Friday, August 29, 2014

The Joy of Customer Service

Yesterday I just about lost my sanity. I had to make a number of phone calls, and my new phone was actually alive, working, and on board with the plan. I’ve been experiencing some difficulty with my jaw on and off, so it was time to find a dentist and have it checked out. I also needed to make appointments for Ryan, Timmy, and Megan to see the dentist and an optometrist. And find a new primary care doctor for myself since mine retired two months ago.

Sounds like it won’t take too long, three phone calls, right? 


First I went online to look up dentists for the health insurance we have. They ask if you want to look for a primary care doctor or a specialty doctor. Okay, must be listed under specialty. Only when you put in the required data for your area and select “dental,” it lists several dental surgeons, not regular dentists. 

So I Googled dentists in our area, and started calling around. They either weren’t accepting new patients or they didn’t accept our health insurance. After six calls, I was so irritated. I couldn’t possibly call all the dentists in the area; the insurance company knows who takes their insurance, so it's easier to call them. 

Okay. Find a number on the website to call for assistance. Call that. Listen to the female automated voice ask  several questions and direct me to press or say something, including my member ID number. 

Female Robot Voice: Please enter your member ID number, followed by the pound sign.

I look on the front of my insurance card, locate the number, which is 700310156932, and start pressing the numbers on my phone. I get as far as 7003101, and hear a voice coming through my phone.

Male Robot Voice: The number you entered, 7003101, does not exist.

Female Robot Voice: Please enter your member ID number, followed by the pound sign.

I hold the phone in front of me again and start pressing numbers. 7003101--

Male Robot Voice: The number you entered, 7003101, does not exist.

And again I hear the Female Robot Voice: Please enter your member ID number, followed by the pound sign.

I’m thinking, okay, I just have to press the numbers really fast, no hesitating to check that it’s right, just keep my eyes on the card and my fingers on the number pad on the phone screen. Come on, Valerie, you can do this!


But as I’m pressing the last five digits, a voice comes from the phone again.

Male Robot Voice: The number you entered, 7003101, does not exist.

Followed, of course, by…

Female Robot Voice: Please enter your member ID number, followed by the pound sign.

Exasperated by now, I hang up. Just hang up. Turn the card over and find a number for member services. I dial and wait, and ask for a service rep. She gets on the phone and asks for my ID number, so before I tell her, I inform her that I *had* tried calling member services and entering my number but the automated answering won’t let me finish punching it in. 

We get everything squared away so she knows I’m really me, asking for my full name, date of birth, full address, phone number, social security number, mother’s maiden name, any identifying birth marks, pets’ names and ages, property lot size, and whether I hang my toilet paper over the roll or under. (under, just so you know) 

I tell her my problem, that when trying to locate a dentist for myself and my children, the online provider locator only gives me specialty dentists who are oral surgeons. She says that’s because you have to call a certain number in order to get dentists in your area, and do I want her to connect me right to that number? Heck yeah!

She puts me through and I wait on the line, and after connecting and pressing one to indicate that I’m a member, I hear:

Female Robot Voice: Please enter your member ID number, followed by the pound sign.


Kill me now. Just kill me now and put me out of my misery.

<sigh> I somehow got through, chose a different option, and was able to get the names of several area dentists who accept our insurance. I call the first one and hit pay dirt: they’re accepting new patients, and as a bonus, they also take Megan’s insurance, which happens to be different than what the boys and I have. I got appointments for all four of us on the same day next month. <fist pump>

I also called another number I was given and connected with someone who helped me with optometrists who accept the boys’ and my insurance; she said she’d email me the list. Great, now I call Megan’s insurance and go through the rigamarole again to get a list of eye doctors. 

I called one that was closest and the woman on the line was friendly and we scheduled an appointment for Megan. Done with that, I went to my email to get the list of optometrists I was sent, and upon opening it, I discovered that the first one was the practice I had just hung up with. 

Wish I had known! Called back 3 times and got the answering machine. The fourth time I got the same woman I had spoken to and after 20 minutes I had myself scheduled the same day as Megan, and Ryan and Timmy scheduled the week after that. 

I looked online again for a list of primary care doctors, and with one more call to a local practice,  I had a new primary care doctor for me and my initial appointment scheduled. Almost two and a half hours and 16 calls later…I didn't have to schedule hair replacement surgery *or* a visit to the psych ward. I guess it was a pretty good day. ;) 

*PS: 700310156932 isn't my real member ID number. It's really 7900606--just kidding! ;)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sacrificial Love

(photo: Treasure Vessels of the Living Word)

Today as I was making grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches for lunch, Megan started talking about my brother and how she missed her Uncle Steven. She started crying, so I was hugging her and comforting her, and she said, "I wish I could die instead and he could be alive." My heart just about broke at such love coming from this child of mine who is "mentally retarded." 

There were so many things I wanted to say to her, so many concepts were wrapped up in that one sentence she uttered, “I wish I could die instead and he could be alive.” 

What ran through my head were things like…it’s not your time, God planned for this for Uncle Steven, this passed through His hands and He knew about it beforehand, we’d all be terribly sad if you weren’t here, etc. 

The biggest thing, though, is that what Megan said is God’s plan of salvation in a nutshell. We are born sinful creatures, and the penalty of sin is death. Nothing we could ever do can take that away. Nothing at all.

But lest we despair, God had a plan. He sent His son Jesus, the only sinless and perfect sacrifice, to take our place and die on the cross, that those who would just believe and accept would be saved and live. God loved and loves us that much.

Just like Megan loved her Uncle Steven so deeply, and was so brokenhearted she was willing in her heart to change places with him so he could live, God loves us even more deeply and is brokenhearted over our sinful state and the death sentence we carry over our heads. And He did change places with us, sending His son so we could live. 

Megan couldn’t really make a sacrifice like that, but God really could and did. Megan didn’t really think of the cost of sacrificing herself for my brother, she didn’t really understand it, but God did know the cost of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He understood it fully and it was all part of His divine plan.

I’m always amazed at how the Lord shows us His love through not only what He does, but also through people in our lives. And He doesn’t need perfect vessels to use for that; we’re all cracked anyway. He uses cracked vessels because He loves us even with all our imperfections. 

Megan may have Down syndrome, but she can be and has been used by God to teach me so much. 

Especially about love. <3

Thursday, August 21, 2014

High School??

Ryan’s now a freshman in high school. HIGH SCHOOL. Okay? HIGH SCHOOL. 

It's not that I can't believe I have a high schooler; I have a 26yo and 23yo. I’ve been there done that, although I home schooled those two through that. 

But this is Ryan we’re talking about. I don’t know why it seems so strange, but I do know that sometimes it’s hard not to think of him as being “little.” Maybe it’s because of his Intellectual Disability (that’s the newest term, and he also has ODD, ADHD, OCD, Tourette‘s syndrome, and speech and language delays). Maybe it’s because I still remember the day he came to us, as a small round ball of quite long blond hair and bashfulness. 

But whatever it is, I’m struggling to get used to the fact that Ryan is growing up and on his way to adulthood. That’ll be here in a few short years.

Not many people know the story of Ryan and how he came to be my son. Oh, most everyone knows he’s adopted, but very few people know all the other details. Knowing where he started out and came from really gives you an idea of just how far my son has come in life. 

5 years old

As foster parents, we were in our third year of foster parenting that March of 2002. A 3 year old boy named Orian that we’d had in our home for six months had just moved on, and I had heard through the grapevine that there was a toddler who they were having a hard time placing. Hearing that he might have dwarfism, I called our agency on a Friday and said I wanted him. 

That Monday they brought him to me. In the 10 days since he had been taken, he had been in 5 foster homes as emergency placement. I didn’t know it at the time, but my home was where the buck stopped. He was now in his forever home.

I remember the moment the social worker stepped through the door with Ryan. He was very small, very squat, round, and his blond hair was very outgrown so that he almost looked like a girl. He had huge blue eyes, and later we commented that he looked just like Ralphie in the movie A Christmas Story. 

He was very shy as he sat on her lap, and he pushed his face into her shoulder as I talked to him. But minutes later when I held out my arms, he willingly came to me. 

And then our adventure began. ;)

8 years old

Without revealing too many details, Ryan was taken in a drug raid. His mother willingly admitted that she kept him in a crib most of the time. She had and has had other children, siblings of his, who were also exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero, and all have also been adopted. We still don’t know all of the lasting effects this has had on Ryan, but I do know that at least two other siblings are experiencing some issues. 

In the days following Ryan’s becoming a part of our family, I was astounded to discover some things about him, through his behavior and our interactions with him, that were almost unheard of. He was 22 months old, and he didn’t have a bottle, but he had no idea what a spoon was or how to use it. At all. 

He had no language at all, no words, and would grunt in response to us. When he wanted more to drink, he would throw his cup and grunt. 

He didn’t like to be touched at all, and hand over hand manipulation was definitely out of the question, as I found out when I tried to teach him the sign for “more.” Just as an aside about this, through all the years since, Ryan has disliked touch, especially if it seems to be manipulative, like the times we’d be out and I’d put my hand on his chest to keep him from stepping out in front of a car, or try to nudge him forward to go into a store. He’s always been very resistant to that and would jerk away from me.

I quickly learned that with Ryan I needed to let him have his space, and let him initiate touch. There are very few times I go up to him and gently hug him, knowing this; mostly I let him come to me for a hug, which he does when he wants one. The older he gets and the more I’ve come to know Ryan, the more I’m convinced that part of it, at least, is due to sensory issues. And as someone with major sensory issues, I totally get it. 

10 years old

For a while after he came, I noticed that when I’d try to engage him, Ryan would do something like roll away from me, or push his face into the couch. This kind of avoidance behavior further let me know that he needed time and space, and I had to, for the most part, let him interact with me on his terms.

I had never known a child who didn’t know how to play until I met Ryan. He literally didn’t know what to do with toys. The first time I blew bubbles for him was really special. But I had to sit with him and teach him how to play. He just didn’t know what to do with anything.

Food was a big issue for a long time. Ryan would stuff his mouth so full of food that he couldn’t even close his mouth. I was always alert for choking, and tried to work with him on slowing down and small mouthfuls. We gave him plenty to eat, but that never seemed to matter; he would reach over and grab food off of our plates and stuff it in his mouth after eating his own.

He also would take food and run to his bedroom, scrambling under his crib to hide it there. I’d find muffins, crackers, and the like all the way underneath, on the floor up against the wall. 

10 years old

The way he ate and the hoarding weren’t all that foreign to me, after all, I’d worked as a direct care worker in an institution for the mentally retarded for years. I recognized those behaviors.

And I also recognized the hurt in my heart, thinking of what had led him to acquire those behaviors.

As far as suspecting Ryan may have dwarfism, that came about because of his height and the size of his head. At his first visit to the family doctor, Ryan was found to not even be on the charts for height, and the size of his head was off the charts. His legs, and especially his arms, seemed to be too short for his body, even as small as it was. He wasn’t slight, either; he was quite the butterball.

Off to the geneticist in Boston, MA we went, making frequent visits for a year, having tests for this and tests for that. The geneticist said that though Ryan didn’t have dwarfism, his arms were actually somewhat shorter than they should be. He seemed to fit several different syndromes, but test after test revealed that he didn’t have them.

13 years old

After a year of testing and appointments, the geneticist determined that we were dealing with a case of neglect, and that he simply hadn’t grown like other children do because of that. 

Since then, Ryan has of course grown, and though he’s still pretty short, he’s grown into his head and seems more proportionate in every area. 

Through the years, especially once he started formal education, his challenges became more evident. He has always been developmentally delayed and had a speech and language delay. To this day he still has trouble pronouncing some words and sounds, and difficulty processing what he’s told. 

He has memory issues and still can’t remember the days of the week, months, something he learned in class the day before, random words at times…it can be anything at all. He still struggles with reading, and has come to hate it because it’s such a battle for him. His fine motor skills are behind and writing is an even bigger struggle. 

But amongst all these challenges that Ryan deals with, there is so much progress that he has made. He’s come so far, and I’m very proud of him. 

He’s learned how to read, and he’s doing fairly well in math. He still relies on Timmy a lot to read for him and he’ll let Timmy do the math if they’re deciding how to spend some money at the store, but he’s doing more of both on his own. 

The behavior issues we dealt with so long due to his ODD have really evened out, though we still deal with times of disrespect and resistance. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to tell if that’s the ODD speaking or his age and struggle for autonomy. And as far as the ADHD goes, he is so much more calm and mellow now, that it really gives me hope for Timmy. And y’all know I need that hope where Timmy’s concerned! ;) 

Last Christmas, wearing
my tree skirt as a kilt. ;)

Ryan has been developing his sense of humor for a couple of years now. Whereas Timmy is quite comfortable in his and seems to come by it naturally, Ryan is still somewhat testing the waters and discovering what’s funny and what’s not, what’s appropriate and what’s not, etc. 

It’s like watching him slowly get a feel for understanding humor in various forms and finding his own style and niche where he feels comfortable. 

Sometimes I feel I’m walking a fine line between wanting to bolster his confidence, and wanting to let him know when something isn’t funny or appropriate, being ever so conscious of his delicate self-esteem in these difficult teenage years. And our tenuous and sometimes fragile relationship that seems to be ever changing and evolving. 

It’s a day to day thing, to raise your child, dealing with whatever issues pop up, still trying to teach and sometimes failing, and adjusting accordingly to the changes in him. He’s now a pretty mellow guy, loves lifting weights and shooting hoops. He wants to get a job, but can’t for another year; but he has initiative. 

Last month

He loves art, his own music, and playing racing games. He’s learned how to cook by cooking with me, and do laundry. He likes being given responsibility for some big chore around the house or for fixing something. 

Yet he still likes building a fort in the living room with Timmy. 

I’m proud of Ryan, and in the person he’s becoming. High school? Yes, it’s just another step on the journey. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Some Monday Musings ;)


Captain’s Log 

Year 50 of being abandoned on this sphere with 7 billion others.

Day four of unrelenting tears pouring down on us from a mournful Sky. No one seems to know why she cries so, or what to do to stem the flow of tears. I want to shout, “Why, Sky? Why do you cry? Got something in your eye?” 

Alas, as you can see, the never ceasing precipitation has addled my brain and made me wax poetic…and badly, at that. 

The other occupants of this massive orb of  chemical elements seem to be just as stymied as I, though their reactions to the continual curtain of water differ vastly from one to another. Some have donned galoshes and clutched umbrels as they go about their business, albeit reluctantly and in foul moods. 

Others have barricaded themselves in their lonely dwellings, darkened by the Sky’s squelching of the Sun’s rays, content to lie still and bury themselves under mounds of cotton, wool, and linen. 

And still others, curiously so, have abandoned the garments that cover them, especially their footwear, and run quite wildly out into the cloak of condensation, seeming to gravitate purposely towards any pool of water they find in their path, no matter how small. There seems to be a magnetic pull that they cannot resist, as they spy each puddle and speed towards it, leaping in the air and landing in the center with deliberation, and…glee.

A curious sense of delight has run through me as I observe these ones, the ones who seem to have joyously embraced and even welcomed the perpetual weeping of the Sky, as they have in times past embraced the days of radiant sunshine. These gladsome souls appear to accept their daily lot, to “roll with the punches,” as they say in the vernacular. 

Peculiar, indeed. 

And yet, as I ponder this conundrum, the difference in reaction to such unceasing wetness from group to group of my co-dwellers here, I now find myself irresistibly drawn to the latter. Their merry demeanor, their fervor and enthusiastic approach to…life, finding the pleasurable aspects even among the most deplorable of situations…

I must now cease my musings and recording, this entry being too long as it is. The script beneath my hand is becoming hazy and undefined, obscure, as my mind whirls with decision and determination. My hands tremble with anticipation as I pull off my boots, and my frock falls to the dusty floor. 

I hasten to the door, over the scuffed threshold, skipping lightheartedly into the world outside…

Into the rain.