Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another girl joins us.

Let's see....I need a couple more fake names. Let's call the Miss E's current foster mom Annabelle. She also does respite for Mandy quite often. This weekend I have Jackie and she has two other girls, one of whom I shall call Nancy. (That means she has four girls at her house this weekend: Miss E; the compulsive eater; Nancy; and another girl.)

Mandy just called. Annabelle has to get rid of Nancy, could I take her?

I'm a little unclear on the details. They were at the Y, Nancy was refusing to go home with Annabelle or behave in an acceptable fashion. If she came over she would be on total restriction: no cell phone; no Internet; no calls on our phones; no going outside the house.

I asked Jackie what she thought and she was thrilled. She really likes Nancy (which is surprising considering how much she has been complaining about the other girls at Mandy's). She would more than happy to share her bedroom with her. They could pull up a twin mattress from one of the boys' bunks and have a wonderful time.

So I said okay. Hubby was running errands and did not answer his cell phone. I never agree to respites without asking him first, but he always says "yes" so I figured he would this time too. When I did finally get ahold of him he was okay with it.

And THEN Jackie said, "How long before she gets here?"

"I'm not sure. As soon as Annabelle can get her here I imagine."

"You should put away your cutting thing." (The rotary cutter I use for cutting fabric. It's a lot like a pizza cutter -- a very sharp round blade on a stick.)


"Nancy is a cutter. She's the one I found asleep, covered in blood."

Oh great.

So now all my knives, razors, and cutting tools are in the lock box.

Mandy says that I have no idea how much she loves me right now.

I bet it's a LOT.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tips for quilting as you go

Okay, this is not a craft blog, but someday someone may be crying over a quilt-as-you-go project, working with a book that gives no helpful information and may search for tips. Those of you who have no interest in quilting may skip this post. It is not a metaphor for foster care -- it's just about making quilts.

Quilt pieces are typically sewn with a 1/4 inch seam allowance. If you have two strips of fabric that are 2 1/4 inch wide and you sew them together you end up with one strip that is 4 inches wide. Except that you don't, quite. A very small amount of fabric will be lost in the fold of the seam. So quilters quickly learn to sew a "scant" 1/4 inch seam and then "square-up" the block (trim it to the size it is supposed to be) after stitching.

Quilting as you go is a technique where you work in sections. You start with a large square of backing, put batting on top of it, and then sew pieces through all three levels.

The problem is that as you sew and turn over fabric you will lose significantly more fabric in the seams. Depending upon the height of the loft of the batting, the fabric "shrinkage" can be significant. It is not possible to predict in advance how much you will lose. You must experiment with your materials. I recommend using a low-loft batting. I have found that with a flat, natural cotton batting I am losing a full quarter inch of fabric per seam. (I.e. 2 1/4 inch strips sewn with a 1/4 inch seam are resulting in approximately a 3 3/4 inch wide stip).

Once you have determined how much seam allowance to give yourself and how deeply to stitch the seams, you will still face the problem of "squaring up" the block. You cannot do this with a rotary cutter as you would, obviously, cut through all layers.

I recommend putting your complete block on top of a large plastic cutting mat. Using large plastic, see-through rulers, square up the block by drawing lines with chalk pencils or other fabric markers. Remember as you do this that you need to be concerned with the size and shape of the pieced block, and with the position of the pieces relative to the backing.

Currently I am working on a log cabin quilt using this method. I may post photographs, and I will update this post after I have sewn the blocks together. If you are a quilter who has used this method and have any tips for that part of the construction, please do leave them in the comments.


For photos of block construction and finished blocks go here. To take comfort in how difficult I found the project to be initially, go here.

If you are quilter and found this page to be helpful, please leave a comment. (Of course I like getting comments from anyone!)

Wondering and waiting...

Do you ever obsess about issues or problems over which you have on control?

Here the thing: we have told the agency that we are willing to take another kid. We have said that the kid does not have to be openly GLBT, but that we do want to take a child for whom it is best to be in a gay-friendly environment. (Translation: if s/he trips your gaydar call us. We promose not to give the kid back if you're wrong.)

So they will keep an eye out for a kid that is a good match for us. They know Brian and Andrew are here, and they won't send us kids who they think would not be able to get along with them. No one is expecting that all the kids will adore each other, but they do need to be able to tolerate each other.

Personally I am hoping for someone with relationship skills more like David's and less like Evan's. David is a master at ignoring younger kids when they are being annoying. Evan feeds it.

I wish that our agency worked more with kids younger than Brian. Though some of the divisions do take kids as young as 9, the local office do not get many pre-teens at all. Brian thinks he wants to be an older brother. He imagines being doting and loving and having a wonderful mentor-relationship. I don't think it would work out the way he imagines, but I do think it would be good for him not to be the youngest anymore.

We considered not doing care for a few years, let Brian get older, more mature, perhaps even wait until we could get a kid younger than he. The down side of that is that Brian will be devastated when Andrew leaves for college. Everyone agrees it will be easier for him if there is another kid in the house.

It feels strange to be thinking about what is best for Brian in this way. I know that it is wrong for all kinds of reasons to add children to a family in order to meet the needs of the ones already here. Though it is important that new kids are not hurtful to kids who are already in the home, there is a line between that concern and shopping for a kid who will benefit current kids. Even if there weren't that major ethical issue of treating new children as commodities, there would be the fact that such a project is doomed to failure.

Andrew has also asked that the next kid be younger than he. Andrew's request is based upon realistic expectations, however. He is not imagining an idealized relationship; he just knows that his senior year is going to be stressful and he doesn't want another senior in the house. He also does not want another older kid coming in and trying to establish dominance. I think that he imagines, correctly, that it will be easier for him to maintain an emotional detachment from someone younger. He can be the kind, although not really interested, older boy.

But for all this runs around in my mind, I know there is nothing that I can do about it.

I am not in the position that so many pre-adoptive parents are in. I sometimes find myself looking at the photolistings, but I am not going to call anyone. I do not read the descriptions, trying to fill in the missing details, and wonder if this is my child. I do not ask for particular kids.

I wait for the phone to ring. At some point someone will call. Though it is possible that it will just be a social worker who knows we have a bedroom available and wants to know if we would be interested, that is less likely. The call will probably come after a staff meeting at which they have discussed whether this youth is a match for us. We will read the file and meet the kid.

And then we will wonder whether we can make it work. Though right now the question that runs through my head is, "What would be best for Brian?" the question that I will ask then is, "Can we meet this youth's needs while still meeting Brian's and Andrew's?" Or more realistically, "Can Brian and this kid get along well enough that I can resist the urge to bang their heads together?"

I'm still in that weird emotional space where I am happy to have the time off and yet impatient to know who the next kid will be.

As of tomorrow it will be three weeks since Evan left. Seems impossible, but he did leave on the 10th.

Liking them first

Process writes:

It strikes me that this is how you first got into doing foster care--by
liking a kid who needed it. I think I'm correct also in thinking that of the
three foster boys, you still feel closest to Carl, that first one?

My relationship with each boy is different in one way or another. What is distinctive about my relationship with Carl is the lack of reservation I had with him. That, I think, had very little to do with liking him before I was his parent, at least not on my part. It had to do with my being a naive newbie who didn't know any better, and with Carl being ready to bond again.

The previous relationship may have made a difference for him. He already liked and trusted me and he knew that we were becoming foster parents for him. We were not planning on ever taking anyone else. The social worker told us that they would not support our trying to legally adopt him, but they encouraged us to emotionally adopt him, and I did.

I wanted to be his mom. I wanted to bring him home and love him and make him all better. Now I cringe just a little when I hear or read expecting foster parents say things like that. It takes so much more than love. But I loved him, let myself be vulnerable, got deeply hurt, healed, and kept loving.

His history had been different from most of the kids. He had a doting mother who probably spoiled him. She then got emphasema. She depended upon him too much, kept him home from school to take care of her. His school counselor was taking a sabbatical from the private agency and talked to her about letting them help her. Carl was one of the last "private referrals" or kids who did not come from H&W. For the last year of her life he lived with a foster family during the school week and spent holidays and weekends with her. He had had nearly 2 years to mourn her death when he moved in with me.

There were typical struggles. He had to make certain that we would not reject him, and he had developed the habit of lying. I think that was a result of his mother's illness. She could not do anything about any problems in his life, so there were none. He painted her pictures of how wonderful everything was. He continues to do that.

However, with Carl things were a little closer to the way they are in the movies. He never stopped lying, but he did let me love him. In short, I think the reason I got so close to Carl was just that he let me.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Jackie is here

It is nice to have her here -- even if she has locked herself away in the guest room to talk on her phone.

Every now and then I notice that I am the only female who lives here, and I really do like Jackie.

One of the first things she said to me was, "I turn 18 in 5 months."

I asked her, "And then what?"

"Then I can come visit you all the time."

I don't know if she is trying to work around asking if she can live here. Mandy and her husband are planning on retiring from doing care. They are moving out of the state. Last I heard they were inviting her to go with them. I'll have to find out for sure.

I don't know much about her situation. I know she has contact with her mother, who lives in another state. I know her father has died and she does not have a relationship with his family.

I spoke before on this blog about the whole emancipation thing. It's a mess.

The stupid, hateful, awful quilt-as-you-go quilt

For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years women (and a few men) have made quilts.

They have sewn the quilt top and then put together the "quilt sandwich" and quilted it.

There is a very good reason for doing that.

Quilt-as-you-go is a stupid, stupid idea and whoever put it in my book without explaining that it was a pain in the a$$, and without giving the tips that one needs to make the blocks come out square AND THE SAME SIZE, should be drawn and quartered.

I now have half a dozen blocks, none of which are quite the same size or shape. I think I have finally come up with a technique, or a series of techniques that will help, but what do I do with all these mix-matched blocks?

Here's a piece of advice. If you want to do a quilt-as-you-go project...make a crazy quilt in blocks. Just sew on pieces of fabric and square them up when they are done.

I wonder what a crazy quilt with that had 6 log cabin blocks in it would look like?


It a LOG CABIN, for crying out loud. The only thing that is easier is a 9-patch.

The other quilt that I have in-progress is a double wedding ring, one of the technically most difficult quilts there is. It is coming out beautifully. It lies perfectly flat. The seams are perfect. Not a pucker or tuck anywhere. (Trust me, that's impressive). I would happily show it to any professional quilter with pride.

My log cabin quilt though looks like a beginner's quilt.


Update: I did finally figure it out. Go here if you are interested in how. This post has photos of finished blocks.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Hubby's birthday

Hubby's birthday is this weekend, but, for the sixth year in a row, we are doing respite for Mandy for the New Year so that she and her husband can go see her adult children.

So we went out to dinner tonight.

Ages ago I used to try to make him a nice birthday dinner, but I just can't get myself up to it so soon after Christmas. So now we just go out. We ate very early as David got out of work at 4:00pm and it really worked best for him if we could pick him up then.

David was particularly cuddly tonight. He wanted to hold my hand, put his arm around me when we were walking through the parking lot. He has always been a hugger, but tonight he was especially so. Maybe there is something going on with him or maybe he was just responding to me and my empty-nest-ness.

It was a nice evening out. Hubby liked his presents.

It's beginning to feel very quiet around here. Still good, mind you. I am still enjoying the peace, but beginning to be too quiet.

I'm glad Jackie is coming for respite tomorrow. She'll be here for four days.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Teaching generosity?

I don't know why I didn't think of this before...well I did think of it, I don't know why I don't do it.

I give Brian and Andrew allowances. Part of their money though is put into a savings account (which they cannot touch until I'm not sure when) and part is put into a "present account."* They are only allowed to spend that money on presents for other people.

When Carl moved in he was sixteen and the boys were six and ten (Brian turn six after we decided to take Carl but before the licensing process was complete.) I did not think that it was necessary or appropriate to do that for Carl. I let him handle his entire allowance as he saw fit.

After having three kids here though who don't give presents I have decided two things.

1. Whatever the reason it is NOT that they are simply ungenerous people. One of my readers emailed that it was due to being in "survival mode." I think that is at least partly right. I think though there is more than that. I do think that part of it is the emotional risk that we take when we give a gift. (I know about that. I told David he could exchange his present if he wanted, and I was excessively pleased when he decided that he wanted to keep it.)

2. The foster kids, at whatever age, need for me to do what I do for Brian and Andrew. (I offered last year to stop withholding for Andrew. He told me that he prefers for me to do it this way.) They need me to provide them with funds that they may spend on presents and only on presents. For at least the time they are here, the issue of buying presents will be separated from issues of what they can get/do for themselves. I don't know what affect it will have on them long-term. Perhaps none. But I will give it a try.

By the way, when Carl acted this way I was upset and angry, even to the point of tears. It was one of those trigger things. I'm clearly better now as David not having anything makes me feel just a little sad. I am not hurt and angry; I am more interested in trying to understand and hoping that there is a way to help future youth deal with this issue.

*The savings account is a real account in the bank. The present account is a number kept in my head or, when I am really organized, on a piece of paper. They have $10/month in the present account, and sometimes I have added a little to it at Christmas. Keeping in mind the number of people in their immediate family, and the expectation that they will give both birthday and Christmas presents, they do have to do some careful budgeting.

Generosity, or lack thereof

Well, shall I write a post about the lack of generosity in foster youth? I do wonder if it comes from a lack of training in gift-giving or if it is about insecurity -- an inability to risk spending money on others because there might not be enough for oneself. I suspect though that it may have something to do with the emotional risk. To give a gift is to risk a sort of rejection from someone. You have to get them something they will want, and make them happy. If they don't like the gift then you experience rejection. Better not to risk it. Better to disappoint by not trying than by putting a piece of yourself out there to be found wanting.

In any case, David showed up empty-handed as expected.

Hubby's siblings and we decided to stop buying for each other's children. My sister tearfully told me that she could not afford to buy presents. I ask if I could send her kids an inexpensive game (one for all three of them). She agreed and then sent all of us (including David) fancy chocolate bars. I would like to think that David figured it out -- noticed how much everyone appreciated that someone with little money bought a thoughtful, inexpensive gift. I doubt it though.

I am very proud of Andrew and Brian who, knowing that David would bring them nothing, still worried that there were not enough presents for David. Hubby went out and purchased socks, gloves, long underwear (David is always cold) and a cute stuffed animal so that David would have the same number. They were not as nice as what the boys got from the grandparents, but they were presents to be opened. Grandparents would have sent something for David if I had known for certain he was coming and told them. The unspoken rule has become that they buy presents for any kid who is living here, but not for the foster boys after they move on.

Andrew and Brian are happy with the present that we bought them. Uncertain as to what to buy David we told him that he could exchange his if he liked. He has said he is not certain, but he is leaving it in the packaging, so I expect he will.

In any case, it is a peaceful morning and it looks like the day will be spent in quiet.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to read some from the book about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony my mother-in-law sent me.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


I spent the morning fiddling with the blog and being available in case anyone wanted to bake cookies.

Around 2:00 Andrew showed up. We made golden bars (little more than brown sugar and butter), and pecan puffs. I mostly fetched and cleaned up and he did most of the actual mixing and such. We stopped for dinner thinking that we might do ginger bread people when we finished, but decided we were done. If Brian or David really want to do ginger bread people or, G-d help me, sugar cookies, we still can.

He even let me play carols all afternoon. I hate them in the stores, but find them necessary if I am baking Christmas cookies.

Hubby and Brian left around 1:00 to spend the afternoon in hell shopping in The City. They are picking David up when he gets off work in the furthest reaches of that hell the mall at 7:00pm.

And I heard from Evan. The meal he cooked for everyone went fine and...

There are five children ages 5,8,11,13,17.... So the kids love me....they tend to hit and pull and abuse me...but they like that i can take it haha...we went hiking and all the boys wanted me to go their way....stay way up front and keep up with them. Had a really great time. Then on the way back the 8 yr old decided he no longer could walk and would I carry him....carry him...about a mile back to where the mini bus. Which I did...haha all the way back, he weighed about 30lbs an it wasnt such a bad thing...just me...back up a hill was quite the work out. Merry chrismas! an ill be sending photos soon again....wooo

So right now I am sitting alone in the quiet living room. Andrew has gone down to his room. Hubby will be home in a while with two of my other kids. All the presents are wrapped. And I have nothing I need to do.

Life is good.

Miss E's Story

Miss E is one of the youth for whom I have often provided respite. She shows up in a lot of my posts, and I thought that I would link together those posts. It is not quite like the other "story" series though. As her respite provider, Miss E tends to pop into my life during transitions and other times of trouble. The long stretches of time in between are not documented.

I want to say first, since I only decided to do this now (December 24, 2006) in many of the posts I do re-introduce her. It may be repetitive to read them all at once.

Second...let me here give the beginning of my time with her.

It was the summer of 2005. I regularly take one or two girls for Mandy for a week or two during the summer. Miss E was fairly new at her house, and when Mandy first asked me to take her she said that Miss E had a lot of anger, but would not be a problem for me. When she dropped her off she said that she just found out that the hearing regarding Miss E's adoption was scheduled for the middle of the week and that Mandy hated leaving Miss E right now. Mandy left me with a lot of phone numbers.

Miss E worried a lot about the hearing. She was angry. She was there with Georgia, which helped. They seemed to have a good relationship.

Georgia has a bad knee and in the middle of the week she dislocated it. I drove her to trauma clinic and Miss E became very protective of her. She had to help Georgia; I could not. Privately Georgia told me that though Miss E's attentions were a little over-whelming she thought it was keeping her distracted and she did not mind.

A couple days later Miss E found out from her social worker that she (Miss E) was not allowed to go to the hearing on her adoption. Miss E was furious. She wanted to tell the judge about how horrible these people were. She called everyone she could think of. She threatened to force her way in. She told me over and over that she would hurt herself, run away, do whatever she had to do if they made her go back.

Later her social worker came to our house to tell her that her parents had decided to terminate the adoption. The social worker told me that she expected that this would be difficult for Miss E. I realize now that Miss E had a different sort of scene in mind. She had imagined telling the judge how horrible the mother was. The judge would be shocked and sympathetic. Her mother would cry, and Miss E would be vindicated. Instead her mother and father decided to leave her.

Later she asked to make a phone call. She called another girl from the family, her soon-to-be-ex-adoptive sister, to ask if she would still be a bride's maid. Not surprisingly the girl laid into her. She called Miss E a b*tch, said that she had ruined the best thing that ever happened to her. The conversation went on and on. Miss E got progressively more upset. I finally went to her and said softly, "You need to tell her you have to get off the phone now. Tell her I said you have to hang up." I had to say it a couple of times.

Miss E went into her room and Georgia followed her. Georgia came out saying she was really worried. Miss E had hurt herself in the past and she had never been this upset. Miss E came out in her running clothes and said that she wanted to go for a run. I told her that I understood and that I would drive her to the Y, pay for admission, and she could run on their indoor track. She said she needed to run now. I told her that I was worried; that if Georgia were not hurt I would ask her to go along, but that I did not feel safe letting her be alone right now. She insisted. I asked her if she could promise not to run away and not to hurt herself. "No. I can't promise anything. I don't know what I will do."

"Then I can't let you go."

"I'm going."

"If you leave, I will have to call you in as a runaway."

"Okay." She hugged Georgia (unusual behavior for her) and said, "Goodbye" and left. I called the police. They looked for her, but she came back 45 minutes later, before they were able to find her.

I tried to comfort her, but she did not want to talk to me. Georgia did talk to her and again expressed concern. I considered driving her to the emergency room. Miss E came out and asked if she could talk to Mandy's older daughter. I said yes and the daughter came over. They talked for a long time. I left them alone for a while and later came back in and told Miss E that I was worried about her. Did she think she would hurt herself? "I don't want to right now, but I don't know how I will feel later." She also did not want to be taken to the hospital. Mandy's daughter asked her if she could promise to ask for help if she started to feel like hurting herself. She said that if she knows that when she feels that way she is not able to ask for help.

I asked, "Could you push a button?"


"Could you promise to push a button? I can program my cell phone so that [Mandy's daughter] is on speed dial. If you wanted to talk to her, you could call her. If you felt like hurting yourself and couldn't talk, all you would have to do was push the button. If she gets a call from my cell phone number and you don't say anything she will call me."

We agreed that if Miss E made a silent call, Mandy's daughter would call me, and I would sit with Miss E until Mandy got there. Mandy's daughter even said that if it were at all possible she would use a different line and not hang up on Miss E.

Miss E agreed. She could promise that if she felt like hurting herself she would push the button on my cell. I programed it. Mandy's daughter assigned a special ring and we demonstrated. I gave Miss E my cell phone. She carried it around the rest of her stay (three days) and never made a call. She seemed to feel stronger and safer.

And that was my first respite experience with Miss E.

She and Georgia came over for a weekend in the fall and again for New Year's, when Mandy traditionally leaves to visit her adult children.

She was also here with Georgia when Evan was detoxing before going to rehab.

And then came the blow out in April.

The rest of the story

The post that I wrote the other day, about the kids not asking to be in care, came after reading several blogs. I read them, and not currently having to deal with a ornery, ungrateful, irritating teenager myself, I started wondering why they so often behave that way. I started wondering how I would have behaved if I had been a foster kid.

It is not that it would have been impossible. If anything had happened to my mother and my sister and I lived with my father... Well, it could have happened.

I find that if I can back away from the situation far enough, I can have so much sympathy with the kids. Miss E is a current favorite example. This girl has experienced real pain. She has had an adoption terminated. The adoption was terminated in part because she made abuse allegations against her parents, which could never be substantiated in any way, and Miss E threatened to commit suicide or run away (again) if she were made to go back. Everyone believed her. I believed her. She was here the week of the hearing when that decision was made. It was clear to me that it no longer mattered what the parents had or had not done. Miss E was determined to end the relationship. Shortly after the parents agreed to the termination, Miss E started being angry at them for not fighting for her. She knew they never loved her. If they had REALLY loved her they would not have done that.

Miss E cannot stand to be touched. I'm a hugger and with kids who don't like to be hugged I just hold out my hand when I am feeling the urge to huge them. Almost all of them will take my hand and squeeze it. Miss E will sometimes lay her hand on mine, touching me only with her finger tips and then take her hand away. More often she will look at my hand and say, "That's okay. I'm fine" and not touch me at all.

Miss E would like to move back to the teen shelter. It is run by a professional staff and no one tries to form emotional attachments. She is in the permanency placement program though and they require her to live with a family. She is sticking it out because the program offers her post-high school education and training benefits unlike anything any other program in the country.

But she is pissed. She is furious that she has to live in a family in order to later get adequate money to go to college. She hates that she has to live with a younger girl who has the problems that girl does. She hates that she has to lock her room, that the pantry is kept locked, that her fm is so busy that Miss E has to call me for rides.

I also know that the woman she is living with is one of the best. She is a good, kind, patient woman. She is dedicated to teenage girls. She has cared for pregnant teens and young mothers. Her girls stay in touch with her long after they leave. If this woman has locked the pantry it is because it is the only way she can figure out to keep the girls healthy and be certain that there will be food in the house when she comes home. And she only takes two girls at a time so there is only one other person for Miss E to deal with. I know that there is nowhere Miss E could be, except maybe the shelter, that she would hate less.

So I think about Miss E and I am so sympathetic. She has had a difficult life and she is mad as hell. She has reason to be angry.

And then I get in the car with her. One morning she spends informing of what a sh*t hole the college I work at is. I am torn between bemusement and anger. Miss E knows I work there. She is telling me how bad the college is, what they make students do, and she is wrong on every count. I mean, she has her basic facts wrong and she in informing me, the person who has worked there for 14 years, about my school and how crappy it is. I wonder if she has forgotten that I work there. I wonder if she wants to pick a fight, but she doesn't seem to be. She just seems to be talking. I choose bemusement and drop her off and drive away.

I have had her here for a weekend or more. She is a constant source of negativity. Her cheerful moods involve being gleeful as she reports bad news. Taking pleasure in informing me that people are dying from spinach is as good as it gets with her.

So though from a distance I have this river of sympathy for her, I just can't spend much time with her. When she has respite here Hubby and I agree in advance about a schedule where each of us gets to leave for a while.

I don't know what the point is, except that this situation can be difficult for everyone. The children have lived through things that no one should ever have to live with. They are angry and they have good reason. Of course they are.

On the other hand, living with them can be a b*tch.

Next on Miss E

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Feeling Better

Well, I got over my self-pity snit. I think I mostly miss the older boys.

In any case I baked a gingerbread (not cookies -- more of a cake) which is relatively easy and one of my favorites. I have all the ingredients for cookies. If anyone decides they want to bake I'll help, and this time I am not saying that feeling pitiful and resentful.

I'm going to get back to work on the quilt. I haven't touched it in days.

Mama Grinch

I am really not in a Christmas mood.

My mother worked. She was not an educator, and she did not have a Christmas break. She was a nurse and she did not always even get Christmas day off. We always set up and decorated together and she did cook a Christmas dinner, but that was about it. And we never thought anything else was supposed to happen.

If my sister or I got it into our heads to make cookies or some sort of candy we would mention it and my mom would gladly help. We would usually end up trying to do one thing. The three of us would be in the kitchen together, laughing and fighting, and then we would eat whatever we made.

Hubby's mother does Christmas. When Hubby was a kid she never really expected much from anyone else. She has a list of Christmas cookies and sure they are a lot of work, "but Christmas would not be Christmas without them."

My family is willing to help. They know it is a lot of work and that I don't want to do it all by myself, so they will help.

Take for instance the damn sugar cookies. I don't normally like sugar cookies, but these are delicious. The dough, which includes the zest of one lemon, must be mixed the night before. In the morning you must clear counter and freezer space. The dough is rolled between layers of wax paper (very thin) and then put into the freezer, flat, for a couple of minutes. You the cut the cookies, carefully move them to cookie sheets. They are brushed with beaten egg white, sprinkled with colored sugar, and then baked. You have to watch them like a hawk because they will go from done to burned in a flash.

Hubby will roll them for me. Since the dough is so cold and stiff it is real work. Whenever I need another batch rolled I can call him, he will yell that he will be there in a minute and then he will come in and roll and leave. The kids will decorate them. I can hollar to them and they will say, "Give us a minute" and then they will run up, decorate and leave. Sometimes they will ask to cut them, and I will let them, but they will waste dough and break cookies and so it will have to be re-rolled.

Though these cookies are delicious, I have come to hate them with a passion. I am having trouble getting people to understand that I don't want HELP, I want to know if anyone WANTS to MAKE them. I will be very happy to provide all the assistance they need if they want to do it.

They don't understand the difference. See, I either want the baking experience to be a fun Christmas activity, or I don't want to do it. I don't want it to be a chore they are helping me with.

So I think I am going on strike. I am trying to decide what cookie, if any, I really want. Then I am going to go make that cookie and enjoy it and see what happens. But that isn't really what I want. I guess I miss Christmas with my mother and sister, and I guess I miss the older boys too. They were more interested in actually participating in at least some of the baking.

The truth is though that I want to do some of the baking. I just want for someone to want to do it with me.

But I can't make them want to do it anymore than they can make me want to do it for them.

I feel like saying that I hate Christmas. The truth is that I have always loved it.

Friday, December 22, 2006

They didn't ask to be in foster care

I signed up to be a foster parent. I asked for it. I went to classes, and filled out forms, I installed more smoke detectors and fire extinguishers.

I wanted to do this.

The kids who are placed here permanently have a choice about whether they will live with me. They don't have a choice about being in care, but they do have a choice about living here. They have a few meetings with us, spend a day, a weekend, a week. I keep reminding them that they have a choice. Do they really want to live in Our Small Town? There are other families who actually live in the City.

But most foster kids don't even get that. They get placed somewhere.

Can you imagine it? I mean really. What if someone just found you a new home, dropped you off with strange people who made demands on you, and then expected you to be grateful? Take a minute and think about what things make you you. What are your bad habits? What are your favorite things? What if you were 10, 13, 15 and someone just put you in a family where everything was different?

I don't make my bed most mornings. I like to nibble -- I wander into the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea and make a piece of toast at all hours. I love dark chocolate. I buy Dove chocolates by the bag. They are more expensive than most chocolates, but I only have one a day. Every evening after dinner I get my one piece of delicious dark chocolate. I have been known to wear the same shirt two days in a row. If I don't go to work I have even been known to switch my jeans for pj pants, and then back to jeans, which means I have sometimes worn the same shirt for 36 or 48 hours straight. I bathe every other day. I prefer baths, which I know take more water and I don't get dirty or move enough to sweat, so why should I take one every day? Oh...and I like to take them in the evening. My favorite TV show, perhaps of all time, is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

So I imagine being put into a home where they were determined to reform me. They expected me to eat only at meal times. Knowing I love chocolate they bought me a bag of generic milk chocolates (yuck). They made me make my bed, shower every morning, and change my clothes every day. Oh...and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is demonic and they are a nice Christian home so I can watch Seventh Heaven if I want, AND they are very disturbed that no one ever got me involved in sports. This family plays touch football every evening, and no I cannot just sit on the side and read my book. I need to join in.

I'm in hell. Oh, the changing of clothes and making my bed I can take. Not being able to have a cup of tea in the middle of the afternoon is really, really difficult. I try to be polite about the crappy chocolate, but Seventh Heaven and family sports? Oh dear G-d, someone save me.

I call my social worker and ask her to help me. She has put me with pod people. Please, please, can I live somewhere NORMAL? She tells me they are a nice family; they like me; I should try harder.

But I don't want to try harder. I don't want to try at all.

I want a cup of tea, a good chocolate, and a long hot bath. I want to be left alone in evenings. I want to watch my demonic television show and I want to read and I don't want to play touch football.

One of the other kids tells me that my attitude really sucks. Everyone is trying to be nice to me and make me feel welcome and all I do is complain. I should be grateful.

Grateful? WTF???

Did anyone ask me if I wanted to live in Stepford? I don't think so. Did anyone ask me if I wanted to get physically fit? No. They think this is bad attitude? I've been trying. I'll show them bad attitude. I tell them that their chocolate sucks. I flatly refuse to play touch football. I lock myself in my room with a book. I get up in the middle of the night and take a bath.

They tell me they don't like my attitude. I tell them I don't give a flip. I didn't ask to be here and I don't care what they think. Why should I try? Why should I try to be the person that they think I should be?

So how does this story end?

In one version somehow or other the foster parents convince me that they DO like the real me. This probably means letting me read instead of playing football. I start feeling that is okay to be me and I also try to meet some of their expectations. They agree to let me make a cup of tea in the afternoon and I stop complaining about everything. It is not easy. Their life is still more difficult for me than they realize. Sometimes I feel like I am trying really hard and they think I am not making an effort at all. Sometimes I get really frustrated and act out, but we keep getting through these moments. For all our problems, at some level we know that we all like each other and we are trying.

In another version the foster parents never understand that they are asking me to be someone I am not. They continue to be angry that I don't conform. I get more and more angry and finally do whatever it takes to get myself moved.

In the third version, the foster parents really do try. They understand what I am going through. They try to find the balance where they both accept me and insist that I follow house rules. However perfect they are though I am not having it. I am Carl on his first placement -- I want to go home to my mother and getting along with this family feels like betraying her. I am Miss E and have experienced too much rejection. There is no way in h*ll I am going to join the pod people.

It's hard to be a foster parent -- everyone knows that. That is why we have blogs and support groups and trainings. What we do isn't easy.

It also is not easy to be a foster child.

At least we're doing it voluntarily.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Hearing from Evan

I've been getting short emails from Evan, which are good but also frustrating.

Reading them is like walking into a conversation that has already started. I get an email that starts, "It can just feel so overwhelming, having so many families and so many meals to cook." Then he goes on to tell me that he is looking forward to spending New Year's at the castle.

I write back lists of questions. "Have any families come yet?" "Are you assigned to the kitchen?"
Sometimes I get answers. The first families are arriving on Sunday. The regular cook is out because of a family situation and as Evan has cooking experience, he's given the kitchen duty. It sounds like the regular cook has left him with full instructions.

I told him that I hoped he wasn't too homesick. He reminded me that he has adjusted to new homes of different sorts all of his life, so that wasn't much of a problem. It is good, and it is sad.

Next: More news from Evan

MIss E update

I took Miss E to the optomotrist on Friday. We had a fairly decent time together, and it meant that I completely missed the flooding toilet episode at home (shame, that). I was very pleased that she was able to pick out frames there. I have had to take kids to the "optical shop" and the health department, which is a small room with a small selection of frames. It is open only a few hours a week. I have also had optomotrists go get a box of frames from which the kids have to choose. This doctor had a relatively large selection, and they were on the display wall. He just told her that her insurance would pay for any of the glasses in this section.

It took a while, but she did finally find a pair she liked. I learned, by the way, that the glasses that I think are really attractive are the sort of thing that old people like, while the glasses that look to me to be very old fashioned are what young people wear.

We spent two hours together, and it was nice. The agency will also be buying her contacts, but they get them from a different vendor.

I still take her to school in the mornings. Today is the last day before winter break and it is a half day. Miss E was late coming out. She was angry. The pantry was locked because the other girl who lives there "can't be trusted" and so she couldn't pack her lunch. She has to work after school from 1:00-7:00. She hates living there. She has to lock her bedroom door so the other girl won't steal from her. It was better at the teen shelter, much better. She should not have to live the way she does now, with food locked up.

Now, Miss E was probably supposed to pack her lunch last night while mom was home. She also has money and could get someone to give her a quick lift to a store between school and work. I did however tell her that I would drop her off something to eat. Very codependent of me -- should have let her suffer the consequences of her own actions (not packing last night). I won't make a habit of it though.

I'm tempted to email her social worker to tell her the days I have already agreed to take Jackie for respite. I would not be surprised if Miss E will need a break, but I won't be able to have both girls here together.

Next on Miss E: Follow up on "they didn't ask to be in care"

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Little Decisions

I keep pausing over little decisions.

Should I reduce our Netfl*x account to four-at-a-time? We have one for each member of the household and now that Evan is gone we don't need five. None of us need to be getting two movies at the same time, and we get billed on the 28th of each month. So maybe I should bring us down to four. But then what if they call about a new kid soon? I would just have to go right back again.

Should take over the desk in what is now the guest room? The room feels so cold and hollow right now. It would be good to get some stuff in it, and it would be nice to have a place to be alone. But what if they call us soon?

Should I get the new quilt done in a hurry?

Should I get posters out of the closet to put on the wall so the room won't look so empty?

I actually went to see how long it has been in the past between a kid leaving and getting the next call, as though that means anything. (It averaged 10 weeks, by the way).

None of these are big decisions. None of them really matter or would be difficult to undo. They are little things, and I can't seem to make a decision.

Before I have always settled in, made decisions based upon the assumption that it would be six months or more. It never was.

The thing is, I am enjoying it just being the four of us for a while. I hope we get at least a month or two. So I don't want them to call just yet. On the other hand, I hate waiting.

I wish they could say, "We will be calling you about a kid on Feb 15."

Daddy, Papa and Me

Daddy, Papa and Me has reappeared. The old site was apparently hacked.

It looks like they have been back for about a week and nobody told me.

Anyone know how to make a pouting emoticon?

But I am glad they are back.

Everyone feels like that sometimes...

When one of the babies was little and had an ear infection and would not stop crying, and I had done everything I could think of and was exhausted, I sat down and thought, "There must be something that would make him stop." I got a sudden mental image of drowning the baby. For a fraction of a second it seemed like a really good idea. At least it would be quiet. Then I realized what I was thinking and I woke up Hubby and told him it was his turn to hold the kid.

I knew I needed a break, but I also did not beat myself up for having had the terrible thought. I knew that we've all felt like that sometimes. It doesn't mean we are terrible people. It doesn't mean that we would do terrible things. It just means we are tired.

When Hubby had been sick and in the hospital and it was not clear how long he was going to be gone, and I was under a lot of stress from all sides and Andrew refused to eat the scrambled eggs he asked for, and I realized I was trembling with rage, I called a friend and crying said, "If I don't get us out of here, I might hurt him."

I meant it. I was not being dramatic. I meant that I was seriously afraid that I could hurt my child. I have been on the other end of that phone call. I have gone to relieve a parent who is alone and stressed. We've felt like that sometimes, and blessed are those of us who have someone to call, someone who will believe us and help us and not think we are horrible people.

After Carl had lived here about six months I called the social worker and told her I needed a break. I felt guilty because it didn't seem like I should. No one was being especially bad. I was just really tired. She assured me that everyone felt like that sometimes, and she arranged for respite for Carl and I arranged for the Andrew and Brian to spend the weekend with a friend of mine.

Another time I called the social worker that I was so mad at Carl that I wanted to kill him, but that I was pretty sure there was a better response to his behavior than murder. He laughed, and offered to help me brainstorm on options. He reassured me that it was right to call. Everyone feels like that sometimes.

After several months of Ann living here, after trying everything I knew to do, I emailed the social worker and said, "I can't ask Andrew to live like this anymore." I don't know any foster parent who has been doing care for any length of time who hasn't had to ask for a child to be moved. All foster parents go through it eventually. By the way, had Andrew been a foster child I still would have had to make that phone call. The only difference would be that there might have been some discussion about which child should be moved.

There have been many times in my life that it was a comfort to me to know that what I was going through was normal. It was good to know that everyone feels like that sometimes.

It was more of a comfort though when the person that I was talking to understood what exactly it was that I was going through. Imagining doing something terrible is not the same as being afraid you will do it. Feeling like you can't go on, and needing a break, is not the same as knowing you have to end the current situation.

I find that it can go both ways when we are blogging. We can share something we are feeling and we get comments from people saying, "We have all felt that way sometimes."

It can be a great comfort. At least it can be when you know they understand what you're talking about.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Holiday madness

I took the children to the Electronics Megastore (not its real name) this morning. There a young man looked up DVD's we might be interested in purchasing for Hubby for Christmas. The phone rang, twice, while I stood there. Each time he picked it up and said, "Hello. Electronics Megastore. We are all sold out of Nint*ndo W**'s. Can I help you?" Brief pause. "Okay. Have a nice day."

But I think I am finished with my holiday shopping. I have wrapping to do, and I have to put something in the mail for Carl, but I don't have to face the crowds anymore.

I bought myself a small digital camera. It is half the size and has twice the pixels as the older digital camera that Hubby always takes and leaves in his classroom. It is small enough and light enough that I can carry it in my purse. I am hoping that I will actually take more photos.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

TMF (Too Much Fun)

Well, Evan has been emailing quite a bit this weekend.

I hope he is exaggerating his exploits because it is fun to make auntie nuts.

Either that or he is courting alcohol poisoning.

He went to party last night where he got "hammered" and claims tonight to have got into, and won, a drinking contest at the house. He is only nineteen, but he is in Scotland and it is legal.

There are no families at the house right now and I am sure the adults who run the place have dealt with many an under-21 American youth going crazy for a while.

I have several thoughts in my head.

I would like to just shake my head at the wildness of youth. Isn't this what young people do? They hit legal drinking age and party. They drink to get drunk. Hopefully they make themselves thoroughly sick and learn moderation.

But Evan is a recovering addict. He has done a wonderful job of staying clean. In fact he did better than I ever would have guessed. The truth is that when he came back from rehab I was at first just waiting for him to start using again. He went to summer school and I spent the first day he was there staying calm, and he stayed clean.

I'm pretty sure he did slip-up his first evening at night school, but if he did, it was just a slip.

He has accomplished so much since coming back from the rehab center. He has stayed clean, finished school, made an emancipation plan, did everything he needed to do, and moved on with his adult life.

And now he is facing a new challenge.

I know that alcohol is legal. I know that many people, including myself, drink periodically without being addicts. I also know that the chances of a recovering drug addict being able to drink in moderation, without becoming alcoholic are vanishingly small.

But the statistics on him staying clean for as long as he has were pretty low too.

So hopefully he will go through this stage and come out the other side.

In the meantime, this Alanon'er will be keeping her sponsor occupied...

And just think...a week ago I was afraid he was leaving me forever. Nope. He is part of my life -- wherever he lives.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Happy Chanukah

Tonight at sunset Chanukah begins.

I'm not sure what the traditional wording of good wishes is...but how about this?

May your latkes be crisp and your donuts light.

May your candles burn bright and bring hope and faith to all who see them.

May all your spins land on gimmel.

And may there be peace.


And now a couple of you may tell me what I SHOULD say.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Complicated Feelings

I left this as a comment on Amanda's blog, but it is still rattling around in my head and so I will put it here too. There are so many complicated feelings associated with loss, and there is for me, one moment in which I experience them all: that moment when I first wake up.

I wake up refreshed. I feel good. I know that it has been a long time since I felt this rested. And then I remember that the reason I feel rested is that he is gone, and I miss him.

And that is what my life is right now. It is not a bad thing, just a complicated one.

Letting Go, Letting G-d

Cindy had to take a yong adult to a homeless shelter.

FosterAbba has written something kind and supportive...I left Cindy a comment. I wanted to write more, but the truth is I get caught up in my own memories.

Carl coming to my office homeless. I give him my lunch, have him call his social woker. For a week he lives out of a friend's car. The circumstances were so different from Cindy's. Carl was not dangerous to us. I could have let him come home and we would have been safe. He just needed to deal with the consequences of his actions. He needed that experience so that he could learn responsibility.

Still, it was hard.

As a mother I want to do so much for them. My Alanon sponsor would say, "You're his mom, not his higher power."

And what does he mean by that? He means that I cannot heal my children. I cannot make them heal themselves.

As a mother I can do so much and yet at the same time so little.

I confess I want to be God to them. I want my love to the force that makes them trust and be strong. I want my example to the thing that inspires them to responsibility. I want to love them and make all the hurt go away.

But I can't. I am powerless. I cannot heal them.

I can love them.

And sometimes loving them means letting go, and that hurts.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

He emailed!


I got an email from him.

He is enjoying the constant rain.

The veggies are much, much better there.

Everyone seems nice and his room is wired up so that he can just plug his iPod in.

There is a second bed, but the person who will be his roommate won't be there for a few weeks, although will be visiting before then.

The house is getting broadband Internet, instead of the dial-up they currently have, next week so sending me photos will be easier although there are a couple of kinks to be worked out.

It makes me so very happy to have heard from him.

Brian wants a LITTLE brother

Brian has wanted us to adopt a younger brother for him for years. Now that we are available he is having trouble understanding why we don't.

For most families, of course, a child asking for a younger sibling is not taken seriously. For us, it is a question that deserves an answer.

The reasons, from my perspective, for doing it would be two.

1. It would be good for Brian not to be the baby. He has been cast in the roll of annoying little brother for a long time. He is too good at it. It would be good for him to loose that spot.
2. I know from the research that fostering children generally do better with kids who are younger than they are.

Though I do think Brian would be a good older brother, that is not a good reason for doing it. It is not a good idea to get one child with the expectations of satisfying the needs of another. It is not a good idea for many reasons, one of which is that the child is unlikely to actually satisfy those needs.

We talked about how we would probably have to take kids who were not legally free and who would go back to parents or other places and how difficult that would be.

He wanted to know why we couldn't go straight to adoption. I know that it is possible. I also knw how difficult it is, all the hoops I would have to jump through. The truth is, if I really wanted to adopt an under-12-year-old boy, I could do it.

But I don't want to, and neither does Hubby. We LIKE our agency. Though not perfect, they are pretty d*mn good, arguably the best in the country. This particular division is not working with younger children very much any more. Though it would be possible that a younger chidld would be refered, most of the kids who are are at least 14. They are, after all, kids for whom adoption has been ruled out. We also continue to do this because we are committed to supporting the queer kids. We know what they face in the red states, and we are here for them.

I did tell Brian that he should get the opportunity to be the older brother before he moved out.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Someone has heard from Evan

I just got an email from Evan's social worker.

She got an email from him, and I didn't. ('s because she wrote to ask if he got there okay. I've sent off my own email.) In any case, he made it to the house alive and well. That's all the news.

She also understands the mood of my family. Her parents were (and are still) foster parents with the same agency. (One of the reasons that of all the social workers she would be the most likely to pretend she did not hear anything about the blog. She really understands the need for support).

We all love Evan and we all will miss him in our own ways. As one reader suggests, Brian may mostly miss having someone to torment, but still, Evan will be missed.

Just at the moment though everyone is sighing. It is peaceful, and it is good that it is peaceful. Some of the anxiety that is gone had to do with Evan's desire to be in charge, and part of it was just because of the reasonable anxiety he was going through getting ready to leave. It produced tension and now that tension is gone.

But if he emailed the social worker he better email me too.

Hush My Darlings...

For some reason, animal metaphors work so well for Evan. Someties he is my baby gorilla; today the metaphor of a wolf cub comes to mind.
I have a theory about him. Though I don't have all the details of his childhood, I think there were two basic states: times when he was "man of the house" and basically safe; and times when there was another man there and he was not. My impression was that his mother never let them go hungry, never physically abused them, and never abandoned them. She also allowed drugs and violent men into their lives.

Combine that history with the underlying genetic structure of an alpha-male and you get Evan.

Evan did not appear to feel safe unless other people recognized his dominance.

Now that is different from being dominant. I like to listen to Patricia McConnell's radio show, Calling All Pets. She talks about dominance in pack animals. Dominance is defined as having primary access to limited resources. So if there is just one best place to lie down, who gets it? McConnel explains that the dominant animal doesn't always have to have it. Sometimes they don't want it and then the lesser animals have it.

This by the way is how I learned that our dog is a good dog -- in doggie terms. She never gets on the furniture, when we are home. Once we walk out of the house though she is now the most dominant member of the pack, and she has first access to resources. Actually, I suspect that Flabby Tabby is dominant when we leave, but she doesn't mind if Doggie gets on the furniture. But I digress...

Anyway, some dominant animals are benevolent and confident. That is what I strive to be. I know I am in charge and I don't have to defend it. I don't have to take things away from people just to demonstrate that I can. When Evan was sitting in my chair he would sometimes say, "You can have your chair if you want." I would respond, "I know" and then either tell him to get up or that he could keep it because I was going back to the kitchen in a minute anyway.

Some dominant animals need to make other animals recognize their dominance. They demand displays of submission.

I have no idea what sort of dominant animal Evan is when and if he actually gets the alpha place, but I know what sort of creature he is when he is not. I have heard, but do not remember where, that the unhappiest, most stressed, animals in the pack are the alpha-wannabes. The least stressed are, if I remember correctly, mid-pack members who don't mind being in the middle of the pack.

But as an alpha-wannabe Evan was abbrasive. Everything with him was a conflict. It was easy for Brian to torture him because every act of non-submission irritated him. Evan wanted to make Brian to back off, but as Mama Wolf had forbidden him to fight, there was little he could do but pound on his chest and display (wait...I just switched metaphors didn't I? Hmm...what would a wolf do?)

In any case, though I miss him now and I do expect the rest of the family will too, right now they are resting.

And though it is yet another metaphor...I woke up with that song in my head. Just slightly different words:

Hush my darlings, rest my darlings, the lion's far away...

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hanging in there

Hi all,

Thanks so much for the kind comments. I appreciate every one of them.

I spent a good chunk of the day with a friend I have not seen for a while and came home mid-afternoon. I went through Evan's room, found about a dozen pens, one of my best pillow cases and a several things that I will box up for him. The room has been vaccuumed and dusted. The bed is striped. The closet, dresser, desk and shelves are all empty.

It is an empty space, waiting to be filled.

For how long? I wish I knew. I would like to be able to pace myself. Hurry up and finish the quilt, get some sleep and get ready. Or do I settle down into a new pace, work leisurely on the quilt, perhaps use the empty room as a study for a while? Of course there is no answer to that. It is not something that will happen gradually. There will be nothing and then there will be a phone call and a youth who needs us.

But as for now, he is safely on his way. He has promised to email regularly.

And I am tired, sad, but well.

If you will all excuse me -- I can hear a hot bath calling my name.

Wordless on Sunday

Saturday, December 09, 2006

6 hours

Evan keeps coming out of his room debating whether the thing he is holding in his hand should go into the bags for Scotland or be left here. Do I think he has too much? His counselor, who has taken many long trips told him that if he packs enough for two weeks he will be fine and he's only packed 12 pairs of long pants, not fourteen. So it's not too much, right?

He apologizes because he will be leaving the room in such a mess, but do I mind cleaning it? No, I do not mind. I will go in with a rag, the vacuum and a trash bag. "But if you find something that shouldn't be thrown away you will keep it for me, won't you?"

But what about his carry on bags? He has his laptop, and his iPod, and his camera...and a book and some food, plus all the cords. Is that enough? "Well, you will be traveling for more than 24 hours, do you want clean underwear or a toothbrush?" "Yeah...I will get those."

I stepped into his room. It is cold and bare. Posters we had bought for the room fell from the walls ages ago and have been put into the back of the closet. Framed photos of his sister and other loved ones are packed in boxes. The shelves hold nothing but dust and a few pieces of junk.

We leave in the house in 6 hours. I should try to sleep.

Last Meal

It was the last evening. Grandma, aunt, mom and both sisters were here. Everyone had a good time.

Baby Sister kept us all enteratained. She calls her siblings "Sissy" and "Buddy." By the end of the evening she was calling Brian "my lil buddy." (And since Brian's actual name sounds nothing like "Buddy" it was clear that she had chosen him for her new brother.)

It was a nice evening and more relaxed than I thought it would be. All the adults hugged me and thanked me for taking such good care of Evan the past year. I told them that I was happy to have him in my life. Evan's mom hugged me especially hard. She said that she would give me a call or maybe drop by. I told her she was welcome. I don't actually expect her to, at least not very often, but things are relaxed between us, and that is good.

Tomorrow morning he leaves.

Thanks to FosterAbba!!!

Many and loud thanks to FosterAbba who put the photo in the header for me.

Or to be more precise, took a photo, cropped it, tinkered with it, and then inserted it into the html.

In any case, I love the way it looks and I really appreciate the help.

The Last Full Day

This is it folks, the last day Evan will be here.

Hubby asked, well, won't he be here for part of the day tomorrow? Answer: Only that part you spend rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. We leave the house at 7:30am. I am a date at my friend's house in The City for breakfast, a good cry, and time spent quilting.

It is 23 1/2 hours until we leave the house tomorrow. Evan has packed his room and moved all his boxes to his grandmother's house. His mother came by last night to take him shopping for a few toiletries. Today he does laundry and packs his bags. His grandmother, aunt, mother, and two sisters will be coming over for a casual pizza dinner.

Last night Evan and Brian were annoying each other. Actually Brian was annoying Evan. But annoying Evan is, as one of the commenters stated, as easy as shooting fish in a barrel. Brian wasn't even trying. Brian was emotional last evening. Early in the evening he cried in frustration because he could not teach the dog a new trick. Later he was excited and bouncing up and down next to me (which happened also to be next to Evan) waiting for me to get him something. His excitement seemed exaggerated, acted, and being tired I asked him if he could please stop bouncing. He said he did not think he could.

Evan, "Brian, cut it out!"
Brian, "What? I can't. I'm just excited."
Evan, "Brian, don't push my buttons tonight."
Brain, looking innocent, "You have buttons? Where are your buttons?"
Evan, "Don't go there, Brian. I'm warning you..."
Brian, "Go where? I'm not going anywhere."

UGGG... I wanted to hit both of them over the head. Brian for clearly trying to provoke Evan and Evan for making it so d*mn EASY.

I'm tempted to arrange a play date and send Brian away for the day. I won't though.

Brian loves little kids and I think I will put him in charge of entertaining Baby Sister (age four) for at least part of the evening. She adores animals and maybe the two of them can keep each other occupied.

We shall see how it goes.

Update: Evan wants to leave the house at 6:30am. Sigh. Better early than late, I guess, but I should warn my friend.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Being an adult, just like a kid

He got his driver's license today.

I let him drive boxes over to his grandmother's house all by himself.

He came back quite cheerful. He said that driving without me was a lot of fun. It felt like he was a real adult. It was just FUN -- like being a little kid.

"So feeling like an adult is like being a kid?"

"That doesn't really make sense, does it?"

"Actually, it makes perfect sense."

He'll come back

Conversations with Evan.


Evan: I'm thinking about just leaving my lap desk* here. I think it would be
safer here
Me: Really? It should be fine at your Grandma's. It doesn't take
up much space

Me: You know I think we could keep your lap desk here without any problem.
Evan: Okay
Me: Besides, then you have to come back to get it.
Evan. YEAH, that's why I suggested it.

He is also leaving his bicycle.

*The lap desk is a really nice one which he uses with his laptop all the time. It is one of his Favorite Things.

Raising Free Thinkers

The Brian from Story of the Turtle, poses this morning what I sometimes think of as the fundamental issue for liberal parents. Just to make it dramatic I like to put it like this:

How do I teach them to question authority when I am the authority?

I had a colleague years ago who talked a lot about the importance of questioning authority. It seemed to me that he was very invested in his students rejecting the establishment in the exact same way that he had. He always reminded of a Dr. Pepper commercial: don't be like everyone else, be unique, exactly like me.

Like Brian's child, my Brian and Andrew have been to Pride Celebrations -- six of them to be exact. The past two years Brian and Andrew have taken over the job of staying at the PFLAG booth at the park where the march ends. They have skipped the rally with all the boring speeches, and the tedious march through town. Instead they sit guard over the brochures and play with their hand-held gaming systems.

They are happy to wear their "I'm a PFLAG brother" buttons. They wanted t-shirts that say, "My brother came out of the closet and all I got was this stupid t-shirt" but I did not buy them when they were available and now we can't find them.

But I digress.

The point is that I feel strongly about various issues. I also want my kids to think through things on their own. The truth is I want them to be caring and committed to justice and equality and I want them to do that because they figured out that it was the right thing to do.

So how do we do that?

I think it is both more and less difficult that we think it is.

Kids are sponges at some ages and determined rebels at others. In other words, we can tell them what we believe, expressed as what we believe, and when they are small they will simply accept it. Even if we want them to think for themselves, when they are small, they won't. They will just believe us. It makes the part of us that wants them to be free thinkers uncomfortable, but I say to you, "Fear Not. Adolescence Shall Come." No matter how uncomfortable you are with the fact that your little child adores you uncritically and believes everything you say, you will be rescued from that discomfort when he or she turns into a teenager and decides you are an idiot.

It takes a lot of effort to prevent older children and teenagers from thinking for themselves. It can be done, but it requires round-the-clock supervision and control.

If you teach your children analytical skills, even if you only focus on OTHER people's views, they will eventually use those skills on everything you say.

I promise.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

"You going to let him get away with talking to you like that?"

I read that in someone's blog a while back. Can't remember whose, but it probably could have been any number of us. As I recall the parent who was reporting being asked that did not even remember the terrible thing the youth was supposed to have said. The parent had just ignored it.

Now I'm not saying here that you should let kids speak to you any way the please. It is appropriate to make them speak to your respectfully. There are different ways to do that. Sometimes we use the word "consequences" as synonymous for "punishment." To enforce a consequences means to give time out or, in this case, make them say they are sorry and rephrase. But there are other consequences, and being deaf to (some?) objectionable language is a viable option. Not all the time mind you, but a good deal of the time.

Especially when they are using it to change the subject.

Ever have a conversation with a kid that went something like this:

Parent: No, you may not go to the party.
Youth: You're a b*tch!
Parent: No. I'm your parent, and it is my job to put limits on
your actions.
Youth: You are #$%*@!
Parent: That is unacceptable language! Apologize to me!

Umm...what happened to the kid going to the party?

I was disappointed with the Crisis Management class that I took, although I recall that it did help me to remember some basics about the sort of parenting style I strive follow. As the class fades in my mind I now remember it as having taught me one thing: I don't need to defend my authority.

I knew that, but I think prior to that class I had never thought about it so clearly. I did the right thing by mistake a couple of days ago, but only because I was too exhausted to handle it poorly. It is difficult not to come to my own defense, and even more difficult not to come to the defense of others, but it is a pretty good parenting stategy.
Parent: No, you can't go to the party.
Youth: You're a b*tch.
Parent: hmmm
Youth: Did you hear me? I said you are a b*tch!
Parent: I heard. You still can't go to the party.

FosterAbba's "Too Bad" response is similar of course. One way or another we simply refuse to engage them when they are behaving inappropriately.

I don't really know why this is on my mind today. Maybe it is just because I am tired (again) and it is good to remember that sometimes good a parenting means remembering that you stay quiet and relax. I can do that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And one month later...

One month ago I was told that I could not longer do respite care for Mandy unless I got a state license. Reluctantly I called the local state licensing office, got some one's voice mail, told them that I had worked with my private agency for 6 years and was considering getting a state license. I left my name, phone number and address.

The office is about one mile from my house.

I got an information packet in the mail yesterday. There are 24 pages stapled together, a brochure on "What [I] need to know about criminal background checks and self-declaration forms." The cover letter states that I am to fill out the attached application, sign various policy statements, and provide copies of important documents.

THEN I have to get my criminal back ground check.

THEN I wait to be invited to PRIDE classes. While I am taking PRIDE classes a resource development specialist will be assigned to me.

Can I just say WTF???

No phone call? No invitation to an orientation meeting where I can ask questions? Nobody to talk to about the filling out application? Nobody to help me understand what foster care will be like and whether it is really for me? Just fill out this 7-page application in which you must tell us how much money you make and how much you owe and then we'll give you a call when we get around to it.

How does this state manage to recruit anyone?

My experience 6 1/2 years ago with the private agency was anxiety-producing, but at least it was personal. I left a voice mail in the morning. "Hi, um...I'm Carl's Sunday school teacher and my husband and I just found out that he needs a new home. We wanted to know if it was possible for us to take him? I don't really know anything about this, but could you please call me back?" She called us later that evening, after business hours and apologized that we had to wait all day for her to get back to us.

Oh...and the application itself. First they repeat the information that I have to jump through the hoops before I will be invited to PRIDE. And then this paragraph:

If you check the boxes on the application to be licensed for family foster care
and/or foster care and adoption, the Department will expect you to take foster
children that are not free for adoption when you are licensed as a foster
home. If you are not able to met this requirement, you will not be
eligible to attend foster parent training and become licensed as a foster home.

There is a box to check for adoption-only, but it is not clear what will happen if you check it. Will the application be taken seriously? Will you be invited to PRIDE? Is there some other training you will invited to?

Of course if you look at the web page for adoption in this state it will tell you that the first step is to become a licensed foster care home.

I'm tossing the application. I really don't want a state license. If they decide I can't do respite for Mandy, then so be it.

Aside from all the other reasons for not doing it I keep coming back to the fact that Evan would not have been accepted into the permanency program if I had had a license.

What Reader Do You Use?

I have recently switched from Bloglines to Google Reader, primarily because it does not re-alert me every time someone catches a typo and re-publishes a post. I also like that posts that I have read are still available on the Reader page so I can jump back if I like.

If you use a service to help you stay up to date on the blogs you read, which do you use? What do you like about it?

Thinking about the next kid and the blog

Monday evening we had dinner out with Evan's social worker. It was very nice.

I did ask her about the possibility of another kid. She is on the in-take committee so she will let us know and said she is definitely putting feelers out.

I told her that it really was important to us to get someone a younger than Andrew, that we would like to go as young as possible, and so we want to clarify our "profile." We told her that we want to be a resource for kids who need to a safe place while they figure out their sexuality or for who have gender non-compliant behavior that other families are having trouble dealing with.

Evan thinks that that is a mistake. He thinks we are "too intense" for anyone who is not out. He talked about our involvement in PFLAG for instance.

Brian asked if she could find us someone between the ages of 8 and 10. She told him that they rarely take kids that young these days. Most of them are at least 14 and the average is 16. Brian thinks we should just adopt a 9 year old.

But I like working with my agency. I am afraid to "go it alone." I want the services and support they provide to the kids.

Evan, by the by, scared the heebee geebees out of me by telling the social worker that I had put a photograph of him in the scarf I made him up on my blog. You know -- the blog that no one in my ordinary life, especially the social workers, knows exists? I went off line for a little while to review posts and look for ways to be more confidential. I kept thinking, "But the boys are all 18. I have their permission."

I finally told Evan what I was worried about and he kept saying, "She won't look. I barely mentioned it. Besides, she won't want to get you in trouble. She won't take away you main source of support."

I hope he is right. I think I am in ethically safe waters, but agencies can have their own very strict legalistic standards. I mean, I just found out that HQ won't release a photo of Carl and his mother to me without Carl's written consent. So much for my surprise Christmas present for him. (He lost his nice enlarged framed photo and I was going to replace it.) The agency's rules about confidentiality do not always make sense and they are uncompromising about following them. I can imagine the social worker seeing the blog and deciding not to mention it, but I can't imagine HQ being reasonable about anything.

So I went off-line to think and panic. I considered starting another blog that contains only general thoughts about foster care and no stories that include the kids, and I still might do that. (Once I have a foster kid in the house that is under 18 that will pretty much happen anyway).

Anyway, I worry too much and I hope this is one of those cases.

Four Days

Yep, that's it, four days.

I have the meals planned, he is making headway on getting packed, and I think we are all going to make it.

I wish I had more to tell you, but that is about it.

I did change my blogging name. I was looking for something new, something interesting, something clearly not my own name. I wanted a name that was associated with goodness and strength.

Andrew came up with Yondalla. Extra points to anyone who knows who she is without having to do an Internet search.

Now I just have to edit old posts and replace the old name.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Another perspective

I asked Andrew the other day how he felt about Evan leaving so soon. Was he looking forward to it or was he sad about it?

He shrugged and said, "Oh, I don't know. It's not like he's going away forever."

Good boy.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I hope it was just a bad evening

Our reactions seem to be a bit extreme.

Brian and Evan are at each other again.

Evan is sick and tired and without patience. It seems to me that he will accept nothing less than subservience from younger Brian.

Brian has been though youngest for years. He has had a series of older brothers. He has had enough of being treated like the little kid. He does not like being pushed aside. He can be abrasive when he is in the right. If an older child does not know how the microwave works, Brian can be quite annoying as he demonstrates how very simple it is. Really, a baby could do it. "You didn't see how this works? The button is right here."

So he is annoying.

And Evan is tired and has no patience. Evan has not taken a course in de-escalation. Evan feels threatened. Evan is an alpha male and anyone who does not speak to him the way he believes they should must be put in his place.

So Evan yells at Brian.

Evan's anger seems to me out of proportion with what Brian is doing. Worse, I know that being yelled at like that, being pushed down and being told to shut up will only make Brian worse. He will work harder at finding innocent-looking ways to piss Evan off.

Evan is the imperialist general and Brian is the guerilla warrior.

And me? Well, I try to talk to each of them separately, but they are both committed to their roles. I want for Evan, being 19, to make the effort to see the pattern and change his reactions.

But I have my role too. I am the protective mother who gets angry at either of them when they go too far. I sympathize and lecture each when I can get them alone.

And I am also the abuse survivor. I have in me the little girl who sees an adult-size male justifying yelling at a child because the child has smart-mouthed him. I see fury in the eyes of the adult who tells me that he does not have to treat the child with respect if the child does not follow the adult's expectations. I have to remind myself that Evan is not an adult. He is large, but he is an adolescent, not an adult.

He is an exhausted, stressed, tired teenager who grew up with men who demanded deferential behavior in the children around them and who were willing to use whatever threats, and eventually whatever actions, necessary to guarantee that deference. I know he is trying. I know he wishes to learn another way. I know that it is a long journey.

I look also at the 12-year-old boy who has had too many older brothers, who has become too good at geurilla warfare. I worry for the habits he is developing. I want for him to have older siblings who will not inadvertantly feed his behavior, but who will instead model mature and honest ways to interact, and I know I expect too much from the older boys.

Evan has been sick and therefore home -- all the time. For about a week he has been home. Two (three?) days this week Brian and Evan stayed home alone together. Neither of them complained to me about the other, so they must have worked it out.

Maybe it is worse when I am here -- maybe my reaction to it makes it worse. Perhaps where I see repeating psycho-dramas of dominance and resistance, there is only the sniping of boys who have been spending too much time together.

Dear Lord, I hope so.

He Passed!

Evan passed the driving test! Hurrah!

We're whittling away on that list.

The Scarf is Finished

Though for a while I thought the scarf would never be long enough for him, he pronounced it long enough at 5 feet. The original pattern calls for 32 stitches across. I made him a short sample and told him I could increase it in increments of 4 stitches. He asked if I could put 4 stitches on each side. I said no, but I could put 8 in the middle.
Thanks again to Beth for the pattern.

Though he was surprised that I wanted to put a photo on the blog, he agreed to take this photo for me with the new camera we gave him as a graduation/Christmas/Bon Voyage present.

I know I am taking a risk putting up Evan's picture, but he is 19, I have his permission, and he is about to leave the country...and he does have such lovely eyes. I find I can't resist.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Update on the list

Though Evan has been sick he is working on that list.

-He has a couple of boxes packed and thinks that the ones we have at home will be enough.
-He paid for his next driving test and has an appointment to take the test this afternoon.
-I will drive him to his last counseling appointment on Monday and drop him off.
-His social worker will pick him up and take him shopping for the rest of the clothes he needs. The family will then meet the both of them for dinner.

He will need to finish packing this week, but I have no doubts about his ability to do that. He will also have to go back to the DMV to get his actual license but it is even possible that I could just loan him the car to do that and to take his boxes to grandmother. We are committed to keeping him out of the car as much as possible. Our rule has always been that the kids would be responsible for covering the deductible ($500) if there was an accident and that would be pretty devastating to Evan right now. On the other hand, given that it is just one week our insurance agent says he can be considered a guest who will be borrowing the car, so we don't have to pay an extra premium on him, and letting him drive himself on a couple of these errands definitely helps with my sense of being overwhelmed.

I of course bounce back and forth from being a pitiful pile of sadness and being proud and confident.

It is a new experience for me. The other kids moved out, but stayed close, or closer. Each of those moves was sad, but easier.

Evan is not moving out the house a mile or 30 away. He is getting on an airplane and leaving the freaking country.

Today I am feeling strong. Today I am pleased that he has decided to take the afghan I made with him, not to mention this monster scarf I am currently knitting. He won't forget us any time soon.

I appreciate all the information and encouraging words. Evan has been looking at web sites about slang and general word use. He is also going to a place where they regularly have American volunteers so I think they will be prepared for him to ask for a napkin at the dinner table.

I made list of things we could have for dinner during the last week. It is a bit disappointing because he has a cold and it has affected his ability to taste, but I will still cook as many of the things as he likes as I can.

7 days.

Friday, December 01, 2006

What if he goes and never comes back?

The respite girls come and go. Even those (except Ann of course) that I have got close to I do not have trouble letting go of.

Miss E will leave and never look back. If I see her again it will be entirely by accident. My place in her life, as in the lives of all the respite girls, is comparable, at most, to that of a teacher they liked or was helpful to them. They will be happy to run into me and they just might make an attempt to say hello, but not likely. I feel completely at peace with that. That is all I ever intended to be to them.

Carl and David don't have family, or don't have family they are connected to. Even if I don't hear from them for months I do not worry about it. They will call eventually. Even if it turns out that Carl no longer lives where he was living, I know he will call.

Evan is unique for me (even from Ann). I invested my heart with Evan, like and unlike the ways I did with Carl and David. And Evan has Family; the kind of Family you spell with a capital F. They are not his birth family; they are his family.

I am thrilled, I really, really am that he has them. I think it is wonderful that he and his mom are tentatively reaching out and connecting. I am so very thankful that I work for an agency that has the money and good sense to offer to buy him a plane ticket so that he can re-connect to brothers he has not seen in years. I want to hug each and every one of his half sister's family who don't care if he is no longer even related to them by marriage. When he leaves it will be his grandmother, his ex-step-father's mother, who will store his boxes and, when he comes home from Scotland, it will be to her house he will go to stay while he figures out his next step.

They are wonderful people and it is wonderful that Evan has them.

But it means he doesn't need me.

But what if he leaves and never comes back? What if he doesn't stay in touch?

I want to say, "Don't be silly. Of course he will." But that is not true. There is no "of course." As he moves on will I become just the foster mother who took care of him for a little more than a year? That woman who used to yell at him for not doing the dishes who had the boys he never really got along with?

What if he never comes back?

Count Down: 9 Days

In the next nine days the following must be done (not all of these are my jobs):

  • Evan must get to the DMV to pay for a new driving test
  • He must make and keep an appointment with an driving tester to take the test.
  • He must go back to the DMV with his form indicating he passed (we hope) and get his driver's license. (Everywhere else I have lived all three of these could be accomplished with one trip to the DMV.)
  • He must pack his belongings Though he has less than most kids, he does have stuff. This involves:
  • 1. Deciding what he is going to take and what he is going to leave behind
  • 2. Determining if he needs more boxes than we have available
  • 3. Getting more boxes if needed
  • 4. Packing the boxes
  • 5. Driving the boxes to his grandmother's house
  • He needs to get to his counselor's office in The City Monday 2:30pm
  • He needs to shop for yet more clothes (non-glamorous things like socks)
  • He needs to shop for toiletries
  • We are going out for dinner with his social worker on Monday evening (odd, there is only one Monday left, no room for confusion)
  • We are inviting his relatives, particularly his mother, grandmother, aunt, and sisters over for dinner next Saturday evening (there are still two Saturdays to keep track of). So food will have to be purchased and prepared. (Anyone out there familiar with Scotland? Is there any food in particular that an American boy is likely to miss?)

Things which were once on the list but which I do not think are anymore included one last medical exam, which he never got around to scheduling, and a trip to his the hamburger joint with the very best onion rings around.

Of course some of this of course he could shift over to me. He could for instance only pack up what he needs to take to Scotland and leave the rest. I could pack up what he leaves behind. That would allow me to collect boxes as I go. I could also pick up each and every one of his things with my breeder-cootie covered hands, look at them with my prying adult eyes, and read any notes or letters I find. (Yes, I am still wondering if Evan reads the blog.) I could also rest assured that nothing that belongs to me ends up in his belongings.

I do need to check though. My agency at least in the past has required doing an inventory of a youth's possessions when they move in and out which both the youth and the parent have to sign. This is to protect both of us from later accusations of stolen family heirlooms and iPod connector cables. I will have to check about that. It is one of the rules though that the social workers are half-hearted about enforcing. If it is still one of the rules than we must add "Evan must take inventory of his belongings with me, Hubby or his social worker as witness" to the list.

What do I need to do? Well, I need to finish knitting the scarf I promised. And of course there is all the work stuff to do. The next couple of weeks will be busy there too.

I am actually feeling much better than I was yesterday. I am really hoping that the exhaustion that I have been feeling recently was my run with the virus that Evan and Brian are so clearly fighting now. They are stuffy, sleepy, coughing, have low-grade fevers and are complaining of slightly sore throats. I have felt exhausted beyond the ability of words to describe for a while now. Yesterday I cancelled classes, napped and made turkey soup for everyone for dinner. It seems to have helped me anyway.

I now feel like I can handle the next 9 days.

Oh...and another question for anyone familiar with Scotland. Evan wants to be reassured -- are batteries the same? Will he be able to buy them for his camera?