Insomnia

A common complaint among most house parents is the lack of sleep. Truth be told I only average four or five hours of sleep a night. Most doctors recommend between six and eight hours to keep from going psycho and running naked through the local car wash.

A huge part of the problem is stress and the emotional roller coaster we deal with everyday in our environment. To help ease the stress, many of us consume empty carbs, sodas and other comfort foods to feel a little better. Heck, I have lived off of coffee and Twinkies for the last five years. Or there’s the other half of the crowd that have to sneak off on a van run to town so they can slam a couple of cigarettes before going back into the line of fire. 

Many people that have never been a House Parent have a difficult time imagining how it could possibly be so stressful. After all, all we do is watch a bunch of kids and keep them from killing each other or burning the place down, right? It’s a lifestyle you can’t possibly know about until you live it, bottom line. People and in some facilities, the administration, belive that you have massive amounts of free time and get to be with your spouse everyday. The truth? There are very few moments in my waking hours that I am not working, doing or hustling something for our cottage or facility. That is true in about 98% of the facilities you will find yourself in. As for working with your spouse? Man, I tell you the truth, if it were not for Christ we would have tried to kill each other long ago. I can’t imagine doing anything else with anyone else, but when your spouse is also your work team mate and you spend 24 hours a day with each other it can, and will get a little funky at times.

Between the caffiene, nicotine, crack or whatever your poison is; mixed with the daily grind of breaking up fights, teachers and paperwork, by the end of the day you just want to turn on the tv and numb your mind with shows about dead people. But on one particular night I had already seen this episode of CSI about ten times.

So I decide to pour the last of the soda into my coffee cup and sit on the front porch of the cottage. I was only out there about five minutes when I noticed a leg sticking out of the window over at the teen boys cottage. I decided to walk over and say hi. I was half way across the street, at 1 am, when the rest of the kid jumped out the window. As soon as he saw me, it looked like he was going to start bawling. I asked him where he was going and he said he dropped something out his window. I noticed the still burning cigarette butt on the ground and asked if that was what he was looking for. Figuring he was beyond screwed at this point, he picked it up and took a drag. We walked over to the porch and sat down for a minute and he started telling me about how he couldn’t sleep. 

He talked about missing some people in his family and some of the stuff he thought was his fault for ending up in our facility. It seems he was having a difficult time dealing with some of the other kids in the house and trying to find some space for himself. Without telling him, I knew what he was feeling. We all tend to forget that the kids suffer more than what we tend to give them credit for. Sure they whine, think only about themselves and how the “Now” is affecting them, not anyone else. Pretty much everything I still do when I start feeling sorry for myself or want something that I can’t have at the moment. Like money to pay bills or a new Harley. The one big difference between me and this kid was I go on respite, he doesn’t. He went to bed that night wondering what his Mom was doing and he will go to bed every-night wondering what ever happened to her. 

We talked a few more minutes, then I called the House Parents and briefly listened to him losing his freedom for the next week. I then walked back to my own cottage and thought to myself that life is pretty good as I checked to make sure my daughter was asleep in her crib. I can’t think of any other way I would love to spend my life than what I’m doing now, even if I can’t sleep. -Launch 

Ants In My Pants

One of the first things I did when I moved from Yankee territory was to go poking at one of those big ant mounds that are found throughout the south. I got stung about fifty times while the boys I was with at the time fell all over themselves at my stupidity. An ant that stings was completely unimaginable where I was raised. Ants were good for squashing, that was about it. They could crawl on you and you wouldn’t blink an eye.

In the south, fire ants are everywhere. I have come to believe they are the minions of Satan himself. I can’t stand more than five minutes on any piece of grass in South Carolina without dancing around like a fool because fire ants are covering my sandals and chewing on my ankles. It looks like I tried to kick a field goal with a cactus.

My pain and suffering is of course a never ending source of entertainment for the boys. Which is why when they get stung by a fire ant or two I secretly say to myself “About time”. The boys have of course grown up with fire ants. Like any group of bored kids I have seen them invent all kinds of games that have made me shake my head and wonder where they come up with some of the stuff they do.

One day we were playing soccer and during a water break I noticed a group of boys huddled in group at one end of the field. My House Parent senses told me that something was up, so I walked down to them and asked what they we were doing. They were all laughing and taking turns putting their hands into a fire ant mound and seeing how long they could keep it there. The record was ten seconds at that point, and probably one of the stupidest things I have witnessed as a human being.

I have also seen the boys on occasion kick ant mounds on each other and run around laughing while getting stung on the arms and face. If the south ever did rise again, this is the kinda mentality the North would have to face. I know some tough Northerners, but not one of them would take a fire ant mound to the face and run around laughing. They grow em tough down here.

One of my favorite pastimes is the eradication of fire ants. I hate them like I hate cancer. The kids and my wife just stand back and say a prayer every time I head out the door with a gas can and matches. I forget they probably crawled out of hell anyway and the fire probably just makes it a little more cozy for them, while my lawn looks like it barely survived a Napalm bombing run.

Trying to kill them isn’t helping my ulcer any. I’m starting to think that maybe I should adapt the kids outlook on the dreaded fire ants and learn to adapt, using them as a natural resource, a way of separating the men from the boys by plunging my hand into an ant mound. Amazing what a group of boys can teach you…. -Launch

Retreat!!!

Man has the summer flown by! We are down to about a week and a half before the Houseparent Network retreat at Monte Sano State Park in Huntsville, Alabama.

This will be a retreat that you just kick back and relax. No agenda, no speakers, just a bunch of House Parents gathering on top of a mountain and having a good time. No pressures and no worries.

To be honest, I had envisioned putting together something with some more substance and people representing different programs to give their propaganda speechs. But in the four months since we even brought up the idea of a get together, I havn’t had much time to contact some of the people I wanted to, witch may turn out to be a good thing. However it goes, at least a couple of us can sit down and try to decide what next year would look like, if it will even happen or not.

But this year it’s just a good time to kick back and relax. Here is a reprint from the forum that has some more info. can’t wait to meet you all! -Launch

From the forum

The retreat is coming up fast. My van is busted and won’t get fixed until next month when I can afford the other half of the $1000 bill. But I will still be there, in true biker form.If you get there call me at 864-938-5231. I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone that can make it, and talking about the ones that can’t…. Anyone that shows up you can hook up with me at the campsite. I will have a reddish orange Motorcycle parked at the site and my colors will be hanging out in front of the tent (Bikers For Christ patch with an American flag that says “Vet”).

Mike will be chilling like a big dog somewhere in the cabin area. (Oh to be a wealthy webmaster).

I will be pulling in probably late Thursday night and rolling out on Sunday morning or possibly afternoon if Glidenhi can hook me up with a church service.

 

It’s not to late to come out and hang with your fellow HP’s. Load the car up and point towards Huntsville, AL (Monte Sano State Park) and have a great time. Bring anyone and everyone and just be yourself and connect with the only people who truly understand what your life is like- other HP’s.

Cabins, Camper sites and for the truly hardcore, tent sites are available.

Tent sites are $10 a night

Cabins for You rich folk are $80 a night

Camper/ electric sites are $18 a night 

Palentology 101

Hole

What kid doesn’t like digging in dirt? When I was a young bald faced boy, I enjoyed digging a hole or two. We would play war in the woods near our house and scrape out foxholes and lob rocks and dirt clumps at each other, until someone would get smacked in the head with a small boulder and run home crying. Good wholesome fun.

The fun and fascination of playing in dirt ended when I enlisted in the Army. The Army, I soon discovered, had a way of taking the fun out of most things you thought was really cool. After walking twelve miles in unrelenting Georgia sunshine, I would have to dig a hole with my battle buddy. After finishing, we would fill it back in, and walk a few more miles. Then we dug another hole. After I had to dig a bunker in solid, wet clay in Louisiana, I lost all appreciation for playing in dirt.

Fast forward a half decade- Our boys decide they would like to spend the weekend looking for fossils back on the farm. I entertained the idea for half a second and thought they would last ten minutes, dig about a 5 inch deep hole and get bored. I asked them if they wanted to do anything else like fishing or swimming, they all responded with a resilient “Nope”. Digging it was.

We took the farm truck back by the lake house, making sure to chase some geese around the field first, and finally we found a spot down by the creek to begin our search for fossils. I sat back in my camp chair and watched the boys take turns with the shovel. After an hour I was really surprised they were still working on the same hole. By this time the hole was about three feet deep and four feet across, just enough for me to start wondering if they were planning on this shallow hole to be my final resting place.

I asked them if they wanted to go get some ice cream, they voted on waiting until later, which gave me hope that they were at least planning on me living long enough to buy them a hot fudge sundae. I sat and marveled at how well five boys were working together for no other reason than to dig a hole. They worked in shifts and told each other to drink water so they wouldn’t pass out. No arguing or fighting, just a common goal to find dinosaur bones or China, whichever came first. These are the same boys that wanted to kill each other over Matchbox cars this morning. Go figure.

After two hours and a very deep hole, we all decided that it was time for that ice cream. We filled the hole back in, jumped in the truck and gave the geese hell one more time chasing them around the field. Then off to Sonic. In case your wondering, we didn’t find any dinosaur bones- this time.

Days like this make you realize that all of these kids can and will work together when it’s a common goal and drive they all share. It’s refreshing because so much of what we do with elementary boys is dealing with squabbles between them, all day long. Kinda makes me wonder if they all just need to start their own contracting business. -Launch

“Mi Semana Loca” o Realmente “Mi Mes Loco”

Translation: “My Crazy Week” or actually “My Crazy Month”

For those that have been wondering why I haven’t been around much, I can say that I have a very good reason.  My life has been total chaos.  I got back from vacation on the 6th and have been running like crazy since then. 

We got back into the house only to find it was in chaos, just like we thought it would be after our vacation.  It seems like a few of our children have flat lost their minds and totally forgotten that they have lived with us for over 4 years.  They stole all the tomatoes off my tomato bush and smashed them in the yard.  My two younger boys were over by the Campus Life Office urinating in a bucket right outside our social workers window.  That was a fun phone call.  I can’t believe they have forgotten how to eat a meal in just two weeks.  Chomping like a cow, eating with their hands, using dinner plates for desert, trying to hide their veggies under their mashed potatoes, etc.

We (the entire cottage) are getting ready to move to a new house so we have been trying to sort through things, get rid of things and pack things.  I have to tell you that is a chore for 12 people.  Plus we have to paint four bedrooms in the new house, fix some things, clean carpets, wash walls and floors, etc.  Fortunately we have a volunteer group here this week helping us and will have another one next week to help us move. 

 Speaking of volunteer groups, we have had one here almost everyday since we have been back from vacation.  The work they do is very beneficial and we could not get everything done without them, but It is a lot of extra work while they are here.  It takes longer to get through meal time when there are 40 or 50 extra people in the dining room.  Plus they have done a ton of activities with us and the kids like Vacation Bible Schools, Bible Studies, roller skating, the movies, carnivals, pool parties, etc.  We have had a great time, but it sure wears you out  and eats up a lot of the day that you could use to get ready to move.

I have spent almost 20 hours setting up the new Houseparent Network computer.  I never would have thought it would have been that hard to convert over from XP to Vista.  I ended up loading my Office XP, Adobe 7, Ulead Photo Impact 11, along with a few other programs, only to have to uninstall all them and re-install with Office 2007, Adobe 9, Ulead Photo Impact 13, and several others because Vista didn’t like the old ones.  On the bright side, timing seemed to be perfect for the upgrade.  Office Depot had a killer sale on the notebook; I got it for almost $300 off normal price and I didn’t even have to bother with a rebate.  The Office 2007 upgrade was on sale for almost half off.  Adobe just released their latest version and the upgrade was very reasonable, and I got the Ulead Photo Impact upgrade notice the day after I bought the computer and they were offering an upgrade special at over half off.  To my wife’s delight the whole thing cost less than a thousand dollars.

To top things off the church I was attending imploded, beginning last Sunday and ending this Sunday.  I was a member of the church session before I resigned and have spent over 8 hours in meetings over the last week.  We ended up with the Pastor, the church secretary, three session members plus their spouses and families all resigning and leaving the congregation.  I was also the VBS director and we were supposed to start our VBS yesterday.  Needless to say that didn’t happen because including myself, more than half the staff quit.  I won’t go into details about the split, but it boils down to a lifetime church member that decided it was time to run off another pastor and enough other people that allowed her to do it.  On the other hand, the great thing that came out of it, was we are being allowed to attend a church that is awesome.  It is growing, is the most culturally and racially diverse church I have ever attended.  Has awesome children’s and youth groups, which our children love, and have people that understand what we do as houseparents and want to help us.

It truly has been a crazy month and I am getting really tired!!!  However, it will all be over soon!!!  We should be completely moved by the end of next week.  There are only two groups left this summer.  School starts on the 7th of August and we will be on relief and enjoying the 1st Annual Houseparent Retreat in Huntsville, Alabama beginning on the 8th of August.  When we get back life will be much more normal.

At least as normal as it can be when you are a houseparent living with 10 children!

p.s.  As I was writing this I got the notice that the latest version of WordPress has been released.  There goes another three hours, upgrading the Blog software!!!

Getting A Haircut, Sort Of…

Please, oh please bring back the mullet. Back in the day, my mullet reigned supreme. When it was time for a trim, I never put up a fight, as long as they left the back alone. I really thought the mullet would last forever…

Which brings me to todays topic, taking our boys to the barber. If you need a reference point on what it would be like to take seven elementary boys to get a trim, the best I can do is this; Imagine being in a Bull fight, add some soap opera drama, mix in some piercing shrieks and hit yourself in the head with a brick until the pain drops you to your knees. That is pretty close to what happens in our cottage. 

The place we take our boys is actually a school for hair stylists. As you can imagine we get a discount and the ladies get some practice. Unfortunately our twelve year old, Jo, likes to act like James Bond picking up a girl at the card table. 

Jo also does not take hints very well. During his last session, he asked the hair stylist for her number three times. I then tried to remind Jo that he was twelve and she was twenty-five with two kids and an ex-husband that was stalking her (Amazing the info you pick up when your sitting in a hair salon). 

Ray and Ken want designs cut into their hair. I tell them if they want designs I’ll do it, not them. Ken asks me what kind of design I can do. I tell them I’ll gladly shave Houseparent.Net into the back of their heads, I’ll even pay them ten bucks a piece. They both looked very confused and just opted for a fade instead.

Calvin is going through his Rastafarian phase and is working on growing dread locks, without trying to grow them. He just has a rather difficult time with applying the appropriate cleaning material to his head while taking a shower at night. I strongly encouraged him to shave his head, he strongly encouraged me to please go check on Jo, who was trying to talk the stylist into doing his nails. As I was running over to stop Jo from getting a manicure, I noticed Ray had the beginning of some design shaved into the side of his head. I told the lady to go ahead and erase the design. She asked how, I said shave it. Ray began tearing up until I told him he would look like Shaq, just much shorter. He thought that was pretty cool. 

Jo was having to much fun with his single mom stylist. I asked the owner if she could hook Jo up with the rest of his hair cut and she gladly obliged. The owner is very nice and very…..grandmotherly. Jo sat in silence for the remainder of the session. 

Haircuts are personal. It is especially frustrating when you have your mind set on a look that the rest of “Normal” society frowns on. I’m all about personal expression, but I also know if I would have shown up for an interview at a Children’s home with a Mullet and that scary neck tattoo I’ve been wanting to get, I would be working carnivals with the rest of my kin folk. 

I guarantee if I was a kid today, I would be busting a sag with my jeans around butt and boxers hanging out. But, I’m not a kid. I’m an adult trying to teach kids who already have had a rough start, how to be successful in our society and give them the tools for developing a healthy and productive future. Which should be the job of EVERY parent out there. 

If you think the barber shop is rough, just wait until it’s time for back to school clothes shopping! -Launch

I’m Not Sick, But I’m Not Well…

Sick days, glorious sick days. The kinda days you use when you need to take off to go fishing. In the world of residential childcare they are non-existent

We actually get sick days here, I’ve just never used them. I guess a lot of it has to do with your life and occupation being one and the same. For example, I have a very grotesque ingrown toenail. I go twice a year to have it cut out and fixed up. The first day after getting cut on is very painful. But I’ve never taken the time off. I just grab the remote, take double the amount of pain medication the Dr. advised and yell at whatever kid comes within my target range.

Most House Parents I know are the same. There seems to be a sense of doom if we are not there. Maybe it’s because we are control freaks or it could be we are just that dedicated to the house and kids. I’m thinking it’s probably more of the control freak option.

Many facilities are not staffed with enough people for it to even be an option for the House Parents to take a day off or any kind of sick leave.

The bottom line is most of us in this industry spend our lives taking care of others and completely neglect ourselves. It’s actually very common in all areas of social work. Many mental health professionals are basket cases themselves and a very large percentage suffer from anxiety, PTSD and a host of other symptoms that come from dealing with every one else’s issues.

Likewise House Parents get beat down from what they do. You can only hear so many hard luck stories, deal with so many drugged out, mentally jacked up parents, behavioral issues from MULTIPLE children and administration staff that always think they know the kids better than you. After a while it tends to make you just a tad bit depressed, overweight, stressed, angry, frustrated, spiteful and moderately psycho. But there is hope!

The following are steps that we are taking to ensure that my wife, myself and our ministry will continue for many more years to come. Some of this stuff we are already doing, other stuff is in the works.

1. Praying together twice a day- Things start getting hectic and this is always the first thing to go. Probably contributes to everything else going out of whack when we stop taking time to pray together as a team and as husband and wife.

2. Exercise- Just common sense. You feel better, look better and work the stress off.

3. Eating Right- Everyone in your cottage may be in elementary school, but your not. Eat like an eight year old and you will turn into the Michelin Man.

4. Sleep- I am known for drinking a pot of coffee, and doing paperwork into the wee hours of the morning. I generally operate on about 5 hours of sleep a day. That is not enough, and I look like a walking corpse.

5. Marriage Counseling- Me and the wife are doing just fine, but going at least once a year to a marriage retreat or some kind of Pastoral counseling helps line up any issues that may be going on and helps keep the communication lines open. Plus it makes my wife think I actually care about her feelings (Just joking).

6. Vacation- Get away and just relax. Kinda wish I was there now.

Thats about it. I figure it’s a decent start to living just a little better. -Launch

Papa Was A Rolling Stone

The one thing most kids in residential childcare share in common is the absence, or almost complete absence of a positive male role model. Almost all of the children I have worked with have never had a father around, and the ones that did have Dad around were being abused by him.

A young man growing up without a positive male influence is a very dangerous thing. Not only do they grow up (Statistically) to continue a dysfunctional cycle of abuse but they also latch on to ANY male influence that they come across. This can come in the form of a drug dealer or just an everyday hustler, thereby ensuring that we as residential care givers will have job security well into the next century.

A huge part of the problem is our society has totally turned on all aspects of family. For a girl that is seventeen that wants to be a home maker is considered a girl that has no ambition and possibly needs counseling. A man that chooses to work close at home and places his family above a career and money is considered to be someone that is not providing for his family and largely unsuccessful.

Lets also not forget that being a single mother is now a source of pride. Despite the Lifetime movies my wife has forced me into watching, I cannot think of anyone I know that has divorced because her husband was beating on her or going to kill her. More often it’s because one or both “Partners” lose that loving feeling and start thinking the grass is greener on the other side.

So what does this have to do with residential child care? Everything. Our work is solely based on people that refused to honor a relationship dedicated to God. Divorce and broken relationships affect everyone. So much so that our society does not talk. Don’t believe me? What are the names of all your neighbors?

1% of the entire population in the United States is currently incarcerated, and it’s not slowing down. The foster care system is overloaded with cases. But yet, as a society we still don’t seem to understand how significant a man is to the family. Oh well….

As a professional House Parent you always need to keep in mind that you may be the only decent role model a kid has between now and 18. Everything we do and say is being analyzed by them and being compared with what they know from their past experiences. I know for a fact that the most important thing I can do is to be there for those kids and for mine, even if it means we must adopt a lifestyle of simple living.

For everyones information, I’m just as guilty as all the people I have talked about in here. I lived on the road chasing a dollar thinking that was the best thing I could for my family, I’ve been divorced and I have contributed in many ways to creating the society that I have come to despise. It has been only through he power of Jesus Christ that my eyes were opened. Change is possible, but only when you realize what the truth really is. -Launch

Back From Vacation

Well today was my first day back in the cottage after a two week vacation.

First let me share about the vacation.  It was great!!!  We had a bunch of fun in St. Louis.  Went to the top of the arch.  Watched the Cardinals spank the Mets, which was great because they lost 2 out of the next 3 games. Rode some roller-coasters at Six Flags.  (Didn’t even have to worry about the attendants saying, “I’m sorry sir you are too large for this ride.”)  Played some golf, tennis, miniature golf, pool and arcade games.  Did some shopping, Union Station is really cool, and participated in one of the nations top ten 4th of July celebrations which ended with watching fireworks going off above the arch.  The cherry on top was that I kept to my lifestyle change and lost 3 pounds while I was gone.  Not many people can say they lost weight while they were on vacation.

Coming back into the house was not as fun, in fact it was funny (peculiar funny) when we were driving home how our manner and personalities seemed to change.  We started dreading coming back because we knew how difficult it would be.  Missing dishes, clothes, etc.  Went to grill hamburgers this evening and couldn’t find my big spatula anywhere.  Dreading all the stories about all the things our kids did while we were gone.  Had to hear about how some of our younger children got into our birthday gift closet and opened all the toys and how our difficult child somehow came across some matches and tried to burn the house down.  All the mirrors on my bus were out of whack and my preset for K-LOVE didn’t exist anymore.

There were other things, but there really is no point listing everything.  If you have ever been a houseparent you know what it is like to come back into the cottage/house after relief and how much worse it is after vacation.

I also learned some things I am going to have to change about the website.  Like buying a new notebook computer that is 100% dedicated to just the website (Page editing, file storage, page uploading and e-mail)  and getting one of those wireless Internet connections through my cell company.  Trying to check your email on a computer not set up for e-mail is ridiculas when you get almost 200 spam messages a day.  I don’t know how many important e-mails I deleted trying to clean out the spam.  It is also impossible to make updates when you are dependent on motel wifi that seems like a 28k dial-up connection.  This last week we didn’t have any type of Internet in our unit and I had to drive down to the office to get anything.  There has got to be a way to maintain the website and still be able to leave town from time to time.

Anyway, I am back – time to go to work and hopefully tomorrow I will feel refreshed and ready to do it.

And The Beat Goes On…

Summer pushes on, at this point I feel like I’m some kind of dog-eared paratrooper fighting my way thru Nazi occupied France. So far this summer we have had a cottage vacation to Camp in Tennessee, took another cottage trip to Atlanta, done swim lessons three days a week, taken the kids kicking and screaming to tutoring four days a week and camped out for the fourth of July. And just this morning, my wife reminded me we were halfway thru summer vacation!

Today, we start vacation bible school. Our kids also have day camp this week, which is giving me a 30 minute window to slam some coffee and type a few words before hitting the trail again.

We are also getting a new set of HP’s to work the opposite shift with us. Words cannot express how much I am looking forward to this other couple coming in. They both seem to really enjoy what they do and the boys are really excited because the dude is like a local legend on acoustical guitar. 

It’s been a busy summer and it looks like things won’t even begin to slow down until August. I have to admit, at the moment I’m not exactly all pumped up on being a House Parent, I’m just kinda going thru the motions and doing what I gotta do to make it to the next day. I have my own opinion of our facilities schedule for the kids, but I also understand that if I express that opinion, it would be heavily swayed by my burn out and not very fair. This is one of those times in the ministry when you just have to do the job and trust the powers that be that this will all pass. In layman’s terms, I need to quit whining and suck it up. 

I still love what I do (In theory at the moment) and I can honestly say I do enjoy being with all the boys and being able to be a part of their lives. And yes, I still believe this is the greatest ministry on the face of the earth. 

For all the brothers and sisters out there that have hit the wall, keep on keeping on. Get on the forum here at the Network and vent, get advice or post pictures of yourself shooting at watermelons or your empty Tequila bottle collection. Being able to talk and connect with those that are on the same playing field as you may help get you thru those dog days of summer…. -Launch