Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Linda comes and goes

Linda was not here for 5 days. I don't think she was even here for 5 hours.

Linda's PSR worker brought her over after school and I gave them the tour. We talked about how she would get home from school. The worker made clear that Linda has only just been allowed out of close supervision. So, no, she can't walk from the high school to my office with Andrew. I agree to pick her up. We were just moving on to her appointments when the phone rang. It was the social worker. She said she was sorry, but she just realized that I don't have a state license. She tells me that Linda is a E4 (I asked Hubby if he knew what that meant and he said, "It means she wears a really wide shoe") and federal regulations prohibit her from staying at my house. So she has to go to the teen shelter home in The City.

The PSR worker can't drive her because, though she lives in the city and will be going there anyway, she will also be taking her infant home and regulations prohibit her from driving Linda and her infant at the same time.

The social worker could drive her, but only if she can get a health and welfare car to drive; she can't drive Linda in her own vehicle. I have no idea why. Then they realized Mandy's husband was not going to get off work and bring her suitcase over until 7:30, which complicated things to no end. I volunteered to drive her, and they cheerfully accepted. So I guess that is not contrary to federal regulations, even though I don't have a state license.

Anyway, I fed her dinner, which she did not eat because her meds have completely eliminated her appetite, and then she ate Halloween candy until it was time to go. (What do I care? I'm not approved to be taking care of her anyway.)

I drove her to the shelter home. She was okay about it, but got anxious when she saw it. She said it looked "like one of those places where old people go." "You mean a rest home?" I have to confess that it does -- although a very new, modern fancy rest home. It is big enough to house nearly 30 teens, though only 9 are there now. Fortunately one of them Linda knew, which made it much easier for her.

The staff person at the shelter home was confused. "So are you her social worker?" "No." "Her foster mother?" "No." "So who are you?" "I'm was supposed to be her respite provider but since I just have a license through the X Agency they said I could not do it at the last minute." "So why did they let you drive her?" "I haven't a clue."

She asked if I knew when the social worker was going to come by the sign the paperwork so that Linda could be admitted. I said no. She was pretty cool. She stayed relaxed and friendly, which was good because Linda in danger of becoming nervous about whether she would be allowed to stay anywhere. After a phone call she said that the social worker would just have to come by and fill out the paper work tomorrow.

It's a good place. It is the same home that Evan lived in, although that was when it was just a house in a quiet neighborhood, not the shiny new facility for 2 dozen kids that it is now.

I didn't like leaving her there, though. I really didn't.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Bad news

Evan has been getting in touch with his paternal relatives. Much of it has been positive. It looks like the agency is going to buy Evan a plane ticket to go visit one of his older half-brothers, who just happens to be gay.

Of course it couldn't all be positive.

His paternal grandmother's account of his father's death is very different than his mother's.

Her story and the implications of it are beyond horrible. Evan is devastated.

He doesn't know what to believe or whom to trust.

He told me about it, cried, and just left the house. Hopefully it is just to walk and perhaps to have emotional conversations on his cell phone which I cannot hear.

It may be a difficult week around here. The new respite girl will be here tomorrow afternoon and will be staying until Sunday.

Meanwhile Evan has to sort through this.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

"Aren't they lucky?"

And the topic for the day is "Aren't they lucky?"

I found it at Cluttergirl, who references the discussion in comments at The Naked Ovary.

We tell people who have suffered a tragedy that they are lucky all the time. Were you in a car accident? "Wow. You could have died; you sure are lucky." We say that to ourselves too, when bad things happen which could have been worse. When tragedy strikes and someone who does not have to help reaches out and pulls us back, we thank them and think that we are lucky.

I think it makes sense when when it is the randomness of the act which saves us. Had the bullet been a few inches to the left; had the stranger with the cell phone not been walking by; had it happened a year ago before the hospital had acquired the new, life-saving technology. Something happened in the world that might not have happened, but it did and so our lives will be much better than they might have been.

But there are other circumstances which seem similar, but are not. Are Hubby and I lucky to have found each other? Well, sure, I guess. I might not have met him. My life was not saved from tragedy however. Had I not met him I would have had a good life. I might have even met someone else.

So it would make sense for me to take offense if someone told me that I was lucky to be loved by him. I would come to his defense if someone said he was lucky to be loved by me. He did not get my love because he was lucky, but because he is deserving of love. Had I not met him, there would have been someone else.

I suppose it is characteristic of love to agree that we are lucky that we have our loved ones in our lives and yet deny that they are particularly lucky to have us. Because we love them, we know that the deserve love and we are grateful to be the ones who are privileged to give it to them.

People say that about and to my kids sometimes. People tell them that they are so lucky to have found me.

The director of the agency for which I work once told Carl, when he had been naughty, that we were a gift from God, that he should appreciate us because there was not another family around like us. He had no idea how lucky he was. On one hand, what he was saying was simply the truth. There were other families who would tolerate a gay foster kid, but none who would be genuinely supportive. (That was six years ago. Things are somewhat better now.)

It bothered me though that he said it. Would have have told a black child in a racist community that he was so lucky that there was one white family willing to treat him with respect? Carl was getting from us what every child deserves: a safe and loving home.

My children, all my children, deserve to be loved. I am privileged that I am the one who is able to provide it.

When someone tells me that my children are lucky to have me, that without me their lives would be so much worse, particularly if they tell me that they are lucky to find us because they are gay, they are only reminding us of how horrible the rest of the world is. They are congratulating me on not being a bigot. They are reminding my children that many people in the world do not think they are worthy of love. And to that, I take offense.

My children are not lucky. They are deserving. I am privileged to be the one to love them.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I just got a call from Mandy. She wants to know if I can take one of her girls (whom I haven't yet met) this week. She needs to drive Jackie to a funeral.

I said yes, of course.

My life is difficult, but Jackie is suffering a real loss. My problems just don't look that bad right now.

Little things

Oh...I hope he gets a job.

Last night he ate dinner in the living room. An hour later I told him to put his dishes in the dishwasher. He assured me that he would, of course he would. Three hours later I told him to put his dishes in the dishwasher. He said he was sorry that he hadn't done it already, but that he had been really busy (watching TV and talking on the phone), but he would do it in just a second. When I couldn't sleep, got up at midnight and went into the living room, I considered getting him out of bed to put his dishes in the dishwasher, but that seemed a little extreme.

This morning when he got up I told him to put his d*mn dishes in the dishwasher right now. He said, "Okay, okay...I'm going. Geez. You don't have to get so upset. It's not like I left them here to piss you off." However he did take them and put them in the dishwasher.

He just left to go shopping with Hubby. His lunch dishes are in the living room.

Why is it the little things that make my blood pressure rise? Why does it feel like an act of extreme insensitivity? It makes me so much angrier when he tells me, "It's not like I do it to piss you off." I get that he is not plotting to upset me. He is not being malicious, he is being insensitive, thoughtless.

I know what I should do. I have a choice. I can either decide it matters to me and take a couple of minutes out of my life and pick up after him (and everyone else, let's be fair), or I can have some sort of logical consequence for leaving dishes all over the house and then enforce that consequence in a matter-of-fact way.

But part of me thinks, "Why should I have to have a blasted behavior modification plan to get a 19-year-old to put his dishes in the dishwasher after I ask him to do it?"

So I want him to get a job. I want him out of the house. I don't want him to be home every minute that I am home. I want a break.

Yes, I know, my fuse is short because I am dealing with the fact that he is going to be leaving and it is easier to be angry at him than to feel sad. Mostly I have resisted the impulse to get angry over everything, but not today. Today I am out of chocolate and I'm irritable.

Somebody get me a brownie.

Update: After they came back I put my hands on his shoulders and said, "Evan, I want you to get your lunch dishes out of the living room and put them in the dishwasher." He blinked in surprise and said, "Sure. See...was that so hard?" Then he went to the bathroom and then down to the basement to play video games. Of course his lunch dishes are still in the living room.

On the up side they brought back Halloween candy and there is now chocolate in the house.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Evan thinks about the next kid

For the past few months, Evan has asking me to reassure him that I will not get a new kid right away. He has wanted me to tell him that we will take a break. His feeling has been that if a new kid moves in right away that will make him feel that our house is something akin to a factory, and he is just one more widget.

I have told him that we will take the next kid when the next kid comes. We have always said it was about the right kid, not the right time. I have also told him that we have asked for breaks in the past because the last few months with kids were tiring and we needed a break. If we did take a kid right away that would be an indication that he was easier on us. (Also an indication that all my therapy paid off, but I don't tell him that.) That did not make a difference to him. He still wanted for us to take a couple of months off.

I understand why he has felt that way, but it doesn't change anything. We will not turn away a kid who is a good fit for our family because Evan prefers for us to have a respectful period of mourning first. But it does not really matter. We typically have a couple of months between placements, and the social workers have told me that there is no one currently in or applying to the program who fits our profile.

The other day I told Evan that I thought it would be cool if they did come up with a kid for us to meet before he left. I would like for him to be able to meet the new kid and I would like for the new kid to be able to meet him.

Evan likes that idea. Last night he asked if I was going to do that. Was I going to get a kid soon so that he could meet him?

I'm having trouble getting Evan to believe that I really don't have any control over this process. It is not the case that there are always several out GLBT kids needing a home. I cannot go to some web page or file and look up local queer kids and pick one out. Several things have to happen, and not all of them are things I want to hope for.

I have to hope that I am not needed, that all the GLBT kids, regardless of how "out" they are, find acceptance where they already live.

Of course Evan knows that there are, that there must be, a dozen or more gay kids in the system who are not safe where they are. They are out there, we just have to go get one of them.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Blogging Contacts

I wonder. If I were to post that I had a wonderful, long conversation with a fellow blogging foster parent, how many people would be able to figure out who it was? Hmm...

I did not get any school work done, but I can do that anytime.

The phone call was worth it.

I don't want him to go

I've written a couple of whiny posts and saved but not published them.

Here's the brief version: I have accepted that Evan is going. I understand and am even beginning to appreciate the benefits of his plan. I also don't want him to go. My not wanting him to go is a very basic, child-like emotion. It is no longer complicated or masked by disapproval or irritation. It is pure sadness. I don't want him to go. I don't want him to be far away. I will miss him.

He will go, and I will try to be happy for him. I will try to be the adult. It is difficult because I feel about three years old. I want to go and curl up on my bed and have a good cry because he's leaving and I, it seems, am going to miss him far more than I thought I would.

You know that he is over-bearing and argumentative right? He is a real pain sometimes. He monitors my mood and activities constantly. He leaves dirty dishes in the living room, fills up my DVR with junk shows, doesn't do his chores without being nagged, periodically drives me crazy, makes me horribly anxious with his various addictive behaviors, and uses far too much toilet paper. I mean, he leaves huge globs of toilet paper in the bowl sometimes that clog up the pipes.

And I don't want him to go.

And yeah, that is the brief version.

He is not leaving for five and half more weeks. (I'm tempted to put up one of those count-down clocks on the page. I am going to be calculating it in my head otherwise. Might as well have the computer keep track of it. But I don't know where to get one and people normally use them for events they are happy about.) I need to pull myself out of this mood. I just can't keep feeling like this for weeks.

On one hand I really like that I finally have a kid moving out in an orderly and planned way. On the other hand it is rather like having a bandage being pulled off very slowly.

Cause, you know, it is all about me.

So here are other things that I think about:

-Throwing him a going away party. He said that he wanted everyone to go with him to the airport. His flight leaves at 9:00am which means he should be there about 7:30am, and I don't think that our whole family, and his extended family will all want to do that. I suggested that we have a party the night before. We'll serve hamburgers and apple pie and drinks with ice.

-Thinking about the next kid. It would be nice to have a break. It would also be nice for Evan and the next kid to meet. The social workers do not have anyone identified for us either in the program or even applying to it, but they will. They warn me that it could be a while. That's okay. The truth is that no one has any idea when it will happen, but it will happen suddenly.

-Thinking about the next quilt that I will make. I want to make an Amish-style quilt like this1 or this2 or this3. I have about 30 fat quarters in various jewel tones. I could even do color wheels, or build rainbow blocks of some kind or other, if I bought more yellow and orange. The boys though all think that those quilts are garish. They recommend instead something boring like this. I suggested something with cool optical illusions. I told them that I would even do it in blues, but they still turned up their noses. I wouldn't care what they think, except that I am guessing that they are better predictors of what some as yet unknown teenager might like. I think that if I could know how long it would be before then next kid comes I could make a decision. If it was going to be soon then I could make the conservative, boring quilt first and then make the Amish one just for myself later. Evan, by the way, says about the quilts that I like, "What if you get a typical gay kid who cares about things like interior design?" I think, "Well then he will like the Amish-style quilt, not the boring one." (I am happy to take votes on this issue.)

I also checked out the page Bacchus posted before: Quilts of Gees Bend. In response to Bacchus, I have never made a quilt like this, but I'd like to sometime. I don't know if I am up to it yet though.

It's My Life

Though I am finished talking about the emanipation problem for a while, I read today on Sunshine Girl's blog that she is participating in a conference, It's My Life, which deals with the issue. I thought I would mention it, since I know that many of you are also interested in the issue.

As am I, I'm just plumb out of things to say about it.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Evan just called, "Hey, Yondalla. Can you come pick me up? I'm done with school."

As in done. As in the last class.


Well, there's paper work, but he's done.

More on emancipation

Independentsw writes:

I don't know...it seems like something is missing in this "best model." I'm not
sure what, though. What causes them to finish growing up? Simply time? Or do
they have enough maturing experiences in these situations (Radical Faeries,
Scotland program) to finish growing? If you could offer Evan a longer-term
placement in your home, would it be possible for him to finish growing up there?
Why doesn't Job Corps work for so many kids--it also offers room, board, and
money in exchange for work? As you can tell, I don't have any answers, only
questions! I am wondering also if part of the attraction of the Scotland program
for Evan is a chance to work on/resolve his own family issues? Just a thought...
I don't have answers either. Just thoughts.

Part of the struggle in imagining solutions is that they solutions always have to be prefaced with "given that."

  • Given that people who aren't yet ready to parent will continue to have children...
  • Given that we live in a society in which we fail to support families in crisis...
  • Given that our foster care system is over-burdened in every way...
You get the idea.

So I don't know how to answer this question, "If you could offer Evan a longer-term placement in your home, would it be possible for him to finish growing up there?"

I don't know.

I know if I were to say to Evan right now, "You could live here indefinitely if you don't go to Scotland." He would reject the idea. I did offer him the opportunity to stay here for the upcoming spring for his first semester of college and he did reject that.

I don't know what might have been the case had when he moved in I said to him, "You can stay here as long as you are working or going to school, until you are ready to live on your own." Instead of, "You can stay here as long as you are going to school, and for a couple months after you graduate. Your social worker will help you come up with a plan after that. Don't worry, we won't be in any big hurry to push you out. You will have time to figure out a plan."

Would he be staying now? Perhaps had that been the model in his head he would not have felt compelled to find someplace like the house in Scotland to live. Perhaps he would have just stayed here. He would have continued to work minimum wage jobs. I think he would almost certainly continue to loose them for a while. Would it have ended because we got tired of him spending so much time hanging around the house in between jobs? Or because we would not let him have the sexual freedom in the house that he wanted? Or would he have grown up, saved money, and moved out of the house into true, self-sufficent adulthood? I haven't a clue.

Now I can't answer the questions that independentsw asks for foster kids in general. I see only a particular group of them. In the post that inspired her question, I considered that maybe what Evan and Carl needed was what they were getting from places like the Radical Faerie sanctuary and the Scotland house. They get free room and board in exchange for work. In Evan's case he will also get allowance.

The reason that I think that is the best sort of option for many kids is the same reason that I think Job Corps does not work for so many kids. It is another "given that."

Given that so many of the kids emancipating from foster care are not ready to take care of themselves and are unwilling to accept parenting or any other sort of close supervision from adults, given that they believe they are capable adults when they are not, we need more places where they are given as much support as possible on terms they are willing to accept.

But there will, of course, not be any solution that works for all the kids. For some kids there might not be any solution. These are kids who don't trust adults. Adults have failed them. They have had to scramble and take care of themselves in a variety of ways. They believe they can take care of themselves, and that the rules adults impose are unjustified acts of power.

These are not easy kids to help.

"I'm going to like you"

That's what I just said to the new social worker.

Evan's worker just showed up to take him to lunch and discuss his plans. She brought along the new hire. She is older than's Evan's worker, which is a relief. She is taking over most of the current worker's case load, but not Evan since he is nearly done anyway.

Evan's worker recently got married and we were talking about the last name problem. She's hyphenating. The new worker said that a couple she knew made up a name from each of their last names and that is what they and their kids have, "They're two moms, so there wasn't any obvious thing to do."

She snuggled our kitten and asked its name. Evan said that he did not like it when people give really strange names to animals. She said reported that she had had a cat named "Sushi". "But someone else named her. And she was eaten by a raccoon. Sushi became sushi."

Yep. I'm gonna like her.

I hope the next kid is hers.

Dealing with superficial affection

Gawdessness in her post this morning, The Dark Bits Around the Edges of Things, wrote about many things, but included there is a passage about dealing with a child who is able to turn off affection. David was, no, is, like that. Reading Gawdessness' post has made me think about it living with that reality.

I want to be clear, Gawdessness's post made me think about all this, but this is about me and my relationship with David.

I don't know about you, but some of the smallest things can upset me the most. Andrew responded poorly to his immunizations. His two months shots made him cranky. I gave him ibuprofen in advance of his four months shots. Even so, his little leg got hot and swollen. He was miserable. I think I held him and rocked him for almost 24 hours straight. As long as I did not move him suddenly, or touch his leg, that was all he wanted. I can still call up that body-memory of him on my shoulder, accepting comfort.

Even then I knew that though I was full of concern for him and I wanted his pain to be over, I also found caring for him deeply satisfying. He was hurting. I comforted. He was comforted. I was satisfied. It is not everything there is to life, but it is part of it. We give our love and, when it is received, we feel good.

That memory is in contrast to the times when holding him did not help. He cried. I picked him up. He arched and pulled away and screamed more. And though he was mostly an easy baby and I was mostly a good mom, at that moment I would have a terrible thought. Something like, "Well, if you don't want me then I don't want you either." Or worse. For a moment, I wanted to reject my baby.

It is so primal, that need to love and have our love received.

Andrew and Brian have been raised in loving homes and they have both rejected my love and comfort on more than one occasion. It is a difficult experience, but it is one moment in parenting. It passes, and we move on. Thank God it passes.

Except when you are raising children who have been traumatizes it does not always pass. RAD kids work hard to be rejected. They push every button they can find. When they were small they were hurt horribly by the people who were supposed to love them. For them, love is equated with pain.

But kids like David are different. My theory is that they were not so much physically abused as rejected. Their abuse came in the form of abandonment.

They were on the opposite end of that loving/rejecting experience. They, like all humans, offer love and affection. But what if, when they were small, that affection was regularly rejected? What if they had that horrible moment of rejection? What if it happened a lot? What if they lived there? When I am rejected I have a foundation that allows me to keep my footing and still feel good about myself. They did not have that. So they responded in a very different way.

I have never been sure what goes on in David. It is possible that the affection he seems to have for me is genuine, but that he can turn it off in an instant. Or maybe there is no real affection. Maybe he just uses people and has no real feelings for any of them. He offers me the behaviors he needs to in order to get what he wants from me.

For a long while it was important for me to figure it out. I wanted to know if he really loved me.

But I have changed my mind about that. If I were talking about a friend or a lover I would need to know. If there is an adult in my life pretending affection in order to get what he wanted from me, then I would want to know because I would not want to be his friend or lover anymore. I need those relationships to be mutual. I would not want to fall for the act. If I did, I would think I was being duped.

But I am David's parent.

And I love him.


I love him even if he doesn't love me back. I love him even if he is using me. I love him even if he is trying to manipulate me. Maybe when he hugs me it is part of a performance for him, but when I hug him back it is real. And I am not being duped because I know what is going on, or at least what might be going on, and I am choosing to love him anyway.

Now before anyone out there thinks I am fantastic, please know that that is a decision, a commitment, I make over and over. I don't always feel it. I feel all sorts of things. Sometimes I feel that he is a manipulative little brat whom I just don't want to deal with. I also don't always or even usually do what he wants me to.

But I decide that I am committed to him -- or perhaps I remember it. I remind myself that loving him means loving him unconditionally.

It would be more difficult though if he were a seven-year-old girl who had been socialized to offer charming smiles and hugs. I don't know how I would handle that. Which is why I don't have any advice for Gawdessness -- just solidarity, sister.

I do have one thought though. Loving unconditionally does not mean giving affection on their conditions. If we are going to teach them what genuine love is, then we need to behave in genuine ways. If we don't feel like cuddling, then we don't cuddle. Oh of course there are plenty of times when as parents we don't feel like hugging our kids, but they need comfort and so we put aside all our exhaustion and hug them anyway. But that doesn't mean that we hug them when they are being manipulative little brats whom we would rather not deal with at the moment.

Even if we do still love them.

Monday, October 23, 2006

News: good and bad (update...more news)

The good news for the day:

Evan bought a plane ticket to Scotland and .... it is a round-trip ticket! WOO-HOO!

And he bought trip insurance that will send him home early if he get sick. WOO-HOO-HOO!

He leaves December 10 and is scheduled to return July 19.

The bad news:
My outgoing mail was stolen. Presumably the teenage girl Evan saw running around the corner after he heard the mailbox clunk was after the Netflix envelop. However she also ran away with 3 months of medical receipts on their way to the flex plan for reimbursement, my invoice for driving Miss E, the request for reimbursement for the car rental this weekend, and the paper work I finally made myself fill out for giving respite care for Jackie earlier this month. All of that is, of course, totally worthless to her but a major pain in the butt for me.

On the other hand I keep wondering what her face looked like when she got home and tore open the envelop to find that the wonderful movie she had scored was Black Adder IV, 1989. I wonder if she likes British comedy? It was my husband's disk, of course.

Somehow, imagining her reaction makes it almost worth having to re-create all that paperwork. Or maybe I am just in such a good mood over the round-trip ticket and trip insurance that nothing can bring me down.

More good news:
I got Thursday back! I was scheduled to do something that I really felt obligated to do but which I really did not want to do and someone who actually wants to do it volunteered. YIPEE.

And more bad news...although it might not be news.
A very nice police officer came by to take a report on my stolen mail. Evan was the witness and so described what he saw. "She was about Beth's height and about her weight too." The cop grinned and said, "And she had grey hair and was wearing a purple t-shirt?"

Excuse me? Grey hair? I am quite confident that I still have more light brown hairs than grey hairs. Not by much, but still...my hair is greying, not grey.

Why the emancipation panic

There are a lot of really interesting comment on my post Supporting them into adulthood. A couple should be their own posts. If you haven't read them, I recommend them to you. People bring up a lot of good points. Several point out that we need to be more straight-up honest with the kids. I agree, and I wonder to what extent I have not done that well.

For the kids with whom I work though I don't think that is the fundamental problem. At least Carl and Evan did not get hurt because they were told they were going to get support or help that they didn't or weren't going to get. They walked away from assistance they weren't ready for.

Hope4future wonders if they are afraid they won't succeed (I'm paraphrasing). I think that is part of it.

Right now I think the fundamental problem, for many of the kids I work with, though has been this: though they are legally adults, they are developmentally somewhere around 13. They need more time to grow up. The rub is that they don't want to be parented. They don't want to be accountable to social workers. They want to live as adults.

In other words, they don't want what they need and no one can force them to be take it. On my most discouraged days I don't think it is possible for offer the kids what they need in a package they will accept.

I am still driving Miss E to school. She is a junior who turns 18 in the summer. Because she is in a private agency with the funds, she is doing on-line classes with the goal of being done with high school before she turns 18. She is willing to stay in the home a little past her 18th birthday if she must in order to finish high school, but not one second longer. She is one of the brightest kids in the system. She says she admires Evan for staying longer. She knows that it is the smart thing to do, but she doesn't see how she could make herself stay. She wants out. She wants to be on her own.

So many foster kids are in systems in which they are not offered appropriate transitional services.

The state kids around here all seem to believe that they are required to leave foster care on their 18th birthday. That is not in fact true. They have the right to stay until they are 19, if they are still in high school. It is not clear to me if they do not know that because they have been unwilling to consider it, or if it is because the powers that be would just as soon they don't. There are not enough places in foster homes and then there is there is the legal liability issue (all legal adults living in foster homes must pass a criminal background check).

What frustrates me is that when I tell the kids state kids they have the right to stay their response is, "Really? No one told me that. But I'm out of here anyway. There is no way I'm going to stay."

There is a disconnect. There is a documentary that was on PBS a year or more ago, Aging Out. Three kids were followed. One was a boy with an anger management problem who needed help and wouldn't take it. One was a girl who went to college and was struggling and not getting the support she needed. The third was a young woman with a baby whose father was also in care. They had the were able to stay in care until they were 21, but not together.

Not one of those kids got what the help they needed. Two of them, for very different reasons, rejected the help that was available to them. One desperately needed more than she was offered, and her story was the most tragic.

These kids have needs, but they are not needs that are easy to meet.

What Carl found and Evan is looking for is the best model that I know of. A place without parents, where they get room, board and maybe even spending money in return for work. Maybe that is what the kids need, so that they can finish growing up.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The update on the Scotland project

I think I keep posting the same post over and over...but here it is again:

"Evan's really going to go to Scotland, and I have just about accepted except..."

He's talking about buying a one-way plane ticket because he is not sure when he wants to come back and besides he does not have very much money and he wants to have a cash reserve for emergencies.

Oh to be young and stupid.

I told him that if he can't afford a round trip ticket then he can't afford to go. I reminded him that fuel prices are volatile and therefore plane ticket prices are volatile. I asked him to do the basic math. I don't know if I got through to him, but I gave the pitch.

It is the short term thinking of youth, I guess. He wants to get there. He will figure out how to get home later.


Refering sites

Does anyone know anything about


Acutally, I know a bunch of you must, because you are coming here from there. It seems though that you have to register to read much of anything, so I cannot find out what is sending y'all here. I'm pleased to have you, but can someone tell me what, if anything, they are saying about me at that site?

And speaking of people being sent here...One little mention by Trey at Daddy, Papa and Me has resulted in over 100 new visitors...in about a week. Thanks Trey.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

So I guess they do still need us

The trip was long. More than three total hours in planes; five hours waiting in airports; another three hours driving in cars; only two hours in the hotel spent awake; and one hour, forty-five minutes in the training.

I realized a couple hours before we were supposed to leave for the airport that Andrew is seventeen and therefore now needs a government-issued ID in order to fly. Driving to the driver's licensce bureau on the way to the airport (which of course is not on the way to the airport) was not on the list of things that I had planned. Still we got it all done.

I had a good conversation with the social worker. We talked about what range of kids we were interested in taking. We talked about our commitment to gay kids, and were willing to consider others because, "They have had some really great kids come into the program recently." We talked about how things were a little better than they were six years ago, and that it might be a while before there is another gay kid who is not being accepted by his/her family. I thought about that idea for a while. What if we aren't needed? Well, of course, foster parents will be needed, but what if there is no longer a need for people who are dedicated to gay kids? Maybe the world is becoming more accepting and kids can come out wherever they are and no one will care.

The training session was pretty good. This time there were more experienced foster parents who had been fostering for decades and whose birth kids were teenagers or adults with kids of their own. A couple of them had been fostering children themselves.

Andrew is the only kid who was on the panel all three times. The social worker had used her contacts to come up with a local pair teens living with their grandmother who has been fostering, I think, since before they lived there. At one point the grandmother volunteered that the teens did really well with all sorts of kids, "Except for the really promiscuous or gay ones."

I turned to the teens and said, "Why is it hard for you to live with gay kids?"

The 18-year-old boy, whom up to this point I really liked, said, "Because I wouldn't share a room with him!"

It hurt my heart. It also made clear that it is still a good idea for us to wait for the next gay kid who needs us.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We are just not there yet

I had a bad day yesterday.

I've had an undercurrent of sad because Evan is moving away. Oh I can be cheerful and happy, but I know it is there. I know it is there because when something worth getting upset about comes along I take full advantage of it.

So when Hubby called and said that autoshop* said that fixing my car would cost about $100 more than an on-line car value estimator says I could expect to get for it as a trade-in from a local dealer, I was bummed. I had the distinct pleasure of knowing that we would not have to go into debt because I have not been paid yet for driving Miss E to school, and if I put all the money that they owe me so far I will have most of it. So I walked around telling myself that I was supposed to feel grown-up and pleased that I could afford to pay this bill without affecting our monthly budget at all, and not pout because I had planned on buying new clothes for me and taking Evan out for a nice graduation dinner (with family) and still having money left over for savings.

So I was feeling whiny and irritated at myself for feeling that way. I was not feeling strong.

And then the newspaper called. A reporter wants to do a local story about the evil anti-gay marriage amendment (although she did not call it that). She really wants to interview a local gay or lesbian couple. Can I find one who is willing to have their photo and name in the paper? Well I can try.

An hour later I shut myself in my bedroom and cried. Four times I was told, "We're really out. All of our friends and everyone we work with knows, but I/my partner can't be out to every single parent of her students/customers/parents of our child's friends. We really want to help, but this is a small town and we live and work here and we just don't think we can take that risk."

And they are right. I thought about about calling the reporter and telling her that Hubby and I would do it. Okay, so we are not a gay couple, but we are PFLAG parents, and we can put a face on the issue. I don't have anything to worry about, college students don't read the local paper (and I am out on campus anyway). Hubby probably doesn't have anything to worry about. He is a special education teacher in high demand. How do I feel though about my sons going to school and having kids they don't know saying, "So, I saw your parents in the paper yesterday. Are the f*g or the f*g's brother?"

Like I said, I cried.

It's not safe enough for people to explain that it is unsafe.

*I really trust my local autoshop. On more than one occassion they have told me that they fixed my problem by reattaching or tightening something and there would be no charge. And yesterday was not the first time they said something to the effect of, "How long are you going to keep this car? Because it is not safe to drive at all unless you do X, but if you are going to get rid of it in the next year anyway, you could not do Y."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Officially almost on board

Okay, I talked with the counselor that Evan and I share. I don't think that it is a violation of confidentiality to say that her general attitude is that Evan did a good job of taking care of himself. He was panicking at the thought of college and he might have imploded. Instead he came up with an alternative.

So far so good. I get it. I accept it. He is not ready for college and he needs what the house can offer him. I just hope he is able to give what the house needs from him.

So, just for the record, let me re-state that this is a house were families are sent for therapeutic vacations where they learn to interact positively with each other. A typical family would be one who was poor (actually they all have to count as being in poverty), had a history of some sort of domestic violence, had their children removed and put into foster care, got their kids back, and are now having a difficult time functioning as a family. So they go off to this house for one week where they engage in fun family activities and therapy so that they can bond, etc.

Volunteers help everything run smoothly. They do some household chores, participate in some of the bonding activities and play with the children when the adults are in their own therapy or having a break.

It sounds like a wonderful place. It seems to me that volunteering there would be a fantastic experience for many American youth.

It also seems to me that sending Evan there is taking someone who is terrified of flying and signing them up to be supportive companions to people who are terrified of flying.

It would be like me, at nineteen, volunteering in a home for recovering alcoholics.

Like a rape survivor working in a center to rehabilitate sexual offenders.

Okay...maybe that is going too far.

However it is asking Evan to work with sympathetically with families who are just like his. He is not to take sides. He can't get too emotionally worked up. I frankly cannot imagine a situation that will be more emotionally challenging for him. If it were a place for just the youth, then I could see it being something he could cope with. But it is the entire family. Maybe, just maybe, working with families just like his will be therapeutic for him too. Maybe it will give him an opportunity to heal and he will take advantage of it.

The counselor asked me how long I thought he was going to make it there. I did not want to make a prediction, but she pushed me a little and I did. I will share it with you.

I predict he will make it two to three months, not the six that he has committed to doing.

I figure that is just long enough for him to decide he has proved me wrong about it being a bad idea.

So...like I said, I have accepted that he needs to do something like this. But why can't he help dig wells, or build a school house, or plant a forest?

But there can be no doubt that he is more motivated and organized about this than about anything ever. When he has to do something, like get a background check, he tries to get me to figure it out for him. However when I say, I really have no idea what you are supposed to do, he figures it out. Entirely on his own steam he has applied for a passport, got the back ground check, filled out the application, researched the plane tickets.

I'm so almost on board that I am ready to believe that the worst that will happen is that that he will come home in debt.

And I am glad, and he is glad, that his grandmother is ready to let him move in when he gets back. He has a safety net.

He is going to go. He is going to go sooner and farther away than I expected.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Supporting them into adulthood

Independentsw asks:

I'm wondering why you don't see each child all the way through to real adulthood? Is it that you can't afford to support them w/o [the agency], or are there other reasons? This is not criticism, only inquiry.

I ask myself that too. I've been thinking a lot about what we have done and haven't done and whether we can/should do more to support these kids. In fact I have been working on this post on and off since I read your question yesterday. I don't, by the way, take offense at the question. It is something that I have been asking myself so it seems worth trying to write about.

Allowing them to live with us past the point where the agency would reimburse us for room and board would be a challenge, but I cannot say that it would be impossible. Our budget would be tighter, but we could do that.

The thing is, we thought we were seeing them into adulthood. The agency for which we work has what appears to be a really good transition program. With our birth kids we are on our own. We have been assuming that expecting the foster boys to take advantage of the benefits the agency offers while offering them love and support was the best thing we could do for them.

In other words, we thought of ourselves as part of a team and thought that the kids were being offered everything they needed, just not from a single source. I still think that is true, but I also think that having the support divided up like that is anxiety-producing for the kids.

There are only two boys (so far) where this was/is a "live" question: Carl and Evan. So, I am trying to think this through.

I keep realizing that without the emails much of Carl's story did not get told. At the beginning of Carl's senior year I would have told you that the next year he would be in college and that he would come home for all the holidays, and probably the next summer too. I did not expect that I would receive room and board money for him during those times. I had visions of sending him care packages, buying him small luxuries he could not afford. I thought I would do all the things that parents do -- except pay the big bills.

And then Carl's plans never materialized. He did not do what he needed to to go to college and he did not come up with an alternative plan. Hubby and I were ready to support any plan that he came up with. We were not ready to support him lying around the house doing nothing.

I did not know what to do. We discussed various options through the summer, but nothing took. The social worker came up with the idea of enrolling him in Job Corps. He was not thrilled, but, again, he did not come up with an alternative. So I took him out there -- five months after he graduated. I drove out to pick him up and bring him home every other weekend. I bought him small things that he could not afford. We brought him home for the winter break. The social worker called and said she could only give me room and board money for Christmas Eve through January 2. I told her that I was willing to accept any room and board money that they wanted to give me, but that Carl was welcome to come home for the entire vacation if he wanted. He did.

While he was there I talked a lot with him about his plans for after Job Corps. He always had a new idea. Again, we were prepared to support him. I imagined him coming home after he was done with Job Corps and while he was applying for jobs.

Then he showed up with this crazy idea to follow Tori Amos around the country. That was when I started the "tough love baby" thing. I felt like everyone was trying to help him and he was sabotaging every possible plan. I committed to loving him and giving him emotional support only. I said I would not rescue him, but I wired him $50 to get home when he was stranded. We let him suffer through being homeless, but we stored his belongings, checked up on him and were prepared to bring him home if he got sick.

I guess what I am saying is that at each step we thought we were doing what was best to support him becoming an adult. It is only looking back that I wonder whether I should have offered him more time, before, after, or instead of, Job Corps to live at home and work part time jobs and pull his life together. Hubby is convinced that we would have ended up in the tough love place anyway. He thinks it would have been worse because we would only have got there after getting frustrated and angry. I really don't know.

And now we are going through it all over again. Evan worked out a plan with his social worker to go to the technical program. I did tell him that if he didn't want to move out right away he could stay here for at least the first term. He could either take the commuter bus into The City or attend classes at the remote campus 5 miles away. His response was something like, "You have got to be kidding." Actually I think he said, "My people are in The City."

I told him that he could come home for breaks. He asked about the summer and I told him that if the bedroom was empty he could certainly have it. If it wasn't, he could have the futon in the rec room until he figured out what he needed. He did not like the idea of the futon (who would) and we talked about what his options would be: living with his grandmother; having the agency find him a room he could rent for three months; finding a summer job that came with housing.

Again, I assumed that I would continue to be the "auntie" that he could call on for many small things, but that the major financial support would come from somewhere else.

So if you have been reading at all recently you know that he ditched the tech college plan and is going to Scotland. I think it is higher risk, he feels safer with it.


I think about the differences between what the foster kids and bio kids will get going out in the world. With the agency for which I work, the foster kids have the opportunity to get more financial help than my biokids will. No one is going to tell my kids, "If you work hard we guarantee you will get through college with no student loans." (That may sound resentful, but it isn't. I am thrilled that the agency works that way and I think my kids have nothing to complain about).

We will give all of them emotional support, care packages, a place to stay during holidays, and a place to go when they are sick.

There are two big differences:

First, the foster kids' support is divided up among different people. I am realizing now how much anxiety that produces. My birth kids know that if they have any problems they can turn to me and I will guide them. My answer might be, "You have to take out a loan" but they have one place to go for for advice. When they face emancipation they will think, "If anything happens, I can always call Mom."

The foster kids are being assured that if anything happens there will be people there to help them. They ask me what I will do and my answer has been, "Well, first you should check into the agency and see what services they can hook you up with. Then we will talk and see what we can do. Don't worry honey. Whatever the problem is, we will figure out how to handle it when it comes up." That just doesn't feel safe.

The other big difference is the bedroom. Again, when we started doing care we thought it was only going to be Carl. If he had gone to a traditional college we would have kept his bedroom available for him for the following summer, and for as many summers as he needed it. When he went to Job Corps he was supposed to be able to live there until he was finished. Suddenly the futon in the rec room looked like all the bedroom he was going to need.

Now we are committed to accepting new kids who fit our family. Evan moves out and his bedroom will eventually be given away to someone else.

That won't happen to Andrew. Though I have warned him that when he does leave for college he should pack up his valuables because I will use it as a respite room or a place for any of our wandering boys to crash for a few weeks if they need to, it will be his when summer rolls around. Andrew of course is afraid we won't keep that promise.

But I confess that difference bothers me. I find myself wishing that I had a small studio over the garage, or a room that did not qualify as a legal room for foster care that emancipated kids knew they could use if they needed. (I do have one, but Brian is in it).

So I have been writing so long about this because I really have been mulling it over. I have been trying to figure out what I can do or say to these kids that will make them feel safer, be safer, but that will still allow me to say yes to the next kid.

Quilt Therapy

In order to do a log cabin it appears I would need 12 different fabrics ranging from .5 to 1 yard. Instead I have about 3o+ fat quarters (most have already had a few pieces cut out of them) and and larger pieces left over from various projects that look just hideous together.

So I can't make a log cabin quilt unless I buy a good bit of new fabric.

I found a way to get some use out of all my tiny scraps. All I have to do is by a few yards of solid black to make this pieced star quilt. Maybe I will post a photo of it when I get it done. No promises about when that will be though.

So what is going on, of course, is that I have accepted that Evan is leaving in six weeks or so. Something could still happen to prevent it, like being denied a passport or visa or stumbling across an idea that is even crazier, but excepting the unexpected, he will go.

And not to school 25 miles away. He will go very far away.

When he leaves he will take the quilt I made for him with him, and his room and the bed will be empty. So I will make a new quilt and pretend that I am excited about how it will look in the room. I will pretend that it will fill the hole that he will leave behind.

Update on Scotland

Regarding the trip Evan has so far:

  • Applied for a passport and paid to have it expedited so that he can apply for a work visa to the UK
  • Officially told the education specialist at the agency to pull his application for college funding
  • Asked the agency if they will fax to the Scotland house a copy of the criminal background check they did on him last fall*
  • Asked his grandmother if he can live with her when he gets back. She said yes.
  • Called his old employer at the sandwich shop to see if he can get his old job back. He told them that he would only be working until the end of November, but is hoping that they will take him since he is already trained.
  • Started researching credit cards "just in case."

The woman from the agency spoke with Evan on the phone (Evan says she sounds like Mrs. Doubtfire). She is very excited about having Evan but can't officially say anything until she has called the references and received the background check.

Since Evan does not know when he wants to go he is currently planning on buying a one-way ticket. He plans to put aside money to buy a ticket back, but if he doesn't he will have the credit card.

We had another ridiculous conversation the other night where I gave talking him out of it one last try.

"Evan, please think about this. Every job you have got you really thought you were going to like and after you had been there a week you reported that you hated your supervisor, the job, the other workers, and everything."

"Right, and what does that tell you?"

"That it is a bad idea to go to a foreign country where you can get stuck if you hate what you are doing."

"No! That I need to do something different!"

There was more, but that's all I bring myself to re-hash.

I have found begun a place of genuine acceptance. Sure, I would prefer that he went to the technology program in the spring. I think it will be more difficult than he does to go back to school after he gets back. I think he will be homesick and I doubt he will find it as rewarding as he thinks. But as far as emancipation-panic, running-away-from adulthood stunts go, this is relatively sane.

He will do whatever he is going to do, and I will send him letters.

I realized last night that I was getting used to the idea when I had an irresistible urge to pull out the quilting books and start planning the quilt for the next kid. Maybe I will do a log cabin quilt this time. That should go pretty quickly and I may be able to use up a lot of the left-over fabric in storage.

You know: quilting therapy.


*Last year he became a legal adult living in a foster home and so needed a background check. At first they said we didn't need to because there are no younger foster kids in the house, and then I remembered that I do respite care.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Dishes, again

I wasn't feeling very well (nothing big) and came home early. Evan said he knew the kitchen wasn't clean but he would get it done before it was time to go.

After a while I took a nap and he woke me up and said, "Can we leave for school in about 15 minutes?"

"How's the kitchen?"

"Well, I fell asleep. Can I do it when I get home?"

"No. I can't cook if the kitchen's a mess." He walked off mumbling something.

I pulled myself out of sleep, slowly. Put on my shoes, combed my hair. He came back.

"I did the bottom rack."

"You need to do the top rack too."

"I'll be late for school."

Now I swear to God, I really was still in the fog of sleep and I looked at him trying to figure out why that was relevant and said, "I know."

He rolled his eyes and walked away.

I came into the kitchen more awake and said, "Since you're running late I will re-load for you."

"That's generous of you."

"I thought so."

Evan's mother visited

His mother and sister dropped by unannounced last night. It was the first time that she (the mother) had been to the house.

It must have been odd for her to be at our house. She was polite and "pleased to meet us." I had the definite sense though that my catching her up on her son would be unwise. Aside from the fact that he is a big boy and should be communicating with her himself, I don't think she would appreciate my acting as though I knew her son better than she did (although at the moment I might).

I did print off the photo we have of him with his little sister, for which she was genuinely grateful.

She was there for one reason: to tell Evan not to go to Scotland.

Mostly she just said, "No. You can't go." She did try to give some reasons: his history of making impulsive decisions; the ability to satisfy his stated goals here; the difficulty of going back to school later.

A couple of times Evan asked me to help him out. I told him I was keeping my mouth shut which was as much help as I could be.

What was really going on, of course, was just that she doesn't want her son to go away. She hasn't been visiting or calling him (she is currently without a phone), but not seeing your son when you could is very different from not being able to see him even if you wanted.

Carl's Story 18: Trying to understand

After reading Trip and Consequences, Bacchus writes

how tough that must be to put someone you care about on the street. I agree with the decisions, but will you talk about the process you went through to get to that point?

I suppose that is the real downside to not having all the emails from the time. I can just report the events but my frustration and irritation, not to mention anger, are just not there. Even the bad stories are funny. There is a real danger of reading the emails and seeing me as the experienced, calm parent that I am on the way to becoming.

Did I even tell the story of how, after he had been with me for six months, I cried in my friend's kitchen and she offered to take Andrew and Brian for the weekend? I called the social worker, still crying and said that she had to put Carl in respite that weekend. She said of course and later the family developer told me that that was when he knew we were going to make it. The ones who call after about six months to ask for help always do.

I also don't think I told you about how hard I worked on behavioral plans designed to get him to be more truthful. I had consequences for lies, rewards for the truth. I never told you about the day I collapsed and cried for an hour because I realized that it was beyond my power to change him and for a while I thought that I could not live with him if I could not trust him to tell me the truth. But I loved him and the thought of making him leave broke my heart. So I cried and decided that I was really committed to him -- lies and all. He was mine and he was staying that way.

Before I did foster care I would have told you that the one thing that I can't deal with is lying. Now I know that I can cope with lying, but that I really can't handle hyperactivity. Still, living with a practiced liar and manipulator is not easy. It means being constantly on your toes. It means constant analysis. It means deciding before you decide anything whether you are going to do something because it is what you want to do it regardless of what the truth is (like bringing Carl home this summer even if he was lying about having been sick) or going to the trouble of checking out his story.

The two years he lived with us I was in constant email contact with the youth group leader and his teachers. God, how many emails did I write that said, "Carl has told me that... Can you confirm this?"

I don't know that I was previously clear about the post-high school time with Carl. Though by the time he moved out we had decided that we might consider taking another foster kid, we were deeply committed to being Carl's parents. If after high school he had got a full-time job and was saving money he could have stayed with us for quite a long while. All he did was hang around the house. He practically spent his life curled into a fetal position hoping adulthood hadn't really found him.

With that background, let me also say that I knew that he was on the list for the temporary housing place. One of the rules for the project was that you had to show up every day in order to keep your place on the list. I knew that if he went every day he would be in in about a week. It was summer and though nights could get cold, he would not die. I knew that he could get two meals a day at the mission, so he would be hungry, but he would not starve. I knew he was going to be hungry, uncomfortable, and generally miserable, but I also knew that he would survive.

Hubby and I were also convinced that if we brought him home, even if we bought him a bus pass, he would not go to the housing place every day. He would do everything he could to stay with us. I imagined him home, sleeping on the sofa in the basement, hanging around the house all day, not finding a job, not pulling himself together...you get the idea. The summer before we had taken him to Job Corps because we could not get him to make a plan or get a job.

I so desperately wanted for him to grow up.

And I had told him when he left for the trip that I would not rescue him. I knew it was a mistake. He was on the cusp of possible self-sufficiency, and he ran away. (It is so difficult to write about this while Evan is talking about going to Scotland. As Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said, "Haven't we already deja'd this vu?") When I sent him the $50 I told Hubby that I knew I had said that I would not rescue him, but that I could not cope with the idea of him being homeless 150 miles away. I wanted him to be homeless in The City, where his social worker and many of his friends were, where he could call me if he got pneumonia.

So I was frustrated with him. Angry. I wanted to shake him.

And I hoped that a week to ten days of being homeless and eating at the mission, where you have to arrive in time for the sermon or you don't get the food, would give him a figurative version of the literal beating around the head I wanted to give him.

Had that housing program had not been there I am pretty confident that Hubby and I would have said, "We'll let him suffer for one/two weeks, then we will bring him home." I don't think that would have had the same impact though. In fact I am certain it would not. Though he had a lot of help from a charitable organization, he also had the sense of satisfaction from having survived and rescued himself.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Carl's Story Part 17: Adulthood, almost

The boy with whom Carl had gone on the ill-fated trip with was still with him. They had lived in the housing shelter together and found jobs on the same day. They and another boy found a small house to rent.

I just don't think I can go through the story in any kind of detail.

They lived there. They lost their jobs and got evicted. One of them found another job and they moved into a smaller apartment.

Carl disappeared for a while and later told me he had been in Chico, CA. It was wonderful there and he was moving.

He moved to Chico. He rented a room from someone and after about six months called to say that they were moving and he needed to find his own apartment. He could do it and he knew he had not been in close contact with us, but he was much more responsible than he used to be. He was doing really well. He just could not get an apartment on his own. All he needed for us was to co-sign a lease.

We said no. The reason he could not get a lease was that he had left our state with a record of bounced checks and a defaulted cell phone contract. We explained that we simply could not afford to be liable for the rent on an apartment in Chico.

He said that he was not asking us to pay the rent. All we had to do was to sign a piece of paper.

We told him that if he thought that was all that he was asking us to do then we REALLY could not do it.

He was angry.

He called me later to tell me that he had only one alternative. There was a commune where he could go live. It was clear to me that this phone call was all about scaring me into signing. I was supposed to say that living in a commune was a terrible idea. It was supposed to upset me. Then he could tell met that if I did not want him living in a commune then all I needed to do was to sign the lease.

I told him that the commune sounded interesting, that it might be a very valuable experience for him.

And that was almost two years ago. He still lives there. It is not a commune though. It is a retreat center, a sanctuary for Radical Faeries. He is now an official caretaker. I think I left out of the story the information that Carl had always been interested in world religions. Though he talks about leaving the sanctuary and someday he might, he really does fit there. It has turned out not just to be a place to live, but a place where he potentially belongs.

Part 18

Other posts about Carl:
Carl Called
Update on David and Carl
Carl's Mom
Quiet Afternoon
Carl's coming
Carl is here
Update on Visit
Thinking about Pi
More Pi
Bart and Clara
And now he is gone

Pi's gotcha day

Carl's Story Part 16: Trip and consequences

Though Carl could have stayed in Job Corps much longer, he choose to complete the shortest program they had in business, basic accounting. He finished the program and got his bonus in the summer 2003.

He came to our house to tell us his plans. He was very serious and said that he knew I would probably think that this was unwise, but he really wanted to do it and he had worked out all the details. He was going to go on a road trip with some friends from Job Corps. They were going to follow Tori Amos on tour. He knew it was rash and he knew that I would probably not approve, but they had figured out a budget. With the money they would get from Job Corps they could do it and he should be back in time to house-sit for us when we left for Maine.

He was preparing himself for the lecture. He had all his arguments laid out. I told him that he was right, I did not think it was a good idea. He was taking all of his money and taking a big risk. I would prefer that he stay in Job Corps and do more advance training. They would help him to find a job.

He said that he was young and if he didn't do something for himself now, he never would get the chance again. Now was the time to travel and see something of the world. He would be careful and he had enough money.

I told him that I would not rescue him if he got stranded and that he absolutely could not house sit for me when he got back.

"Why not?"

"This plan is guaranteed to leave you unemployeed, broke, and homeless. You cannot move in under those circumstances. You must come up with your own plan."

I got a call from someone at Job Corps who was disappointed that he was leaving. He wanted to know if it was true that Carl was traveling to visit his birth father. I told him that Carl did not know for certain what country his birth father was in.

So Carl went. He called one day in a panic after learning that they had unknowingly transported a runaway over state lines. He also, predictably, called about 150miles away broke, out of gas, and hungry. I wired him $50. Of course.

When he came back he moved in with friends. He did not find a job and after a couple of weeks he and his buddy were asked to move out. He showed up at my office at work.

He was broke, unemployeed and homeless.

I gave him the lunch I had packed for myself and called his social worker. I told him that I loved him and that I wanted him to keep in touch. They did have some gas and were able to drive to The City. The agency had had some event the night before and the refigerator was full of food. The social worker fed the boys and wrapped up food that would keep at room temperature. Then she took them to housing program.* It was a week before he could get in. During that week he lived out of his friend's car. We did pick him up one afternoon. We bought him lunch, vitamins, and a haircut, then we put him back on the street.

He lived in the temporary housing place for less than two months. He found a job and moved out the day he got his first pay check -- even though everyone recommended that he stay a little longer. It made sense to everyone else: get a few paychecks and leave with savings.

* We no longer have anything like it, but the housing place was wonderful. It was not a homeless shelter, it was temporary housing for the homeless. Once you got in you got to live there. Carl was in the men's dormitory, which meant one large room with I don't know how many cots. Everyone had their own locker though. If you were sick or worked nights you could stay there during the day. You had to go to workshops on budgeting and applying for jobs. Of course you also had to actually apply. It was possible to live there for up to 3 months. There were separate rooms for families and the top floor was reserved for veterans who could stay indefinitely.

The building is still there, but now it is a homeless shelter run by fundamentalist Christians.

Part 17

Carl's Story 15: Job Corps

We talked to Carl about options. There were different things he could do. He could get a job and they would help him with rent, for instance. When we talked about that his eyes filled with panic.

We took him to Job Corps. He went back and forth. Initially he liked it. He thought he could go there. Other days he said he didn't think he wanted to go. I told him he didn't have to. "Just come up with a plan, any plan, and we will do everything we can to help you make it happen." He would deflate.

In the end of course we took him to Job Corps. He went. He liked it more than he thought he would, although he did choose the shortest possible program. He came home at least every other weekend and for all of Christmas break. He made friends. It turned out that there were quite a few out gay guys there. Oh he complained, but it really seemed to be the best place for him.

Job Corps is free. It is so free, they give you clothes and an allowance. There are dorms and a cafeteria. They had to get up early, make their beds, and do chores. It really seemed like the best place for Carl and I really hoped that he would stay until he was ready for adulthood.
Part 16

Carl's Story 14: Senioritis, Graduation and then what?

Carl had talked a lot about wanting to go to college to study history or religion or something.

On the other hand, he was cutting classes and getting mediocre grades. Nothing about him indicated he was likely to succeed in college. All the basic ability was there, but there was no self-discipline.

The permenancy agency for which I work has a really good post-high school education funding system. They get kids all the way through whatever college or training they want with no debt.

There are some very strict standards for getting funded though. You have to save at least $1000 and demonstrate that you can go to school while working at least 10 hours a week. They also will only pay for a local college. Even if you get in, and even if you get good funding, for the first two years they will not help you go to school outside the area. They used to, but every single one of the kids have crashed and burned. The kids who have succeeded have been local and have maintained close connections with their foster families.

But that working 10 hours a week was too much for Carl. Filling out an application also seemed to be overwhelming. He signed up at one point to take the SAT, but he woke us up in the middle of the night because he had a horrible pain in his stomach. Hubby took him to the emergency room. They did follow-up tests later but found nothing. It took us a long time to realize that it was a stress thing.

So as high school was winding down, Carl had no plan for what to do. He had not applied to school and he was not holding down a job. There was nothing he wanted to do. Nowhere he wanted to go.

He started cutting classes. Not a whole lot, but some. He went to detention and then Saturday school. He lied to everyone about his exciting plans for college, and he did nothing.

One day I got a call from the school. For about an hour and a half I thought he wasn't going to graduate. I have never been so furious. It turned out to be a mistake and he did graduate. It is one of his favorite stories. "Remember, Mom, when you thought I wasn't going to graduate?"

Still, graduation came and went and he had no plan. He was just there, in the house, with no plan.

Part 15

Accepting Scotland

So Evan reports that his counselor thinks that Scotland is a wonderful idea.

She says that it will be a wonderful experience. It would be a good opportunity and it is a very "AA" kind of thing to do. "And she holds a lot of sway with the rest of you." But then again he thought it was just fine with the director if... oh but that is another story.

Who knows.

In any case he is very excited and very serious. My job as the auntie is to listen, offer unconditional love, give honest feedback and then accept his decision. He expects to leave at the end of November, if he can work out his passport and visa in time.

It seems, by the way, that Hubby, the social worker and I are the only people who have reservations about this. His favorite teacher from his high school in The City, his teacher at the alternative high school, his grandmother, his counselor all think it is a fantastic opportunity which he should not allow to pass. Hubby thinks that he is "listening creatively" again.

I just... it's so bizarre. A few weeks ago he was talking anxiously but happily about going to the technical program. He was thrilled that about living in the dorms. He was clearly nervous, but it was the plan. Now he is talking about passports and visas. He is going to church with grandmother (that is BIG) so he can continue the discussion about moving in with her when he gets back. He should finish high school by the end of October. As soon as he can get the details worked out he will leave.

He imagines himself as the patient, hard-working volunteer making a difference in the world and using the regular four day breaks to see the wonders of Europe. He is beginning to day dream about staying for years, living in a country where he will have the right to get married, where he cannot be fired for being gay.

I think of the things he has done and said over the past six months. I think that if past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior then he will: lecture the chef about how to run a kitchen; complain about the other staffers not working as hard he is; mouth off to to the director; snap at the children for not behaving; and think that the parents are low-class hicks.

I titled this "Accepting Scotland" didn't I? I am. I'm accepting it as one of the things I cannot change.

I most sincerely hope that it works out better than I fear.

next on Evan

Carl's Story 13: Homophobia in high school

Carl got less teasing by far after coming out. When you are out and someone says, "Are you gay or something?" in a teasing sort of voice it is good to be able to say, "yes." For most people it takes the wind out of their sails.

For most people.

There were a couple of boys though who said things, under the breath sort of things. One was in Carl's Spanish class. He sat behind Carl and quietly said things like, "God hates f*gs" and "All gays should be shot."

It took a couple of weeks for Carl to tell me. The next day I was in the principal's office. She was outraged. She promised that she would talk to the kid right away and that any time anyone said anything to Carl he was to come straight into her office and she would deal with it. No one was going to bother any of her kids.

I was pleased. I told her that I had brochures from PFLAG and the GLBT youth group. Could I leave them? She said "No. If those people want to get to the kids they will have to find another way." The second it was out of her mouth you knew she wished she had not said it. She tried to say something about not allowing any materials from any groups. I sighed and did not ask her about the boy scouts. I was there to make Carl's world safer and this woman was going to help me on that.

Carl did go to her and she was never slow about responding. When two boys called him a name and threw an empty pop can in his general direction at the end of their senior year she told them that if they so much as looked sideways at him again they would have their diplommas mailed home and they would NOT be welcome in the ceremony.

When Carl was considering going to the prom with a boy (he didn't) I called to tell her that he was thinking about it and that I wanted her to know in advance so that she could do whatever she felt she needed to to make certain that it was a safe experience for him. She thanked me for giving her some advance notice.

But there was one thing that I did nothing about. I wish I had. I wish I had because Carl wanted me to.

In Spanish class all the kids had to write and give a speech. The boy who had been muttering the awful things in the beginning of the year, stood up and gave his entire speech on "Why God Hates Homosexuals."

The Spanish teacher said nothing.

It was a horrible experience for Carl, having to sit there and listen to that. He wanted to protest, to walk out. He wanted the teacher to stop it. He wanted me to do something.

I was upset.

I did nothing.

Why? There are no good reasons. I was not confident that the principal would do anything. I did not want to have a debate about freedom of speech the difference between harassment and free expression.

I knew at the time I should go to the school again, but I didn't.

I still wish I had.

Part 14

Carl's Story 12: "Being safe"

Carl's social worker talked a lot about Carl learning to "be safe." She hoped that the youth group leader would help him to make better decisions.

"Being safe" turned out to be code for "acting straight." She thought that if he attracted less attention he would be less likely to be picked on. That turns out not to be true. Oh I have not done any study, but it seems that the kids who are on the edge of being out -- kids who seem gay and seem to be trying to hide it -- they are the ones who are most likely to be picked on.

It is not that I don't have the same impulse as the social worker sometimes.

We all went out one evening and Carl took his new (and first) real boyfriend with him. We saw a school play and then stopped for ice cream. Carl's boyfriend brought his own car and before he got in they kissed in the parking lot. My heart skipped a beat and I looked around to see who was watching. Then I kicked myself.

I don't know whether this was before or after the student being attacked.

It was a very difficult autumn for me. I was "out." I had told my friends, my co-workers. I had not got to the point where I was casually talking to my students and "my son and his boyfriend" but I got there.

My worries had nothing to do with my being "outed." The worries were all about being afraid for him and wanting, as a parent to keep him safe. It was impossible. I knew that it was impossible and wrong on multiple levels to try to change Carl. And I did not want to. I liked him as he was. But keeping him safe seemed to mean that I had to change the whole f*cking world and I had to do it now. It was clearly the only moral choice, but it was still impossible.

There was a third option. I could accept the equation -- my son was not safe and there was nothing I could do about it.

If I think of myself as a child of my parent and imagine that my parents have these sorts of worries about me (they don't) I think I would be frustrated with them. I would remind them that no one is safe. They are not safe when they get in the car. Danger is everywhere. I think I would tell them to chill out and let me worry about myself.

But as the parent, that is a very difficult place to get to.

There are all sorts of risks that we have grown up with. Your child being attacked by strangers is just not one of them. Accepting that is not something that as a parent one can do. And yet you must. But you can't.

Like I said, it was a difficult autumn. I was a bit insane.

And now? Well now I am a little better at staying sane. I am a little better at accepting what I cannot change and changing what I can.

A little.

Part 13

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Carl's Story 11: The unspeakable happens

In the fall of 2000, maybe five months after Carl moved in with me I got a call from one of my students who had missed class. He said he was sorry and that he wanted to talk to me about it. Could he come to my office?

Of course.

He is tall, an art major, and definitely gay-seeming. He was a sweet boy, liked by just about everyone. He came into my office looking horrible. He started to tell me that it had been really hard for him to leave his dorm room and walk across the campus, but he had to talk to someone and he thought I would understand.

The previous evening he had been at a frat party and was having a good time. Eventually he left to go back to his dorm. Someone, not a student, followed him. Once they were on the middle of the campus the young man started yelling things at him, "f*g" and worse. He caught up with the student and shoved him against the wall, yelling at him. When the student tried to walk away, the assailant slammed him against the wall again. A student in a dorm called security and they got there quickly. Though the student was afraid he was about to be beaten, it never got worse than that.

We contract for security through the police department. The security officers are not full police officers, but they have been recruited and trained by the department. They asked the student to file a report, but he refused. All he wanted was to get back to his room, where he had stayed until he made himself leave to go to my office. The security personnel took his name, found out that he was in the military, and told him that he would be arrested for trespassing if he showed up on campus again.

The worst part, the student said, was that he couldn't make himself look the assailant in the face. That meant today that he could hardly bring himself to look at any man. He wondered about everyone he saw that he did not know, "Is that the man?"

He was trembling and crying. He kept saying that he didn't know why, but he felt safe coming to talk to me. He knew I would understand.

He didn't know Carl. He did not know that Carl was gay. He had no idea how deeply what he was saying was affecting me. I was not sitting there in moral indignation, furious that such a thing could happen on our campus. I was handing him tissues and trying not to cry and thinking, "I live half a mile away. Carl walks though this campus all the time. It could have been him."

He was in my office for quite a while. After a long while of just listening and holding his hand, I called the dean of students', who already had the report. I asked him to send a note to the students professors excusing him from classes that day. I called the counseling office and made him an emergency appointment. I offered to walk him to the counselor's office, but he said he could make it himself.

I already knew him fairly well, but I got to know him quite a bit better. He stopped by my office quite a bit for a while. I did tell him about Carl and that I was a member of PLFAG. He was surprised and pleased. I talked to Carl's counselor who really wanted to see the student. The student however was trying to forget what happened and did not want to talk to anyone. I did not push.

Some students came to me saying they wanted to have some sort of protest. There was a story in the school newspaper which did not mention his name, but those who did not know soon figured it out. He was upset. He was trying to forget and everyone else were not letting him. He agreed to let me help the students do the protest, as long as I agreed to keep all mention of him and what happened. We brought in a speaker who said in his speech that he knew that we had had a hate crime right here on our campus. We marched around the campus, declaring it to be a hate-free zone. After the speaker finished a reporter from the local newspaper showed up. he was tired and just wanted a quote for a short article. The students did not want to talk so I told him that we wanted to do the protest because we were upset by hate crimes "nationally and locally." He nodded and stared at his pad. "Anything else?" "No, that's all." If he had looked up, looked for one second and the awkward faces of the students around me, he would have known that there was something else. The students doing the protest did not like feeling like they were covering up a hate crime. They wanted to protest. I told them that the information was already in the school paper. If the reporter asked us for more information about the hate crimes we were protesting we could tell him that the events had all ready been reported. "Can we say that it was in the school paper?" I was vague, but in the end the tired reporter just got his quote, the name of the speaker, and the number of people who had showed up.

Still, it made the students feel better.

I don't know if it made me feel better or not. Carl did not want to go. He wanted to pretend that what happened was in a world far away from him.

I learned something then. I learned why parents, even non-religious parent, might send their children to re-programming camps.

When your child is gay, your child is not safe. It's that simple. There are people who hate them. People who want to deny them basic rights, who will fire them for who they are.

Though I did not want to change Carl, that I might want to do so no longer seemed crazy. In order for Carl to be safe I had to do one of two things: change Carl or change the world.

Which choice is less insane?

Part 12

Codie Humor

How many codependents does it take to change a light bulb? Just one - she keeps flipping the light switch repeating "This time it will come back on"

How many recovering codies does it take to change a light bulb? None. They detach and let the lightbulb screw itself.

How can you tell you're at an Alanon meeting? Someone spills their coffee and everyone gets up to clean it up. (Alternate answer: Someone cries and everyone looks for the tissues).

How can you tell if a codie has let go of something? It has claw marks all over it.

Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a codependent? You can negotiate with a terrorist.

What do you call a codependent who says 'no' and doesn't feel guilty? HEALTHY.

You're codependent for sure if,
  • when you die, someone else's life flashes in front of your eyes.
  • you get kicked off jury duty for insisting that you're the guilty one.
  • you find yourself in a rut -- and move in furniture
  • you wake up in the morning and say to your mate: "Good morning, how am I?"
  • you feel guilty, for not feeling guilty!
  • your serenity prayer is...

    God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change
    The courage to change the things I can
    and the wisdom to figure out what the best way is to manipulate the circumstances and just make him see the light...

    Why did the codependent cross the road? To help the chicken make a decision.

    Did you hear about the codependent who flunked geography? He couldn't distinguish any boundaries.
    Why does a codependent buy two copies of every self-help book? One to read and one to pass on to someone who really needs it.

    What does a codependent have in common with God? They both have a plan for your life.

    You know you're a codie if...

    What happens when two codies fall in love? They get married and micromanage each other for the rest of their lives.

    What do you get when you cross a codie with Buddhist? Someone who stays up all night worrying about nothing.

    THE WIFE OF A NOT-YET-RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC visited a fortuneteller. The mystic stared into her crystal ball and proclaimed, "I have some terrible news. In the near future, your husband will suffer a hideous, violent death." The poor woman was visibly shaken. "W-w-will I be acquitted?" she asked.

    Three prisoners, one of whom was a codependent, were to be executed by guillotine. The first got into position; the rope was cut and the blade got stuck halfway down. They declared it a sign of God’s mercy and freed the first prisoner. The second also got into position and the same thing happened. Again it was declared to be an act of God and the prisoner was freed. The codependent came up to the platform and said, “You know, I think I can fix your problem.”

Co-Dependency and Enabling

Rhea writes:

Hello from a new reader, and a couple of comments.

I was meant to get on with my housework about two hours ago but
haven't been able to tear myself away from your archives ;o)

I'm English and am not familiar with some of the therapy / counselling terms you use. Can you explain (if you don't mind) what "co-dependency" and "enabling" mean, please?

Sometimes I see questions or comments that I want to reply to, but I put it off for a while. Rhea however is in a desperate situation. She might have to go back to housework!

Co-Dependency is a word that comes out of the recovery world (Alcoholics Anonymous/Al-Anon, etc.). The addict is the dependent, the person in the relationship with the dependent is the co-dependent.

A lot of people don't mean anything than that by it. Co-dependents ("codies") come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of problems. Codies are typically known for:
-needing to "help" others in order to feel good about themselves
-being attracted to people who have problems so that they can save them
-living their life through others

Hence the codie jokes. I thought that I had posted them on the blog before, but I can't find them so I will post them separately.

Enabling is a typically codependent behavior. Enabling looks like helping, but it is helping the addict continue to use. Calling the boss to say that your husband is sick, when he is actually hung-over is a common example. Rescuing, paying bills, lying, covering up, or any other form of protecting addicts from the consequences of their behavior is enabling.

It's so easy to fall into. You live with someone who is an alcoholic or an addict and you start spying, searching their rooms. You analyze them and figure out exactly what they need. I, for instance, could spin explanations for why Evan turns to drugs. I know what he needs to stay clean. I know what he is doing wrong and what he out to be doing. There are a couple of problems with this. The first, the theory goes, is that enabling only makes things worse; addicts need to hit "rock bottom." They will not admit that they are addicts and get help until they have got to that place and if we protect them from the consequences of their actions then we slow down the journey to that place.

The second problem with falling into this pattern is that you loose yourself and your own life. Everything becomes about the addict. You are happy if they are doing well; miserable if they are not. All your time goes into monitoring, protecting, manipulating.

A lot of recovering codies commit to not enabling. I understand why, but I don't find that to be a helpful way of thinking. My recovery has been about learning to take care of myself and not get obsessed with other people's problems. Being able to tell Evan that I think going to Scotland is a bad idea, but then NOT feeling like I have to talk endlessly with everyone else to figure out how to stop him. I can tell him what I think and then let him make his decision.

I think that worrying about whether enabling keeps me focused on the needs of the addict and STILL not taking care of me.

When I started therapy I wondered if I was going to get so healthy that I would no longer need to be a foster parent. What I am finding out is that I am getting healthy enough so that I can continue to be a foster parent. I have learned that I do take a lot of satisfaction out of helping and that there is nothing unhealthy about that, as long as I remember to take care of me.

next on Evan