Friday, August 31, 2007

Portrait of Frankie

So after a couple of weeks here, I thought I would try to give a complete description of this odd and endearing child.

He talks non-stop if you let him. If you sit and give him your undivided attention he will tend to stay on the same topic and go on and on...the story of his dream...his theory of how to solve all the world's problems (which involves everyone being required to consume a minimum of goods)...whatever. He easily becomes fixated on something and can become so consumed that he literally talks of nothing else for days (e.g. WOW). Having seen him one day when he forgot his morning pills, there is no doubt in my mind that he is NOT one of the kids who has been misdiagnosed with ADHD.

He has a difficult time being quiet even when engaged. He makes noises, narrates what he is doing, annouces anything that he thinks is interesting, stupid, or exciting. He does not notice when he has driven everyone from the room because they just can't listen any more.

There seems to be a complete absence of the "love me--I'll punish you if you love me" dynamic. He likes me. Though he does not have Down's, it is only in Down's people that I have seen this sort of innocent affection. He is very endearing. Just about everybody responds to him they way they might to a puppy. There is, so far as I can tell, nothing manipulative about it. He just likes us.

He does not seem to get personal space at all. He is not a touchy kid and tends not to invade space, but if he needs something and you are in the way, he reaches for it. If this involves stepping on your toes or leaning against you while wrapping his arm around you, he does. He just doesn't seem to recognize that you are there, somehow.

He tends not to notice if he is getting on someone's nerves, or pick up on other social cues. On the other hand, he does not get offended or hurt if you tell him something like "I need to be alone for ten minutes." He will likely say, "Okay" and then come back in ten minutes.

He is not uptight about routine, accepts change in schedules well, laughs appropriately at jokes, makes a few jokes of his own, and does not have a phenomenal memory or any other sort of "savant" skill that we have noticed (just in case any of this was adding up to Asperger's for anyone.)

He has a low tolerance for frustration and will cry -- really cry with lots of tears -- when it gets to be too much. Neither Hubby nor I find him especially difficult to de-escalate, although it can take a while.

He seems very much the little boy. He just got his allowance and he wanted to spend it on toy guns, a subscription to WOW and candy. Even though he has been talking about wanting to be a girl, and I do not disbelieve him, he seems to me to be a little boy. It is not like Carl who was sixteen and enjoyed letting himself be a kid again. Frankie seems like a little boy 24/7.

He tends to slur his words, has difficulty remembering how to pronounce words once he has it in his head that they should be pronounced differently. He does not read well, although he tries to fake it. He has made some "dyslexic" type mistakes. For instance while reading the WOW manual he wanted to know what a "morlock" was. Andrew told him that was a "warlock."

He has difficulty calculating time, although he is getting better. He is allowed 90 minutes of electronic time (video/computer/TV) on school days and he is highly motivated to figure it out. Still, he will often ask me how long he has played if he started at 3:45 and ended at 4:24. (That sort of calculation is not one that I can always make quickly myself). He makes simple mistakes when deciding how to spend his allowance. He tends to think that if you have 40 dollars and spend it on something that costs 22 dollars, you should still be able to buy something in the 20-dollar range. It is unclear though how much of that is just excitement and not stopping to think.

He is normally compliant with requests to do chores, which is to say that he is willing to do them and prone to forget. He is disorganized, looses possessions within seconds, and tends to forget about anything that is not in his sight.

He speaks positively about his parents. He does say that his transition plans would freak them out, but usually when he talks about them it is to pass on something interesting that they taught him. His memory seems to be jumbled.

He is extremely excited about the prospect that he may get to take hormones and have surgery and be an action-figure-playing, toy-gun-loving girl.

Shopping Complete least for now.

At first Frankie didn't want to try things on. I put a man's shirt over our pile of clothes and told him that if any asked we would tell them he was helping to pick out clothes for his cousin.

He got very excited about getting his cousin clothes. He learned that you really have to try on women's clothes. They are cut differently and the size on the label really doesn't mean a lot. The more he looked and tried on the more wired up he got. "What do you think of the Yondalla? Do you think it would fit my cousin?" "I think she would like this, but you probably wouldn't buy it for her since it's so short, huh?"

In the end he picked out 4 black dresses, three long, three skirts, a nightgown, a pair of shoes, and I lost count of how many tops.

We came home he settled right in to play WOW.

I don't know about you, but I am pooped.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Reflecting on the appointment

When I first took Frankie away from his appointment I was a bit confused. I mean, I thought that the counselor had wanted to persuade Frankie to go slowly. Frankie was just as excited as ever about shopping for clothes and starting treatment. More so, if possible.

It was after a while that I realized what the counselor had done. He asked Frankie what sort of girl ze wanted to be and how ze wanted to be perceived. Frankie said that ze wanted to look like a real girl, not like a boy dressed like a girl. Based upon that, the counselor guided him to decide to only present as a girl at home and with the family -- for now. One step at a time.

Frankie would need to practice, especially with the voice, and ze might even want to wait until after hormone treatments, before going out in the world as a girl.

The counselor I think did this very well. Frankie feels really good about this process and knows that ze is surrounded by people who are supportive. And there is no rush. Ze can take all the time in the world learning how to walk and talk like a girl before living full-time.

Frankie has also decided that he is happy with the number of people who know. When I talk to my friends I will tell them that I have another boy at home, a boy who was referred to us because he is questioning and needs a safe place to work things out.

It is difficult, partly because Frankie is so immature in some ways. He knows that his mother freaked out when he wanted to dress like a princess when he was five, and that a previous foster family wouldn't allow him to be with other children unsupervised when he came out to them (this brought angry tears to his eyes), and he knows that suddenly the social worker, family, and counselor he is working with are supportive. I don't think he had a very clear idea of what the world at large was like. How do most people respond?

It is difficult. On one hand, the closet is a terrible place to be. It is damaging to the psyche. I certainly don't want to tell anyone that they should closet themselves, nor set anyone else's time table for coming out. On the other hand, Frankie is naive. It is important for him to be fully informed so that he can make good decisions about how out to be at any given point.

None of this is easy for any of us, least of all for Frankie. Frankie has spent 10 years trying not to want what he wants, and trying to conform to other people's expectations for who he should be. Suddenly it is okay to be authentic. It must be a strange place to be.

I promised her we would shop for girls' clothes tomorrow.

First Appointment

Frankie came out of his first appointment have clearly talked with great excitement the entire time about transitioning. He agreed with the counselor that he did not want to "come out" as a transexual or as girl. Frankie decided that he wants to be able to be a convincing girl before he presents as a girl to anyone outside the family. He thought that might even be after he started hormonal treatment.

Though the social worker had told the counselor that it was unlikely that Frankie would get permission for hormonal treatment prior to turning 18, Frankie was talking very excitedly about starting as soon as possible.

I understand the motivation. Frankie's voice has already changed and is quite deep. His overall body type though is petite. He has not developed a beard or much body hair. He would like to start the hormones before his body masculinizes further.

He is not going to get permission to do that any time soon. Possibly he won't get it and won't be able to start until he is 18.

And then on the way home he told me all about a long complex dream. It sounded like the plot of a very complex time travel novel. There were battles, and cat-people and cow-people and the destruction of the human race, and his own grief at leaving his wife and children.

I asked him if he was ever a girl in his dreams and he immediately said that he was and that in fact in this dream the reason he went to the future, the reason he volunteered to do it, was that he would get the money for the surgery.

I don't think that this was a real dream, or at the very least not all of it. It was a story that grew as he told it. I don't know that Frankie being male in the story means anything one way or another. I think it was just that the hero in this dramatic tale was male.

I think. Still, it was strange to hear this story in which he played the male dramatic hero, right in between talking about saving for quality falsies and his desire to get hormones.

He called his social worker and told her that he did want her to give his mother our phone number. He told me over our dinner about how shocked she would be when he told her about his plans for transitioning. I'm torn. I said very little, but I wanted to say more. I still don't think he understands there is a custody battle. I don't know how telling his mother about his plans will affect that, or if it will.

[Update: I just said to Frankie in the kitchen, "You know, you might want to let your mother feel safe and comfortable with you living here before you freak her out." Frankie giggled and said, "Yeah. How do I do that?" "Well, it's up to you, but maybe it is a good idea not to tell her about your plans for transitioning until after she feels okay about you being here." Frankie grinned, "Yeah. I probably should."

Sigh. I think I handled it okay. Certainly it was better than saying, "Your mother is trying to get custody of you and I support that if it is the right thing. However, the hearing is going to be a very conservative part of the state and I would hate for the judge to decide to move you because we are turning you into a perv."]

It's strange. He so often seems like a little boy, very masculine. Then he talks about "becoming a girl" and he is clearly happy and excited.

Sometimes being with Frankie is very disorienting.

Did you know?

After his counseling session we had dinner at a fast food place. I called Hubby on my cell, and Frankie said: "Did you know that in the old times, like the '90's most people didn't have their own phones?"

"Did you say the '90's?"

"Yeah, before, in the old times, people had to call a woman and tell her who they wanted to talk to and then she put the thing in the board and they could talk but she could listen. Then in the 90's some people started getting cell phones."

Um...where to start?


There is a hearing scheduled for December at which the state is asking for Frankie's mother's parental rights to be terminated. She has got a public defender and has decided to try to regain custody. I don't know if Frankie knows about the hearing or his mother's intentions.

This is an unusual situation for me to be in. This program is for kids for whom adoption and reunification have been ruled out. Clearly the state is confident about how it will go, but it is not settled. It is possible that in December the judge will say the Frankie should go home.

She has apparently been requesting (demanding?) to have our phone number. I am told that the worst thing that that she might do if she had it was not show up. She does not pose a (physical) danger to us or Frankie. Though I told the social workers that I do not object to her having our phone number, they have suggested that Frankie make the first contact.

So I told Frankie that his mother really wants to talk to him and that he can call her anytime he likes. It is a long distance call, and the land-line has a long-distance block, but he can borrow my cell phone. He says that he wants to call her, and will, but this is not a good time because (insert excuse here). He doesn't say this with much anxiety or enthusiasm. He speaks of his parents positively: his father taught him survival skills (like how to make a spear for box-hunting) and his mother gave him secret ingredients for some recipes. He does not talk about abuse; he does not express anger; he does not show anxiety; he does not seem to even have hurt feelings.

He wants to call her, just not as much as he wants to shop for bras on the Internet or throw sticks at boxes, or...

But I think about how I would feel about him going back. My first thought was that I am glad that we will have had this time to be part of his life. I am grateful to whatever powers or chance brought him here so that at least for a few months he could be affirmed. If he goes home, he will not be given the same freedom to explore gender and sexuality he has here, but he will know that it is okay to do so. He will have to stifle himself for a few more years, but at least he will know that there is an accepting world waiting for him.

And I know that I will be very sad. This kid can be very annoying, but he is also very endearing. I will miss him. I know that if he left now that I would be sad. I know that by December it will be gut-wrenching.

I know that it will hurt Brian and Andrew more. I mentioned it to Andrew and his eyes filled with tears. I told him that the state expects that she will loose. His response though was worry for Frankie. There was no way she would allow him to wear dresses. He wanted to know if the judge would consider that. I told him that I did not know. All I knew was that the state does not believe the judge will give her custody.

But I wonder. Frankie is from a pretty conservative part of the state. Will the judge think that our nurturing of Frankie's specialness is a reason for letting him stay here? Or will his mother argue that we are turning him into a pervert and that even if she can't have him he must at least be moved to a normal home? I have worked cooperatively with families before. I loved that I had a good relationship with Evan's family. The moment his mother hugged me and thanked me for taking care of him is one of my treasured memories.

Somehow I don't think that Frankie's mom is going to hug me and thank me for buying her son bras and skirts that twirl.

I don't know enough about the past to know what is the right thing to do. I have deep respect for the connections between parents and their children. I don't think that the state should be deciding which families deserve to have children. Foster care is necessary to care for children whose parents genuinely cannot take care of them, but it is not the preferred option.

I am prepared to believe that, even if his mother cannot accept the journey he is on, it might be best for him to know that the mother who gave birth to him and raised him for 10 years wants him back. It might be good for him to live with her again for a few years and know that though she lost him to his father and then to the system, her love for him stayed strong. Being back with her, and with his sisters whom I know he misses, for the last few years of his childhood might be healing, even if it meant postponing other journeys of self-discovery.

I could be made to believe that it is best for him.

But it would still hurt like hell.

Frankie's Counselor and Lingerie

Frankie's counselor is marvelous. I cannot believe that we found someone out here in State of Redness who is this perfect. Of course the The City is a island of deep blue in the midst of all the red, but still!

He's gay. He did not actually say he was, but if he isn't I will eat a tit bit. He is a child counselor, who has worked with adolescents, and has worked with GLBT (including the T!) kids.

I told him about Frankie and he pulled out his costumes. He had a princess dress and a sequin-covered ice skating costume. He said lots of the little boys who visit love the costumes and want to know where the high heels are.

I told him that ordinarily if I met a 15-year-old who told me that she was a MtoF tansexual, who was looking forward to hormone treatment and surgery, I would say, "Okay." With Frankie though, it was more complicated. I think there is an excellent chance that he is transexual. I think there is a possibility that he is a gay boy who thinks that it life would be easier if he were a girl because he could be straight and still like boys. And there is a chance that becoming a girl is another way of retreating from his trauma -- of not being him.

The counselor agreed and said that his approach with kids like Frankie is to treat the trauma. If they address his underlying issues, the transgender stuff will either fade away or not. I told him that Frankie, even though he knew he was going to see a counselor before he announced his desire to become a woman, is now under the impression that the reason for seeing him was so that he could get on the transexual pipeline, and the counselor said that was fine. The standards of care for transexual treatment required comprehensive counseling. (By the way, Frankie consistently says that he wants to become a woman. He does not say that he is a girl or a woman. I don't know if that is significant, but I take it that it does mean he is identifying as a boy now. I'll probably use the female pronoun when s/he is presenting as a girl, and the male pronoun otherwise.)

Anyway, I think the counselor is perfect. He is experienced with kids and early adolescents, and has dealt with both sexuality and gender identification. He is completely comfortable with the idea that Frankie could be transgendered, and thinks the most important thing is dealing with Frankie as a whole person.

Frankie has led a bizarre life. He has suffered significant neglect, some physical abuse, and has lived in situations that are extraordinary. And that was before he entered the system and spent years in treatment facilities.

While I was visiting this guy, Andrew had a different appointment. We ran some errands in The City and did not get back to the house until after 8:00. Frankie and Brian were "box hunting" which involved throwing pointed sticks at old cardboard boxes. It was a very "little boy" activity. For a moment I wondered if the whole "I want to be a girl thing" was over.

But of course that was silly. He followed me inside and immediately started talking about shopping for clothes. We ordered him two bras and some panties from an on-line retailer. They were fairly inexpensive which is good since I am not absolutely sure they will fit. Still, taking him shopping for bras in a store is beyond my comfort zone. In theory I want to walk right in and help him pick them out and try them on. In reality I know that I am not there yet -- and I think it is better for Frankie if I can help him while doing things that don't make me feel embarrassed and uncomfortable.

We agreed to initially shop for girls' clothes at a thrift store so that he could stock up -- and I think we both feel more comfortable with him trying on girls clothes there. Anyway, we did look at girls clothes at the on-line store. He found a very short mini skirt that he said he wanted. I told him no girl of mine was going to wear a skirt so short her butt would show when she bent over. He giggled and pointed to a slightly longer one, which I agreed was appropriate.

Then he wanted to look at "real fake breasts" so I showed him some breast prostheses. He was amazed at the price and started to calculate how long it would take for him to save up for them, given that he also had to pay for WOW.

Then he wanted me to research on the cost of surgery, but I said no and sent him to bed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Questions and Anwers (update)

I will probably write more of these posts as things go on. I expect there will be plenty of questions and I will try to answer them as best I can.

Q1. How will Frankie present to guests in your home?
A1. I don't know. It will be up to Frankie.

Q2. Will the agency pay for falsies?
A2. Probably. Especially if the counselor recommends them as part of his therapy.

Q3. Won't it be difficult for Frankie to "be" a girl at home and a boy outside the home?
A3. I think this is a pretty typical path. Frankie needs to get comfortable as a girl. Ideally she should not present herself to the world until she can either pass or feel confident enough to deal with the stares and whatever else she has to deal with. I'm a little curious myself about going shopping for girl clothes with someone presenting as a boy. I'm not sure how that will feel. When he is ready to present as a girl outside the home, we will support her.

Q4. How are Andrew and Brian handling this?
A4. Brian has known at least one transwoman for as long as he can remember. He has had the disorienting experience of a woman telling him, "The kids in that picture are mine. I'm their father." Brian is okay with the idea of it, however the sight of Frankie is a skirt gives him the giggles. Andrew's response was, and I quote, "Okay. Oh, by the way, there's this kid in band who I think might be gay. I was meaning to ask you if you could give me some links to things on the web for him. PFLAG has something, don't they?"

Q5. How is "Hubby" handling this?
A5. More matter-of-factly than I am. I know that seems impossible, but I am not as calm IRL as I appear to be here. (When Hubby came back from the open house at school I took him in the bedroom and was like "Guess What!!!! Frankie's trans! Or he thinks he is anyway! He's downstairs right now putting on a dress!!!! We have a trans kid!" and Hubby said, "Okay.")

Q6. How has this affected Frankie's apparent developmental age?
A6. Well, it is awfully early to tell. Frankie spent all of two hours in a skirt yesterday. However Frankie had seemed very much the 10-year-old boy, but once she presented in a skirt she seemed more like a 12-year-old girl. You know -- too old for toys and just on the edge of pubescence.

Q7. What did Brian mean by "becoming a woman" being a back-up plan?
A7. It is not very clear as the back-up plan became Plan A as soon as I said it was okay. Apparently though Frankie had something to the effect that if he couldn't get a girlfriend he was going to become a woman.

Q8. Do you think that remaining developmentally at age 10 is a way for Frankie to avoid dealing with the fact that puberty has only heightened (what may be undesirable) male characteristics?
A8. I've suspected this. Trying to stay a child, becoming a druid, anything so that ze does not have to think about becoming a man.

"Frankie Wants to Be a Woman!"

Got your attention?

Yeah. It sort of grabbed mine.

After the melt-down yesterday, when Frankie announced he didn't like Brian and Brian stormed out because Frankie was being stupid, I found the two of them downstairs playing with the Wii. It was a simple drawing program and they were quiet and friendly and laughing -- and out of video time of course. I pretended that I had lost track myself. I know...if I ignore the rules how will they follow them? But they were calm and getting along and quiet and in the basement. That was just too good to give up.

After dinner I sent the two of them in to clean up. Now the bioboys are pretty horrible about shoving as much work off onto the other kid as possible. They do this to each other too, by they way. One of the issues when we have a new kid in the house is making sure they don't take advantage. So I went back into the kitchen to check. Brian was lying on the bench, feet up in the air and Frankie was washing dishes. Yeah.

I gave him a little lecture. Brian assured me that he was doing half the work, he just couldn't do his part until after Frankie did his. Right. Heard that one before.

And then Brian did the distraction thing...where you bring up something so much more interesting that the parent completely forgets about the issue at hand. I'm usually pretty good at not falling for that. This time however it was a good one.

"Frankie wants to be a woman! He says it is his back-up plan. He wants to have surgery and become a woman."

One of the very first things we were told about Frankie was that he had expressed some gender-identity questions, so I was prepared for this. I said, "He can if he wants."

Frankie was pleased and surprised. I told him that if he was sure then he could. It was called being transexual and that I knew a couple of transwomen. I answered a slew of questions and then finally called one of said transwomen and asked her to talk to Frankie on the phone. Frankie had LOTS of questions. Detailed questions about surgery and hormones and how long things take. Questions about how to make your voice sound right. There was the point where I could hear Frankie explaining that he knew he should take his time. "But I have wanted to be a girl for 10 years ... I know that isn't long, but compared to my life it is!" After the phone call he was all ready to explain vaginal plasty to Brian, but that was more than Brian was ready for.

After the phone call we agreed that Frankie could dress and present as a girl at home if he wanted. It turned out he already had some girl clothes that his sister had given him. I found a couple of things too small for me. So...Frankie went to her room and came up in a flowing skirt and a black silky top. They didn't really work together, but it worked for her. Brian had a fit of the giggles, which didn't bother Frankie too much, though she did blush. At one point I did have to tell Frankie that girls don't cross their legs like that (ankle over knee) when they wear skirts. She switched to a lady-like crossing of the knees and asked if that was better. I said yes.

So...I'm told that the counselor we have Frankie signed up to see is good with these issues. We'll see. I have an appointment with him this afternoon. He likes to meet with a parent first. Everyone, absolutely everyone, is warning Frankie that this is something that he must take slowly. On one hand Frankie agrees and on the other hand he says excitedly, "I'll be 18 in 2 1/2 years! I will have the surgery then."

For now though he agrees to only present as a girl at home. Going to TLC is now an exceptionally good idea. If Frankie does move forward and transition, she can do it there. If she tries this out and realizes that it is not right for him, he will be able to go back to high school as a boy. In any case, Frankie has a lot to sort out. He has a tendency to live in a fantasy world. Helping Frankie distinguish reality from fantasy was one of the things the social worker thought we would be able to do well.

What remains to be seen is whether being a girl is one more way that Frankie is using to retreat from reality, or whether all the other ways in which Frankie has been retreating into fantasies were ways of avoiding dealing with being transexual. Like I said...everyone is committed to both supporting him and making him take this slowly.

Oh...and you noticed that I am having trouble with pronouns. Sorry. I may go back to using "ze, zir, zirs" or I may do what I have been in this post...switching from one gender to the other as it feels right. I don't know. (The most common gender-neutral pronouns are "ze, hir, hirs" but the second two don't SOUND gender neutral, do they?)

So we shall see, shan't we?

So ... does anyone know where I can buy a reasonable priced (i.e. cheap) pair of not-too-fake-looking falsies? I did some exploring on the web and all that I found were very expensive silicone breast prostheses. That is more than he needs, but I have to get rid of those hideous rice bags he made himself some time ago.

A week ago when we filled out the sexual safety plan Frankie told me that he didn't like to hug because hugging was for girls. After wearing a skirt for a couple of hours and being sent to bed she came over to hug me goodnight. I emailed the social worker and her response to that (after telling me to make sure he goes slowly) was, "Well it all makes sense, now."

And now I must go ... for some reason the kitchen is piled with dirty dishes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

First Melt-Down

Okay, I know it has happened at school, but we had our first melt-down at home. It could have been worse. I jumped in and helped de-escalate.

Of course it involved World of Warcraft.

Frankie was playing and narrating as usual. It starts off amusing (to me) but especially irritating to the boys. "Okay, I'm off to the wufs. Here wufs.... come let me kill you... There! I got one. Oh no, more wufs! There are too many wufs!"

After a while things start to go downhill. "This stupid program. Why are there so many glitches! I put my spell on it and it broke free. It is supposed to last for 12 seconds! He isn't supposed to break free."

Andrew, trying to be helpful say, "It says that it does damage for 12 seconds, not that it holds it for 12 seconds."

"It says right there: 'damage for 12 seconds!'"

"I know. That means that the damage continues that long, but it can resist your spell and break free."

"NO! It can't. It says 12 seconds and I did it right and the stupid wuf broke free! It's dumb. The program shouldn't have so many glitches!"

Okay... imagine this for about half an hour. Frankie complains about many "glitches." There aren't any herbs; there's no way to get money; things keep killing him.

Brian looses his temper and says, though with a controlled voice, "They aren't glitches! That is the way the program works."

They fight over whether there are glitches. Andrew comes out to try to explain rationally that this is one of the most labored over programs ever. That a glitch is rare, and the problems Frankie is having are the result of his actions.

Brian chimes in, "They are not glitches! You aren't doing things right!"

Frankie yells, "That's why I don't like you! I just want you to help me with the glitches and you say that everything is my fault and it can't all be my fault."

I get up and intervene. I try to get Frankie to calm down. Brian still wants to tell him what's what, but I tell Brian that I don't think that Frankie is in a receptive mood. Maybe he should try to talk to Frankie later.

I end up just sitting and listening while he complains that the boys think he is stupid and they blame everything that happens on him. It can't all be his fault. He did not turn off his action bar like Andrew said. It just disappeared! That's a glitch, but Andrew won't help him. Andrew just says, "You must have turned it off! But I didn't turn it off. It isn't my fault!" More tears.

Andrew comes into the room and I suggest that maybe they can agree not to use the word "glitch." Maybe Frankie can just tell him what problem he is having and Andrew or Brian can show him what he needs to do. They almost agree to that, but Frankie goes back to being upset that the boys think everything is his fault.

Okay...tempting as it is to keep typing the whole conversation. I'll stop here.

In the end everyone was calm and no one was happy.

Frankie is not developmentally ready for WOW. You aren't supposed to play it until you are 13 and Frankie, as I have said a couple dozen times, is 10. Andrew though assures me that it will nto get better as Frankie's character's level up. The tasks will be more difficult and his will get more frustrated. Getting him off of it though is going to be a problem because Andrew and Brian and his friends all play WOW and Frankie is going to be left out.

Still, it must be done.

We need to introduce him to some games intended for the 8-12 year-olds. Something that looks a little like WOW, but is easy. An RPG in which you are some sort of interesting creature and the wufs just line up to be slaughtered.

Andrew says maaaybe Zelda.

Of course, making sure that he spends time doing something completely different would be a good idea too. Our weakest area as parents is our lack of athleticism. Frankie really could use a parent who wanted to play basketball with him every afternoon.

Education of Brian, updated

So he was initially put in pre-Algebra, which is standard for 8th grade. However he got half-way through Algebra One last year. So they did a new schedule for him and sadly, it required some sacrifices. His new schedule is:

Algebra I
Jazz Band

Yep...that's four periods of artsy stuff and three of traditional academics.

At least that expensive instrument I rented will be used for 2 periods every day.

He came home singing, "I don't have to take social studies...I don't have to take social studies..." Not that social studies isn't important, but it conflicted with Algebra.

Frankie's secret ingredient

Frankie cooked spaghetti for dinner last night. At Frankie's request, Hubby taught him how to do it.

And though Frankie needed to be taught, he still remembered his secret ingredient which he assures us his mother also added.

Everyone ready? No one got food in their mouths?


The secret ingredient for spaghetti sauce is: pickles.

Investigations of Foster Parents

I recently did, as Maerlowe called it, a round-up of misery. It was a list of foster parents who are experiencing grief of one form or another from the system. Since then Gina and Cindy have both posted that the investigations are being closed more quickly and less painfully than they had anticipated.

I'm am happy for them.

Now, some advise to potential foster parents. If at all possible, talk to foster parents already working for the agency you are considering signing up for. Understand that some things trigger investigations automatically. I think that is what is happening to Lionmom right now. One of her girls is pregnant. From what she said (please correct me if I am wrong, Lionmom), that means an investigation must be done.

Automatic investigations make sense to people outside the system. We hear stories about foster parents who don't parent, who don't supervise, who treat kids poorly. So someone sits downs and writes some guidelines. Everyone understands that social workers have too much to do, so they make a list of things that require someone to make a special effort to find out what is happening in the family. So let's say they write a rule that if a kid stops attending school, it must be investigated.

I'm making this up to use as an example. I do not know of any place that has such a rule. Although I can certainly see why it could sound reasonable.

So then you have a foster family who has been giving care for a while and has a kid who is cutting. The foster parent reports it to the social worker. The foster parent goes to the school to meet with the student and the counselor where the student is read the riot act. The foster parent talks with the social worker again and they discuss what reward or consequence might make a difference. Then the school sends in the mandated report that the foster child has more than 6 unexcused absences in one month.

What happens next is what matters. Will this report go to a social worker who knows you and is experienced? Or does it go straight to a separate office for investigations? Will the social worker you have been calling about the kid call you and say, "Now that Johnny has missed so much school, I have to fill out a report saying you've done everything you should. I have here that you called me on these dates, and that you met with the principal. Is there anything else I should add? And by the way, you are going to get a letter we are required to mail out saying you are being investigated. Please don't let it upset you. It's automatic. I'm filling out the report and as soon as it has been reviewed you will get another letter saying that all concerns were found to be unsubstantiated."

Of course it is going to be upsetting. If it is the first time you have gone through something like this you will probably worry that the social worker is wrong and that more trouble is on the way. It will be, at the very least, aggravating that precious time and money is being spent on this when there are so many things that need to be done, but you won't feel attacked. Well, it won't feel personal at least.

Whether the person who talks to you is someone who knows you, whether they speak to you with respect while they do what they have to do, or whether they act like you are a criminal varies.

So ask the foster parents in the system.

What happens when the licensing worker visits? Do they site you for having bananas in a fruit bowl on the table, where they belong, and not in the refrigerator where they don't? And if that happens, what will happen when that report gets turned in? Will the supervisor talk to the lowly, inexperienced worker about using a little common sense or will a report go in your licensing file showing that you were out of compliance with the regulations?

Or will it be like my agency where the licensing worker says, "Regulations have changed and you need to have a smoke alarm in the child's room now. I have one in the car I can give you... No I don't have to come back to check. Just promise you will install it." Or "I see you have prescription medications in the medicine cabinet. The rules require that they be locked up....Okay, well buy a box and a padlock and remember to send in the receipt so we can reimburse you."

If your child qualifies for a difficulty of care payment, will your experience be like mine or Baggage's? I got a notice from the supervisor of workers telling me she was applying for it for me. Then a series of emails: first one sending me a form I needed to fill out; the second one reminding me to fill out the form and giving me the fax number again; the third one saying they hadn't received the fax I said I sent and they were very sorry, but would I mind terribly sending it again; and a fourth saying that they got the second sending and all was well. That email was followed by a phone call apologizing for losing the first fax ("It must have got mixed up with another fax. We get a lot of reports in on Mondays. I so appreciate you sending it twice. We will get this processed right away.")

Or will someone give you false information which will keep you from applying for the payment for years and when you finally learn the truth and apply, will they insult you when they neglect to do the paper work?

Of course even the same agency will have different people working in it. It could be that the answer is that with your agency how you are treated depends entirely upon who you happen to get.

So, again, talk to the foster parents in your area. If there are private agencies, talk to the people who work in and for them. Find out how foster parents are treated.

Because it makes all the difference in the world.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Learning Center (TLC) -- Updated

Last night Hubby sat down with Frankie with drawings he had made to help him understand what his choices options are for school. Frankie immediately pointed to the drawing of TLC and said, "I like that."

Later I asked him what he was thinking and he started talking about all the pros and cons, showing signs of going a whirlpool of indecisiveness similar to the "which World of Warcraft character should be my main one" that currently occupies all of his waking hours. I mentioned it to Hubby who assured me that he would not let Frankie get sucked in. They are going to visit TLC today and then unless Frankie hates it, he will transfer over in a couple of days.

We are fortunate that one of the psychologists who used to work for the state superintendent of education, and was one of the only people the new superintendent did not fire when he was elected, got fed up with said superintendent's idiocy and quit and came to work in Our Small Town. She, the pyschologist, is fresh and new and active in Frankie's case. Of course we are not lucky that our state superintendent of education is an idiot who has never worked in a public school in any capacity whatsoever, and has fired or lost everyone who had a clue, but I digress.

Anyway, though going to school with an adult trained to help kids with issues was an option, no one thought it was a really good option for high school unless it was something that Frankie really wanted. He would accept it, I'm sure, but everyone is leaning towards TLC.

I shall update this after Hubby gives me the report regarding how it is all going.

So they went this morning to see the center. The kids there ranged from about 8 to 15, so Frankie would not be the oldest. When they were there all the kids were busy on their own work with multiple adults available to help. Frankie said it smelled like a dentist office, but he would feel comfortable going to school there.

Next step is an intake meeting, at which we will have to sign various documents. The parents have to promise to cooperate with the program. He can get points which will help him acheive higher levels and more privileges, by doing his homework and possibly completing other at-home tasks. Don't know what yet.

Medication, oh medication

Frankie did a very good job in the beginning of remembering his own meds.

But you know, he was new. He got over it.

So yesterday he was hyper. Very hyper. But he was cheerful, so that's not too bad.

And then he was up at 3:00am. Playing WOW.

Fortunately Hubby was sleeping on the sofa and sent him back to bed.

Now Frankie will probably fall asleep at school, again.

It is odd. He never falls asleep here. Even if he is, as Evan poetically puts it, "up at the butt crack of dawn." He stays awake all day. School however is a different experience.

Anyway, we have always leaned towards making the kids responsible for remembering their own meds, but I think we need a back up system. I'm going to purchase some small sticker that the kids can put on a calendar if they take their meds on time without being reminded. Hubby will come up with an appropriate reward system.

We've also agreed on a rule that even if you can't sleep, no electronics may be turned on until 6:30am.

On the up side. I am a very, very deep sleeper, and Hubby is not. I just hear reports about night-time activity.

Oh, and if anyone is wondering if this child is obsessed with WOW, the answer is yes. He may play for a couple of hours every day. When he is not playing he is debating which character to make his main one. All day, every day.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Do you read the foster adopt blogs? (updated, sadly)

If you read here, I imagine you do.

Granny's great-granddaughters were taken away because one of the girls call CPS. The investigating workers did not believe the accusations that were made, but did find that her apartment was unsafe.

Maerlowe had a surprise inspection and was marked down for keeping bananas and apples in a bowl on the table. She wants to adopt her son and leave the system. She wrote a moving post about living with the fear that CPS will take her son away.

Maggie says she lives with the same fear.

FosterAbba is dying the death of a thousand tiny cuts and plans on adopting her daughter and leaving.

Gina is facing the "not if, but when" investigation and plans on leaving.

Baggage is being given grief for expecting the assistance she is promised and is livid, although I haven't heard her say that she is about to get out.

Cindy is dealing with another investigation. However, she has weathered so many storms that though she is hurt and angry, she is riding this one out.

Lionmom recently dealt with a criticism from the agency that once sang her praises, and now she is facing an investigation because one of her girls got pregnant.

And all of that is this summer. Have I missed anyone?

And I feel that I should write a post. In that post I would be wise. I would acknowledge that social workers are over-burdened, because as a society we don't really care about children, at least not poor children or children in the system, and we do not provide the resources to do it right. I would acknowledge that of course foster families must be supervised, because there are those families who are terrible, and they must be found and shut down.

I would acknowledge that the safety of the children comes first.

But mostly in this post that I should write, I would say something eloquent and supportive for all these people I admire who are being treated in ways they do not deserve. I would say something that might make them feel better and give them strength.

And then, finally, in that post, I would say something so wise and moving that people who are thinking about becoming foster parents would not read these blogs and decide that there is no way they are going to risk being treated like that.

But I find I cannot write that post. Only this one.

"Is he?"

Seeing as how we have a history of taking GLBT kids, we are getting that question a lot. Nobody asks in front of Frankie, of course. Some people just ask out right, "Is he gay?" Other people want to know, "Is he ... you know..."

And we tell them that he was referred to us because he has been indicating questioning and he needed a safe place to work that out. And usually people accept that answer, but sometimes, especially the ones who are most likely to celebrate another gay boy finding acceptance will follow up, "But what do you think?"

And the answer is: My gaydar is broken.

You know how if you think about the sound of a word too long it seems to separate from its meaning. I mean, think about the word, "cabbage." It is just sound, and an odd sound. If you analyze it too long, it looses its original meaning. It sounds like a word that should be used to describe the way rabbits move when they go quickly, "Seeing the dog, the rabbit cabbaged across the meadow."

Well, that sort of thing has happened to my gaydar. I have wondered about it and thought about it so much that all meaning has been stripped away form the signs and symbols.

When he stands and talks to someone he can't stay still. He shifts his weight from one leg to the other, propping himself with his arm and then taking it away to lean the other way. It not subtle thing, it is a fluid shifting of his entire body, ankles, hips and head. Definitely not butch, but is it fem, or is it child-like? Does it mean anything? No.

He keeps creating new characters on WOW, unable to decide who he wants to be in this world. However, all of his characters are female, and somehow they are all very butch. Maerlowe has pointed out the attractions to teenage hetero boys in playing female characters. They get to spend a whole lot of time watching women's buttocks. But he seems to favor the undead. All his characters are female, and not one is curvaceous. They barely look like women from behind. Does the fact that every character he wants to play is a butch female mean anything? No.

And what about when he said he doesn't like to hug because hugging is for girls?

Or when the evening he spent coming up with reasons to pull his shirt up in front of Evan? How about the fact that he seems to have stopped that completely? When Evan is here he seeks his attention, but no more than he does anyone else.

Frankie seeks attention from everyone. He is very comfortable with men. In fact the only person that was here that he did not seek attention from was David, the boy least likely to be able to closet himself even for a few minutes. David he completely ignored.

Which is what he does, or at least seems to do whenever we talk about gay stuff, which seems to happen around here a fair amount. Evan dropped by last night and stayed patient while Frankie and I competed for his attention. "Did you get your room set up?" "Do you think that a roy-j or a mage is a better character?" "What do you think of your roommates?" "I think I might want to be a shaman, because they can walk on water. Do you think a shaman is good?" And then I ask, "Are you out to your roommates?" and Frankie is absorbed in the WOW book that Brian bought, apparently not paying any attention at all, but not interrupting.

I know in the past he asked and said things that indicated questioning. You know, subtle things like, "A boy kissed me and I liked it, does that mean I am gay?"

The only thing that is clear is that Frankie is not interested in dealing with his sexuality, whatever it is. He either just is developmentally 10 years old, or he is retreating to that state of being so as not to have to think about it.

So now when people ask me what I think, I believe I am just going to have to tell them that we can't know until he grows up.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Adoption Question

Several of you asked what would happen if Frankie wanted to be adopted.

There's not a precise answer. In agreeing to enter this program, Frankie has agreed not to have his profile made available for adoption. That is not a legal contract, of course. Frankie could change his mind.

He could call his social worker and say he had. His social worker would point out the statistical chances of any fifteen-year-old boy being adopted, much less one who had spent a couple of years in treatment centers, but if Frankie insisted, a profile would be made and his name would be put into the hat, so to speak. And the chances that anyone would adopt him would be tiny.

If I wanted to adopt him, I would be reminded about why Frankie chose to go into a program that did not include adoption, about how he is still attached emotionally to his mother, about how much psycho-social work he has to do and that upping the emotional ante, especially in his case, could be damaging.

But I won't pursue that. I've successfully performed an "adoption of the heart" with the other boys. They are still part of my life. When I have considered adopting one or the other of them I always end up in this circle: it would be wrong to adopt Evan as his relationship with his mother is very much intact; would he feel bad if I adopted Carl and David and not him? And do I want to adopt David? I love him, and he has issues of dependence. Would adoption mean to him that he could expect us to support him financially? Carl is the one who most accepted me as his mother (which had a lot to do with his mother's death), and so is the one for whom adoption feels the most appropriate, but even if Evan was not bothered by other boys being adopted and not him, David definitely would be.

And if I adopt any of them, especially if I adopt some and not all, what expectations will that create for those who come into our home?

Some foster parents want to adopt their children because they find the state more of a hindrance than a help. For me it is the opposite. My agency provides services and support to me and my kids that I could never afford. They have decided that the best counselor for Frankie is one who does not accept the state-funded medical card. So they are going to pay him privately. It is a 60 mile round trip for me, and they will reimburse me for every mile at whatever the government set rate is (something like 40 cents a mile). On those weeks when things are crazy for me and I really can't get him there, they will arrange for transportation. When Evan revealed his addiction they sent him to a small, expensive, private program hundreds of miles away, because that was the best one for him. They paid for Hubby and I to go visit him -- air fare, hotel, car rental, and meals. When living with a recovering addict was triggering my issues, the agency paid a private therapist to see me once a week for 8 months.

For me, the advantages of staying within my system greatly outweigh any disadvantages.

I do have this fantasy though about adopting all the boys (and girls if there are any) who want to be adopted when we decide we really are done doing care. Of course, Carl will be 30, or 50, but still, it would be cool to adopt the slew of them as adults in one fell swoop, huh?

Busy, emotional day

Yesteday was busy day. Brian started a new school. I helped Evan move into the dorm. I painted a bedroom, and got the report from the Frankie's IEP meeting from Hubby. Then, I went to the PFLAG businesss meeting.

All of it had some level of emotion attached.

I was happy for Brian, and excited for Evan. We had a good time together and a nice lunch. It was much easier to leave him there, 30 miles away, then to put him on the plan to Scotland. I think he will be very happy, and I admit I was glad to find his phone charger this morning. ("Ha! He will have to come back right away for this!")

The painting was just tiring since I was trying my darndest to get it done as fast as possible. It was successful and it looks okay. Hubby helped everybody shift their stuff while I was gone in the evening.

The results from the IEP were not (or should not have been) unexpected, but still made me sad. Frankie is not holding up as well as we hoped at school. It is not suprising. He went to a small school and then has been in very small classroom, usually at the facility where he has been living. Now he is in a high school of more than 1000, where there are fights and gang problems, and very large classes. Frankie will be given some choices about how what to do. Basically he can get more support in this school, or return to an educational setting in town more like the ones he has been in. I was sad about it at first, but I'm okay now.

Then there was the PFLAG business meeting where we discussed the low attendance and basic trends of the group. I volunteeered to write the letter to members, current and past, and other people who would care that will tell them, "Our chapter is no longer viable as it stands. Come to one of the next two meetings if you wish to express yourself on this issue. Unless someone wants to take it over, we will shut it down before the end of the year." Of course I will phrase it just a bit more gently.

I've known that it was coming of course. I've known it for a long time. I went out to a coffee shop with the other person who has been as involved as I have and for as long. We shared that we both had lots of ideas, but no energy to carry them out. We comforted each other.

I came home and the house was quiet. Everyone was in bed, safe and sleeping, but I couldn't sleep.

I sat in the living room and turned on the TV and thought, "I'll just watch until Evan comes home from work."

Friday, August 24, 2007

New Schools

Today was new school day.

I dropped Brian of at the charter school for the arts. His schedule is:band, social science, English, art, math, science, band. Ah yes, he was a happy camper. He is coming home in a car pool (yippee) so I have a few minutes to write for all of you.

Evan and I got the last of his things and took them to his room. We do not move him in so much as drop off his stuff. The room is one of the smallest dorm rooms I have ever seen, but it is all his. The whole thing was a rather complicated procedure -- park in an over-crowded lot, walk to the dorm to check in, go back and get the van, drive to the dorm, drop of the stuff in front of the dorm, return the car, come back and move the stuff from the front of the dorm to the room itself. Sadly, I forgot my purse and Evan had to do all the driving. It was a trial, sitting there in front of the dorm, talking to the moms and new students while Evan drove the van across campus trying to find a place to park and then taking the shuttle back, but I managed.

He's excited. I'm glad he is only 30 miles away. He nervous of course, but he will do really well. I think he's going to like it there.

Although I kept thinking of things he didn't have. The bed is raised about four feet so he could put his dresser, fridge, and microwave under it. Of course he needs a cart or box or something to go under the microwave. He did not buy any detergent or cleaning supplies of any kind. He has a private room and shares a bathroom and common area (not kitchenette as I had imagined) with three other guys. Hopefully one of the other guys thought about toilet paper. If puts everything under his bed he will have room for a book case.

You know that crayon-urge I had last week? Well, I'm getting this potted plant thing going now. I'm not sure if he would remember to water a plant, or really appreciate the plant itself. Still, the room seemed to need something. Maybe just a huge poster of a cute boy in a speedo. Maybe that's what it needs.

Anyway, we got back at noon, Evan went to get his new glasses (he looks sharp), and I started in with the painting of Frankie's room. I've given the three walls that are to be cream (actually "cinnamon cake") one coat, but they will need another. The fourth wall will eventually be crimson, but I think we may leave it its current colonial blue for now.

Any minute now Andrew, Frankie, and Brian will be home.

Frankie's home. Gotta go.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Tomorrow everything changes

Or at least it seems like it will.

Evan will move.

Today he has been packing all of his worldly goods. Some have gone into our garage; some are already in the van. He, Brian and I will all leave the house at 7:15 and drive Brian to school.

Then Evan and I will drive on to The City and go by the agency offices and pick up the things that they bought for him (mini fridge, microwave, linens, etc). Then we're off to the University to unload his stuff. Fortunately for me, Evan wants to do this quickly so he can get back to Our Small Town before the optometrist's office closes (the shut down early on Friday) so he can pick up his new glasses.

Hubby will try to move the furniture in the bedroom (currently Evan's soon to be Frankie's) away from the wall so that I can start on the painting job when I get back from moving.

If I am lucky, then one of the girls (as in young female who is also a student) in the carpooling group I am joining will be planning on going to a friend's again and the carpooling women (as in mother of a student) can bring Brian home even though her station wagon is in the shop at the moment. This will now be a three-family carpool, so it looks like we will only be responsible for three, sometimes four, trips a week. Hubby says he can do one or two in the morning so, everyone cross your fingers, the driving burden might not be that big of a deal.

Can I have a hallelujah?

I bought paint for Frankie's room this evening. So, if Hubby is able to move the furniture, then I will be able to start on the walls mid afternoon. I have told Hubby that I may make him go to the PFLAG business meeting for me so that I can finish, but maybe I will get far enough along that he could just ... you know ... clean up the mess. Assuming that the walls actually get painted tomorrow, Frankie can move in Saturday morning.

The social worker came over this evening to have Frankie sign his statement of goals and we all did the ritual signing of the safety plan. The social worker originally suggested that we just all sign it, but there is something about everyone sitting around the table going over a document and signing it. It just feels official.

It makes a difference.

Frankie seems more relaxed. He rather excitedly told me that he succeeded in putting a string in his nose and pulling it back out his mouth. Clearly the possibility that I might be completely revolted was not worrying to him. He also found a web site on Chinese and figured out how to say, "I have two older brothers, one younger brother, a dad and a mom."

He asked us if it was okay that he couldn't find the Chinese word for "foster."

We said, "of course."

The business of a new placement

Right now two very dedicated social workers (one state, one private agency) are busily reviewing files and trying to figure out what needs to be done for Frankie. Emails have been flying back and forth. So far we have this:

IEP meeting scheduled for tomorrow at 2:45

He does not due for a physical, but he does need two more immunizations. So I should make him an appointment to get those. (I am unclear whether I am to take him to my physician or to the health department.)
He just had an eye exam, but he refuses to wear his glasses and the agency is considering paying for contacts. That will require an appointment with the optomotrist to be fitted.
First meeting with psychiatrist who is contracted with agency to prescribe meds is Tuesday in The City at 5:15.

We have a recommendation for a counselor, and the agency is writing a contract to pay him directly since he doesn't take state-funded medical card. I need to make appointments for Frankie to see him one or two times a week. Of course they want me to transport him, but they will reimburse me for mileage at least.

He genuinely does not need to go to the dentist at all. (Yippee)

That's it for appointments, I think.

Then of course I have to inventory everything he owns,* which I will do as we move him to his own room, which happens after Evan moves out.

The social worker is coming over this afternoon to sign the last of the paper work, at least more of it.

I have just been told that Frankie qualifies for additional "difficult of care" payments directly from the state. I have no idea how much that will be, and I'm not turning down any money to help me raise these kids, but the designation makes me a little nervous. But then what doesn't make me a little nervous?

* The agency has relaxed a little about the inventory. They no longer say "everything, absolutely everything." Now they give it to the kid, although we both have to sign it. They want a fairly accurate count of his clothes and a list of everything of value, both monetary and sentimental.

Unfortunately Frankie has already lost some items of his mother's that held sentimental value to him. He claims that their loss is the foster parents' fault. After living with him for week I am willing to bet a month's pay (if I were a betting person, that is) that he lost them himself. This child's organizational skills are consistent with a diagnosis of severe ADD.

Zero Hours of Quiet

So it is mid-day, but things did not work out as planned.

See... first Hubby called and asked me to bring him something he desperately needed.

Then the middle school called to tell me that Brian was no longer enrolled because the Charter School that he wants to attend requested his records. Brian is sitting in the office and I need to pick him up. "The Charter School never called you? That's strange."

Hubby calls to ask me if I can attend Frankie's IEP meeting tomorrow at 2:30. I burst into tears about how I haven't been able to get work done; he's been working all day and most of the evenings and I have been with the kids non-stop; about how long I had been looking forward to having this morning to myself, but don't because BRIAN ISN'T ENROLLED IN SCHOOL ANYMORE! Hubby attempts to be helpful, but I get off so that I can call the Charter School.

Charter School is surprised that the Middle School un-enrolled him as they only asked for grades and attendance record to consider him for admission. The nice woman expresses concern about Brian's past attendance. I tell her how much he wants to go. He does, by the way. He has been asking to go there since his anxiety issues got bad in the spring, and he went to see his friend in a school-related recital. She says he may enroll.

So I pick up Brian, drive him to the Next Town Over, wondering about car pools and how often I am going to have to make this 20 minute drive, and take him to the Charter School. We fill out paper work, buy uniforms (store for pants, in-home business for polo shirts embroidered with logo), get lunch, and get home at about the time when Brian would have come home if he had gone to school as planned.

The Charter school is a done deal and it is probably the very best thing for Brian. Okay, so it is not as diverse as his school. He's been going to schools that are 50% Hispanic for 8 years now. The Charter School is still a public school. It's not all white. And so what if it is 20 minutes away. We know at least one other family who attends and they are already in a car pool. Of course Hubby may not be able to drive very often, but I won't have to drive all the time either. And I bet they have never had to lock down because someone brought a gun to school.

And it is an arts school. Brian will have drama and music every day. Brian loves drama and band has always been one of his favorites. He is academically gifted, but soically awkward and he is convinced that he will "fit in" at the charter school for the arts. He already knows a couple of kids who go there. The child psyciatrist (whom Brian sees because ADD meds give him panic attacks and we ain't putting him on nothing else without a bono fide expert monitoring him) and the child counselor both have said that they have seen kids like Brian do much better at schools like these.

So we are going to give it a try. He has to go full days, and he can't leave in the middle of the day with mysterious anxiety-related symptoms. He just can't. Brian though is happy and excited. He doesn't even mind about the uniforms.

So I hope it works for him. The school has recently added high school, so he could continue to attend if it works out for him.

I'm trying to be excited for him. All I can think of at the moment though is my own time crunch.

Oh, and I just got an email reminding me that tomorrow night is PFLAG business meeting. That of course was when I was planning on painting Frankie's room so that he could move in on Saturday morning. Brian and Andrew are not complaining about sharing a room in front of Frankie, but I can see the stress building.

First Day of School (update already)



Of course Brian is still on half days and I will have to pick him up at noon, but I have four hours of quiet. Well, until Evan gets up and wants to watch television, or ask me advice about packing his room, or whatever.

But I should have three hours of quiet.

Two at a minimum.

And of course it all goes just like I expected. One week ago I asked Andrew how his AP assignments were going. He said calmly that they were practically done. On Monday I asked him how much he had to do. He said very little. On Tuesday he spent the day working on one of them. On Wednesday he had a panic attack because one of the assignments that he had half finished when we were on vacation is gone. He doesn't even have the instructions. Hubby dropped by the school at 3:00 to pick up another copy. He isn't sure he can do it. More anxiety.

I wonder if this is his way of forcing a decision about dropping one of the AP classes. There is little I can do. He needs to learn to handle his anxiety, which could be helped by getting the work done earlier. Oh well.

I remind all the boys to gather their school supplies and pack their back packs before they go to bed. They all assure me that they have. They are all ready.

This morning Frankie is squeezing in as much time as possible on WOW before school. He assures me he is ready. I suggest he is not ready until he has his shoes on. Then I go through his backpack with him. I gently take out of his binder spiral notebooks from last year. Anxious he says, "But what will I do without a notebook! I need a notebooks!" I direct him to the supply cabinet. He gets more supplies. "Okay, I'm ready now."

"Do you have your schedule?" He runs around frantically. He can't find it. How can he go to school if he doesn't have it? I make a photocopy of mine.

Meanwhile Hubby is helping Brian who has no idea where his ID card or agenda are.


Good thing they were all ready for school before they went to bed, huh?

But at least now I have quiet. For a while.

Update: Hubby forgot something. Could I bring it to school for him?

I will have an hour and a half of quiet. Absolute mimimum.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Things to share:

Diane (social worker) to Frankie: "What are your favorite things about living here?"
Frankie: "Free food ... and the family."
Diane: "The food at the last place was didn't cost money, so how..."
Frankie (interrupting): "Yeah but you could only eat when they said and then you had to eat it whether you liked it or not. Here I can get food when I am hungry and if I don't like it or I'm not hungry they don't force me to eat it."
Diane: "But you like the family too?"
Frankie: "Yeah. They're good."
Diane: "How?"
Frankie: "I dunno. They just are. Do you want to see my new WOW character?"
Diane: "Maybe later."

Frankie has more than 10 WOW characters. There is one token male. The rest are very muscular women.
I'm told that doesn't mean anything.

Andrew: "Which is your main character?"
Frankie: "My royj."
Andrew: "Your what?"
Frankie: "My royj"
Andrew: "Show me." He does. "You mean 'rogue.'"
Frankie: "Yeah. My royj."

School starts tomorrow.

Evan moves Friday morning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On Expectations

I've been noticing something today:

Frankie can do things that if Evan did them would make me crazy and it only makes me tired.

Like interrupt me while I am answering a question he asked to tell me something totally unrelated to the previous conversation, the question, or the answer. I mean we have conversations that go like this:

"Do you chop onions like this?"
"You can, but it is easier if you..."
"My character on WOW has reached level 6, and I think that if I can get Brian to help me I can level-up faster. Why can't I get the onion skin off?"
"Well if you cut it in half first and then ..."
"How many days until I get my next allowance?"

Now everyone does this sometimes, but woe to those who are not Frankie who do it to me...

This thoughtful post is being interrupted to bring you the following:
I just heard one of Brian's friends say to Frankie, "When you ask a question at least give people time to answer it, unless it is a rhetorical question, in which case you should not ask it at all." To which Frankie responded, "Did you see that giant monster over the hill? Do you think my character could kill him? Probably not, but ..."

...because Frankie rather absorbs all my patience for dealing with this sort of thing, and I just might snap at them.

And it is other things too. Like earlier Frankie asked me how much chili powder he is supposed to put in with the beans*. I picked up the recipe card to see, which made him realize that the answer was right there all the time, and he doesn't need me to tell him. So he pulls the card out of my hand and starts reading it himself and asks, "Where does it say how much chili powder to put in?" This, of course, is asked while holding the card where I cannot see it.

Now if any one else were to do that to me, I would not take it well. I might snap, like I did yesterday at Evan, and complain that people shouldn't ask questions if they won't let me answer them.

But with Frankie I don't snap, although I do sigh, and I think, "Wow, he really is young for fifteen isn't he?"

What I am realizing is that this what ADD looks like. Actually, this is what severe ADHD looks like after someone has been given medication which "works wonders."

Brian just openned a box sent to him by my MIL. She was so impressed with their discussions about religion and his reasons for being an atheist that she sent him some books that she thought he might enjoy. They include: Varieties of Religious Experience by William James; The Way of the Sacred by Frances Huxley; and a short pamphlet book called Church Recipes which contains good things to take to a church potluck.
I... kid... you... not.
Brian looked at each of the books and turned to his friends to shout, "Look! My grandmother sent me bubble wrap!"
Of course Brian was being ironic.

So anyway, what I have been noticing today, is that the way that I expect someone to behave has a great deal of influence on how I respond to them. If I expect them to converse as adults (Evan and Andrew, for example) I get annoyed if they don't let me finish my sentences. However if I am dealing with a 10-year-old Druid with ADD who just happens to be trapped in a 15-year-old's body, I am much more understanding, and I almost even have a sense of humor about it.

And after re-reading this post I am wondering, do you think that ADD could be contagious?

*These are the marvelous beans brought to me by FosterAbba and Foster Eema.

Registration Complete

Frankie was very, very disappointed to learn that he is still classified as a freshman. He did everything they told him to at the center, he got good grades in all his classes, and he should be sophomore, and he was not happy about being "held back." They explained that he wasn't being held back, and that he had done very well last year.

If he passes all his classes in the fall, he will be a sophomore in the spring. If he passes all his spring classes, he will come back next year as a junior. And it is possible for him to graduate when he originally expected, although he might have to take summer school.

He felt better about all that, although he was generally not excited about registering for school.

He declined my offer to "walk his schedule" with him so that he knew where everything was.

Buying school supplies, especially the cool back pack was more interesting, but the best part about that trip was that the store also sells nerf guns. He spent 10 minutes (as long as I could take it) looking at all the prices and calculating how much he could buy with his next allowance. For the next half hour all he wanted to talk about was whether he should pay for World of Warcraft (aka WOW) and get one new Nerf gun, or if he should get two Nerf guns and wait for WOW. Or maybe he should get the smaller gun, extra darts, and WOW. But then he couldn't get the ring. So maybe he would get the ring, and lots of extra darts, and WOW. But he really wants the guns, so maybe he should wait one more month before signing up for a WOW account (right now he has the free 10 day trial).

If I never hear anything again about WOW or nerf guns I will be just fine.

I also bought him a small lock box (the size of a cash box) to keep his precious possessions in. I have got one for all the kids. None of them have put much in them, but it has always been very exciting to them that they have that box that no one can get into but them. I don't even keep a key. (Although if I had reason to think there was anything illegal or dangerous I would make them open it. That has never happened though.)

We paid for his school activity card, but he wants to know how old you have to be to get a state ID. He wants one; and he wants a social security card to carry in his wallet. He is not happy with the idea that the one the agency is getting for him is supposed to stay in his binder with his birth certificate, medical card and other important papers from the agency. He wants one.

I think I understand -- or if I don't understand, I can accept. He has a need to carry as much identification with him has possible. Documents that certify that he is real, that he belongs here. We got him a library card. Soon he will have a school ID, a state ID (if I can get one for a 15 year old, I think I can), his own social security card, and a Visa Buxx allowance card. That should make a fairly impressive wallet collection.

Recently, a foster care alumni told me how important her passport was to her. She suggested that getting one should be a goal for all foster youth. It is the ultimate ID; something that suggests a level of prestige and membership in ... something.

Another Bad Title

Evan tells me that he gets compliments on his titles and that I need to work on mine. He's very competitive you know. Oh well, I can take it, as long as I can tease him. I've never been very good with titles.

First, regarding the last post, I want to say that I appreciate all the sympathy and also that I think I did not write it as well as I intended, because as I wrote it, it seemed funny to me. Perhaps I should have made it clear that at the points that Evan and I were yelling at each other we were also trying not to laugh. Evan has got good at that -- mock fights in which everyone is releasing real frustration along with a sense of humor.

That he wanted me to hold his hand through cooking a dinner with his abilities was absurd in itself, but you know, having an excuse to vent some irritation was good for me. And I appreciate that he has enough of a sense of humor to play along, and enough ability in the kitchen to cook the dinner without my actual guidance.

It was also a good thing that Frankie was out of the house (at the library) for the worst of it. If he had been here I would not have been able to laugh and yell so loudly, at least not without making him nervous. I also wouldn't have been able to mention the blog.

So don't worry, all is well here is casa de Yondalla. (Or is it "casa del Yondalla"?)

As for the IEP, well it turned out that the FAX was 49 pages. That included the cover page, the birth certificate, the immunization record, testing results, progress reports, and the actual IEP. So the IEP itself was under 10 pages (maybe only about 5 pages, I don't remember and Hubby took it with him to work).

As I read it I kept seeing Ben, on my sofa, that concerned look on his face telling me, "Frankie has worked so hard, and he has made so much progress. I hope that you judge him based upon the person he has become, not on the person he was."

Well, this IEP was absolutely written for the person he was: a kid with ADHD so severe he became violent when frustrated and had no test results that were considered reliable because he could never finish the test. This IEP was written for a kid who was going to end up in a treatment center for kids with major behavioral problems.

Fortunately he ended up in a good one.

And now we are able to use this IEP, which is a document that legally obligates the schools, to get the much more mild supports that the kid Frankie has become still needs. And what he needs is work that challenges him, addresses his educational gaps, and teaches him the organizational and study skills he did not learn along the way. And it just so happens that our high school does that very well.

So we are happy.

And one more thing: it turns out that having a kid who slurs (speech therapy is on his IEP) when you have a slight hearing problem is not a bad thing. See -- he is accustomed to being asked to repeat things. If anything, he is pleased that when I ask him to repeat I am blaming it on my hearing, and not on his speech. And I am pleased that he is the only person who does not roll his eyes or get frustrated when I have to ask him to say something for the third time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

IEP, Pork Chops, and Tempers

Friday afternoon we went to the high school to register Frankie, because that is the day for new student registration, and of course the reason why he moved in when he did and why Brian and Andrew have to share a bedroom for more than a week (not that we wouldn't have wanted him here). But we went after lunch, which is what we did with the other kids because it is not as crowded after lunch. Except that for new student registration, they close at 11:30.

But they told us they would be open at 8:00 Monday morning and we could come back then. Hubby will back me up on that. It is what they said. We also asked if they got the records faxed over and they said that they had. The nice young woman looked at a piece of paper with everything checked off and everything.

So Frankie and I went down this morning at 8:00am. The secretary in the administration office is very sorry. She can't imagine who would have misled us like that. Everyone is in the district meeting and we need to come back tomorrow.

We go home.

Hubby, who was also in the district meeting, checks in at the high shool after lunch and calls me to tell me that the counseling office is up and running and I should go down. So I do. Frankie asked if I can do it alone. "Only if you want to take the classes I pick out." He comes with me.

We get down there and wait and then see the registrar who is very nice and very sorry. They have the transcript, but not the birth certificate or immunization record and she cannot register him without that. So sorry. I ask to look at the file and see the nice list of everything checked off is actually a copy of a request of things they have asked his previous high school to send, not a record of what they have. I call Diane (social worker) on her cell phone which I am really only supposed to use for emergencies, but this feels like an emergency to me. She's home sick. She said that she did send it, but I should call her supervisor and ask to have it resent. And there is good news. The mythical IEP has arrived. The educational specialist "Kevin" is driving out to the school today. Maybe he hasn't left yet. I can call and ask him to bring me a copy so that Hubby can read it too.

I go home. I call Kevin. Yes he has received the IEP, but he has already left the building and, "I can't believe this, but I left it behind. I'll have to bring it out tomorrow, or maybe I could fax it today." I ask him to fax it to me and to the school, at which point he realizes that he is not talking to the school registrar and asks me as politely as possible who the blank I am. I tell him I'm the mommy. He makes nice happy noises and promises me everything I want. I hang up.

Evan asks me how many potatoes he should cook for dinner. I tell him he's the trained cook; he can figure it out. He protests me snapping at him. I say with tension, but a little humor, "I am trying to deal with all this school stuff. Really, I can't make any decisions about the dinner. You will have to do that." He has some snappy retort, but I don't bother to remember it.

I decide that I really want to have everything faxed to us too, so I call Hubby for his fax number at work. I go to his desk to write down the number.

I begin to dial the number and Evan says, "Do you want me to cook all of these?" Thinking he is talking about the friggin potatoes I say, "I don't think so." "Well, that means there will only be two left." I, infinitely patient and sensitive, say in a voice that is louder than strictly necessary, "Why the hell do you even ask me if you already know what the right answer is?" He protests my unfair treatment. We argue about whether his response to my question constituted already knowing what the answer was. I notice he is talking about the pork chops and say, "Oh. I thought you meant the potatoes. Sure. Cook all the pork chops."

I call the supervisor. She agrees to fax a copy of the birth certificate, immunization record, and IEP to both the high school and the school where Hubby works so that we can have them too. She will call me back when she has it all together and faxed so I can tell him to look for it.

Evan asks me where the olive oil is. I tell him I don't know. He tells me that he has to have olive oil for this dinner. I tell him that I am a little distracted right now. He says, "You have been waiting for months for a new kid. You wanted this." (Or something to that effect.) I have some sort of snappy retort, but I don't bother to remember it. Probably wasn't very good.

I send him to the car with the code that will open the back hatch while I look in the cupboards. I know I bought some yesterday. I remember asking the man at the store which aisle it was in and going to the other end of the store just for it. I know I bought some.

I can't find it so I go to my purse and get cash. I meet Evan at the back door and hand him the money and say, "Please go buy some."

"I can't go to the store!"

"Why not?!!"

"I haven't showered!"

I stand there in stunned silence, thinking about the various states of ugliness in which I have gone to the store. "Why not?"

"Yondalla, I'm a gay man. I can't go out without a shower."

I know when I am not going to win a fight. "I am so going to blog this!"

"Go ahead!"

Trying to get me to see reason, he tells me that if I go buy the olive oil, he can shower while I am gone and he will be ready to cook when I get back. I stomp off to find my purse grumbling about expecting phone calls. Evan says, "Don't worry. If anyone calls while you're gone..."

I interrupt to yell, "You'll be in the frigging shower!"

"Well, yeah."

I go to the grocery store, get the olive oil. While paying I mis-type my code and explain to the cashier that it is all the teenager's fault. "He can't go to the grocery store without a shower. His hair is like an inch long, he doesn't look any different showered than unshowered." She laughes. I leave wondering if she recognizes me and connects me with Evan who worked there a year ago. I doubt it, but the thought gives me some evil pleasure.

I get back and the supervisor calls. She's got the birth certificate and the immunization record, but what do I know about the IEP? Am I sure it is there? I tell her that "Kevin" said it was quite a few pages long and so he might have to divide it into more than one fax. So it must be there.

She says she will call him on his cell phone.

Which brings us to the point where I sit down at the computer to blog my day.


There is a flipping IEP. Hurrah. I still haven't got the call saying she found and faxed it.

And Evan says the pork chops are going to be really, really good. They better be.

This would be an update, except that it happened before I hit "publish." The social worker called. She faxed the entire 49 page IEP to the school. She is scanning it and emailing a copy to me.

Frankie and Hubby

I am so pleased to report that Frankie is connecting to Hubby, perhaps even more than he is to me.

Carl, David and Evan all connected to me and took quite while before they felt comfortable asking Hubby for things. I still remember Evan asking me to ask Hubby to give him a ride (or something). I kept telling him that he should ask; Hubby was nice, nicer than I am. Evan responded "Pleeeeease? Won't you ask him for me?"

Now of course Evan has figured it out. Hubby is more patient and more likely to give you rides or buy you a soft drink while you are doing errands (not that Evan needs rides anymore). David still doesn't interact with him much. When he visits he divides his time between me and the boys. He'll hang with them for a while, but mostly he will be with me in the kitchen helping with meals, or playing cards at the table.

Frankie however seems to be just as comfortable with Hubby as he is with me, maybe even more so. I'm encouraging it every way I can. For instance, I had Hubby give Frankie his first allowance and suggested that Hubby give it to him when he could take Frankie shopping. He did and they spent a couple of hours together. I've been encouraging Hubby to ask Frankie to join him on errands or help him with projects. You know, all that father/son bonding thing.

The other boys had had more consistent relationships with their mothers and had suffered physical abuse at the hands of men (to different degrees). Maybe that is why it is different. As burdened as his father was with his medical condition, I think he provided Frankie with more consistent emotional care than he received elsewhere. But whatever the reason, it's a good thing.

I think it is healthy, and it is a relief. Frankie is spending a lot of time playing with Brian and talking with Hubby. I'm still in the mix of course, but I don't have the feeling I have had before of a new kid attached to me like a baby monkey, or monitoring me like a warden in a high security prison.

And if Frankie is gay (or bi, or trans, or even straight with no respect for gender expectations) imagine how wonderful it would be to feel accepted by a father-figure while you go through that process. There are a lot of fantastic fathers in the world, but my unscientific study indicates that most mothers come around more quickly than most fathers. Many of the dads of queer children (youth and adults) learn to accept. A larger percentage of the mothers learn to celebrate.

I hope what I am seeing in the relationships around me continue. Brian and Frankie are getting along as peers, each tolerating the other's oddness. Evan is being the perfect big brother; Frankie is showing signs of developing a case of hero-worship there. And Frankie is reaching out to Hubby who is responding with quiet acceptance.

As Dan would say, "I love my life."

Frankie's Poems

Frankie just read me some poems. Actually he said they were songs and so he read them with a sort of tuneless melody.

They are dark. Filled with pain and thoughts of death. I know some of it is typical teenage stuff. I read that the reports from the people at the center who thought that he wrote some of it, and the disturbing illustrations that went with them, in order to keep a distance between him and his peers.

Still, there is such pain in them. And his reading of them was so casual -- like any other child showing me a series of pictures he had made. "This one is a house. This is a monkey in a tree. That's me killing. That is me dead."

Carl would write bad dark poetry and he would give it to me. It did not grab in the same way. I guess because he wanted it to grab me. He would smile when he gave it to me, and ask me if I thought it was good. I responded to it as a teacher. "Well, there is a lot of pain here, Carl, but that is all there is. It sounds a little self-pitying. I think that if you let more complexity of emotion in it would be better."

But Frankie's are so raw. Tossed down to me casually. "Here. Look at my pain. Which one is your favorite?"

I asked him if he still felt so sad. He said no, that the best part of the poems was that he now felt so much better. But he does not want to talk about it. He tossed me these pieces of his soul, asked me to choose my favorite, and then went to play video games.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Crayons (updated)

Well, after the urging of several of you in comments and emails, I bought the crayons.

I got the 120 box. It's on his bed. I'll update this post after he finds it. I expect he will be pretty low-key though.

And yes, I got a pad of paper too.


So he went in and out of his room a couple of times without saying anything about the crayons and pad on his bed, so I finally mentioned that the crayons were for him. He asked about the sketch pad and I said that was his too. "Cool because I like to draw."

He brought the box out to the living room to look at all the different crayons. When you open the box the crayons come divided into separate boxes so I had to assure him that there were 120 different colors. He was suitably impressed.

And Evan pouted because I never bought him a big box of crayons. When he needed colored pencils for a class I told him that we had a drawer of colored pencils and he could just take some from there.

But Evan didn't really mind. Besides, after the younger boys left the room, I reminded him that I bought him a big box of ... something else.

Why TPR?

There is a TPR hearing for Frankie's mother in December.

I don't know why they are doing it. I know reasons why she cannot be expected to provide him with a safe and stable home, and that she has three daughters in her custody. Frankie was removed from his father's custody. His rights were terminated some time ago.

But I don't understand why they are pursuing this with his mother.

It is not a requirement for entry into the program for which I work. Kids only get into this program if reunification is no longer being considered, but that does not necessarily mean termination of parental rights have to be done.

She has not seen him very much over the past five years, although she apparently has made more contact recently. She is not considered dangerous to him, except in the way that neglect is dangerous.

So I don't get it.

From my perspective it does not make a difference. I am not planning on adopting him, and I am planning on staying connected to him indefinitely. I expect to be part of his life. Like Carl, David, and Evan, he may come home for holidays, to recover from an illness, to live during vacations at school. He may call me to ask how to cook salmon, or come over to sew curtains. I offer that to him regardless of his relationship to his parents.

I don't think it is a good thing for Frankie. I don't see why making him a legal orphan is a good thing. Will it be a good thing if she doesn't fight it, for him to know that his mother let the state legally sever their relationship? Will it be a good thing for him to hear that the state has decided that the mother who is caring for his sisters is not fit to care for him?

What will it do to his relationship with his sisters?

I can't see how it will encourage healthy contact and visitation.

I asked the social worker and he did not know; he actually seemed a bit surprised by the question.

I suspect there isn't a reason. It is just what they do.

But I wish they wouldn't.

She is his mom. She was only 16 when he was born. She has made good decisions and bad decisions. I agree that she cannot provide him with the stability he needs. But she is still his mother.

How is anything made better by making him a legal orphan?