Sunday, April 30, 2006

David's visit

David did show up today.

My normally chatty boy was largely silent, lots of long sad looks with puppy-dog eyes. Hubby took them both to the youth group and when he picked them up asked David where he was staying so he could drop him off. David said that if Hubby would take him home he would have someone pick him up.

The unasked question having been answered David cheered up and started chatting. He did talk about the need to find a place to live near his new job. I reminded him that now that he has a job his transition worker can actually do something for him. They will probably buy him a bus pass if he asks for it and they will certainly help him to apply for the housing assistance that is available for emancipated foster youth.

I am indulging myself in the fantasy that he will do all this, that he will keep this job, pay rent on an apartment, support himself.

It is a lovely daydream.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Tough love

About 10 days or so ago, I learned that David was moving out of one place and in with a girl friend (as in a friend who is a girl, of course). Yesterday her lease expired, they put their things into storage and she went to her parents' house.

He called us, "I don't know where I am going to sleep tonight."


I know him well enough to notice that he did not say, "I don't have anywhere to sleep tonight." David is very, very careful about choosing his words. If he had no options other than the rescue mission or a park bench he would have said so. Not knowing where he is going to sleep means only that. He has not yet figured it out.

I also know that he has had time to see this coming.

We stayed very calm said things like, "Really? That's unsettling. How's your new job going?"

For the past year he has managed to get one friend or lover after another to support him. Hubby and I have wondered how long he would manage to do long before he grows up and takes care of himself. The answer is clear, "He will do this for as long as he can."

I am not surprised by the timing. For the past year he always had somewhere lined up before he was asked to leave. Now however he has a job. He is on the verge of the possibility of self-sufficiency. Well, a temporary bout of homelessness will surely take care of that. Being "forced" to live with his parents 25 miles away from the job is a sure way to loose the job and not be responsible (in his mind) for doing so.

Yesterday he said he wanted to drop by today. I told him he was always welcome to visit and asked him how he was going to get out here. He did not know. So I reassured him that if he could get out we would love to see him and then we would give him a ride to wherever he was going to be staying.

Hubby and I talked. Hubby thinks we should offer to let him stay a couple of days. I talked him out of it. I did agree that if David asks, and has a plan which involves staying with us for a while, I will relent.

He is unlikely to ask though. David does not ask. It is part of the pattern. He has a very strange set of internal rules. He never lies and that means being very careful not to say much. The other person gets to do all the talking and he will be very selective about what he responds to. He knows if he waits long enough you will change the question to something like, "Do you understand?" or "Do you think that is a good idea?" To these questions he can reply, "yes" without having committed himself to anything.

So as far as I can tell he never asks anyone if he can move in. He tells them he has nowhere to go and they invite him to stay with them for a while. For some reason, in his world, having been invited means he does not owe them anything. These people wanted him to stay, because they like him.

Now here's the thing about being a foster * parent. I still love this kid. I mean it when I say he is always welcome to visit. If he ever actually decides to grow up and needs something from me in order to do that, I will be there. I am ready, anytime, to help him achieve independence, self-sufficiency, adulthood.

I will not enable dependence however.

*Hey Dan, how do you cross words out? Thanks, Dan.


Very few people in my real life know about this blog.

I decided that is the way that it needs to be. I cannot possibly do this if people who know my kids are reading it. The kids all know and have said they don't mind as long as I am not using people's real names.

A couple of friends who live far away know about it. One local person who I completely trust to maintain anonymity knows. I know that my mother-in-law would love to know about it. She would love to see daily updates on my family and she genuinely seems to like the things I write. Unfortunately I know that not being able to send it to the 350 people on her Christmas card list would be torture.

I have a program that tracks how many people come to the blog. It's fun to know. I know that most of the poeple who visit come from Lionmom and Gawdessness's blogs (at least recently). Whenever Granny mentions the blog there is always a bump. It's cool.

I looked the other day at some of the information that the program will tell me about my visitors. I saw that someone from my job was reading it. OMG!!! Who? Whoever they are they are reading it a lot...daily. When I realize that other people are reading it a lot, people who have introduced themselves and lurkers, that is cool. But who is it in my real life that is reading this? Why have they not told me? Very, very creepy.

Then Hubby explained to me. I told the tracker program not to count me, but I did it from home with the internet provider we have here. When I am logged in at work, I appear to be a different user.

I am my own stalker.

Evan off to visit his family

He spent last night with his sister and extended family. He is still over there.

They filled out applications to visit their mother and were going to go yesterday, but the applications did not get processed and so they will have to go next Friday.

He has been talking about going to visit her for months. He wanted me or his social worker to take him. He was talking about visiting her alone. I am SO glad that when he visits it will be with his sister and his aunt (the aunt is mom's ex-husband's sister). It will mean, I hope, that the visit itself is less intense and certainly will mean that he will have people around him to help him process it all.

If I remember correctly he is also getting to see his baby sister (is she 5 now?) this weekend.

This is the first kid I have had who had a connection to an extended family. Wonder of wonders, it is a healthy family who offers him unconditional love.

What a gift.

Evan gets a job

Friday, April 28, 2006

Just an update

News Item One:
Andrew has been invited by the foster care agency to go to Anytown. They send a group of kids every year and often invite one of the fostering youth. Andrew is ready to go and said, "Taking driver's ed this summer wasn't all that important to me anyway." There was a meeting last night for the youth and parents/care-givers. I was the only caregiver to show!!! UGGG... It was awkward and painful when I realized it. The camp is about diversity with a limited number of spaces for dominant culture representatives. So there we all are, sitting around a table, getting information and the only kid with a parent is the white boy with his biomom. UGGG!

News Item Two:
Evan is not going to go back to the traditional high school. I don't know to what degree it is because he is avoiding the source of his drug supply and to what extent he is avoiding having to tell people why he was gone, but either way, his social worker and I have decided to go with the flow. He is being diligent about doing the things he needs to do to get into the alternative high school.

News Item Three:
As I dispensed Evan's meds last night I told him that we could just set up a weekly pill dispenser for him. I could just check to see if the pills were gone before I went to bed and then I would not have to interrupt his nightly call to his boyfriend (I did not actually say that last part). He said I did not even have to do that. He could just be responsible for them, "besides I don't really think they are doing anything for me anyway."
Sorry just blew the plan. We all agreed that I would dispense the pills for two months just because we were afraid he would be non-compliant. Anti-depressants and high blood pressure meds don't seem like they are doing something. When they are working you just feel normal.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Love in bite-sized pieces

I am told that when someone has been starving it is very important to give them very small meals. They just cannot digest large portions. I am told that they will vomit and be worse off than they were before.

I think a lot of our kids are like that. They have been love-starved. They are undernourished.

Our impulse is to feed them...shower them with love. Pull them into our loving families and surround them with the warm safety of our love.

But it is too much.

So we have to offer our love and affection in believable-sized nuggets.

So we offer acceptance in our actions, but with very few words. We compliment them on little things. We tell them we appreciate something that they have done. Slowly, they get stronger. Slowly they come to accept slightly larger portions.

Only it is not a slow progression that gets better and better. Every so often we give or they gobble too much...and then there is the vomiting (sorry I don't have a nicer metaphor) and the disappointment and the going back and starting over.

We hope that during the time that they are with us they will be able to eat and keep down full meals. Not all of them will. Some of them have systems that will only ever be able to tolerate small portions. Some of them will eventually eat until they are full at one sitting and be nourished and satisfied, but often that will not happen while they are with us.

Sometimes it does not happen until they are adults, learning to love and be loved in other sorts of relationships.

Sometimes all we get to do is to help them accept very small meals in very small bites. Hopefully when they leave us they are better nourished and more able to accept love than when they came.

Hopefully we can accept that as success, because often that is all we get.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Another blog

When my posts are not directly about my family they are usually prompted by something I have read in someone else's blog. A lot of what I have written in the past day or so was prompte by Lisa, who is a former foster youth herself. You might want to check out her blog.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

An Allegory

Once upon a time, there was a woman who was having a difficult time in her marriage. Things were rocky; they were fighting a lot. A social worker showed up at work one day and said that she had been talking to the woman's husband and they had decided it wasn't going to work. The social worker had a suitcase of clothes packed for the woman. She said, "Let's just go now. I'm going to take you to your new home. There is a husband there who is very anxious to get to know you. Someone will pack all of your things for you and bring them over soon. We will find you a new job near your new home."

The woman said goodbye to the friends she made at work. She did not like the idea of someone else packing all of her things, but what was she to do?

After a month or so at the new house the social worker showed up again and said that she had found the woman a new forever-husband. He had read all about her and was so very excited. The social worker was just certain that they would fall in love and live happily ever after. The social worker dropped the woman off and the man said, "I'm so happy you are here. I love you already. Make yourself at home."

The woman knew he did not love her. He did not even know her. He did not know what she was like when she was cranky or what her favorite movie was. But she tried. She tried to get close. It was hard though. How was she supposed to just "turn on" love for this strange man? "Don't you want to be in love?" the social worker kept asking. What was wrong with her, she wondered. Of course she wanted to be in love, she just did not feel it. There must be something wrong with her. She kept thinking that there was something creepy about this man who did not know her saying that he loved her, but everyone else said that he really did and she should love him back. She did not know how to do it though.

Eventually the social worker showed up again to tell her that the man had decided he did not want to be a husband. She knew it was because she couldn't love him. Something was very, very wrong with her.

The social worker found her a new husband. What was the point, she thought? I can't love anyone and no one can love me. The woman closed off. The new man, who did not really know her, kept saying he loved her. He kept saying that he would be there forever and ever. She knew it was a lie. How could he promise to love her forever when he did not even know her? Maybe he was just stupid. Maybe he was just the sort of person who was in love with the idea of having a wife. The woman started getting angry whenever he told her that he loved her. She decided to show him what she was really like. She brought out all of her worst qualities. She showed him everything that was bad in her. He was stunned. She had been so quiet for so long. He said that he loved her still, but she could hear in his voice that he was afraid. She decided that this time she was going to be the one to do the leaving. She called the social worker and said, "GET ME OUT OF HERE!"

And the social worker found her a new husband. The woman protested that she did not want any more husbands. Couldn't she just live somewhere in peace without people making promises they would not keep? Why did she have to be in love in order to have a place to live?

"But don't you want to be in love?" the social worker asked.

"Yes...but why do I have to love someone just to have a place to live? All I want is somewhere that I can live."

Of course the woman is not a woman, but a teenager. The teenager is a youth who has come to my home. The youth is a boy who is 16. The boy is tired. He just wants somewhere to live.

I say to the boy, "I'm not going to be your mother; just your aunt. Things probably won't work out very well if we don't learn to like each other, but I think we probably will. I just want you to know that if we get close that's cool. If we don't get super close, that's okay too. Either way, you can live here until you are ready to live by yourself."

more on group homes

I got more comfortable with group homes the first time I walked into one to pick Evan up. It was just a house in a neighborhood. There was no sign. When I went in it was just a house with a couple of casually dressed, cheerful women who looked really well-rested, and half a dozen kids. It did not feel institutional at all.

If I had unlimited resources and total control over foster care I would do the following things:

-Have small group homes available for all the kids with severe attachment disorders or histories that make them feel unsafe in families.
-Offer all those kids intensive therapies designed to help them join families when they are ready, but have no time limit on it. If the group home is the only place the kids ever feel safe, then so be it.

-Have enough foster homes that kids who need to be only children can be.
-Have enough foster homes who are prepared to take sibling groups.
-Have a wide variety of types of homes and parents.
*Some where the parents want to have close emotional relationships with the kids
*Homes like mine that take older teenagers where the kids are given a safe place to grow up with out emotional intimacy being demanded of them (although hopefully it grows).
*Home like Mandy's where the parents are willing to take kids who need everything locked up and very clear and strict rules about physical touching.

And everything in between.

The more I do care the more I see wide ranges in the needs of the kids.

Oh...and nothing here is meant to disparage adoption, although you can imagine that I don't think it is a good idea for every kid. (Duh...she does permanent placement foster care.)

Group homes and safety

For some kids, group homes feel (and perhaps are) safer than foster homes.

One of them is that they are staffed by people who work in shifts. They get to go home to their families and relax. Foster parents live with foster kids (duh). It means that we are always on duty. It means that we rarely, if ever, get time off. It means that we are the foster parents when we are sleep deprived, sick, sad, frustrated, and exhausted. We don't usually get to say to ourselves, "I just have to hold it together until 5:00." What this means is that the kids have the advantage of always being with adults who are, relatively speaking, rested and ready to be present for them.

Group home professional staff are probably better at not taking comments personally. When the kids are having a bad day and say something mean or threaten to run away the staff can probably more easily say nothing (and just let the kids cool down) or, "Well, let's talk about your choices. What would happen if you ran away?"

We foster parents are trying to be mommies and daddies (or aunties and uncles). We have been offering our hearts. We may think we have "broken through." When a kid gets mad and says, "I hate you! I'm going to call my social worker and tell her you are b****h and have her move me!" The response, "Go ahead. Leave if you want to!" is likely to come rushing to our lips. Sometimes we are too tired to hold it back. Nearly every foster parent who works with teenagers has at some point lost their temper and said something like, "Yeah? Well sometimes I hate you too."

And then there is the issue of sexual safety. Are they safer? Maybe. I don't have any statistics on the rates of sexual abuse in foster homes or group homes. I am sure in happens in both places. Regardless of the actual rates, it should not surprise us if many kids feels safer in group homes.

They are returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak. The abuse and neglect they experienced happened in a home. It was often perpetrated by parental figures who were supposed to protect them. On one hand these foster parents are supposed to be nice people, but in the child's mind they may feel less safe than the parents who abused them. After all, they are not even the youth's "real parents." What reason would the parents have for not abusing the child? The only person who would know would be the child, and these children have a long history of not being believed.

If you told the vast majority of foster fathers that they could not be trusted alone with the girls because, not being the "real" father, they had no reason not to molest the kids, they would be offended. Of course they have very good reasons NOT to molest them. Even if they are not "real" fathers, they are thinking of themselves as fathers. Even if they are not thinking of themselves as fathers, they are adult men and these are under-aged girls. Most of these men have very strong feelings about what should be done to men (and women) who molest children and teenagers. And if THAT isn't enough, foster parents know that if a child accuses them of abuse of any kind there will be an investigation.

That is probably why so much time and energy is spent on things like Safety Plans. A great deal of foster parent training focuses on what we need to do to make kids FEEL safe. That's why Mandy's husband never touches the girls, even when they ask for hugs. It is not that they are not safe if he touches them, it is that they often don't feel safe. Even if the kid he is hugging feels safe, the kid who witnesses the hug may feel threatened by it.

It is frustrating to us as parents. We want to love these kids and often that means, to us, touching them. We are, I think rightly, concerned that if we are afraid to touch the children, to hug and cuddle them, they will feel that we think they are unlovable.

My thought about this is that there is just no way to create rules for safety that will work with all the kids. I have come to really appreciate having those blank lines in the safety plan. I am glad that I have become comfortable asking kids "Are you a hugger?"

Monday, April 24, 2006

Coping with anxiety

The anxiety/reassurance dance.

Evan is anxious. I think I have mentioned that about a dozen times in my last couple of posts. He is realizing that staying clean is more difficult than he expected; he is afraid we will kick him out; he feels the need to reassure me that he is okay and that he is not as afraid as he is.

I am anxious. Why am I anxious? I am anxious about being anxious. If I get anxious: Evan will be more nervous; the kids will be stressed; and Hubby will suggest that we don't have to let Evan stay here indefinitely.

I have been trying to tell Hubby that I am the one making me tense, not Evan. I have to learn to cope with this for my own sake.

Actually this evening was much better. I got home and Evan was much more calm than he had been before. He said he walked the 4 blocks (one way) to the Driver's license bureau to get the information, and then walked further down town to pick up applications for jobs. He got three. He also talked to the alternative high school and is working on an educational plan.

I am hoping, of course, that he lower anxiety levels was from walking and accomplishing his goals for the day. moments I feel like we are all learning a new dance. We are each of us anxious about getting our own steps right and nervous that if we mis-step we will trip someone else up and the whole family will tumble down around us.

Next on Evan

He is home alone

Well...I am at work and he is home alone. He said last night that today he was going to call the alternative high school, pick up job applications, and go to the Driver's License Bureau.

He has not shown any interest in looking for meetings. He is coasting there. Wednesday he is to see the counselor and his social worker. I guess he is letting them worry about that part.

That is not supposed to be a good sign, recovery-wise.

But I really am trying to focus on my own work and let him do whatever he is going to do. If he makes it, it will be because he wants it badly enough. If he doesn't then he won't. I cannot change that.

Last night I was really tired. Hubby asked me how I was holding up. I told him that before I would have been pacing, anxious, imagining the future and figuring out consequences. As it was I was getting anxious, reminding myself that that did not help anyone, taking deep breaths, and calming myself down.

It's not great, but it is better, and sometimes better is all we get.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

First morning back

Evan is a bundle of nervous energy.

He is realizing that being clean is going to be difficult. I think just being in his room, the place where he so often took his drug, is difficult.

He is worried about whether he can do it.

He feels like he has to project an image of confidence to us so that we will not worry.

He is afraid we will not love him; that we will reject him; that we will kick him out.

He is exhausting to be around.

His study skills teacher called him to talk him about ways to finish high school classes (THANK YOU!!). So now he is talking about spending part of the day at the alternative high school and part of the day at the high school doing other work.

He mentioned wanting to go to college in the fall. He still doesn't know that it is too late apply for CJET funding for this year. I don't want to tell him yet. He has enough to worry about. Besides, CJET is not the only way to play for school.

As long as he doesn't take out any loans. He will not get CJET funding the next year if he takes a loan.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Evan is home

A friend invited me to her house for sushi this evening. It meant not picking Evan up at the airport with Hubby and not being here for the first couple of hours. I decided it was a great idea.

We rolled our own [sushi] and I was proclaimed to be the very best first-time roller ever. I suspsect that was an extreme exaggeration, but it was nice to hear. [For those of you who have not done put a rectangular piece of seaweed on a little bamboo mat. You cover the seaweed with rice and then a line of whatever -- fish, crab, cucumber... The real trick is not to put too much stuff on it. You then roll the mat. There is a little trick to it that I cannot explain in words, but after you get it all rolled you slice it. I was having so much fun rolling it that I made far more than I ate. My kind host let me take it home for the kids. Evan and Andrew are very grateful. Hubby sweetly tried one and Brian said the "fumes" made him feel faint.]

I came home and Evan greeted me. He told me that everything is harder than he thought it would be. I tried to tell him that it is normal for it to be hard. It was okay to be afraid and it was okay to talk about being afraid.

He cried a little and kept trying to reassure me that he did not want to take the drug (because detox is so horrible) and that he was going to be okay.

He said he is sure that it will get has to, right?

I gave him my cell phone. He is now talking with someone now.

Carl's Mom

Pajama Mama got her birth certificate for DramaChild (see blogroll for link). Very cool.

She also expresses the mixed feelings that many of us who raise children birthed by someone else. We are so grateful that we have these kids in our lives, and feel sad that our childrens’ birth parents did not get the privilege of them.

I have had different feelings about the parents of my children. Today I thought I would talk about Carl’s.

Carl’s parents met after most of his mother’s children were grown, or nearly so. She worked in a hotel and he played in the steel drum band. They knew each other for a couple of years, were close, had a baby, and never felt the need to get married. Carl says his mother spoke of him with affection. Eventually the steel drum band went back to Belize and Carl’s mother moved across the country. They wrote letters for a while.

Carl’s mom developed emphysema. He spent more and more time out of school taking care of her. Eventually social services got involved and his mother agreed to put him in a foster home for school weeks and he came to see her only on weekends. When I met him he was in his second foster home and his mother had only a few more months to live. I went to church one day to hear, “Did you hear that B & J’s foster son’s mother died?” “Oh. No. How sad.”

Carl was in my Sunday School class the next year. He was a great kid. He was one of the youth who would volunteer to work in the nursery when there was a potluck or something at the church. Andrew and Brian really liked him so I started asking him to do short babysitting jobs for us. Carl was just 14 then.

When his foster parents broke up, we took him. That story I have already written.

They tried to find his father. Carl has a name on a birth certificate, a couple of photographs, and one letter from when he was nine. All the evidence indicates that this man would have wanted to know that his son was orphaned. Maybe Carl would not have moved to Belize, but I know he would have wanted to at least visit. He knows that he has half siblings in Belize. He has one photo of his father with his sister at her wedding.

I was lucky to start out with Carl. He definitely has issues. His mother started getting sick when he was quite young. He lost too much of his childhood taking care of her. He was allowed to be an irresponsible child while being forced to be a responsible adult. At the same time though he was a loved and cherished child. By the time he came to me, he had had a chance to mourn and was ready to love a second mommy. He was happy to let Hubby be his dad.

Every summer, in July, I remember this is the month that Carl’s mother died. I no longer remember the date, but I remember the month and I think about her. I would like to send her a letter,

Dear Carl’s Mom,
Look how well our boy is turning out! He is growing into a strong young man. Thank you for sharing him with me. It is a privilege to be able to be the second mother to your son.

Friday, April 21, 2006

My job qualifications

Andrew has an assignment in which he has to research the requirements of three different career choices. He has a web site which lists many of them. One category are the purely physical demands. He tells me in order to do my job a person must be able to:

1. Sit at a desk for several hours at a time.
2. Stand in front of a class.
3. Speak clearly so that people can understand.
4. Focus on objects a short distance away.

I think I can do all that...most days.

Being Cryptic

So I want to be honest about being a foster parent, about the ups and downs, the joys and the fears.

On the other hand, the kids deserve some privacy.

And yet sometimes, if I don't blog it I keep thinking about blogging it.

I found out last night that David has once again switched residences.

Did he choose to go, or get asked to leave? Well, it looks like he did the same thing he did here. It looks like he refused to do what someone demanded of him so that he would be asked to leave and then be able to use his impending homelessness as leverage to get someone else to take him in.


I am not saying that he should have complied with the damands being made of him, but I will rejoice when he is living a life in which he is supporting himself with a real-life job.

Assuming he gets there.

(I don't know for certain yet, but my prediction is that all the drama in his life this week made it impossible for him to go to the training for the job at Starbucks).

Holding my tongue

Andrew and I went early to the pharmacy to get his prescription fixed again this month. I explained that every month this calendar year we have got the wrong number of pills and had to come back to get it fixed. Now we were back again.

The ever so young pharmacist said, "Is there any reason why you waited a week to tell us about the problem?"

I stared at him a minute. I thought about saying, "Well, I was busy. See I had to go LA to visit my foster son who is in rehab for codeine addiction. I have been going to Al-Anon, seeing a counselor, and talking to friends about whether I can cope with living with a recovering codeine addict -- he's coming home tomorrow. Also, of course, I have been working a full time job, being a wife and mother and doing a little emergency respite for other foster parents."

I didn't though. After the blank stare I just said, "I've been busy."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Safety Plan

FosterAbba has a post about safe touching which prompted me to write this:

When new kids are placed in our home everyone (even Brian) signs a document called "The Safety Plan." It comes with a couple of blank spots that get filed in while everyone is there, but most is pre-written.

The first time we did this Brian had just turned 6. We sat at the table and listened to the social worker read rules like,

1. No one is allowed to go into anyone else's room unless they were asked.
2. If anyone is in someone else's room the door must be open.
3. If one of my foster parents wants to talk to me in my room then then door must be open.
4. We only change clothes in our own bedrooms or in the bathroom.
5. When we are outside our bedroom or bathroom we always have clothes over our underwear and always wear a shirt.

and everyone's favorite:
6. The only people who have sex in this house are the parents and then only with the door closed.

The rules allow for some flexibility. For instance one rule is: If the bathroom door is closed only one person can be in there at a time. The first plan we signed had written in ink, "Except for when Dad is helping 'Brian' wash his hair."

There are some really interesting rules about all touching needing to be safe and that if anyone is touched in a way that is not safe they will tell someone "like my social worker, a teacher, or some other adult I feel safe with."

Then there is a place where the foster child gets to list what kinds of touching feel safe to them. The social worker starts by saying that most kids don't feel safe with back rubs or tickling from foster parents and so that is already off the list. And then "Do you feel safe if someone hugs you with one arm? Do you feel safe if someone gives you a short hug with two arms? If you are upset or crying do you feel safe if someone puts two arms around you until you feel better?"

All of my boys have said they feel safe with all this touching (hurrah!).

When I get the same kid on respite a couple of times I usually ask about hugging. The conversations go like this:
"Are you a hugger?"
If the answer is "yes" then, "One arm or two?". I then hug them.
If the answer is "I don't really like to hug very much" (they never say "no"), I say, "How about when I want to hug you I put out my hand and you can squeeze it if you want?"

I have had a couple of girls who are hand-squeezers only. One girl, E. would not even squeeze. Sometimes she would put her hand on top of mine for a second. Other times she would say, "No, that's okay. I'm fine" and I would take my hand away.

We do get a bit more relaxed about rules as we go. For instance when I want to talk to a kid I ask if they want to go into their room for privacy. If they yes, then when we go in I station myself far from the door and say, "You can open or close the door. Your choice."

Some families though are more strict. Mandy's husband for instance never touches any of the girls, except to break up a fight. His favorite story is about how one girl came to him and said she really needed a hug. He pulled a notebook from his pocket and wrote, "HUG" on it and gave it to her. She kept it in her wallet for years. He said he often saw her take it out and look at it.

Our House Rules

We have four bottom-line house rules. These are the rules which must be shown basic respect in order to live in our house.

1. Everyone knows where everyone is.
2. Everyone treats everyone, including themselves, with respect.
3. Everyone contributes.
4. Everyone does their job.

We all, sometimes, break these rules. I may leave without leaving a note (#1), get angry and says something I shouldn't (#2), etc. However, people who do not accept that these are the rules are not allowed to live with us.

Evan saw these rules before he met us. Before I meet potential placements I get to read a file on them, so I feel it is only fair for them to read a "file" on us. So I have a little description of us, rules, and stuff. When we were visiting Evan at rehab he was telling me everything that he planned on doing. I did not want him to think that carrying through with ALL of those plans was required. I finally asked him to tell me what the four rules were. With prompting he remembered. I then told him that his job was to work with his social worker and local rehab counselor. He visibly relaxed and said, "I can do that."

We actually have other rules of course. We limit how much "electronic" time they can have, for instance. But almost everything that we require of them stems from one of those four principles.

It helps that they are expressed as rules that apply to everyone. Some of my kids are pretty "parentified." I end up saying to them, "It's my job to parent you. It not your job to parent me."

I have learned over the years that it is necessary to tell the new kids that some things are permissible. I always tell them, for instance, "If you are hungry, you are allowed to get something to eat without asking."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Update on Carl & David

FosterAbba in a comment on someone's blog (sorry can't find it now) comments that we blog much more about our anxieties than our joys. The blogs tend to give us a distorted picture of each other lives...all the bad, little of the good.

Largely true in my case.

I have been thinking about posting the news about the older boys, but it just seem so boring. Maybe because it is good news.

So.....(drum roll).....

Both Carl and David are starting real jobs! You know, the sort of jobs that come with W2's and a check from which money has been deducted. The sort of jobs have schedules and continue for more than a week.

Carl has been doing a lot of day-labor, cash jobs. He has been "off the grid" in about every way that one can be. That is a fine choice. I have been proud of him. But I confess that I am pleased to see he got a real job. I am also pleased that he decided he wanted a real job badly enough that he is willing to be a bus boy/dish-washer.

David starts training for a Starbucks tomorrow.

It really was good for me to get this news from both boys right now. Even if the jobs don't stick, it is progress for them. Carl was homeless for a while (did I ever post about that? Should I?) and we did not rescue him. David has been managing to get people to support him for a year (and I don't want to imagine how).

It is good to see them grow up. It is good to be reminded that fostering is a long-term investment. You may not see much while they are with you, but years later you begin to see the seed you planted begin to bloom.

Update: I did blog about it once:
Carl called

Heterosexism and "The System"

I was just off reading FosterAbba at Navigating the Maze as she discussed the mixed messages we get about foster care and same sex couples.

I cannot speak with authority about the issue in general, but I thought I would share what little I know and what little I have experienced.

NASW (National Association of Social workers) has a very strong policy in support of GLBT families and individuals. I live in perhaps the reddest of all the states and I have this story to share. A gay man I know became a foster parent. The boy who was to be placed with him was living in a privately owned group home with whom the state contracts. The second time my friend went to visit he was told that the supervisor said that he could not visit the kid and was not welcome on the premises, because he is gay. He talked about it with the social worker who expressed sympathy, and asked if he could come in to the office in the next week. He expected to be told that they were very sorry and that they would find him another placement. He got there and was told that the supervisor of the facility was not a licensed social worker and so there was no license to lose, but that they had told him that if he did not allow my friend to visit the facility would lose all state contracts. They hoped my friend would go to visit the next day.

In other words, blatant heterosexism is not allowed. It can result in social workers and facilities losing their licenses.

That does not mean it does not exist though.

There are social workers who privately have different attitudes. When they have to decide where to place a kid and they can choose between a married male/female couple and a same sex couple will choose the heteros.

There are youth and bioparents who have different attitudes, and all social workers will try to place kids in homes where they are comfortable. A social worker, who is open-minded and accepting, mentioned a while ago that she was looking for an LDS (Latter Day Saints, "Mormon") family, preferably a single woman for the teenaged girl she had to place. The girl was LDS herself and was very involved in her church.

The gay and lesbian couples I know who are foster parents get what seem to be mixed messages but I think the answer is not so much mixed as complicated.

If I knew a GLBT couple or single going into foster care here I would tell them, "officially you will be welcomed. Unofficially, you will be dealing with a variety of people and some of them are jerks. If they are social workers they will try not to let you see that they are jerks. Once the social workers see that you are good with kids, you will get placements...lots of them."

It is important to remember that it often takes a long time for a new foster home to get its first placement. You are a risk. A lot of people think they can do it and then find they cannot. Social workers want to place kids with families they know and trust. Eventually though they just have to use you, so they do. Then they find out that you are good and they keep using you.

Advice: if you are licensed and waiting go to any event or class where social workers may be. Chat them up. Don't hound them about getting a placement, just let them see what wonderful dedicated people you are.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Visiting Evan, part III

I am still "processing" various moments of the family counseling session. I want to write a clear post...but that is not going to happen.

Moment One:
Evan talks about being ashamed of something. There is something that he never told me. He tells me, with anxiety and tears. It is banal. His tears and anxiety seem completely over the top. I realize later that that is the issue. He is ashamed now of having been ashamed then. He should not have wanted to hide this thing. He wishes he had been proud.

Moment Two:
Evan expresses fear of rejection, fear that we might kick him out. The LA rehab counselor tells him that we will not reject him. "Beth is not your mother."

All my co-dependency issues are triggered. It seems to me that the counselor is setting Evan up to confuse boundaries with rejection. Evan cannot live with us if he starts using again. I tell the counselor that what he said might be confusing. I say that Evan has our unconditional love, but not unconditional rent. Counselor says he likes that way of putting it.

Moment Three:
We end up discussing how long Evan may stay with us. I talk about hoping he makes it to August 16. The counselor is surprised, worried. Does he have to leave then? Will he have to live by himself? We discuss the possibility of him staying longer. I tell Evan he cannot drift and stay but if he wants to plan to stay he can.

It all feels sur-real to me. Stay longer? Heck,I have been wondering if I could manage to keep him until the end of summer.

This morning the idea that he will stay feels terrifying. I feel like I have given him permission to stay until he hurts us. I wonder what I am doing? Why am I bringing a recovering addict back into this house? What about Andrew and Brian? This is not a story with a happy ending. All sorts of possibilities flash through my mind. I could call the social worker and tell her that I don't want him back at all. I could tell her that I know I said he could stay into the next school year, but I want to take it back. She would talk him out of it and would allow me to seem like the good guy.

The anxiety and panic pass. I feel calmer now. I remember that Evan never did anything horrible. He was using, but it was quiet. He never stole. He never acted crazy. He never frightened anyone. All he did was hide in his room and protest that he could not go to school. I am not bringing a monster into the house.

How long will he be here? Well, as long as being here is promoting his eventual independence. If it is enabling dependence, then he will have to leave.

If things go well, and he stays another year that would actually be good for Andrew and Brian. Even if Andrew does not like him, it will be easier for him to live with him then to start over with another kid. We will take it one day at a time and see how it goes.

Next: Evan comes home

Visiting Evan, part II

When I sent Evan away I was afraid that the rehab center might send me back a different kid.

Evan is exactly the same kid, only without the drugs.

He is anxious to please. He very much does not want to be disliked. His mother did retract her love, tell her that he hated him, when she was displeased, and he does not want to upset anyone. He still works so hard at that, that he has trouble being honest. He tells us how much he wants to get a job, and that he no longer feels that he just cannot work at fast food. He is ready to do everything that he needs to do. No worries.

He expresses total confidence about being off the drug. Detox was horrible. He never wants to go through that again. He feels so much better clean. He actually wants to do stuff. This is the way to be and he is never going back.

He is terrified. So many times I could see the anxiety, the terror, in his eyes. Planning of adulthood, living on his own, doing everything he needs to do is very, very frightening. He is afraid that he will mess up; that we will kick him out; that we will not like him.

He has no skills for coping with his anxiety.

He has no plans for what to do when he wants to take the drug. He was confused when I asked him about that. He does not want to take the drug, why does he need a plan to deal with something that is not going to happen?

Though the rehab counselor there tried to make us all feel confident in Evan's recovery, I confess that I am less than optimistic. The counselor here is getting a good outpatient plan put together for him here. She will be very good at helping him to develop the skills that he needs to stay clean -- if that is what he wants.

It is going to be a lot harder than he thinks it will be though.

Visit to Evan, part 1

We saw Evan on Friday.

I have decided to tell you that the rehab center to is in LA. I have decided to tell you this so that I can complain about driving in Los Angeles. I have come to the conclusion that the taxi union has lobbied for two things. First they have somehow managed to get many different streets named the same, or nearly the same. Need to be on Ventura? Do you mean Ventura Place, Ventura Blvd., or Ventura Highway? Then there are the signs…or the lack thereof. On the way out we called the rehab center for directions. We told the guy what exit we were at. He said, “You have gone too far. Get off the freeway and come the other way.” So we got off. The off ramp is long and twists and deposits you into a neighborhood. The freeway is now gone. There is no on ramp across the street. There is no sign telling you how to find another ramp.

On the way out we were trying to find Highway 5. We saw a sign telling us to turn left. We did. The road went OVER Highway 5. There was no on ramp. So now we are on the other side of the highway, at an intersection, stopped at a light and there is nothing to indicate how we are supposed to get ON the highway. I mean, it was great that the previous sign told us where it was, but surely we were not expected to jump? We guessed and turned left. We were lucky in that we got a red light at the next intersection and so had time to look down both ways and see a sign for the highway a block away.

So, we get on the highway and look for the airport. The Bob Hope Airport in Burbank is not a huge airport, but it is not unreasonable that there would be a sign saying, “This exit for airport” now is it? Well…there are signs…but they are not where you can see them. As we passed one exit ramp we happened to look down. At the END of it, BEHIND a bush there is a sign for the airport. We took the next exit and, fortunately, at the stop sign at the end there was a sign there too.

We complained to a couple of locals. It seems that getting lost in LA is part of the LA experience Everyone gets lost.

It is a good place for him to have been though. The center is very small. It is a house which never takes more than 6 people at a time. They leave for 12 step meetings and he has gone to meetings with a couple of big movie stars. He says it is okay to tell because they are public about it, but it seems wrong to put their names in a blog anyway.

They have taken him to the beach, to Universal Studios, and to AA meetings in gay neighborhoods. A staff member even managed to get permission to take him to a production of "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" even though it was at a club known for drugs and alcohol.

So it was a good choice.

If I have to go there every again, I am going NOT going to rent a car.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Updated the blog roll

I've updated the blog roll!

Boundaries, rules and conditions

When we talk with Evan tomorrow we are to make certain he understands what the rules are for coming home, staying in the foster care program, etc.

To be with us:
He has to follow basic house rules and remain in good standing with the agency. Basic house rules include such things as not being high or having drugs in the house.

To stay in the foster care program:
He has to be in school and working and doing outpatient treatment for addiction.

The rehab counselor wants to keep the outpatient treatment as reasonable as possible. Right now she is trying to find a treatment program that will allow him to go just once a week and attend a 12-step program once a week. He also must see her once a week of course. She thinks that it is possible that treatment centers will demand that he go at least twice a week and attend 2 12-step program meetings a week.

He is also expected to get a job.

He has our unconditional love, but he does not have an unconditional pass to live here. I really want him to stay and I really want him to finish high school. I really, really want him to stay until the magic date of August 16 when he will have been in the program for 12 months and will therefore qualify for their generous scholarship program.

What I like about all of this is that it is not my job to worry about whether he is using drugs or in recovery or anything else. As long as he is treating everyone respectfully he can stay.

I am nervous about talking to him tomorrow. He has been so intense when we have talked on the phone.

We will see.

Preparing to visit rehab

So tomorrow is the big day. Hubby and I are getting on a plane (actually two planes) and going to the big exciting city to see Evan. Our agency, whom I currently love, is paying for the plane tickets, rental car, meals, hotel room, and even reimubursing us for paying the college student who will be hanging with bios.

Hubby and I will get to spend an evening in a hotel, far, far away from any children.


When I concentrate on that part of it, it all seems like fun.

On the other side though I am an anxious mess. I have spent 7 weeks working the Anon (Al-Anon and Nar-Anon) programs. I have made so much progress. However, the inner co-dependent is struggling to get out and I am trying to figure out how to shut the b!tch up.

I have let so much go. I have accepted that I cannot change many, many things. I have no control over others. I can only change me. Evan must walk his own path. Yada...yada...yada.

That inner codie though...She is creative. I let go of one anxiety and she comes running up with another..."Let's worry about this!"

Reminds me of Brian at four. "Mom, can I have two cookies?"
"No cookies until after dinner"
"Mom, can I have THIS cookie and then this other cookie?"
"Mom, can I have THIS cookie now and another cookie later?"
"NO...there will be NO cookies until after dinner."
Confused look on his face...then a smile, "Mother, could I please have two cookies?"
"No! There will be no cookies until after dinner!"
"Well...could I please have just one cookie?"
"Brian...NO! NO! NO! If you ask me again you will not get any cookies for the rest of the day!"
Then he cries, "You didn't have to yell at me!"

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My mommy

Thinking about E and her inability to connect led me to thinking about my mother.

My mother did not say “I love you” very often. She had bad moods that could last all day. She did not join the PTA and never took off work so that she could be at a school play. She did not buy us things. My sister believed in Santa Claus longer than any of her friends. She knew for a fact that there was no way that our mother would buy all that stuff.

My mother was too busy and too poor to do most of the things that other mothers did. At different points in my childhood I may have been angry or resentful about that, but I always understood it was true. She divorced my father when I was seven. She never married again. She never even dated anyone for very long.

She was sad and lonely, but she also laughed. She showed me and my sister that it was better to be alone than to be hurt. She took care of us. She kept us safe. She loved us.

I came home sad one day when I was twelve. My mother asked me what was wrong. I told her that the kids teased me because my pants were short, “Expecting a flood?” they said. I told her as casually and unemotionally as I could so that she would not sigh too heavily as she said, “Well…maybe we can get you new pants next month.”

She did not say that though. She did not say much of anything. She went through her patterns, found fabric, and made me a pair of pants that evening. “I’ll make you more on Saturday” she said. “Can you wear these a couple days in a row?”

They were not very pretty pants. They did not come from the store. I don’t think they even had pockets, but they were the very best pants I ever had.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

E has moved on

Today E's social worker called. She secured a bed for her in the teen shelter home. It is a good place, as such places go.

I went with her to her previous foster home. I sat with my friend while E packed everything and Mandy filled out the requisite inventory form. E is not just leaving this home. She is leaving her school, where she was doing well. She is leaving the track team and her job. She is leaving whatever friends she has made in the last eighteen months.

She is doing it voluntarily. She left without apparent sadness, regret, or anger. She did not leave in a huff, but she did not say goodbye and she did not look back.

In the car she talked and laughed about how much stuff she had, how difficult it had been to get it all in the van. I am pretty good at noticing when people are covering difficult emotions with humor, but I don't think that was what she was doing.

She has one of the worst cases of attachment disorder I have ever personally had to deal with. She does not get violent or "reactive." She just walks away.

Hubby drove her to the shelter so that I could do the grading I did not get done while I sat with Mandy. I used the time instead to cry for E. I cried for the baby she once was, the baby whose cries were not answered. I cried for the young child whose parents, I imagine, did not act with violence but simply walked away.

Next: A call from the shelter

Monday, April 10, 2006

The begining of a change for Miss E

E's social worker finally talked to her today. She, the social worker, has come to the conclusion that E cannot be talked into going back to Mandy's. She could be pressured, but that is probably not a good idea.

So the social worker will find another spot for her. She will try to keep E in the school district, but does not expect to succeed. Hubby said, "So she's going to find her a temporary place while they look for a good long-term home?"

Oh no. E is not a in the permanency program for which I work. She will not be "matched." She will not have visits with a family, get to know them, and be asked to make a commitment. She will be moved. Her social worker will call people and ask, "Can you take a girl right now? She's a high school sophomore who has good grades, a job, and runs track. She has never been in any serious trouble, but you should know that she does have issues with attachment."

Someone will say, "yes" and the social worker will pick E up and move her to her new home. The social worker will then go back to her too heavy work load and hope that it sticks.

I want to be angry at someone. I just don't know who to blame.

I have spent a week with this young woman. I still find her annoying, tiring, and a little fightening. But I have also come to care about her. I wish there was some place for her. I wish that I could believe that she was going to a home where there is a parent who can keep things from escalating. I hope she finds a place where she can feel safe while she finishes growing up. I wish that I could give her that place. But she is out of my league - at least while the boys are still living here.

Instead I will hand her over to her social worker. I will shake her hand or pat her on the shoulder, because that is all the physical contact she can take.

Then I will sit down with the awful bright yarn she bought and knit the afgan she picked out. I will later take the afgan to the health and welfare office and ask them to get it to her. I will imagine that it will help her believe that she is lovable.

Here's one for Dan:

If you find yourself regularly loving children you really don't might be a foster parent.

Next on Miss E: Miss E has moved on.

More on (not) quarreling

I wrote before about how the lack of quarreling with the kids. I read it over and thought that what I had written was exactly right and misleading.

Only Ann, who wanted to go back to Mandy, carried on the campaign I described for any length of time. She started (though I did not realize it) they day she moved in and stopped, you guessed it, the day she moved out.

The respite kids, like E, never move past either avoiding or deferring to the bios.

Carl and David moved past it with only a short period of underground hostility directed at the boys. My fantasy of actual quarrels became a reality. Evan moved from deference to complete avoidance very quickly.

All three boys continued to turn to me to solve problems for the entire time they lived here.

I handled it better with David and Evan.

I stared from the very beginning telling the them, in front of Andrew, "Now...don't let him push you around. If you don't want to wash the dishes you stand up to him." Of course David or Evan would insist that he did not mind but I would repeat myself, "Okay...but when you get tired of this I want you to know you have my permission to fight with Andrew."

Though the tendency to be deferential never left with David, he did learn to have a healthy quarrel with Andrew every now and then. Evan's strategy so far has been avoidance.

They have all complained to me or their social worker, or both, that I don't treat everyone the same, but I have decided to write a separate post about that sometime soon.

I would like to point out that even with my most difficult placement this is the worst behavior that has actually been directed towards my bio kids.

I was afraid of much worse.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The unlovable

Well, E is still here.

It was easier last week...she had track and work and really was not in the house very much. Today though we spent the day together.

She was on the phone most of the day talking to people about what "went down" at Mandy's last week. When she tells the story everything is Mandy's fault. When I re-tell the events it sounds only like Mandy was trying to cope with a bunch of girls who were feeding off of each other.

It was hard listening to her. At one point she was listing Mandy's sins and got quite worked up telling me how Mandy tells all of them that she loves them. Can you believe it? She even says that to the youngest one! This is clear evidence of Mandy's evil nature.

From E's perspective it is clear that Mandy's is lying, emotionally abusive, and manipulative.

It does not occur to E that Mandy might mean it.

In the movies, a kid who has been in the system has a problem with trust. They push people away, even try to hurt them. The loving adult, however, persists. The loving adult probably wants to give up, and maybe almost does. However, in the end, the kid realizes that this one person can be trusted and a relationship is formed.

In real life, you have a kid like E. Her distrust is not a defense mechanism operating at the level of consciousness. It goes "all the way down." At every level E knows that she is not lovable. Anyone who says they love her is lying. They are dangerous and must be destroyed.

Next on Miss E: The beginning of a change

Friday, April 07, 2006

The way they (don't) quarrel

There is an odd dynamic that I have seen with every one of my placements to some degree or another.

Foster kids all seem to believe (often correctly) that hurting the bio kids will get them ejected from the home. If you have a kid who doesn't want to be there, this can be very, very frightening.

Most of the kids though don't want to be thrown out and so though they may do all sorts of things, they act as though there is an invisible force field around the bio kids. They are nervous too that the bio kids will blame them for anything that goes wrong, even if they are innocent. Sometimes it happens.

Andrew has taken advantage of this. It is a subtle dynamic. After dinner the boys are supposed to clean the kitchen. Andrew does not like to wash the dishes. He will put away the food, wipe down the counters, dry and put away, and sweep. New kids always, remarkably, don't mind doing the washing. They also don't mind sitting in the back seat of the car, or watching whatever Andrew enjoys watching on TV, or turning off their video game to play whatever Andrew wants.

Now I get it. Andrew does not use this fear of theirs in really abusive ways. He does not make them do his chores or run his errands. He knows that if he always accepts the deferential behavior I will step in. It is hard though. I mean, when you really hate washing the dishes and the other kid is insisting that they don't mind, wouldn't you let them do it?

But of course the New Kid does not really want to wash the dishes every night. So, what does he do? Does he stand up to Andrew? Tell him that he is tired of doing the dishes and thinks it is unfair?

Of course not.

New Kid complains to me.

Now I know full well this happens regular ol' biofamilies. It happens like that in my house all the time. "MOOOOMMMM! He's got my game and he won't give it back." "That's not true! It's my game too. He said that if gave him my X then I could play it whenever I wanted!"

It's different though with the foster's and bio's. It goes more like this, "Um...Beth. You never does the dishes." "Have you told him that you don't want to do them?" "No. Could you? Please?" "Sorry. You have to tell him yourself. Don't let him push you around." "I really, really, really want you to tell him." "Sorry."

And then it continues. New Kid keeps doing the dishes and periodically asking me to help. Possibly I break down. I decide that New Kid is being taken advantage of. I either pull Andrew aside and tell him I know what's going on and he needs to cut it out, or I sit the two of them down and tell them to work something out.

Either strategy solves that problem...but there is going to be another one, and this time Andrew is not taking advantage. He really doesn't know that New Kid is frustrated that he never gets to shower first.

New Kid complains to me and I say, "I am really not going to help you on this. You HAVE to talk to him yourself."

In my fantasy world I one day hear New Kid get mad at Andrew. I overhear New Kid saying, "Would you get out of the %$*! shower already?!!! The rest of us would like some hot water, you know!" In my fantasy I rejoice. I email the social worker and tell her that the boys quarrelled! New Kid actually yelled at Andrew! I'm so happy. He is finally feeling safe!

In the real world though the quarrelling just goes underground. New Kid "gets back" at Andrew. He gets up early and takes a shower and drains the hot water heater. New Kid, it turns out, is an expert at passive aggression and manipulation.

Andrew meanwhile, gets angry. He doesn't know what is going on. He genuinely has no idea why this is happening. New Kid never once told him that he was upset about anything. He tries to ask New Kid what the h*** is going on? New Kid denies knowing what he is talking about and continues the campaign. Andrew complains to me.

I come to the conclusion that they are not going to work this out. New Kid is not going to talk about it. New Kid really doesn't have the skills and needs my help. I sigh. I think, "all this drama over who showers first!" I bring the boys together and say they need to figure something out about who showers first.

New Kid glares at me. He later calls his social worker to complain, "She just doesn't treat us the same. When I complain about him she doesn't do anything. But when he complains about me we have a family meeting!"


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Andrew as a fostering child

Andrew was ten when Carl became a part of our family. He had a very clear personality already developed. He was a worrier. He was sympathetic. He was very bothered when he saw other children being bullied; he wanted to be able to intervene, but did not know what to do. He was not athletic like most of the other boys, but seemed liked by them. Teachers complained that he did not keep his workspace clean, never pushed his chair back in, and talked to everyone. His first grade teacher tried her usual trick of putting the talkative boy between two girls, but he just talked to them. No matter how many times she moved him, he always just started talking to whoever he sat with.

He is now sixteen. He is beginning to envision wanting to drive, but it is not important to him yet. (Yep. He is a sixteen year old boy who is not interested in driving.) He has a tight circle of friends, but always seems happy to invite a new kid to join them.

Like Brian, he loved Carl as a wonderful older brother. Unlike Brian he had the experience of being "demoted." One week he was the oldest, the kid with the most interesting, grown-up things to say at the table. The next week he was a younger brother, often considered annoying.

He and Ann were a disaster. Ann was a eight months younger than he and was determined to be top in the pecking order. She waged a slow, constant psychological warfare designed to ensure her place of power. She yelled at me and at Hubby. She criticized everyone constantly. There was no peace. She criticized people for laughing at their television shows. (How odd was that? We would watch a show and find something funny and she would reprimand us all, "Why do you laugh at that?! That is not funny! I HATE it when you do that!") We re-installed a baby monitor in the basement rec room so that Brian could turn it on if he needed to let us know he needed help. Andrew was demoralized. I had to ask the social worker to move her.

His relationship with David and Evan have already been documented here.

I have a clearly sense of how fostering has affected Andrew, though again, I can never know for sure how he would have turned out otherwise.

Andrew is stronger. He is better at dealing with difficult people. He has a greater understanding of the ways that he is privileged (even though he gets less than some of his friends). He has a low tolerance or intolerance. He told me once that he hates the in-crowd with a fiery passion because (in his opinion) they think that everyone who is not rich and beautiful is lazy.

Andrew has a commitment to social justice. Though he is only a sophomore he has begun to think about colleges. The one he likes the best he likes because of its commitment to social justice and its racial diversity on campus.

It has not always been easy for him, but I really think it has been a positive experience.

Brian as a fostering child

Brian will be twelve in June. His father stayed home and ran a home day care for the first few years of his life. Brian grew up with bustle. New people came into the house so often and Brian took over the roll of greeter. At three he would walk up to people who just came in and say, "Hello. Come on in. Do you know everyone? This is..(names of everyone given). Let me show you where to put your things."

Carl was one of his babysitters. Brian adored him. When Carl's foster family broke up we asked Brian and Andrew what they thought of Carl moving in with us. They were thrilled. They happily agreed to share a room and introduced him as their new brother to everyone. Brian was five at the time.

It is impossible to know what Brian would have been like had we not fostered. I know that children who foster have more separation anxiety which can manifest as more sick days. Brian is one of the most creative kids at trying to get out of school. He has had the usual stomach aches and sore throats. He has pains in his foot or leg which have a tendency to go away as soon as he comes home. Once he has claimed some other phantom symptoms that I just can't bring myself to post, but trust me, they're good.

He has been diagnosed with a low-grade depression. We reluctantly put him on an anti-depressant and within a month he turned into a different kid. The melt-downs did not go away completely, but they become much less frequent and when they did happen they did not last. He started having actual conversations with us.

I feel a little awkward about sharing that, but if I am going to talk about the affect of fostering on my kids I have to be honest.

Both the psychiatrist and the psychologist who have treated Brian have assured us that this is just the way he is. There is a family history for depression (some of it severe), and he just got the gene. I asked both of them if they would recommend that we stop doing care and they said no.

Of all members of the family, Brian is the most committed to doing care. He is unambiguous about it. He wants us to keep doing it. He is anxious for the day when he is old enough that we will be able to get a kid YOUNGER than he.

Of course that does not stop other people from telling us that we are hurting Brian.

And that is one of the realities of being a fostering family. If your bio kid gets into any trouble, does poorly in school, suffers from any anxiety, someone will wonder "how can you put your kids through this?" Friends will anxiously ask you, "Do you think this is good for them?" And you will wonder. You will look at whatever your child is doing and wonder, "Would they be doing this had we not fostered?"

Of course it is impossible to know.

But then I think about the particular kids. Brian adores Carl. Would I choose for him not to have been part of Brian's life? Never. And David or Evan? Again, Brian loves them, unconditionally. I could not take them away from him either.

Who would Brian have been without them? I do not know. I just love the Brian I have.

On children who foster, part II

I was just reading Gawdessness' blog and something struck me. I read a selection of foster and adoptive parent blogs and Dad's Highway is the only other person I have found who has bio kids in the mix.

Dad's experience is much different from mine because all his children are young. I can barely remember exactly what the trials and tribulations of pre-school children and I know nothing at all about caring for traumatized pre-school kids.

So...first, if you have a blog about a "blended family" then please, leave me a comment with a link.

Second, I thought I would try to write more about that aspect of my life.

When I first started the blog I wrote a little about children who foster, but that was what I had learned about fostering children in general. I have also written about coping with disparities between kids, but I have not really written about the affect of fostering on my bio boys.

I'm going to give it a try.

More to follow...

Where the girls are

Georgia is in detention and will be for a while. Everyone, her foster mom, the director of the program she is in, her social worker, the other social workers in the department, is sad and angry and frustrated. In order to understand the level of anguish you have to understand how high the expectations were for her. She was the one who was going to go to college. She was the one who was going to make it.

Irene is off at the teen shelter home. It is actually a very friendly, safe space. It is in a regular house in a regular neighborhood. There are always two adult staff people there who are well-trained, kind, and rested. They always go home after their shift and sleep.

E is staying with me for until Sunday. Her social worker wants to send her back to Mandy's. It should be a good idea. Mandy wants her. Miss E though is not happy about the idea at all.

E. is a deeply hurt young woman. She was adopted for a while. The first time she was in our house she was saying that she was sure her social worker was going to make her go back to her adoptive parents. That was wrong because they are horrible, abusive, terrible people. If they sent her back she would just runaway again. She would start cutting herself again. She would commit suicide. The day of the hearing she was on the phone to everyone she could think of yelling because she was not invited to go to the hearing. She was a teenager; she had a right to be there; she needed to tell the judge how awful these people were; the other kids in the home should be removed and she was the only one who understood how much danger they were in. She had to tell the judge that she would rather die then go back.

It turned out that she was not invited because the adoptive parents were being give permission to let her go. Apparently there was much shedding of tears, and then they agreed.

Almost right away E. started telling everyone that she knew they did not love her. If they loved her they would have fought for her.

Now E. is doing the same thing with Mandy. Mandy's daughter and young grandchildren live there. E is saying that someone should make social services see how horrible Mandy is. The grandchildren need to be rescued. I heard her complain to someone one the phone, "I keep telling people but no one believes me. Just because she has been doing foster care for 30 years and everyone likes her. They all believe her and not me."

Yep. We all believe her and not you. I have been doing respite for her for 6 years. I have got to know at least eight other girls who live there. I have heard their stories of the "terrible things" that Mandy has done. Mandy is human just like the rest of us and she has sometimes said things she should not have said. We definitely make different judgments regarding when it is best to attempt to restrain a tantruming child and when to allow her to throw things and wear herself out. (To be fair, I'm a coward. I'm just going to lock myself and all non-tantruming kids in a room and call 911. Forget that restraint stuff. I took the class because they said I had to, but I told them then I wasn't using it.)

E's stories just don't make sense. They don't correspond to even the worse things that other kids have said about her. It is deeply sad because sometime E. really could be in danger.

If I detach myself far enough I can have a lot of sympathy for E. I can get furious at whatever happened to her to make her so damaged. I know though that she is out of my league. Her social worker asked if I would consider taking her if she got into the program. I didn't even pause before saying, "No."

The social worker asked if I could tell her why. (It is not like me to answer in the negative quickly).

"Let's just call it an extreme case of 'failure to bond.'"

The social worker sighed, "That happens a lot with E."

Next on Miss E

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Feeling sad for Georgia

I finally got a chance to stop and think about Georgia I got a chance to cry and rage a little.

Apparently she hit her foster mother (my friend Mandy). The blow, or what she did around it, was enough to land her in juvenille detention.

This behavior is so contrary to everything I know about her. I know a young, beautiful, thoughtful, smart, calm, mature woman. She is also terrified.

We talked about it several times when she was visiting me last week. She is turning 18 the beginning of July. There are services and there are people who will try to help her, but she will be expected to be an adult. She was planning on going to college in the fall. She was going to live in the dorms. Mandy was going to let her stay with them through the summer, even if she was 18. She needed to get a job, save money, and then step out into the world.

But she was panicked, and terrified.

And now it looks like she has chosen the security of the justice system instead of adulthood.

I hope not. I hope it is just a bump in her road.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Another respite

There was another blow-out at Mandy's. I don't know exactly what happened. I probably won't ever know.

However Georgia. is in the detention center and Miss E. and Irene are over here for the night.

We got a call a couple of hours ago from the social worker who said that Miss E and Irene were refusing to go back inside the house and she did not know where to take them tonight. "There are so few places to take girls. Everyone else in the area who will do respite already has boys in the house."

I did not point out that I in fact do have boys. Evan is not here at the moment, but she has said the same thing to me when he was here. What she means of course is that I do not have any boys who are sexual threats to the girls. That is true. Neither Evan nor Andrew presents any risk to them, though for different reasons.

E is the young woman with whom I just don't connect. It odd, because I usually really like the girls, even the ones that I can't stand. E just rubs me the wrong way. Irene is just 13 and short for her age. I think she is fairly new. She is over-whelmed and tearful. I think she has no idea what happened.

They are supposed to just be here for one night, but that is subject to change. Tomorrow their individual case workers will be contacted and they will decide whether to send them back to Mandy or try to put them into one of the group homes.

I don't know what happened, but I am pretty confident that it happened because the girls fed off of each other. Wouldn't it be a wonderful world if there were enough foster families so that every kid who needed to be an only child could be?

Next on Miss E

Why I like working with my agency

The social worker sent me an email. She said that they approved getting me the ticket but they want to know two things. First, would I prefer to spend the night, trying to do it all in one day sounds pretty exhausting. Second, could Hubby go too?

What do I think? Hmmm....let's see. They are offering to buy us plane tickets and pay for a hotel room in...some place really cool. We will be able to spend time with Evan, and we will get a night off on our own, no kids at all.

Tough call, but I think we will both go.

Next: preparing to go

Saying the right accident

So...I asked people to share a bad moment. So I thought I would share, and again invite you to too, my best anger moments. Those times when we were happy at what we said.

Years ago:
Carl had told a lie. To him it seemed a little thing: he said he had a job that he did not have but thought he would have. To me it was huge. I had agreed not to go on the family vacation so that he could stay home and start the job. Hubby and the boys left. The last thing that Hubby said was, "Don't ground him. If you ground him you will have to stay home with him."

Carl sat in the kitchen waiting for me to say something. All I could get out was, "I am so angry right now I don't know what to say. This is the most thoughtless thing you have ever done to me."

Carl said, "Do you want me to move out?"

Furious beyond the ability to control myself I fortunately said the right thing, "The hell you will! There is no way I am letting you walk away from this. You made this mess and you have to figure it out. You have a pissed off mother! Now go to your room and figure out how to make this better!" I continued mumbling..."Move a$$. Piss me off and then walk away..." I looked up at him and he was grinning.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Possible visit to Evan

My counselor (L) suggested that I go to the rehab center and visit Evan. I agreed that it would be a good idea.

After I left her office she called the rehab center to see what they thought and then the social worker to recommend that they send me. I got home to several messages.

From the counselor: "I talked to B. at the foster care agency and G. at the rehab center. Everyone thinks it is a great idea and you should call the center and set it up."

From the social worker: "L called. I think it would be fantastic if you could go see Evan. I will run it by my supervisor and call you back as soon as we can. We should be able to buy you a plane ticket."

From G and the rehab center: "L called. We think it would be wonderful if you could come spend an afternoon with Evan. You could take him to lunch or dinner, or both. We could all sit down for a discussion in the middle of the afternoon. Just let me know what day you want to come!"

From Evan (panicked voice): "G says you are coming here to see me, but he does not know when. Is there something wrong? I mean, is there something that you think you can only tell me face to face? I would really rather that you just tell me now. If you are just coming to see me though that would be good, but well, could you give me a call?"

Things I did not say

I really enjoy reading the blogs of other foster parents. I feel so much less alone as I read about other people's struggles.

One of the blogs I read is Dan's Other People's Kids (link on the blog roll). Now I hope I don't make him feel bad, but he makes me laugh. I started reading his blog a couple of months ago. It was all hope and confidence. I read it and thought, "Let's see what he is saying after the teenage girl has been there a few months." Since then he has suffered heartbreak. He has stumbled. He has learned that the sweet and innocent child who moves in does not always look much like the angry, distrusting, damaged child you meet a little later.

Dan's most recent blog is a confession of having said something he should not have said. He got angry and he said what he meant.

I thought I would try to put a bug in people's ear. How about if we all try to share some of our worst moments?

Do you have a story of a time you said something that you didn't say?

The following is from an email I wrote to a friend of mine in last November:

So it has been a really tense 24 hours; I'm washing the dishes, which is NOT my job and Hubby asks, "Is that foster care thing tonight? I think I have a conflict." I take a very deep breath. I do not point out that I have reminded him about this meeting every day for a week or that it is very important that he make the meeting. Instead I just say, through clenched teeth, "Yes the meeting at the agency is tonight."

Poor Evan walks in at this moment. He says, "Why are you going to out tonight?"

Another deep breath. "Why don't you ask Hubby? I'm sure he remembers all about it. Oh and by the way, these dishes are your job, not mine."

Evan turns on his heel and walks to the living room, sits down and turns on the television.

I started off being tense, but calm. "Evan, I am feeling very frustrated right now. There is work that needs to be done. I did not ask you to do it this because I thought you still had to get ready for school. If all you have to do is watch television than I think it would not be too much to ask for you to help...without being asked. I just told you that this was your job."

"Well I am sorry" (In a voice that clearly indicates that he is NOT sorry)"but I'm pretty upset at you yelling me just because I want to know why you are going out."

"Evan, I am not yelling. I am angry that you are not helping."

"Gees...I'm going to my room."


Of course Evan had more sense than to actually try to talk to the insane woman in the kitchen. Fortunately Hubby quickly got everyone out of the house and off to school.

I was really afraid that Evan was going to be badly hurt by that scene. Turned out that he wasn't. Mom getting pissed and yelling was something he understood.

What really hurt him was something I said a month before. He had been complaining about everyone else and I heard myself saying, "You know, contrary to everything you may believe, you are not better than everyone else who lives in this house."

That one made him cry.