Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Foster kids and medication

Sunshine Girl has another post on the over-medication of foster kids.

Whenever I read them I go through the same set of thoughts:

  • Sometimes these drugs are lifesavers, literally. I don't think that Sunshine Girl would dispute this. She is concerned about over-medication, not genuinely needed medication.
  • Given their personal and often family histories, it should not surprise us that foster kids are more likely to be on medication than the general public.
  • Even so, there is far too much medication of foster kids.
  • What bothers me even more is that I see little to no planning for how the kids will manage post-emancipation. Too often the kids do not know either how they will manage without the meds or manage to get them once they are on their own.

I'm going to share something that I don't think I have put on the public blog before. I'm a little nervous.

In my husband's side of the family there is some pretty dramatic examples of both depression and bipolar disorder. Brian has been taking a medication that is not recommended for children for more than two years. I'm not going to share everything about Brian's odyssey, but I will share two things. First, the child psychiatrist took more than a year to get his medication and dosage right. Brian spent months on sub-therapeutic dosages while we watched to see if he was going to have a bad reaction to them. He did have bad reactions to ADD meds.* It was done slowly and carefully. He is on the meds he is because research into what has worked for his relatives and is own responses demonstrate that that is what is best for him.

Second, if I could cry in gratitude for the existence of these drugs. They gave me my son back. I have no doubt that Brian's issues are biological, genetic, and thank G-d they are treatable.

The foster boys have had a different history. One of them suffers, I believe, from a low-grade, chronic, possibly biological depression. He was on anti-depressants for about six months during which time I thought he felt better and was more successful in achieving his goals than when he was not. He chose to go off them. One of them wanted anti-depressants to make him better, but they didn't. The entire time he was with me he kept demanding that his doctor try him on a different drug. None of them did what he wanted them to do. Another refused to take them, which I supported. It never seemed to me that he needed them.

They were all offered anti-depressants.

It was not like it was with Brian. Partly it couldn't be. There could be no detailed family history; no discreet phone call to Uncle What'sHisFace to ask, "Can you tell me which drugs you took and which ones helped?" But in part it could have been. Of course they were 15-17 and not 10, but they did not spend months at sub-therapeutic doses while people watched for negative reactions.

When Mandy brings girls over for respite I no longer ask if they are on medications. I ask, "Where are the instructions for her meds?" I am up to N on my alphabetized list of respite kids. One of those kids was not medicated.

My experience confirms that medications are given too quickly and with too little oversight. Once they are on the medication, no one seems to ask whether they need to be on them indefinitely.

As I said before, I am especially bothered by the minimal (not non-existence) planning for treatment post-emancipation. That is a problem that goes beyond foster care though. The sad truth is that too many people in the US don't have adequate health care and foster kids tend to become members of that group.

So this so far has just been rambling. Usually I try to share experience and not give advice, but I am going to offer advice here:

  1. If your foster child seems to you to be over medicated DO NOT DISCONTINUE the drugs on your own. Even if the drug they are on is not good for them, a sudden withdrawal can be worse.
  2. Talk to the prescribing doctor about your concerns. Assure them you are willing to watch them closely. Tell them you want to wean them off whatever meds you can.
  3. If you have older kids, let them be part of the decision.
  4. As the children get close to emancipation, have serious conversations with the social worker, the doctor, and the youth about what they need and how they can afford to pay for it.
  5. Consider not reminding kids to take their meds the last year they are with you. If they are going to have trouble remembering it is better for them to experience the consequences of that decision while they are still at home.

Okay, that's it. Not my most exciting piece of writing ever, just some basic thoughts about the medication of children.


*Brian has a friend who takes an ADD med which has helped him greatly. Last summer this boy started acting out at my house and I told his mother that I did not know what was going on. He had not done these sorts of things for years. She sighed and said that her son had wanted to try not taking his meds for the summer, but they had decided he needed them. When he is on them he does not seem "drugged" but he does have impulse control.

Sexual Safety Plan

FosterAbba wrote a post the other day about the limits that foster homes need to keep kids safe. Baggage responded with a good post of her own. The guidelines differ from state to state. The idea though is that you need the guidelines for two reasons: so the kids don't feel sexually threatened and the adults are protected from false allegations.

What you have to remember is that kids who have been sexual abused can be treated in ways that get safe touch and unsafe touch all mixed up. Children love to be cuddled. My bioboys always loved it when I would do light tickle-scratches on their arms and backs. They had a wonderful time wrestling with their father. For traumatized children all of that can be mixed up with unsafe touch. For them there was no line or boundary between what was appropriate and what was not. That can result in them either being nervous about being touched in ways that we think of as safe, or in not recognizing touch we deem inappropriate as unsafe. In other words, their line, if there is one at all, between safe and unsafe can be "off" in either direction.

My agency, which cares for teenagers and a few pre-teens, deals with it in a very detailed and direct way.

When a new kid moves in every member of the family sits around the table. A document called "The Lastname Sexual Safety Plan" is read out loud. Some details are filled in or changed, and everyone signs it. The first time Brian signed it he was six. I've talked about it before. I decided to discuss it again, although I don't know that I am really going to say much that is new.

It includes some typical things: no one goes into some one else's bedroom unless invited and then the door stays open. No one may be outside of their bedroom or bathroom in just their underwear or without a shirt. I forget how the bathroom thing is worded. It allows for multiple people to be in the bathroom brushing their teeth and combing their hair with the door open, but only one person may be in and the door must be shut if anyone is not fully dressed. Tickling and wrestling are prohibited. It states that if anyone is touched in anyway they do not like, they should tell someone about it.

My favorite line is, "The only people who have sex in this house are mom and dad and then only with the door closed."

Most of this can be negotiated. The adult line about sex is changed for same sex couples to read however the parents want "Mom and Mommy" or "Daddy Bob and Daddy John," whatever. When Brian was six the bathroom guidelines had an addendum, "Dad may be in the bathroom when he is helping Brian to wash his hair." The kids liked to wrestle with their father so much that we had them change the wrestling/ticking clause to "play wrestling is allowed only if everyone agrees and Dad is playing too."

There are a couple of things I really like about it. One is the section that the foster kid fills out with his or her social worker. It starts off, "The kind of touch that makes me feel safe and doesn't make me feel like someone wants to have sex with me are: ____" It doesn't ask the kids to list what makes them feel unsafe. The kids list what makes them feel safe. The social worker will usually ask them things like, "Do you feel safe when someone hugs you with one arm?" "What about when someone hugs you with two arms?"

I also like that it talks about it always being okay to talk about touches that you don't like or that make you feel unsafe. This is presented as not just sexual stuff. It is anything. It's always okay to talk about it.

It is taken for granted that the rules will relax after the kids have been there for a while. Even though the plan prohibits me from being inside a bedroom with with a kid with the door shut, if a child wants to talk to me privately we will go into his bedroom or mine. I station myself away from the door and tell the child that s/he can decide if the door should be open or closed and that they can change their mind any time. And even though I am prohibited from giving back rubs, if they have a stiff back, I will recommend a hot bath and tell them that if they want me to rub Beng*y (or similar) on the place I will. If they are touch-shy I will tell them to come back wearing a t-shirt they can pull up above the sore place and a towel they can wrap around themselves below the sore place.

When a kid who had said that they did not feel safe being hugged with two arms started crying I put one arm around her and then asked, "May I hold you tight right now?"

I find the kids have very different reactions to it. Some find it silly. With them we tend to relax a little more quickly. Some feel very grateful for these sorts of safeguards. With them we will continue to keep them strictly even if the child understands that they are not necessary to keep them safe. For them it is a constant reminder that they are safe here.

And that is what the plan is about. It is not about what would look safe to someone on the outside. It is not really about keep me safe from false allegations, although that is part of it. It is really about making the kids feel safe.

It is about teaching them that they get to say what feels good and right to them. They get to set the boundaries. Touching only happens in ways and times that feel safe to everyone.

It's about giving them back control over who touches them. And when approached this way, it is not for just the first six months, or for while they are in foster care, it's for their whole lives.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You can lead a horse to water...

...and afterwards the horse will always know where the water is.

It's my slogan. Someone recently asked me how I can do what I do. Someone wanted to know how we foster parents can make traumatized teens get better, and how do we keep going when there is so little hope that they will get better?

This someone is a person in my real life and so doesn't know about the blog. So she hasn't read me say this over and over. But even so I wanted to say, "Listen very carefully. I'll say it one more time."

We cannot heal them; they must heal themselves. Sometimes the only thing we can do is to show them healing is possible. And that is something. That is success. Showing them where the water is, hell, showing them that there is water, is a gift worth giving.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Books for parents of gay teens

I'm feeling cranky.

I recently looked though the library of our local PFLAG chapter, an easy thing to do as it is in my house. It's a bit dated. We really need to get some new books. We could use some books dealing with the transgendered experience, but we also need some books for parents of GLBTQ children and youth.

It was so frustrating to me 7 years ago when I first become the parent of a gay teen. I looked for books, but everything that was address to parents was written in a time when it seemed that everyone waited until they were adults to come out. Practically all the information I could find on gay teens focused on the problems they had as a result of unsupportive families. There was precious little that was helpful to trying to be a supportive parent in action. In theory, sure. Lots on that. But what did it mean to parent an out gay 15 year-old?

I am still not finding much out there.

Go any recommendations?

And the walls were shaken

Jackie spent the weekend at the house. She turns 18 in less than two months and said that she might take me up on my offer to have extra breaks at my house. She is finding the other girls to be really irritating. Mandy fully supports her taking respite as often as she (Jackie) wants it.

We forget that respite can sometimes be for the kids.

Jackie suffered a rejection Saturday night. She told me about it Sunday, showing all the signs of a kid who has learned to move on from loss too easily. Though it mattered enough to tell me about it, she did not show much emotion. I was sad for her. It was not that I wanted her to feel pain, but I had not seen these sorts of walls in her before. I was sad to see that her defense mechanisms were so well developed.

Then she went for a walk and came back shaken.

Startled, I asked her what was wrong. Trying not to cry, not to tremble, she told me that the person who had rejected her had called to ask her if she was okay. He genuinely had to leave her life, but not because he did not like her. He did not want this to hurt her; he wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make it easier.

I knew that what he had done was kind. He genuinely wanted to make the loss easier for her, if he could. What he perhaps did not realize, was that he had just shaken her walls of defense. She was vulnerable. She was trying not to break down and sob.

"How could he do that? If he is going to leave he needs to just leave. He shouldn't do this!"

Dear Jackie, which is it that hurts? Is it that he, like so many others, is leaving you? Or is it that he, unlike all those others, still loves you?

Of course it is both. If he really does still care about her, then the loss is a real loss. It is not one she can pretend does not matter. And she has a lot of feelings of loss hidden behind that wall. If the wall comes down, even a little, it is going to hurt.

Friday, March 23, 2007

It was just a moment, a minute, maybe 10

You know that feeling we wish we had left in junior high -- that one where you are trying to join the conversation with the cool kids, or at least the cooler kids, and hoping that you are accepted? Or perhaps worse, joining up with a bunch of people, thinking you belong and then feeling like maybe you weren't hip enough to be there?

I'm not talking about the deeply painful rejection that we sometimes get. I mean that more subtle thing, where maybe it is that you are not being accepted, or maybe it's just that you are trying too hard, or maybe you are just imagining things.

Over the weekend one of our most favorite couples in the whole world celebrated their 65th anniversary. They were PFLAG before PFLAG existed. Now in their mid-late 80's they are still active, showing up at events, supporting everything that is good and right.

So Hubby and I went. Of course we went. I anticipated seeing the other PFLAG people, but there was only one elderly gent from the group. Mostly there was a sea of old people. Dozens of them. I'm sure they were all very nice, but I'm not good with people I don't know. I looked around and said quietly to my husband, "How long do we have to stay?"

He smiled and said, "The gay people are on the patio."

Hurrah! We are saved. We dashed out to the patio. There were three women whom we know well, one who works with Hubby, two others who come to our monthly potluck, and a fourth who used to host a public access TV show that Hubby and Evan had been guests on. She gave us that look that says, "Where do I know you from?" There were another couple of women we did not know and half a dozen men, a couple closer to the celebrating couple's age than to mine, none of whom knew me.

I was delighted they were there. We pulled up chairs and settled down just like we belonged.

One of the men gave me a funny look. He then continued with his story about how undisciplined children are these days. He doesn't understand why the breeders don't control their spawn better. My husband, quick to laugh and slow to take offense or feel unwanted, laughed and complained about how so many of his students arrive at school exhausted.

I suddenly felt like a STRAIGHT WOMAN. I mean, I am one, but I don't think of that as my identity. I had sat down at this table thinking of myself as a PFLAG Mom and a GLBT Ally. THOSE were the labels I was acting under. I found myself tugging at my shirt so that my PFLAG logo necklace would show. I don't mind being called a breeder. I have referred to myself as a breeder occasionally. What the man said about kids didn't particularly bother me. It was this sense that I had invaded someone else's space.

And I had. Before we went out there everyone on the patio was a member of the community. They had not all met before the party, but they had most certainly found each other and created a safe space. Then here come the heteros, pushing their way in and acting like they belong.

I feel embarrassed thinking about it now.

Anyway, the conversation continued. One woman said something to the effect that you have to have a license to drive a car, but not to raise a kid. We should be able to do something to stop abusive people from having children in the first place. And I said, "But who will decide who gets to raise children? Do you really trust the government to pick out the 'right' people? Personally I'm not a fan."

There was what seemed to me to be an uncomfortable silence. Was it just my imagination, or was that one older gentleman giving me a look that said, "Who the hell are you and what are you doing invading our space?"

I turned to the woman who had hosted the TV show and said, "D., how many of my boys were on your show? I know you had Evan, but wasn't Carl on it once?"

Sigh. I knew only Evan had been on it. She knew I knew. I was just trying to bring out my creds. I belong here -- really I do. Please, let me stay.

Did I mention I feel embarrassed just talking about it?

I was torn. There was part of me that wanted to say, "I have spent the past seven years fighting for your civil rights, old man. I have written letters to the newspaper, the legislators, and a column in the GLBT monthly. I have lobbied senators which I hate doing. I have been mother and aunt to three gay young men. I marched in all the Pride Parades -- even the one the day when the temperature hit a record breaking 117 degrees. I have earned the right to sit at this table."

And part of me wanted to say, "It doesn't matter. When you and Hubby sat down you changed the nature of the social space. No matter how much your kids like you, you can't go sit down at a table with them and their friends and expect them to be comfortable. When a bunch of professors eating lunch are joined by staff members, the nature of the space changes. This man has spent his whole life being treated horribly by people who look like you. So he's not thrilled you sat down here. It isn't personal."

And then there was the part reprimanding myself, "Would you just cut this out and relax already? Stop acting like a puppy begging for a pat on the head. Just stop!" I thought about the woman who was celebrating her anniversary today. What would she do? She would be so filled with love, as she is for everyone, that there would not be any room left to worry about whether she was accepted.

Yeah...the embarrassment just keeps coming.

And I know the experience was a reflection of my privileged status. See I have this story -- one afternoon this past month I had this experience where I thought I had the right to be somewhere and yet felt unwelcomed. It was a moment. A moment that makes me feel embarrassed even remembering it, but it was just a moment.

The gentleman across the table, who may have merely wondered who we were and how it was that we already knew half of the people there, did not grow up having periodic moments like that. His life was like that. His whole life he must have wanted to say to people, "Stop looking at me like that. I do too have a right to be here!" For my boys high school was that experience for four long years. Even if they had, as I did, several people near them who supported their presence, still there were always others looking at them funny, questioning their right to exist.

They survived high school. I can survive 10 uncomfortable minutes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Declining the invitation

Now that Miss E is speaking to me again I get to practice some other skills. Most particularly there is the one I think of as "declining the invitation." It might be a sort of selected hearing. Or maybe it is a ducking and weaving. In any case, this is one of the mornings in which Miss E really, really seemed to want to argue, and I kept refusing to play.

So, in just the 10 minute ride this morning we had the following:

Me: "Jackie is coming over this weekend."
E: "I wouldn't spend the weekend with her for a million dollars. She is a backstabbing ho."
Me: "Oh."
E: "There isn't a better word for her. I wish there was, but that is what she is."

-- I think about what a great kid Jackie is, how much easier she is to love and just be with than E. I consider the possibility of asking E why she dislikes Jackie so much. I say...

"Is that sibling group of three still living with you?"
"They move tomorrow."
"Oh, is that a good thing for you?"

She does not respond as she fiddles with her phone. "Everything okay, E?"
E: "I have a missed call and this thing is buzzing at me."
Me: "That's probably me. I called you when I got in the car this morning and it went to voice mail."
E: "Well you the one who made such a big deal out of it, complaining to my social worker about calling me!"
Me: "Wow. I'm sorry to hear that message got garbled. I just emailed your social worker to let her know you had been late to school."
E: "That's not what I heard."
Me: "Well, I am sorry about that. If I didn't want to call, I wouldn't call. I promise."

Having side-stepped the issue about complaining about her to her social worker, I attempt to change the subject.

Me: "But it looks like we are going to be on time today."
E: "I would be on time every morning if it weren't for the traffic and the trains!"

Okay...that's just wrong. She's got this tone though -- like surely I will fight with her about THIS, won't I?

Me: "That was one advantage of Annabelle's. It was more convenient for the drive to school."
E: "It might have been more convenient for you, but it wasn't for me."
Me: "Well, it was five minutes closer and we never had traffic issues."
E: "Annabelle is a psychotic bitch."
Me: "I'm glad you get along with Marsha better."
E: "Yeah, Marsha's all right."

Sigh...I won. She has accepted that I am not going to fight with her.

Me: "So how's everything else going?"
E: "Did you hear what the school is going to do to our schedules next year? It is SO stupid."

The rest of the ride is filled with outrage over the idiocy of the school.

And my husband asks, "And you prefer this to silence?"

Yeah, oddly, I do.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007


I keep trying to write posts about boundaries, but it is a large topic and the posts keep getting out of control. This post too starts in one place and works its way to another, but boundaries are like that.

One kind of boundary is in letting go of the choices that other people make. I wrote about not judging our parenting by the results, and Process responded to that post commenting that part of what I was talking about were boundaries. She was right.

Respecting, remember boundaries, means accepting that I cannot make someone else do what I want them to do. I can offer opportunities, relationship, whatever, to the kids who come into my care, but what they do with that, in the short and long term are up to them.

Boundaries are also about self-protection.

Marelow wrote the other day that she would never stay with a boyfriend who treats her the way her son does. She of course was speaking of extreme behaviors, but that sentiment could be expressed by any parent of any young child. Children are supposed to demand that their needs be met, and they are not supposed to take our needs into consideration. Any adult who behaved like a normal two-year-old should absolutely be avoided.

But sometimes the treatment we get from the traumatized children we care for really does look and feel more like abuse than it does like the normal narcissism of childhood. Traumatized children are more likely to be physical violent. They are more likely to call us names we are shocked to learn they even know.

Boundaries, which are not the same things as rules, protect us from this unacceptable behavior.

An example of a rule is: There is no swearing in this house. If you do swear you will have (1) a time out; (2) to think of and write down five different ways you might have expressed yourself; (3) put 50 cents into the potty mouth jar. We have rules to limit behavior. Often they exist to change behavior. A child does not do his homework, so the new rule is that he must bring home a note from the teacher every day listing what he has to do and cannot play any games until after he finishes it. We hope that the child develops the habit of doing the homework and the need for the formal rule goes away. Rules are a normal and good part of parenting.

A example of a boundary is this: it is not okay to swear at me. If you use foul language at me I will remind you that I will not listen to that. If you continue I will walk away and not engage in conversation with you until you can address me respectfully. The goal of a boundary is to keep me safe from behavior that is harmful to me. Though it may result in a change in behavior, that is not the goal. A boundary can continue to exist as long as the relationship exists. I can have a child who continues to swear like a sailor in all sorts of situations, but knows that I will not engage if she speaks that way to me. That is a boundary that is working.

When Andrew was a toddler he developed a habit of hitting. When he did it I would hold his hands, look in his eyes and say, "No hitting mommy." If he hit me again I would say, "I can't play with you if you hit. I am going to go... wash dishes/read my book/etc ... We can play again in a few minutes." Though my walking away from him after he hit me was certainly a negative consequence, I never punished him for hitting me. I never gave him a time out, or hit him back.

When I wrote about Miss E the other day, it was suggested to me by her social worker that I tell her that I would leave her house at some specific time whether she was ready or not. I realized that that would not address the issue that I was having with her.

When I was first driving her to school I was also driving Andrew. I was very clear then that I would leave her house at the point I needed to to get Andrew to school on time. That was a boundary and it existed to protect Andrew. Had he continued to have a zero hour class, these last couple of weeks would have been different. I would certainly have driven off without her at least once, and she probably would have started getting herself out of bed earlier. That might have been a good thing.

I could do that now. I could set up a rule intended to help her to get to school on time. I'm not going to though. I am not her mother (by choice) or any other person who is responsible for her being "good." It is not my job to control her and attempting to do so would just create tension. There's nothing wrong with creating tension if you need to, of course. It's just that it is not my job to make sure she gets to school on time and we both know it.

If I was feeling resentful about sitting in her driveway for 10+ minutes then I would need a boundary to protect myself. I could instruct her to call me in the morning 10 minutes before she was ready to be picked up, or I could tell her that I will drive away at a particular time. Actually if she is as late as she was yesterday, I will have to tell her that I have to drive away at 7:00 in order to get to work when I want to.

And that is a boundary. We create boundaries to protect our own needs. In order for a boundary to work, you need to have a action plan to protect yourself.

There are two things that I really like about dealing with kids this way. The first is that they can usually come to understand that it is about protecting yourself and not about controlling them. In my experience that means it is less likely to escalate into a power struggle. If I was Miss E's mother and was telling her that I was driving away at a certain time because she needed to learn to get to school on time, she would be more likely to be late on purpose or to cut school after I dropped her off just to show me that I couldn't control her. If I was her mother and told her that I could give her a ride if she was ready by a certain time because that was when I needed to leave, she still might cut school -- but she wouldn't do it in an effort to demonstrate to me that I couldn't control her or to "get back" at me.

The second thing I like about it is that it is the best way to teach these children that they have the right to have boundaries themselves. With a few exceptions the kids we care for have been abused. That means someone has denied them the right to have boundaries, denied them the right to control how they are touched and how they are spoken to. Teaching them to have boundaries may be the best thing we can do for them.

When Carl lived with me he went through a very clingy stage. He seemed to want a hug every time we walked past each other. It got to be too much and I finally told him that he could have two hugs a day but neither of them would be given if I was in the middle of something like washing dishes. (Exceptions would be made for genuine emotional distress on his part, of course. We were talking about every day clinginess). He would pout about it sometimes, standing next to me at the sink saying, "Please. I could really use a hug right now. I need a hug." I would respond, "And you will get one as soon as I am done. Right now we can talk if you want."

Though at the time I really was just protecting myself from wanting to scream over being touched all the time, I realized later I was teaching him something valuable : Our bodies are our own. Nobody else has the right to demand that we touch them or allow them to touch us. Even if the other person "needs" it really, really bad, we have the right to say no.

The children we care for often have a desperate need to form and maintain their own boundaries. One of the best ways we can help them learn that is to form and maintain our own.

A Better Morning

It doesn't take much to activate my snark-response, but fortunately it doesn't take a lot to make me happy either.

Miss E got into the car at her typical 6:50 -- moving very carefully. I asked how she was, "fine." I looked at her and her face clearly indicated discomfort. I paused and put my hand near her shoulder, stopping myself before I forgot and actually touched her, "E, sweetie, what's wrong?"

She told me that she hurt her leg. It sounded like she was saying that she had shin splints so bad that she could not bend her leg and it hurt all the way up into her thigh. I don't know if shin splints can do that, and I wasn't certain if I heard her correctly anyway. I expressed sympathy and asked if she had seen anyone. "No. It will just have to heal." After a few comments about how tough things had been for her I got out my little speech.

"You know, E, I've been wanting to tell you that I really miss the chats we used to have."

"I never really talked to you."

"Well, it seems to me that we used to chat more in the car, and I just wanted to tell you that I miss that. Can you believe the traffic here? It's never like this. I wonder what's going on."

"It's spring break. Everyone is trying to get out of town."

"Huh." We turn the corner to see even more cars. "Wow. Maybe there is some sort of chemical accident and everyone but us is getting out of town."

She chuckled, "That would be funny."

"Yep. We'll die laughing together." She laughs again.

I told her about a mix-up with my new glasses. She told me that she still hadn't got hers because it was too soon for Medicaid to pay for them, but she should get them soon. When I dropped her off she was telling me that though the stairs would be difficult for her today, they were actually easier than going all the way to the far side of the building to get the elevator -- why don't the put elevators in the middle of buildings?

And that's all I need to make me happy. I'm a simple woman.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It so much easier in theory

In my brain I know exactly what to do and how I think I should react.

Miss E has been chronically tardy since she moved. Most days I pull up to the school just as the bell is ringing. That means that she will be a 2-5 minutes late, depending upon whether she goes to her locker. She often has a gym bag, so I am guessing that she goes to the locker.

When she was living at Annabelle's she would call me if I was not at her house by 6:45. She needed to be there close to 6:50 so that she could be on time. She almost always chatted in the car. Though it was almost entirely negative, I still felt like I was serving an emotional purpose in her life. I valued those five minutes we spent together every morning.

Now though things are different. She has trouble waking up, so I have started calling her as soon as I get in the car, "Hey E, it's 6:33. I'll be in your driveway in 7 minutes." I call her again when I am in her driveway at 6:40. She stumbles out by 6:50 at the earliest. Today it was 6:58. It takes 10 minutes to get to school, so she was 8 minutes late for school. I have no idea how many minutes it takes her to get from the front door to the class -- several minutes if she is putting that gym bag in her locker.

So I am spending 10-18 minutes sitting in my car in her driveway. That actually doesn't bother me much. I listen to NPR, or to my audiobook when I have one. Sometimes I recline my seat and listen to the silence. I always have a cup of tea in an insulated cup. The time in the driveway is quality alone time.

What bothers me is the silent rides. For a while I was working hard at chatting her up. The past couple of days I haven't felt up to it. I increasingly feel like I am grilling her, and I don't like that either.

Today she got in the car and I gave her a cheerful, "Good morning, how are you?"


"I keep hoping for a different answer."

"Well, you're not going to get one." This said with plenty of teenager 'tude.

I asked how things were going and she mumbled something and I let her alone. I drove to school, she dozed. I pulled up and said, "Bye E." She got out, shut the door, and walked away without saying anything. I know it is not about me. I know that she is a stressed-out young woman who is not getting enough sleep. I imagine that my desire to have her talk to me is something of a burden she would rather not have to deal with. I know that she is trying not to fight with her new foster family which leaves this angry young woman with fewer people to vent her hostility on. I know that if she does direct any at me, it is not about me at all.

So, as she gets out and walks away do I feel all this? Do I look at her receding back and feel sympathy for this hurt, angry, terrified young woman?

No. I think, "You ungrateful little b*tch. I have spent the last 35 minutes sitting in the damn car waiting on your convenience. You could at least say thank you. Maybe I will just tell you that I will show up at 6:40, not call you at all, and drive away at 6:45 if you don't get your ass out of the house all on your own. See how you like that." Quietly another part of my brain says, " feel left out because she hasn't wanted to talk to you. You want attention. Your feelings are hurt. Deal with it."

But that part of my brain is not in control of my feelings, at least not then.

It is amazing to me how quickly I can have that "well I hate you too" feeling. And what did she do? She rode in the car in silence and left without saying goodbye or thank you.

Oh yeah...she's the devil.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Busy, misc notes

If you have a teenager, you will understand the importance of this conversation: "Mom. Are you going to be going into the The City or anything?" "Why? Do you need something?" "No. I just want to get out of the house. If you were going to run errands or anything I would go with you."

That is cause for celebration. That means tossing aside all the work that you were going to do and coming up with a list of errands to run so that you can spend several hours with your son. If that means that you will be frantic the next day trying to prepare between classes and hoping that no students drop by, so be it.

If people are going to criticize the blog, which they are welcome to do, I wish they would read a little of it first. If they are concerned about my keeping confidentiality (which I understand, I worry all the time about where to draw the line, how to give a complete picture to people and deal with my own struggles without sharing too much), they should a least read the post, clearly linked on the side-bar, on confidentiality.

Don't you find it remarkable that all my children have come to me named in alphabetical order?

Sigh. I am capable of letting such uninformed criticism roll off my back. Well, after I get a little snarky about it first.

Brian has decided that the youth group is not "worth it." Apparently having boys and girls study Bible verses in the same room can lead to dancing, pregnancy, or at least inattention to scripture. Since the point of going was to be with the girl, he's decided there's no point in going. He is hoping that once all the parents get together they will be allowed to visit at each other's homes, but I think he is aware of the difficulties that presents. He may be letting go slowly of this relationship. He is 12 after all.

Miss E is still doing well. I am increasingly noticing how little she is complaining about the family. I am glad.

Hubby teases me -- without a kid with real problems to obsess about, what will I do? It is difficult to change gears. I am nervous that changing them, really settling into a different pattern will make it difficult to start up again. But I am also beginning to think that I should. I can't stay in a state of waiting. I need to refocus. I'm trying. That might mean writing on the blog a lot less.

We put in a dog door, which might help. Eventually. The puppy still always wants to be with people and though he will stay outside for a while without someone, he still wants someone to go out with him. The Cattle Dog, who is a Very Good Dog, learned to use it right away. She also still seems to need permission to come inside. She sits outside her dog door and barks until someone comes to the back door to tell her she may come inside. I suppose there are worse problems to have.

My afternoon with Andrew was fun. No big news or drama. He told me about the book he is reading in English (The Great Gatsby) I told him about the audio book I am listening to (The Plain Truth). We bought a new remote, ate lunch out, went to a bookstore, and picked up tea at the co-op. Lovely.

Now I have to try to do four hours work in two hours.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Social Worker meets family

Yesterday Miss E's social worker went to visit Miss E and meet her new family.

This is so atypical for my agency. Miss E seemed to have moved in without pre-placement visits. She moved while her social worker was out of town and to a family that her social worker does not know.

Of course it was classified, I suppose, as something of an emergency. She was being pretty insistent that she be moved and Annabelle certainly wasn't fighting it anymore. The last person who fought for her was Mandy, and that was nearly a year ago.

This isn't the way things are supposed to be. None of it is.

On the up side, the social worker told me that Miss E and the family all seem to be happy with each other. Miss E has no idea that we have thought about whether we would take her. She seems to accept that this is the family she needs to make life work with.

I'm happy to hear that.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Dad talks to Brian

So tonights Biblical lessons at the youth group concerned evolution. You know, about how it is false and all?


So Hubby decided to have a talk about the facts of science and life and difficulties of trying to form a relationship with someone who does not share the same values and beliefs you do.

Now if it were me, I would have stuck to the basic facts of science.

Brian is not currently speaking to his father.

And Daddy telling Brian that he could still go to the youth group and see the girl if he wants did not make a bit of difference -- although it did get Brian to come out of his room.

Malingering and no updates

So I think I have a mild version of what the Hubby and the boys had (they all returned to real life today, more on that later.) What they have is definitely viral -- at least that is the assumption until we find out what new product is causing a rash of food poisoning all over town. When I mentioned their symptoms to people every one has either had it or known someone who has.

My symptoms include lack of appetite, mild stomach cramps through the night, and some nausea. I haven't thrown my cookies, so to speak, but I have been limiting myself to a safe diet. As the daughter of a nurse I feel guilty for sleeping in, getting Hubby to drive Miss E to school, and having a total lazy day. You know that Mom would never let me stay home unless I had an actual fever or vomit.

So maybe I'm just pampering myself. Oh well, I'm the mommy now. I can give myself a day off.

I don't really know what is going on with Miss E's placement. The social worker kindly agrees to keep me informed, which isn't really a breach of confidentiality as I have said that I would be willing to take her for respite. So telling me that the FP's are taking her disappearing act in stride and she does not foresee any problems is within bonds. I have no reason to expect a call.

And that is good because it is eleven weeks until school gets out and seventeen, if I remember correctly, until her birthday.

I'm withholding judgment regarding the competence of the FP's. I agree with all of you who commented that they really should have known that she was out all night. However, it may be that this is the learning experience they needed. This all reminds me so much of the last few months of David living here. I always knew when he was gone, but I couldn't get him to tell me where he was. I didn't know how to handle it, and so I can't begin to judge someone else for how they handle it.

I'm still hoping she sticks there.

Oh...and I said that I had more to say about the male members of my family getting better. Now, they all got sick at about the same time and they all got up and went to their various places of work or schooling today. Brian, who is usually the one to milk an extra day out of a illness (and who am I to criticize?) asked last night, "If I make it through school tomorrow will I be able to go to the youth group?" We said yes, and he was suddenly very much better.

For those of you who are following the Brian's and fundies story, I doubt there will be much to tell for a while. The parents in question seem to think it is a good idea for the kids just see each other at youth group for a while. If the kids stay interested in seeing each other outside that environment, then they will do the background check.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

What does it mean?

Yesterday morning, after Miss E lied to me, I emailed Marsha and SW and told them what happened. The social worker called the school and confirmed that she never showed. She in turn talked to both Marsha and her husband.

Everyone is very appreciative of my email as they had "no idea at all" that she was AWOL.

Now I am trying to get my head around this.

It is clear that Miss E did not sleep at home. There is no way that she left the house prior to 6:30am. So she wasn't at home when they went to bed. She also did not get up, walk downstairs to get into my car, while Marsha was busily getting the rest of the kids ready for school.

Now the second part I get. Miss E has been climbing out of bed after I call her from the driveway. I suspect that Marsha often does not see her during the 60-120 seconds she between her bedroom and the front door. (I'm including time to go to the restroom and to collect the P*p T*rt she usually brings out with her -- although she could keep the pastries in her room).

It also means though that they were unaware that she had not come home the night before.

I'm not necessarily criticizing here. I mean, it might be this sort of hands-off, uninvolved treatment that Miss E needs to stay in a home. Just letting her come and go as she pleases, given that her history is one of very good attendance at school, track, and work, might be the right idea.

But still, it seems so strange.

If I had a teenager not come home before I went to bed, I would do a bed check in the morning to make certain he or she made it back.

If they just don't have a curfew it might explain why it is that Miss E is exhausted every single morning since she moved. Although other explanations are possible too. It might be that as emancipation gets closer she is having more trouble sleeping. I had had to wake her up a couple times while she was still at Annabelle's.

My first gut response is to think that the parents are not doing their job. I mean they didn't know she hadn't come home at all. On the other hand I am always saying that it is not fair that privileged kids get to go to college and live in dorms where they have this halfway house between childhood and adulthood, and other kids, especially foster kids don't. For foster kids it tends to be intense supervision followed by total independence. So maybe this is exactly what she needs.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Last One Standing

Brian fell yesterday. He slept a good part of the day which was unusual. I finally woke him up so that he would be able to sleep at night. Just when it was time for me to go to bed he was in the bathroom crying over stomach cramps and diarrhea. I did what little I could, while maintaining a 4 foot distance from him.

I tried saying sympathetic, motherly things like, "Brian, sweetie, I know you feel really really bad, but there isn't anything I can do about it, so will you please stop making so much noise so that I can sleep?" As I have previously mentioned, my sleep is really important to me.

Hubby, being the generous human being that he is, got out of bed and said that he was beginning to have stomach cramps too, so he would try to take care of Brian and I could attempt to save myself. I did. I slept in Brian's old bedroom. When I left this morning Hubby was offering sacrifice to the porcelain deity. He asked me to take in a packet for his substitute. I carefully picked it up by a corner he promised he had not touched.

I called mid day to learn that Andrew had not made it to school either.

None of them can keep anything down. Hubby is moving around some, but the boys look like they haven't the strength to move. When they are conscious they seem to be able to do little other than groan in misery.

I got some turkey broth out of the freezer (from the Thanksgiving turkey no less) and cooked it up for them. Hubby said he would see if he could keep it down, but they boys did not stir. Having done the good mommy thing (I made soup!), I am now hiding in our bedroom, having kicked Hubby out. This may be a bad idea has Hubby spent most of the day in the bed, and I just read that some viruses can live on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Brian's old bedroom is more likely to be virus-free, but somehow I cannot quite convince myself to spend my evening surrounded by piles of discarded toys.

But I am trying not to touch anything that Hubby might have touched. I am opening and shutting doors with my elbows. I am sitting in a chair that was buried under a blanket and my computer came with me from work. I have washed my hands so many times this evening you would think I was suffering from OCD.

Actually I think I should check that the boys are not getting dehydrated. I think I will shout instructions to Hubby on how to do that.

It's probably too late. The virus is probably even now replicating in my body preparing to lay me out in the next couple of days. But there is a chance, a slight chance, that I might not have it yet.

At least I can know that, given my generous and self-sacrificing behavior of the past 24 hours, that I can count on my family to care for me. They will, I am sure, make sure that there is plenty of toilet paper in the house before they leave me alone while they go out for pizza.

Turning 18 in foster care

I believe that in every state kids may stay in care, if they are still in care, until they are 19. At least some states allow youth to stay until they are 21. My private agency will allow them to stay until they are 21, or 90 days after high school graduation. Evan and Carl both moved out near or after their 19th birthdays.

In my state, they may stay until they are 19. Unfortunately, there are not many places in the state system for youth that age. It is especially difficult for the youth who have got into the most trouble. At 18 they need to have a criminal background check in order to live in the home. They become a liability.

If they are living in the teen shelter, they must move out. The foster parents I know who take the behaviorally challenging kids rarely allow them to stay.

The kids I talk to often don't seem to understand that they have the right to stay in care until the are 19. This might be because social workers don't tell them, or because the kids refuse to "hear" it.

See, generally speaking, the kids don't want to stay in care. State foster parents often tell me that the kids pack up and go back to their (first) families. The kids that I know are far removed from their families of birth. David left to live with a boyfriend. Miss E is planning on living with a sister, who may be a sibling from birth or may be from the family who adopted Miss E.

Both Miss E and David have told me that the smart thing to do is to stay in care. Miss E expressed admiration of Evan for doing it. They understand, at least intellectually, that by leaving they are going to make their lives more difficult. They understand that it would be better to stay in care and finish high school.

They just can't bring themselves to do it.

They are tired of social workers looking over the shoulders. They are tired of foster families imposing rules they don't think they need. These are kids who probably took care of themselves and maybe even siblings when they were eight. Why would they need help now that they are 18?

And those last few months are so stressful. Whenever it is that the kids start perceiving themselves in the final stretch, they start acting out. Not all of them. Carl and Evan were very easy their last few months. For many of them though, the see it coming and they want it now. Everything else becomes unimportant.

If you don't have a relationship with the child, their decisions increasingly become a matter of weighing what they want to do against the consequences they are likely to suffer.

How long can they be away before you will call them in as a runaway? What are the chances that they will get back before the police find them? If they have no prior history as a runaway, will the police do anything other than give them a ride home? They do the math and decide that this weekend they are not coming home.

What exactly is the school's absentee policy? Our school allows nine absences and then you have to petition. If you have C's and can document a good reason for missing school, then the petition will pass. They figure they can cut at least nine times. Of course they will get detention if the absences are unexcused, but notes are so easy to forge it's laughable. They wonder if you, the parent, are really going to call the school to unexcuse them? (I've done that. It confuses the them to no end. School officials always seem to assume that you are contacting them to ask for leniency. It can take a while to get through to them.)

It is different if you are parenting a child you have a strong, positive relationship with. If you have that, then the fact that you are worried about them when they don't come home becomes a factor in the equation. It might not be a big factor, but it is in there.

If you don't have a relationship, or if the child is working hard to sever it so that it will be easier to move out, then your feelings and needs have either a negative influence or no influence at all.

I've written about all this before and I have debated possible solutions (I'm not going to search the posts and give you links. It isn't really different from what I'm saying now).

I wish their 18th birthday had no special significance. I wish that adolescents could not acheive legal adulthood until they finish high school or turn 21. I wish that the kids were thinking trying hard to graduate so that they could leave, not just biding their time waiting for the magic date to roll around.

I wish...I wish...

But I am powerless. I am powerless over the situation and I am especially powerless over Miss E. I now have confirmation that she not only did not come home last night but that she did not go to school today. Her phone call this morning was a complete and total fabrication, which is not the least bit surprising.

I wish...

I wish these kids would accept the help they need.

Miss E is AWOL (updated)


I went to pick her up and called her cell phone from my car in the driveway. This has become our habit since she moved. At Annabelle's she was usually in the living room with the shades to the large window open so she could see me. If she did not come out after a few minutes I would call, and almost always the response would be "I'm on my way. I just have to find my keys/get a book/do something." Rarely, although with increasing frequency, I would wake her up.

I have had to wake her every day at Marsha's. Marsha is, I know, up getting other kids ready for school. I don't know if she makes any attempt to wake up Miss E or if she just lets her do it herself. I regard her not working hard to wake Miss E up as a good sign. Miss E is difficult to live with. Picking your battles would be important.

Today though she did not answer either of my two calls. I was about to call Marsha when Miss E called me back. She was calling from her cell phone. She was surprised, didn't I get the message she left on my cell phone last night? She decided to go to the gym this morning. She was right at that very minute walking across the street so that she would not be late for school.

I think there is about a 5% chance she is not lying to me. Even if she was able to drag her butt out of bed that early, who would drive her? It was a more plausible lie when she lived with Annabelle. Annabelle had to leave for work at 5:30am. Of course there was no message on my cell phone.

I'm sad. Years ago I would be angry at being lied to. I used to get offended at even small lies. I never thought that would be something I wouldn't consider worth fighting about. Now teenagers tell me lies, and even when I see right through them I just say, "okay."

When they are kids who live with me I will sometimes have fun messing with them. If a kid told me they were at the gym I would, for instance, ask with enthusiasm if they would pick up a new schedule for swimming classes so that I could sign Brian up. Often they knew what was going on. I was saying, "I know you are lying to me, and I am not going to fight with you about it."

But what is going on here, or at least probably going on, is that she did not come home last night. Annabelle said that Miss E had been spending weekends with her older sister, contrary to the wishes of her state worker. The last time I heard the "going to the Y" story it was cover for that. That time she did end up going home. I dropped her off at school, but she cut that day anyway.

The last few months before emancipation are often so difficult.

I can't help but feel so sad for her.

Update: I got confirmation from Marsha. Miss E did not come home last night. I don't know if she was home home for any part of the weekend. Marsha and I do not have any sort of relationship yet and so she doesn't share much with me. That's okay. She's the mom. It was my choice to stay "just the driver."

I have visions of this being just like David.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brian and the fundies

So Brian called to ask if his crush could come visit. He spoke with her father who told him that today was not a good day and that all the parents should get together for a visit first.

I don't know how they are thinking about this. I don't know she has a crush on Brian, or if her parents are thinking about the relationship in those terms. I've been parenting teenagers for quite a while and have become much less protective than I once was. They may be wanting to visit us for the same reasons that any parents want to know the parents of the kid's friends. You want to make sure that the parents are nice people who will supervise the children. You know, not let watch R-rated movies or play with guns.

Religion may or may not be on their minds.

And if it is, learning that we are not ... whatever it is that we are not ... may make them decide that Brian should visit them as much as possible. You know, so that they can save him. They may even decide that Hubby and I need saving too.

So I am not certain how I want to play this. I can easily let Hubby take the lead. Though he is politically liberal, thinks that evolution explains how life developed, and believes that most of the Bible is to be understood as something other than literal history, he is also decidedly Christian. If I just keep my mouth shut, he can talk the talk with them. T'he advantage of this is that we would not become targets for their religious zeal. It might be dishonest of me, but it would pale in comparison to the time I faked a "born-again" experience in order to get a zealot to let me go to bed.*

I know that there is a limit to how much I could keep my mouth shut. If they ask why we switched churches I will have to tell them that it was because our previous church refused to let a gay man serve communion and I can only attend a church where my gay sons are accepted. I'm not biting my tongue on that one.

I did warn Brian. I told him that the church they go to teaches that being gay is a sin. That surprised him a little. He is innocent in some ways. He knows that such people are out there, he just doesn't think that they are very common. Certainly they aren't the nice people he meets. I told him that her parents might think she should not go to boys' houses until she is much older and just might decide that we are a bad influence.

Of course we might not even get that far. I'm tempted to suggest to Brian that he tell the girl all about how much he likes Dungeons and Dragons and or loan her a copy of Harry Potter. That will probably be enough for her parents to decide that he is not right for their daughter.

Well, either that or set out to save his soul from the demonic influences his negligent parents expose him to.

*A friend once told me that was "as bad as" faking an orgasm. I told her that if I was exhausted and the only way someone would let me to sleep was to fake that, I would. I value my sleep highly.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Reconsidering Miss E's placement

As you know, I've been just a little anxious about whether Miss E would stick where she is. She hasn't stuck anywhere else. Leaving has been entirely her decision, although when the case worker agrees to it is typically after the foster mother has admitted defeat.

This new placement worried me because there are younger children. Miss E actually has a pretty good reputation with younger children. She has friends and a sister who have babies and she seems to get along with them fine. I wasn't worried that Miss E would hurt the little ones. I did worry that she would fight with the 13 year old, but I mostly worried that the parents would not be willing to deal with her verbal abuse and general toxic attitude when they also had to be able to take care of young children.

Now, a blow out could still happen. Miss E is in the home-stretch before she turns 18 and that is a pretty volatile time. I am still glad that Hubby and I talked and agreed between us regarding what we could handle and what we couldn't.

On the other hand, I have realized that her attitude is different this time. With the last two placements she went in complaining to me that she had to be there. She was quite clear that she did not want to have to live in a family at all. If she could have her way she would just live in the teen shelter. This time however she is saying nice things. She has said that Marsha is "okay" and "Pretty laid back. She keeps a nice house and doesn't constantly nag everyone to take off their shoes and stuff."

This time around Miss E seems to be accepting that this is the best option. She is not rebelling against it. I have had to wake her up (by calling her cell phone) every day since she moved and she has been late to school every day but one. She has mostly wanted to spend our car ride dozing, mumbling answers to my cheerfully posed questions. However, what she does say is positive about the home. The only conversation she has initiated all week has been about how Evan got into night school because she thinks that she might like to do that too.

So I'm feeling less worried than I was before. Things could go south, but right now she is as stable as she gets. I'm glad I have a plan, but I don't think I will need it.

I can't help but feel sad and irritated for this young woman though. It is difficult to accept that she is determined to leave care on her birthday, even though she won't be done with high school.

I will accept it though. There is not, after all, anything I can do about it.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Anticipating Rejection

Close to seven years ago, I became Carl's mom.

In doing so many things changed for me. One of those things was my relationship to the GLBT community. I don't know if I was really an ally before then. Oh, I voted against anti-gay propositions, and I didn't allow my students to use "gay" as an insult. My politics were pretty much what they were now. But it was different. It was about political views; it was about relatively abstract principles of justice.

Now it is about my family. It's not merely political; it's personal.

So 10 years ago I had a neighbor who happened to be a member of a church that actually excommunicates members for being openly gay. I probably knew that they had anti-gay views, but I could put it aside. My neighbor and I slowly developed a friendship. She came over to my house periodically. I would make us tea (herb tea only!) and we would chat. It became clear that she felt she had a religious duty to invite me to join her church and every six months or so she would get uncomfortable and ask if I had thought any more about learning more about her church. I would smile and tell her that I was still very happy in my church. She would relax and we would move on. I understood that she felt obliged to ask. I imagine she would have been very excited if I had said that I had wanted to know more, but I never once thought that her visits to my kitchen were part of plan to convert me.

I don't know that it would be like that anymore.

The people who live in their house now are very nice. They have a potluck every Tuesday to which they have invited us several times. It is just "wholesome Christian fun." Sometimes they talk about the Bible or religion, but mostly it is just a time to fellowship.

I turned down the invitation. I probably would anyway for a variety of reasons (one is that I have anxiety attacks thinking about going to a party were I don't know anyone), but this time I was turning her down for one reason: I'm a PFLAG mom and I figured sooner or later that would be an issue and I didn't want to deal with it. Either they would say something that would p*ss me off, or they would be carefully polite and worried for my soul and my children's souls, which would also p*ss me off.

In other words, I now have a defensive posture with respect to certain groups of people that I did not used to have. Before I might know that I and some other person would disagree on various issues, but now I am nervous that they will think my children are going to hell and then I would want to hit them over the head with a big stick, and so why don't we just call the whole thing off?

I still have friends who belong to all sorts of religious groups. The difference is that they got to know me before announcing their religious commitments. They did not lead with Jesus, so to speak. They know me; they know that I march in the Pride Parade (literally and figuratively) and it doesn't have anything to do with our relationship.

But when I meet people and it is very important to them to tell me right away that they are Christian and want to know if I have a church home, I figure we are not going to get along. I want to just get it all over with. Some times I do. When I was looking for a sponsor in Al-Anon that was exactly what I did. I talked to someone and said, "I was wondering if you would be interested in talking to me about being my sponsor. I want to tell you right off that I have gay sons, the addict in my life is gay, and I sometimes talk about them and their boyfriends. If you aren't comfortable with that you should just tell me."

But that is pretty rare. Maybe I should do it more often, but the truth is that I just tend to back away from people who I suspect are going to have a problem accepting my boys.

I wanted to do it on the phone last night. I was talking to the mother of this girl Brian has a crush on and I wanted to say, "Brian has gay brothers he loves very much. If your daughter visits us she is going to see prom pictures of two boys on the wall and copies of The Advocate on the table. She might even meet real, live gay boys along with their boyfriends. If you are going to forbid her from coming over, will you just tell me now?" No, that's not true; saying something that careful did not really occur to me.

It was just so clear that she was making certain that we were the right sort of people.

I wanted to tell her that we are not the right sort of people. I wanted to tell her that I was pro-choice, pro-gay, Democrat, and believed in separation of church and state. I wanted to tell her that I often have lesbians, gay men and trannies for dinner guests. I wanted to tell her that I thought evolution belonged in school and organized prayer did not. I wanted tell her that she would probably think that my house was a den of iniquity and why didn't we just save ourselves a lot of grief and not talk to each other?

Maybe I should have. I was torn between wanting to "get it over with" and feeling like I should let Brian walk his own path. He likes this girl. He wants to hang out with her. Who knows what might happen? Maybe he will have a positive effect on her.

But it is different than how it would have been before, and I don't know that the mother would understand. I used to be able to be friends with people who thought gay people were going to hell. We just wouldn't talk about that particular issue. I can't do that anymore.

It's not just abstract politics.

It's personal.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Brian has a girlfriend

She's twelve too.

They met because they were both in a recent children's theatre program. She was a juggler and he was a mime in Robin Hood's band of merry out-of-work-performers. A group comes into town every year.

At first he was sad because he did not get her phone number. Then we told him that her last name is fairly uncommon, and he called her. She is home schooled. Brian considers himself homeschooled these days, even though he is only half-way there.

Anyway, she invited him to her youth group tonight.

Her mother asks lots of questions about us. She told us about how G-d just prompted them to give up their jobs and move to this small town with no idea of what they were going to do, but that G-d has blessed them greatly. They are involved in a new church start-up. It is a scary fundamentalist denomination. The youth group though is at an established Baptist church.

She wanted to know if we had a church home. I told her we went into The City. I gave her the name very clearly so that she could check us out. "Is that the church that doesn't use any instruments?" "Oh no," I assured her. "We have a great organist and a wonderful bell choir. We have lots of good music." I did want to say, "It's the church with all the homos" but I was nice and didn't.

Hubby took Brian to the youth group.

Hubby came back and was very gentle with me. He said that Brian had a really good time, and that it was good to see him interacting with a group. He needs to develop more social skills, and make more friends. Hubby thinks we should let him go.

Have you ever had a set of instructions start with, "First, DON'T PANIC"?

"It's really conservative, isn't it?"

"Well, they're really into memorizing Bible verses. And they all have uniforms. Brian wants a one."

A bunch of small town kids in uniforms memorizing Bible verses. It does not sound good to me.

Why can't Brian have a crush on a nice liberal girl?

Thoughts on Miss E

Right now she is stable. I have developed a system of reporting to the social worker of describing her to her social worker. It is based upon the widely refered to, rarely understood, DefCon levels.

For Miss E:
DefCon 1 -- Out on the lawn refusing to go back in, calling the social worker or 911.
DefCon 2 -- get me out of here or I will blow
DefCon 3 -- I hate the people I live with and I don't know how much longer I can take it
DefCon 4 -- The people I Iive with are stupid.
DefCon 5 -- "Isn't it funny how stupid people are?" to "I'm okay, just tired."

She is definitely at DefCon 5. She has been there all week. She is exhausted, tardy every day, and worried about her future (that's a good thing). She is not however complaining about anyone. Given that she has less than 5 months to go in care, I am still hoping that she will make it in this placement. I would have a better sense of it if I knew Marsha even if by reputation. I don't though, and so I really don't have any predictions as to what will happen.

I just know that I hope that she makes it, and that if she doesn't I want to be prepared to take her. So talking to Hubby was the first step in that process. Getting him to agree to doing it if she were within 6 weeks of the end of the semester was a good step.

So...Keeping in mind that I hope she does not need us, what would living with her be like?

For me:
Well, I would go very quickly from being the nice lady who listens to her and gives her rides to the stupid b*tch who isn't fit to raise a dog, is making her own kids neurotic, and should have her license taken away. If she follows her typical pattern, she would quickly see every thing that I don't like about myself and hit on it. When Evan got mad at me he would say things that were so incorrect that I could generally shrug them off. Accusations that I spent more time with the bioboys or that something I said or did to him was something I would never do to them were practically funny. From what I hear, Miss E though has better aim. If she moved in you should all expect regular venting here.

For Hubby:
Well, he would hunker down and avoid her. He has already said that I cannot leave her in the house with him for more than about an hour, and then only with the boys around. Though Miss E has a history of accusing mothers, not fathers, of abuse, he won't take any chances.

For Brian:
This is a little unclear. Brian is doing so much better recently. His new half days at school have seem to have made him much more resilient. He does not get nearly as upset when other people are upset. He might be better able to just ignore her. Certainly his father would be quite prepared to wisk him out of the house and to do things with just the two of them. They might spend a lot of time together in Dad's classroom.

Andrew would ignore her as much as possible. When she was home he would have homework to do in his room.

Bedroom situation:
It would probably be best to convince Brian to move back down to his old bedroom in the finished basement. Since we are talking about a six week period, I would probably bribe the boys by hooking up the cable to their television which is currently for limited video game usage only. Basically, whenever E was home, I would let the boys be in the basement and we would lift our usual restrictions off of electronic time. Since Miss E is very busy with school, work, and track, it might not be a huge increase.

Moving the bedrooms would also be good protection for Andrew, and might even be required by the agency. Though neither Miss E nor Andrew has shown any interest in dating they are both 17 and do both identify as heterosexual (I would not be surprised in the least that identification where to chance for either of them, although I have no reason to expect it). I doubt anyone would be comfortable with them having bedrooms next to each other on a floor with no adults. And yes, it would be Andrew I was protecting. Our fear would be false allegations, not inappropriate behavior.

This is a girl with a history of, minimally, perceiving people around her as emotionally abusive.

Miss E has her own computer and I would definitely do what I could to set up her bedroom so that it was an inviting place. She would be one kid whom I would not try to get to come out and spend time with the family. If she wanted to join us she would be welcome.

So I suppose the big question is WHY. Why would I even think of doing this when I expect it to be so horrible? The answer is pretty simple. First, I'm insane. Second, I have come to care deeply for this girl. She is the way she is because of extreme abuse. She is bright and capable.

If we are talking about less than 2 months, I think we can do it. So if she needs us, we will.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Evan and college

Evan dropped by yesterday. He showed me his pictures of Europe and played video games with the boys.

His grandmother was apparently not thrilled with him coming over. It could be because he is driving her car and she doesn't want him borrowing the car, at least not as much as he wants to borrow it. Or because he hasn't shown her the pictures yet, or because I am an over-educated yuppy and she doesn't understand why contacting me should be important to her, which is what Evan suggested. Or it could be because she "just being Grandma" which is what Evan's sister, who came along, suggested. Whatever. I know that Evan is not good at reading other people's social cues, so I am not going to worry much about whatever he thinks is going on. I have got along fine with his grandmother every time I have seen her and I am not going to worry about Evan's theories.

Evan seemed cheerful and healthy. He plans to start working where his aunt does sometime soon. He says he will go to school in the fall, unless he decided to move to a city on the coast. He wants to get someplace with a thriving gay community -- although I think he said, "I need to be where my people are."

I think that Evan, like Carl, talk about college mostly because they think that is what I want them to want. Of course I would be thrilled if they went, but I can accept other decisions.

Carl and Evan grew up in families where not everyone had finished high school. Going to college was not something that they had even imagined for themselves. By the time that they are teenagers, it is very difficult for them to imagine doing it.

It is like my friend inviting me to go white water rafting with her. She assures me I am up to the physical demands. She says it will be fun. I'm just can't imagine me doing it. I don't like to watch tv or movie footage of people white water rafting. I don't like feeling frightened. I get sea sick on boats. She tells me it would not be like that, but I can't form a picture of what it would be like. I can't convince myself that I would have fun doing it, or that I wouldn't humiliate myself by failing to do whatever would be expected of me.

There's this other life that I know I can succeed in. My friend may think it is boring. She thinks that I am missing out on genuine excitement and that I would be happier if I took the risk and do what is for her a regular part of her life. I, however, I doing just fine thank you very much. I will stay in my world where I know I can succeed, where I am happy and comfortable.

I think that is the way the boys feel about college. I tell them that it would be better for them to go. They however cannot even quite imagine going.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Can you keep a secret?

Hubby and I talked about Miss E. Neither of us know Marsha, but we are both concerned with Miss E's abiltiy to manage in a home with 5 children ages 13 and under. Perhaps Marsha will be able to meet everyone's needs. Maybe the sibling group is just temporary.

But I have the what-if's running through my head.

So Hubby and I have agreed.

If she blows out of there suddenly, we will take her as a temporary. It has happened before. It was last April that she was on Mandy's lawn refusing to go back in. She came here for just under two weeks then. So if she has a blow out there, Hubby and I have agreed in advance that we will take her on an emergency basis.

This is the beginning of March, she finishes the semester at the end of June. That's three months. If she makes it half way through, to six weeks or less, we will take her. We think we and the boys can handle what we know she is capable of dishing out for that long. There's another six weeks until she turns 18* and we will just take it one day at a time. Our goal will be to keep her here until she is finished with school.

Now hopefully this isn't going to happen. I hope she manages to stay where she is until her birthday. We will offer her respite here if that will help. I won't tell her that we are willing to do anything more because she always thinks it will be easier at the next place and it never is. I will do everything I can to support this placement.

But if she blows, we will take her.

I feel good having a plan. I don't know if I should tell the case worker, at least not yet. But I am glad that Hubby agreed.

*Miss E may stay until in care until after she finishes high school. She will be leaving on her birthday by her own choice.

Various little things (updated)

Things that don't make a whole post entry:

One of Andrew's friends is taking one of my classes. Technically he is the older brother of one of Andrew's best friends, but this older brother has been in my basement nearly every weekend for maybe two years. I often make them pizza and we never have any left-overs these days because he takes them back to the dorm. I wonder if he tells the other students that I made them?

I am going into this class sooo carefully organized. I am sooo conscious of wanting this to be a good class. I just keep imagining this boy saying to Andrew, "Dude, your mom is like so confusing."


Evan is emailing me about typical friction between him and his grandmother and aunt. He did not move in with his aunt as planned. She was not ready to pack up the room of her daughter who died last year. It seems perfectly reasonable to me, but Evan is irritated because she did not tell him herself but asked Grandma to do it for her. He is also irritated that everyone is treating him like a little kid reminding him to "be on his best behavior." I've been telling him this normal.


I'm feeling increasingly uncomfortable with the blog. I don't dislike any one thing I have written, but it feels unbalanced. It is all theory and no practice. I'm worried that as a whole it is becoming preachy. I tell myself that I don't have to write, but I still want to. Someone else will say something that gets me thinking and I will want to write to work out my thoughts. So it is not what I am writing that bothers me it is the balance. Then I think do I want them to place a kid here so that I write a more balanced blog? That seems absurd.


I am really curious to hear from Miss E in the morning. I confess I have a not entirely honorable interest in how long it is going to last. This is a young woman's life, but part of me is thinking about it as something casual -- like I'm watching someone build a house of cards and wondering how high it will get. I'm not proud, but I'm itching to hear what she has to tell me.


I've been reading The Girls Who Went Away when I should have been doing school work this weekend. It has made me think about events and silence regarding those events in my own family. I don't know if I want to write about it. If I do it should probably on the private blog. I don't know... Is writing it on the private blog only respecting other people's privacy, or a further act of collusion in silence? Or is it just protecting myself from trolls?

Update: I asked Miss E about her new home and the people in it. She had only negative things to report, but she spoke with a sense of humor. She is trying. It seems hard to believe that she will cope long in a family with 5 kids ages 2 to 13, but she is trying. I know nothing about this family, but my guess is that this is going to be more difficult for her than the last home. If she makes it there at least a few months, maybe Hubby, the boys and I could take her for the very end. She only has 5 months to go. Only 3 1/2 months until the end of the semester. The 6 weeks between school and her birthday are going to be bad, I predict she will be AWOL pretty much constantly. I keep hoping...

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Is Unconditional Positive Regard Love?

Process, FosterAbba, and I have been writing posts about loving and foster care. I think it all started out with Process asking FosterAbba a question. In my post I tried to talk about how varied love can be, how much the experience of loving can vary from person to person.

Process' recently said that unconditional positive regard (UPR) is love. The Wikipedia article article to which Process (and I) linked states that UPR is "to treat the client as worthy and capable, even when the client does not act or feel that way."

Is this love? I want to make certain that I really don't know. I thought it would be interesting to toss out a couple of conceptions of love and perhaps we can all talk about it.

Whether or not UPR is really love, I think it might be a very good concept to teach foster parents to use for kids and those kids families. From what I understand, no matter how horrible someone's behavior is, the concept of UPR direct you to remember that this person is a human being, who was once a baby, and who is acting from pain and who contains with him or herself the ability to heal. That is not probably technically right, but it's the best I've got.

I would say that that describes pretty well the way I feel/think about Miss E and about all the mothers and fathers whom I don't even know whose children are in foster care. Foster parents are in the position of often knowing a great deal about the ways in which parents have failed their children. Some of us have blogs and we will share our sadness and our anger on our blogs. Some commenters, who know even less about the parents, will chime in with blanket condemnations of the parents. These comments always irritate me. Sometimes they "get" me so deeply that I write irritated posts. Though I agree that it is often necessary for children to be removed from their parents' care, I also always find that I have sympathy for them at the same time.

I can have moments of UPR for my father, whom I do not trust and for whom I still have a great deal of anger. I know what his mother did to him. I know it was worse than what he did to me. He had a responsibility not to do what he did; he is to be held responsible for doing it; but when I think about his childhood, I cannot hate him. These moments of sympathy do not lead me to think that I should trust him in any way. They do not change what happened and who he is. However, as long though as I am thinking about the child in the corner of the kitchen with untreated broken bones, I cannot hate.

UPR is certainly not equivalent to the love we have for our life partners. UPR is something we can have for people we don't know. The love we feel for those we share our lives with is something else. I don't know that I could define it for everyone, probably it is different for everyone. For me it would include heavy doses positive regard that are based upon my perception of who he is now (I like him -- a lot). It also includes feelings of total safety and trust. I really can tell him anything. I can be my weakest self with him, and he still loves me. It includes sexual attraction. It is what it is because it is mutual. Although there are some who would argue otherwise, most of us also think it is exclusive. It is the sort of love that you can have for just one other person.

So UPR is something that we can have for just about anyone. The sort of love that we have for live partners is the sort of thing we have for just one person. What about love for children? What is it? What should it be?

I'm not sure, but here are some thoughts:
-It includes at least the desire to provide. From at least the time our children are toddlers, good parents know there are times when we need to withhold help. There are times when we let them struggle. But even when we do that, good parents do it because we believe that it is what is best for the children.
-It includes a commitment to continue to do that. Genuine parental love does not stop at a certain age. It means that even when the kids are 40 you still care about what is best for them. You still feel an obligation to do what you think is best for them. Of course as they get older there is less and less that they genuinely need from their parents, and there is less the parents can give.
- It is probably important to point out that one of the dangers in parenting is going too far in these areas. Parental love invites us to sacrifice ourselves in ways that are not healthy for us or our children. Good parenting means understanding that and drawing boundaries. This is something that we need in all relationships, of course.
- There is the warm, fuzzy feeling or whatever it is. There is the special feeling that we have for children who are ours, that makes us more protective, proud, interested, sad or whatever because whatever is happening is happening to our kids.
- And there is the sense of love as action and choice. To make someone else's needs your own, to do something for them just because they need it and not because it serves your interests, is to love them.

And there is something else, which I cannot explain well either. There is something risky in loving someone, which does not seem to be there in simple Unconditional Positive Regard. In loving someone I am opening myself up to possible pain. Good boundaries will minimize that, but it does seem to be there.

When we are foster parents we are expected to pull off something remarkable. We are expected to act as if, and hopefully feel as though, we were the permanent parents for these children. At the same time we are reminded that we are not their parents every time an important decision must be made. We know that they can be moved from our care for reasons we may or may not agree with.

We have different strategies for coping with this. Perhaps aiming for UPR instead of some sort of "falling in love with" is a good thing for foster parents to do.

I'm not certain though.

Do you have any thoughts about parental love?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

What does love feel like?

Andrew was wanted and planned. I had happy thoughts and worried thoughts about the baby I was carrying long before he was born. He didn't kick as much as other babies. He strettccchhed. During the last two months he planted his feet on my diaphragm and pushed his head into my bladder. I tried to stretch for him, and clenched so I would not pee. People would ask me if I was having a contraction and I would say, "No, my little parasite is trying to make me pee my pants."

I was in labor a long time. I lost two nights sleep. He was born at 7:40pm on a Monday. Because he was breast-fed the nurses kept waking me up every few hours to feed him. In the middle of the second night I woke to hear a baby crying and in my exhaustion I thought I was babysitting. I thought, "Where is this kid's mother and when is she coming back???" And then I realized I was the mother and for a while all I felt was despair. I managed to smile at the nurses. I knew that if I cried and said that I did not want to be a mommy they would write it in the charts and that would be a bad thing.

I shared before about the game we young mothers would play where we shared all thing things we said we would not do. We also shared our fantasies about running away. I confessed that I always knew how much gas and money we had. Every time in I got in the car without the baby I would mentally calculate how far away I could get on the resources we had.

Another mother had a neighbor who adored her baby. The neighbor often joked, "If you ever get tired of her, you just give her to me." This mother had a reoccurring fantasy in which she packed up everything before her husband came home. When he walked in the door all she would say was, "What baby? We don't have a baby."

We could share these stories with each other because we trusted each other. We all knew that even though we had times in which we locked ourselves in bathrooms wondering why we ever thought we were capable of raising children, we still loved them.

When Andrew was about 18 months old he developed the sport of baby-tipping. All my mother-friends had babies around 6 months old. We got together every two weeks for a play group (which was really a mother-support group). Andrew thought it was hilarious to walk over the babies, and give them a tiny push. They would topple over, screaming and Andrew would laugh. Once he had all four of their babies screaming at once. I left the group crying and angry at him for being such a demon and depriving me of my one place where I got support for being a mother.

When I was pregnant with Brian, and Andrew was four, I more than once confessed to my friend that I did not know why I did this. I had just got out of toddler hell. Andrew had turned into a person. I liked him. Why was I going back? Caring for babies and toddlers was, for me, a sort of work camp you had to go through to get a child. Why did I sign up for it twice? Oh there were joys to it, but it was work. I knew why I did though. I had dragged Hubby across the country for my job. He had no idea what he wanted to do, and said he wanted another baby. He would stay home and take care of it. Many times during the pregnancy, and even during Brian's life (even in the past year) I have thought the thought, "This one's Hubby's kid. He can figure it out."

Love of children comes along with resentment, exhaustion, and simple dislike of them.

It is easy for me to confess this because with my birth kids the moments of negativity are pauses between long stretches of happiness. The vast majority of days I look at my kids and the kids of my friends and think, "I got the best ones." And I know they look at my kids and think the same thing about theirs. I find them amazing. I want good things for them. I am proud of them. There is no question that I love them, even though there have been times when I drove along thinking, "You know, we are mistaken when we wonder how it is that a mother could ever abandon her children. The real question is why don't they all abandon them? Anyone who has ever been trapped with a toddler all day must wonder why you don't see them abandoned at roadsides like kittens all the time."

But my love for my biological kids is very different. With Andrew there is simpatico. I GET him. I understand what he is feeling and why. The greatest danger is over-identifying. I have to remember to distance myself. The past month, since we have been partially home schooling Brian, has been easier with Brian than life has been since he was two (maybe not, but it sure feels that way). For years I have felt that there was some problem he had that I could not understand and I could not fix. My love was mixed with frustration. I often turned to Hubby and said, sometimes tearfully, "You have to figure this out! I can't. I don't know what he needs."

There were days when I felt somewhat disconnected to him. There were days when I realized I had more sympathy and understanding with the foster boys, than I did with him. But through all that there was also commitment and love. It bothered me more than I can explain that I knew he was unhappy in school and that I could not figure it out. I am married to a special education teacher who knows all the teachers in town. So I struggled to make Brian's home life better. I bought him pets and cuddled him and hoped his father would figure out school.

What I am saying is that my feelings for my biological boys is complicated. There is not a simple, constant, feeling of love. There is love, commitment, anger, frustration, pride, and feelings of being overwhelmed and wanting to walk away.

My love for my husband is a different sort of thing. When I think of how I love my husband I feel like I am basking in his love for me. I don't think that always thinks I am the most wonderful person alive. But I do know that he has a commitment to me. I know that he has sometimes not liked me very much and during those times he was still kind to me. And that is the most precious love that anyone has ever shown me. He loves me so much that he acts loving even when he doesn't feel it. Don't get me wrong -- we have fought. There were tough times. But we both managed to remain decent to each other through those times and that has built a sort of trust. I feel utterly safe with him, and I adore him for giving me that feeling a safety. I never felt that way as a child, and I do feel that way with him.

My feelings of love for my biological kids is not like that at all. I am very aware that it should not be. I should make them feel safe, but their job is to move away. They are not here to take care of their mother.

As for Carl, David, and Evan?

Well, my feelings for each one of them is also distinct.

Carl is the one that I allowed myself to love completely and naively. I was a typical, stupid first-time foster parent who thought that she could just love a kid and that the kid would get over his issues and love her back. As a parent I knew how difficult and complicated that would be, but I had certain naive expectations about the relationship. The truth is I was d*mn lucky, because it did happen that way. Carl does not have attachment issues. He had been loved by a good (though not perfect) mother for 14 years. He had mourned her and he was ready to love another mom. Oh, he test me, more than once, but he loved me back. I think the day that we both knew we loved each other, really, was the day I was so furious and he was afraid I would kick him out. I didn't, and he's trusted me since. Because his childhood pain was not so deep, he did not have to go through that over and over. Once was enough. He may be passive aggressive, deceitful, and a compulsive liar, but I also know he loves me. He does things that hurt me, and I feel hurt and angry, and then I forgive.

I offered that to David and thought he accepted and returned it, and then found out I was wrong. When David's behavior first changed I fought for him. By the time I admitted defeat and let him go I was unable for a long time to say that I loved him. I said that I cared about him very much. I am very aware that David may not really be able to attach. He seems to, but it is superficial and he can turn it off and walk away the second he thinks he has a better offer somewhere else. So I have to protect a part of myself that I don't protect with Andrew, Brian, and Carl. I love him, but it is not the same. I don't know if I can explain it well, but I know it is different. When David can't hurt me like Carl can. If I hear that David is, again, telling lies about us to garner sympathy from someone, I shake my head sadly. If Carl did that I would be so hurt I would find it difficult to talk to him about it.

I went into the relationship with Evan not expecting to fall in love with him. He was going to be something more like a boarder. My relationship with him grew more naturally. It became whatever it became because it was what we genuinely felt for each other, not because either of us had a particular expectation. He of course quickly measured what I did and felt for him against what I do and feel for the bioboys. I did my best to help him deal with all that. I knew that he commanded much more of my time and energy than Andrew and Brian did. I knew that I had to set aside time to spend with Andrew and Brian because Evan took so much. I knew that I loved Evan, and that it was more like what I would feel for a nephew. He came to me at nearly 18 years old. There was no way I was going to feel the same sort of protective love that one has for a child one has loved since they were small and defenseless.

When I learned of Evan's addiction I made a decision to stick with him. I did it as much because I thought it would be healing for me, after my pain with my father, to stick with it. I worked hard on what the Al-Anon people call "detaching with love" and I call "loving with detachment." For me it was the loving part that was hard. Detaching, running for the hills, abandoning him when I knew he was an addict, was what some deep part of me wanted to do. Staying, taking the risk, allowing myself to love him at all even though he is an addict, that is hard for me. As I seem him now drinking and bragging about drinking I am very aware that his journey is not over. I remain detached while I care, perhaps loving him. I no longer feel a great need to figure out whether what I feel for him is LOVE. I care about him, that is enough.

And then there is Miss E and Ann. They, unlike any of my boys, have attachment disorders. (David may be incapable of geniune attachment, but he is not reactive. He does not panic and hurt people who try to love him, at least as long as he is getting what he wants/needs from them. And even when he does not, he does not really attack. He just moves on.) I know that Ann and Miss E would reject any love that I have for them. So though I once tried to offer Ann love, now I offer them only tepid, consistent friendship. I try to offer them only as much as they can accept.

So this is a long post, as I knew it would be, but the point is very simple: there is not one way to love a child and there is not one sort of way that love feels.

Caring enough about someone to behave as though you love them when you really don't feel it is love. It can be the best sort of love. This is commitment, and it is a good thing.

Pretending that you love someone when you really don't because you feel like you have to, perhaps because people will be disappointed in you if you don't, that is not healthy. That can turn into resentment. This I think of as mere obligation, and it is not a good thing, not in the long run anyway. If that is really all there is, and all there ever will be, then the child is not getting what he or she needs.

But telling the difference between those two things is not easy, partly because no matter how a child comes into your life, there will be days, and long stretches of days, in which we feel that we are acting only out of obligation. There are days when we are worn out, tired, hurt, and drained, when we feel very little, or when we feel only anger and exhaustion, but we keep going.

Parenting is like that -- no matter how the children come into our lives.