New kids + new workers = better experience

Pretty  much any adult knows that in the workplace, WHO you work with can make all the difference. Some workers are good at their jobs, some aren’t. Some workers have good attitudes, and some do not. Some are encouraging, some are defeating. And so on.

It’s that way in foster care, too.

We took the plunge after our recent experience and accepted new children into our foster home. We accepted a two-year-old girl, and soon after accepted a 12 month old boy. The experience has been night and day different from our last.

I haven’t had to struggle to find resources for these kids – the caseworkers had recommendations for me within the first week. I haven’t had to contact a single supervisor to get an answer to an urgent question because these workers are actually reachable and they respond to me. I haven’t had to deal with snark and rolled eyes, either, because the caseworkers these children have act like the professionals they are. It is SUCH a relief.

Foster parents should be – and NEED to be – adequately supported by their workers.

The one year old boy has already returned to his parents. I was extremely pleased when I saw how quickly they got their act together and did everything they needed to do, and their child was returned to them at the next court date. I was honored to testify on their behalf, saying I had no reservations about their newfound ability to parent their child in a healthy manner. A new experience for me! And one I hope I get to repeat with other children.

The now three-year-old girl is still with us. She’s our only girl placement to date, and it’s really fun and really different! She likes pink, and sparkles, and likes to have her things organized. She puts her shoes in a row in her room because it’s “pretty” that way. She definitely has things we need to work on, for instance it takes three baby gates and obnoxiously loud alarms on all the doors just to keep her inside the house! But her general attitude and the things she likes are so different than any of the boys we have had.

I’m grateful for the good workers we have running this case, and I hope the rest of our foster care experience runs in the same way. Good workers can make all the difference.

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My preschooler’s negotiation skills need work

One of the preschoolers has hit a phase where he wants to negotiate everything. He wants more, he wants better, when given two choices he wants the unnamed third that exists only in his mind.  Completely age appropriate, but of course we’re working on it, especially trying to get him to do his negotiation more politely. But sometimes he is just so funny I have to laugh.

Me: Would you like a peanut butter sandwich for lunch?
Him: Peanut butter and JELLY!

Me: It’s almost time to leave the park. Five minutes more, boys!
Him: Five minutes AND five minutes!

Me: Thank you for behaving so well this morning! Would you like a sucker or a cookie for your treat?
Him: TWO suckers!

Me: Would you like to wear your jacket or your coat today?
Him: Put the jacket on top of the coat!

But sometimes he’s so focused on the negotiating that he completely misses the point.

Me: No, you do not hit your brother. Here, stay in your room and get your body under control. I will come back in three minutes.
Him: NO! Come back in FOUR minutes!

I could not keep myself from laughing. I know he did not intend to sentence himself to a whole extra minute of quiet down time, he’s just a preschooler whose negotiation skills need some work. Hope it makes you smile!

I miss my backyard

I realized today just how long it has been since I have spent any time in my backyard – two months. Yep. That’s WAY TOO LONG. But what’s a mother to do? My priorities are just different at the moment.

But I still miss it. I miss the smell of the grass. I miss the cluck of the hens. And even though I sold the last of my Angora rabbits a few months ago, I’m missing them today too. They went to a great home that will be able to utilize their fiber better than I could.

I’ve hired someone to do some of the maintenance that I have let slip. He’s power-washing the rabbit cages for storage, chopping down the new blackberry vines that keep appearing, and doing some general cleanup. Although I was really happy to notice that last month’s storm did not drop a single tree branch in any part of our yard! That was really nice to discover, given the number of downed branches and entire trees in the rest of the town.

I admired my yard through the window this afternoon as I went back and forth between dealing with laundry and dealing with preschooler tantrums. I will have to make some time to get out there soon. It is so rejuvenating to get into nature of any kind, and nature I can dig my hands into is especially invigorating.

The preschoolers and I planted some seeds last weekend. We had gone to a propagation fair – basically a seed swap with some professional talks. Free admission, free local/organic seeds, free talks, it was great! I picked out some seeds I want to try in my garden this year, and then let the boys each pick out some flower seeds. I got some peat pots and soil that day, and we planted the seeds and placed the pots on the front porch so the boys can see “their plants” every morning on the way to the car. I hope some sprout before the boys lose interest!  I know we’re playing roulette with the weather but the seeds had the boys’ interest so I struck while the iron was hot, so to speak. It’s so rare to get them interested in much of anything.

We still have the chickens, and added a fifth hen to them before Christmas. An opossum or raccoon had decimated a friend’s flock, leaving him with a single  hen. Rather than bring more hens into a coop that needed additional predator protection, he gave her to us. I was pleased with how quickly she was accepted. We placed her on the roost at night in the dark, and she spent about three days being ignored and run off by the others, then everything was fine. No fights, no blood, it was pretty tame as far as introductions go. A beautiful, large, shiny, blue/green-black hen that lays large medium brown eggs.

And about the eggs – I’m glad its winter and the chickens are molting, because I haven’t even been to the chicken coop in those two months! I could have eggs out there and I wouldn’t know about it, but this time of year that is unlikely so at least I’m not wasting eggs. When the preschoolers arrived we realized just how hard everything was going to be for a while, so we opened the coop and run and let the chickens have the run of the backyard. Feeding them now takes 10 seconds in the morning – open the back door to let the dog outside, toss out the day’s ration of chicken feed and call “chick, chick, chick!”. They all come running – five chickens, two legs and wings apiece, no new feathers missing, call it good. Whistle for the dog and close the door.

Although I did get to go in my neighbor’s backyard once! One of the chickens got over the fence. I tossed out the food and only four chickens came running, but I could hear the fifth. Stuck my head out the door and I could see her, running up and down the fenceline. Thankfully I had a guest that morning, someone from the boys’ therapy office, and she was willing to supervise them while I ran next door to catch the recalcitrant hen. It didn’t take long. I opened the gate and shooed her back into our yard where she happily joined the others at eating breakfast, none the worse for wear.

This blog has really undergone some changes in the past two years, hasn’t it? Micro-farming, a crazy amount of pets in a crazy small amount of space, becoming a foster family, and now back to wanting to garden. About the only consistency is that I’m still ranting against the boxes we humans can get stuck in. There is always something else out there that we can see, that tempts us to be more than we currently are. I’m going to get out of my mommy-to-traumatized-kids box pretty soon and get back to nature. It doesn’t mean the kids are going away, it just means that they can no longer be the sole focus of this household, because such single focus isn’t healthy for anyone. Our horizons are going to expand and we will find life outside our current “box”. What box are you going to get out of?

Things I have actually had to say

I used to read all those blog posts about “things you learn when you have boys“, and laugh. I enjoyed them, but surely children who do and say those things are the exception rather than the rule, right?

HA! No. Here is my list of things I have actually heard come out of my mouth. You can imagine all the fun that preceeded me needing to say these things.

Take your bottom out of your brother’s face.
Do not use your brother for a chair.
Please do not fart in the bathwater.
Keep your poop to yourself.
No, you may not pee on your brother.

Stop playing with your penis and finish your bath.
Farts are not supposed to be funny.
Poop belongs in the toilet.
No, you may not both pee in the toilet at the same time.

Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Did you wipe?
Go back and wipe.

Do not climb the curtains.
Do not use the window frame to do pull-ups.
Punching the window is not a good idea.
Get off the top of the dresser.
Beds are not to be used as bumper cars.

No wrestling.
No wrestling.
No wrestling.
Stop touching each other.

Do not use your brother for target practice.
Books are not frisbees.
You may not bite people, not even when you are playing dinosaur.

Do not spit at your brother.
Do not spit at me.
Do not spit.
Keep your spit in your mouth.

And this list is not exhaustive! And it represents only 6 weeks with two preschoolers. I’m sure the coming weeks will have many more unexpected things coming out of my mouth. Stay tuned!

Internet privacy vs internet support

A month ago, I was grieving the loss of one of my foster children. Our foster home was empty. But foster homes rarely stay empty for long! We have two new boys, brothers, both preschoolers. We’ve had them for a couple weeks now, and I have delayed posting about them. Nicknames haven’t come easily for them. And I did not know how to post about the struggles I am having with them, while still respecting their privacy.

Things on the internet don’t disappear! Even if I deleted a post from here, or deleted my blog entirely, there are ways my posts could still be read. Perhaps someone copied it. Perhaps someone emailed it to themselves. Search engines keep copies of pages in their records for indeterminate amounts of time. For that matter, the beginning of each post is included in the email you receive if you subscribed to receive my posts by email.

Obviously, nothing I say about my foster children is in any way identifying. Unless you already know the child personally, nothing I say would enable you to pick the child out of a crowd.

But thinking 20 years down the line… adults who used to be children in foster care do know themselves personally, and it is entirely possible that one of my previous foster children may find my blog and … recognize themselves. The dates will line up. Ages will line up. Descriptions… positive or negative… will line up. What do I want my former foster children to read about themselves? What attitude toward them do I want to display for them to read later? What amount of information is fair for me to share about them in a public forum?

And yet, the internet is also a wonderful source of support! I love the comments of support that I get, the suggestions, the encouragement. And I don’t want to give that up. If I gave it up, I wouldn’t be as good of a foster mother. (“Put on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you.”)

So, I am seeking a middle ground. My blog posts will have a different tone to them. Mostly, I will not be providing the details that I provided with the two toddler kids I had in months previous to this. The children I have now are … challenging … to say the least. Their stories are heartbreaking. Their family is shattered. Their behaviors reflect this. It’s their reality.

My reality right now is being punched. Kicked. Spit on. Called names. Sworn at. Replacing broken light fixtures.

But my reality is also holding a child while he sobs because he misses his family and is old enough to articulate that while seeking comfort from me. My reality is having a valentine heart made for me by one of them. My reality is wearing a pipecleaner “bow” in my hair all evening because one of the children made it for me. My reality is a child who never tried stir-fry declaring it “yum” and asking for seconds, please!

I will take extra precautions in safeguarding these children’s identities. I will still post about my home, and about the struggles my husband and I face being foster parents to them. But I won’t give nicknames for them, and I won’t even state their ages. They’ll be “the preschoolers” or “one of the preschoolers”. And in every post I will make it abundantly clear that I love them. I am an adult, and I can love who I choose to love. I choose to love these children, and to display that love through my actions.

Twenty years from now, I hope I can show these posts to the (former) preschoolers, and have them know that despite how they acted, they were loved, and no matter what they did, the love was stronger than their behaviors.

Why does Santa treat different families differently?

I have heard this question, in all its forms, so many times. A child whose family can barely put food on the table wonders why she received a hat and scarf from Santa when her schoolmate received a most-coveted Rainbow Loom and dozens of packets of circlets. Another family wonders why Santa skips his house, not understanding the differences between his Christian neighbors’ celebration of Christmas complete with Santa, and his on Jewish family’s decision to celebrate only Hanukkah. Another family struggles to explain how Santa left footprints on their friends’ fireplace and reindeer poop in their yard, while leaving no sign of his presence at their house besides the presents.

All parents must decide how to explain Santa, at some point. The man in the red suit who shows up in the mall, on decorations, and in movies must somehow be explained to little ears who want to know who he is. This post is for those families who are willing for their children to believe in Santa, whether you include him in your celebrations or not.

In the world of adoption and foster care, the questions are sometimes even harder.

A child who was abused by her babysitter’s boyfriend might say: “NOOOOOO! I don’t WANT a strange man to come into my house. MOMMY NO! You said this house was SAFE and noone could get me!”

A 3rd grade boy struggling with ADHD and low self-esteem might say: “Dad, I’m sorry. I forgot my homework at school. I’m so stupid! I can’t remember anything right! I’m gonna get coal in my stocking.”

A child in foster care for the first time might burst into tears at the sight of Santa in a book and sob “Why couldn’t Santa find me last year? Mommy said he couldn’t find us so couldn’t give me my presents. Why couldn’t he find me? Will he find me this year?”

Or on the other hand, a child who was in foster care last year, who you have adopted might wonder: “Why didn’t Santa bring presents this year? Why do I have to write thank-you notes to grandparents? Santa brought all the gifts when I lived in my other home!”

The stakes are so much higher when you are parenting abused or neglected children, or ones who have memories of different homes and different parents in years past. Regardless of your personal beliefs about Santa and how much “reality” to use when explaining him, sometimes children arrive in our homes with opinions and past experiences that have shaped how they already think about him.

Noone reading this blog is going to insist to that abused child that Santa will come down the chimney, unknown to even the adults, in the face of such “stranger in my home” fear. But especially if there are other children in the home who expect Santa’s visit, just how do you handle it? Or the child who was accustomed to Santa before, if you do not celebrate him in your house? Or the child to whom you have to explain Santa’s absence and the parent’s fib last year, whether or not you have him at your house?

Many years ago I read a story about one little girl’s fear of the Tooth Fairy. She desperately wanted the dollar the Tooth Fairy would leave if she put her tooth under her pillow, but equally desperately she wanted to save her tooth to show her mom at next week’s visit. Her dad was a smart one, and said he’d talk to the Tooth Fairy and make a deal with her so that his little girl got her dollar AND got to show her mom the tooth. And suddenly, peace reigned at their house.

Can we do that with Santa Claus? Can we, as parents, decide that not only do we each get to celebrate Santa (or not) in our own way, but also explain to our children that it is the parents’ decision that makes Santa do what he does?

I propose a Santa Contract. Each family makes their own, and takes ownership of it. In one family the contract can state that Santa brings the most wished-for items. In another family, it may state that Santa brings the most needed items. When I was growing up, our family’s contract would have stated that Santa would bring identical items for each of the children, since that is what we received each year. Another family’s contract may state that Santa not leave presents at their home, because they choose to give gifts to each other themselves.

The Santa Contract can also state where the gifts may be left. Sure, it’s often fun to think of Santa sliding down the chimney, but it is no less wonderful to receive gifts discovered on the back porch if that is where your contract said to look! (And this eases the fears of children who do not want strangers in their home while they are sleeping.)

A contract with Santa can also take care of “mistakes” he made in the past. I know of one family who adopted two little girls from Tanzania, who were sad that this Santa they had heard of had never visited their orphanage – that they had been so “forgotten”. On their first Christmas, under the tree Christmas morning were multiple presents for each girl – one for each year of their lives. They were labeled with their names, and the year they would have received them. So in the package marked “first year” each girl received a rattle. In the one marked “second year” each received a pair of baby shoes. And so on. Santa also left a note that explained that houses in Tanzania don’t have numbers or names on them, so he couldn’t know where each girl lived. That he loves everyone, and now that they have parents and now that he does know where they live, he wanted them to know that he had always remembered and never forgotten them. What a boost to a little child’s way of thinking about their worth!

This little idea can not fix everything. No single idea can. But if you are struggling with your child’s questions about Santa and the different treatment they notice around them, it may be something to consider. Because we each want our children to feel loved, and valued, and keep them from unnecessary trauma, don’t we? And even if Santa is just a game in your home, it’s never fun to miss your turn in a game, so this Santa Contract idea may be one way to make past hurts feel a little less sharp.

I hope this helps someone, in at least some small way.

The cure for too much noise is chocolate

I have a large bag of fun-size 3 Musketeers bars. A very large bag. I got it Thursday and ate one or two. But since FRIDAY, well, let’s just say that was only two days ago and the bag is now almost empty. There is a reason.

Most of you have been in an airport. You know those magazine stores that sell aspirin, bottled water, and chocolate bars? There is a reason they don’t sell vegetables – nobody would buy them. The people are running around in a building designed after a rat’s maze, with loudspeakers and jet engines in their ears. A jet engine at takeoff usually registers about 105 decibels.

Or take professional sports. The concession stands there sell hot dogs, wings, french fries, and ice cream. All greasy, fat-laden foods. Again, no vegetables. After all, a professional sports arena is one of the loudest places to be. A recently played football game had a crowd roar that reached 136.6 decibels! Definitely far exceeding eat-your-vegetables levels.

Which brings me to this weekend. One of my children might have chicken pox and definitely has a very high fever, which results in loud, round the clock sobbing because the poor kid is uncomfortable in his own skin. Baths, Tylenol, and anti-itch medications only work so far. He’s far too young to understand why he feels so bad, so sobbing in my arms is the only outlet he feels he has. In my arms, his mouth is less than a foot from my ear.

And my other child is teething, he has two molars coming in at the same time. His crying is more indicative of actual pain, rather than generalized discomfort. And it comes out in shrieks, rather than sobbing. Tylenol and Orajel help, but they don’t take the pain away completely. He feels his outlet is generalized anger, so he has begun to hit the cat and throw his toys. Picking him up calms him for a moment, but brings his shrieks closer to my ears. He soon continues his anger and pushes me away.

Researchers say that exposure to sounds louder than 85 decibels can contribute to hearing loss. Anecdotal stores from those researchers says that people experience pain in their ears when hearing sounds louder than 100 to 120 decibels (depending on the individual).

Are you ready to learn how many decibels are produced by a crying child?

115 – 136 decibels.

Now that is LOUD. The average jackhammer is only 105 decibels. And rock concerts average 120 decibels. A single shrieking child can be louder than either of those.

So taking my cue from airport kiosks and professional sports stadiums, I respond by eating fatty, sugary, delicious foods. Right now, that means fun-sized 3 Musketeers bars. Many, many fun-sized 3 Musketeers bars. It’s a stress response. And sounds this loud are definitely stressful. My ears rang tonight for about 30 minutes after the kids finally fell asleep.

Chocolate cures many things. It can not cure actual hearing loss from these loud noises, but they can make the sounds themselves much more bearable. I will be purchasing ear plugs this week, ones like contractors use at constructions sites. But until then, chocolate helps.

Please excuse me, I get to go hug one of my children; he woke up and is crying again… I think I’ll get another chocolate bar on the way.

When it rains, it pours (aka: the week of teething, and chickenpox, and several other things)

Being a mom is lovely, absolutely lovely. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Keep your corporate job, keep your million dollars, I’ll keep my stay at home with two toddlers life. Seriously. I waited so long to be able to rock children to sleep that I’ll keep it and love it  even during the phases everyone dreads.

Have I mentioned on here that we have two toddlers now? Two boys, 17 days apart in age but worlds apart in development. One walks, runs, and climbs. The other is still cruising the furniture. One is trying out sign language and is very close to talking. The other has the Early Childhood Intervention people visiting because he is not making any strides toward communicating at all. One is 2’8″ and 30 lbs. The other is 2’3″ and 23 lbs. But both have light brown hair and blue eyes, and the most charming smiles!

If you know anything about adoption, you know that artificially twinning children is a bad idea. I would not have done it if this second child were not a short term placement. But he is – he has an adoptive family already identified! They just haven’t finished their training yet, but everyone is waiting for them because they already adopted two of this toddler’s siblings a couple years ago. So adopting him will bring the family of children together again. And that is worth a lot of waiting and a lot of bother. And because he has delays, having a same age sibling to identify with and to copy for a couple months just might help him out. So we agreed to do it.

The good news is the copying theory seems to be working out just fine. Our first child, DittoChild (DC), does something like take a toy and walk off with it, and our second child, Chipmunk, gets upset and starts cruising the furniture even faster in an attempt to catch up to DC and take the toy from him. Good workout for him.

The downside is really just about me. Because having two children the same age means two children going through things at the same time – like teething. Oi! I hate teething. With a passion. One question I’ll definitely have for God when I get to heaven is why he invented it! I mean, our head produces strands of hair without pain, why can’t our gums produce teeth without pain??? I’m sure he has a reason, but sheesh - I do not know what it is! My mom laughs and says I get to experience all the typical parenting headaches on fast forward because of the ages of these two children.

And now it looks like I get to experience a child with chickenpox. It might be hand/foot/mouth, or some other blister-causing virus… but chickenpox is the leading theory. We’ll know more Monday, 3 days after the first of the high fever and spots. So far just two blisters, and a bunch of red pinpoint sized dots. You know, the doctor at Urgent Care hasn’t seen a case of chickenpox in YEARS – all because most children are vaccinated for it nowadays. We went to Urgent Care because Chipmunk got a fever that spiked very quickly to 105.5 degrees. Noticing the blisters was just icing on that cake. At least I left with doctor’s prescription for how to administer tylenol to a child too small for the smallest dosage on the package – stuff like that gets really sticky when dealing with foster children. It’s always best to just have a doctor write it down and then it’s suddenly OK to give it. A recommendation over the phone is not nearly as official.

So by Monday we’ll know for sure, supposedly. Which means Monday I get to call all the professionals we saw on Friday and tell them what they were exposed to – because Fridays around here are “professionals” days. This week we had the Early Childhood Intervention people out, and the CASA rep. I’m sure I’m not the only person to tell them they’ve been exposed to something, though! It’s probably a professional risk they know about all too well.

So Monday’s schedule includes:
calling for a doctor’s appointment,
going to the doctor’s appointment,
emailing Chipmunk’s worker to say what he has,
griping to Chipmunk’s worker about being told he was up to date on vaccinations when I was told at Urgent Care that he’s 6 months behind,
emailing DC’s worker to tell her what he’s been exposed to,
talking to the medical transportation reimbursement people,
calling the ECI and CASA to tell them what they were exposed to on Friday.
And oh yeah – calling my brother to tell him we probably won’t make it to HIS WEDDING this week. (Oi, that one’s gonna hurt. But if Chipmunk has chickenpox, then we can’t bring him and doubt we could find a babysitter OK with it. So it is what it is.)

I can’t find out until Monday whether DC is vaccinated for chickenpox. He should be, but then again Chipmunk should have been, too. I’m not a proponent of the chickenpox vaccine, in my opinion it is still too new to have documented all side effects so parents can make truly educated decisions for their children. But being in foster care, I am not given a choice about vaccines. I must have them done on schedule. MUST. So now we have to deal with a catch-up schedule for Chipmunk as soon as he’s over this illness.

So: Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep,
may my kids sleep through the night,
and wake up with fevers LIGHT.

Bless mommy, daddy, Chipmunk and DC.
May all involved adults make the decisions for these children that are in their best interests. And may they wake up healthier and happier than they went to sleep.

Amen

More adventures with opossums, or, this is how marriage works

This morning started out like any other morning. I was half awake, in my pajamas, outside feeding the rabbits and chickens. And then my husband shouted from the garage door “There’s an opossum in the cat food!”

It was suddenly not an ordinary day, and I was very awake.

Turns out a very young opossum had gotten into our garage and into the cat food bag. The cat and dog food bags are stored in an aluminum trash can with a tight fitting lid, but it must not have been put on correctly last night. It happens; I’m just glad hubby looked into the bag before reaching in.

opossum in bag of cat food

Small opossum at the bottom of a bag of cat food

The ‘possum wasn’t going anywhere, so hubby went inside to put on something more substantial than pajamas. I got the pitchfork and decided to make sure THIS opossum never graduated to eating my chicken’s eggs – but hubby had other ideas.

“Do you really have to kill it?” he asked. “It’s little.”

“It will grow up and get the chicken eggs if I don’t” I replied.

“The other opossum never came back, did it?”

“Well, no.”

“I’m sure this one is scared enough and it’ll stay away too.”

I’m thinking “seriously? We own a farm and you want to let a predator live – on purpose?” But he really doesn’t ask for things very often, and I can’t even remember the last time he made a request concerning how I run the farm.

“I could carry the bag outside and tip it on its side, and the opossum will run away.”

“Fine.” I agreed. Fine. I’ll let a predator live at the request of my hubby. He doesn’t have a problem with butchering animals for food, so I know that’s not what’s going on here. If something about this situation is striking him as important to handle in a certain way, then my relationship with him is more important than preventing chicken eggs from disappearing. I think it’s odd, but I will respect it.

The only change I requested was saying: “Just dump the cat food out, too. The opossum pooped in the bag, so I’m not feeding it to my cats. It’s likely to have parasites.”

He agreed easily, with a smile, and carried the bag outside.

So I hope you enjoy these photos of a very young, and very free oppossum running away into the bushes. My hubby likes them, too. I’m still laughing inside about the whole situation, and happy to know that this kind of giving is what makes a marriage.

carrying the bag of food - containing the opossum - outside

Carrying the bag of food – containing the opossum – outside

The opossum, very startled at being dumped out of the bag

The opossum, very startled at being dumped out of the bag. He’s about 6 inches long, plus another 6 inches of tail.

the opossum!

The opossum!

Opossum leaving

Opossum: “Am I really free to leave?”

Opossum: "I'm freeeeeeeee!"

Opossum: “I’m freeeeeeeee!”

Defining success

I found this image the other day, and was struck by how true it is.

define success

Success is defined as the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.  So in addition to having to decide if you have accomplished your aim or purpose – you have to know exactly what that aim or purpose is!

In my old rectangular life, I was a business analyst. We did all the paperwork, tables, lists, and graphs that would show what was needed in order to accomplish our client’s goals. Then we tracked what was done, compared it to what should have been done, and ultimately decided whether what we had done was good enough to present to the client. And of course in order to even START any of that we had to understand, in detail, to the n-th degree, what it was that our customer was actually trying to accomplish.

Defining what they wanted done often took WAY more time than the client expected. For instance, a client might want to sell more widgets. (It’s always widgets, isn’t it?) That sounds great! So how many do you sell now? They often didn’t know. Too many would be in production, or ready to ship but not sold, or out on consignment, or purchased on credit, or something else not cut and dried. And that makes it complicated to even try to figure out how many they sell now. But you have to know what TODAY is like, and have a way to MEASURE today, before you can begin to figure out how to make it better.

And once the client figured out how many widgets they are selling currently, we’d ask how many more they wanted to sell. They often didn’t know. So we’d say – is selling one more per month enough? Of course the answer is NO. If they’re paying for experts to help them sell more, they want to sell significantly more. But they don’t know what that means to them. Some have a nice, round number in their head, like 20% more. OK – can your manufacturing facilities handle producing 20% more? Do you have enough space? Do you have enough employees? Do you have enough raw materials?

Just the path to figure out what someone wants to accomplish is harder than it seems. Even when that “someone” is you.

And so it is with self-sufficiency. Or homesteading. Or farming. Or whatever it is you call what you are doing that makes reading this blog interesting to you.

What is it you want to accomplish? I wanted to spend less money, use and eat healthier things, and be less dependent on mass consumer products. But have I accomplished that? I certainly hope so! But I have no facts or figures to back that up – yet.

The path to success isn’t linear. My rabbits did well for a while, then didn’t. I feel I have learned all I can from rabbits, and will be dissolving my rabbitry. Is learning all I can a success? Or is choosing to stop a failure? That depends on how I define my goal, doesn’t it? I started a large garden last year with high hopes, but then ended up in the Philippines with my husband instead. My garden died, except for the swiss chard and brussels sprouts. I love swiss chard and brussels sprouts, and got them with no work whatsoever, so is that a success? Or because all the other veggies died, is that a failure? Or maybe my family is my largest goal and so spending 5 weeks with my hubby instead of being separated from him was the largest success possible? This year’s garden is going to be huge, and I might literally run out of room before I run out of seedlings to transplant – again, is that a success because of the size or a failure because I may have overbought?

It all depends on your goals. And an acceptance that the path to ultimate success in anything – farming, self-sufficiency, and even family – is not a linear progression. Ups and downs are to be expected. Shooting off the graph into 3D land can happen at a moment’s notice. Your path won’t look like anyone else’s. It will be unique to you, your current state, your goals, and your road to getting there – and will depend completely on how you personally define each of them.