Thursday, August 31, 2006

At first it was funny

I took Evan down to meet with the admissions counselor for the technical program.

His ACT scores in math and writing were not high enough, so he had to take the placement test. We got some lunch on the campus and he kept asking me if I thought he would do better. When he took the ACT he was using. Did I think that maybe the codeine affected his performance?

I laughed. I told him that that was like asking if eating less could be the reason that someone lost weight. I told him it was absolutely the case that his mind was sharper when he was clean.

But he kept asking. Was I sure? Was I sure that it was better? Because it does not FEEL that way. The codeine slows things down. He feels like he is more relaxed and he thinks more clearly.

I laughed and told him that I was really, really sure. Codeine only slowed him down. It may feel like he was doing better, but he was not.

Then he went to take the test. I hung with a friend and told her. She thought it was funny too. Does codeine make you smarter ... hmm ... let's think ...

Then it hit me. Why did he keep asking? Was he carrying? Was he trying to decide whether to use before taking the test?

It wasn't funny anymore.

Update on Miss E.

Social worker called. Would I accept Miss E as a placement?

It took a while for the hysterical laughter to stop so that I could give her a serious answer.

I know my limits.

I know that she is acting from a place of pain. She does not do what she does out of malice.

But like I said, I know my limits.

Next: A tense evening

Signs of Hope

I wrote recently about newbies living in a place of hope and anxiety. I wrote that I was feeling the same things. It can feel like you are balancing in the middle of a teeter-totter.

Sometimes you can get off the teeter-totter. Sometimes the hope transforms to confidence. Sometimes anxiety becomes dispair. The balance tips and for a while you live in certainty. That certainty may bring sadness, relief, or joy.

But sometimes, even after years with a particular child, we find ourselves again balancing. Only after years, the stakes are higher. The hope and the anxiety both have grown. The teeter-totter which was once a few feet from the ground is now a mile high.

And sometimes a blogger writes a post from that place which simply must be shared.

Show Me A Sign

Go. Read. Cry.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Privacy -- what do you think?

So I have my ideas, but since one commenter gave me some fairly definitive ideas about privacy, and I thought I would ask you all what you think.

How much privacy should teenagers (or younger children) have with respect to their bedrooms.

Assuming of course that we are talking about sexually safe situations (everyone dressed and the door open) what should the rules be?

Should parents be allowed to enter whenever they want? Whenever they feel they have a good reason? Only when the teenagers are there?

What works for you and your teen(s)?

If you are a foster parent, are there regulations that restrict what you may do? If you are a foster alum, do you think there should be?

Evan, drugs, and his room

Evan and I have a major disagreement.

Here's the deal. He takes things into his room. Like the other boys before him, telling him that he is not allowed to leave towels, dirty dishes, scissors, wrapping paper, thermometers, cold medicines, etc. in his room does not stop him from doing it. Unfortunately, saying things like, "Evan, we seem to be low on towels. Would you please look around in your room and bring out any in there?" Does not produce results either. He insists that he does not have anything in his room. If we ask if we can go in and look with him he is offended and angry and refuses. (Please remember that he is huge. He is willing to stand firmly in front of his door and argue with us until we go away.)

So Hubby and I have just given up on asking. If we are missing things and have reason to believe they are in his room, we go in and get them. I don't search his room. I don't go through his drawers or read his papers. I just look on the surfaces.

We have not talked to Evan about this for a very long time. The conversations about them have not gone well. He simply insists that we must not go in. We have told him that we will if we think we need to. He insists... In the end we just don't argue (we will negotiate on many things, but we DON'T defend our authority as parents). So over the last few months he has either believed that we don't go in, or has failed to notice that dirty dishes, etc. just disappear periodically.

So that's the background.

Monday evening after taking him to the alternative high school for the first time, I went into his room to get the thermometer I thought was there. I did not see it, but I did notice a prescription bottle on the floor. I told myself not to pick it up, but I did.

It was old and empty. It was a prescription for codeine for me which he stole last winter. I quietly lost it (the proverbial it, not the bottle). Fortunately Monday night was also my Al-Anon meeting so I was able to have a good cry and get myself pulled back together.

There are a couple of different explanations for why the bottle was there. It is possible that he was going through his old book bag, or something, and found it and dropped it. Of course, given that he was jonesing (is that you spell that), it is also possible that he found his "just in case" stash and used.

Which do you think is more likely?

Yesterday our counselor insisted that I tell him about finding the bottle. I told her that my being in the room was going to be the real issue.

It was. He cried. He ranted. He protested that I did not understand. He needed to know that his room was his and that I would not violate his privacy.

I told him that I was happy to compromise. I would promise only to go into his room if he was there, of course he would have to promise that he would let me.

He cried. He insisted. He said that I did not understand. He said that I should just ask him to get things. I should trust him.

I pointed out that in this particular case, he had proven himself untrustworthy. I pointed out that I was NOT searching his room.

He cried. He protested. He said that he did not understand why I was not willing to compromise.

The counselor pointed out that I had offered a compromise.

He cried. He insisted that he needed to know that I would never go in his room, especially when he wasn't home and then not even tell him about it.

The counselor pointed out that I had offered a compromise.

He cried. He said we did not understand.

I offered another compromise. I would stand outside the room, with the door open, while he looked. I could then be certain that he had actually looked behind the bed. From there I can also see nearly all the surfaces and could point out things to him.

He cried. He said that we just did not understand why this was so important to him. He said he did not want to talk about it anymore. He said that either I should leave the counselors office or he would.

The counselor sighed and said, "She also wants to tell you that when she was in your room yesterday she found an old prescription bottle for codeine."

He shrugged and said nothing.

I had never intended to "confront" him about the bottle. It was old, and it was empty, and I had told him before that as long as he went to school and followed the rules, I was going to assume he was not using. I never said he would be in trouble if there were old, empty bottles in the house.

So I left him alone to talk to his rehab counselor. He came out having made some good decisions. Some may be a bit extreme, but in light of his likely usage on Monday, I told his social worker that I am not arguing.

So now all this recovery work is supposed to be kicking in, and I guess it is. I am not as upset as I would have been before. Still, I am sad. I can't quite stop thinking about it. I can't quite stop hoping that if he did use it was just a stumble and not the beginning of a slide.

Oh I know that no matter what happens I will be okay. I know that my happiness, well-being, serenity, whatever, does not depend upon him. I can handle whatever might happen without, as Evan would say, "freaking out."

But it makes me sad. I've been dealing with sadness and anxiety because he will be leaving in four months.

I don't want to loose him sooner.

And one more thing...his extreme and intense need for me NOT to go into his room has left me wanting to search it from top to bottom. What is in there that he so very much does not want me to see? I'm not though. At least if I stay in control of myself I am not.

Driving Miss E.

So everyone remembers E? If you are new to the blog, please take this opportunity to click on the label ("E") below to find the relevant posts.

She has now been accepted into the agency for which I work and is living with another FM in town. She also has zero period and needs a ride. They will pay me to go pick her up and take her, and since I am already taking Andrew to zero period it is a pretty sweet deal for me.

So I went to pick her up. Here's the news:
-The very experienced new foster mom she is living with is not fit to raise a dog.
-The high school, which she liked last year, has gone to hell. The only way to get high grades there is to be an athlete since they have to get at least C's. (Andrew wisely said nothing.)
-She is going to turn 18 in the summer and she wants to graduate before then, even though she is just a junior, but if she takes zero hour and full-time night school she could do it, but the horrible high school won't support her in that.

E claims she just wants to go back to the teen shelter home. It really is not supposed to be a place for kids to grow up, but if there ever was a kid who should just grow up in a group home, E would be one. She does not seem to have any ability to attach and at 17 she does not believe that she needs relationships.

It's sad. If I were in charge of her life, I would do everything I could to help her finish high school before next summer. She turns 18 then and there is no way she is going to stay in care.

But I am not in charge. I'm just the driver.

And I have no expectations that the job will last.

Next: Update on Miss E

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Good decisions

There's a long version to this story, but here's the short version.

Evan saw his counselor today. He came out having decided:
1. Having a car would be "like having one of those dead birds around my know...that bird that starts with an 'A.'" (Albatross) He's just going to call the dealer with whom he only has a hand-shake deal anyway, and say that he might be interested in a car in a year or two, but not now.

2. Working 30 or 40 hours a week while going to the alternative high school 27 hours a week is probably too much. He really only needs to work 10-15. McDonald's is hiring and he thinks they would probably be willing to give him just that many hours. After all, it is really important to think about more than what a job pays. You also have to consider how much a job costs.

He wanted to know if I had thought about these things? I assured him I had.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Monday, August 28, 2006

Evan, addiction, and school

Evan worked at the grocery store today 7:00am-4:00pm. He got home about 4:20 and called the alternative high school to confirm that classes started tonight at 6:00. Nope, classes start at 4:00. He's late.

So he scrambled around. Took a shower, because when you are already late for school you might as well be a bit more late and smell good. I got my purse and sat quietly. He asked me if I would please, please, please put some cream cheese on a bagel for him. I said of course.

He pulled on his shoes and said, "If anything is my trigger, THIS is my trigger. Going back to school, exhausted from work, late. Gawd!"

I said, "hmmm." (GFM -- "good for me").

We got in the car and I drove him down. Dropped him off.

On the way home I thought, "I just dropped off a kid who talking about experiencing his 'trigger' at the alternative high school -- where all the kids who got kicked out of regular high school for drug problems go."

So now I am at home, pretending I am not worried.

At least tonight is my Al-Anon meeting.

Are we an LGBT family?

I did some exploring at Blogging Baby and ended up at Mombian who has a delightful long list of blogs of GLBT families.

I'm not on it. Now I'm not on a lot of blog rolls. Though I love attention, and love finding myself on a blog roll, I don't take my absence personally. And I am not this time either.

I just looked at this list and thought, "If Mombian knew about my blog, and thought it was fantastic, and wanted to put a link on her site to it, would it belong here?"

I've been thinking about this for a while.

If two people of different races get romantically involved, they are an interracial couple. If two people who share the same racial/ethnic heritage adopt children from a different heritage, they are an interracial family.

See...I have no name for the type of family we are.

We are a PFLAG family of course. I'm a PFLAG Mom, married to a PFLAG Dad, mother of two PFLAG Brothers. We all have the buttons to prove it.

Would we be a PFLAG family if we hadn't joined PFLAG?

Why, you may ask, do I want a label? I want a label for the the same reason we want any word: there is a distinct sort of thing that exists that seems to deserve a name.

We are a fostering family (aka foster family). Becoming a foster family changed us. It did not just change us as an individuals, it changed who we are as a family. Because we are a fostering family, my bioboys pause before answering questions like, "How many brothers do you have?" The boundary between who is part of the family and who is not is fluid. Being a foster family means that we have members of our family who are members of other families that we are not related to.

And that we have become parents to gay boys has changed us too.

I would have the same political beliefs that I had before, but now they are not just political beliefs. I am passionate about them. When I talk about gay marriage I do not just say that I am in favor of it, I hear myself saying, "My family is just as much a family as any other. We deserve the same protections." I say this without pause because it is my family that is affected. Someday it may be my son who is told that the hospital cannot confirm or deny that man he loves and shares his life with has been admitted. Someday it may be one of my grandchildren who does not get speedy care because her father does not have the legal right to authorize it.

Whenever the GLBT community is threatened, my family is threatened.

So are we a GLBT family?

That really might not be the right label. But I know we are a different sort of family than we would have been otherwise. I just don't know what to call us.

Suggestions are welcome.

Blogging Baby mentions this blog

This blog was mentioned in Blogging Baby in this post.

I don't really know what Blogging Baby is, except it is a big ole blog that seems to be all about families and Granny mentions it periodically. But it is cool. I love attention.

First day of school

Poor Andrew is miserable.

His been avoiding his summer AP assignments and had to write two papers this past weekend. Poor kid. This summer he had to read three books and write three papers before school even started.

He really is anxious about this year. I've told him that he is in charge of his own schedule. He does not have to do band if he does not want to. He can shift out of the AP sections of his various classes if he wants. Unfortunately there are no easy decisions. Everything he doesn't want to do he needs to do in order to do something that he does want to do.

It is what I think of as a privileged problem. That does not make it any easier for him though. He is tired and stressed and school has just got started. He complains to me as though there is something that I can do about it, but of course there is not. On top of everything else he could not find his shoes this morning and had to wear his dress shoes to school. I dropped him off this morning and said, "Well, I hope today is a great beginning to a great year." He looked at me and said, "Well, it already isn't." I think he wanted to talk, but school was starting and he had to go in.

We are crossing our fingers for Brian. Please, please, let this year be better. For several years now he has been getting zeros on daily work and 100% on exams, with resulting D's in just about everything.

And of course Evan starts night school at the alternative high school tonight. Two more classes and he will be finished. Right now he is off working at the grocery store.

And since Hubby is also a public school teacher this means:


Oh what to do first? Maybe go back to bed? Long bath?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Driving Practice #4

Took Evan out to country road to specifically practice checking blind spot while keeping car steady. He did pretty well.

Then we went to the freeway.

We went a good bit out of town (towards nowhere, not toward The City) until we got to a place where there were two exits about a quarter mile apart. We looped them for about half an hour. I think we made about 8 loops. On and off. On and off.

He got nervous when I told him that I could not help him judge when to merge. Given the angle of the road when I looked over my shoulder all I saw was the inside of the station wagon. Mostly the traffic was light (Sunday afternoon on the way to nowhere), but not always. Once he did it poorly, forcing tractor/trailer to change lanes to avoid killing us. Once he did it well, slowing significantly and then flooring it to get into the available spot. He apologized but I explained that was what one had to do to get onto the freeway sometimes.

On the way home we had a little confusion about which lane one is to get into when there are multiple left turn lanes. Fortunately no one was attempting to use the lane we did not belong in so we were pefectly safe while I was screaming, "Left. I said LEFT. SH*T, EVAN. LEFT. LEFT. YOU KNOW, THE OTHER LANE. WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE IN THE LEFT LANE." "But I need to make a right turn." "Yes, but we need to stay alive!"

The thing is I keep assuming that after spending 19 years as a passenger he has learned things like that. Clearly not. I'm a pretty good teacher, but I have to figure out what I have to teach first.

Parenting the Parentified Teen

You know, maybe that should be the name of my blog. Certainly it could be the name of half the posts.

All three of my foster boys have spent a signficant portion of their lives with neglectful mothers and no real fathers. Not one of them were physically abused by their mothers. Even in the worst case, their mothers did not even insult them. Only David's mother had trouble providing housing and food. David and Evan's mothers both tended to bring abusive men into their children's lives. But all three were clearly cherished their newborns. At least when my boys were their babies, they were clean and sober. Whatever has happened afterwards, the baby in them knows what it means to be safe.

In other words, they do not have attachment disorders.

So that makes the job possible (for me). It does not make it easy. There is no internal panic alarm that sounds when they feel themselves beginning to trust me, but they have learned as children and adolescents not to trust adults. They may like me fine. They may come to love me. They may feel safe here.

I however am not the boss of them. Not only do they not respond well to orders, they wish to supervise me, monitor me.

Evan monitors me more closely than my mother ever did. What am I doing on the computer? Why did I put on makeup today? Where am I going? What mood am I in? Why am I sad? What am I going to do next? He wants/needs to know where everyone is at all times.

On the other hand if I ask him what he is doing on his computer his answer is, "Why do you want to know?" as he looks at me with suspicion. He has chosen not to socialize with friends because he does not want to tell me anything about his friends and he does not want to lie to me. (There is another whole post about Evan's out-of-whack sense of right and wrong.)

Now I am fairly good at dealing with this. I am confident in my own authority. I usually resist the temptation to get into power struggles.

The other evening I told Evan that I needed for him to go help Andrew clean up the kitchen. "Why doesn't Brian have to help?"

It is an annoying question. Just a little thing, but annoying. Having my fairness called into question every time I ask him to do something; being asked to justify every request for his participation (espcially since we stopped asking him to do very much at all once he got a job outside the house) is frustrating. Evan would like to see the chart indicating what I have asked everyone else to do. He would like to be the judge of whether it is fair.

I have resonded to the question in different ways. The most effective response is, "Because Brian has and will be asked to do something else." I tried to take it head on the other night, "Evan, don't worry about what everyone else does. Just do what you need to do."

He defended himself. He claimed that he "had every right" to inquire into what I asked the other kids to do. I asserted that he did not, or at least I had the right not to respond. I was the parent and he needed to trust that I was making decisions fairly. The look on his face said it all. Clearly I was going insane. He dropped it. Well, he made some under the breath comment about the likelihood that I would be fair and went to do what he had been asked to do. Typical teenager stuff.

I get it. I really do. The treatment that Evan has received as a child has been past unfair. He has promised himself that he will not put up with that again. He will protect himself. He is in charge of himself and will do what he has to do to ensure that he is treated fairly. He does not trust.

Now I can handle this at home. I get it, and I work around it.

It is really getting in his away at work though.

He has, as you know, been having trouble with his current supervisor. He assures us that he understand that when you are at work you need to do what your supervisors tells you. You just do. That's the job. And he can do it too...he has no problem with that. None. It is just that THIS supervisor is impossible to work with. She is on a power-trip, and he won't let himself be bullied!

The other day he was pulled of the bagging line by the store supervisor because there were more baggers than needed (so much for him being indispensible). The store supervisor asked him to clean the restrooms. He immediately asked, "Why doesn't so-and-so have to do it?" The supervisor at work is not a trained foster parent dedicated to avoid power struggles so as to maintian a relationship and attempt to parent a parentified teen. I don't know exactly what he said, but Evan clearly thought it was evidence that this guy is also on a power-trip.

He did the horrible, degrading bathroom cleaning, which clearly he was asked to do as punishment. It is obvious, isn't it, that his supervisor complained about him and turned the store supervisor against him? That was bad enough, but then this guy asked him to pick up and carry this big thing. Evan responded, "Pick it up? Shouldn't I get the dolly to move it? It's dirty." The man looked at him "funny" and said he was a big strong guy and a little dirt wouldn't hurt him. Just pick it up and move it! Well, Evan did, but he came home pissed. When asked he said that no the object was not too heavy for him. When I pointed out that he did not look dirty he said that he brushed it all off.

He understands that you have to do what your supervisor tells you to do and he would never challenge their authority, but this guy is some kind of nazi. He could see it in his eyes. The manager was just asking him to do things to see how he would respond. He was testing him, trying to push him around.

I told Hubby that I thought he was probably right. I would not be surprised at all if the store manager was wondering if Evan as as insubordinate as the supervisor said. He may very well have decided to test and see if Evan was really that bad.

Now he knows.

Evan has a car, almost

Evan has a hand-shake deal on a car.

It is a 1997 four-door sedan. It is big enough to be reasonably safe, but small enough that it should not be a gas guzzler.

It is old enough to be cheap, as cars go. I did an on-line check of the price of the car putting in as much information as he gave me and he is getting the car for what the web site says is the price he should expect to pay if he were buying it from a private person, not a dealer. So if he is getting the truth, it is a fair price. His grandmother is co-signing.

He is buying from someone his grandmother trusts, so I will not worry about whether it is going to fall apart. Of course it still may, but it is what it is.

It is pretty enough that a practical guy like Evan finds it attractive, but it is not flashy and is definitely not a racing car. Don't tell him, but in its time it was definitely a mom car, not a teen car.

So, though it would be better if he were not taking on any debt at all, this decision does not make me nervous....very.

Beta Blogger

What I like:
-The spell checker
-Messing around with the layout, including colors, and not having to even look at html (but how often did I do that)? If I were just starting a blog I would definitely be much more comfortable with it.
-Being able to add elements, like links to favorite blogs, and not having to mess with html. It is more like filling out an easy form. Insert address here. Insert name here. Do you want this list alphabetized? check box.
-That I can find a typo and republish and it does not alert the system (repbulished posts do not appear in subscription services as new posts)
-Finding old posts is are not limited to the past 300 posts
-You can add tags so that readers (and you) can find all the posts on a certain topic.
-There are automatic links to previous and next posts, making it easier for your readers to back up in your blog and read everything in order.
-That I COULD if I wanted make the blog private or password protected. (I don't know what I will do when I get a new kid. I share a lot and have felt comfortable doing so because the kids are 18 and have given me permission. I don't know how easy it will be vague...)

What I don't like:
-having to log in every flipping time I want to go back to the dashboard even though I have told it to remember me, and told the computer that it is one of my trusted sites.
-having trouble opening other blogs now that I have told the computer that blogger is a trusted site "This web page is attempting to open one of your trusted sites, do you wish to continue?"
-no longer being recognized by blogs in old blogger so if I want to leave a comment I have to log in in their commnent window using my old blogger ID.
-That I can not password or privatize individual posts. If I feel like I need to passwording to protect the privacy of the next kid while at the same time allowing me to put stuff out there, I will have to have a second blog.
-That when I switched I lost a few links and things (although it was much easier than it had been to add them back in)

Just thought some of you would like to know.

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Monday the kids go back to school.

We are moving into the last leg of Evan's time with us. He will always be part of our lives, or at least he will be welcome to be. I don't know what he will choose. Unlike the other two boys he has other family. He will have an open invitation for Thanksgiving and Christmas there. So I hope he stays in touch, and we will always be prepared to have him around, but he may drift away.

Be that as it may, he will be moving out by January. I have already shared the anxieties I feel about whether everything will go as smoothy as they are supposed to.

But whether the next four months go smoothly, they will pass and he will move out.

So I am in that phase where I am dealing with that reality. So is he, of course.

There is the very real danger that we will start fighting with each other. It is a very typical human thing. He is terrified of living on his own. He likes us and does not want to leave. He can feel those emotions, or he can get frustrated and angry with me. Those are safer emotions. They are more familiar and feel powerful. Getting angry at me can make it easier to leave. Instead of thinking about how frightened he is, he can think about how he had GOT to get out of here.

So I am on guard for that.

My way of coping, of avoiding the feelings of loss, is to look past them. I am finding myself wondering what the next kid will be like. How long will it take them to find that special kid that will fit our special family? What are the chances they will bring us a girl rather than a boy? How old will he or she be? Should I start on a new quilt top now? I've never made a log cabin quilt. How much fabric would it take? I wonder how much of my left over fabric I could use...

But I know what I am doing. Evan is going to leave about four months. I am going to miss him horribly. Between now and then will be his birthday, Andrew's birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas. It will fly by.

Soon he will leave.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Grandma to the rescue

So yesterday Evan talked to his grandma about his transportation issue. She knows someone who sells used cars and she called him back today. She will co-sign a loan, the man will finance the car there. Currently there are three cars on the lot that he will recommend to his friend for her grandson. If Evan does not like these cars, not to worry, he gets new cars all the time and he will make sure Grandma knows which ones are reliable.

Evan is busy on his computer getting insurance quote on the different cars.

It won't be flashy. But it will have wheels.

Driving practice -- day three

So he is getting more confident. Today I told him that I was not going to tell him where to turn. He could make his own choices.

Bad idea.

Rush hour here is not that big of a deal. That is, unless you are a brand new driver who gets nervous about making a turn because you have to navigate your car in the 20-foot space between the car stopped at the stop sign and the other car parked at the curb, so you come to a dead stop on the main drag so that you can sloowwwllly and carefully steer the car between the obstacles while your aunt screams, "Move, move, move!!!"

We are still alive and he is still speaking to me.

Teaching Evan to drive (updated)

In my state, if you are 17 you can take a written test, get a learner's permit, be taught how to drive by any adult over a certain age (I don't know if it is 21 or 25, but I am definitely over the limit), and then take the driver's test.

If you are under 17 you MUST take a driver education class from a certified instructor. In fact when you go get your learner's permit they ask you to which instructor you wish your permit to be mailed. After the youth has spent the required number of hours with the certified instructor, he or she turns over the permit to the parent. The parent must keep a log book and certify that the youth has 50 hours supervised driving time before they are allowed to take the driving test.

If you are a foster kid though, none of this really applies. You cannot drive until you are 18. You are a ward of the state and minors can only drive if their legal guardian gives them permission (which means they are agreeing to be legally liable for the driver). When your legal guardian is the state, you are out of luck. (There are rumors of kids who have got permission, but I've never met one of them).

David thought he had permission to take driver's ed before his 18th birthday, but that turned out to be a big fat lie.

Anyway, Evan is 18 and ready to learn to drive. He did the written and I am teaching him. He is fairly relaxed in the car, and I feel pretty comfortable. I was thinking that I had this down. He's doing well and I seem to be a pretty good instructor. I was feeling pretty good about all this.

Then I went to the DMV web page and found out what I SHOULD be teaching him. They have a 50 page manual for parents who are supervising driving practice.

Did you know that hand-over-hand steering is no longer standard? Drivers should use push-pull steering except when parking, and then hand-over-hand is appropriate.

Do you remember under what circumstances you are supposed to look in the mirrors and check your blind spot? (This is important, when you take your driving test if you forget to look in your blind spot before making a right turn, you will loose a point.)

In order to know when the car is three feet from the white stripe on the right hand side of the road, where should the line appear to be hitting the hood? How much closer should you be (and therefore where should the line appear to be hitting the car) when you are going to make a turn? How about the center stripe?

If you imagine that the steering wheel is a clock, at what "times" should your hands be? (NOTE: if your car has air bags 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock is the wrong answer.)

How often should you check your mirrors and blind spot when driving on the freeway?

How many seconds should there be between you and the car in front of you? (Hint: it is not 2). I'm tense. I can drive, but apparently I forgot half the rules and they went and changed the rest of them.

Edited to add the answers (per FosterAbba's Request):

You should look in the mirrors and blind spots before doing anything that requires you to use the brake (even right turns) and before turning on a signal when passing.

When driving anywhere, not just on the freeway, you should engage in a constant scan pattern: 20-30 seconds ahead to identify target, 12-15 seconds ahead to plan your path, 4 seconds ahead to respond. Check mirrors. It is unclear from the parent's manual if you are supposed to be checking the mirror with every cycle or just "regularly". You should not, however, wait until you are thinking about changing lanes. Most common problem: drivers stay focused on one of the three ranges.

You are three feet away from the white line on the right if it appears to line up in the middle of the right half of the hood. You are three feet from the line or curb on the left if the line appears to line up about one foot in from the left edge of the hood. I forget how far off that you should be for turning. But there are similar reference points for judging how close you are to the curb when parking (parallel, or perpendicular, forward and back). If you want them you can search for them I'm sure.

If you have an air bag your hands should be at 9 & 3 or 5 & 7.

You should maintain a 3 second distance between you and the car in front of you.

When you stop you should be able to see the tires of the car in front of you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Evan wants wheels!

So Evan drives fairly well. Today drove in light, small town traffic. He handles the car pretty well. ("I think all the video game playing really helped!")

So he wants his own wheels. He wants freedom, transportation. He wants to be able to get out of this small town. He wants to drive.

A friend of mine is selling a 25 year old BMW motorcycle. It is in very good shape and he is willing to sell it at a very reaonable price. So Evan wants it. BAD.

It must also be remembered that he decided to learn to drive because he wanted to get the higher paying job at the electronic plant. His aunt works there, and could give him a ride if he can co-ordinate his schedule with hers, but that will not always be possible. Realistically, if he is going to leave the grocery store and work at the factory he needs to be able to get there on his own. He spent this morning taking tests and being interviewed. He is now on the waiting list for a position. He is likely to be able to start sometime soon.

His social worker is trying to talk him out of it.

Sure he will make more money, but he will have to SPEND more money: the bike, the gear, the insurance, campus parking and the gas. He is unlikely to come out ahead. Besides, the job is far from the university. When he is there (in five months!) he will find it very inconvenient. He should stay at the grocery store. Ride his bicycle. Keep the money he has and save more. When he goes to school he should tranfer his job to a store near the campus. The school is in The City. There will not be anywhere that he needs to go that he cannot get on foot, bicycle, or bus.

Life is so hard for the kids when they leave care and try to make it on their own.

But he wants wheels! He is 19. He wants to be free! He wants to go places!

No one is pointing out to Evan that he hates every job shortly after taking it. He thinks he will like this one better, but the rest of us are not convinced it will stick. Besides, it is not really about the's the wheels.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Youth Ranch

Granny asked about the youth ranch. I am trying to figure out how much I can say about it without allowing detectives to find it and figure out where I live.

It is a real working ranch with horses, which they breed, raise and sell. (People donate horses. They sometimes get some really high quality animals for the breeding program). All the kids spend some time every day doing real ranch chores, like mucking out stalls. As they prove themselves reliable they get to ride and help train horses.

It is a treatment, not a detention, facility. The kids who are there are there because they have been running away, or have just got out of rehab, or keep blowing out of foster homes. The kids usually spend about six months there and then "graduate."

School and counseling services are on-site. They are out far from any town so the kids don't run away...there is just no where to run to. It is a highly structured and secure facility with no needs for guards and fences.

It's a good place. I wish it were a place where kids could stay longer if they wanted/needed. For kids with attachment issues it can be a better than a foster home, at least for a while.

Ann really liked it. She loved the horses. Ann has been bouncing around so much. I hope she is the one who is there. It could mean that she will be somewhere for more than two months, which hasn't happened for a couple of years.

Missed call from ???

During days when the boys have friend over I often don't bother to answer the phone. It isn't for me.

Yesterday the phone rang. Evan said, "It's the youth ranch."

For some reason I did not consider any possibility other than that they might be calling to ask for money. I've given them small amounts money before, especially since Ann was there. The teen shelter that Evan lived in before he came here and that E has been living in recently are owned by the ranch. Anyway, I was busy, thought someone else would answer it, and did not pick up the phone.

The answering machine picked it up and whoever it was hung up.


What youth that I know is currently living at the youth ranch? It is probablly Ann or E, but I don't know.

I am wondering if I can call back and say, "Hi, I'm a foster mother and someone called last night. I know you cannot release names, but could I leave a message to give to any kid who was trying to call me. It could be Ann, or E..."

On the other hand whoever it was will have just assumed we were out of the house. I hope she calls back.

Someone I care about has gone to the youth ranch and I don't know who.

I don't like that.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

An odd series of events

9:00am -
Evan tells Hubby about job woes in car on way to counselor

10:30am -
Hubby has "serious talk" with Evan about job in car on way home

11:00am -
Evan decides he must have new job, discovers (I don't know how) that an electronics company is hiring for manufacturing. It is good money and does not require dealing with people.

11:15am -
Auntie (me) explains to Evan that though she will give occassional rides to new job, she cannot be counted on for regular transportation.

11:30 am -
Evan decides after months of procrastination that today he is ready to take written test for his driver's license NOW. Walks to court house and comes back to say the license place is moved, will I please drive him to new location?

1:00 pm
Evan takes and passes written test.

2:00-3:30 pm
Evan and Auntie drive around on country roads. Everything goes well. We didn't even scare the cows.

I tried to teach Carl to drive. I made him drive for a total of 2 hours in parking lots and after 10 minutes in the road I knew there was no way I could teach him and live through it.

But I think I can teach Evan. I do. I hope.

Like I said, we didn't scare the cows.

What I can handle

I was never a pre-placement foster parent.

First I was a mom with a couple of birth kids, ages five and eleven. Then I found out that my kids' favorite babysitter needed a home. After six weeks of paper work, pre-placement visits, house renovations and training, I was the mom of three kids, ages six, eleven and sixteen (yeah...there was a birthday during the six weeks).

I had just wanted to be Carl's mom. And then I was.

So I did not spend a lot of time wondering which kids I could parent and which I could not. I did not look at the on-line listings. I did not debate the pros and cons of different ages. I just became Carl's mom.

Early in the process I remember sitting with Carl and his social worker at the table and learning that Carl had in the past lied to his previous foster parents. I remember feeling a sense of panic and saying that I had to trust the people that I live with. "Lying is the one thing I just cannot tolerate."

I figured I could deal with anything, as long as the kid was honest.

Well, as I have mentioned before, Carl lies. All the time. About everything. Even when he does not have to. It is his automatic response. Of course since he is trying to say whatever he thinks you want to hear and since he also talks to other people his lies are easy to detect.

Though I had thought I could NEVER live with a chronic liar, I discovered that I could. I could continue to love him while separating my decisions from whatever he had said. I just learned to live in this place where I kept everything that he said in doubt. I took satisfaction out of outwitting him.

******Interruption for phone call from Hubby*******

Hubby just now called to vent a little. He drove Evan to the counselor's appointment. On the way out Evan shared more about his terrible job at the grocery store. Here is the short version:

Evan hates his boss. His boss is on a power trip and criticizes and pushes him around for no reason. Other people at work we surprised when he showed up yesterday because she hates him so much. They assured him though that she has a hard time getting along with lots of people. It is not just him. So Evan knows it is not his fault.

The woman in the deli really likes him though and she has a position open and she is going to hire him. That will be much, much better.

But he hates this boss and has no respect for her at all.

Yesterday was a horrible day. He was bagging this one man's groceries and he picked up a six pack of soda and the man said, "Now don't shake that. My wife will be very angry." Well, that was just insulting, so Evan picked up the six pack shook it and said, "What? Like this?"

Later a little kid was looking at him funny and he said, "WHAT???" and the little snot started to scream and cry. The mother was really upset and made this really big deal out it. She kept saying that she had never seen her kid cry like that.

Hubby was upset and wanted to vent.

So since I was writing about what I can handle I thought I would write about this too.

Not too long ago I would think that I needed to fix this. I would think I needed to sit down and have a good long talk with Evan, try to get him to understand. Now I don't.

If he tells me about it, I will not even lecture him. I will offer up another perspective, if he gives me a good opening. However I will not expect that he will agree with me. He will reject it, and I will not argue. Even if he realizes at the time that I am right he won't acknowledge that, so why fight it?

I think that if Evan is going to develop a different attitude towards work and authority he needs a couple of things: he needs the experience, which will include the experience of losing jobs; and he needs another way of thinking presented to him. There is no way I can force that other way of thinking upon him. If he continued to live in a household that reinforced the perspective that bosses are on power-trips and that it was funny to shake people's groceries and frighten children into crying, then he would have little chance of changing his attitude. But I cannot give him a new attitude.

I have come to understand that all I can give kids is the opportunity to grow and learn. The growing and learning is something they have to do themselves.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The rooster calls the sun

I am trying to remember who uses that example...I know I read it somewhere. It's fairly obvious what it is about. Every morning the rooster crows and the sun which was just begining to peek above the horizon comes the rest of the way up.

Good thing, huh?

You know, I hear that up north they have shorter days in the winter. Maybe we should send them some roosters?

Okay, it is silly, we know that the roosters don't make the sun come up, but we really do make this mistake ALL THE TIME. We do it quite a bit in foster care and adoption. The kids have so many troubles and we so very much want to find a way to help them. So we look for indicators of success. We find them and then we try to maximize the inidcators hoping for more success.

Probably if we do this with every indicator we find we are likely to stumble on a couple of actual causal agents.

I was just off reading a blog. Since this is 1) something the author wrote more than a year ago; and 2) something I am about to attack, I am going to keep it annonymous. I hope she prefers it this way.

The blog writer quotes a study reporting that the best predictor of success in adoptive placements is the number of moves while in foster care. My response to that information was, "Well...duh..."

The blog writer had the same response, but for a completely different interpretation. Her response was that this was important informaion, "for the social services system. Do NOT move the kids around!!!"

Say what?

So does she think that social workers are out there moving kids around from house to house for the hell of it? I mean, they have all that extra time on their hands, right? Silly social workers, don't they know moving is bad for the kids? If they just put them somewhere and left them there, everything would be better.

Wouldn't it be lovely if it were that simple?

Kids who have very few moves are the kids who are easiest to take care of. They are the kids with the fewest attachment problems. OF COURSE they are going to have the most succssful adoption placements.

In EVERYTHING past patterns are the best indicators of future patterns. And though that is true, you can't just make the past pattern be something different. High school GPA's are very good predictors of success in college, but that does not mean that it is a good idea to just give high school students higher grades.

What we need to do, and many people are trying to do, is to figure out why that pattern exists. What are the underlying problems? How can we address them? How can we support and train families so that they can handle these kids? Which kids really do need alternative (e.g. group home) care? How do we give these kids what they need?

Because everyone in the system wants to help them. Everyone knows that multiple moves hurt the kids. Disruption confirms for kids that they are unlovable. The kids need permanency, but we cannot give them permanency by simply deciding not to move them.

The FM who frightens me

When I met Carl he was living with a couple that we knew. When he told us he had been moved he was living with a tiny, terrifying woman.

Oh she is fine with the kids. I have no doubt that she is a great foster mother (for some kids), she just scares the pants off me.

I had talked with the social worker about picking up Carl and taking him shopping to pick out sheets and other boring things for his room. She said it was fine, and I thought she said that she talked to TTFM (Tiny, Terrifying, Foster Mom) to make certain the day was okay. I called Carl and we agreed on a date.

Shortly after I got a phone call from TTFM, "We do not make plans with children without talking to the parents. We work through the adults. I expect in the future that you will not make arrangements with Carl without talking to me first!" Now, I know that doesn't sound very frightening, but she was so angry. If I were in her place I would be sweet, conciliatory. I would have been saying, "It bothered me that Carl announced plans to me. In the future, would you please make a point of talking to me first?" If the other mother said, as I did to TTFM, "I did talk to the social worker first. I really thought that she had talked to you." I also would have been nicer about it.

We had to work together for six weeks while Carl lived with her and we were getting licensed. She had said that she would be happy to have Carl and I don't think she understood why the agency had decided instead to place him with the brand new, naive family (who had children who were only five and ten years old!) instead of with experienced foster parent who had been taking care of teenagers for a couple of decades. Nice Carl did not want to be "out" to her no one said, "Well, Carl is gay and you are a very conservative Christian, so we don't think it will work out."

Anyway, she scared me.

At one point I had to pick something up at her house and I made Andrew come up to the door with me. I was honest with him. I told him that she would not yell at me, for whatever I had done wrong this time, if he was standing there.

It became quite a joke among the kids. I am perceived by them to be a strong adult who can frighten others when I want to. But I was terrified of this tiny woman.

After Carl had been with us for a couple of months I was asked to pick up her daughter to take both of them to a meeting at the agency office. I called TTFM to tell her what I had been asked, and was that okay with her. She was very pleasant and said yes. Would I pick her up at the thrift store where they would both be working? I did, but I told Carl to go find the girl. I would just sit in the car and read.

I was caught up in my book and suddenly there was a loud banging on the window. I startled, turned, and there was her face, right up to the window, about six inches away from mine. I confess I screamed...well, the noise I made was really too short to be called a scream, but I never corrected Carl when he told the story...over and over again.

Anyway, she was at the training on Saturday. She was very nice to me. At some point along the way she seems to have decided that I am competent and no longer need to be ordered and corrected.

I still avoid her though.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Crisis Management -- The topic itself

Before I went to the class I had imagined that I would learn a bunch of stuff and that then I would come back and share. I did not really learn much that was new, and although I did re-organize it. It was a seven hour training, but here are some highlights.

1. Take care of yourself.
You need to learn how to manage your own stress if you are going to help a child de-escalate.

2. Behavior is always meaningful. Kids are expressing some need and responding to it appropriately will involve understanding (figuring out) what need they are expressing.

3. Children come from different "cultures." It is possible, even likely, that what is shocking to you is just normal for them. When a kid tells you to F*** Off, that might for them carry all the malice and emotional intensity as my saying, "Please leave me alone!!" This does not mean that you need to allow them to say or do things that are against your rules, but remember it when you are deciding how to react. (In other words, it might be that the best reaction is pretty much the same one as you would give if they left their coat on the floor. It is to be corrected or responded to, but not taken as a personal attack.)

4. Behavior management is not really behavior management. In other words, all the stuff you learn in this and other classes is not really about controlling kids as it is about giving them tools and opportunities to control themselves.

Now...for the stuff itself:
1. Prevention
Some basic good, non-confrontational parenting techniques can help prevent a lot of escalation and crises. Some of the parents at the class needed a separate training in this area, but for most of us it was time we should have been spending on other stuff. If you want to learn more about this I recommend that you check out and read Faber and Mazlish. Start with Talking to Kids So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk if you like a "how to" manual style book or with Liberated Parents, Liberated Children if you like something more philosophical. I love their books. One of my favorite things about them is that they completely get that parents get angry, have bad days, and make mistakes. They don't expect that that will stop. They instead talk about how to deal with them.

2. Dealing with escalating kids
Okay, so you are this great parent. You allow your kids to deal natural and logical consequences without having an "I told you so" attitude. You give reasonable choices instead of commands. But it is not working. The child right now, today is ANGRY and could escalate.

This is not a moment to impose consequences, give forced choices, argue or threaten. DURING THIS MOMENT, all you do is:

Stay calm. Breathe deep. Maintain a relaxed body posture.

Give short verbal responses that affirm their emotions, and maybe deflect them from where they are going:

"I can hear how angry you are!"

"I am not doing this stupid chore and you can't make me."
"No one can control you but you."

"X is a a$$. He got into my stuff and ruined it. I hate him and if he does it again I am going to punch him in the face."
"I can see how important it is to you that your privacy is respected."

Of course all of this can be replaced by quiet attentive nodding with the occassional "I understand."

Here is the important thing: when the kid is furious, it is not the right time to lecture about appropriate language, remind them of the consequences of violence, or even negotiate a different chore routine. In this moment, the only thing to do is be the water...deflect...remain not fight back...

Also though you do not need to allow yourself to be abused. You cannot force someone to control themselves, but you can remove yourself. If the kid is beginning to escalate to a dangerous place, then backing away slowly, getting out, and calling 911 may be the best idea. If the child is subjecting you to verbal abuse it is okay to say that you are going to leave the room and will talk to them when they are feeling more calm.

Also important: let them walk away. If they call you a foul name, go to their room, and slam the door, don't follow them. Give them a good long chance to calm down and then deal with it later.

3. "Postvention"
When the crisis is over be sure to take care of everyone, including yourself. Everyone will feel exhausted. Talk to the other children in the house. Let everyone have a break.

4. Parenting Again...
Go back to the basic parenting stuff. Try to figure out what need the child is expressing and how to address it in a healthy way. If the child during the crisis broke a rule for which you have a consequence, impose the consequence as matter-of-factly as possible. Remember that the need could be to have more control in her life, or express feelings that are pent up. It might not have much or anything to do with the apparent trigger of the crisis.

And finally:
None of this is a cure for RAD or ODD or any other behavior disorder. It may be a way that will allow you to cope, and it may help with the behavior, but it will not fix them. that is my version of what I spent 7 hours on yesterday. Hope it helps someone...

Updating blog

Well, I just switched to the Beta version.

A couple of sections of the blog roll disappeared, but I fixed them. I went ahead and added two new pre-parenting folks.

If you got dropped, or would like to be added, please let me know. (NOTE: I did NOT erase anyone. If you are not here it is Blogger's fault and I would like to know).

I did it primarily because I want to add labels to make it easier for people to find all the posts on a particular topic (or kid). That might mean republishing all 400-some posts, so if you are a subscriber, I apologize. I will start from the beginning, so when you see that the most recent posts are labeled, then you will know I am done. (NOTE: I did put a label on the recent post about the recent training). I plan on taking my time with that project.

And I answered my own question. You can switch and not bother to do much of anything else. You do have to change you log-in info.

WARNING FOR ANONYMOUS BLOGGERS: It will initially change your email address to your gmail address (if you don't have one you will have to get one for the switch). I changed it back to the address I use for the blog, but when I first changed the gmail address was there and since it used (parts of) my real name, that was a problem. I think I have it fixed so that it does not show...although it shows when I am in editing mode, and that is freaky...I am constantly worried that it will switch so that y'all can see it too. If I were doing it now I would change my gmail address first. In fact I might see if I can change my gmail address just so that I don't have to worry about that!

The good news: the spell checker is better and now recognizes the following words:

Also good news: When you pull of the list of previous posts you can see a maximum of 300 at a time (still) but you can go back and posts 301-600, or whatever.

Crisis Managment

The training was disappointing.

It could have been great. I would not have learned much that was new, but it would have been good.

As a teacher myself I found myself automatically re-writting the curriculum.

The problem with the curriculum was that it was a two-day curriculum, smashed into one day, taught be good social workers who understand it, but have not been teaching it long. We needed to be focused on the fact that we were not learning how to be good foster parents, or on how to deal with a kid who did not do their chores. We were dealing with that specific situation in which a child is getting aggitated and yells, "I'm not doing my chores and you can't make me!"

Maybe the child is just spoiling for a fight. Maybe he has some excess energy and wants to yell. Maybe they are working up to a real rage and about to become dangerous.

So the first thing on the curriculum should have been: what is the difference between a child who is complaining about chores and a child who is escalating whose refusal to do chores is simply a part of that escalation?


I filled out an evaluation for the social workers at the end of the seven hour day, but I will write a long email too. Don't worry...I can be nice about it.

By the way, for those of you who have switched to the Beta version of Blogger, can you switch without having to do much for a while? Or do you have to immediately start learning a whole list of new things?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Future tripping, or living like a newbie

Since Evan came back from rehab I have been thinking of his remaining time with us in several chunks:
1. The months between coming home and starting summer school during which he was to work and concentrate on therapy.
2. Summer, during which he would take three classes.
3. The first two month of fall in which he would take the last two couple of classes.
4. The last couple of months in which he would be working and finalizing whatever needed to be done so that he could move out.

In each section I worry about the anxiety of transitioning to the next. I worry if he will be able to stay clean. I worry about how he will handle the most extreme anxiety of emancipation. I think about what I will and will not be able to do for him after he moves out.

I am as full of idealized hope and fear as any newbie. He can do it. He is doing so very well. The steps he needs to take for successful emancipation and self-sufficiency are clear and simple. His path to adulthood is flat, clear, and lined with roses.

But I react to that picture with something akin to panic. Too easy, too rosey, how naive can I be? I imagine that he does not see a gentle path to a secure adulthood, but a gangplank off the safe ship of childhood into the terrifying sea of adulthood where he will (he thinks) have no support. I imagine the ways in which he will respond with panic. I imagine all the things he might do.

I remember other kids who were set up for success:
N flying into a rage, hitting her foster mother and going to detention
David refusing to come home
Carl, graduating job corps and using his start-up money to follow a singer on tour.

So it is no wonder that reading the blogs of the the pre-placement people is difficult for me. I read their writing in which they hope and try not to hope for the impossible, in which they look forward to something they want to do and try not to be naive, and I feel all my own hope and anxiety.

I am trying to live in today, but it is a struggle.

I want to check in with Evan, "Are you afraid? Are you feeling confident? Do you understand that as long as you are trying, we will help you? That we will not rescue you from the consequences of bad decisions, but that if you make good decisions we will make certain that you do not fall through the cracks? Do you understand the difference? Can I explain it to you? Do you realize that your only real enemy here is fear? Are you afraid?" Somehow though I think that saying all those things, especially in the tone of voice I am inclined to say it, will not be helpful.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Like in-laws

Foster kids are like in-laws.


Instant family with all the conflicts that happen in any family and none of the history or shared understanding about how conflicts are supposed to be solved.

Your fostering children

Andrew and I have been asked to help do a training on helping foster parents and social workers talk to and support fostering children (a.k.a. biokids of foster parents).

If you are a foster or adoptive parent who has or had biokids in the house at the same time, I could use your help.

I have a survey for parents and youth. If you are willing to fill them out, I will both keep your results confidential and give you access to the compiled results.

To participate please click on my profile and then the email link from there. You can also leave a comment, but I need to be able to email you back.

If you are a social worker and can refer other people to fill out the survey, that would also be fantastic. I will also make compiled results available to you.

If you were a foster youth at one point and have anything you think that I would like to know about what it is like to live in homes with fostering children, please email me too!

By the way, I have been trying to collect some of this information for a while and since it is a volunteer thing, I have had a very hard time getting people who had negative experiences to respond. If we are going to support fostering children we really do need to know the bad along with the good. I am not just looking for glowing reports!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Perspectives and even advice sought:

So what would you say:

Evan has a job as a bagger in local grocery store. It is a work-at-will state, which means he can be fired without explanation at any time.

A customer came in with an anti-gay t-shirt on. The front had two stick male stick figures (like the ones on restrooms) with a large red circle and diagonal line. The back had an anti-gay Bible verse printed on it.

Evan refused to bag her groceries. I am not certain that he is out with anyone at work yet (and being very, very butch Evan does need to actually tell people). The manager was not happy and said she could fire him for that. Evan replied that she was short on help and so couldn't. She agreed that was true.

From his telling it is impossible to know just how heated this discussion was. It could have been teasing or it could have been extremely serious.

So...what would you tell him?

"Does your family read your blog?"

Where would I be without Baggage? Would I have anything to write about?

Well, surely I would, but recently she seems to be my muse...or maybe my gadfly*.

Baggage asks, "Does your significant other read your blog?"

When I started the blog I told everyone about it. I even asked their permission. (I'm not certain what I would have done if they had said no.) I also warned them that though they could read it they probably shouldn't. I was going to be honest and some days the way I honestly felt could hurt their feelings. It was up to them.

I try not to talk to them about it much. I would kind of like for them to forget it exists.

But Baggage asked and I asked Hubby. He said, no. He figures it is personal.

But what about the others?

Evan denied reading it when I asked him months ago, though I suspect he does periodically. There is never any evidence that he does. He never says anything that shows he has been reading it. I would if I were reading a blog in which someone talked about me (see below).

Brian I am certain does not read it. He spends very little time on-line.

Andrew: same answer as for Evan.

David: Not a reader. He may have checked it out, but I just can't imagine him reading this or any other blog. there is a story.

Carl might or might not (hey...Carl...if you do, would you tell me? I would like to know.) But here is a story...

Carl had an on-line journal about five years ago. He actually asked us to read it. I did not want to. I mean, it was a journal. I said I would, but couldn't find it quickly on the web and did not get back to it. He complained that he knew we were not reading it because if we had we would have talked to him about some things.

I sighed, and found it and read it.

There was a lot there, but one item was an account of what happened when we were at a fast food restaurant with another family. As I remember the story was this: everyone kept asking me questions without giving me a chance to answer the last one. My frustration was building. Brian, who was then pretty short, needed help picking out the ingredients for his sandwich and I announced to the crowd that I was not going to answer any more questions until after I finished helping Brian. I hoisted him up so that he could see the selection and then Hubby said, "How did you want to us to pay for this?" "Yondalla?" "YONDALLA? Do you want me to write a check or what?" I want to claim that I responded in a completely civilized and rational manner, but I confess it was not one of my finer moments. I was tired. I was frustrated. I apologized to Hubby later.

However, In Carl's account I turned out to be a wide-eyed crazy screaming monster causing everyone in the restaurant to stare and small children to quake in fear. I confess it was a funny story, but I did NOT say some of the things that he claimed I said...and he left out all the preceding events. In his story I transformed into "Mommy Dearest" (yes, he used that phrase) for no apparent reason at all.

I read it and thought, "This is why I shouldn't be reading his journal."

We talked about it in our next counseling session. I told him that if I read that in a journal when I had not been asked to I would think it was my own fault for getting my feelings hurt. Teenagers sometimes need to vent and tell stories like that about their parents. I should not be reading his journal. Since he asked me to read it though, it felt like he was trying to send me a message and so I wanted to talk about how I felt. I wanted him to take down the post (I did not think he would), and I wanted to talk about what happened and our different perceptions of it.

He was surprised. It was just a story. He defended its basic accuracy, agreed that there was some hyperbole, and seemed to understand why it would hurt my feelings. On the other hand he did not write it to hurt me. He was just expressing his feelings. Besides, THAT was not the part he wanted me to read. He wanted me to see something else; something else about how he had been feeling recently.

Then I was really frustrated. I realized that Carl wanted to use the journal as a way of avoiding talking to me directly about his feelings. This was a nightmare. First, I was going to be getting it wrong all the time. Second it was going to be whole lot of work trying to figure out whatever I was supposed to be figuring it out. Third, I was going to get my feelings hurt because he was going to write more hyperbolic "mommy dearest" stories. Fourth, he needed to learn to communicate directly.

So I stopped reading it. I have since resisted any temptation to get into the boys MySpace accounts (although I have asked them to show me their friend lists so that I can assure myself that they are being very careful about who they communicate with.)

I do think about what I will do with the next kid. They won't be legally old enough to give me permission, and I now know how important sharing has become. I don't want to risk them saying they didn't want me to do it. I'll worry about that later...


*Socrates called himself Athens' gadfly (a large biting fly). He meant that he stung them out of complacency. Without him, the people of Athens would just go about their day and never think about anything important. Of course it also suggested that he made them angry, which is unfair to Baggage since she does not make me angry...even if I complain about all the thinking and reading she prompts me to do.

On the value of "losing it"

We have all read the parenting books. We all have made promises to ourselves about what kind of parent we are going to be. If we are foster parents have official training.

And some days we are going to do it all wrong.

Hopefully on those days we will manage to save ourselves from violence and insult.

But maybe not. We might even hear ourselves saying, "Yeah? Well I hate you too!" We might even say something worse.

So what do we do next? How do we handle that moment?

I have a theory that those moments, when they come, are wonderful teaching opportunities.

See, our kids are going to have bad days too. Our kids are going to loose their tempers and behave badly. So how would we like them to handle those moments? Do we want them to beat themselves up about it? Or do we want them to move through it and take responsibility for what they have done?

So when we have one of those days when the kid just would not get out of bed and off to school and we yelled and told them that if they did not get their little butts out the door we were going to take away every one of their favorite toys and throw them out of the window, or when they whined and begged for everything in the store until we found ourselves telling them that they were spoiled little brats and they had better just shut up, what should we do?

My recommendation is that we first figure out why we are this frazzled. Are we tired? Hungry? Stressed? What do we need to do to take care of ourselves? Calling a friend and venting or asking them to watch our kids while we take a nap or get out for a while might be exactly what we need. Then I think we should say to the kids, "Hey, I'm sorry for yelling at you like that. Though it is your job to get yourself out of bed in the morning, and we will talk about that more, you did not deserve to be yelled at. I should have handled it better. I'm sorry."

One of the things we need to teach our children is how to take responsibility, forgive ourselves, and apologize. And the best way to teach anything is by example.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16!!!

It's August 16!

So what, you ask? Well, if you have been reading this blog since April, and have a really good memory, then you know. Of course I barely remember April around here. I can save you some time. Here is a link to the relevant post: Visiting Evan, part III

Or I could save you even more time and just tell you.

It is Evan's Gotcha Day. It is the one-year anniversary from the beginning of his official placement with us.

It is also the one-year anniversary of his being officially accepted into the foster care program for which I work. This is a good thing because it means that he now qualifies for the post-high school funding programs.

It is emotionally significant to me because I thought a lot about this date when he was in rehab and we were thinking about what it would be like when he came back. He was already 18 at that point and if I were to decide that I could not handle having a recovering addict in the house then he would move immediately to transitional services and he would not qualify. I did not want that to happen. I wanted to give him a chance to make it until August 16th.

The cool thing is that the day just snuck up on us. There was no nail-biting, no acting-out, no tension. Evan just did what he was supposed to do, lived here quietly, and made it to the anniversary.

And what did he do today? He saw his counselor at 8:00am, took the final exam for his on-line class (89%), and registered for the last two classes he needs to finish high school (classes start Monday evening).


Pretty cool, huh?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

"I knew it was going to be hard, but..."

It's all Baggage's fault.

If she just didn't put up that huge new blogroll I would not have subscribed to several new blogs and I would not have all this reading to do when you all know that I am busy and not getting the work done that I am supposed to do.

I am going to add a couple of the blogs to my roll in a day or two, but I want to write this first. It is not about anyone in particular.

I try to limit my reading to people who are in somewhat similar positions. I avoid looking at foreign adoption and baby adoption blogs (although I have got 'snagged' by a couple of baby-adopters). It is not that I have any judgment about forgein adoption or adopting babies, it is just that there is only so much that I can read, dammit.

The hardest ones for me to read are the pre-placements blogs. The people who have never had a kid "from the system" who are getting descriptions or reading the on-line photo listings (mixed feelings about those). They are full of hope. They see the description, know about the bad, and believe that these are basically good kids (which they probably are).

It is tough for me because I know that sometimes the photo listings lie. I know what Ann's photo listing said, and I know what she really is like. (I still love Ann. I am still wanting to be part of her life. I also know that her photo listing was not describing the girl I knew). It is tough because stories like mine and Ann's or Dan's story of Angel happen. Sometimes there is a kid out there who is so easy to love, in the beginning, who turns out to have that are past what we are able to deal with. Sometimes, like FosterAbba and FosterEema you get "lucky" and learn that it is an impossible match (see their story of Belinda) early, before you have lost your heart.

[When Gawdessness first posted that she was getting some information about Brick and Spring I wrote to Granny and told her that I wanted to call up whatever professionals Gawdessness was working with and tell them that if they were lying to her I would find them and beat their heads in with shovels.]

In the very best case, you get a kid who is no more difficult than you expected. You really did know everything that you should have known. They told you and you believed it. They move in and a few days or weeks later you find yourself exhausted and saying, "I knew it was going to be hard, but..." Like Gawdessness right now, like me six years ago, like Lionmom years ago, like everyone who has ever taken in a child who was previously hurt or abandoned by people who should have cared for them, you get hit with the reality of how difficult it really is, how exhausted you are.

But how many things in life are like that? Knowing and living are never the same thing. I do not want to scare anyone off. If you believe that you can parent a child who has been traumatized, then I want to encourage you to try. If I can, I want to support you. If sharing my experience can help someone to try and maybe succeed, then I want to share.

Still, it is difficult to read the pre-placement blogs. They are hopeful and excited and a little worried. They remind my of my former self. They report that they got information about a kid who has "attachment problems" but they think they can handle it. The child seems in so many other ways to be such a good kid. My stomach clenches and I pray that they really are one of the few people who can handle a RAD kid. God knows we need people who can. I might have been one of them -- if I had not had other vulnerable children in the house. I wish there was some way to prepare them for the path they are planning on traveling.

But there is nothing to say. They have done the reading. They have gone through the training. They know everything it is possible to know before you live it. They already know it is going to be hard.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Poor Andrew!

Now I try to keep this blog focused on foster care. This particular post though has nothing to do with being a fostering family, and not even anything to do with Andrew being a fostering child. Right now this blog is just functioning as a place where I can express my feeling of sympathy for the poor kid. (Although it is the sort of thing that makes you laugh at the same time.)

Andrew is in Jazz Band at high school. He plays the trumpet. He will never be a professional musician, but he enjoys it. He really does. In order to be in Jazz Band you are reqired to be in Marching Band in the fall and Concert Band in the Spring. He likes those okay.

But that just leaves four periods in the regular school day, and he is on a college-prep schedule. In order to do it all, he has had to have zero period (you know, the hour before first period) both his freshman and sophomore years. This year he did not want to do that. He wanted a break. We talked about the options and he did the heroic thing. He asked if he could take pre-calculus on-line during the summer. He probably would not be able to get through the whole year, but he could do at least one semester. At least for the fall, when Marching Band is taking up so much time, he will get a little more sleep and have a little less homework.

So we got permission, and he went to work. He has really worked hard, though many different things have popped up unexpectedly to get in the way. Who would think that the new AP History teacher would actually mail out summer assignments in the middle of summer? Read two books, and write a paper on one due three weeks before schools starts??? But Andrew just slugged along. There are seven units and it looked like he was only going to get five of them done. The last two he would just have to spread out over weekends during the fall.

Today was registration. We waited in lines. Half an hour in line to tell the people that we lived in the same house and had the same phone number; another half hour to pay for the activity card; then yearbook photos, agendas and schedules.


Marching Band is sixth period of course. That makes it easy to keep the kids after school for practice.

However, Jazz Band for juniors and seniors is now (drum roll.....) ZERO PERIOD.

So Andrew held up the schedule line for 10 minutes (well, maybe it was just five) while they talked about what to do. He can't have an empty period. No there is no study hall to sign up for. Did he want to take Art? How about asking the pre-calc teacher if he wanted an aide?

It is not all bad. He can work on those last two units when he is not helping other students figure out how to use their graphing calculators.

Poor Andrew.

Problems with my face

Listen...I can't help it. I get this feedback all the time, but I really don't know what to do about it. It is just my face and though I understand that my facial muscles are under my voluntary control, I can't think about it constantly. Besides, even when I do think about my face I am not certain what to do about it.

Apparently when I am confused, my eyebrows crinkle up and I look judgmental.

After Evan complained about it recently I sat at the table, drinking tea, and considering it. Andrew walked in and said, "WHAT are you doing with your face?"

Of course I had not been aware of doing anything with my face. Evan and Hubby came in right about then and I said, "I am trying to figure out how to look confused without frightening people." They all had a good laugh, of course.

Actually with Evan it can be quite entertaining. He will tell me something like, "I told so-and-so that I would do X, but I don't think I will."

Now he mumbles and I will be thinking, "Who is talking about?"

Evan will then say, "Oh! You think that is so horrible don't you? You are the most MORAL person I have ever met. Come on! You do that some times!"

Now really confused I will say, "What do you mean?"

"I know. I know. You think I should keep all my promises. I said I would do it and you think I should. I just don't want to. It's not a huge deal, but now you think I am a terrible person."

"I don't think you are a terrible person." (By now I have caught up, but I confess I like this game.)

"Oh no. I'm not a terrible person; I'm just doing a terrible thing. Do you really think it is that bad?"

"What do you think?"

"I think you should stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Geez! You know, everyone breaks a promise sometimes. I can't believe that you think this is such a big deal. I mean, it is just a little thing. So what do you think I should do?"

"I don't have any idea. What do you think?"

"OKAY! I will call him back and talk to to him. Just stop looking at me like that!"

It's so much easier when they lecture themselves. Maybe I will accept my face just as it is.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

From zero to 60 and back (almost)

So Evan came home from work last evening. He has been doing really well at going to work.

He said, "I'm scheduled for 37 hours this next week."

Me, "That's great. Do you know when you will have a chunk of time so you can see your counselor?"

Evan, "I didn't write my schedule down. I did tell her that I had to take time off to for my final exam for the on-line class. She got all huffy because she worked so hard on the schedule and now she would have to change it. She just said, 'you can have Monday off' and walked away." He went unreasonable she was, how he had to chase her down and tell her that Monday would not work because he had to call the proctor and schedule the exam first, how rude she was about it, how he couldn't help this because he HAD to take the exam!

I kept my mouth shut until I could corner Hubby alone. I want on my tirade: irresponsibility of the youth thinking everyone else should rearrange their lives, redo their work for them with no complaint; Evan should know to ask for time off BEFORE the schedule is written; the proctor probably won't have time this week anyway because this is registration and she is a school counselor and will be helping hundreds of other students with their schedules; I bet he waited until the last minute; he should have done the exam last week when he had all those days off; Evan does not even seem to care about finding time to see his rehab counselor; Evan had better d*mn well realize that seeing the counselor is important, because I meant it when I said that he had to see her to live here...I mean he has quit relapse prevention group and we all accepted it; he never goes to meetings; he doesn't have a sponsor; he has no contact with anyone else in recovery...there is no way in h*ll he is going to quit counseling!

Then I stopped. I looked at Hubby looking at me. Not saying anything, just looking.

Let's see...Evan is behaving like an 18-year-old (which he is) in that he is being disorganized and expecting everyone else to be able to accomodate him at the last minute. He is also really trying to work, do what he is supposed to on his education, and has never once said anything to make me think he is thinking about quitting counseling. He likes this counselor.

I on the other hand am predicting doom and despair.

I've been catching myself at this quite a lot recently. We are moving into the home stretch and I am worried about whether he can make it. I have seen so many kids fall apart as they approach emancipation.

I'm trying just to focus on right now; I am really nervous about what the next four or five monts are going to be like. I imagine he is too.

One day at a time.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Worrying about emancipation

I have been trying to write about emacipation and foster care, but the topic is just too blasted big. There are huge issues. The foster care system was designed to take care of children on an emergency basis. It was supposed to be a place for kids to stay until they could go back home or get adopted.

No one thought that children were going to grow up in care. They still are not supposed to. As we realize the problems that kids who age out of care have, we try to find solutions. We try to figure out how to get them out. Get them adopted. Find members of their birth families who will take them. Get them out of care.

I have no judgment on that solution. I just work with the kids for whom it is not going to happen. I work in one of the few systems that specifically takes kids for whom adoption and reunification are no longer being considered. These kids are going to move from foster care to independence.

It breaks my heart sometimes. I look around. I read. I know that most young people in America do not become independent until their twenties. People who go straight off to college usually get some financial support from their parents. They have a place to go to during the holidays, or when they get sick. Even if their parents are not paying for their tuition, they are probably still covering their medical expenses.

Kids who don't go to college do not typically move out right away. They stay at home for a few years. They get jobs if they can. Some contribute to the family budget in one way or another. Few can afford to support themselves. I see multi-generational working-class families all around me.

But that is birth families. Nationally the situation for foster kids aging out is pretty sad, although it is a problem that it is recognized. There is a lot to be said about the different approaches that are being taken, but today I just want to talk about the system that I am in and how I am feeling about it right now.

The agency for which I work takes kids for whom adoption and unification are no longer being considered. They give support and training to foster parents designed to promote permanent relationships. Those who read my blog know that they are paying a counselor (privately) to see both me and Evan. The case workers have lighter loads. They give us 12 nights a year of respite. They match kids and families as well as they can, and then they support that relationship.

They have a limit to the number of kids they can have in comprehensive care at one time. It is not just a matter of the number of families who are working in the system; it is also that they do not have unlimited resources.

They have a pretty good transitional services plan. It works really well for some kids. They are ready to offer them money for school or training. They will continue to pay for some medical treatment, help them to apply to whatever public assistance they might need, and have some money for some things like work clothes and bus passes. Of course the youth need be the sort of kid who is willing to get a job and work with a social worker. They have to do what feels to them like submitting themselves for constant evaluation (what are your goals? have you met them?). The youth do not understand that every single requirement exists because there is clear evidence that they help youth to become independent. All they see (okay...I am talking about the kids I have known well, especially Carl and David) are nosey social workers making them jump through hoops.

So they have this really great program for permanent placement foster care and a pretty good program for supporting kids as they move into adulthood. The social workers are committed to helping the kids move along the path.

So, in Evan's case, this his plan. He will work at his new job at the grocery store 30-40 hours a week and save money. He will take two night classes through the alternative high school in early fall and then be finished. He will apply to a computer program in a technical college that is associated with the state university in The City. Because it is associated with the university, he will be able to live in the dorms and eat in the cafeteria. He will move in January. The agency will help him come up with a budget, apply for aide, and probably pay for about 1/3 of his total expenses.

If he gets fed up with dorm life and wants to come home for a weekend, we will fetch him. If he wants to spend Spring Break here, he can. If he needs a place to stay for a few weeks between living in the dorms and living wherever else he is going to live he can come here. But I won't be keeping his room available for him.

When he went to rehab I promised that I would keep his room for him. I did let some respite kids stay there, but there was no chance at all that I would take another kid and give his room away. It was his room.

When he moves out though, it won't be his room any more. The agency will ask me to meet a new kid and I will say yes. The new kid will move in and the room will be no longer be Evan's. If Evan wants to come for a visit he will sleep on the futon in the rec room, like David and Carl do when they come to visit.

That does not happen to birth kids. When they move out for the first time their parents do not immediately get calls from people asking them if someone else can have the empty bedroom. There is space in the house for them still. Eventually their parents may turn their rooms into a sewing room or den, but typically for a few years it is still there. It is still their room.

I could do that for Evan. All it would take is telling the agency "no more kids." All it would take is telling them that the next time a queer kid is being harassed by their foster siblings or abused by their foster parents, that kid will just have to find somewhere else to go.

But because the agency is supporting Evan, that is not supposed to be a problem. He should only need to visit here. He should only need emotional support from me. Sleeping on the futon in the rec room should be enough because he will just be visiting.

That is, as long as he follows the rules.

What if he messes up in any of the oridinary ways that young people mess up? Forget about the addiction for a while, what if he get to the technical program and hates it? What if he gets sick and has to drop out? What if he spends all of his money and cannot meet the budget that he and his worker agreed upon? What if he finishes the program but can't find a job? What if he can't find a job for a long time?

I can help him some, but I won't be prepared to take him back in as a full-time resident. I won't be prepared to let him live here for an indefinite time while he gets his life back together. I will not stop loving him, but I will not have a bedroom, and I know how much strain it puts on this family to have someone staying for more than two weeks in the rec room.

The stakes are high for foster kids, even for kids in fantastic programs like this one. There is a support system that will help them succeed into adult hood, but it is a system that has little room for compromise or stumbling.

And I will be able to help him some, but unlike kids who live with their birth or adoptive families, someone else will come along after him and move into his room.

Because the agency will ask, and I will not say no.

Friday, August 11, 2006

What I wish I knew before

If I could go back in time and give myself some advice/information this is what I would say:

Every single child who comes into my home will have some behavioral or emotional problem which I will not know about for at least several months.
In my agency we are lucky because we get to read their files if we like. I do. I go in and read everything that they have saved. If the youth is newly from the state then the file is not going to be all that helpful. There will be copies of IEP's (Individual Educational Plans), offical psychology reports and assessments from social workers. There maybe be copies of police reports. Everything will be official and uninformative.

IF the child has been in the program for which I work the file can be a gold mine -- though that is probably not the right word. There may be copies of emails sent by previous foster parents, emails sent from one social worker to another. There will documentation of the goals the youth wrote with the social worker every six months and notations about whether the youth met them.

Anything a child has done somewhere else, he or she will do at my house.
So, if one of the child's goals is "I will work to rebuild trust with my foster parents" or "I will do 10 hours of yard work to repay for the damage I caused," then believe that his child has a problem with truth or destructiveness.

Maybe, just maybe, you will be better at dealing with the kid than the last parents were, but whatever they did then, they are going to do again. They are going to do it multiple times. They are going to do it even if they don't need to in order to get what they need and want. It doesn't matter if you would have given them the money or permission if they had just asked. If it has been something they have done regularly somewhere else, they will, at the very least, "test" the behavior on you.

-I am capable of dealing with behaviors that I had never thought I would have.
There will be training necessary and lots and lots of deep breathing, but it is amazing what I can cope with.

I am incapable of dealing calmly with some behaviors that I thought would be easy.
That is actually too strong, but the point is that just because it seems like it is a minor thing does not mean that it will feel like a minor thing. Sometimes a minor thing that happens every day can really get under my skin.

Never delay in asking for help.
Feel overwhelmed? Don't know what to do? Call someone. Ask for respite. Find a support group. Join a 12-step program. ASK FOR RESPITE.

My kids can cope with almost anything if I can.
If I can stay calm while a child throws a tantrum or fails classes or refuses to do chores or stays out all night or whatever, Andrew and Brian will be okay.

Converse: My kids will cope poorly with anything that makes me crazy.
The kids are little stress sponges. If I loose my serenity, they are upset. If I ask them now to tell me what were the hardest points, they are always the times when I was stressed out. What is interesting about that is that I know that sometimes my stress levels were not objectively predictable. In other words, I handled objectively bad things calmly and my kids were fine. I fell apart with objectively not so bad things and my kids were stressed.

Foster kids rarely fight with bio kids.
Foster kids understand that the fastest way to get ejected from a home is to be mean to the bio kids. So they are careful. Some foster kids avoid conflict with the bio kids the entire time that they are there. Some are just very subtle about it. Watch out though...if a kid decides they really don't want to be in your home, it can get very ugly very quickly.

So instead they will try to get you to do the fighting for them.
The less safe the kids feel about fighting with each other the more they will try to resolve every little problem through you. This happens with birth kids, it just happens MORE with kids who did not grow up with each other. Advice: don't play. Give them permission to quarrel with each other.

Some bio kids figure out that foster kids will be ejected for hurting them and so use that position of power to terrorize them.
No advice here. You just have to know it happens and be prepared to deal with it. As far as I know, this has never happened in my home.

My love and attention however unlimited it may actually be, will be treated like a scarce and precious resource to be fought over.
Every child will be able to give a detailed accounting of everything I have done for everybody else. Everyone will be convinced that I would NEVER do that or allow that if they were the child in question. Kids who have been around for a couple of years may relax and believe that I really do love them and really will do for them the things they need, but new kids won't. Some foster kids never will. Bio kids have the same issues. It is likely to be a big deal in the beginning and will crop back up and the most inconvenient times.

The harder you work at making everyone feel equal the worse it will get.
Some games you can only win by not playing.