But that’s not what he finds when he looks outside.
As we sat eating our ice cream, Adam asked me some questions.
“Rick, are you religious? So you’ll know, I’m not.”
“No. I like going to church at Christmas to listen to music. But that’s about it. Did you ever go to church with your mom?”
“No. She never talked about it. What kind of college degree did you get?”
“Computer science and child psychology. I went to Cal Tech.”
I had to laugh at Adam’s expression; it was like he’d said ‘WHAT?’ but he didn’t, so I answered his silent question.
“I was planning on teaching computer classes at the high school and community college levels. Since I wanted to go to a university that didn’t offer teaching courses, the next best thing was to minor in child psychology. I did teach computer classes. But one of the things I discovered was there were a lot of kids in the foster system. They’d been moved from one foster family or foster facility to another and ended up having to switch schools all the time. That meant they couldn’t qualify for Cal Tech or most other leading universities. I decided that I wanted to help those kids. I researched the field and interviewed at CPS, and got a job offer. So here I am.”
“I guess I’m lucky that I was never in a foster family. I’m glad it was your house where I ended up, and that you’re a CPS person and you found me and helped me.”
“I’m glad, too,” I said.
“Where are you from? Like, where were you born and raised?”
“I was born and raised in Pasadena. I went to Pasadena High School, then to Cal Tech. When my dad retired, my parents moved to Hawaii, and that’s where they and my brothers live now. I have a sister and three brothers. My sister is four years older than me. My brothers are three years younger than me.”
Adam thought for a moment; then his eyes got big. “Your brothers are triplets?”
“Yes. They aren’t identical triplets, but they look like they’re identical.”
“Whoa! What was it like living with almost-identical triplets?”
“Fun! We got along great when we were kids. They’re all very bright, which made them even more fun. We’re still very close.”
“Where do your sister and brothers live now?”
“My sister Beth, her husband Sean, and their two kids live in Davis. One of their kids is my nephew, Eric; I loaned you some of his clothes. The other is my niece, Candace. Sean is a manager for a large fresh fruit and vegetable packing company near Lodi. Beth is a stay-at-home mom. All three of my brothers, the triplets, live in Honolulu. None are married yet. Each teaches STEM classes, each at a different public high school.”
“What did your dad do?”
“He was a professor in the mathematics department at Cal Tech. He and my mother are both retired now.”
“Yes, both sides. My mom’s parents live in Seattle; my dad’s parents live in San Bruno. All four of them were teachers, and they are retired now.”
“There are a lot of teachers in your family.”
“That’s true, and there was one more. My sister Beth was an elementary school teacher before she had kids and decided she wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. She still works. She does medical transcriptions online from home.
“Speaking of teaching and schools, do you have any homework to finish that’s due on Monday?”
“Yes; most of it’s reading for World History and Geography, English 1, and Living Earth. I have a short translation to do for Spanish and some Geometry problems to solve. I figured I’d finish them over the weekend. Is that okay?”
“Sure. You don’t have anything for your Digital Arts and Web Design class?”
“No. The only thing was the Photoshop project, and that’s what I worked on last night.”
When we finished our ice cream, Adam asked if he could listen to music in his room, and I said, “Sure.” I suggested if he wanted to listen to loud music, he should use his headphones.
I read a new novel I downloaded from Amazon to the Kindle app on my phone.
This had been a good day for Adam. And for me, too.
Saturday morning, both of us slept in later than I usually would. It had been a hectic two days for Adam and for me, too. I finally got up and showered and got ready, then went into the kitchen to fix breakfast. I put on a pot of coffee for me and decided we’d have bacon and eggs. I wasn’t sure how he liked his eggs, so I scrambled them. I had a loaf of sourdough sandwich bread, so I took out four slices and put them in the toaster oven.
I heard the shower in the hall bathroom. That meant that Adam was up. Ten minutes later, the eggs were cooking and the bacon was ready. I turned on the toaster oven and poured a cup of coffee for myself. I put the bottle of orange juice, the carton of milk and butter, peach jam, and peanut butter on the table. I dished up the bacon and the scrambled eggs just as Adam walked in.
“Morning, Rick. Boy, that bacon smells good. Is there anything I can do?”
“You can check the toaster oven; there’s sourdough toast, two slices for each of us. You can put that on the table. Everything else is ready.”
While we ate, I asked Adam a few questions.
“Do you like fried eggs? And if so, do you like them sunny-side up, over easy, or over hard?”
“I like fried eggs over easy. I think sunny-side up eggs are a little slimy, or if they’re overcooked, the yolk is hard and dry. I like scrambled the best, just like how you made them.”
“Do you like orange juice or some other kind, like apple or grapefruit?”
Adam grinned. “I guess I’m being subjected to a food third degree, right?”
“Yes.” I grinned. “It’s important for me to know what you like and, even more important, to know what you don’t like.”
“I like most everything. But, to answer your question, I like orange juice and grapefruit juice more than apple juice, but I’ll drink apple juice, too. I see you bought whole fat milk. I like that, but my mom thought it would be better to drink the one percent low-fat kind, and that is okay, too. I’m used to it now. I like to eat grapefruit. My mom had some spoons with a serrated edge that made it easier to scoop out the grapefruit sections. I like cantaloupe and some other kinds of melons my mom would buy sometimes. I don’t remember their names. I can’t think of any vegetable I don’t like. I even like eggplant and Brussels sprouts! I like salads. I don’t like honey-mustard salad dressing very much because it’s too sweet when I’ve had it in restaurants. I like blue cheese dressing the best, and then ranch, and then Italian. I’ll eat almost anything. What I don’t like are chicken livers or beef liver, or liverwurst, and other things like that.”
“What varieties of food do you like? I mean like Chinese and Italian and Mexican and so on.”
“Those, and Thai, Japanese — including sushi with the raw fish on it, any meat except liver which I already told you about, I like fish, shrimp, scallops, uh…oysters not so much. In other words, almost everything. I guess that’s about it. Oh, I like leftovers, too.”
“You don’t have many things you don’t like. That makes it easy for me when I go shopping and plan what to have for dinner.”
“This breakfast is wonderful. My mom stopped cooking breakfast after a while. So I’d get up and cook bacon and scrambled eggs and even pancakes and waffles and muffins once in a while when my mom would buy the ingredients. Otherwise, I’d be eating cold cereal every day, and that gets boring. I mean, it’s okay during the week when I’m going to school. But it’s nice to have some variety on the weekends. Anyway, if you want me to help with the cooking, I can do that. I like to cook. I like the idea of the two of us fixing meals together, too.”
“I also like that idea, Adam. So, what would you like to do today?”
“What’s the weather going to be?”
I took out my phone and opened the weather app.
“It’s going to be in the mid-60’s today and tomorrow. Would you like to go for a hike on Mount Diablo?”
“Really? Yes! I love hiking, and I hardly ever got to do it.”
“That’s one of the things that’s good about this area; there are a lot of places to go hiking. So, now that we’re finished with breakfast, let’s plan where to go.”
Adam was smiling. “Okay!”
We decided to go to Old Borges Ranch in the Walnut Creek Open Space because Adam had never been there.
“Do you have shoes that will be good for hiking? Like, hiking boots?” I asked.
“No, just sneakers.”
“Let’s stop at Big 8 and get you a pair of hiking boots on the way. And some heavy cotton socks to protect your feet while you’re breaking in the hiking boots.”
After we bought him a pair of hiking boots, I asked, “Do you have a camera?”
“Just the one on my phone.”
“That should be okay. Do you have an SD card for your phone?”
“No. There’s a place to insert one, but I never needed it.”
“I have an extra 32GB SD card. Let’s see if we can plug it into your phone. If it works, you can set it as the default location for pictures. That way, you’ll have lots of space available.”
We added the card to his phone, and it worked, so he reset the default location.
“That’s great! Thanks, Rick.”
We left and drove to Old Borges Ranch. Adam was excited. We wandered around the ranch, and he took lots of pictures. I noticed that he would check each picture after taking it, and if he didn’t like it, he’d delete it. Then he’d take another from the same spot or move to a different vantage point and take another from there.
“Adam, I have a suggestion, If you want, you can check a picture after you take it, but instead of taking the time to delete it, take the next picture. When we get home, you can download all of the pictures to my laptop. That way, you can decide which ones you want to delete. Doing it that way means you’ll have more time to take pictures and a larger view of each picture before deciding to delete it.”
“Hmm… that’s a good idea. And I won’t accidentally delete a picture that I wanted to keep.”
There were some cute baby goats in a pen, and Adam had to take pictures of them. There were chickens and ducks, too. And a pig. And horses. And a cow. Those animals meant more pictures. He was having a great time, and I was happy to see him smiling all the time.
After a while, he was staring at the hill to the south. He turned to me. “Could we go hiking? Maybe up that trail?” He pointed to some teens who were on a trail that led up the hill and beyond.
“Sure. Before we head out, let’s drink some water. We need to be hydrated when we’re hiking. There’s a drinking fountain here, and we can also refill our water bottles.” We’d each brought two water bottles and drank from them, then we refilled them.
“Even when it’s in the mid-60 degrees, it’s necessary to keep hydrated,” I told him.
We spent about three hours on the loop trail, much of the time taking pictures, then followed the trail back to the parking lot at the ranch.
I checked my watch. It was almost four-thirty. So, I looked at Adam. “Hungry?”
Adam grinned. “Always! Should we go somewhere and get something to eat? Or go home and eat?”
“If we went out, what would you like to have?”
“A burger and fries. Is that okay?”
“Sounds like an excellent idea. Have you ever been to Counter Burger?”
“No. Never heard of it.”
“At Counter Burger, you can pick whatever toppings and add-ons you want. It’s like you’re designing your burger.”
“Do they have a lot of choices?”
“Absolutely. More than any other burger place.”
“Let’s go there, then. Sounds like fun.”
It would take us about a half-hour to drive from Old Borges Ranch to downtown Walnut Creek, so I decided it was a good time to have a conversation with Adam.
“Adam, since I’m fostering you and you’re living at my house, I’d like you to do a few chores. Is that okay?”
“Sure! I had chores when I lived with my mom. What would you like me to do?”
“First, in the evenings, I’d like to have you check the wastebaskets and empty them when they are full, especially on Mondays. Then Monday night, I’d like you to move the trash cans to the curb for the Tuesday morning pickup. When you get home from school on Tuesday, I’d like you to move the trash cans back to the side yard. Is that okay?”
“Yes. I did that when I lived with my mom, so I’m used to doing it. Our pickup was on Tuesday, too. What else can I do?”
“Each day, when you get home from school, and if you get home before me, I’d like you to bring in the mail from the mailbox.”
“Okay, I did that for my mom, too.”
“After meals, rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. Rinsing them just enough to remove loose food. Let the dishwasher do the rest.”
“That’s easy. I also think I should wash the pots and pans and other things that don’t go into the dishwasher. I did that, too. And this way I’ll learn where you keep them so I won’t keep asking you where they go.”
“Okay, that’s a good idea. You can help around the house as usual, like you’ve been doing. Keep your bedroom and bathroom neat, straighten your bed every morning after you get up, put your dirty clothes in your clothes basket in the laundry room, and after they’ve been washed and dried, fold your clean clothes and put them in your dresser or hang them in the closet, wherever they should go.
“So, for doing these chores, I’m going to give you a weekly allowance. It’s for your personal use, not for essentials like clothes and lunch money and bus tickets and so on. It’ll be $25.00 per week.”
Adam looked shell-shocked. “That’s a lot of money! Mom gave me $20.00 per month.”
“I think you’re worth it. Don’t you?” I smiled.
“I guess. It’s still a lot of money. I’ll be able to save a lot of it.”
“It’s your option to save as much as you want. We can open a savings account for you at Central County Bank if you’d like. Or, you can hide it in a sock.” That reminded Adam about when he thought Ted had taken the cash he’d been saving, and he’d forgotten that he’d hidden it in a sock in one of his shoes.
Adam couldn’t keep from laughing. “I think a savings account is safer than a sock hidden in a shoe. And I’ll make interest on the account, won’t I?”
“Yes, but the interest is so small you’d have to have thousands of dollars in the account for the interest to be a noticeable amount. The annual interest rate is about one one-hundredth of one percent. If you put all of your allowance each week into a savings account, at the end of the year, your principal, the total amount you put in, would be about $1,300.00, and the interest you’ll have made would be about one or two dollars. If you saved all of the principal for four years, you’d have about $5,200.00 plus maybe ten dollars in interest. The idea isn’t to make money. It’s a way to save your money, so later it will be there for you to use.”
“That’s a bummer!”
“I agree. But that’s how the banks make money. They invest what you’ve deposited by loaning it to others for things like car loans and home mortgages. Of course, they have to lump what you’ve put into your savings account with what’s in lots of other accounts. What you get out of it is they’ll let you set up a savings account, and they’ll manage your account and ensure it against losses, and won’t charge you anything for doing it.”
“Hmm. It sounds like an algebra problem! Too bad that I’m taking Geometry.” Adam smirked.
“Hmm. Since you seem to have forgotten all of the algebra you learned, maybe we’ll have to sign you up for a remedial algebra class during summer session.”
“Hey! I was just kidding. I remember all of my algebra.”
I laughed. “That’s good. And something else that’s good is we’ve arrived at Counter Burger.”
I was amazed to find a parking spot right in front of the restaurant, which rarely happened. There were tables available, so I let Adam pick one, and we sat down. I handed him one of the cards for entering choices.
“You can use one of those little pencils in the cup to check off what you want. You can pick something, and if you want more than the quantity listed, you can enter the number you want. For example, bacon comes as two slices, so if you want four slices or six slices, you can write two or three on the line next to the checkbox. Always be sure to check that you want that item.”
“Whoa! There are so many choices.” He laughed. “You can even get a fried egg on your burger! I think I’ll pass on that.”
When the burgers arrived at our table, Adam sat looking at the monstrosity he’d designed. “I’m not sure I can pick it up! I am sure I can’t get it in my mouth!” He was laughing.
“Take off the top of the bun, then remove some of the extra things that are making it too thick to get in your mouth and set them aside. Put the top of the bun back on, then cut the burger in half. It should be easier to pick up, and as you eat the burger, you can eat some of the extra add-ons with your fork. Like the artichoke hearts, and the extra tomato slices and extra bacon and the avocado slices.”
“Next time, I’ll be more judicious about what add-ons I pick.” He looked at me and grinned.
After removing the thicker add-ons and others he’d duplicated, he cut his burger in half and picked up one half. “I ordered it medium-rare, and it is medium-rare!” he said. “That’s amazing.”
“Is medium-rare okay?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah, that’s perfect. The meat will be much juicier cooked medium rare.” He took a bite, chewed for a few seconds with his eye closed, then stopped for a couple of seconds before swallowing. “Oh, man, this is such a good burger! The meat is so juicy, and it tastes like it was cooked outdoors on a grill.”
We continued eating our burgers. He raved about the skinny fries because they were so crunchy, and he said that’s the way he liked his fries. He’d ordered root beer and got a free refill. When we finished, he leaned back in his chair and put his hands on his stomach.
He enthused, “That was out-standing!”
“Are you full?” I asked.
That made Adam laugh, and he tapped his stomach with both hands. “No ice cream needed tonight.”
“I agree, but it’s okay if you change your mind later.”
“You won’t kid me about it then?”
“No… well, maybe a little. But probably not very much.” I was grinning.
“If I change my mind, you can kid me about it. Or not. Whichever.”
I laughed. I liked the way Adam and I kidded each other. I wondered if he’d been able to do that with his mother.
When we got home, I explained what I’d be doing.
“Okay, I’ve got some work to catch up on. I have a court date coming up where we’re revoking a fostering license because the foster parents have been abusing their foster son. So I’ll be in my home office with the door closed. If you need me, just knock. If I’m not on the phone, I’ll call out that you can come in. Otherwise, I’m probably on the phone.”
Adam went to his room to watch TV, and I went into my home office and closed the door.
I called my Pleasant Hill office number and selected the option to listen to my messages. There weren’t any voicemail messages that needed my attention before Monday.
I logged on and opened my office email and checked to see if I’d received any email messages about the court date for me to approve my non-related legal guardianship application for Adam. There weren’t any.
I’d received an email from an attorney, Gail Leaf, stating that she would represent the Rodriguez family to oppose their fostering license’s canceling. It didn’t require a response, but I did forward it to Jared Wong because he wasn’t on the copy list.
Since I was online to the CPS office server, I opened up the Rodriguez case file. The boy who’d been abused was Ricardo Arragon. He was twelve. The caseworker was Jennifer Boone. I’d worked with her before, and I knew she was very detailed and thorough and always supported the kids being fostered. The case file had recordings of her interviews with Ricardo and with Lauren and George Rodriguez. I listened to them while reading Jennifer’s final report. She recommended removing Ricardo and the two girls they were also fostering, then permanently terminating the Rodriguez’ fostering license.
The Rodriguez family wasn’t smart. In their first interview, they denied ever hitting Ricardo. In their second interview, they blamed his injuries on bullies at his school. In their third interview, they said it was a clumsy accident, and he was responsible for his injuries.
They definitely shouldn’t be in the pool of foster families.
The interview with Ricardo was clear and straightforward. He’d finished washing the dishes and was putting them away when he accidentally dropped a glass on the counter, and it broke. George Rodriguez slugged him on the right side of his head, making him fall and hit his left forearm and left side of his face on the edge of the sink. He’d broken his arm, and despite his crying, they refused to take him to the hospital, telling him he was so clumsy that he fell, and it was just a bruise.
Ricardo snuck out of the Rodriguez house and went to the next-door neighbor’s home where a friend of his from school lived. He told his friend what happened, and his friend told his parents. They took Ricardo to the ER at John Muir Hospital in Concord. When he told the doctor what happened, the doctor called the police.
The police asked for the name of his caseworker, and they called Jennifer Boone. She obtained an emergency removal demand to terminate Lauren and George Rodriguez’ fostering license.
Jennifer, escorted by a Concord policeman, went to their house the next morning. She served Lauren and George Rodriguez with a copy of the removal demand. This removal demand included both Ricardo and two young girls they were also fostering. She removed all of the children’s personal items from the house. They were temporally moved to a foster facility that had a good reputation, and she picked one so the three kids would be in the same schools they’d been attending.
The Concord District Attorney had charged Lauren and George Rodriguez with assault and battery on a juvenile in their protection and refusal to provide necessary medical care. With Jennifer Boone and Jared Wong on our side, there was a substantial probability that the court would approve removing the three kids and terminating the Rodriguez’ fostering license.
This case made me realize that I didn’t want Adam Rios to end up with a similar foster family. If his mother wasn’t found, or was found and was serious about not wanting Adam, I wanted to be his foster father.
I sat back and thought for a few minutes. I realized that what I wanted was to adopt Adam. I wanted him to be my son and me to be his father.
At this point, it was all speculation. It didn’t mean June Rios wouldn’t want to continue to be Adam’s mother, even though that’s what she’d said when we’d talked on the phone.
I shook my head. Talk about time flying! It was only a couple of days ago that I’d met Adam. It seemed like at least a week — or longer.
I returned to the family room, where Adam was reading. He looked up and smiled.
“Yes. I’m up to date on the case of the boy who was abused by his foster parents. We’re canceling their fostering license. They are fighting the cancellation. We’re waiting for the court to set a date for the hearing.”
“Wow. It sounds like a bad deal for the boy. How old is he?”
“Was he the only foster child there?”
“That’s a good question, Adam. They were also fostering two girls in addition to the boy. Their fostering license allows them to foster up to three children. That license is what we’re canceling, and we’ve already removed the three kids and moved them to a temporary foster facility.”
“Did they get paid to foster that many kids?”
“Yes. The amount is $889 per month for each child.”
“So… $889 times three is… $2,667 each month. Wow! That seems like it’s a lot.”
“Kids are expensive. All of the $889 has to be documented with evidence that it was spent on or for the child. It includes clothes, school supplies, transportation, food, a stipend for the room the child uses based on the property tax on the house, incidentals like sheets and blankets and washcloths and soap and shampoo and towels. Utilities, including electricity, gas, and water, and more. It adds up.” I could see Adam was surprised at everything that the $889 had to be spent on for each foster kid each month.
“I’ll bet you have another question for me, Adam.”
“Do you get paid for fostering me?”
“I could, but I don’t. That’s because you are under my temporary fostering license. I can charge things like the clothes I’ve bought for you on my CPS credit card.”
“Oh. How about food? What about what you buy at the supermarket and if we go out to eat?”
“I’m paying for that.”
“Why? Why can’t you get the $889 per month?”
“I could if the fostering arrangement for you is made permanent. But if it is, I wouldn’t ask for it.”
Adam sat looking at me for what seemed to be a long time.
He finally asked, “Why not?”
“Because I like you, Adam. I like having you around.”
“Wow. Just…. Wow!” He started to leak some tears. I stood and put my arms out, and he jumped up and rushed to grab me in a hug. I hugged him back.
He pulled back. “If my mom doesn’t want me, would you want to foster me all the time?”
Again, Adam grabbed me in a hug, and we stood there, hugging each other.
Even though his voice was muffled because he was pressed against my shirt, I understood his next question.
“Would you want to adopt me?”
“Absolutely. I do want to adopt you. I want you to be my son.”
“I’m glad. I love you, Rick.”
“And I love you too, Adam,” I replied.
“Can I call you dad?”
“I’d like that a lot.”
“So would I,” Adam replied.
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