of my pet peeves with you all that have all seem to have filtered down into a gooey mess the last few days.

1. Treating your “Biological kids” different from the foster kids.-There is nothing in this world that infuriates me more than double standards between staff kids and the facility kids. Before you dish out a consequence ask yourself if you would, or have, given the same kind of “Justice” to your own kid. Better yet, think about how you would feel if you were forced to live in a house with people that were not your family and to be reminded DAILY that you come in second to other kids in the house. Not a pleasant thought is it?

2. Griping about EVERY kid that is to be admitted- In residential child care we deal with behavior and psychological issues, IT’S WHAT WE DO. What did you expect coming into this job?

3. Competition- This ain’t the freaking Olympics champ. There is no ultimate houseparent challenge so please, next time you start throwing out how many years you have been a child care worker, ask yourself if your actually trying to make a valid point, or your just trying to be a self inflating jerk.

4. Fortune Telling- Maybe you do see dead people and can predict when it will snow, just don’t do it with the kids. To walk around and say to yourself or others that a kid is doomed to be a addict, sexual predator, inmate or doomed for the burning abyss of hell, is to set a kid up for failure. Think about it, keep reinforcing a kid with nothing but negativity and your going to get negativity back, with change.

5. Job -VS- Ministry- To do what we do has got to be a calling from God. It’s not a glam job, you will live in poverty, and the vast majority of kids you work with are very ungrateful for what sacarafices you and your family have to make to help them. You have to believe God has called you to to be here in this moment, at this time. Or you just have to be completely loco and love the emotional drain and pain.

So there it is, my top five. I really hope my week gets better and the blogging is a little more uplifting. -Launch

Civil War

I don’t need a calendar to tell you spring is here. It’s always this time of year when every kid loses their minds. Never fails, they know school is less than a month away from being dismissed for the summer and if they have even mediocre grades they can cruise for the last few weeks in school and not do squat. Not a pleasant time to be House Parenting.

It has been a rough morning. Rodney wakes up and decides that he wants to wear the jeans that looks like he just finished crawling across a coal strip mine. Then he decides that instead of picking up his room it would be better to break all of his toys and scatter them in a protective perimeter around his bed. That ensures no one, namely ME, will walk in his room without suffering some kind of plastic shrapnel wound to the foot. Glad I decided to strap on the steel toe boots this morning.

Then the rest of the children decide to get into some geo-political fight over breakfast and whether the Quaker Oats guy on the oatmeal box is actually alive. That conversation quickly turned into who had the fastest bike. We did manage to get to the bus without a fist fight this morning, but barely.

It’s easy to sit back and get frustrated by the whole house getting spun up into a civil war. But you still got to remember what it’s like to be kid with summer around the corner. For me, the last day of school was better than Christmas. Every year I would walk out of school and in one violent display of my feelings for the public school system, throw my notebook in the trash. I remember the feeling of pure ecstasy as I walked home with the knowledge of not having to go back to school for the next two months. Those were the days.

But for the kids we care for this is a mixture of emotions. On one hand, they are happy like any other kid over the possibilities of summer. On the other hand, it’s a time of change, and any change is scary for these kids. When you’ve had five or six different families by the time your twelve it’s understandable that small changes in anything would cause anger and frustration.

So instead of giving into the drama of spring fever I think we will spend the rest of this week going over the summer schedule with the kids and making sure they have a say in the things we plan. Hopefully this will calm the waters a bit and help to end our little in-house Civil War thats been brewing between the boys.

Now if I can only figure out why my 11 month old daughter is throwing her attitude all around… -Launch

Going Home

Everyone needs a place to escape, a place where they feel safe and welcome. For most people that place is home. It’s a place where you can walk in the front door and talk with the family, have a meal and kick it old school reliving memories.

For my wife that place is Upstate New York, land of ice and snow. It’s a place she can get together with her family and friends and enjoy the presence of each other. It helps her to re-affirm family roots and to re-charge and reconnect to who she is. The time she gets with her family is essential to help define her past and future.

On the other hand there is me. My family roots are more or less non-existent and is just a part of reality I have had to come to accept. It’s actually not as depressing and tragic as it sounds, I have been blessed with an amazing wife and children. I have friends across the country that truly are salt of the earth and most importantly, I have Christ.

So once I loaded my wife on plane heading North, I drove our mini-van 90 miles-an-hour home, power slid into the parking slot in front of the house and fired up the bike. I ran inside the house and grabbed the saddle bags, a change of clothes and my super high speed sunscreen (80 SPF) and hit the road. Destination- Waleska, Georgia.

As I cruised across the South Carolina/ Georgia border I felt like a million bucks. And then the drama that accompanies pretty much any task I undertake, hit. At a gas station outside of Atlanta, I jumped off the bike and ran inside to use the restroom, least everyone behind me would think the bike had a radiator leak if I continued down the road. When I came out- my saddle bags were gone. Someone in the hood snagged them.

In my bags I had a digital camera, an ipod, digital recorder and my Crackberry cell phone. I also lost my sunscreen which resulted in third degree burns later on in my travels. Anyway, being the hardcore biker houseparent that I am, I pushed on. Soon I was driving up the driveway of Goshen Valley Boys Ranch to have lunch with my old supervisor, Craig.

We had a great lunch, caught up on facility happenings and kids, and other HP type of stuff. After lunch I got an invite to a ranch BBQ that night. No way I’m passing free food up. But first I needed a phone.

I headed into town and stopped into some Mexican store/ laundromat/ check cashing/ unemployment agency and bought me a little pre-paid phone. There was a bit of a language barrier and ultimately my cell ended up being programmed in Spanish. I swear I heard the clerk laughing as I walked out the door. Whatever, I had a BBQ to hit, I’ll think about calling INS later.

As I pulled up to the ranch I was hit with a mixture of emotions. In my life there have been very few places that felt like home to me. Goshen is one of those places. I saw many of the boys that I use to work with and was amazed at how big they have gotten. I sat and watched the kids playing with dogs and playing tag out in the field. I can’t think of a better place to grow up as a boy.

After eating there was praise singing and prayer to cap off an already awesome night. I headed down the road that night feeling very content and very thankful for the fellowship I experienced with great kids and some of the best staff I have ever worked with. For me it was a homecoming.

For everyone at Goshen- God Bless all of you guys. To Craig and John- you both have developed something special that is not the norm in this field, keep on rocking guys cause something this good has to be of God. The impact and ministry the ranch has done in the lives of boys is immeasurable. The BBQ is pretty decent also. -Launch

Born To Be Wild

So it begins- respite. My wife and daughter flew to upstate New York to hang and visit family. I just got a phone call and she said it was snowing up there. Hope she enjoys making snowmen in May.

As for me, I have waited, dreamed and yearned for this moment all month. A chance to jump on the bike in 70 degree weather, take a trip and visit a few places and let go of all the pent up frustrations from the past few months.

First I’m heading towards Georgia to have lunch with a friend and then I’ll flip a quarter to see whether to head South or North, either one is just fine with me as long as I’m in the wind.

I’m a firm believer that every one has to find an outlet to relax and recharge your body and soul. Especially if your in a line of work that consumes your every waking moment, such as residential child care. You need some activity that rolls back the years and makes you feel alive. Something that makes you feel like life is not only sweet but worth living. So for those of you out there that may want some ideas on living on the edge your next respite here is a list.

1. Skinny dipping- A public pool will probably end your life as a HP but a nice quiet creek somewhere would be safe for you and the wife. Watch out for crawdads.

2. Sky Diving- Nothing will make you appreciate life as much as hurling yourself out of a little Cessna that sounds like a super charged lawn mower after a one hour “suicide” class on how to be a sky diver. Be sure to buy the video they sell of you throwing yourself out the door so you can relieve the moment for years to come. Now that I think of it, that would work for #1 also…

3. Get a bike- Call me. I guarantee after a weekend of rolling with me and trying to witness to bar full of bikers, you’ll feel better and probably have a police blotter report to show off when you get back home.

4. Start a “Weird Project”- I have always wanted to take a mini-van and turn it into a Drag car. There’s something to said for doing a school run on an alcohol injected, big bore, mini-van that has one of those “My kid is an honor student” bumper stickers. Will score you major respect points at the next PTA meeting.

5. Bungee Jumping- It’s nice to say that you’ve done it. I recommend you drive your car into a wall at thirty miles an hour, it feels the same.

That’s it for me, time to hit the road. -Launch

Help me, I’m Dying.

5:30 am- I roll out of bed, take a swig out of a half empty (and flat) Pepsi and look over at my wife who is peacefully sleeping. Since I believe a husband’s duty is to make his wife suffer as much as he, I yank the pillow out from under head while telling her it’s time to get moving. She responds with a “Good Morning Sweetheart”. I don’t believe her.

5:45 am- Coffee is now done. I slam half a cup before I realize the boy who did dishes last night, Jackson, did not rinse the soap out of the coffee pot. Ha, Ha, thats funny. I’ll make sure that little bugger gets a little something extra when I wake him up.

5:52 am- Turn on CNN. Hillary Clinton is still running for President. In a mixture of emotions- mainly disgust and anger, I accidentally take another swig of my coffee thats laced with dish detergent.

6:01 am- Walking up the stairs with every intention of making Jacksons morning as ugly as mine.

6:03 am- Stepped in puddle of pee in hallway. Hoping kids did hear the words I said.

6:04 am- Start waking kids up, saving Jackson for last. I can feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. I don’t know wither to wake him gently and tell him he needs to scrub all the dishes before school or just take the passive aggressive route and make him drink remainder of coffee.

6:07 am- Go to wake up Jackson. He is already awake. As soon as I walk in his room, he throws up in the middle of the floor and, I swear, grins at me knowing he just pulled the golden ticket with his dramatic display of illness. Any plans of doing something out of the house today slip away as I realize he will be staying home from school.

6:30 am- At breakfast, Rodney starts saying how he thinks Hillary will be an awesome President. My wife reacts quickly and asks me to go check on our daughter, thereby saving yet another young boy from certain doom.

6:55 am- Walk kids to bus stop.

8:30 am- Jackson informs me he is “Cured” and should not have to stay in his bedroom all day. He assures me that watching Power Rangers is educational. I disagree and offer to take him to school. Jackson starts to feel woozy once again.

10:00 am- Jim calls and wants to go on bike ride. I decline due to my situation. I listen with a heavy heart as Jim fires up the Harley and rides past the cottage. Jackson comes downstairs and informs me that he heard Mr. Jims motorcycle and wants me to know his bike is way cooler than my little bike. I thank Jackson for his honesty and concern for the obvious lack of respect my Honda brings in the motorcycling community. I then offer him a cup of coffee. He laughs and politely declines my offer.

11:00 am- Jackson informs me he had an accident in the bathroom. I go to inspect the damage. “Accident” is an understatement. There is poo on the door knob and walls. I ask how this was possible. Jackson tells me he “Exploded”. I then ask him to get a bucket to help me clean up the mess. He throws up again all over the floor.

12:30 pm- Bio-hazardous material is cleaned up, Jackson has showered, the coffee pot has been rinsed out and I make another pot. Only then do I notice soap suds coming from the top of the coffee pot. Upon closer inspection I realize Jackson dumped dish soap in the water compartment in the coffee maker.

12:35 pm- I slowly walk up the stairs preparing to inform Jackson he will not see the light of day for the next six months. I get to his room and see him crying because he really is not feeling good. We spend the next hour putting a model together in his room.

Sometimes I get so full of myself that I forget what it’s like to be a sick ten year old and just want someone you love to pay attention. It’s times like this a hug from mom or dad is exactly the medicine a kid needs, only these kids are not in a position that they can get that.

I was so busy being frustrated by my own petty concerns that I temporarily lost sight of whats important, the kids. God does use these moments to bring us back into focus and I am truly thankful for that- and Jackson.

Time to get some coffee now- at Starbucks. -Launch

Motivational Speaker

    I give this speech at least once a day in my cottage.

Sometimes I get a little long winded and go into lecture mode. After a few minutes of me talking, my wife will tap me on the shoulder and only then do I realize the kid is all glassey eyed and drool is coming out of one side of their mouth.

I’ve learned not to bring up my own past indiscretions and how those choices have hurt me in this life. Those kind of conversations tend to get really twisted in the head of a pre-teen. I tried giving a motivational talk to a boy at our first facility that had been trying to purchase pot in school. I told him about how most of my buddies I grew up smoking with in my neighborhood were either dead, in jail, homeless or a preacher (go figure). Somehow that turned into a big story around campus how I love smoking crack and vacation in Columbia. 

As a general rule, personal stories are just a bad thing to do. The kids don’t really care about the 80’s anyway and reminiscing about the good old days always makes you sound old.

Maybe I’ll just start forcing them to read my blog instead of lecturing. Both are equally painful.-Launch