Thursday, April 26, 2007

I'll be back...

...on Wednesday.

Take care.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


So I don't really know what was going on with Brian. I am sure of a couple of things: he wasn't faking it; and ... well I guess that is all I am sure of.

He is feeling really well today. He has friends over and he is SO LOUD. He is thrilled to be able to breathe again. He is happy. No, he is joyful.

So here are some possible theories:

1. It was a subconscious (or conscious) attempt to get out of school. Anxiety attacks got him reduced to half days. Perhaps a new anxiety symptom would get him reduced to full days at home. Instead he found himself signed up for counseling, spending the mornings in an empty office working alone, and facing the possibility of going to the ED (emotionally disturbed) program. In other words, it became clear the behavior wasn't going to "work."

2. The symptom just resolved itself. Anxiety attacks don't last forever; muscles that are spasming don't typically continue to spasm. Perhaps it just lasted long enough that he stopped feeling afraid of it. He just got used to it, accepted it and when he stopped fighting it, the tension went away. Perhaps last evening when I pointed out to him that it had gone away when he was watching television, and for the first time he did not argue with me, made him realize that it was not going to be permanent. Again, he stopped being afraid of what was happening in his body and that allowed the cycle to wind down.

3. Several things happened that might have reduced his anxiety level: he became convinced that we did believe him; he realized I was going to see my mother and not going to see Carl without him; when I picked him up today I was really relaxed with him. I asked him how his day was and gave him a list (slightly long) of things I expected him to do while he was home for the afternoon. In other words, my anxiety level regarding his anxiety left.

4. Today was just a quieter day. Monday was when it started. He spent the afternoon at the physician's office. Tuesday and Wednesday he was asked to leave class, was picked up by an annoyed and concerned parent. He has been worried all this time that his father especially was angry at him for needing to be picked up at school and not getting better. Last night he and his dad played chess together. Today his teachers just gave him his assignments and sent him to a room to work alone. He spent the afternoon being expected to catch up on chores and homework. He spent lot of time alone, not talking, and not being hovered over.

Though it is tempting to see it as a failed attempt to get out of school altogether, I don't think that is right. That may have been in there, but I think his anxiety issues are real. I think that this symptom was not in his voluntary control, and a variety of factors combined to help him get out of the anxiety loop.

I still think he needs to start seeing counselor regularly so that he can recognize the signs when they start and take care of himself so that he can ride them out and not exasperate them any more than necessary.

I am not surprised by the way that the symptom went away suddenly. I figured that whenever it did disappear, it would go quickly. I was not annoyed at him because I thought he faked it or because he recovered suddenly. It was the eye rolling that left me torn between feeling like slapping him and hugging him. By the way, I just took a deep breath and asked him if he had got the mail.

Anyway, I want to make certain I am clear about one thing: this is what anxiety disorder looks like. They symptoms strike for no particularly reasonable reason and then they go away. Some things make both the beginning and the ending more likely. People who struggle with it can learn to respond to it more or less effectively, but it is not something that people make up to manipulate others or get attention.

It is what it is.

And thank you all again for being so supportive while I was panicking in my own special way.

Update on Breathing

Just in case you haven't been reading this breath-taking tale, here's the summary. Brian for the past several days has had trouble breathing. He makes a noise called stridor with every single breath, unless he is asleep or deeply engaged in a TV show. He has protested that it is not anxiety; he can't make it stop; nobody believes him. He has insisted the doctors don't believe him. He has had x-rays, a sleep apnea screening, been kicked out of class for disturbing others with his noises. The school strongly suggested that if we could not fix this he would be classified as emotionally disturbed and schooled with the scary kids.

I have been over-wrought myself not knowing what to do. I have wanted to shake him and wanted to be sympathetic.

I picked him up from school today and he got into the car pouting and breathing noisily. He managed to spend the whole three hours he is supposed to be there, but he spent most of it in an empty office doing work because he was affecting his classmates ability to concentrate. I dropped him off with the list of things I wanted him to accomplish.

I came home this afternoon.

"Listen mom!" He breathes deeply and silently. "It's gone!"

"When did it go away?"

"I don't know. Maybe an hour ago."

"What made it stop?"

"I dunno. What did you think, Mom? That it would stay forever?" He says rolling his eyes.

The little shit.

I mean, hurrah! My kid is all better.

What if I treated him like a foster kid?

I was interviewed the other day for a local publication. It's one of those free papers that are mostly advertisements but contain a couple of articles so that you will pick it up. I doubt they would describe themselves that way, of course. Still this one is "Our Location Families," comes out every two months, and can be found in coffee shops and other locations all over the place. There is always an article on some special family. The next issue it will be us, as a representative of a foster family.

I told her about that we are dedicated to gay kids, but I also told her that my children did not want their names and faces distributed around two counties with the label "gay family" attached to them, so I had to ask her to either only use my first name and no photos or have a family photo and no discussion of sexuality. Since we live in Very Red State, she took the second option.

Anyway, she wanted to know how this affected the biokids and if there was any particular thing we do to parent them so that... she fumbled for words and I grinned and said, "so that they will know that they are the real kids?" She said, "I guess. No. I'm not sure exactly what I want to ask." I told her that I tried to respond to each of the kids as individuals. I did not try to help the biokids feel like they were "really" mine. All the kids are real and all deserve to be treated as special. Given the kind of care I do (one kid at a time, permanent placement care) that works for me.

But I have been thinking a lot about Brian's problem and whether and to what extent our having done care was in the mix. I think about the assurances from the various counselors; I think about the fact that my sister has the same condition (not just anxiety, she has THIS symptom when she is stressed); I think about being confident that a very large portion of Brian's problem is a biological predisposition to mild depression and anxiety. I remind myself that he is entering puberty, which is probably a factor, and that his symptoms got worse, not better, since it has been just the four of us.

I asked him today, by the way, if he thought having another kid in the house right now would likely make him feel better or worse. He said, "Probably better because it would distract me and if he was someone that would like do things with me that would be good too."

On the other hand I think that many people, and I could be one of them if I weren't in the situation, see a simple equation: biokid + foster kid = anxious biokid; solution: remove foster kids.

But what I was planning on writing when I started this post is this that I have been thinking about what all this would be like if I was having this problem with a foster kid.

1. I would call the social worker and expect her to have a good idea for a solution.
2. She would ask her colleagues and come up with a name for the best counselor for anxiety in children.
3. Either Medicaid or the agency would pay the bill, and the agency would give me occasional assistance with transportation.
4. I would periodically wonder why this child is this way, possibly think about it as an intellectual puzzle, but the answer would not matter. Whether it was genetic or environmental, it was what we had to deal with.
5. I would not think that my success or value as a mother in any way hinged on my ability to fix the problem. I would view myself as part of a team who could only play my part.
6. I would think that the major part of the solution rested on the child. We would of course provide all the tools and opportunities. We would offer rewards or focused praised to encourage him/her, but I would completely accept that the child could only learn to cope with anxiety if the child was willing to do his/her part.
7. I would not feel like the world was ending because someone at the school said, "Kids who are disruptive in class because of emotional issues are considered 'Emotional Disabled.' They go to the structured learning program." I would not want to cry and have to fight off anxiety attacks of my own at the very idea that someone wants to put my kid in the program where they send children who rage and throw desks.

In short, I would not feel responsible for the existence of the problem. I would also not feel completely responsible for the solution either.

So I wonder if I could get myself into that mind-set. However we got here, this is where we are. There are a limited number of things that I can do aid in a solution. Past that, the best thing that I can do for Brian is to be calm, confident and supportive.

I'm going to try.

And the next time someone asks me if I treat my biokids and foster kids the same I just might answer, "I really try to. I try to be as good a parent to the biokids as I am to the foster kids, but sometimes it is really difficult."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Brian's breathing, support and thanks

Thank you to everyone who have left supportive comments, and yes Gawdess, I just bought some yarn to knit a baby sweater for friend who is about to be a grandmother. Knitting helps.

The noise that Brian is called stidor. The immediate problem is that he does not believe it is anxiety. He thinks that there is something else wrong and that no one believes him. This is a problem because it makes his resistant to trying any anti-anxiety exercises. He doesn't want the relaxation or breathing exercises to work because that would mean that he was wrong and we were right.

However it does go away when he sleeps or gets absorbed in something.

And yes that does mean that he makes that noise every time he breathes, nearly all day long.

Someone mentioned that my trip this weekend could be part of the equation. That is possible and given that I just realized he thought that I was going to go see Carl (Carl had asked me to go visit him this Spring), I am finding it likely. Not mind you as the total cause, but as part of the equation. Brian really adores Carl and was very sad at the idea that I might go see him and not take him along. Hopefully that is part of the equation and now that we have that part sorted out it will get a little better.

Because I need for it to get a little better. I really do.

I'm just really tired. Hubby is really tired. His teachers are tired.

I'm going to go knit.

Brian's Breathing

Brian's raspy breathing never went away all last evening. It got fairly minimal when he was watching TV (which I understand is not because he was forgetting to fake it. People with pneumonia cough less when they are engrossed in something like television). It was bad when we first got home. I finally told Hubby that Brian expressed concern that Dad was angry at him because he had to leave school. Usually they call me, but I don't take my cell phone to class so they could not get me.

Hubby and Brian talked and that helped. A couple of hours later Brian came into my bedroom while I was talking on the phone to my sister (which helped me feel less anxious about my trip) wide-eyed and struggling for breath. He lay down with his head on my lap and I sang him the lullaby his brother and I made up when he was a baby (silly lyrics to "Hush Little Baby"). After I sang it twice his breathing was almost normal.

I'm feeling so frustrated. We've done so much to deal with this. We've got him on anti-depressants. We have him in school half days. I leave work every day at 11:00 to go get him. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. His school is a quarter mile from Hubby's work place. When necessary he can walk to Hubby and Hubby will give him a ride home when he gets a chance. Still, I go almost every day.

Today the school called Hubby less than an hour after the day started. His first period teacher told him to leave the room and not come back until he could control his breathing and stop making that noise. Brian is missing more school than he is attending once again, even though he only has to be there for three hours.

And there is part of me that thinks he is exaggerating this. He exaggerates his symptoms so much. But I am also convinced that it is real.

Clearly we also need to get him in to a child psychologist that he will relate to. Unfortunately all those seem to be in the city, which is a 25-30 miles away.

I know he is not trying to make my life difficult. I know this is not in his control, but it is more than I want to deal with. I don't want to have to find the right counselor. I don't want to have to do all the driving. I want there to be a fix and for him just to be better.

But I so often don't get what I want.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Anxiety is real, dummy

So I got back from taking him to the physician where he was carefully examined and x-rayed.

His breathing issue is restriction of the throat that has a fancy name and is a symptom of anxiety. My earlier response of wanting to tell him, "It's just anxiety! Relax!" is somewhat akin to telling someone else, "It's just depression! Cheer up!"

It is clear that we have to get him into counseling again so that he can learn more stress management techniques and learn how to respond to anxiety symptoms early on so that this does not happen.

This particular anxiety symptom is a real b*tch because it feels like you can't breathe which, you know, tends to make you anxious.


I've asked his psychiatrist and counselors in the past if they thought that doing foster care was part of the problem. They have looked at me like I had said something like, "Do you think it could be because we have too many cats or because of the colors I painted the house?" So I will trust that this is just who he is and get him the sort of help one needs to get when one is subject to anxiety attacks.

He will be wearing this thing on his finger all night tonight that will measure his blood oxygen levels. Though everyone expects that to come out fine, it will absolutely rule out any sort of airway obstruction the x-ray could not detect.

It's the guilt, stupid

..or why caring for traumatized children is sometimes easier.

I tend to assume that every behavioral problem or even character trait that the kids who come to me from the system have is due to their trauma. I know that is a mistake and in general terms I understand that. Take a specific behavior though and the possibility that this behavior is just part of who this kid is, and who he would have been in any case, flies clean out of my mind.

Does a child dislike being alone? It must be because of abandonment or neglect.
Does a child distance himself from the family? It must be attachment issues due to abandonment or neglect.

Give me a behavior and I can come up with a theory that makes sense given their case histories. It is always obvious to me why they are the way they are. If the child is someone else's I very often find the appropriate response to be fairly obvious. If the child is one of mine, I am still often pretty certain I know what the right response is, which is of course not the same thing as being able to stay emotional centered to do it.

All that I am forced to call into question when one of the bioboys has behavioral issues though.

If everything is to be understood in terms of a child's case history, then I, as part of Brian's case history, am part of the problem. This of course means that I have a terrible time feeling confident about how to respond.

So today Brian has been complaining that he has been having trouble breathing. He is tending to wheeze. I just called the doctor and left a message asking if we can be worked in or if we need to go to the walk-in clinic. He is now watching cartoons and his wheezing seems to have disappeared.

So why is Brian anxious, and why does it seem to be getting worse? Is it because there were only two years of his life between his father's home day care and our beginning foster care? Is he worse now because the house seems empty (he has been complaining about it)? If so, does that mean that I have raised him to be addicted to drama? Dear lord, could he be responding to my need to be a caretaker by offering up problems for me to obsess about?

Or has having had so many people come in an out of his life the cause of the anxiety? Did he not get enough from us when he was little? Did he suffer some sort of trauma that we don't know about? Did he figure out somewhere along the line that the way to get singled out was to be sick? Is he worse now because even though he says he wants someone new in the house, he really doesn't?

Or is he just a kid who suffers from anxiety and who feels that anxiety in his body.

Could that be the whole explanation? That is just who he is.

And if that is, maybe I go overboard on my analyses of the kids from the system. Maybe a great deal of who they are is just who they are.

And maybe I just think too much.

Unless of course I haven't thought about this carefully enough.

Bad mother

I don't know what's going on or what to do about it.

Brian was suffering from fatigue so I took him to the doctor and they ran every blood test imaginable. There was nothing.

The fatigue went away, but the doctor suggested that we bring this thing home that attaches to his finger and monitors is blood oxygen levels through the night. Brian asked me about it and I told him that with kids' sleep apnea is usually just tonsilitus, which is almost certainly does not have, so maybe we should just cancel the test. He said that no he wanted to have the test.

And today he went to the school nurse because he can't breathe. He is wheezing. His thoat and chest feel tight.

The thing is he tends to forget to wheeze when he is distracted.

Now you know if I tell him it is just anxiety and finish my day at work it will turn out that he is at the beginning of a horrible allergic reaction and will die.

If I give in a take him to the doctor it will reinforce this anxiety-related psycho-somatic behavior.

And I so wish that there was some other parent that I could blame this on.

Yep. If the the foster kids do something like this it is because of early childhood trauma.

If the biokids do then it must be genetic, simply part of their personalities.

I feel like a very bad mother on so many levels right now.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Thinking Blog Award

Process nominated for The Thinking Blogger Award! There are a lot of awards or memes out there that I don't especially care much about, but I confess that I wanted this one. So thank you Process.

Now part of the obligation is to nominate 5 blogs. That is a difficult task, because there are so many. It is made easier by the fact that the meme has been floating around for a while and so many of the blogs I might have had to debate about have already been "nominated" and I decided that I would not nominate anyone who already had been. So if you are surprised that someone is not here, that may be why.

Part of me hates doing this because I get the junior-high feelings and I don't want to be the cause of them. I decided by being pretty literal about the question "who makes me think." My first draft of this list was made entirely by going through my posts and seeing which bloggers I had most often mentioned in sentences like, "Process' post yesterday got me thinking..." Except I looked at that list and knew it was not quite right. So here is the list:

Bart, A Whole New World
Though Bart blogs irregularly every single one of his posts is thoughtful in every sense of the word. Bart will write in response to a event in his life, but every post is an essay. If he had written nothing other than his post "A Victim" I would have had to nominate him.

FosterAbba, Navigating the Maze
Perhaps because we started blogging around the same time, there is probably no other blogger with whom I have exchanged more thoughts. FosterAbba, among others, has made me think about love, safety plans, and religion. Those links are are to posts that I wrote, but everyone contains a link to a post of hers.

Gawdess, all gawdass, all the time
Gawdess, previously Gawdessness, has been blogging for a long while. She is honest, funny and inspiring. She manages to capture both how difficult and how rewarding caring for traumatized children is. The very thoughtful way she responded to one of her children's behaviors prompted me to write Recalcitrant Behaviors in Foster Children

Lionmom, From 0 to 5.
Lionmom was one of the first bloggers that I read from beginning to end. It was because of her that I went back through Ann's entire story (on the private blog). Her story, her honesty in telling it, changed the way I think. I don't have as many posts on the blog that mention her, but if I am going to make a list of bloggers who "make me think" she has to be on it.

My next problem is that there are at least four bloggers who parent truly difficult children, children who perhaps have RAD who have made me think a lot about what it means to measure success in foster care. If you read that post you will see one blogger that obviously made me think and who perhaps I should have nominated. But I think I am going to take the somewhat dangerous move and assume that she will get nominated, just not by me. Though there are many bloggers who make me think about what we are doing simply by their carrying on, today, as representative of them all, I nominate Marelow of Spotted Dog Turn.

And so now all of you are tagged and must ask yourselves, who makes you think?

The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn't fit your blog).
To the rest of you, especially my beloved lifeguards, experienced parents who teach me, and newbies whom I adore, I wanted to nominate you all. I really did.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Going to mother's house

Have I told you all that I am leaving Friday to surprise my mother for her 70th birthday? It was all my sister's idea, which is strange and possibly very good, and I am finding I am getting more and more anxious about it as the date approaches.

First the background: my parents got divorced when I was seven and Sis was four or five. As far back as I can remember, my mother and sister did not get along well. I was the one through whom they communicated. I was the one who listened to each of them. The listening part never really stopped, although I did stop trying to help them understand each other.

The three of us have rarely been in the same place since Sis and I left home. I feel like I have a good relationship with each of them, but separately.

Two years ago we were all together. Mom, me, Andrew and Brian all flew out to the town where my sister lives. Mom and I stayed in a H*liday Inn. Sis came over with her brood (she had all three of her kids in between my two) and the kids all swam and ran around. My sister took us to a lake one day. Mostly we all had a pretty good time. A lot of the time was centered on the kids. I had time alone with my mom and alone with my sister. They had some time together without me, but not a lot. There was no time, however, when my mother, sister, and I were together without the kids.

I'm finding that I am getting very anxious as the date approaches. I don't know what it is going to be like.

It is surprising to me that my sister wanted this weekend. I wonder what expectations she might have about the weekend. I know my mother will be pleased to see us, actually I think she will be thrilled, but then what? What will we do for three days in that small town with no kids to demand our attention?

Will it be wonderful? Will it be tense? How much of each? What are we going to do?

So I'm tense.

I think I need to start a knitting project so that I will have something calming to do.

Responding to being tagged

So Amanda Fuzzy Pants tagged me. And now I must apparently give you a series of goals. When Amanda did gve her goals she divided them into personal goals and professional/financial goals.

Now I know that I'm not sharing any financial goals, and I don't want to talk about my job here any more than I already do, so I thought maybe I should intepret "professional" goals as having to do with being a foster parent, but the only goal I have there is "be calm while waiting" and that is not very interesting.

And then I remembered that someone recently pointed out to me that I have a tendency to over-think things, to which I responded that I had a doctorate in over-thinking, so what did he expect. But he was not wrong. So I am hereby deciding not to over-think and just let goals float to the top of my consciousness and write them down.

  1. Get the adorable, bleeping Shih Tzu house broken
  2. Clean the carpet
  3. Buy more of the stuff that you pour on dog p*ss when you adorable Shih Tzu is not yet completely housebroken
  4. Write the stupid newsletter and email out the minutes of the last two PFLAG business meeting
  5. End oppression and stop gobal warming
  6. Get my hair cut
  7. Go grocery shopping
  8. Catch up on my sleep
Now I believe I am supposed to tag someone else, but you can probably guess that I am not going to. What with scheduling a hair cut and ending oppression I just don't have time to figure out who to tag.

**I know, I said I would do the meme when I was not insane, but less insane seems to be all I am going to be able to get.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Unedited thoughts

I got tagged.

And for some reason I am feeling out of sorts with the blogosphere. I stumbled across a couple of blogs that at one level really interested me and at another level ... didn't.

I'm in this weird junior-high mood. Like I go to someone's blog and they have a blog roll and there is a list of my most favorite blogs and I'm not on it. And I think, why don't they like me? I mean, they HAVE to know about me. They are reading X's blog and X likes me and even talks about me. So why aren't I on their blog roll? And the I realize that they are not on my blog roll either, because I just found them even though clearly I read X's blog and X has probably mentioned them and I just wasn't paying attention.

Or I will be reading someone else's blog and someone in a comment will identify themselves as a foster parent and they have a blog and I will wonder how in the world I could have not known about them, like somehow every foster parent in the entire blogosphere is supposed to be known to me. Why? Why should that be?

Or I find a blog that I suspect I would really like if I would just give it a chance but all the posts that happen to be on the main page are about how absolutely adorable their children are and I find myself throwing up in my mouth instead. And then I feel really bad, because their children are adorable, but I just don't care. (I'm not talking about your blog or your children, of course. You I already like. You had me at "and then he peed on my leg, literally" or whatever other evidence of flawed humanity I found when I visited your blog. I love your pictures of your distinguished and terminally cute children, and the stories of how smart and insightful they all are.)

Or I find a blog that is really snarky and strangely written and exactly the sort of thing that I would like to read, except that I think a lot of the posts have been deleted or the author is really writing for family because important pieces keep getting left out of the story. You know like one post says, "We are really looking forward to going to the zoo" and then the next post says, "I'm so glad we went to the ocean" and I'm think WTF??? So I think that maybe I should just read the whole thing from beginning to end, because it really is snarky and fun. It just doesn't, you know, make sense.

And then I remember that tonight is the PFLAG business meeting and I still haven't finished the newsletter and I don't think I even sent out the minutes like I was supposed to and I have been spending hours on the blogosphere and I must ... stop ... doing ... that.

But then I have been tagged and I told the very nice blogger who tagged me that I would do it if she would put me on her blog roll (see aforementioned anxiety about appearing on every blog roll in the blogosphere) and she said she would so I have to do it.

Only I can't decide whether to do it quickly when I am feeling like a piece of doo doo for not getting the newsletter written, or whether I should put it off until some time when I can give it some and reflection and then I think, the stupid meme is supposed to be fun, not a difficult homework assignment, just do it already!

Except that I have to go write that newsletter and go to the business meeting and be a good person and fight for justice and equality, but I would really rather take a nap.

I'll do the meme tomorrow when I am not insane, I promise.

And maybe I will even put in links to some of the your wonderful blogs I was aluding to, except I would be worried about making someone feel badly that I left them out, so maybe I won't.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Don't jinx it!

I'm not really superstitious. Not really. I don't really think that shouting out good news before it is final can affect whether it really happens.

But I'm nervous and I am afraid of jinxing it. So I will only tell you what has happened.

Evan has done all the paper work he is supposed to do to get funding from the foster agency for college next year. He's been accepted into an associate program in information technology with the possibility of staying on for a bachelor's degree. The official meeting at which the agency will tell him whether he will be funded for school is coming up in a few weeks, but he just realized that the housing deposit was due today and they paid it.

And so he called me, "So they haven't said that I have the funding yet, but if they paid the housing deposit that must mean they are going to give it to me right? I mean, they wouldn't pay the housing deposit and then say they weren't going to help me with the rest of it, right?"

"I really don't think so, Evan. It sounds to me like you're going to go."

"They said they think I should have a single room. They put down the higher deposit so that I could get one!"

Yep, he's excited and nervous and thrilled.

And he had to call me to tell me about it.

"I'm your first kid to go to college, aren't I?"

"Yes sweetie, you are."

Blog Roll

I'm planning on updating the blog roll. If you are a kindred caretaker and you want in, let me know. Let me know if you want to be under "big kids" or "little kids" -- and let me know if you are already on the blog roll and not in the right category.

And Margaret -- do you want me to move you out of pre-parenting now, or wait until Slugger comes home? He's big kid category, right?

Lionmom's Interview

Writing interview questions for Lionmom was a challange. That old standby, "How did you meet your love" has been answered. In that post and others she has talked about beginning care. So here are my questions for her.

Questions for Lionmom:

1. What skill did you have to learn to care for traumatized kids?
2. GLBT kids obviously have to deal with issues in the world that straight kids do not. What advice would you give parents of queer teenagers?
3. What was the best unexpected thing about doing care?
4. What did you learn about yourself from doing care?
5. How do you take care of youself through all the pain and loss?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Congratulations to Margaret!!

If you haven't already, head on over to The Open Window and congratulate Margaret who was just matched with the boy she's been calling, "Slugger"!

It's been a long wait and now the story really begins.

Brian misses Evan

Brain, who has not been feeling well, is currently crying softly because he misses Evan.

Me: "Why do you miss Evan so much?"

Brian: "We never do anything together as a family, and even though Evan and I didn't always get along, sometimes he did things with me." *

Me: "Do you remember telling me about how you couldn't wait for Evan to move out?"

Brian: "Well, you never appreciate what you have until it's gone."

But Brian wants to be reassured, "They are still looking for another kid for us, right? It's too quiet here with just us."
*The claim that we don't do things as a family is simply wrong. This conversation started out with him asking if we could all go out to dinner together. I pointed out that we did that just a few nights ago.

One Test, Two Opinions

Yesterday I took Brian into see the physician because he has been sleeping 12-15 hours a day. His regular physician had no openings, so we saw the doctor who was on call. They took blood and ran tests for wide variety of possibilities.

I just got a call from the nurse relaying the information from both physicians.

Physician 1: Everything looks normal including his white blood cell count, although his blood work indicates that he might have had a "little virus." If he continues to sleep like this we should bring him back and they will re-test for mono.

Physician 2: Everything is normal and we just don't know why he has been so tired. Come in and we will give you this machine to take home. He will sleep with a sensor on his finger that will measure how much oxygen he is getting which will tell us if he has any kind of sleep apnea, which can cause fatigue.

Huh. Does anyone know what would indicate "a little virus"? Is that code for, "That is the most likely explanation given that our tests came back negative" or does it mean that there was some piece of information that one physician noted and the other did not?

How and Why I Do It

So I thought if I am going to send out an interview assignment to all willing takers, I should probably do it myself.

1. What is the story, reason, or explanation for how you got into doing care?
Please see my post How it all started for the answer to this one.

2. What do you wish you had known before you started?
I wish I had had a more realistic understanding of what I could and could not have done with and for the kids. I wish I had known that "the only person I can change is me. Others I can only love."

3. What skill did you need to learn (or still need to learn!) to do it well?
I wish I had known how to set and create boundaries. Click the label "boundaries" if you want more on that one!

4. What is the best, most rewarding part of doing care?
It is isn't the big things. It isn't seeing them graduate from high school or make some major achievement. Those are cool, but it is all the little good moments in between the difficult moments. It is just the joy that comes from forming a relationship with someone and seeing them grow and heal. In some ways, this is exactly what I expected when I was a newbie, and in other ways it is completely different. I often don't recognize it when it is happening. I forget that falling down is part of learning to walk and that healing happens slowly. The moments when you can see the growth and healing may be fleeting, so I have to stay alert so I don't miss them.

5. How do you take care of yourself so that you can keep on giving care?
Blogging is the obvious answer. Venting what I feel and getting support from other bloggers is incredibly valuable. The other answer is going to sound silly, I take care of myself by remembering to take care of myself. It is so easy to get bogged down in everyone else's needs and just push mine aside. That in the end is no good for anyone. I've learned to ask the social worker for respite or tell my husband that I need a night out with friends, or an hour alone in the tub before I've gone nuts with emotional exhaustion.

6. What did you learn about yourself from giving care?
I learned that if I don't take care of myself I can easily turn into an obsessing, anxious, controlling, insane woman. I also learned that I can distance myself from their drama and that when I do I'm a much better parent to teenagers than I thought I would be.

Interview for All (well, almost all)

I am working on personalized interviews for Lionmon and Mary, but here are the questions that I always want to ask all people who choose to parent traumatized children. So if you do foster care or have adopted older children, this interview is for you. Write a post, send me the link, and I will publish it on my blog.

I have created a side bar section entitled "How and Why We Do It" so all the answers can be linked in one place. If you've already written a post that addresses some or all of these questions, feel free to send me that link. So here it is:

Six Questions on How and Why We Do It
1. What is the story, reason, explanation for how you got into doing care?
2. What do you wish you had known before you started?
3. What skill did you need to learn (or still need to learn!) to do it well?
4. What is the best, most rewarding part of doing care?
5. How do you take care of yourself so that you can keep on giving care?
6. What did you learn about yourself from giving care?

You don't have to answer these questions. If you have a post on how and/or why you do foster care or adopt older children, let me know and I will add the link.

Oh yeah...I know that word

I've been reading some philosophical dialogues with my students. The philosophers who wrote them gave their characters names that fit their positions.

Leibniz wrote a dialogue in which his views are represented by a character he calls "Theophilus" or "friend of G-d" who has a conversation with Philalethes which means "friend of truth."

Berkeley represents his views with Philonous, or "friend of mind," who converses with Hylas whose poor name means nothing more "matter" or "stuff."

And of course the word "philosophy" is just a combination of "philos" which means love or friend and sophie which means "wisdom."

As I read I thought that "friend of children" would be a good blog name for someone, not that I would change mine again, but wouldn't that be a cool name? Greek for friend of children?

Let's see... "friend" is "Philos" and "children" is "ped." Would it be "Philoped?" That has an odd sound. Wait, it sounds like a word I already know...isn't there a word in English already that uses philos and ped?

Slowly, only one cup of tea in my system my brain works slowly... not Philoped, but pedo...

Damn! Not a good blogging name after all.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another Interview

Altasien expresses an interest in being interviewed.

I find this prospect somewhat challenging. Altasien is still pre-parenting so I can't ask questions about how the experience was different than she expected. She is, like me, an anonymous blogger and so I'm not certain what she might be unwilling to answer. So...

There's the obvious question:
1. How did you meet your husband?

Then there is the serious question:
2. How should race issues be addressed in foster parent training?

And how about some risky questions. You haven't started parenting yet, so:
3. What do you predict will be the most challenging for you personally?
4. What strength or skill do you have that will be most valuable to you as you parent?
5. How do you imagine you and your husband working together as parents?

Now I know this is not the same ordinarily part of this interview meme, but I would really enjoy it, Altasien, if you would come back after a year or so of parenting if you would come back and re-assess the answers you give the to those last three questions.

Interview Meme

So I am interviewing FosterAbba. Here are my questions for her:

1. How did you meet FosterEema?
2. How or why did you start doing foster care?
3. What did you learn about yourself from the experience?
4. What do you wish someone would have told you about care before you started?
5. What is the coolest thing about Danielle that you didn't expect?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Respite weekend

Jackie spent the weekend here again. This time it was entirely because she wanted to. She is turning 18 in just a couple of weeks and is incredibly anxious about what she needs to do.

And one of the other girls has been running away and generally being difficult. Mandy said she just needed some peace and quiet. So I gave it to her. I let her sleep in as late as she wanted. She spent most of her time in her room talking on her cell phone.

She didn't want to go home, but Mandy convinced her to come back. Tomorrow all the girls will be at school and Jackie will be able to spend the day with the adults. (Jackie just has to take two more GED tests, which are scheduled, so there isn't anywhere she has to go except work). Everyone is agreed though that she can come back here as much as she likes until she moves.

She's holding together better than a lot of kids right as they approach emancipation.

Jackie isn't in the permanency program that I work for. Mandy takes teenage girls who need a high level of structure because of behavioral issues. Jackie has done really well there. No one has talked to her about the posssibility of staying in care past her birthday. Mandy is giving her some time to get her living situation worked out, but she is expected to move as soon as she reasonably can.

This isn't the way it should be for these kids.

The Helping Passage

Bacchus asked me the other day what book(s) had the greatest influence on me. I left out all the Alanon/Naranon literature, though I shouldn't have. Let's just say that there is a lot there.

Let me give you my favorite passage. It's available on-line, although I don't know what book it was orginally published in, and I don't know who wrote it. I know it only as "The Helping Passage." It is something that I keep coming back to and though I know it is not how a lot of foster parents approach parenting, it has become the way I do.

Your role as a helper is not to DO things for the person you are helping, but to BE things, not to try to train and change his actions, but to train and change your reactions. As you change your negative to positive-fear to faith; contempt for what he does to respect for the potential within him; rejection to release with love, not trying to make him fit a standard or image, or expecting him to measure up to or down from that standard, but giving him an opportunity to become himself, to develop the best within him, regardless of what that best may be; dominance to encouragement, panic to serenity; false hope, self-centered to real hope, God-centered; the rebellion of despair to the energy of personal revolution; driving to guidance; and self-justification to self-understanding-as you change is such ways as these, you change the world about you and all the people in your world for the better.

Self-pity blocks effective action. The more we indulge in it the more we feel that the answer to problems is a change in others or the world, not a change in us. Thus we become a hopeless case.

Exhaustion is the result when we use energy in mulling over the past with regret, or in trying to figure ways to escape a future that hasn't even come yet. Likewise, setting up an image of the future and anxiously hovering over it for fear that it will or won't come true uses all of our energy and leaves us unable to live today. Yet living this day is the only way to have a life.

Take no thought for the future actions of others. Neither expect them to be better or worse as time goes on, for in such expectations you are really trying to create. This is God's job, not yours; when man tries to create another life, he makes only monsters. Love alone can create. Love and let be.

Remember all people are always changing. When we judge them we judge on what we believe we know of them, failing to realize that there is much we do not know, and that they are constantly changing as they try for better or worse to cope with life. Give others credit even as all of us struggle; give them credit for attempts to progress, even if their changes are not apparent, and above all give them credit for having had many victories which are unknown. (We are all of the same cloth, though of a different cut.)

Remember you too, are always changing, and you can direct that change consciously if you so desire. Yourself, you CAN change. Others you can only love.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Interview meme

So there is this interview meme going around. On of the cool things about it is that you tag yourself. You ask someone who has been interviewed to interview you. So I asked Bacchus (who was interviewed by Dawn, who was interviewed by someone else) to interview me. So here are my answers to Bacchus' questions:

1. As an educator what was your biggest challenge and if you've overcome it how?
I don't know that it is really the biggest, but certainly the challenge that keeps coming back is that I have a difficult time sticking to the syllabus as I have written it. I have an idea for how things could be better (change the assignment, change the reading, give them a practice exercise). It always seems like a good idea at the time, and it always leaves a good number of the students confused and frustrated.

2. How did you meet your Hubby and how did you know he was the one?
Thank goodness for an easy one! I warn you though, it's long!

First the back story: When I was a freshman in college someone took me to Dr. B's table in the cafeteria for lunch. He was a history professor and a gossip, and he ate lunch in the cafeteria every lunch and dinner at the same table. (And my retroactive gaydar tells me he was very definitely gay). In any case, what was cool about eating with Dr. B was that you would meet people there that you wouldn't meet any other way. I mean, where else would a first year woman with no major meet a senior physics major? So I ate lunch with him a couple times a week. Some of the women on my dorm floor seemed to think there was something scandalous about him and asked me in concerned tones why I sat at his table. Simply because I wanted to get them off my back I told them that I had an intuition that I would meet my husband there. At least in the early 80's, you could get a southern (North Carolina) woman to leave you alone about ANYthing if you just told her that you thought you were going to meet your husband by doing it.

At the beginning of my junior year I met Hubby at Dr. B's table.

He introduced me to Hubby, and I barely noticed him. I remember that I had something to tell Dr. B that I knew he would be very interested in knowing. I forget what it was, I just knew that I wanted to be the first to tell him. I was animated and excited and I completely ignored Hubby. This of course made me interesting.

Hubby was also not from the south and was not finding any of the women at the college interesting. So he asked his friends about me. His roommate, who I have to tell you is the geek of a geeks, told him that I was kind of a nerd. His other friend would only tell him that I had once asked him if he masturbated. This by the way is true but there was a context in which it made perfect sense, really! Hubby's friend refused to say anything else. This made me even more interesting.

A few days after the lunch I went into the library to look up an article by Bertrand Russell. There was someone sitting at all the tables and Hubby happened to be someone I knew. So I sat down at the opposite end of the table. He asked me what I was reading. I told him that it was an article about whether we could know what reality was given that we only had access to our perceptions. I thought that would shut him up, but he kept asking questions. He was interested. So that was when I started falling for him -- this guy who would listen to me talk about philosophy!

A week or so later he asked me to go to the Dead Zone, which I hadn't wanted to see, and to a frat party, which I didn't want to go to (I was proud of the fact that I had never gone to a frat party). I said something like, "I'd love to!" The movie was okay and the party was a bust, so we left and walked and talked.

The next week he took me to his parents to help him carve a pumpkin for his mother. He pulled into the driveway of a mansion. It was huge. At that moment I knew it was over. There was no way I was going to date someone who lived in a place like that. I also wasn't going in there while wearing my ratty pumpkin-carving clothes. I thought I had mis-judged him. He should have warned me I was going to a billionaire's house. He shouldn't have let me show up dressed like this.

"Take me back to school."
"Take me back. I'm not going in there."
"What do you mean? This is where I live."
"Well, I'm sorry, but I am not going in there."
"Are you serious? I mean, you really won't go in with me?"
"I really won't."
He started to pull out and said, "I guess it's a good thing that's not my house."

He took me to his real house which was very nice. I mean, a whole lot nicer than any place I had ever lived, but it was also modest. Shortly after I got there his mother came in wearing clothes more ratty than mine. She immediately went and got all three of his baby/childhood photo albums and showed me all of them.

It's hard to tell you when I knew he was the one, because frankly I was pretty nutso about him as soon as I actually noticed him. I do know though that our first real fight was important to me. I don't remember what we fought about; I actually don't remember anything about the fight. I do remember telling my sister about him over winter break. She asked me what I liked most about him and I said, "He fights fair." It might not really be the best thing, but I knew it was the crucial thing. It meant that we could work out anything else. It meant that I was safe with him.

And though this is going too long, I can tell you when his mother decided she liked me. I stayed there Thanksgiving weekend. Hubby and I had only been dating since the weekend before Halloween and I had not seen Hubby's parents very much (at all?) since the pumpkin carving day. We were all supposed to go out to dinner one of those nights and I was told to be ready to go at 6:15. At 6:08 Hubby came back to my bedroom knocking and telling me that everyone was ready and where was I? I told him that I would be ready on time. He yelled down to his parents, "She's almost ready! She'll be right there!" And I yelled, "No she's not! Sit down and I'll be there by 6:15."

I came out at 6:13 with Hubby all anxious. His parents were perfectly calm. I said, "Just for the record, I would like to point out that I am 2 minutes early. In the future I will remember that this family runs early." His parents laughed. Later my mother-in-law told me that that was when she knew I was going to fit right in.

3. When did you realise you were ready to be a parent?
Um...when I got a dissertation grant and realized that for the next two years I wouldn't have to teach.

4. What book has been the most influential in your life?
Gotta go with sub-categories here:
-Parenting: Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, Faber and Mazlish
I still go back to this when I need help parenting

-In my adolescence Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin
It wasn't until I re-read it as an adult that I realized how much Elizabeth Bennett had been my model for everything I thought I wanted to be.

-GLBT Issues: Not Like the other Boys, Growing Up Gay: A Mother and Son Look Back, Marlene Fanta Shyer and Christopher Shyer
I don't know if it so much influenced me as touched me deeply.

5. How would your Hubby describe you?
I cheated; I just asked him. "Intelligent, attractive, competent and funny." If he were being entirely honest I am sure he would have added "an obsessive worrier." I should say that he was once in trouble with me for an entire year for telling me at our anniversary dinner that his favorite thing about me was that I was prudent. He knows better than to make that sort of mistake again.

Okay, so the next part of the meme is for anyone out there who wants me to interview them to ask me to do so.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lunch with the family developer

I had lunch with the developer. I brought her a surprise -- all my paper work for license renewal 2 months early. She was appropriately thrilled.

She confirmed that there is a new kid in the program who everyone suspects is deeply closeted. He is also very religious, unfortunately committed to a religious tradition which is not going to make his life easier. I agreed that placing him in our house would not be a good idea. Even if everyone is right that he is gay and would be happier if he came out, he has to travel his own path.

It's sad though. Sad that we live in a world in which anyone would think that they they should try to be something they are not.

And she has no idea when they will come up with an appropriate placement for us.

She also wanted to pick my brain about how to recruit GLBT parents. Cool huh? I have her the names of a couple local groups and of the local GLBT monthly.

She talked about how difficult it is to give people an accurate picture of what this work is like. How can she be honest with them and recruit? How can she communicate to them why we do this?

It was so difficult not to tell her about the blogs, about my blog. I didn't though. I told her that there were some on-line support groups where people who were thinking about doing care could talk to foster parents confidentially. I told her that it was difficult for me to tell her about it because she was a social worker. She promised that she would not go searching on the Internet for foster parents and their support groups. I suggested that the agency could collect our stories and make them available anonymously.

It is difficult. The work is so difficult, so crazy-making, and so rewarding. There is no easy way to communicate that to people. The best way I know is to share stories, but sharing stories has risks. There are questions of confidentiality. We have to be careful.

She also acknowledged that there was something odd about trying to recruit GLBT families when they didn't even have one GLBT kid for me. I assured her that gay and lesbian parents are generally willing to raise straight kids.

She laughed.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Where the commitment came from

Bacchus asks:

You said in an earlier post that your husband is very dedicated to providing a
home for LGBT youth. Was your family dedicated to LGBT equality before or did it
come about because of David?

First, Bacchus, you meant Carl, but I understand the question. The answer depends upon what you meant by dedication. I mean, there's believing in something, and then there is getting off your a$$.

One of my best friends my freshman year in college came out to me when we were sophomores. She had moved to a new college back in her home state, and had just come out to herself. She was the first openly gay person I had a relationship with. Though it was my freshman year that I was "accused" of being a lesbian and first had to face that "I'm not, but it shouldn't matter" experience, it wasn't until I was a sophomore that I knew that someone I cared about was gay. I met Hubby during our junior year and that friend was the maid of honor at our wedding. She was the first openly GLBT person I knew.

Hubby on the other hand had grown up knowing a couple of gay and lesbian couples. He doesn't know at what point he figured out that they were not "just roommates." The lesbian couple still live near his parents' summer place. They celebrated their 35th anniversary a couple of years ago. Okay...this is a little complicated when I am trying not to use names -- the school teachers have a friend who is, among other things, a singer. She made a CD of which my MIL gave me a copy. The first song was one of Brian's favorites when he was a preschooler. The chorus is, "Everybody wants a mommy, to dry your tears and tie your shoe. Everybody wants a mommy. Well I got lucky; I got lucky; I got two." I don't know how many times I had to restart that CD.

A couple of years before we became Carl's parents, there was a woman (I'll call her "Lydia") who worked where I do for a year. A colleague, "Chris" and I had an agreement that we would let the other know when she finally came out to either one of us. We waited a couple of months pretending we hadn't figured it out the first time we met her. Finally Lydia mentioned something to me. She asked me if Chris knew. I said yes. She said, "Do you really think so? I mean yesterday he said..." I interrupted her and said, "He knows. Trust me. He knows." I told him the next day and he was very grateful that she had come out and that I had told her that he knew. "Trying to pretend I don't know was really difficult. I've said the stupidest things!"

Her partner was only going to move to the area if Lydia's job became permanent (it didn't), but she did come out to visit. We invited them over for dinner. Lydia later told me that her partner was nervous because she doesn't normally like men but that Hubby and I were "just like a couple of lesbians." Hubby was disturbed when I told him that, but calmed down when I said it meant the same thing as when men say that some woman feels like "one of the guys."

Lydia spent a lot of time here the year she worked at the college. She was here for dinner at least once a week. Her parrot still rests in a grave at the side of the house where we buried one early morning. Why is Lydia important to the story? I'm not certain, but it feels very important. Lydia was not my friend, or Hubby's parents friend, she was our friend.

I've come to realize that for a lot of straight people it is personal experience that makes the difference. Really knowing, loving, someone who is gay can put you over the line. Make you realize that the many of the beliefs you had were false, or push you from believing in civil rights to doing something about it.

I've told the story about becoming Carl's parents, but I'll remind anyone who forgot, or never read that post, about two things: first, Hubby and I both felt very strongly that we should take Carl. It was one of the biggest decisions of our lives and we spent less time debating it than we normally spend wondering where to go to eat when no one wants to cook. We just "knew." We could do this and so we should. The second thing is that we did not know that Carl was gay until after we volunteered. When the social worker told us the thought that popped into my head was, "Oh! That's why we're supposed to do be his parents!"

People who know me from real life realize what an odd thing that is for me to think. I roll my eyes when people talk about G-d intervening in our daily lives "I was so frustrated during that traffic jam, but now I see that G-d wanted me to be late so that..." Right, I think, G-d caused a couple hundred or thousand people to be late so that you would be home for a phone call. I don't believe in destiny. I don't think that everything happens for a reason. I think that accidents happen, and people make their own choices. Yet at that moment I felt like my strong conviction that I should be Carl's mom suddenly made sense.

Becoming parents of a gay kid absolutely kicked our commitment to GLBT equality into high(er) gear. Before it was an opinion we were ready to share with anyone who asked. After it was a cause. We do less activism than many, but more than some. But it is very clear to both of us that we do what we do because it is about our kid.

We never intended to take any kids after Carl. It was just going to be him. It didn't work out that way though. After he moved out and the agency asked us if we would consider it, Hubby and I agreed that if Ann, whom we had come to know and care about, needed us we would take her. Other than that though, we were going to ease out of doing care.

Except that we had learned how difficult it was for GLBT kids, especially in our state. We told them that if there was another one who needed us, they should call.

They said that Carl was the first openly gay kid in the division, ever. They had no idea when or even if there would be another.

And we said that's okay. We'll wait.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Waiting for Frankie

I talked briefly with Hubby and Andrew, since he was there too. My anxiety about whether we should consider taking other kids since they don't seem to need a place for any GLBT kids right now just did not make sense to them. I mean they literally had a difficult time understanding what I was saying.

Andrew finally said, "They're going to need gay-friendly homes, Mom. You know that."

Hubby said something too about this what we do and we will just enjoy the quiet until it is time to do it.

So okay. I've known for a while that the next blog name is Frankie. I'm up to "F" and it seems suitable for just about any kid they might bring us. Of course I reserve the right to change it if it just doesn't fit.

So here's where my mind is right now. There will be another GLBT youth who needs us someday. This youth, whom I'll dub Frankie, may be many things: a boy or girl or something in between; tall or short; thin or fat; cheerful or melancholy; and a million other things. But whatever else Frankie is, Frankie already exists. Frankie is somewhere right now, having a good day or a bad one, living in the teen shelter, or on the streets, or in a home. Social workers are keeping an eye out for him/her on my behalf.

I don't know how long it will take Frankie to get here, but I won't give away the room to anyone else.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Four Months

It is April 10th, and that means it is four months since Evan moved out.

Four months without a hint of a kid. I said before that we have had an average of 10 weeks between placements. That is true only if we count Ann, whom we volunteered for. If we had not there would have been a nine month gap between Carl and David.

Though it has been good for us to have a break, I begin to wonder if we really serve a need by keeping the room available for a LGBT kid. The agency has done a good bit of diversity training. They are working to help families be accepting of all kids, so maybe there just aren't any kids who need us now. Maybe all the queer kids are safe.

Or maybe they are closeted, which I know comes in degrees. They may have carved lives for themselves in which they have stable and supportive peers and do not come out to their foster parents. Even if they know of our existence they may prefer their current circumstances to moving away from their friends.

During the time that David was with us I got several calls from the state asking me to take a gay kid. I was overwhelmed then by the need for homes for these boys. (And yes, they were all boys. I don't know why I do not get called about girls.) When David left I had no doubts at all that waiting for the next queer kid was the right thing to do. The call came in two months.

But this time it has been four and we are still waiting. So maybe we are not serving a real need. In one sense obviously we are not. We have no new kid. Our extra bedroom remains empty, waiting.

I know that if I asked the social workers at the agency I would get an ambivalent answer at best. They like us and they respect the commitment we have made, but having a "special home for queer kids" is not something they are comfortable with. They are working hard to make all the homes safe for all the kids. We know that they address issues of sexuality now in training. All of the families should be safe. And all of the children need homes. An empty bedroom in the home of a skilled family is a frustrating thing.

Though I am the one who writes about this, Hubby's commitment to waiting for a GLBT kid is much stronger than mine. I think that he keeps that commitment in part because it pretty much assures us breaks. He says, and I do believe him, that he finds it very difficult to relate to most teenagers. He did not relate to them when he was one, and he cannot now. He feels he has little to offer. The only thing he feel he has is the understanding and the ability to support kids who are gay. His passion on this issue is the one avenue he has to make a connection.

After Carl I told the agency that I might be able to convince him to take another kid, but it would have to be a kid he knew. He has to be able to make an emotional connection first. I told them that if they had a straight-identifying kid that they wanted to place with us they should ask us to take him/her on respite or as temporary. Give Hubby a chance to get to know the youth and I bet he would not be able to say no.

Part of me wants to tell that to the agency again. I want to tell them that if there is a youth who they think would do well here, have a reasonably healthy relationship with the bioboys, then tell me about him/her. Let me work on Hubby, convince him to let us take the youth. Let me find a way for Hubby to feel he can make a connection.

But I don't know. I find it hard to believe that the agency has succeeded, so far, in really making families safe for queer kids. I know there is a big difference between tolerance and celebration. I at least want to believe that we have something special, something needed, to offer, and that I should wait until the kid who needs us most finds us.

And I know that I have reasons of my own for waiting. Being the PFLAG mom has become part of my identity. I will always be one, of course, as Carl, David, and Evan will always be part of my life, but I have had this picture of me being an active PFLAG mom for years to come. Please pardon my language, but perhaps I'm just a "hag" (can't even bring myself to use the whole phrase). I like LBGT community. I have so many friends there. I feel so loved there (another issue I should perhaps explore). I want to sit at that table and be welcomed.

So, what, do I think these kids are tickets to a party I want to attend? That's a disturbing thought.

And maybe homes with our particular commitment just are not needed right now. Maybe the LGBT kids' lives are not perfect but maybe they have carved out networks of friends where they have support. Their foster parents are not great, but they are trying. They are better off with people who are working to become what they need than they would be moving to a new school in a conservative town to live with crazy people like us. During the time that we had David we received several calls regarding gay boys, but we did not get one during the time that Evan was with us.

Perhaps we should be willing to take any kid. Although of course, any kid would have to deal with the stigma of being put in the "special home." Maybe that is part of the problem. Even the gay kids don't want to go to Yondalla's Home for Troubled Gay Youth. I imagine myself a heroine, but I'm really a ridiculous lifeguard looking for people drowning in a dry lake bed.

But it is a good thing if we are not needed, right?

And if the community of kids who used to need us no longer do, then shouldn't we be ready to take whoever does need us?

So maybe I should call them. Maybe I should start working on Hubby.

But I can't quite make myself do it. I can't quite stop believing that I am not waiting for a kid to come into existence, but that I am waiting for a kid who already exists to get noticed.

I know that if they call me about a GLBT kid, I will know I did the right thing by waiting.

And as long as they don't I will wonder if we are.

Update: I mentioned my worry to Hubby and Andrew. They think I'm funny -- not in an intentional, "let's put mom on a comedy tour" way, more like "how is it that you can ALWAYS find something to worry about" way. Sigh.

It's hard to describe the good parts

It was Tolstoy who said that all happy families are the same, right?

I don't know if that is true, but it certainly is difficult to write interestingly about happiness. Good stories require conflict, ambiguity, uncertainty. When that is resolved and the "happy ending" has been reached, the story is over. What else is there to be said? The sad truth is that happiness can be boring to read about. It can be difficult to believe in. It is the pursuit of happiness that makes a good story.

What we want, which writers of TV dramas understand so well, is conflict and resolution. A story of never-ending badness exhausts us. They can compel us as train wrecks do, but only for so long. We have different levels of tolerance for that, but clearly many of us will watch. Worse though are stories of unrelenting cheerfulness. Happiness is interesting as the resolution of conflict. The thing itself does not make a story.

So how do I tell you about the way I feel about my time with the boys over the weekend? Can I make a story of it, or can I only, as I did the other day, report that it was a good day? What story can I tell you that will communicate the happiness?

I could tell a story about making the curtains. I could tell you about how long it took to attempt back tabs, how hard we worked, how just when we thought we had it figured out I gave David instructions that completely ruined it, and how he graciously said, "Let's just make top tabs; they're easier right?" I could probably make that an interesting story, but that has already faded in my memory. My memory of the day is sitting quietly at the table, working on sudoku puzzles and watching him make curtains. My memory is in taking pleasure in giving him minimal instructions and seeing that he was pleased with what he was making.

It was Easter weekend two years ago that he had disappeared again. It was on Good Friday that I walked the labyrinth and knew I had to let him go. It was on Wednesday that we hoped to confront him, and on Thursday that we dropped off his belongings. I prepared myself to never see him again. I was afraid he would be out of my life forever. But he came back, and on Saturday this year he was in my dining room, sewing curtains with fabric he bought even before he asked me to help him, so confident was he that I would help.

The importance of our time together this weekend has nothing to do with the botched first attempt at curtains. The importance is the feeling of overwhelming gratitude for this young man's presence in my life. My thankfulness that I did not loose him even after I realized I could no longer live with him. And how do I make a story of that feeling?

And what of the moment with Evan? That little tiny moment when I handed him an Easter basket and he smiled and said, "You remembered I don't like chocolate!" "Of course I did" I said. He beamed at the white chocolate bunny and then smiled at me. It was happiness. It was more than the candy, which he forgot when he left. It was that I remembered.

And then, when it was time for him to leave, I got his high school diploma I had picked up for him while he was in Scotland. "I know you did not get to walk at a graduation ceremony, Evan. So here it is. Ready everyone?" I held the diploma in my left hand, shook his hand with my right and handed it over. "Congratulations on your high school graduation." Then the family hooted, clapped and hollered just as we would have at his regular graduation. "You guys are crazy, you know?" He says as he hugs us.

Can I make those moments interesting? Can I turn them into stories?

Can I make somehow fix it so that everyone who asks, "Can I do foster care?" or "Is it worth it to do foster care?" or "Why do people do foster care or adopt older children?" will find them?

Because people ask why we do it. Too often they read our blogs where we pour out our frustrations as we must to survive. They read all the things we vent and they ask, "Why do you do it?"

And I look at my boys, now young men. They are strong, and they are happy. They are part of my family and my family is bigger, richer, and contains more love because they are here. There is remaining pain, sadness that the hole Ann's loss left, but there is joy.

My only answer is, "How could I not?"

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Good times

Just had a lovely dinner with Andrew, Brian, David and Evan. David finished his curtains and all four of the boys are downstairs playing video games.

I love that they came here for the holidays. I love having them all here at one time. Someday I will have all five of them home for one holiday.

I was afraid when David moved out, when we moved him out, that we would loose him. I was afraid that the way it ended would end our relationship. It did not. Every holiday he comes home. We are his family.

And I was afraid that Evan would not come back. I was afraid that with a loving birth family out there he would have no need of us. But he comes back. We are part of his family too.

I love that these boys are part of my life.

I feel like I am cheating. I get young people "almost done." They come to me at sixteen, seventeen, even eighteen. They live here for a few years, and then they are a part of my life forever.

Five boys, and I only had to go through diapers with two of them.

Surely this must be cheating.

Panel curtains are easy, right?

David came over yesterday and will be here for dinner. Evan is coming over at 1:00.

I woke up with stomach cramps and decided to stay home while everyone else went to the coolest, happiest service of the year. The guys out there may want to skip to the next paragraph. I stopped having menstrual cramps after giving birth. I thought it was one of the up-sides. I've begun to get them again every now and then, and it turns out that is all that I have today. I just didn't recognize it!

Anyway, David wanted me to help him make curtains for his bedroom window in his new apartment and a duvet cover. I told him that things take longer than one expects, but that we could try.

"Well, I have sheets for the duvet cover, so that will be easy. And I just want to make panel curtains. That's easy too, right?"

"Yeah. Come over early on Saturday and we will work."

So he showed up yesterday. He iron one flat sheet and then opened the other package to discover that it was a fitted sheet. So I drove him to the store so he could exchange it, except they were out of stock.

So we came back to work on the simple, no-trouble-at-all panel curtains.

He has two different fabrics. He wants a black stripe on the top and the bottom.

"Okay. That will mean doing double seams so that you don't have loose threads on the back of your curtain."

"Is that hard?"

"No, it will just take some time, but you just want to put a simple casing on the top?"

"Yeah. I just want to make it easy."


"Except that I don't want for it to get all crinkled on the top."

"Okay. We can make it only as wide as the window, and then it will lay flat."

"I don't want it to be flat in the middle. I just don't want it to be wrinkly on the top."

"Honey, the curtain will either have fullness in it or it won't."

"Can't we make them like your curtains in the dining room?"

"Tab curtains?"

"Yes. I like how those hang."

Jeeze Louise. Simple panel curtains my a$$. Next he tells me that he wants to put the tabs on the back, but he doesn't want them to hang funny; he knows we have to put just the right amount of looseness in them and he wants me to tell him how thick a curtain rod is! I point out that rods come in different widths. We need to know how big HIS is. We spent a couple of hours trying to put tabs on the back, and then he agreed to regular tabs.

We spent all day on them. I mean that. I went to bed at 11:00pm and he was still sewing. He did a good job though. I sat and worked on sudoku puzzles and gave him instructions. He has done every bit of the cutting and sewing, and the curtains look pretty good. Today he just as to sew around the outside.

It was nice though to have a project to do with him, and I am looking forward to Evan coming home this afternoon.

It is lovely to see them growing up and managing so well.

Using a litttle Love and Logic

So yesterday we got Andrew and Brian's report cards.

May I just take a minute to say "GRRRR!!!!"

I talked with Andrew with what might be called restrained fury. I pointed out that if he wanted to go to college where he said he wanted to go, he did not need a 4.0 but he sure as hell needed grades better than these. He was only taking four frigging classes! Andrew knows how to handle me, so he was quiet, nodded, and said he would work on it.

I told Brian that I was disappointed. We ask him every day whether he has homework. He tells us every day that he doesn't, or that it is done. This report card is evidence that that is not true. (He just does not do poorly on work he does). He tried to explain to me that I did not understand. These were midterm grades. They were not important. So I got mad. I explained that I had been a teacher for longer than he had been alive and I knew what midterm grades were.

Eventually we all sat down in the living room and I told them we were going to agree on a plan and then I was going to let go of being angry and they did not have to worry about me yelling at them or giving them dirty looks. Hubby and I told them that they would be losing the Internet and the game consoles on school nights until they had (1) brought their grades up in every class to what they agreed was a minimally acceptable level and (2) had worked out a system by which we could be regularly informed that their grades were staying at that level.

The both assured us that their post-midterm grades were at that level. We responded by telling them that that was great -- they would get their electronic entertainment stuff back quite quickly.

This you may have noticed is not the boundary technique, I was talking about before. Of course you may have also noticed that I said that it that is not the only technique that I use. And I have said that there are different senses of "boundaries." One is the very specific technique in which you accept that you can't change some behavior and you instead move to protecting yourself. By the way, Baggage illustrates all this really well. She uses different approaches for different situations. Sometimes she uses incentives to reward behavior changes; sometimes she uses what I call the boundary technique. I hope she doesn't disagree with me, but I see what she is trying to do regarding food is use of the boundary technique. She can't "fix" the girls issues around food, and she instead keeps looking for a way to protect the family's need to keep food in the house, and her need to stay within a reasonable budget, and still take care of the girl's need to feel secure that they will have enough.

Anyway, as I think about what we did with the boys, I know it was not the specific boundary technique, but in the other sense boundaries were at work, although imperfectly.

First, the level of anger that I felt in the beginning was, I think, a indication that my boundaries weren't quite where they should have been. I was angry because I am an educator and these kids had been with me for their whole lives. I should have been teaching them better work habits. I felt like their grades were a reflection of me and my parenting. I felt embarrassed thinking about what other people might think about all this if they knew.

I got this back in control, but it took a little effort. I had to keep asking myself, "Whose grades are these? Who is responsible for them? Who is this about?"

I didn't do really well with that in the beginning, but I got better.

When Hubby and I told them they were losing privileges, those were logical consequences. They realized at least why it made sense to us. If they weren't getting their homework done, then they shouldn't be distracted. They don't think that is really the problem, but they get it. Underneath it all we have a good relationship and they accept that we are acting like parents.

Ordinary boundaries were in place in the end. Responsibility for the grades and for fixing them were on the boys. I got my emotional responses back in place. I stopped feeling like their grades were my grades. Taking away the electronic stuff was a reasonable and logical response. Remaining loving and supportive, expressing confidence in them will all help.

I think there is a good chance that it will work. The trick will be to stay firm, and stay loving. It will also be important to remember that these are their grades and it is their job, not mine, to fix the problem.

Things would have been different with Carl or David, but not a lot. My initial anger would have been damaging. Whereas Andrew and Brian believe me when I say that I am done with being angry, Carl or David would have been anxious at the very least. There would have been a lot of puppy-dogging, a great need for reassurance. They might have been worried that my love hinged on their grades. They might have cut school the next day just too see how I would react. The techniques in my foster parenting class would have instructed me not to escalate. If their grades went down more, I should just stick to the original restrictions. They don't get the electronics back until they fix their grades. I should not up the ante, and I should continue to be loving. Carl, at least, would eventually come around. It might take a while, but he would eventually be reassured that I still loved him and would decide that he wanted the electronics enough to do the school work.

I think, but I am not certain, that that is pretty typical of love and logic: logical consequences and lots of love; keep the consequences logical and reasonable; don't get into power-struggles.

It sounds easier than it is. It takes a real commitment and a lot of effort to remain calm and loving while holding firm. Kids push and test. If I tried this with David there is an excellent chance that the next day he would cut school or refuse to do any work. The temptation to either give up or raise the stakes would be enormous. I believe the L&L approach would be to just hold firm. Eventually David would at least see that I would love him even if he did poorly, and that I was not going to get into to struggle.

The part about not getting into a power struggle is important. They are good at power struggles and they know that there is a point at which you will give up. You take away electronics; they respond by cutting school. So you take away their mp3 player. They cut school again. You ground them for a week. They sneak out at night.

Got a headache yet?

I don't think it would work with Ann. Maybe it would, eventually. Ann however would have been much more interested in creating and winning a power struggle then in earning back any stupid electronics.

With Evan I would not have even tried. If I opened a dismal report card from him I would have just given it to him. If he asked me if I was going to do anything I would have probably said something like, "Cook dinner?" Evan's grades were not by business. It was such a relief to parent that way. In my entire relationship I decided what really mattered to me and what did not. There were so many battles that I did not fight. I really did just focus on the relationship. He made his goals with school. If he had trouble reaching those goals, and wanted my help then I would be happy to help. If he didn't, that was his business. I really did focus just on our relationship.

I don't know if I can explain why I am convinced that taking away Andrew and Brian's electronic diversions until their grades came up while knowing that I would do nothing about Evan's grades, except to say that I have different relationships with them. It would have been very awkward had it been happening with everyone at the same time. It is tough when you have kids in the house and you are convinced that kids with the same issue need different responses.

But this is why I have been sharing this. No one told me that I didn't have to parent traumatized teens exactly the same way that I would parent my bio kids. Maybe someone told me to "pick my battles" but I don't think that is the same thing. These kids need a lot. They can have problems, issues, bad habits, destructive behaviors all over the map.

Deciding which things to concentrate on and how to respond to it is not simple.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Boundaries and biokids

Process wrote:

This is similar to what I mean when I talk about focusing on the relationship instead of on the child's behavior--"relationship parenting," if you will. I think to do it well the parent must have a very good idea of what a healthy relationship is (otherwise you'd be putting your boundaries in the wrong places and whatnot.) Also, in a relationship, when one person changes, the other person often does, too--this shouldn't be the goal, but it does happen--as you say, the other person decides to change. This kind of parenting is what I thought "Love and Logic" taught, but instead from what I've seen it's just very manipulative of the child. Do you use this type of parenting with your bio kids?

I have a series of posts in my head about boundaries. How are they different from "love and logic" and "tough love." Those I have to be careful about because they are really names for specific programs and I have not had any experience with them. I would be responding to what I see people doing and saying about them. The question "do you use this type of parenting with your bio kids?" is another topic and is a little difficult to answer without having written the other posts firsts, but I am going to give it a shot.

When I first thought about it my thought was that this is not the way I have dealt with the biokids. Then I read Bacchus's most recent post and I changed my mind. I did use something like this when the boys were toddlers.

Now I love my boys, but very young childhood was a difficult time for me. I KNOW there must have been good days. I have vague memories of them. Okay I have many good memories, but those memories are not filed under "toddler behavior." When I think of my kids as two-year-olds I seem to remember that they were uncivilized beasts who did not know when enough was enough, would push me to the edge of my ability to deal rationally and then keep pushing. They didn't know how to express themselves appropriately so they screamed and hit and spit. I remember leaving my friends' houses because my innocent, darling first-born had taken up the sport of baby-tipping.

I have a headache just thinking about it.

The thing is that small children don't have any understanding of or respect for boundaries. They don't have any understanding of or sympathy for the emotions and needs of others. They are not logical. For a long while they don't understand that the consequences that follow their actions are caused by their actions. I was committed, for a variety of reasons, to not hitting them, and there seemed to be so little that I could do to teach them to behave differently.

So I think a good bit of what I did do could be consider boundary work. I tried to take care of myself, although I think I did it less well than I should have. I removed myself from the immediate vicinity of my children when I needed to. I refused to engage with them when they behaved badly.

When they got just a little bit older, old enough to understand that I had feelings, the techniques I learned from Faber and Mazlish* started to work. I learned to guide their behavior by expressing my feelings appropriately, and teaching them how to express theirs. Part of the reason that it worked was that they had internalized a sense of boundaries and sympathies for others. Once they stopped being very young children I very rarely had to think carefully about what sort of behavior I had to disengage from. They were basically good kids who often did things they shouldn't and my everyday parenting techniques and internalized sense of boundaries worked well enough.

So once they grew out of the little beast stage and into the little human stage, I don't think I used boundaries in the sort of self-protective way. We had boundaries; but I did not have to think carefully about what my boundaries were and how to protect myself. I certainly thought, continued to think, that it was part of my job to teach them to be honest, and do their school work. All that jazz.

The thing is my parenting techniques did not work on Carl. To some degree or another all the kids from the system that I have known are emotional toddlers. They don't respect boundaries. They do not have an internalized sense of where the limits are. They push you to the edge of your sanity and then get anxious because you are losing your grip, which of course leads to them pushing you again.

And they escalate ordinary disciplining into power struggles.

I tell Ann, "Put your seat belt on, honey" and she crosses her arms and looks straight ahead with an attitude that says, "You can't boss me."

I tell David, "When you disappear I get anxious and worried. I know I can't make you go to school, but I do need you to call me when you are gone." He responds by looking at me blankly and then going on with his life just as he did before.

Carl comes home after curfew and I tell him if he does it again he will be grounded. The next night he comes home an hour later with an implausible story about why he cannot be blamed.

And it is infuriating because at some very fundamental way they seem to be saying, "Your needs don't matter to me, and I am willing to go as far as I need to go to win this fight." So I end up crying in the bedroom wondering if I can go on when I am trying so hard and things are only getting worse. I tried praise, incentives, consequences, rational conversation and nothing worked. Their behavior did not change.

Since I stink at behavior modification, I have to find another solution.

There seem to be two possibilities: get rid of the kid or stop trying to change the behavior.

Thinking about and enforcing boundaries is a way of living with behavior you cannot change. Sometimes, as Process indicated and I tried to say before, when teens understand that the rules are about protecting you and not about controlling them, they stop escalating and accept the limits. Sometimes when one person changes, the other person does too.

But working with kids this way means that you accept at a fundamental level that you cannot change them. You can only love and nurture them. Expressed this way, I would say that that IS what I have done with my bio kids, or at least what I have tried to do.

It is probably important to say that though boundary work can make it possible for you to accept behavior you did not think you could accept, it doesn't mean you can live with everything. Some boundaries are minimal conditions for living in our homes.

Boundary work though can mean that you can find a way to live with a toddler or a traumatized teenager without going insane.

*Faber and Mazlish wrote Liberated Parents, Liberated Children, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, and others. They were my child-rearing gurus.