Sunday, November 18, 2007

Part Four: Present Day

Graduation day! After seven years of hit-or-miss educational endeavors, the day had finally come when I could say that I was a college graduate. I walked and it felt good. We had a few more months of financial worry until I landed my first "real" job after college. Coincidentally, my first "real" job after college bore a striking resemblance to the last "real" job I had before going back to finish. Two crucial differences: One, I could walk to work before and now I was driving an hour and fifteen minutes each way. Two, I made a lot more money.

And so began a period of relative prosperity. I neglected to mention in the last post the fateful day in August 1996 when I was diagnosed with Ideopathic Cystoid Macular Edema - later to be named Pars Planitis (the underlying cause of the CME) in my left eye. At any given time, my vision could go from 20/20 (corrected, of course) to 20/200 or worse in my left eye. It waxed and waned off and on over the years - just enough to complicate college, you know? But for some reason after graduation, I had maybe one flare up in three years. Weird. I worked for a Garden Tools company and we finally felt like we could get somewhere financially. Finally. Little did we realize that our sense of security was a false one.

Paul and I really love being parents. We're not perfect parents, but we do try our best and I think, for the most part, the kids are turning out okay. Having children together was something we'd tried to make happen before but for reasons I'm not defining in this blog, it just didn't work that way. But, as I've also said previously in this blog, sometimes God has plans for you that will be revealed when you're ready to listen with your whole heart. So it was with us.

Friends of ours adopted twin babies in a domestic adoption in 2001. Around the middle of 2002, I started thinking that adoption might be an option for us as well. We could be parents without making our own. I didn't feel like being pregnant anyway. In my opinion, being pregnant is highly over rated. Keep your heartburn and swollen ankles thanks. I'll pass.

My friend the adoptive mom spoke in a panel discussion and, on my request, brought me some information about adoption options. Paul and I perused them and scheduled an appointment for more information in September 2002. At that meeting, our social worker was very candid about our chances for domestic adoption and laid out the options for international very well. We just wanted to be parents together, you know? It is so completely different to raise kids with someone you can stand to talk to! As usual, we were on the same page and informed our social worker we were interested in international programs and would let her know which of the options we'd pursue. By the time we'd walked back to our car, we'd agreed on Russia. Our decision was based on the fact that there are so many kids in Russia awaiting families and that we wanted to adopt from someplace we had an interest in traveling to. Logical? We certainly thought so.

But the funding? Ah the funding... What were we thinking? International Adoption is ridiculously expensive and we'd just recovered from 10 years of broke-dom. I still don't know what we were thinking when we started. We agreed that we'd find a way. After all, you don't get the whole bill at once, right? So we went for it. We paid our application fee and started working our way through the mountain of paperwork required for a Russian Adoption. At the end of October, we had our homestudy visit. I've blogged about that before so you know how difficult that was. Seeing all those pictures of kids needing families was and still is the most difficult thing. Even today, as my six readers know, sad faces of small children in orphanages around the world pull my heartstrings hard.

Immediately, however, we knew that The Senator would be our son no matter what it took. Go back to this post and look at those eyes. Tell me you could have done otherwise.

The way pieces fell into place for our adoption still amazes me. First, my company unveiled their new benefits package in November (not two weeks after our homestudy, I tell you) and they had added adoption benefits for 2003. Next, a thorough search of Army benefits revealed an adoption benefit as well. It really looked like God was on our side in this one and He was. We worked our way through the process with great anticipation and faith that everything would be just fine. And it was. We brought the boys home in September 2003 and it has been amazing. We feel very blessed by those boys to this day.

However, things kind of started going to hell in a handbasket in other aspects of life during this same time. When you're adopting, you want everything to go perfectly. Always vigilant for things that could go wrong, we wanted to be sure that all the I's were dotted and the T's crossed so that the Russian authorities had no reason to reject our application. The Social Worker had hinted that our living in military housing might cause concern and we'd been thinking that the write offs associated with home ownership might be a good idea. So, after some searching, we found a fixer-upper (meaning a single man had lived in it and the decor was hideous so we though we'd just carpet and paint and fix up the kitchen a bit) just a couple of miles out of town and made an offer. We closed on January 3, 2003. Yes, we did all the due diligence stuff: a home inspection, a well and septic test and insulated ourselves against the fact that the well needed to be replaced. The seller paid for that. Would you expect problems after that? Well, neither did we.

We closed on January 3 and moved in about two weeks later after totally re-painting the inside and replacing all the carpet on the first floor. We put in new kitchen appliances and the place was pretty cool. It was home and we owned it. Nice, huh? I wish. The first night we were in the house - I swear! There came a horrible noise emanating from the basement. The Well Pump had failed. The well that we thought would be replaced in the spring needed to be replaced now except that it was January in Wisconsin and the ground was frozen. We limped along until March.

March came, the ground was thawed sufficiently for the new well. It was drilled and reconnected and the water was orange. That's right, kids, rust. We needed to have a filter installed to eliminate the rust in our water so that our clothes, appliances and fixtures weren't destroyed any further. Three grand, if I remember correctly. Then it got really grand. We had the filter installed by the same company that had done our well and septic inspection and, upon installing the filter, they informed us they were unable to connect it because our septic system needed to be replaced. Excuse the fuck out of me? Three months ago, sir, your company told us the septic was fine. Had you told us it was not fine, we would not have bought the house. Something is fishy and that something is you. So, rather than a ten thousand dollar bill, we had a $4,500 bill for replacing our septic system (evidently the price drops when you mention calling a lawyer)- coincidentally not done until we were in Russia. The house was dubbed "The Money Pit". I've never seen the movie, I've lived the movie.

Also around March, my employer went through a reorganization and I got a new boss. new boss that I was, apparently, the wrong gender to work for. What a horse's ass this guy was. Instantly, my work environment went from tolerable to hell. But we were adopting, we were living in the Money Pit. I had no choices because jobs are hard to come by and we definitely needed the money. I perservered - at least for a while. This particular boss was absolutely the worst sort. Abrasive, rude and generally uncommunicative. You couldn't find him when you needed him. Only his favorite (former) employees had his cell phone number, he didn't answer e-mail and we disagreed about everything. His boss agreed with me which only made my life worse. I was garbage and treated that way until one day I'd just had enough. Going to work made me weepy and nauseous and after driving two hours to work with my boss and having him not be there again and getting a scathing e-mail about the fact that I didn't do things the way my predecessor had (my methods had been proven to be better, but they were different than his and he didn't like being wrong), I closed my laptop, handed it to the boss's pet and walked out. Three weeks before our trip to Russia, I walked out of my job. That was the lowest point of my life thus far. I've been lower since, but it was bad.

After a day or two to cool off, I had a talk with HR and agreed I'd go back for the two weeks before I went to Russia in exchange for a severance package. I believe they knew I could sue and wanted to prevent that. I merely told them to watch my boss. He's not nice to people and that should not be tolerated. I went back, they hired a replacement that I worked with for two days and she was gone by the time I returned from Russia two weeks later. That spoke volumes about the work environment my boss had created. I knew I'd made the right choice but now I had no job and two more kids to support.

Looking back, I think that the day I walked out of my job was the turning point for the downward spiral we're still on. After sub-teaching for a couple of months, I realized that I really needed to restore my income to its previous level and started looking for a new opportunity. Be careful what you wish for, dear readers, because not all new opportunities are good ones. In Mid-November I began the interview process that led us to Michigan and the worst employment experience of my life. Working for the company I worked for in Michigan was like working at a Middle School. Being the kind of person that relishes a challenge and readily embraces change, I found this culture to be just the opposite. Every day was a battle. First to become relevant and then to stay sane. On the good side, I learned a lot about what I'm made of and I definitely sharpened my skills as a Business Analyst but on the bad side, the pars planitis returned (in the right eye this time) and I nearly lost my mind. During my 18 months or so with this company, I was diagnosed with depression and met my friend Lexapro. I remember sitting tearfully in my doctor's office explaining my situation and her saying "I think you need to find another job." Also, in April of that year, Paul got orders for OIF. In July, I left my job to save my sanity and go to graduate school. I estimated that I'd be finished with my degree about the time he returned. I almost pulled it off!

In parallel to the whole job change thing, the family was required to move to Michigan. Paul and I agreed that the kids and I would go and he'd look for a position over there. My offer included relocation assistance so we weren't worried. We should have been. During the process of relocation, certain subtle nuances about the money pit that should have come up during our home inspection were revealed to us. Faulty wiring, illegal stairs... you name it. Say hello to spending another huge chunk of cash to get the house ready to sell at a substantial loss. On the Money Pit, we lost at least twenty grand. Why? Well, never trust your realtor to hire your home inspector. She hired them so they were working to get her the sale not to be fair with us. When the electrician looks at your wiring and tells you "you should have gotten a home inspection before you bought this place" it is a horrible feeling. We learned a very valuable lesson and an extremely expensive one. But that house did sell and being idiots wanting to create a sense of stability for our kids, we bought the monkey on our back now.

Back to July, 2005: Paul went to Kuwait and I was very thankful knowing that he was in Kuwait rather than Iraq. He traveled back and forth, but we had agreed he wouldn't tell me about those trips until they were over. In Iraq, you see, it's not where you are that gets you killed, it's the commute. It worked okay. We talked often by phone and instant messenger and got through the year. I was in school and working part-time and the kids were not causing me stress. The pars planitis, however, was at its worst. Once again, this disease reared its ugly head and I marked a few milestones while Paul was gone. 1. The first time it flared up in both eyes at once. Double shots! Yay! 2. The first time the "behind the eye" method of the shot didn't do the trick. Inter-ocular Kenalog a week later! Yay! 3. Firing an ophthalmologist! This is a yay! I switched to the best doctor ever. 4. Last, but not least, acquiring a cataract as a side effect of the steroid treatments. It was lovely. I already have some permanent damage to the left eye from the repeated flare ups and now I was looking at 20/200 vision or worse in the right eye between episodes of inflammation and the rapidly growing cataract. How fast? Well, in April 2006 the doctor told me about it but said "Well, hopefully it will be ten years before we need to do something about it" but by September it was "We need to get your vision stable so we can remove this" and in January of this year the cataract was removed. Fortunately, no flare ups since then and I have excellent distance vision with contacts now. Unfortunately, I have to wear reading glasses to see anything close and that makes me feel really old.

But we count our blessings where we can and definitely did when Paul got home safely in September 2006. That was a tremendous relief. I was almost done with school and he was definitely ready to move. The job he had in Michigan was a two-hour commute each way and a lot more TDY than either of us wanted after he'd been away for a year. He got the chance to come to Fort McCoy again and we took it.

The End


Tal said...

They never tell you that happily ever after is usually longer than the actual story, do they? Your and Paul's is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.