Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Recalcitrant Behaviors in foster children

Gawdessness' post yesterday got me thinking. She's doing what I try to do: recognizing something that is driving her crazy is part of a pattern and then trying to figure out what is going on behind the pattern. It got me thinking about all the ways in which my kids have made me crazy, and the reasons why they did it.

We sometimes hear about the big things that some kids do: kids who rage; smear feces on walls; run away; cut themselves; take drugs; steal. I don't think that most of the kids do those sort of things. Most of them though do something else. Something that if they did just once would go unnoticed. If they did it occasionally, it would be interesting. If they do it ALL THE TIME it becomes insane-making.

Like how Evan would continue to try to talk me into things that I already said I would do.

Like how Carl would lie about everything. Nothing in his life was quite shiny or tragic enough. He always had to make the story better.

Kids who hoard food fall into this category. There is nothing especially remarkable about a child who has hidden a box of their favorite cereal in their room so that no one else can eat it, but a child who constantly takes all the food from the pantry, or worse the refrigerator, and hides it under their bed -- well that's another story.

Gawdessness' boy has been refusing choices. Any kid may periodically not like their options. You ask them if they want pb&j or tuna fish for lunch and they ask for a grilled cheese. You either say yes or no. No big deal. But sometimes you get a kid who does it every time you offer a choice.

Another kid can't let you out of their sight without panicking and yet also won't let you get within a few feet of them.

Some kids refuse to be grateful when you do special things for them. One day they fuss and whine because you forgot to buy their special cereal. You make a special trip for it the next day and they tell you that they don't like that sort of cereal anymore.

We could probably go on and on with these sorts of behaviors. It can be frustrating to explain to someone why they make you so insane. When you tell the story, it can sound funny or unremarkable. That you are ready to throw something because it happens constantly is something that sometimes only another foster/adoptive parent can understand.

In my experience, I need to do three things to survive this sort of behavior pattern: understand; accept; and change my response.

With the first couple of kids I thought what I needed to do was understand, help the child understand, create a behavior modification plan with incentives for new behavior, work hard, and eventually enjoy the fact that I had successfully helped a child change.

Yeah...that didn't work.

The problem was that, at least in my case, the chronic behaviors that were making me nuts were deep in the kid. The things that made me crazy were the very things that were most difficult to change. Probably the reason they made me so crazy was that the behaviors were resistant to correction. They weren't just bad habits, they were survival strategies and they weren't going anywhere any time soon.

To explain what I mean, let's take the kid who refuses to be grateful. (I want to use it because it is fictional. I'm not talking about any kid in my experience.)

Why might a child do that? Why might they refuse ever to be happy about something special you have done for them? Here are some possibilities:

  1. They are punishing you for disappointing them.
  2. They know it makes you crazy and are taking a psychotic pleasure in torturing you.
  3. They actually feel safer, or at least more "normal," if there is a certain degree of tension in the house and this is the method they have chosen to maintain that tension.
  4. They maintain a sense of control by control by doing it.
  5. Since they were very little the giving and withholding of favorite things was used in a manipulative way. Parents who beat or starved them one day, showed up with a favorite food the next day and demanded gratitude. Displaying the gratitude was humiliating. And even though that is not happening now, having someone stand in front of them expecting them to show gratitude triggers feelings of shame and anger.

I have a tendency to always think it is one of the first two, that the behavior is about me. What I have learned is that it is probably one of the other three.

So let's say it is one of the last three, or something like them, and we have figured that out, what next?

Well, if it something like 3 or 4, it may go away once the child feels safe, which will take at least months and probably years. If you manage to make them stop this behavior they will probably replace it with something else. If it is #5, that behavior may be a permanent part of your relationship. Displaying gratitude, especially if they feel that gratitude is being demanded of them, may be something that is difficult for them for the rest of their lives.

So the question for me becomes, "What do I have to do so that this doesn't make me (as) crazy?" My impulsive responses, like being angry because he is an ungrateful little brat, or trying to talk endlessly with him about why my feelings are hurt, are probably not going to be helpful. It might be helpful to help the child understand the root of the behavior. Certainly that understanding will be essential for the child's eventual healing, but that is a very long term project and I have to survive the next week, month and year.

Just understanding where the behavior is coming from is a big step. Knowing that it is not about me, but comes from the child's own insecurities can help me not react to it. I can just ignore it. I will also, of course, stop making a production of special things. If I decide to buy the kids favorite cereal, I will just put it away quietly. I will try not to react when the kid first pretends it isn't there and then later enjoys it when I am not looking. When the child does spontaneously express gratitude I will resist saying, "Finally. That wasn't so hard was it? You think you could try to do that a little more often?" I will attempt to be low key and just say, "You're welcome. I appreciate you saying 'thank you.'"

And every time I get frustrated, and react in a way I know was unhelpful, I would probably go blog about it. Because even if I did understand it, and knew it wasn't about me, and knew exactly how I SHOULD respond, I'm human too and I make lots and lots of mistakes.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Foster Youth Emancipation

I probably should tell her the truth. I mean, the truth is always best right?

In the car this morning...

"I can't live there anymore. My social worker says that the only place she can move me it out to [VERY Small Town] and I know for a fact that is not true. You are open. My frind H---'s foster parents have room for another girl. There is a family in The City who is still taking girls, and I could move to the shelter again."

"But you would have to move out of the shelter on your 18th birthday."

"I have to move out on my 18th birthday anyway!"

"No you don't. You can stay. If you are in this program you can stay as long as you need to finish high school."

"There is no way I am going to do that. I'll get a GED. I'll work all summer. There is no way in hell I am going to go to high school when I am 18. ..."

So I am feeling pretty sad. Here is the bright, capable girl shooting herself in the foot. She is going to turn 18 in the summer. She is a junior now and after this school year, she will have to take senior English, Government, and Economics (only 1 semester) in order to graduate. She has not been making progress on her on-line classes. She is so determined to leave.

There is a lot said about how little we do for kids emancipating from foster care. There are horrible statistics on how many of them are homeless, don't finish high school, don't go to college, can't support themselves. The picture given is invariably that of a cold-hearted system throwing good kids out on the street.

That happens and it happens far too often.

But there are a lot of Miss E's out there too. People whose ability to attach, or even get along with others who are offered more and walk away.

I want to shake her. I want to tell her she is in the best foster care in the freaking country. She has more money and support available to her for college than most kids growing up in birth families. How many young people are told by their parents, "If you work with us, we will get you through college without debt?"

But this post wasn't supposed to be about that.

It is merely about the fact that Miss E has moved from asking me if I have a kid to reporting that she knows I am open. She says it with the attitude that of course she could move in with me, if her social worker weren't being such a jerk.

And what do I do? I change the subject. I tell her about the puppy and try to get her to draw the conclusion that she would be just as miserable at my house as she is where she is. She does not hear me though.

Part of me thinks I should tell her, "Right now, you and I have a good relationship. We are friends. This is good. If you move into my house you will HATE the puppy and Brian will drive you nuts. You will complain to me about Brian like you complain to me about everyone else in your life, only I won't be able to just listen sympathetically. No one is going to be happy. It is better if you stay where you are."

But no matter how carefully I explain, she will only hear one thing, "You don't want me. Nobody does."

Next on Miss E

Monday, January 29, 2007

Coming out and being out...parental fears

As I don't have any foster kids in the house, I have given myself a challenge. Every day that I don't have something else to write about I will attempt to finish a draft post that I started, saved, and never got back to.

Here is one from May 28, 2006. It was part of the series of posts on coming out.


We live our lives entwined in a web. If you are my mother or my child, what you do affects my life.

If you are my parent or my child and you are gay and out or gay and closeted, you affect my life in ways I may not like and do not know how to deal with.

When Carl moved in he was out to only a few friends. Most kids at school did not know. His previous foster parents knew and we had just learned. He did not want us to tell any of our friends or even the younger boys.

What a nightmare.

We took him weekly to a youth group for gay kids in a town 25 miles away on Sunday afternoons. I am a terrible liar and found it very difficult to figure out what exactly to tell my friends about why I was busy every Sunday. It was even more difficult with Andrew who knew I was taking him to a youth group. He kept asking what was so special about this group and I could not give him an answer.

One day my best friend was at the house when Carl left with a girl friend to watch movies at her house "because it was quiet there." My friend asked, "Are her parents home?" "No." "Do you think that's wise?"

I stopped calling my mother altogether. At the point my kids sexuality is not something that I think about all the time, but there in the beginning it was on my mind a lot. I had to make up things to tell my mother.

So we went to PFLAG meetings, which was really helpful except that Carl did not want us to tell the younger boys or even the babysitter where we were going.

That was what made me call the counselor he was seeing (the counselor was also gay) and say, "We have GOT to have a family session." The counselor made Carl understand that we needed to be able to tell our friends and family too.

Once we were all out though, the situation reversed itself. Now the degree to which the kids were out affected me.

Oh I know, it is not supposed to. I am not supposed to care. But it does.

The first "crisis" for us was when Carl decided to wear make-up to school. As I think I have mentioned before, it was not good make-up. It wasn't even good Goth make-up. It really seemed designed to announce to people that he was gay. In retrospect, I get it. I think he was telling people that he was out and he wasn't afraid of them. He stopped after a couple of weeks.

Still, it made me, Hubby and his social worker all have to face our own fears. We all had our own ideas of how out it was safe for Carl to be. There was some line, different for each of us, which of course WE did not mind if he crossed, but which we thought it was unsafe for him to cross. When a gay college student was assaulted I went more than a little crazy.

The student came to me to talk. He just felt safest with me. He had no idea that I was parenting a gay son. He had no idea that his story was making me terrified.

All parents of gay kids have to deal with these sorts of fears. I have seen GAY parents of gay kids struggle with these fears. We all want our kids to be safe.

And then there is HIV. Parent who call PFLAG never said "HIV" or "AIDS." They almost always say, "I'm afraid he will get sick."

I fear this. I think about it fairly often. Every time I take in yet another gay youth I am increasing the chances that I will one day have a son with HIV. The disease is entirely preventable. My boys all assure me they only have safe sex, but my boys are liars. They are not only having safe sex. They take risks.

And so that is a fear that sits at the back of my mind and in the pit of my stomach. I go months without thinking about it. I lecture the boys. I buy them condoms. I remind myself that there is nothing I can do to control it. I remind myself that it is possible that they will stay healthy; that they will be lucky. But the fear never really goes away. It sits, and I tell it to shut up.

When Carl moved in I thought I was completely okay with him being gay. I expected to deal with awkwardness and the prejudices of others. I had no idea how much of my journey would be about fear.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Worrying about Miss E

I can't let go of thinking about Miss E.

It is one of those situations where I think I could handle it -- if it were just me and Hubby to give me breaks. Andrew could tune her out, but he wouldn't be happy.

Brian would have a hard time of it. He would have a hard time of it because Miss E would hate him. Miss E doesn't like much of anyone, and she has nearly no tolerance for other people's problems. She would think we are coddling Brian (perhaps we are). She would have no patience with him. And let's not even talk about how much she would hate the puppy. He PEES ON THE FLOOR. He thinks that any piece of paper on the floor was deliberately left there for him to rip to shreds.

No, Miss E would not be happy here.

And I would not be happy because Miss E would really not understand why I could not listen to her tell me how horrible Brian is. I can listen to her tell me that the place where I work is crap (which she does), but I don't think I could listen calmly to her telling me over and over that Brian is spoiled brat (or worse).

It would not work.

I really care about this girl, and she has it pretty good right now. She has an experienced foster mother who is good with teenage girls. She lives in a nice house in a nice neighborhood. The agency has bought her her own computer and paid for Internet service. She lives less than a mile from the place she works, and she gets a ride every morning to school from me. She has her own bedroom, and only one other foster kid in the house with whom she must deal.

But it is not perfect. The other girl annoys her. The other girl will get into her things and even steal, so she has to keep everything in her room and keep that room locked. The other girl has a problem with food, so though the refrigerator is always open and some food is always available, the pantry is kept locked, so if she doesn't remember to pack her lunch before the mother leaves, she has to buy her own food with her own money -- which she has because she works 20-30 hours a week.

I want to shake her. I know she has great pain in her life. She has good reason to be angry. Being in foster care sucks, but this is about as good as it gets. If she insists on being moved, they will eventually move her, but the chances of it being some place better are nearly nil.

My house is not better.

She likes the teen shelter, but they will kick her out on her 18th birthday.

Although she will probably walk away on her 18th. She will not be finished with high school. She will not be able to support herself. She almost certainly will not be able to go to college, and I believe her when she says that she wants to do.

But she won't achieve her goals if she won't accept that she will have to be accommodating to other people too.

I wouldn't be so aggravated if I did not care so much about her.

I need to accept that I cannot do more than I am doing and let her walk her path.

It's just so difficult though.

And I know I worry too much. But writing about it here is helpful. It helps me let go of the worry. The trick is to try to pull off having faith in her. She has to go through what she has to go through. She is one of the strongest young women I know.

Next on Miss E:
Thinking about talking to her

Friday, January 26, 2007

Foster Teens and Attachment

Miss E is about to blow.

The first time she was here the decision to terminate her adoption was being made. Later she insisted on leaving Mandy and spent a week or more here while her social worker hoped she would change her mind. She didn't, and we took her to the teen shelter. She got into the permanency program and lasted in the first home for maybe one month. She has been with Annabelle for a while. She has of course complained the whole time, but there is an impatience, an edge to her voice that wasn't there before. And she has started saying things like, "I can't take this much longer." Yesterday she asked me if we had a new kid yet. It is not like her to be interested in my life. I don't fault her for that. She is in survival mode, and has reason to be. If she is asking me about kids in my house it is because she is assessing her options.

I keep trying to write a post, but I am not certain what I want to say. I have written about her before and I don't know that there is much more to say.

I had to talk to Hubby about whether we could take her. We can't. I know that she would hate being here very quickly. I told her social worker to remind her that we have a new puppy. The other girl where she is living may be getting into her stuff, but she does not chew up her papers or pee on the floor. And I don't think that that much negativity would be good for the boys. I did tell the social worker that if having respite here would help, we can do that.

I hope I am wrong. I hope she is just going through a rough patch and she sticks where she is.

I hope she doesn't walk away again, but I think she will.

Still Worrying about Miss E

Thursday, January 25, 2007

It seemed like a good idea at the time...

So Brian has been having a hard time of it lately. Hubby took the day off from work and they planned on a quiet day together. They would drive into The City, take Puppy to get groomed, piddle around, do an errand, generally have a nice day together.

So they went to lunch at the golden arches, because Mom wasn't around to protest, and dropped the puppy off. Hubby asked Brian what he would like to do. They decided to go to a mega sports store. Brian saw old fashioned-style roller skates and thought they looked cool. He put them on and practiced in the aisle.

And then he fell.

Brian cried out that his arm hurt. Hubby said, "I know, I know. Just sit up slowly."

And then an off-duty fire fighter came up and said, "No. don't move him!" I wasn't there so I cannot give you the story in the detail I would like. All I have is their version which is very slim on the details so important to a good story. Anyway, the fire fighter tells the store to call 911. Somehow the fire fighter knows that the ambulance is far away and so he calls his buddies at the fire station and the next thing you know, Brian is surrounded by half a dozen fire fighters. (Carl, David and Evan are going to be SOO jealous). They get him on a back board and take him to the hospital in the ambulance.

Hubby follows the ambulance, and calls me on my cell phone. The cell phone however is in my office and I am in a classroom. When I get back after my class I see three calls from Hubby. I call him and he tells me that Brian is getting X-rayed and can I drive to The City to get the dog out from the groomers.

Did you remember about the dog at the groomers?

I got the dog. I did not have a crate and Hubby had taken the leash and collar. It is really amazing how helpful people are when you say, "I'm sorry. I don't have his collar. It's with my husband and son in the emergency room." They loaned me a leash.

I walked into the emergency room with a very well-groomed, adorable Shih Tzu puppy and explained why I was there. Surprisingly (to me anyway) they were fine with me bringing the puppy into the ER.

Brian has a lot of pain in his wrist and elbow and tail bone. X-rays did not reveal any fractures, but the doctor said that his pain is in places where it would be difficult to see. So they splinted his arm and he has to have it re-checked in a week.

I held his hand and started chuckling.


"I'm just you wish you had just gone to school today?"


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Your Profile

If you have Blogger profile, I would like to encourage you to consider setting it to "show my email address".

Mine is set that way and what that means is that when I comment on someone's blog they can easily email me back. Of course it means that anyone who clicks on my name on any comment in any blog can see that email address. I am not getting spam from it that the automatic spam filters on earthlink/gmail don't catch. You can, by the way, make your profile email address anything you want. If you have a blog, the profile address does not have to be the gmail address that you need to have a blog (in beta). It doesn't have to be the address comments on your blog are sent to.

Please know that I try to email everyone who leaves a comment. If I don't already know your email address and you have elected not to have it visible in your profile I can't do that. It's your choice and it certainly does not upset me if you continue to elect for your email address not to be shown...but it would be cool to be able to easily email you!

I missed my own anniversary

I started this blog last January.

Has it really been a year? How could it be a whole year? The first post I wrote was "How it all started" and that was Jan. 17, 2006.

I can't believe I didn't remember.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Peter and Paul cancelled.

Peter and Paul neglected to tell anyone that they had, all on their own, been in contact with someone with whom they used to live. It was not until they visited our house that they managed to tell someone what they wanted to do.

I approve whole-heartedly. Foster care so often severs kids from one relationship after another. I am glad they have someone in their past they are in contact with and with whom they will STAY in contact with.

All that obsession about names for nothing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

A blog for choice

Blog for Choice Day - January 22, 2007

A friend of mine is a genetic counselor. People go to her for genetic counseling. Sometimes they decide to have testing done on themselves before they get pregnant, but usually they are there to test during a pregnancy. If it looks like there will be problems she makes sure they know about all the supports available to them. Sometimes they decide to terminate the pregnancy.

She had a client several years back who was late in pregnancy (I’m not sure how late) and discovered that her baby had a severe bone abnormality. Ultrasounds showed that it had multiple broken bones. Babies with this condition do not survive vaginal births and do not live long after caesarian births. They require a great deal of morphine to calm them. The client decided to think about things for a while, but she came back for her follow-up appointment a week later. She told my friend that according to her pastor she would go to hell if she had an abortion. This was a late-term abortion and it would definitely be murder. She had been praying and crying about it and she just could not stand the thought of her baby being in pain. She was afraid to move, afraid to sneeze lest she cause another bone to break or the baby to be in more pain than it was. She said that she had decided she would accept the consequences. She wanted to terminate the pregnancy.

She said she knew she was going to go to hell for doing it, but she would go to hell to stop her child’s pain.

Some would have us believe that there are women who use abortion as birth control. That makes as much sense to me as saying someone has decided not to brush their teeth because they can always have a root canal later.

Women have abortions because they learn their babies have terminal conditions, because they got pregnant when they were taking prescription medications which are harmful to the fetus, because they find themselves abandoned and unable to care for themselves or a child, because they have substance abuse problems, because the pregnancy is the result of rape, because they have health conditions that make pregnancy dangerous, because…

As Gawdessness said, "It ain't simple." It never is.

A blogger forced to shut down

Scotty of "The Other Side of Straight" a gay Dad blogger who is less reserved about talking about his sex life than Evan is (and that is saying something) is shutting down his blog, which I have enjoyed immensely.

He wrote about questions that straight women ask him about sex and there was at least one question on that list that I had wanted to ask someone but had no idea who I could ask. He had a story about his mother redecorating his adult bedroom (he liked the decorations). He later discovered somewhat embarrassing materials under his mattress, where his mother must have returned them after putting on the lovely dust ruffle. I laughed until I cried.

He is in a custody battle.

An homophobe with nothing better to do than make him miserable has printed his blog and distributed it to everyone who might be bothered by it. He is shutting down.

The blogosphere is not safe, not really. I started the blog primarily because I realized that I was boring my husband and friends with my constant talk about the foster care system. I needed an outlet. What I found was community of people who are now friends. I have allies from all sorts of places who give me support, and I thank you all.

No...I'm not considering shutting down. In my case there is no custody battle. I genuinely believe that if the worst happened, I would loose nothing more than the blog itself. The social worker whom Evan told about the blog never went looking for it, or if she did she managed to dodge my tracking service. If I had to do it over again I would not ask the kids for permission to write. Though the obvious reasons for doing so still exist, I did not fully realize that I would be asking them to keep a secret and that is not fair to them. So I would have done that differently.

But it saddens me that anyone has had to shut down.

And so I take a moment to tell Scotty and his delightful, funny, irreverent blog goodbye.

And Scotty, if you think this post is in any way a threat, I will delete it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We got to meet the boys

After extensive debate and meeting them, I decide to call the boys "Peter" and "Paul."

They just came over for a visit. Peter is 15 and Paul is 16. They are 349 days apart which means they are the same age for one week every year. They are both in the same grade (10th). It is good, I am told, to have a brother in the same grade because you have a lot of the same classes and so you also always have someone to help you study. Peter has been living there "for a while" and that Paul moved in just a few weeks ago. They love video games, and have no problems at all using the bunk bed. They're big boys though, and the bed squeaks. We may give them the option of removing the bed and just putting the mattresses on the floor.

They thought the rec room was amazing. I forget that most houses don't have old finished basements with big rooms for kids to fill with junk. There is our old dining room table (seats 6 comfortably) around which Andrew and his friends play D&D. There is an old sofa on the other side with all the gaming equipment the boys have collected over the years, and there is a desk with a computer in a corner. The computer has an external wireless adapter that kids can check out when they want, and get permission, to be on the Internet. In general, the room is a 15-year-old boy's idea of heaven.

Their mother is planning on being gone a week. She is hoping to be able to give me at least a week's notice. She has only been doing care for a couple of years. There was a really comfortable affection between her and the boys. They seem like very nice boys, and kids on respite are always on their best behavior -- at least they always have been for me. I'm looking forward to having them visit. For a week we will not be out numbered by the pets.

Now we just have to get all of Brian's stuff out of that room. Most of it he says he doesn't want anymore. He wants to have a yard sale and sell it all. Now where will I put it until it gets warm enough for a yard sale?

"PFLAG Foster Mom" and other names

I can worry about the stupidest things. I mean really, really trivial.

We are about to have two boys over for a week of respite. Exactly when, and how long, they will be here is a little up in the air as it depends upon the birth of a baby and how long the mother needs her mother around afterwards. The baby is due in three weeks, so it probably won't be this week, but it will happen soon.

So what am I worried about? The fact that Brian is occupying two bedrooms and neither ready for guests? Not really. I figure we can fix that quickly. How about the fact that our Christmas decorations are STILL UP. Nope. That just makes us fun and quirky.

No, I am worried about their BLOG NAMES. See, I am up to "F" for boys names. If I give them and F and a G name (say "Frank" and "Greg") then when the new kid gets here I will be on "H" and I don't know that I want to use "Harry" or "Henry" for a kid for years. I have already begun to think of the new kid as Frankie/Francisco or Olivia (on the off chance that the give me a girl).

So there are options:
1. Get over it. Just keep giving the boys names as they come.
2. Save "f" for the next permanent placement and call these boys "Greg" and "Henry." The girl name list is already out of temporal order. "Ann" was the first kid I wrote about, but not the first girl in the house. I remembered some earlier girls after giving later girls names.
3. Decide that it is not a "girl list" and a "boy list." Maybe it is a respite list and a permanent placement list. It just happens that the respites have been girls and the permanents boys. In fact I think I did have that one respite boy, whom I refused to give a real name to, on the "girls" list. That would mean that these boys would be what... "Orville" and "Paul" or "Owen" and "Peter." Then the new kid could be Frankie either way.

Periodically I think about changing the name of the blog -- not the url. All the links would still work. I want people who are looking for foster care blogs to be able to find me, and I don't use the words "foster care" very often in titles. So I think about calling it "Thoughts from a PFLAG Foster Mom." I can't think of a name I like that actually has "Foster Care" in the title.

I mean really...can there BE more trivial things to obsess about?

Probably. If there are, I'm sure to find them.

And if anyone has any comments on my excessively trivial obsessions, they are invited to leave them.

The parent's closet

It's my turn with our PFLAG chapter's cell phone. Actually, it is almost always my turn. I'm more comfortable with it than most of the other folks are. I get tired and need a break every now and then, but mostly it is at my house. We can go months without getting any real calls. (Calls from students doing research projects don't count as real calls in my book. I talk to them, but it is not what I prepare myself for when I hear that cell phone ring.)

Recently though I've had a couple of conversations with a mom. It's the sort of call we don't get very much anymore. She doesn't have anyone to talk to. The son who just came out is about 20 and in college. She is not ready for him to come out to the rest of the family. She believes that he is not ready, and that may be true, but somehow I get the feeling that it is more her than him. In any case, her husband and other children don't know. No one in her church knows. She doesn't have access to the Internet and so the only people that she has to talk to are me and a cousin who lives far away.

I said we don't get these sorts of calls very much anymore. Usually the calls are from people who mostly want some information. They call once. They ask me if their child can really know that they are gay when they are seven or twelve. They ask me for some book recommendations, and I never hear from them again. I don't hear from them because they are talking to their friends. They are not closeted. They travel their journey with their friends, spouse and siblings.

When I talk to GLBT teens and adults about their parents they tend to see their parents along a simple continuum with condemnation on one end and acceptance on the other. They want their parents to accept them, support them, be happy for them. Many of them, especially the younger ones, think that the only issue their parents have to deal with is homosexuality. They just have to accept that. The teenagers have no idea how complex their parents' journey is.

Right now this mother who is calling me is not ready to tell people. She adores her son and she is afraid that others will condemn him, and right now she is not strong enough to face that possibility. He is, she tells me, the boy that everyone loves. So many people in the family have had so many problems, but he was the one, the golden boy, the first to go to college. She cannot bear the thought that people will no longer love him. She will get there; I know that she will. Most of us find that the majority of people in our lives still recognize our children's worth, and that we no longer give a flip about the ones who don't, but it takes a while. I think she knows that. She also knows though that some people who now love her son will turn their backs on him, and there is nothing she can do about it.

She is re-remembering his entire childhood. When did the awareness start for him? How much pain did he feel? How alone was he? Did she say things did she say that made it worse for him? How many times had someone said something negative about homosexuality around her son in her presence while she stood by saying nothing, doing nothing? It was her job to protect him and to help him, and she thought she was doing it, but she wasn't. She thought she was a good mother to him, but now she is not sure she was. She says she just wants to put a bandage on the pain and she knows that is ridiculous. His childhood was what it was, and there is nothing she can do to change that now.

Suddenly she is the mother of a son whom people condemn. Two weeks ago she was the mother of a boy whom everyone adored. Two weeks ago she was the mother of a son who was safe. Now she is the mother of a boy who could be the victim of a hate crime, and there is nothing she can do about it.

"I'm just so angry" she tells me. "That is the strongest emotion I have been having about all this. I'm angry. Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes," I tell her. "It makes perfect sense to me."

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Parentified Child

I have written before about the challenges of trying to parent a parentified child.* Heck, in a lot of ways everything I have written about the boys has been about trying to parent a parentified child.

My boys had been separated from their siblings long before I met them. I did everything I could to support their relationships with them, but reunification was not an option.

Yollie, one of Cindy's kids writes about being a parentified child. It's thought provoking and I recommend it to you.

*I may try to come back later and add links to those posts.

Parenting and acceptance of all my children

I was at an Alanon meeting recently. It was the only one I have attended since Evan left. It was sort of weird. I understand lots of reasons why it is good for me to go, but I felt distant and frankly superior. I was no longer in the thick of it and it was easy to remember the right things to do and easy to forget how difficult it is to do those things.

There were two sets of parents there who were there for the first time. They had sons not too far away from Evan in age who were having a lot of trouble. I ended up speaking with the parents after the meeting and I don't remember what order it happened, but I did mention that Evan was a foster kid and one of the fathers said that they had adopted their son, "he was adopted as an infant, but I guess you never really know." I started to nod and get ready to talk about what can happen to a child while still in the womb, when we both realized how uncomfortable the other father was. I said something that seemed appropriate at the time and the conversation moved on.

The point though was that the other father and I were saying, "It isn't our fault. We love these kids, but the problem can be blamed on someone else. It is the birth parents' faults. I have to deal with this problem because of what they did, because of their genetic heritage."

When people ask me what the difference is between raising my bioboys and the foster boys I have two answers:

1. The two bioboys are so different I can't give you a sensible answer. Andrew and Brian require different parenting techniques and bring out different emotions in me. The question assumes that there is a way that I feel about my bioboys or a something that it is like to raise them, and there is not one way. It is like you lived in France and Japan and someone wanted to how Brazil, Canada, and China were like or not like France and Japan.

2. There is one important difference: a greater sense of responsibility or even guilt. Carl, David and Evan have the problems that they do because of their absent fathers and neglectful mothers, then why do Andrew and Brian have problems? Of course I could blame Hubby, but that won't get very far. No if Brian has trouble in school or Andrew has trouble with stress it must be my fault. I could decide that it is because we do care, but then that is my fault too, isn't it?

And if they are what they are because of me, doesn't that mean that it is my job to fix my mistakes? Everything becomes about me. If Andrew goes to a top ranked college, that must mean I did something right. Doesn't it? If he goes to a school that does not impress my colleagues and friends, well, then I did something wrong. So maybe I should try to talk him out of the attraction he has for his number one pick. Never mind that it is probably the perfect match for his interests, values, and academic dedication (if not innate ability). It is not one of the four schools within 1000 miles that people around here announce proudly that their children have decided to attend. Maybe I should push him to reconsider that list? Everyone else thinks that they are better schools.

And if Brian has trouble keeping track of school work and keeps failing classes because he doesn't turn things in, even though he gets A's on all the tests, that's my fault too. At the very least it is irresponsible of me to continue to send him to public school where he is treated as a kid with a problem instead of home schooling him. I might be forgiven for not moving to The City where there MIGHT be a private or public school more prepared to deal with his brand of specialness.

Someone asked me if the attitude of acceptance that I wrote about in the last post was something that I needed for the bios too. My answer is, "Hell yes."

Though the problems Andrew and Brian face may be much smaller, the sense of responsibility I have for them is much greater. My desire to control them, treat them as programmable and not respect them as free humans, is even stronger.

Parenting, of any kid, is really, really difficult. Sometimes every choice seems wrong. Establish a behavior plan and give rewards and we are being controlling and not respecting our kids' individuality. Let go and allow them to make their own choices and mistakes and we are being irresponsible as parents. Every decision has to be made as carefully as you can. The answer always depends upon the needs of the child and of the parent. Deciding when to enforce structure and when to provide freedom (or do both at once) is never easy.

And in that way, parenting all my kids is EXACTLY the same.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The dog news

The last post on the doggie quest may have been a bit cryptic, so allow me to be blunt: the b*tch bit me.

I am actually angry at the people who originally bought her. They got her without checking the pet policy where they rent. So far they are just being impulsive and thoughtless. However, after they realize they can't keep her they don't do what they have to do to re-home her quickly. Instead they leave her in someone's screened porch while they attempt to find someone who will pay them what they paid the breeder.

What they don't realize or don't care is that every day the dog spends on that porch the further she gets from being house trained and socialized. We got a lead on another older puppy and we called about it and it was almost the same story -- they have to move and can't take him with them, so the dog is on a tie-out in someone's yard.

After some discussion we broke down and got a puppy. We were able to get a slightly older one (11 weeks) because the people who bought it from the breeder had a similar story, but this time they were working with the sort of good breeder who vastly prefers for the dog to come back to her than to be left in a porch or tied out in a yard.

Anyway, he's a Shih Tzu, adorable, and even CD likes him. I started up the pet blog again so those of you who want to laugh at my attempts to house train the little fur ball can read and mock, and those of you who find reading about someone else's pets as boring as I would, need never hear about it again.

Good parenting and surviving as a parent

There are two basic things that I have found useful as a parent.

The first is all the good parenting practice I have been taught and often remember to use. Baggage has been giving summaries of what she is learning in her classes right now. What she posted most recently is all about descriptive praise, similar to what I talked about before. Baggage is doing a great job of explaining things carefully and well.

These things really, really help. It is so much better to praise than to punish. It is SO important to remember to teach your child what you want. So many parents, even good and loving parents, teach children by telling them what they should not do. No one tells a kid before going shopping, "Let's talk about the rules for stores. There are long straight places that look like perfect places to run, but we have to walk in the store. It is also really important to stay close to me. We should always be able to see each other." Nope. We get into the store and then yell, "NO RUNNING. Come back and stay here with me!"

So all this stuff is good.

But it is also dangerous. It gives us the illusion that if we do this parenting stuff right we can control how the kids behave. If we just make enough charts, reasonable goals, remember to give rewards, and generally always be the cheerful, alert, engaged perfect parent, we will have perfect children who do their homework and clean their rooms and never get into any trouble.

When they don't turn out to be these perfect children, or adults, we feel horrible guilt. We exclaim, "What did we do wrong?" Often the answer is NOTHING.

Sometimes there is a diagnosis to explain the failure of perfect parenting. Sometimes our expectations of what children can learn and internalize is not consistent with some very basic aspects of that child.

Sometimes we "misunderestimated" the power of the behavior we wanted to "correct." If a child had a strategy that saved her life, that allowed her to survive years in a damaging environment, that is not going to go away because we remembered to praise the other behavior that we prefer in its place. A child who is reasonably and deeply ANGRY and hurt over what has been done to them, or who is terrified of being hurt and believes that getting close to you is risking all sorts of pain, is not going to get over that because you praise them for telling you the truth.

The wonderful parenting techniques are wonderful. They can do a lot and I think and talk about them a lot. They are important.

But they are not magic. They do not simply work. The children for whom we care are not programmable.

So we need the other half, the half they don't teach us in those parenting classes: acceptance. We need to remember that we can do everything right and the child, or young adult, still is a complex human who will make his or her own choices, who will act from pain and experiences that we cannot control. You can do everything right and things can be going wonderfully and then, perhaps because you were doing everything right and things were going wonderfully, the child deliberately does something outrageous.

It could be for all sorts of reasons. It could be because all this goodness and cooperation started to feel unreal. It began to feel like they were living in a Disney movie and the kid needed things to feel real -- so he or she left out the milk to spoil, broke your favorite thing, or stole the neighbor's bike just to inject a little reality into the world. Or maybe they needed to know, again, that you would still love them if they were naughty -- that your love wasn't contingent on this behavior plan working. Or maybe they were overcome with rage that all their life wasn't like this. Suddenly they realized this is how they SHOULD HAVE BEEN TREATED and all the rage against their early life came exploding to the surface. They are mad. They are mad at what was done to them and they are mad at you for making them realize that and making them have to admit that the parent whom they still love was mean to them and it is confusing and frightening and to hell with your nicey-nicey praise and rewards and positive encouragement!

What they don't tell you in the parenting class, is that if you do everything right, you just might make them feel safe enough to feel the rage.

What they don't tell you is that long stretches of everything going SO WELL are often inexplicably followed by sudden stretches of everything going to hell in a handbag.

So the parenting techniques are invaluable. You can't do this without them.

And they are not enough. You also have to remember that you cannot heal them or walk their own journeys for them. They have some serious healing of themselves to do. They need to walk that journey and heal themselves, and we have to accept that we can parent, but we cannot control.

Got to give my reader credit

A couple of weeks before Evan left I was really worried about how Evan was going to manage to do a good job supervising children at the house when he was so bad at dealing with Brian. Evan found Brian annoying and his entire strategy for dealing with Brian was to give him orders. Evan did not realize that he was giving Brian only two options: simple compliance or rebellion. Of coure Brian did not choose to follow the orders. I worried and one of y'all sent me this:

There is a chance that Evan's alpha-male-ness will allow him to work with
difficult kids by putting him "in charge". Instead of being equal to the kids
(like he is with Brian) and having to "fight" for power etc, he will be part of
the power structure. Chances are good that this will at least bring out a lot of
patience, at least in some contexts. Power does funny things to people... (These
observations are based on my experience training teens to be camp counsellors -
often, those who had problems with peers were quite able to deal with their
charges because of the shift in mind set.)

You were right. Evan seems to be doing wonderfully with the kids at the house. He is tolerant of them. They love that he is this giant teddy bear of a man. They climb on him and wrestle with him and he takes it until he has had enough and then he tells them to stop and they do. It turns out that it is a different sort of relationship than being the not-really-a-brother thing he had with Brian.

It was reassuring to read this, so thanks for sending it then.

Monday, January 15, 2007

More news from Evan

Evan is doing well. His roommate, after seeing him first help set fence posts and then learn that he is gay, has decided that Evan is "a straight guy with a thing for other guys." Evan says it works for him.

What doesn't work for him is the spoiled, homesick girl who showed up, whined for a few days and then asked Daddy for a plane ticket home. Evan tried to be encouraging and sympathetic, but it was no good. The girl isn't going to stay. Evan writes that he understands where his resentment is coming from, so he is not saying anything.

From what he says I think he is proud of his resiliance, and worried too. Wouldn't it be normal to be more homesick than he is? But is it good to be able to adjust like this? I told him I was proud of him for what he was doing and for his ability to understand why the girls behavior irritated him.

I really am proud of him. It sounds like he is working really hard and I think he is doing well.

And I am pleased that he still wants my opinion on his life. He asked for it often over the past year -- he tells me how he feels about something and wants to know, "That's normal right?" or "It's good to look at it that way, isn't it?"

It is why he shares too much. He wants to know what I find shocking or worrying. It isn't that he wants to shock me, it is that he really is not sure what will. It is not that he just wants to adopt whatever my reaction is, but he does need that as one piece of information before he can figure out what he thinks.

And I was afraid I might loose him after he moved out.

Carl warned him. I distinctly remember Carl telling him, "Once you get into this family, you don't get back out."

Oh...Evan has a date. I told him to tell me all about it...well not ALL about it. The PG version would be just fine.

Next: Evan's not well

Reflecting on being vigilant

Process wonders where the If my life were a novel post comes from. The short answer is too d*mn much time to think. Why should I care about whether they send me more kids? I'm not in this because I want to be a parent. I am a parent. I've had as many kids as I want. I have a good and full life, why do I feel anxious about when they will call? Why don't I just move on with my life? Why do I feel I should be "watching" and just a little lost that no one seems to need me in that way?

So I have too much time to think too much about why I do this, to wonder if it is some sort of psychotic level of co-dependence and to decide that it doesn't really matter how I got this way...I am this way and it is a good way to live.

So send me another kid already.

If my life were a novel...

the near drowning on July 4, 1995 would be the central event. It would be the event that illustrated and explained all else. The novel would start with that day.

Fifteen or more adults, responsible people all, eat and talk and laugh while half a dozen children play. Three of those children want nothing other than to play in the pool. One woman, one of the mothers and one of only two woman here who is also an employee at the college that connects them all, sits and talks with a colleague. In the morning she had lived in the role of mother. She had watched all the children in the pool. She had a been a lifeguard in high school, and she knew the importance of it. When she tired, she had asked other parents to take turns. When she noticed that the parent in the pool looked bored, she sent her husband in.

But in the afternoon she relaxed. She fell entirely into the role of colleague, of an adult with no responsibility for children. She talked and laughed and relaxed, and it felt good to do so.

At one moment she looks up and sees the kids in the pool with no adult in with them. There are adults, as there have been all day, standing all around the pool, but none watching the children. Her own child is wearing a life jacket and is safe. A thought passes through her mind, but it is so fleeting later she cannot tell you exactly what it was. Did she think, "My child is safe, and the others are not my responsibility." Perhaps she simply felt relaxed and happy and did not really think at all.

Some time later (half-an-hour? an hour?) the four-year-old is seen on the bottom of the pool. So quietly, with no splash and no struggling, he had taken off his water wings and slid under the surface. His brother calls for help, but can get no breath. His friend, the son of the woman who had noticed they were alone, calls out. One of the adults walks over and says, "The baby's in the water." The woman, the one who noticed they were alone, the mother of the one wearing the life-jacket runs and pulls the boy out of the water. This child is the son of one of her close friends, and little brother to her son's best friend. The child is purple. She breathes for him and begs him to be okay. Thoughts fly through her mind, "How exactly do you give CPR to a child? The 911 operator can tell me. Has someone called them yet?" She yells for someone to call 911, and feels for the child's pulse. His heart is beating. He takes a breath and begins to vomit. He will live.

What the woman doesn't know now, but will later, is that the child has brain damage. He will recover, but he will loose fine motor skills. He will forget a significant amount of vocabulary. He will be frustrated by forks and light switches. He will know that he should know what they are and what they are for, but he will stare at them in confusion. A child who used to sing and hum all the time, he will cross his arms in frustration when his father and brother sing because he cannot remember the words to songs he vaguely remembers loving.

But maybe that comes later in the novel. The novel opens with the party, but once we know the child will live, perhaps we go back in time to the woman's childhood. We learn about the all-too-common problems. We meet a father who should not be a father, who explodes in rages at children being children. We learn that the woman, as a young child, learned to be vigilant. She played with her baby sister, but always part of her mind was watching. She watched her father and her sister. She monitored the mood of one and the noise level of the other. She did everything she could keep things under control. Being four, being a child, it was not possible for her to succeed, and she would see her younger sister beaten. She herself was rarely hit, but she knew the feel of the belt. Mostly though she watched, believing that if she had just watched more carefully she could have kept this from happening.

The novel moves forward and we experience with the girl the relief and peace that the divorce of her parents brings. We see her mother as a good, but flawed character. Hard working and lonely herself, with a seven-year-old so willing to play the mommy role, she too often allows her older daughter to be the emotional caretaker of her younger. It is helpful and it is sweet. Many people tell the older daughter what a good big sister she is. She is the one who comforts her sister when she cries. The girls fight like any sisters, but throughout their childhoods, when the younger one has a problem she turns to her big sister and her big sister helps. The mother is relieved; she has so much to do, and it is good that her daughters are close.

The mother will be torn between appreciating her daughter's responsibility and frustrated by the girl's tendency to watch everyone and everything. Is it good or bad that this girl reminds her that they are low on milk and cat food, cares for her sister and even for herself? But the mother also cares for the daughter. Between her and her older daughter there is no confusion as to who is the mother. When the older daughter is sad or hurt or has any need, the mother responds. The roles in the family are clear, and though they are not perfect, they work. There is the mother, the big sister, and the baby sister. They each have their jobs and they all do them.

As the daughter grows into a woman people who love her tell her that she worries too much. Her husband will sometimes tell her gently that she does not have to forsee every possible problem. She should relax; she can relax. The world will not fall apart if she does not watch, worry and guard.

Except that one afternoon it does. The woman lets go of watching and worrying and guarding, and a little boy almost dies. She is not vigilant, and a child forgets songs he loves and no longer knows what a fork is for.

She cries, but she cannot spend too much time there. She sees what this event has done to her older son. He now is the vigilant one. He hovers over his brother. He watches. He knows now that the adults cannot be trusted to keep danger away. Over and over the woman tells her son, "You don't need to stand over your brother like that. It is my job to watch the baby." "But what if you're not watching and I'm not watching and something bad happens?" The mother wants to tell her five-year-old that nothing bad is going to happen, but she knows he knows that is not true so she tells him, "That would be very, very sad and it would be my fault, because it is my job to watch the baby."

A hundred times as she needs to run back into the house to get her keys or leave the back yard to use the bathroom she almost says, "Keep an eye on your brother for a minute, okay?" But she doesn't. She takes the toddler out of the car seat or the swing and even though the boy says, "I can watch him" she says, "No. It is my job. I will take him with me." If it hadn't been for the drowning she would have done otherwise. She would have let the big brother watch the toddler for the 30 seconds it would take to grab the papers she left on the kitchen the table. She would not unbuckle him and carry him back into the house with her. But she she does, reminding herself, "It is my job to watch."

The near-drowning haunts her. She confessed, crying to the mother that she noticed the children were alone. The other mother forgives her, thanks her for pulling her son out of the water, tells her that she had told her husband to watch. The other mother blames her husband. They have been unhappy for years, and this will provide the reason for the divorce that would have happened eventually.

If my life were a novel, that would be the key. That day would be the central event. In order to understand me you would have to know that day. You would have to understand what came before it in order to understand what came after it. A little girl grows up feeling responsible for the safety of others, particularly for her sister. Subtly that sense of responsibility is reinforced. Unsubtly, the possible consequences of letting go of that role are brought home.

If this is were a novel, it might end here. It might end when the audience understands, but not the woman. Or if Sartre wrote it, it would end with the woman seeing the pattern, understanding that she could walk away and knowing that she will not. Allusions to Sysiphus would have been made. We would see the woman as doomed not to push the same rock up the hill forever, but to never rest because always another rock waiting. Yes, Sartre would make the audience understand that the woman could walk away, but won't. She will live in a hell of her own making, forever trying to watch and protect everyone.

It might make a very powerful novel, but it would not be me for several reasons. One of course is that I am more complex than that. We all are. It potentially makes a good story, but good stories are always tidier than real life.

The more important one though is the notion that what I do now is something that I am condemned to do. Only Sartre would see it that way. For just moment, as the pieces of the puzzle fell together, I wondered if the Sartrean interpretation was right, but I don't think that it is.

If Nietschze were writing the novel it could have a different ending. I, the woman seeing the pattern of her life, could will that life. I could claim it, be glad for it, because it made me who I am, and I value who I am. I am glad that I am a person who does not look away.

I cannot quite pull that off. I could do it with most of my life, but not that one day. There is no way I can ever think of that day and not wish that I had not kicked the kids out of the pool. I can forgive myself, cease torturing myself; I can find peace. I cannot however stop believing that it would have been better if I had acted.

But I can almost pull it off.

I can say that the Sartrean interpretation of my life a Syssiphean hell is wrong.

To notice, to care, and to do, even if one feels compelled to do so, is not hell.

It is a life worth living.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Saga Continues

I feel sh*tty, oh so sh*tty. I feel sh*tty, and callous and mean.

I could give you details, but I don't want to. Some of you are following the dog story and so let me just say, I'm a foster mom. A person foster mom.

I am more than that, but that is part of who and what I am. I take teenage humans who have been neglected and abandoned and abused. I am careful only to take those kids whose issues lie within my skill set and the abilities of kids already in the house to deal with. I don't send children back because they are not perfect. I expect them to make me crazy. I expect to be tired, and to cry, and to feel deeply worn out -- and rewarded -- by caring for them.

Though it is not really my theology, if you were to say that this is my calling, as my husband does, I would not argue with you. Those are not the words I would use, but close enough.

There are other people who are doggie foster parents, other people whose calling is taking dogs from people who purchased on impulse from breeders about whom they know nothing, who then neglected those dogs and later found themselves with a sometimes sweet, sometimes aggressive, always adorable unhouse-broken little pooch.

I could be one of those doggie foster parents, but I'm not.

I'll stick with the teenage humans.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Puppy visit went well

Well, I feel sort of silly posting about the puppy visit, but I actually get more comments on that than anything else I have to write recently so here's an update.

The puppy is darling, of course: ginger with dark tips. Her owner has only trimmed her fur around her eyes so it is currently about four inches long. She has a real "teddy bear" look to her. If we keep her she will get her fur cut off and kept off. I'll have to take photos of her now though. This walking dust mop is pretty cute. And she is not a barker, which I really like. I could not live with a yappy dog.

The park visit went okay, so they came home. At home the dogs are working things out. CD wants to be boss, and I think puppy is mostly okay about that. Puppy does not try to take the chewies, unless CD is out of the room, and then she takes one under the sofa. CD can't get her whole head under the sofa, much less her body, so she stands outside the sofa waiting. Puppy is a good waiter though and eventually CD gets distracted and Puppy ends up on some one's lap. Of course there are now several chewies way under the sofa. I think I may need to find some chew toys for CD that are too big or heavy for puppy to drag around. That should not be too difficult. It is frustrating for CD because she wants to be the boss and she is not allowed on the furniture and the little furball is.

Pup is not housebroken. I am making Brian take her out often and we had to successful outside eliminations, and one puddle in the hallway. I have a crate, and we have started using it. Puppy accepts it fine and CD has decided that she likes puppy in the crate too. So we will be be crate-training and puppy won't be allowed the run of the house until she proves herself trustworthy, which may be a while.

So it sounds like we are keeping her, huh? It looks like it.

The puppy was an impulse buy of the adult daughter of one of hubby's colleagues. Adult daughter's husband was laid off and they were told that they were not allowed pets in their apartment. So for a while now, puppy has been living on the colleague's screened porch. Good thing the dog was bred to live in Tibet because it has been cold recently. Unfortunately, this means that house training will be challenging. If puppy hated the crate, I don't think I would give it a try.

Anyway, Hubby has to talk to the adult daughter about the puppy tomorrow.

Brian likes the dog, and I am attached to the breed, which means that if Brian does loose interest I won't be resentful.

Puppy Visit

Hubby, Brian and Cattle Dog are off to visit the female Lhasa Apso puppy. They are going to introduce the two dogs in a neutral location, like a park, to see if they will consider tolerating each other. The puppy is just six months, so that will help. On the other hand, females of both breeds have a reputation for being intolerant of other females, so we will see.

I told Andrew that I was not going for the first meeting. "I'm just too anxious about the whole thing -- worried about whether it will work, whether it right, what we should do. I don't want a puppy, and I'm disturbed this one is being kept on a porch when it is so cold. CD is so sensitive, my anxiety might affect they way everything goes."

Andrew grinned at me and said, "Ya think?"

So I'm staying home.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A beautiful post by Fostermama

I love this post. Here is just one quote. You'll have to go to her site to read the rest:

In foster parenting, the need is greater than most. A child enters your home
with a NEED for a stable loving parent to help them heal and grow. "Oh I could
NEVER do that" Yes, you could...if you were personally touched by someone in
need, you would do whatever you could to help. It's easy to say no to an
abstract concept but not when it is sad, big brown eyes looking at you. If you
feel qualified to parent a child, you're probably qualified to foster a child.
It is an emotional rollercoaster and it isn't for everyone. The need is greater,
the problems are bigger, but the love is the same.


Responding to Aidel

Aidel Maidel says:

Just being devil's advocate ( ;) ) and I *know* you're not this way, but do you really see foster children as a distraction? Not to put altruistic intentions upon you, but aren't you really doing it for a higher reason than to just be entertained/not bored?What do you think Madonna's obnoxious comments about adopting orphans? Do you think she is doing this for publicity and/or entertainment reasons? How much is altrusitic and how much is to boost self-esteem?

I don't know which comments you mean, as I have managed to ignore Madonna fairly well.

And you're correct, when I said that I was ready to be called because I was bored I did not mean that in a "I need to be entertained" sort of way. Almost the opposite.

It's like this: there's this job that I do that is really rewarding and exhausting. I got time off, which at first was such a relief. It felt like there was more air. I was tired and it was good to rest. I was anxious and curious about who was coming next into our lives, but if I asked myself if I really wanted to phone to ring today the answer was "no. I'm still resting." But that is beginning to change. I was tired; I got rested; and I am beginning to feel restless. I'm bored with vacation; I'm bored with entertainment. I'm ready to get back to work.

Sorry, I have no comments about Madonna. I have feelings about forgein adoption, but nothing that I can articulate without nearly getting into a fight with myself.

A strange morning

6:40 -- leave to pick up Miss E and take to school.
7:00 -- come home, start to read email and blogs, be told by hubby that his car is not working
7:30 -8:00 -- drive Andrew, Brian, and Hubby to school.
8:00-8:10 -- eat breakfast
8:10-8:20 - pick up Miss E at high school and drive to Dr's office
8:30-9:00 -- talk to distraught mom on PFLAG cell phone
9:00 -- go pick up Brian from school because he threw up again.
9:10 -- make u-turn to go pick up Miss E from doctor after she calls on cell phone, drop her off at high school, and come home.
9:20 -- try to work.

It's not happening. I don't know why. I have a bunch of partial blog posts none of which I seem to be able to finish. I have papers to grade, but it looks like half of the class must have dropped them off at my office instead of submitting them on-line but it is COLD outside and I don't want to leave the house AGAIN to go get them. These are really short papers and I don't normally assign grades until I can do a quick read through all of them to get a sense of whether most people understood the assignment.

I'm just feeling restless and unfocused.

And I think I am going to click publish, but I don't know why. Why would anyone out there find this the least bit interesting to read?

Okay...I am ready for them to call me about a kid. I'm bored.

Boyfriends and boy friends

Sometimes I think that there is only one real difference in parenting GLBT kids and straight kids. There are lots of issues that you have to cope with with GLBT kids. Some of those are societal, some have to do with whatever the kids have internalized about who, what, and how they should be, and of course there is the on-going internal growth.

But there is at least one thing, maybe only one thing, that seems to be objectively different with at least gay boys: the pool of people from whom they find their friends and their lovers is the same group.

If you are raising a kid, let's say a boy, who you believe is straight, it is easy to make rules like: only boys may spend the night; and if a girl is visiting you must leave your door cracked. Though it may be incorrect, it doesn't seem wildly outrageous to assume that any visitor of the opposite sex is a possible temptation. It is a rule which seems reasonable to most people. And it does not inconvenience most youth horribly, because most of their friends with whom they might want to talk privately, are of the same sex. They are welcome to close their door all they want.

The thing is, once my boys start being out and being involved with the youth group for GLBT kids, they start making more friends and many of those friends are also gay boys.

It took a while for me to figure out what I wanted to do about that. I wanted to be fair. I wanted a way to sort out friends from "friends with privileges" and lovers. It turns out that there was no way that I could do that. It wasn't just that I can't tell the difference; it is that they are not always sure either.

The boys have had relationships in which they seem to genuinely move from just friends and something else. I used to joke that Carl's pattern in making friends seemed to be to go on a date, make-out and then break-up. It was almost as though he needed to test to see if there was any boyfriend potential there before he could relax and just be friends. I know that straight people have cross-gender friends and that sometimes friends become lovers, or the other way around, but not nearly so much. And the difference does not seem to be one of degree, but of what is typical.

If a straight girl told me about some boy she wanted over, "We dated and were all hot and heavy for a while, but then we decided to just be friends" I would reply, "Right. You can't shut your door when he is over." When Carl told me that, I was inclined to believe him.

I gave up on it. I finally just told the boys, "If you have a boy over, keep your door open."

They were suprisingly okay with it.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Too quick to say "yes"

Miss E called me yesterday afternoon to ask me if I would take her to her physician appointment Friday morning. Something or other is wrong with her toe. I said, "sure." I mean, I don't have classes, and my office, her school, and the doctors office are all within a mile of each other.

Then this morning I thought I should check in with her social worker and mom. Their response? "Appointment? What appointment?"

Bad Yondalla!

Actually, they are not angry with me, and I did say I would only take her if they give her permission to leave school for this. There is also the problem, which has happened before, of Miss E forgetting that the doctor won't see her without a responsible adult signing her in.


Next on Miss E

De-lurking week

Blame it on Gawdessness. She has this graphic and she says it is de-lurking week. Becoming accustomed to following in her footsteps...

So, if you are a lurker...time to introduce yourself.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Dog Search Continues

Still following in Gawdessness's footsteps, Brian and I continued to do research on dog breeds. We read the descriptions and talked about dogs we know. Your Pure Breed Puppy is an excellent site if you want to know not just what people who like the breed say, but what common issues exist in a breed. My take on the Australian Cattle Dog review is that he is correct. Our Cattle Dog does not have the major faults described, but if anyone asked me what the down-side of the breed was, I would give about the same information. You have to not let the site scare you off though. As the site author tries to remind people all the time, it is NOT that all dogs of this breed will have these faults, but it is the case that these are the things you should look for as you meet and consider particular dogs.

Brian has decided that his favorite breed is the Shih Tzu, or perhaps Lhasa Apso.

So now the search is on. We are taking it slow, but we have a direction. I am watching the listings for the shelters, and the newspaper. I also wrote to the AKC Shih Tzu Club and asked for a list of breeders so I can start contacting them. We are still hoping to find a young male dog. It may take us a while, or no time at all. We will see. If we get all the way to the summer without finding a young, adult male with the right temperament, I will consider a puppy. Since we are a family of educators, we are home during the summer, which would be much better for a pup.

A colleague of a my husband is trying to re-home/sell an 8-month, female Lhasa Apso. It's the wrong breed, wrong age, and wrong sex but I am considering asking if it can spend the weekend with us just so that I can see if the Cattle Dog would tolerate a female, if it were young, and to let Brian see what it is like to take care of a teething puppy. Who knows, maybe it would turn out to be the right dog. It is supposed to be a well-mannered puppy. The issues have to do with unexpected changes in the owner's life, not the with the behavior of the puppy. (I did just say that I wouldn't consider a puppy until the summer, didn't I?)

I find that this process can be as emotionally draining as considering new foster kids. I don't suppose that should be surprising, a pet can be nearly as much of presence in your life as a child, and it is necessary to make a long-term commitment to them.

The whole process is also a good illustration of my character faults. I am getting too wrapped up in this, and too willing to believe or at least hope, as Brian does, that the right dog will take away all of his loneliness. I am letting myself get distracted from things I should be doing.

And another wrinkle this has brought up:

Andrew is afraid that if Brian gets a dog, Andrew's cat will run away. His cat already lives exclusively in the "garden level" part of the house (i.e. the finished basement where the boys have their bedrooms). So we considered whether we should move Brian to the bedroom next to ours, which would mean that his room would become the room of the next kid.

Living the sur-real life that I do, I checked in with the family developer at our agency to see if they have any objections to my doing that. Would it be okay with them if the new kid's bedroom in on the same floor as a 17-year-old boy's and no parents? Given our demographic (i.e. we won't be taking any heterosexual girls), she said okay.

Don't tell Brian though. If he doesn't get a dog, we would rather he stay downstairs, especially while it is just the two of us. Hubby moves to sleep in that room sometimes. He claims that I snore.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Anxiety and Praise

Okay, this this is what I was going to say at Cindy's, it is a theory about how to praise kids. Cindy had been talking about a kid responding to a reward for good behavior with a rage. I'm too lazy to find that post but here is where she talks about comments related to the incident.

There is a theory about praise -- too much creates anxiety. I don't know whether it is true, but I tried to follow the recommendations for non-anxiety producing praise with my kids and I like it. The idea is that when you tell a someone that they are "good" one part of their reaction is to think "no, I'm not." As adults we often do that verbally. Your guest says, "That was such a good dinner. You are such a good cook!" We respond, "Oh, not really. You should have seen the disaster I created last week!" None of us feels comfortable when someone tells us that we are much better than we believe ourselves to be.

Children though have not learned how to reduce paise to a non-anxiety producing level on their own. You tell them that they they are "such a good boy/girl" and just like when you tell me that I am a great cook they think, "No I'm not." They don't have the verbal skills to deal with it, so they do something "bad" to show you that they are not really all that good.

SO...the recommendation is that you don't use "big" praise words. Instead you notice and comment on how you feel. It is simple and really difficult at the same time. You tell them to clean their room and they actually do it. Thrilled you say, "Wow. Look at this room. It is a joy to be in" and you bite your tongue before you add "you are such a good kid" or "see, you can clean if you put your mind to it." If all you do is notice and appreciate, the kid gets to finish the sentence and they believe it. You say, "Just look at this room. There is nothing on the floor. How did you manage that?" The child then says, "I just found places to put everything!" "Wow. Just being in this room makes me feel relaxed and happy." The child then draws the conclusion that they are good at organization.

I REALLY like this way of communicating with kids. I have found that if I can do it and sound natural (not easy) it can work really well.

I did this a lot with Andrew, and it seemed to "work" in every way. The more I did it, the more cooperative and responsible he became. I thought that I was the best parent on the planet.

Then Brian came along and a lot of my fancy skills just didn't work. Brian seemed immune to praise or criticism. He did what he wanted when he wanted. Thank goodness most of the time what he wants to do was within the range of acceptable behavior. When he was three and I would comment and tell him that something he did made me happy or sad he would look at me like he was saying, "Gee, Mom. I'd love to hear all about your emotional states -- but I got stuff to do."

Smenita Returns -- just when I had something to say

Okay, so I have something to say one at least one blog nearly every day, but this was Cindy's blog. I almost never feel like I can say anything other than Wow. Today I wanted to say something. Not something earth-shattering, just something.

In case you don't know, "smenita" is a mysterious blogger thing. Every now and then that is the combination of letters that shows up for word verification. When you get that combination you are stuck. You type it in and it is not accepted and you are asked to type in a new word verification, except it is not's smenita!

I'm going to turn word verification off on my blog for a day or so. Hope I don't regret it.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Complicated respite decision

I guess it is complicated. It didn't seem overly so to me.

See...we do respite care for Mandy all the time. She takes kids who are on probation. They have been cutters, had eating disorders, chronic runaways, and more. I ask the fam, "Hey, one of Mandy's girls who is on respite with Annabelle got caught in a compromising situation with a 20-something at the Y. She's throwing a fit and refuses to go home with Annabelle. The police have been called. If we don't want her she goes to detention. Anyone mind if she spends the night here?" Naw...hubby and the kids are fine with it.

Or, "A fight broke out at Mandy's. Blows were thrown and they want to separate them. You all okay with one of them coming over here to cool off for a couple of days?" problem.

And then I get a call from the social worker with my agency. There are these two brothers, really nice boys, good kids who don't get into any kind of trouble. They are bio-brothers 15 and 17 years old. Their foster mom's daughter is expecting a baby in the next month or six weeks and will I agree to giving respite to them for about a week but with very little notice so that mom can go be with her daughter and grandbaby? I say probably, but I will have to talk to the family.

Everybody is anxious. Teenage boys? Remember when we did that before, Mom? That one boy stole video games. Well, yes, but the thief was the older brother, not in care, and had a police record. If you are worried you can always move it all into your rooms and lock them. That's why you have keyed locks.

Hubby says, "Wait, aren't you teaching an afternoon class?" "Yes. They might be home for a half an hour before I get back. Brian and Andrew will get home before they do though."

"Oh no. They can't be in the house if one of us isn't there. We can't allow that."

Where is all this anxiety coming from? These are boys who don't get into trouble. Girls with history, fine. Nice boys who might like their new video games however are to be viewed with suspicion.

See my sons know the girls we take often have a history of shop-lifting, but they don't shop-life video games. Teenage boys though...that's a threat to their turf. Getting a brother that they get to know first is fine, but a drop-in? That worries them.

So now I have to call the social worker back and ask her if the boys have any history at all of theft and as long as she is arranging them a ride home from school (they are just over the district line and go to a different high school) can she arrange for them not to get home until 4:00?

Funny what they get used to and what feels threatening.

Information about Yorkies (or perhaps Silky Terrriers) sought

When we were at the small shelter on Saturday, waiting for the woman in charge to get back into the office and give us information, a police officer came in with two stray dogs. One was a large breed, one of the ones some people find frightening, the other was a cute little thing. They had been running together -- both unneutered males with collars and no identification. We asked to hold it and we really liked it. Then they told us it was a Yorkie and I thought, "But I don't like Yorkies."

I realized I had never actually spent any time with them. I just have a mental picture of them as yappy and spoiled. The dog at the shelter was a bit larger than I thought Yorkies were, and just seemed friendly. It was sturdier than the little toy-like dogs I have periodically seen someone carrying around like a baby doll.

In any case, they let Brian put his name on it. That means that if the owner doesn't claim it in a week, Brian is first in line to adopt it, although they reserve the right to decide that someone else who puts their name on it is a better match. They also warned Brian that the chances of an owner not coming in to claim a Yorkie who was clearly well-groomed, if dirty, was next to nothing.

But I would like feedback about the breed from anyone who has experience with them. What was your experience? What do they need? What would you recommend to someone who was considering adopting one?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Doggie gone home

So Brian was not sure that this was the doggie for him. DCS is a nice dog, he said. He likes him. It's just that he is just a little bit to heavy (25 lbs) to carry around. Pick up, sure, carry around, no. He asked if we could go back to the shelter in The City and turn in his request form for a male lap dog. For various reasons, it looked it was going to be more difficult than we originally anticipated to find the exact dog he wanted there.

He was crushed, which is when I realized he really wasn't bonding to DCS.

We got home and DCS did not want to come out of his crate. He did not want to eat. He just seemed so sad.

So we took the dog back to the dog rescue woman. Like I said, the dog did not want to come out of his crate, until he saw the leash. He was quite happy to be home again, and then seemed to think he was going to leave with us when we went. I am sure the dog would have got over his homesickness and bonding to Brian if Brian had been wanting to bond with him.

I am sad. I liked this dog, but the dog wasn't for me, and if what Brian really wants is a dog he can carry around, then he will need to keep looking. Part of me is hoping that Brian decides he misses DCS and wants him back. sigh.

Another doggie update

Brian has decided that we should take DCS back home while he thinks about it. He says he really likes this dog but wants to be certain.

It is such the right thing to do, and I confess I am disappointed. I like this dog. The whole mellow, not barking, and being house-trained went a long way with me. DCS has also started "asking" to jump up onto furniture with people, whoever seems to be available. He is fine with being told no and being pointed to Brian instead. I think he could easily learn that if Brian was there no one else will cuddle with him. Brian understands, at least at an intellectual level, that no dog not even a puppy, will come into the house devoted to him in particular. In order for that to happen he will have to invest.

We have learned that the Cattle Dog can accept another dog in the house, and that is really important. Just a while ago DCS got into CD's dog bed. CD looked at him for a while and then picked up her chewy and lay on DCS's rug. Both dogs seemed fine with that arrangement.

The most important thing is that Brian feel attached to the dog. I don't want to end up with yet another family pet and a boy who complains that he wants another.

Being the obsessive worrier that I am, I wonder what will happen with a new kid. I wonder if telling them they can devote themselves and make any animal in the house "theirs" EXCEPT Brian's dog will make them decide that that is the only pet they like. Sigh. I need to stop scanning the horizon for new things to worry about.

Assessing the dog

1. Seems to have established good relationship with other animals.
2. Very tolerant of being held on lap and petted.
3. Has not barked much during the time I have known him (about 20 hours).
Barking moments: when CD was barking at him at his house; when he and CD got into a squabble (although his mouth was quickly occupied by biting back; when he was in the guest room alone and the door was shut. Even then it was a bark ... wait ... bark. When he heard Brian calling to him he remained quiet until Brian got there. He did not even bark when someone knocked on the door.
4. Has not had any accidents. He spends most of his time toddling around the house sniffing everything, but has not seemed to feel the need to smell the place up to pee.
5. Walks slowly, even his trotting run is fairly slow. This means that Brian can walk him without frustration.
6. So far has only got on furniture when Brian has picked him up to hold on his lap or sleep in the bed with him. He did not choose to use the "steps" Hubby had made for him.
7. Very mellow personality. He tends moves a lot -- he seems to be almost constantly toddling and and sniffing, but he is slow, quiet, and calm.

1. Woke Brian up in middle of night with licking. Brian assumed he needed to go out and got up to let him. I need to make certain that this dog does not regularly need to pee at 1:00am.
2. Grooming costs/commitment. I don't know how much that will be, but it is a factor. Of course it was likely to be a factor in all the breeds that Brian was considering. This dog definitely shows the influence of Cocker Spaniel in his coat. Though Cocker lovers would probably be horrified, I have no intention of having him trimmed with a fringe. I do need to find out how much it will cost to have him given a short, all-over clip. With such a clip, he should not need too much brushing.
3. Not particularly obedient. If you call him he clearly understands that you want him and then seems to decide whether he wants to come to you. About 60% of the time he does. We will need to teach him to sit and stay in order to get food at the very least. Not because he makes a pain of himself, just because I understand that to be important for him to understand his place in the pack.
4. I'm not certain that he is as affectionate as Brian really wanted. He accepts cuddling, but does not necessarily seek it out. Right now Brian is sitting in a big comfy chair watching cartoons. The dog could easily be in his lap. Instead he is lying on the carpet behind my chair. He will follow around whoever is moving, and will sometimes go lie down in the guest room alone for a while. That is the room with his crate and rug from home and where we fed him. He doesn't go into the crate, but I suspect he likes to lie next to it because it smells like home. We've brought the rug out of the crate into the living room.

It is the relationship with Brian that matters most. I just need to be certain that Brian will be happy with this level of affection. It is definitely more than CD. CD would never relax. Even when she rolls to let you rub her tummy you get the feeling that she is performing a trick. DCS will settle in Brian's lap, sigh and lay his end down to accept the petting that is clearly his due. So far after about 10 minutes he wants to go exploring again and doesn't seek out Brian. In fact when he wants to stop patrolling the house he has been coming to rest behind my chair for a few minutes, not going to Brian. I'm not sure Brian is noticing. Whenever he wants to the dog he gets him and holds him.

If this is enough for Brian, then this dog appears to be as close to a perfect addition to the household as we could hope to find. Fortunately the woman's policy is that she will refund the adoption fee for one month, so we will have plenty of time to make certain they bond. I have to call her this afternoon and either make arrangements for him to go home or to sign the full adoption contract and pay the fee. (BTW, Brian is paying the fee. We will be responsible for on-going expenses, but he had to be willing to put a couple months allowance into the dog.)

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Report on the first day visit

This will become a foster care blog again, someday. For the moment it looks like it is a doggie adoption blog.

So CD (the Cattle Dog) tends to be dog aggressive, but it is clear that she is not a confident alpha, pack-leader dog. It is more of an anxious aggression.

Anyway, DCS (Dauchsund/Cocker Spaniel) just doesn't seem to care much about all that stuff, although he is not going to be pushed around. I don't know what started it, but they got into a tight corner and suddenly there was snarling, then wimpering. DCS was biting CD in the butt. We got them separated and the Cattle Dog tried to make nice. DCS didn't seem all that interested -- there were still smells to be catalogued. CD finally sulked back to her doggie bed.

I actually think this is a good sign. What is appears we have on our hands is a new dog who is not interested in being bossy, doesn't object to CD "herding" him around to a certain extent, but is willing to bite her in the butt if she gets too aggressive. Otherwise the two dogs got along fine: inside and out.

Andrew is still convinced that if the dog goes downstairs (our house has a ground floor with our bedroom and the guest bedroom and a nice, finished basement where Andrew and Brian's bedrooms are along with a large rec room, a bathroom and the laundry room) his cat will get upset and run away. So tonight at least Brian is sleeping in the guest room with the dog. Hubby took the plastic box in which I keep quilt pieces to work as a step to make it easier for the dog to get on and off the bed. If we keep this dog I see a slow accumulation of foot stools in our house. As far as I can tell this dog is about as good a dog for Andrew's cat as we can hope to find. He is short and slow, doesn't jump well, and is mostly uninterested in the cats.*

Anyway, I am thinking about moving Brian upstairs to the guest room permanently. I wrote to the family developer to see if they would have any objections to the next kid being in the basement with Andrew. It is the smallest bedroom and the youth will almost certainly understand that as a status issue, though maybe less so if we explain that it was Brian's room for years.
*Well, except for the kitten, about whom DCS seems a bit confused. First, they are both males; second, they are both neutered; third, they are from different species. Okay, I get that it is a dominance thing, but it is a very strange dominance thing.