Saturday, June 30, 2007

She scared da puppy

My blogging buddy showed up this morning. She is not an axe murderer, but she is a terrifier of small dogs.

She, her partner and daughter have been here all day and we really have had a wonderful time. You know how when you read a book and then see the movie and the characters don't fit? In your imagination they looked different, sounded different, behaved differently. Well, that is the opposite of what is happening with this visit. It is not that I had very particular picture of them, but everything that I had imagined fits with who they are. I don't feel like this is the first time I have met them -- more like meeting good friends after a long absence.

So mostly it has been a good time. Everyone has gotten along with every one else.

Except of course for the puppy. He's not really good with visitors. He often won't accept them until after we make it very clear that we like the new-comers. In this case the puppy was initially worried, but my my friend's daughter completely won him over. Though she has been willing to divide her attention among all the animals, mostly she and the Shih Tzu have bonded.

And then my blogging buddy decided she would play with the puppy. Unfortunately her version of playing with the puppy was to raise both hands and growl (or was it a roar?) at the puppy. Surprisingly he did not actually piss himself. He did however bark to raise the dead. He may be small, but he was determined to scare away the monster in my kitchen -- except that he was terrified to get close to it.

I finally had to call Brian and ask him to take the dog outside and calm him. While the dog was outside I gave my blogging buddy some dog treats to bribe him with. She went to great lengths -- even transfered the scent of fake doggy bacon to her shoes! When the dog came back in she offered treats and eventually even taught him to sit. It took a while but the puppy has decided that she is safe.

I don't know that she will ever be his best buddy, that place being of course taken by her daughter, but at least the dog is no longer afraid my friend is going to kill him with an axe in his sleep.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Re-Training a Princess

I said I wanted to write a post on why the charming/innocent/wide-eyed princess behavior is so difficult to respond to. I don't necessarily mean that it is more difficult than other behaviors to deal with calmly. Which behaviors affect us emotionally depend on different factors, including our own personalities.

What I mean is that it is difficult to know how to respond to it. It is the sort of behavior that gets reinforced.

Let's take a simple case: imagine dealing with a kid who speaks disrespectfully to you. You can (1) clearly explain what behavior you want the child to stop; (2) explain and model the sort of behavior you want in its place; (3) refuse to respond to the negative behavior; and (4) reward the positive behavior.

Now it might not be easy to do this consistently, but at least you know what you need to do. The child calls you a b*tch and you pretend not to hear or remind the child that that is inappropriate. The child does not get your attention until after he or she addresses you appropriately.

See? Simple. Not necessarily easy to do, but simple to plan.

But what do you do about a Princess? How do you explain what is wrong with making your eyes too wide, or using that particularly sweet tone of voice, or smiling while making eye contact? How do you model the behavior you want? How do you explain to someone who is seven or fourteen or forty what the difference is?

But let's say somehow you manage that. Somehow you get the person to understand the difference. First, be sure to write up how you did it and send it to the rest of us. Second, you need to figure out how to only reward the non-manipulative behavior.

Please forgive me, but I'm going to give an example from dog training. You may know that if you want your dog to stop doing something, you must not reward the behavior, ever. Our Cattle Dog tends to bark at us when we are playing fetch with her. She brings us the ball and we pick it up (with the plastic ball-throwing device) and she barks at us. We have been trying to stop this behavior for years, but we haven't had much success. See, we want to throw the ball for her. That's the point of playing fetch. The goal is that whenever she barks, we drop our arm. When she calms down, we throw. And it would work too, except sometimes, actually quite often, she barks when we are in the beginning of a throw and we can't or don't stop. So though I know that I did not throw the ball because she barked, from her perspective, it just worked.

Princess behavior, lying, and other forms of manipulation are like that, only worse.

What do you do when you meet your little princess in the kitchen in the morning and ask, "Cereal or eggs?" and she bats her eyes at you and says, "Eggs, please." Do you not feed her? Calmly tell her that she can only have her eggs if she asks with less charm?

Of course you can stop rewarding the behavior in terms of no longer letting the kid get away with breaking the rules. That may help. But from the princess's perspective, the behavior continues to work, just not quite as well. Our princess engages in a behavior and sometimes gets what she wants, and so the behavior is rewarded, and the behavior continues.

I'm not saying that this behavior cannot be modified, but I am saying that it is really, really difficult. I do know that what must be done is beyond me. The thought of trying to explain what the behavior is that I want and then to insist upon it constantly is too much for me.

So I am committed to just not letting myself get pushed into doing something I don't want to do, and trying not to let myself get too annoyed by it.

I've done really well in the three hours I've been working on it. Rhonda (that seems like such a mis-fit name know that I know her) wanted to go to the store. I told her that I had already gone. She said, "If you go again will you take me?" I said something ambiguous. The truth is that I haven't told her that she is not allowed to go to the store with me. I'm not certain that she is really not allowed, I just know that I don't want to go anywhere with her. A couple hours later she came out and asked if I was going to go. I said no, Hubby was off shopping right now.

"But you promised you would tell me so I could go too!" Imagine here the face of someone who has just been betrayed by her very best friend.

"I don't remember saying that, but in any case you won't be able to get to the store tonight."

"Why not?"

"Because no one is going to take you."

"But I really want to go" she says, her lip almost trembling, eyes pitiful. I swear she looks like my dog does when I accidentally step on her tail.

"Sorry, you're not going." I find that right now I am managing to be impressed with the performance, which is better than being furious.

She holds the pitiful face, just looking at me.

I pat her on the shoulder and say, "Really good try, but you're not going."

She adds a dash of confusion to the look of pain and betrayal.

I go back to my book and eventually she walks off.

I have no illusions though. Sometime soon she will come up to ask me if she can do something that she is allowed to do. She will throw me her best, most charming look, and I will not even notice. I will say, "Of course you may."

And she will smile in triumph.

"So basically you're angry because..."

Have I mentioned recently that Andrew is very perceptive? He watches people. He understands them. He understands me.

I picked him up from a sleep-over and he got in and said, "What's wrong?"

I told him that I was having trouble shaking the mood over what Rhonda did last night. He knows me well enough to ask what happened this morning. "It was stupid. I don't even know why it upset me so much. I tried to make casual conversation and she interrupted me to ask for candy. I just keep seeing those wide innocent eyes and I feel angry all over again."

"So basically you're angry because you got taken?"

He's right, of course.

"Yeah, I guess so. I don't usually fall for their stuff!"

"I know. Why did you?"

"Mandy set me up. It's all her fault!"

Okay, I'll be the grownup, or I'll try.

It is the having been taken in that makes it so infuriating. I can understand that "charm and manipulate" technique has been her strategy for dealing with whatever it is that she has had to deal with. Who knows, it may have saved her life. Like all survival strategies it is not going to go away because it annoys me.

Right now, as I write I am calm, sane, and understanding. I could, and may later, write a long thoughtful post about how one could possibly deal with this behavior. It is one of those things that it is almost impossible not to reinforce in the course of daily activities. I mean, if a kid throws fits you can walk out and then give them attention when... wait ... I said I might write that post later.

The point is that that is the mood that I am in right now. I don't know if I will be able to hold it though. I mean, take a three second interaction we had when Hubby brought her home from school.

I expected her to be moody, angry or hurt because I had given her the cold shoulder this morning. She instead gave me a huge grin, wide eyes and said, "hi!"

And my initial, automatic reaction was to smile back in response. And she turned and walked off with a stride that seemed to me to be triumphant (although that could have been my imagination).

And I thought, "That's why there are so many stories about princesses locked up in towers."

I'm too tired to deal with this

The girls are making me crazy.

I think part of it is increased expectations, combined with the very high level of restriction that the girls are on. Mandy went on and on about how nice these girls were, suggesting that they are the very best behaved girls she had ever sent me.

They go to summer school and then fall asleep afterwards. I have not been getting them up, which I probably should. Sleeping half the day means of course that they are awake when I am asleep. I don't think there are doing anything worse that talking, laughing and eating, but who knows. Evan is up those hours, which is somehow comforting.

I took them shopping a couple of times but whenever I did they ask...wait, it is not "they"... it is always Rhonda. Only fourteen, taller than Quiana, and very wide-eyed and innocent, she is always the one to ask, "Yondalla, can we..." Quiana, sixteen, stays in the background, out of my peripheral vision even. we are in the big box store and the Rhonda says, her arms crossed around herself, almost shivering, "Yondalla, I'm so cold. Can we wait for you outside the door where it is warm?" Sure I say. I don't think it is cold, certainly whatever temperature it is inside has to be better than the 100 degrees it is outside, but sure, let them stand in the heat. They agree to stay outside the glass where I can see them. After a minute I go to the door and look out. They are going through the large stand-up ashtray looking for cigarette butts.

Okay, gross. On the up-side if they are digging for used butts they probably don't have their own cigarettes. It is annoying that I apparently can't let them out of my sight without them being gross, but at this point I have a sense of humor about it. I was told to keep them where I could see them. I'm annoyed that apparently I am to take that quite literally. We go to the next store and divide up. I rush around to buy the groceries and Hubby takes the kids to get a cold drink and makes them stay with him.

Last evening they pleaded to be allowed to go for a run. They were so restless; they haven't been able to get any exercise. Both are fairly fit young women; it is plausible that they do normally exercise. I first remind them that Mandy specifically said they could not go off on walks. "We will just run back and forth between here and the corner two blocks down" says Rhonda with wide-eyes. "So anytime I look out the window I will see you between here and there?" "Yes." "Okay, if I look and you are not there something very bad will happen."

You guessed it. I look out after a couple of minutes and they are not there. I am not pleased. I pace a while. I wait a while. After about ten minutes, I finally got into the van to drive around and look for them. Two blocks away, right next to their running route there is a Walgr*en's. I went there first. Just as I got out of the van they came around the corner. Immediately the deep, "we've just been running really hard" breathing started.

I have always found that the tone in, "Go ahead. Make my day." is much more intimidating than screaming. So I say, "Get in the van" using my best scary, quiet, calm, "you are in danger of dying" voice.

Rhonda gives me the wide eyes and says, "We just wanted to get a drink of water."

"You were supposed to stay on that two blocks of sidewalk."

"We didn't think we couldn't get a drink of water!" This is a innocent, hurt tone. How can a fourteen-year-old make her eyes that big and wounded-looking?

"I was very clear about what you could do, and you did not do it. Get in the van."

"We're sorry" says Rhonda, again innocent and hurt.

I drive us back to the house, when they get out of the van I tell them to stand still a minute. "Do either of you have pockets or anywhere else that you could be hiding things?" (Their clothes are pretty skin tight. If they are hiding anything it is someplace I'm not searching.) "No."

"Okay. Go inside."

"We are sorry" says Rhonda again.

"Okay. Just don't even ask to leave the property again."

I have a feeling I am over-reacting, but I am having trouble dialing it down. I'm used to kids who don't abuse the first bit of freedom I give them. They are supposed to appear responsible and lull me into trusting them, and then start sneaking off. There is a certain order to the universe. Don't they know that in the long run they will get away with so much more if they act trustworthy in the beginning?

So they spent the evening in their room -- fine with me. Rhonda came out to ask for help getting her laundry done. Fortunately laundry is Hubby's area so he showed her how to use the machines.

This morning I drove them to school. I got in the van deciding to be nice. I would engage them like nothing had happened. Last night was behind us (emotionally, not in terms of consequences). I said, "Huh, I wonder who did that?" pointing to something that seems odd though not important to me. Rhonda says, "What?" "There is a barrier over there that's new, I was just wondering..." "Can I have one of those?" "What?" "Can I have one of those?" Rhonda is pointing at TicTacs.

All the anger at her just came flooding back.

I turned on NPR thinking, "I just dare you to ask for a different radio station." Now I drove safely and slowly, but I confess my starts and stops did somewhat reflect my frustration. We went to school in silence.

I drove back thinking, "I said they weren't leaving the property, and by G-d I mean it. I'm not taking them shopping. I'm not taking them anywhere. They can spend the next four days sitting in the house or the back yard."

Now I am blogging in order to vent some of this emotion so that I can figure out how to deal with this rationally.

Quiana's social worker was the one to call me about the huffing and said that he did not think that Quiana was huffing, or that if she was that she would report herself. He did say, "I know she smokes though." She is two years older and has a harder quality about her. I would not be surprised if she is the disobedient force pushing the relatively innocent Rhonda out in front to get permission to do things.

Or maybe Rhonda has just used this "I'm sweet and innocent and I can't imagine why you are upset. I didn't do anything" routine for a long time.

Of course partly I am tired. I shouldn't be doing three weeks of respite. Faye for two weeks, along with her current issues which I got emotionally involved with, now two little girls who want to find ways to get around the rules. I really shouldn't have.

But it is not just that I am tired. The girls have demonstrated that as sweet and innocent and giggly as they may appear, they are not to be trusted.

And Gawdess will understand's the sweet, innocent, wide-eyed thing that takes me from irritated to angry. Mandy assures me that Rhonda is a "really good girl, one of my best, you'll love her" and I wonder, has she fallen for this routine?

Four more days.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

I don't think she's an axe murderer

I'm pretty aggressive about teaching my kids about privacy on the Internet. I'm on their friend's list in My*Space. They both have fake names and no other identifying information.

I've told them again and again, that even if you think you are getting to know someone really well, you can't be certain they are telling you the truth. "Never give our address or phone number to anyone."

So there were understandably shocked when I told them that blogging friend would be stopping by here on her way to visit family. Well, shocked might not be the right word, but there is nothing kids like better than being able to "catch" their parents breaking their own rules.

"At our house?"

"Well, yes. I was going to meet her in Other City, but it turns out that it would be easier for her just to drop by here. We'll have a cook-out, we'll have a great time."

"You gave our address to someone you met over the Internet?"

"Um...well, yeah. But she blogs too and we have been emailing for almost a year and half and we've talked on the phone. I trust her."

"But what if she is an axe murderer or something?"

"Well, I really don't think she would set up a blog, write fictious things about herself for eighteen months so that she could drive something like 1000 miles so that she can murder us in our back yard."

But I think I did blush just a bit. I mean I really have told them to never, ever do that. I'm not sure how long it will be before they stop teasing me about this.

But I can take it. It will be the first time that I have been able to meet any of folks that live in my computer. I'm looking forward to it.

Unless, of course, she turns out to be an axe murderer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Well, I searched their stuff. There is no hair spray or aerosols of any kind.

Teenage girls don't really use hair spray, do they? I mean, not on their hair. The boys just use gels.

I guess they just buy them for huffing.

I'm really tempted to think that I don't have the huffing girls. Mandy gets a range and she always gives me the "good" ones.

These girls are the youngest-seeming of any respite kid I've ever had. They giggle, watch kiddie movies. The brought their Care Bears, for criminy sake's. (I had to take one away from the dog who was cuddling with it. It's slightly damp, but not damaged.)

I'll put away the evil substances (thanks Becky) and then not worry about it.

The Giggling

I forgot how much teenage girls giggle.

Most of the girls that I get from Mandy are earnest, concerned about their future, or at the very least wanting to complain about the other girls at the house. Sometimes they are happy, but even then it is a quieter thing. They seem older than their years, and yet less skilled than their peers.

But these girls. They are so normal, at least so far.

They giggle. They wanted to watch Finding Nemo. The chatted with each other. They giggled. I finally asked them what was so funny, which made them giggle so hard they could hardly breathe. I don't think they were really laughing about anything.

I took them grocery shopping and they were thrilled that I would allow them to pick out some things. I was going for basic healthy foods. They were cautious at first, but once I let them pick out a flavor of ice cream they started asking for chips and soda, which I refused.

They have summer school, which means that they are gone for 4 hours every morning.


The phone just rang. It was Quiana social worker. She told her mom that that the girls were huffing hair spray. Quiana was not clear about which girls she was talking about. Did it include Rhonda? Herself? The social worker wants me to make certain they don't have any hair spray and would like for me to guard all the huffable substances.

I'm not even certain what those are.


I'm not certain about everything that is huffable. Anyone know?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Respite Girls

Mandy just dropped off two girls. Originally she said that Olivia would be coming, who is her actual niece. She got permission though to take Olivia with her, out of state, so I have two girls whom I have never met before.

So they need blog names. I'm up to Q. There are not a lot of good "Q" names though. I refuse to call a girl "Queenie." So Quiana it is, I guess. I'll call the other one Rhonda. (Quiana is the one with lighter hair; just so you know....actually just so I'll remember).

When Mandy dropped them off she told them that she only brings me the best girls, so they have to be good. Mandy, as I have mentioned before, works for a different private program, one that specializes in kids with behavioral issues, although sometimes she gets girls only because she takes teenage girls and not a lot of people do.

Still, the rules require me to babysit them. They are not allowed to leave the property alone. One has a boyfriend who may visit for a couple of hours, but they have to stay in line of sight. Limited phone calls. All that.

In any case I find I am glad that there are two of them. Hopefully they will entertain each other and not puppy-dog me very much.

I'm just a teensy bit tired after Faye's visit.

Questions to ask about teens

Someone emailed me and asked about what questions you should ask about teens before agreeing to take them as foster placments. I thought it would be a good post, and hopefully others will add whatever I forgot in the comments.

1. History in care: how long have they been in care, or in and out of care? How many placements have they had? Why did their placements disrupt?

2. Do they have a history of making allegations of abuse?

--This is a sad reality. Abuse sometimes happens. David called his social worker to report abuse two different times, and he was right to do so. On the other hand the fact that Miss E had reported nearly every foster parent she had had was one of the reasons we would not accept her. I spoke with Miss E about her experiences. She believes what she reports, and she even describes actual events. Her take on those events though shows some pretty distorted thinking (e.g. one piece of evidence that Mandy was emotionally manipulative was that she told the girls that she loved them).

--How your agency deals with this issue can affect how you will respond. Allegations of abuse must be investigated, that is the law. They may also be required to remove children from your home while it is going on. But some agencies and social workers will be kind and understanding and actually try to support you emotionally while you go through the process.

3. Are they sexually active?

--Expect them to say "yes." You need to know if they are responsible about birth control, have age appropriate partners and have sex in appropriate places.

4. How do they deal with conflict and their own anger?

-- Don't accept "fine" for an answer, and don't expect that they are going to be able to deal with this well. You do want to know though whether they are sulkers (Carl, sometimes), or do they say nothing but simply decide you are somehow the bad one and prepare just to move on (David, Faye, Miss E), or do they scream at you using words you don't even use (Ann, many of the respite girls). Or do they actually tell you that they are angry and give you a chance to talk about it (Evan and to an extent Carl). Some of course get physically violent or destructive.

-- They are going to get angry. Kids in foster care, of all ages, have a lot of anger. If they start to feel really safe in your house, if they begin to believe that you will not throw them away if they are naughty, then they are very likely to start bringing out that anger. Yep folks, if you develop a good relationship with them you will get rewarded by being introduced to their demons. Your skills are important here, as is the sensitivity of the other children. Are you a good de-escalator? Can you respond to someone who is yelling and carrying on by getting a glass of water and watching and waiting for them to run out of steam? Let insults fly by and react no more to "you f*cking c*nt" than you would if s/he called you a chair?

5. Attachment patterns

-- There is a difference between someone who is a very private person who tends not to let people close and someone who has reactive attachment disorder. RAD means that when they feel themselves getting close, internal panic alarms go off and they do everything they can to destroy your relationship. Ann has RAD. David just doesn't seem to genuinely attach. It can feel like he does, but whatever sort of attachment he has seems be something he can turn off as soon as he is not getting what he wants. He has little to no sympathy or even understanding of the feelings of others. David I can parent. I can accept and understand that what feels superficial to me is what is possible for him.

6. Negative or difficult behaviors

-- Okay, all kids get into trouble. What does this kid do? Does she break curfew or sneak out at night? Cut school? Shoplift? Periodically get drunk or do drugs? Does he have friends who are getting into trouble? Does the child hoard food or eat compulsively? It is entirely possible that the kid they are asking you to take really doesn't do anything worse than leave dirty dishes all over the house. It is also possible that you can deal with other behaviors. You do want to know what you will have to deal with.

7. What sort of discipline do they respond well to? I take a non-punative approach and it has worked very well for my kids. With some kids there is something they care about (e.g. access to the telephone or their music) that you can use as a reward or a consequence. Some kids have no "currency."

8. School, work, and organizations

-- Do they have a history of cutting? Do they have decent grades? (C's are good, especially for a kid who has had to move a lot). If they have had the opportunity, are they involved in anything? All these are good signs.

9. If you have children in the house all ready you want to ask if they have any history with kids like yours and what that history is.

If you have been caring for teens for a while you will learn what you can handle and what you can't. There are a lot of things on this list that I can deal with. I've learned to let a lot go. There are other things that I find I cannot deal well with at all.

If a kid has done something somewhere else, they will probably do it at your house. Even if you house is quieter than everyone elses, or you are a fantastic foster parent, they will still do what they do. The question is not just what do they do, but what can you deal with? And what can the other children in your household deal with?

Sometimes though the behaviors they exhibited before really were responses to conditions which will be different at your house. David cut school so much the year before he came to us he failed every class. He did not feel safe as a gay kid at his previous school. After we spoke with the administration, he did feel safe at ours. He went to every class that first year. That changed at the end, but there were reasons for that too. (For the beginning of the end, go here.)

I hope that helps, and like I said, I hope those of you who have taken teens will add the questions you have learned to ask. FosterAbba, Lionmom, Dan -- I'm counting on you. All others are of course very welcome to add their thoughts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Driving Lessons for Andrew Part 3

Lesson #4
We went back to the parking lot and drove up and down the aisles, practicing making turns and staying in the corrent lane.

Then I asked him if he wanted to get out of the road. Without really warning him in advance, I sent him down a road that turned into a country high way. We spent nearly an hour driving around. He had to go as high as 65 miles an hour. Up hills, down hills lots of twists and turns.

He did really well.

Why she can't stay (in care)

In my limited expereience, emancipating foster kids come in two groups: the ones who want to move out on their 18th birthdays and those who would rather not move out at all. Which way they will go depends upon many factors, but I have learned that trying to convince someone to stay in care when they have already decided not to is rather like trying to convince someone to quit smoking.

Getting them to agree that one option is clearly the rational choice is the easy part.

At the most fundamental, the decision is not a rational one. It is not about what is in their long-term best interest.

Imagine: you're in a job you really hate. No, you are in jail. For years you have been dreaming of the day you will leave. The only thing that got you through was the dream of your release date. You have felt unwanted, unloved. You have had different wardens who have different rules. Some have given you passes for the occasional field trip, but some have not. In any case an outside supervisor has to approve everything. That ouside supervisior changes regularly too. They say they are trying to help you, but what they are really doing is micromanaging you.

And you have been looking forward to the release date. You have dreamt of it. Some days it was the only thing that got you through.

And then it approaches as everyone starts saying, "Why don't you sign up for another year? You know it will be easier to finish high school if you stay."

Some kids who left tell you that it is not as easy out there as you think. It looks pretty out there, but it is a whole lot more difficult than you think. They wish they had just stuck it out for that extra year. Their lives would be so much easier. But you have friends who were never in this prison at all. You have a place you can stay when you leave. The warden and the supervisor says, "But what it doesn't work out? What if it goes bad?" But you know these people and they don't.

And so, Dear Reader, are you there in your imagination? Are you standing in the grey prison hallway looking at the sunshine past the gate? The warden and the supervisor are not terrible people, but you have dealt with them and their kind for eight years. "Stay with us" they say. "Stay here where it is grey, where we can watch and comment and evaluate how you spend every minute of every day. Stay with us one more year. You will be glad you did."

But outside the door you can see sunshine.

Of course we don't see it that way, but she does.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"I don't care"

Since Faye has found out that her emancipation plan was falling through she has been calling relatives, every single one of whom has apparently said that she is welcome to move in on her birthday.

Still she was leaning towards seeing if she could live with Marsha. She sees the advantages -- there's the free everything of course. She knows it would be a good idea.

But she just came out to the living room, "I just talked to my great aunt. She says I can live with her. That's probably what I will do."

I'm tired, working on a sudoku puzzle and say absently, "Really? You mean rather than trying to move in with Marsha?"



"Because I'm a little sh*t and I want to mess up my life. I'm going to do the wrong thing even if it is going to mess everything up."


"I just don't want to be in foster care anymore. I don't care if it f*cks up my life."


Sorry kiddo, I'm too emotionally exhausted to argue with you.


Such a frustrating day.

Yesterday I ask Faye what time her foster mother is picking her up. She doesn't know. Probably not in the morning, but it could be. FM does not have a cell phone or anything so she can't call.

Today she sits around all day. She has no idea what's happening.

Then midafternoon. "I probably won't be able to go home until tomorrow. None of the social workers work on Sunday."

"Isn't your FM coming to pick you up?"

"Her? No. She won't drive anyone anywhere."

"How were you planning on getting home?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know what the original plan was?"

"I don't know how I'm getting home."

So I call the social worker's cell phone number (yeah, I know) and leave a message. While we are waiting to get called back she tells me that she was going to be at her friend's birthday party today. (It is this friend's mother that she was planning on living with.)

"How were you going to get there?"

"Well, she [the mom] was going to pick me up for the party and take me home afterwards."

"So that was the original plan for getting home?"

"Yeah. But who knows how I will get home now. Maybe I will just have to spend another night."

Okay, call your FM and see what she thinks of the situation. She takes the phone into the other room and comes out later. "She says it is okay if I spend another night."

Sigh. Okay. Sure. Whatever.

The social worker calls back, "So I talked to the FM and she says Faye worked out staying another night. I can pick her up at 4:00. Is that okay with you?" Yeah. Sure. Whatever.

I tell Faye.

Faye says okay and then a little while later. "You know. I've got everything packed. If you wanted to take me home tonight it would be okay."

"Do you want to go home tonight?"

"I don't care."

"Faye, we like you, and you are welcome to spend another night, and if you want go home today you can."


"So I will call the social worker and tell her we're taking you home?"

"I guess."

I call. We talk. I'll take her home tonight. It's like 30 miles away, but it's fine.

The phone rings. It is the boyfriend. Faye talks to him. "Yondalla, actually I think that I might spend another night."

Parents, first parents, are not evil

I hate to give links to blogs when I am being critical of what they have said or what their commentors have said.

I have read files containing descriptions of abuse that have made me vomit. Certainly they have made me give up any idea that G-d is in control of the details of this world. As far as G-d goes, there are two main possibilities: there is no G-d; or for various reasons G-d has decided not to interfere. If I believed that there were a divine plan that included or required that a small child be raped, I would think that the divine planner was a sadistic demon. I would believe it my moral obligation to fight against such a demon, and if he were all-powerful and told me I would go to a fire pit of torment if I did not join his side, I would hope I had the courage of Job (who was NOT patient) and would respond "I know my redeemers lives," and you, demon, are not that redeemer. I would hope that, like Job, I would have the strength to believe in a G-d that was just even if one respected religious leader after another showed up at my door to convince me to repent and bow down before the so-called G-d of suffering.

There are people who should never have had children. People who have done terrible things to children. Often our child welfare system does not work well. Children go unprotected. Children are sometimes, perhaps many times, sent back to parents who are still unable to keep those kids safe.

But we have no right, absolutely no right, to assume without knowing that any particular parent is evil, incompetent, or undeserving. If we have only half the story, then we have only half the story.

So take this story: a child goes into foster care at age two. Even though the foster family moved to a different state, the mother still visited with him every other week. Amazing. So many mothers are overwhelmed by their lives and by the condemnation they fear from the people they will have to deal with that they cannot make themselves go. This mother did. She kept visiting. It took her eight years, but she pulled it off. She turned her life around and got her son back.

There are lots of details that were left out. Eight years is a long time to be with one family and not be adopted. The foster mother being interviewed makes it sound like she just didn't get around to it because she thought it wasn't necessary. I doubt it. If the child was having regular visits with his mother, it is likely that it wasn't possible. It is likely that the court would not have allowed her to adopt. Not that it would have made a difference if she had been able and chosen not to.

Choosing to remain the foster parent when one can adopt makes a lot of sense in a lot of situations. It does mean however that a social worker can show up on day and say, "The judge decided Johnny can go home! Pack his things. Say goodbye."

In other words, she always knew this would happen.

Which does not ease her pain one bit. I would never tell her her, "Well, you knew this could happen" as though that would make her feel better or as though her feelings were not completely justified. Of course she is heartbroken. Her grief is real, and deep, and potentially life-altering.

And I feel very sad for her that the mother has decided she can have no contact with the boy she has raised for eight years.

But I will not leap to judgment. I will not say that it was wrong for a mother to be reunited with her son after eight years.

Perhaps the people who rush to judge are right. Maybe the mother should not have been reunited with her son. Perhaps, even though visits were regularly kept, even though she did whatever else the judge expected of her, perhaps she still should not have been reunited with her son. Maybe.

I don't know.

Which is precisely my point.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Consequences of Faye's Drama

I don't think I was very clear about this, but the person that Faye was planning on moving in with on her 18th birthday was also involved in the drama. This person, Faye learned last night, has decided that allowing Faye to move in is not wise.

I'm glad, for Faye's sake, that she decided this now and not, say, one month after Faye had left care.

Faye of course is fairly devastated -- in that way that kids who have been knocked around by life have of being upset while emotionally closing down and moving on. She said that she wished she could live here, and accepted it when I said that that would not work for us.

She started listing various aunts who might be persuaded to let her live with them, and I suggested that she talk to her social worker about Marsha. Miss E will be moving out in July. Faye seemed to be seriously considering that option. Personally I think it would be perfect. Faye would stay in comprehensive care until she finishes high school.

She really can't stay where she is now. It was intended as a temporary placement. The house is quite full. So much so that many of Faye's possessions are in storage.

Well, we shall see what happens.

Driving Lessons for Andrew Part 2

The tire store actually honored the guarantee -- at least in part. They asked what happened. I told them the truth. They took off 50% of the price of the original tire, which was close to 40% of the cost of the new. So not too bad.

Lesson 3
I took the car and Andrew to the big empty parking lot at the college. I do mean big here -- it used to be three blocks of houses. He just drove around for a while. He practiced pulling in and out of parking spaces. After nearly an hour of driving in the lot I had him drive from one end to the other weaving between the light poles. He did it fine -- so I told him to do it going backwards. "Seriously?" "Yep. You can go as slowly as you want."

He did it.

Then I had him drive us home. On the actual roads. Okay, so we snaked through the neighborhood roads at 15 miles an hour, but they were real roads and we did see a few other cars.

Driving Lessons for Andrew Part 1

Yesterday I took Andrew to the DMV and he passed the written, so now he has a permit.

Lesson One
On the way home I stopped in new housing development. Most of the houses were still under construction. It was a good place to practice -- real roads and almost no traffic. Andrew drove slowly and carefully. He hugged the curbs. I had to tell him that he should look where he wanted the car to go and not at the big truck he wanted to avoid. He agreed that did make it easier. He asked questions about when to push the gas and when to push the break. He even backed up to make a couple of turns. It was a great start.

Lesson Two
So today we went and got into our station wagon and I asked him if he wanted to back out of the driveway. He said he thought he could do it. It was a bit jerky, but he pulled out pretty well. He got out in the road and saw a car coming at us. He was a bit worried but I told him he was fine. There was room for the person to go around us. He stopped; the other driver went past us and I said, "Okay, turn the wheel to the right and go forward."

Unfortunately I did not say, "Okay, put the car in drive, turn the wheel and go forward."

He punched the gas. We flew backward, over the curb -- both right side tires went up on the sidewalk.

My car is currently at the tire shop getting a new front right tire. The old tire has a guarantee still, but I think that just covers normal driving, not teenagers driving on sidewalks.

The only other damage is to my vocal cords. For some reason they're a little sore.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Andrew has a girlfriend.

He is right now reading the driver's manual. He wants me to take him to the DMV to take his written test so that he can get his permit and then start teaching him to drive. He will be 18 this fall and this is the first time he has really shown any interest in driving. At least enough to do anything about it.

Anyone think there's a connection?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What would it take?

I just had a short conversation with Faye.

I ended up asking her what it would take to get more kids to stay in care past their 18th birthdays. What would it take to get her to stay?

"Just let me do whatever I want! Geez, I'm 18. I mean I'm living in your house, but let me do what I want to do. Like Evan does."


Evan does have an enormous amount of freedom. We have given up on assigning him a particular chore. When he is home though we often ask him to do something and he will do it. I tend not to see him, even though it is summer. He gets home late, goes to his room and is on his phone or computer. He then wakes up in time to leave for work at 1:00pm. On his days off he is usually around, likes to spend time chatting with us, and will do whatever chore we ask him to do, although we don't ask him to do much. He picks up after himself, pays his rent, and is polite and considerate.

Sometimes he does go out on dates and we don't ask him for details. Once or twice he has told us that he is going to be gone for the night and I have told him that I appreciate him telling me, that I would probably worry otherwise.

And Faye wants to live just like him.

With a few exceptions of course.

Like she doesn't want to get a job. Her social worker tried to make an appointment with her to help her look for a job and she was outraged. She told her social worker that she was "quite capable of getting a job on her own." She hung up and rolled her eyes. "Did you hear that? Did you hear what she said to me? Help me find a job, like I can't do that. I am capable of finding a job. I can do it. I just don't f**king want to."

She doesn't see how she could possibly find a job. I mean she is only going to live in the place where she is for two months and then she is going to move in with her friend's mom.

I said, "But she isn't licensed. You won't be in comprehensive care. You will have to pay rent."

Faye, "I know."

Me, "So you will have to go to school and work."

Faye, "I know."

I took a deep breath and did not point out her absence of siginificant work history.

But she is convinced. Life will be so much better when she has to go to school full-time, pay most of her own expenses, live with someone who has a restaining order out on her boyfriend, and be able to do whatever she wants.

Faye is being "good." She is not arguing with me or my rules. This should be as easy as any other respite. It is just that I find myself listening to her idiotic plans for the future and desperately wanting to slap some sense into her.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The bad boyfriend

I've been keeping to my strict rules about the Faye's boyfriend. He may meet her in the backyard. He may not come inside the house except rarely to use the restroom. No, he may not shower here. No, he may not go with us to the grocery store. Faye may not go hang out with him and his friends.

Faye has been relatively complacent with these rules, knowing that it is the best deal she is going to get and that if she doesn't follow them she will find herself moved to another respite placement.

The backyard is not a bad place. Though it has been getting quite warm even hot, there is a very shady nice place to hang out. They have just enough privacy that they can't be overheard. We can also see them well enough to know that they are still there and still clothed, but there is partial obstruction of view too. I ignore the amount of food that disappears from my kitchen into the back yard.

I don't let him inside for a variety of reasons. I do think that there is a real risk of petty theft, although that might be balanced by him knowing that if anything did disappear we would suspect him. I let him into the back yard so that Faye will not feel the need to lie and sneak off to meet him. I said as much to her social worker while Faye was standing next to me. Not letting him into the house, and sticking to that, is a way of communicating to Faye my attitude regarding this young man.

But I also don't let him into the house so that he cannot charm me, which he so easily could. He does not present as a dangerous guy; more like a child lost in the woods. He has a genuinely bad mother. He is on the edge of homelessness as he finds it impossible to live with her and so does everything he can to avoid going home. He considers himself homeless and generally sleeps with different friends. He dropped out of high school, is nineteen years old, and does not have a job.

Faye tells me his mother has given him one month to find a job and an apartment (suggesting that he is still allowed in his mother's house even if he does not want to be there). Faye is worried that one month is not enough time, and besides, how can he get a good job without a high school diploma. (It's really not going to be enough if he continues to spend all the daylight hours in my back yard).

At the beginning of her stay, before he pulled the stunt that put himself and others into danger, Faye was suggesting that I might let him stay for a while.

I understand Faye's savior complex with him. He does seem like the sort of boy who does need some parenting. He needs a safe place to stay while he grows up. He was not a foster child, but maybe he should have been. He could probably stand to be one now. He is in a terrible place: nineteen years old, no high school diploma, no job, no safe home. He has no relatives to move in with, no one who can support him as he makes the transition through adolescence into adulthood.

And so you see the other reason I won't let him into the house. I don't want to let him get closer to me. I don't want to fall for the trap that Faye has fallen into. He is a nice young man, and he does have the ability to move off the path he is heading down, and he probably needs help to do it.

But it is a long-term project and it is not a job I am willing to take on. Though I think it is possible that he can turn his life around if he was given some help, I think it is more likely that he would just accept whatever help he had and just slide more slowly down the path he is on. It is a problem that there is no place for young adults whose lives are so unstable. He needs for there to be something, even if he is not ready for it (which I suspect he is not).

So I feel for him. I see why Faye is attracted to him; why she thinks that she can save him and that he can be a good person.

And so I don't let him into my house.

Faye leaves on Sunday.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"It's just where we are"

I was in a phone conference yesterday and we were talking about some statistics regarding GLBTQ kids in care. One had to do with the youth's (all the youth) perceptions of the level of acceptance among social workers. In my mind it was shockingly low. I found it deeply disturbing that so many of the youth were not confident that the workers were supportive of GLBTQ youth. I started to brain storm on some ideas.

When I finished a (presumably hetero) foster care alum commented, "I think that is just reflective of where society is right now."

I was momentarily speechless.

I think that is why it bothers me right now to the degree that it does. I wish I had been articulate in explaining why complacency in the face of oppression is unacceptable. I wish I had not spent the next 1o seconds sputtering for words and not finding any. And of course the conversation when moved on.

And I woke up this morning still thinking about it. I want to rage against someone. I want to scream. I want to go to this woman, who knows she does not have any problem with homosexuality because she has gay friends, and tell her how deeply offensive it was to say what she said.

"This is where we are right now." Don't expect too much. Don't demand more. So what if half the youth think that program workers are not supportive of queer youth? What else would they think? The youth's perceptions might even be right.

And maybe that is what is bothering me. She did say that last part. That it might not be a perception problem, that the youth may be right about the level of acceptance. She looks at that and shrugs. It is just where the society is. What else can we expect?

I look at that and think, "This is unacceptable. Something must be done."

Martin Luther King was right. He said it so well in the Letter From the Birmingham Jail.

Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used destructively or constructively... Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.

I know it is not possible to have such eloquence on the spur of the moment, but I wish I had. I wish I have not sputtered. I wish I could have said, "It may be where were are now, but we will not move past this place and unless we see this for the problem it is and respond accordingly.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm not helping

I appreciate the kind words and even suggestions for helping Faye.

I'm staying detached from her though. She is here for a two-week respite. She is turning 18 in August and determined to move out. Those of you who have done foster care for kids that age know that trying to convince one of them to reconsider moving out is like trying to turn back and avalanche. I might try if she was placed with me, but she isn't.

Evan has actually been the one to point out to her the advantages of staying ("free rent, food, everything, why would you walk away from that?") and the difficulty of finishing high school any other way.

Hubby and I were tempted to offer our house as a placement for her senior year. But that was before the bad-boy boyfriend pulled his stunt. It is just as well. Brian has a hard time with people leaving and he does not need for two people to go at the same time. Also, we promised Andrew that he would be the only senior in the house next year "It's not that I want to be the center of attention, Mom. It's just that last year is so stressful and there's only so much we all can take." That would sound like a lame cover for wanting to be the center of attention if it came from just about anyone else, but Andrew is the observer of the household and he is right.

We have stuck to our guns about Bad-Boy having to stay in the backyard and Faye not leaving with him. She has been remarkably accepting. She asked if he could come in and take a shower yesterday and we said no, although I have allowed him supervised visits to the toilet (well, not supervised IN the bathroom). Earlier she asked if they could hang out with his friends. Inside I was laughing hysterically and saying, "Are you INSANE? OF COURSE NOT!" Fortunately I realized that she was almost certainly asking because he asked her to ask and so I said quietly, "Given what happened last week, I don't think that would be appropriate."

And Faye accepts these decisions. She knows it is the best she is likely to get. She is able to see him because I will let him into the back yard. There is every reason to think that when she goes back to her current placement any contact will be close to impossible. That is likely good for her and him. Total separation is too difficult for us to pull off. We live in his neighborhood and it would be too easy for her to sneak out.

Andrew is right; we do need to insist on not-a-senior next time around. Those last six months before emancipation are so difficult.

Andrew will be 18 in October. I cannot imagine him moving out, and neither can he.

I like older teens, but this time around, I think I could deal with starting with a 14-year-old. I want one who is not already counting the months to their 18th birthday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Old Stories

I keep thinking that maybe I should tell you what is going on with Faye, but I feel like her story is old and tired. To her it is new and fresh. It is real and full of love and pain.

And that is the tragedy of it all. If I were to see this as a movie preview there is no way I would buy a ticket. Even on one dollar night. I would sigh and wonder why anyone would re-tell the story about the bright young woman who thinks that she, and she alone, can see and bring out the good in her man.

It would be boring if it didn't promise to be so tragic.

And then there is the other story, the one about the foster kid who could stay in comprehensive care until 3 months after graduation, even if that meant she was 20 years old, but who instead plans on packing her bags and walking into the world on her 18th birthday. So what if she has one more year of high school? She will finish. She has a plan.

And the adults say, "I know it looks like a good plan, but if anything, anything, goes wrong it will all fall apart."

But the stories are not old and tired to her. They fresh and new and real. Nothing will go wrong, and the man she loves will be everything she knows he can be.

Not Father's Day

We don't celebrate Father's Day or Mother's Day when we have kids here on respite, and we seem always to have kids here on one day or the other.

Oh the boys will quietly tell their father Happy Father's Day and if Hubby wants to go out to a movie or anything, they'll go. I'll cook one of the things that I know he likes for dinner, and he will know why.

But it is all very ... stealthy.

I always figure these days are pretty much "foster child hell days." A day in which we celebrate all that they don't have. For kids here on respite it is especially painful but even for my most secure permanent-placement kids, it is bitter-sweet at best. On Father's Day they look at Hubby and wonder what if they had had a father like that.

What if their father helped them with the homework and did not get shot by other gang members, or imprisoned for attacking their mothers, or simply disappeared? What is when their mothers brought new men into their lives it was someone quiet who liked kids and respected their boundaries and did not molest or beat them, sell their belongings, and say such horrible things?

No, these days are for them days of "what if's", of watching everyone else celebrate what they should have had but did not.

When all the kids in the house have been here for a long time, we celebrate, but still keep it low key. Carl, David, Evan participate to the degree they wish. They usually tell Hubby "Happy Father's Day" and if there is going to be any eating out they certainly want in on it. However, if they prefer to spend the day at the movies with friends, they know they will be allowed.

So in our house it will be a day much like any other day. It's not Father's Day here.

Just a day, like any other day, except one in which Hubby gets some stealthy extra attention.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Risks of Being a Fostering Child

So I left you off with my doing deep breathing exercises in front of an angry Brian.

I really was upset. I stayed calm, but I hardly behaved like the perfect mommy. I tried to get him to talk about how upset he was about the weekend, but he wanted to focus on how he had been trying to tell me and I hadn't listened. The conversation was civil, but not the comforting that he needed.

He brought it up again last night, brave soul that he is. We talked about it for a while and we did work things out. There were tears, hugs and reconciliation. His claim that he had been trying to tell me turns out not to be without justification. My inability to understand the significance behind the words he was using is completely understandable.

But that is not what I want to talk about. I want to talk why that weekend was so upsetting to him.

Brian was still seven when we left. I may have said he he was eight, but that was wrong. He was still seven.

When we started care we, like most foster parents, did not explain foster care to our kids. We gave them the information that we thought they needed and then they filled in the details. So what we told them went something like this, "Carl's mom died a couple of years ago and nobody knows where his dad is. So Carl is in a special program that finds families for him to live with. We could join that program and he could live with us."

The boys were excited. They slowly learned more about the reasons why kids were in care, but it wasn't because I was ever careful about giving them complete and accurate information. Brian in the beginning was only five and I did not want to tell him the truth. That was a mistake. I told him, "There are all sorts of reasons why sometimes parents can't take care of their kids." That was another mistake.

I did reassure him that he was ours forever and that he would never go to foster care, but I think that assurance did not fill up the space of his anxiety. It did not because I did not understand that he was really worried. He needed more assurance than I was giving him. And I had no idea how many stories the respite kids, and Carl to be fair, were telling him.

When we went on that trip, Brian was afraid we weren't going to come back. Of course we told him that we were, but he knew that sometimes parents didn't.

That's important. He was a fostering child. We had done respite care of multiple kids. He had been told stories about abandonment that I did not know he had been told. He knew for an actual fact that sometimes parents left their children. He had met and spoken to children who had been left, and some of those children enjoyed telling horror stories to frighten privileged little brats. I know from my research that most fostering children his age believe that kids are left in foster care because they were naughty.

So now it makes sense. I understand why our leaving him that weekend, with a woman he knew and trusted, but who had a boyfriend (now her husband) whom he did not know well, was frightening to him. Though we said we were coming back, he was not certain that was true. He was afraid that he was being abandoned like all the foster kids he knew had been abandoned.

So I wonder what I might have done differently had I understood. I cannot imagine not going on the trip. The agency was paying for everything. It was a foster parent conference, but it was in Las Vegas. We would spend the days in long, emotionally exhausting seminars, but we would have other times when we could eat out at adult restaurants and tour the sights. We needed that time. I always understood the trip to be partly a bribe to get us to continue to do care after Carl left. It worked.

I know I said all the right words to Brian before we left, but I don't know that I said them carefully enough. I did not occur to me that he might not believe me when I said we would be back in four days.

No matter what, I cannot imagine a past in which we did not take Carl. I cannot imagine him not being part of our lives, part of Brian's life. Brian adores Carl. I might not have done any respite care though. I might have protected Brian from all the stories he heard. I might have waited until he was old enough that I was willing to tell him the truth about why these kids were in care.

At whatever age we started doing respite care, I would have spoke more carefully about the reasons kids go into care. The same of course would have applied to taking David. David was an abandoned child (whom we did not meet until more than a year after we went on that trip). I should have had conversations with Brian and Andrew about abandonment, about why it happens and why it wasn't going to happen to them.

But it could be that nothing would have worked. It might have been that Brian was just at a stage where he was afraid of monsters under his bed and parents abandoning him. It might be that there was nothing that I could have done except not go on the trip, and I know that even if I should not have gone on that trip, I would have. I can't imagine anything anyone might have said that would convince me that Brian would carry around pain from it for fiive years. I would have gone.

Last summer I helped do a training on children who foster. The lesson we tried to communicate then is certainly something I wish someone had told me:

Explain everything to your kids; even the ugly parts. If you don't want them to know those things, don't do care. If you don't tell them the foster kids will, or their imaginations will create something far worse.

Computers, and those who serve them

We all have Verizon cell phones. Brian however has been getting calls with a pre-recorded messages twice a week, "This is Cingular, now AT&T. There is a problem with your wireless account. Please call us back at this 800 number so that we can resolve it."

I called back the number and asked why AT&T was calling my 13-year-old who had a Verizon phone. It took a while to convince her that I wasn't kidding.

"Can you give me your son's phone number?"
I did so.
"That number is not ours."
"That's sort of the point."
"Your company is calling him every few days and it is not your phone."
"Well...they must be calling the wrong number."
"Uh huh." (She's catching on!)
Me again, "How do we get your computer to stop calling his number?"
"I don't know. I mean, it's just calling a wrong number."
"Yes, but who can tell the computer who makes the calls to stop calling this number?"
She puts me on hold and finally comes back, "Can I have your social security number?"
"Well, it's the only way I can look up your account."
"None of us have an account with you. If I don't have an account with you, you won't have my social security number in your files, right?"
"So giving you my social security number won't allow you to look me up."
"If you don't want to give it to me, you don't have to, but without it I can't look up the account."
"Never mind, I will ask Verizon to change his number so that none of us will ever have to talk to anyone at AT&T again."
"Goodbye and thank you for using AT&T. "

Friday, June 15, 2007

And speaking of irony...

...which we weren't but will be...

Did I mention that the trip Hubby and I were on, the one that scarred my son, leaving him with a deep fear of abandonment, was a trip to a foster parent conference? That the main reason we went to the conference was to spend a full day learning about the causes and possible treatment of attachment disorders?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It's not as much fun as you would think...

I'm talking about having a child in counseling.

I mean, you might think it would be just a barrel of laughs, but really, it is not so much fun. And, I can speak with authority here, it is even less fun when you are the birth mother. Because, you know, you get to be responsible for everything.

So let's say there was this time years ago when you and your husband went on a trip and it upset your son very, very much but he would not talk about it. Your husband always worried that Something Awful happened but you said that you thought it was really just that you left him when he didn't want to be left. Of course your husband replied, "That can't be the only thing. It can't be just that we left."

But there is no knowing because your son won't talk about it, and you keep agreeing that it is okay, he doesn't have to talk about it.

And that is the way it stays for years. You think that your son was upset because you left when he really did not want to be left; your husband is worried about Something Awful; and the kid ain't talking. You dutifully bring it up whenever he meets with a new counselor, but the kid doesn't want to talk about it and you all agree that he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to.

Then one day your son goes to counseling with Dad because it is Dad's turn and you are feeling a little (though perhaps unreasonably) annoyed with the counselor, even though (or perhaps because) she is getting him to express things that he needs to express that no one else has been able to help him express. When they come home Husband is happy that Son made a break-through. He finally talked about The Weekend and it turns out that there was no Something Awful, "It was just that we left him even though he really didn't want to be left! He was really upset and afraid we wouldn't come back. He couldn't believe that we would go away like that when he didn't want us to. The counselor thinks this could really be at the heart of his anxiety about people leaving. I never thought it could just be that, but I see now that it could be. He was just eight and it really upset him."

And you take a deep breath and pretend that you haven't offered this theory of the past to your husband dozens of times. After all, it doesn't matter who had this idea. All that matters is that your son finally understands and can name his feelings.

Hubby then says that Son needs to express his feelings to you too, and you understand because you are a good mom and you are ready to receive your son's feelings of abandonment. Those feelings are real and he needs to tell you. He will bring that sadness and vulnerability and anger over abandonment and say, "Why did you leave me?" And you will hug him and tell him that you are sorry he was so upset years ago and that you love him and will never, ever leave him. There might even be tears.

So Son comes into the bedroom and Husband summarizes the counseling session and asks Son if he would like to say anything.

Son looks you right in the eye and says, "I've been trying to tell you that for five years and you never listened to me. I really don't think it should have taken a trained professional to get you to pay attention."

And you know you are a good mom because you completely resist all the evil urges that flood your psyche. Of course just standing there breathing deeply doesn't seem to be quite the right response either.

Like I said, having a child in counseling is not as much fun as you might think.

Drama update.

Even though I gave you the abbreviated version I still got the details wrong. The crucial wrongness was that Faye was not present when the scary things were being said by the scary people.

So Faye is being given different versions of what happened and some people in her life, including the boyfriend, are making believing their version a loyalty test.

So I have been doing a lot of listening and hand holding. Boyfriend is not allowed in the house and Faye is not allowed off the property with the boyfriend, so they are meeting in our back yard. Everyone, including the social worker, feels safe with this compromise. It is certainly better than her feeling tempted to lie, sneak off, and end up in a dangerous situation.

Sigh. I would tell you about all the drama of the last 24 hours but it would be inappropriate. Let's just say that at the moment I can't imagine why I'm committed to teenagers.

I think I will foster kittens.

You can keep them in boxes, right?

Faye's Drama

The short version, and the only one I am going to give you is this:

Faye's boyfriend has connections to scary people. Boyfriend got in trouble and along the way angered one of the really scary ones who said to boyfriend, "It would be really sad if Faye were to get hurt or killed" in front of Faye. Boyfriend said nothing, which may have been wise. I'm a big fan of saying nothing when people are acting irrationally. However saying nothing made Faye feel unloved and abandoned, on top of the fear.

I will be talking to the social worker today who will talk to Faye and they will decide if she is safe here, four blocks away from where boyfriend's mother lives. She probably is, but really, this is more drama than I had anticipated with a simple respite. Respite is supposed to be easy.

Yep, it is all about me.

Actually it is all about the safety of the family. I think the threats made against Faye were intended to frighten the boyfriend and not something that are likely to be acted upon. On the other hand, this is as far as I am willing to go. If we start getting scary phone calls or if the boyfriend comes by after he is told not to, we will have to consider moving Faye.

Conversation with Brian and Possibilities

Me: "So Brian. You know the licensing working talked the other day about there being a lot of new kids coming in this summer. We might finally get one."

Brian: "Okay."

Me: "I want to talk to you again about the age. The agency doesn't usually get any kids in younger than you. So the kid will almost certainly be older. It is possible though that the next one will be younger than you. When you are sixteen or seventeen we might be able to get a kid who is fourteen or fifteen."

Brian: "But I wanted a younger brother who was a lot younger than me, a baby or a little kid."

Me: "That just isn't going to happen."

Brian: "Why can't we get a little kid?"

Me: "Brian, I know that I kept saying no to a puppy and you kept asking and finally I gave in, but this is not the same. I am not getting you a six-year-old."

Brian pouts. "I just really want to be a big brother."

Me: "There are other ways to spend time with little kids...I know, I know, it isn't the same and you would be a great big brother. I am just not going to do it."

Brian: "I really want to be a big brother."

Hubby: "You have a puppy. That's it."

I know it must seem confusing to him. Why is it that we would be willing to keep "getting" teenagers but not be willing to get a little kid? Just one?

Because I am not going back. Ever.

Brian has always been my youngest and has always been the youngest child I want in the house. I wonder if I will want to stop doing care once he has moved out. Every time he has moved out of a stage of development I feel so finished with that age. Been there, done that.

On the other hand I have a great attachment to kids on the cusp of adulthood. I like them, so maybe I will keep taking them.

Although if the excitement in Faye's life doesn't calm down I'm not certain about even that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Re-licensing, possibilities, and budget blasters

We had our yearly re-licensing visit. The licensing worker asked us if there was any way the organization could be improved. I pointed out that she was the sixth licensing worker to visit us in seven years, so ... um ... that was a problem.

We had a nice visit. When she asked about what I like about the agency and talking to you all informed that. I told her how much I appreciated that the agency paid for anything the kids really needed, that I knew people who couldn't afford to do foster care because of all the things they had to purchase. When Evan moved in and had no clothes I went out and spent $350 and told them I still would need to buy a coat. They reimbursed me and congratulated me on my frugality. Heck when we first started we needed to build a freaking wall and they paid for the materials. (We got volunteer labor from church and had to pay an electrician).

Anyway, she asked us if we were open for a placement and exactly when. I told her that if there was someone right for our family I did not want for them to not introduce us because Evan was here. Evan would not be disturbed by our meeting someone and he was moving out August 24th. She asked, "but where would he sleep?"

That caught me a bit by surprise. In the past whenever we met someone they were living someplace where they could stay while we were all getting to know each other. It took six weeks with Carl, although that was mostly about us getting licensed. David and Evan we each met at the beginning of the summer and moved in the day after we came back from Maine. They each spent quite a bit of time here prior to our trip (about 21 days each, I think) and were not officially in the program until they officially moved in. So, I tend to assume that we are always at least a month away from someone actually moving in, although I know that is not how the rest of the world works.

She went on to say that there are quite a few kids emancipating from the program right now and so there are a corresponding high number of intakes. If they needed a bed quickly, could we provide one? We said we could, that we could kick Brian out of his bedroom and make him bunk with Andrew, like we were doing for respite. (We explained that typically we pay the kids a nominal rent for their bedrooms).

We would of course rather not have that many kids in the home at one time, but we have been waiting six months for the right youth to come along. I don't want to miss him or her.

"Would you consider a girl?"

Sigh. I know we have been over this ground before. I said that we were committed to all LGBTQ kids. Hubby said, "'L' stands for 'Lesbian'" using just enough of the fake teacher voice to be funny. Anyway, I am trying to not let myself get excited. There may be a chunk of new kids coming in this summer, and maybe one of them will be for us, but maybe not. We will see.

In other news:
Faye is doing well here. Respites are always pleasant of course. She has had a reputation for disappearing a lot, hanging with friends and not coming home. One of her best friends however lives near here and is very happy to hang at our house, so she is mostly home with us.

The puppy went to get groomed at the vet, because they are cheaper than the regular groomer. Of course they noticed that he had retained puppy teeth and said they were having trouble grooming him anyway because he was trying to bite, so they anesthetized him to groom and remove the teeth -- most expensive dog grooming trip ever.

Hubby and Brian both went to the dentist. Hubby needs a crown and Brian has two cavities. Brain also simply must have braces because even though his teeth look perfectly straight, his back teeth are crowded and crooked and this will cause grinding and pain and other horrible things.

Lordy, these critters I live with are expensive.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Well, I wanted it to work, didn't I?

Brian has, for years, been able to cry about the fact that his brother Andrew would someday move away. The first time I remember it clearly was about five years ago when Brian was complaining that he wanted Andrew's bedroom. We gave him various reasons why he should prefer his and then told him that he could have Andrew's when Andrew moved out. This took Brian from pouting to weeping. He tried to climb into his brother's lap and sobbed that he didn't want Andrew to go away, ever. The boys would have been about 8 and 13 then.

He has cried over this more than once. I have held him, comforted him, assured him that he would still be able to talk to his brother. We talked about cell phones and even said we would buy web cams. Hubby and I have noticed that he was more likely to break into these sobs if he was tired or otherwise stressed, though of course that does not mean that he wasn't really bothered by it.

We were often uncertain about whether comforting him was helpful or simply feeding the drama. I struggled for a matter-of-fact attitude. "I can see how badly you feel. If you want to cuddle quietly you can sit with me. If you need to cry loudly you should go to your room." I tried to acknowledge that his feelings were real and legitimate and yet not reward the dramatic behavior.

I still can't think of any better way I might have handled it.

At Brian's counseling appointment a week and a half ago he reported that he was feeling pretty good. School was almost over and so he wasn't feeling very stressed. She (the counselor) asked me if there was anything I thought they should talk about. I suggested that they talk about Brian's feelings about his brother leaving in a year.

I went out to the waiting room and within ten minutes the wailing and sobbing started. Five minutes later she came out to get me. I sat with him and he crawled under my arm and calmed down a little. She looked a bit overwhelmed, said that she hadn't realized just how deeply Brian felt about this and that they would have to approach it differently next time. What she asked him to do this time was apparently not what he was ready for. (I imagined her asking him to draw a picture of how he felt and him refusing and falling into sobs instead). She asked Brian if he felt a little better having "gotten it out" and he shrugged and nodded at the same time. She let us go early, telling me a couple of times that Brian might feel better now that he had "finally got it out." She said something about how she thinks he tends to bottle up his feelings and it was really good that he could finally express this. "Do you think you tend to bottle things up?" He nodded.

I concentrated really hard, thinking, "Don't roll your eyes. You will look like a very bad mom if you roll your eyes. 'Bottle things up' my ass." Out loud I said tentatively, "He has discussed this with us. He has cried like this about his brother more than once."

She nodded sympathetically at me and said, "Yes, of course, but now that he has really expressed himself he might feel a little better."

I left thinking bad things about her. If it was all bottled up, how did I know about it, huh? Didn't I tell her that he cried about this very thing just like he did in her office? Did she not hear me when I said that he had cried and sobbed about it many times? Was she taking credit for some major breakthrough? She got to his pain? Heck, I told her about this pain. She admitted that her methods were a bust (this time). She asked him about it, after I told her it was an issue, and he sobbed. Big deal.

And then we talked on the phone when I was unable to make the last appointment. She wanted to know how he was doing and I told her that he was doing very well, and that we had talked about his brother going away and he had been calm. And she said it again, "Well, now that he has been able to express it, he may be finally feeling better." She had a very self-satisfied tone in her voice, or at least it seemed so to me.

I once again thought bad things about her. I believe a naughty word popped up in my mind. She hadn't done a damn thing. He hadn't expressed anything that he had not already expressed. He did not even express it in a new way. I told her about something and she witnessed it. Period.

But it turns out that that might be a bigger deal than I thought it was, because he really does seem better. I mean he really does. As he is thirteen he was finally allowed to sign up for an on-line game. He played with his brother on different computers in different parts of the house. "Mom, do you want me to instant message anything to Andrew? I'm talking to him on the computer!" Later he says cheerfully, "Andrew says we can set up times to play together when he is in college too!" It is the first time ever I have seen him talk cheerfully about his brother being away at college.

She witnessed his pain. He sobbed and wailed about his brother leaving and someone who wasn't his mother with conflicted feelings about his feelings (sympathy, guilt, frustration), told him that how he felt was understandable. It was normal. It was okay.

And now he feels better.

And I am torn, because I took him to counseling because I wanted him to feel better. I knew he needed something I could not give him. I had high hopes that he would be able to relate to this counselor and that he would share with her when he had not with the others.

And everything I hoped for seems to be happening.

So you would think I would be happy, right? And I am happy, just a teensy bit conflicted. This woman is helping my son, apparently without effort, without doing anything I have not tried really, really hard to do.

Except that when she does it, it works. When she witnesses his pain, it matters. It is exactly what I wanted and I am grateful we have found her.

But in the back of my mind a voice says, "bitch."

And I am not certain if the voice is referring to her or to me.

Road Rage

Evan came home to tell me a rather dramatic story where he got very angry at another driver. A teenager came to a full stop before in the lane before making a left hand turn in a time and place where it was unnecessary. Evan, who will agree that maybe part of the problem was that he was driving too closely and quickly, slammed on his breaks and had to drive onto the shoulder to avoid a collision.

I won't embarrass him by telling you just what he did, but I will tell you that it did not come to blows.

He was bothered by his reaction. He did feel that he was justified because the other driver's behavior was so unsafe, but did not like that he was so out of his own control.

We talked about how he tends to use his physical size to intimidate and how he looses that when driving his little car, but we agreed that still wasn't all of it. He thinks even if he were driving a muscle truck he would still get outraged. Why does he feel that way? Why does he get so very angry.

"Evan, do you think it could have anything to do with your cousin dying in a car accident?"

"Yeah. It probably does."

Some triggers are easier to figure out than others.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

In-Laws and Foster Kids

I'm listening to an audiobook about which I may write later, but today I want only to say that there is a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who are too careful of each other. They don't want to cause offense, and are both so polite, that they end up doing things neither wants to do because each thought the other did.

It is an interesting thing to be listening to, given that my in-laws just called.

My mother-in-law likes me very much. I know that she does. She wants to express approval of me, but what I feel is judged. Perhaps I have come out well, but it never feels safe.

I told her about the party. She saw no humor in the situation, was in fact horrified and said she could never imagine anything like that happening when her kids were young. And I feel like she means that I am not a good parent because these things happen at my house, but I think she means to express concern for me that I have to raise my children in such an uncivilized world. She wants to be supportive.

And then she tells me about her other sons, their wives and children. She tells me how hard this child has worked; how hard these adults work; how her one son just does everything, although his wife is feeling a little bit better and beginning to do more. It's such a shame.

And I feel like the slacker mom.

On one hand I know she really likes me, but I feel so defensive with her. I feel constantly watched, evaluated, and even if I am getting positive scores I still feel tense. I want to hide from her any hint that my children are not strong, happy, and successful.

The thing with in-laws is that you have these instant family relationships with all the conflicts that come with them and no shared history telling you how to work them out.

Evan's young social worker was also a fostering child. Her parents work in the same program I do. She acquired several siblings through the program. One was the sister she fought with, loved, and was a bridesmaid at her wedding. Her relationship with the other was, more complicated.

About a month after her wedding I told her that relationships with foster kids was just like relationships with in-laws. She laughed out loud and said with a little surprise in her voice, "You're right. That is exactly what it is like."

Friday, June 08, 2007

It will be funny later

Really...I promised him in the future he will tell the story and laugh. He doesn't believe me though.

I mean, it's your thirteenth birthday and all your friends decide that it would be really fun to urinate on an old dog toy, toss it over a tree branch, and hit it with a stick sending p*ss flying everywhere.

What's not funny about that?

Okay, so the part where the sleep-over gets cancelled and all the parents are called to take the friends home wasn't fun at the time, but it can certainly be worked into the anecdote.

But he doesn't believe me.


And oh yeah...

Tomorrow is our Pride Day and I won't be there for the first time in seven years.

And it is my own fault. I agreed to something that I didn't have to agree to because I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. Especially this year when I know how very unorganized the organization committee has been. I thought I would rather miss it than go to something that was thrown together, not advertised, poorly attended and filled with people complaining when they didn't do anything to make it any better.

People like me.

Whine, whine, whine, whine, whine.

The Doldrums

Did you know that the doldrums is a place, like on the planet? It is the area around the equator where the air rises but the winds are calm to non-existent. If you are a ship, especially one that operates on wind power, you generally want to stay with the trade winds and out of the doldrums.

And I am in the metaphorical equivalent.

Out of the pressure and flurry of end-of-term. I don't know if the end-of-term work load is actually any heavier, but it feels heavier. We are exausted and surrounded by others who are. But deadlines must be met; grades must be turned in; the wind pushes you along.

And then it stops.

And there is a pile of things that have been waiting for you. Things you said you would do as soon as the term was over. Important things. Educators, common belief to the contrary, do not get summers off. The nature of the work just changes. There is an entirely new course to be planned; assessment data to be gathered, summarized and evaluated. There is major writing to be done. And of course the bookstore manager may come to my home with a large pointed stick if I don't turn in my long over-due book orders.

But there is time to work on quilt blocks for the block exchange. It is the perfect project for using up piles of left over fabric. I even drafted some patterns of my own, and looked forward to the summer when I could work on it.

But now it is an uninspiring pile of fabric. Getting the sewing machine out of the closet feels like too much work.

There is no wind.

And I think I should delete this post because it has nothing to do with care or even parenting. I told myself when I started this blog that I wasn't going to assume that people would be interested in my reporting on my moods. What is more boring than a post from someone complaining about being enervated?

Yep. Definitely the doldrums.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Feeling Better

I had a long phone call with a friend...someone who is particularly good at helping me sort through what I am feeling ( was my Alanon sponsor; everyone should have one).

I also spoke with Evan again. I told him that I didn't have anything particular I wanted to say, but not havng talked about it felt strange. He said he understood and that he had contacted the person he hurt. I do believe that, by the way. He knew things that I had said, and not said, to the other party. I don't know if Evan apologized, but I know he called and that means something to me.

And just talking about it was good.

I feel like I was finally able to put the whole thing to bed.

This whole Alanon sponsorship thing -- it's pretty cool. We should have it as foster parents. Someone you are allowed to call; someone who is committed to following the same principles you are who is willing to talk through any situation. Someone who can help you figure out why you still feel crummy if you are convinced that you handled the situation right.

Writing here helped a great deal...and so did your comments. Thanks y'all.

Negative Energy Still Here

So I'm still in this strange emotional place. The relevant details are this:

Evan did something that hurt someone I don't even know. I don't think he set out to hurt anyone, but he did. I have responded to it in a way that I and my husband, and others who know all the details, feel is appropriate to Evan, particularly considering his age. I honestly believe that I have done everything that I should and everything that would be helpful. The rest is up to him. He can learn from this or not. Though I have been, I think, acting naturally with him, he has been avoiding me. This may, or may not, be an indication of an appropriate level of regret/shame regarding what he had done.

And I want to yell at him like a recovering alcoholic wants a drink.

At every level I know it would be a bad thing. Though the intial burst of energy would feel so good. I could take this negativity inside me and throw it out at him and that moment would be a release. I would enjoy it.

But like an addict I know it wouldn't be just one outburst. It would escalate. It would turn ugly. I would end up in a place where I did not like myself. I would not have helped him.

I could tell myself that it would be for Evan's own good. That he needs to know just how bad what he has done really is. Except I know that he already knows that. Or at least I don't think that there is anything I could do that would be more helpful than what I have done. But even if it were true, I know that I don't want to instigate drama between us because it would help him.

I want it because I want to dump this negative energy. I want to throw it out into the world.

Yep. I am so very like a recovering alcoholic. I walked through a bar yesterday. I ordered a club soda and left. My husband is proud of me. "You did the right thing" he says. I know he is right. But I stand here on the sidewalk, looking at the bar thinking, "G-d, I want a drink."

It would be so easy.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A blast from the past

Faye called. I don't think I have heard from her for two years. It really must be at least that long; she never met Evan. She was arranging her own respite care; she wants to know if she can stay here from the 11th to the 24th of this month. I told her it was okay with me if it was okay with her FM and social worker.

Last I knew her older sister had got licensed just so they could be together. I saw them together at an event. They looked happy. I was happy for Faye.

When Faye first came here she was angry. She had moved into Mandy's less than a week before and she was not happy about being in respite before she had had a chance to settle. That first weekend she did little more than sulk. But she came back and gradually became one of our favorites. She did well at Mandy's and, like just about all the girls who do well there, got tired of all the drama from the other girls. So she moved to another home and then to her sister's.

And now she has moved again. She turns 18 in August. She seemed to take it for granted that she would be leaving care then. I told her that she did not have to, that the agency will give her full support until she is done with high school. She seemed surprised.

I was just able to talk to her social worker. She hopes the sister will work it out by the end of summer and that Faye will move back. It's her only real hope for staying in care until she graduates.

But, in any case, she will be spending a couple of weeks with us. I am looking forward to seeing her again.

Responding to behavior (updated)

I read somewhere that Mark Twain said that he did not lie because his memory wasn't good enough.

I definitely get that. That was in fact why we so often caught Carl in lying. He couldn't keep straight what he had told to whom. We would know that he had lied, even if we didn't know what the truth was.

I learned not to ask, "Did you do X?" when I knew very well that he had. Now, when I know that someone has done something I just address it. Sometimes I say things like, "I want you to stop telling me you are looking for a job when you are just hanging out with a friend." Or "The bill for your text messages on my cell phone is $9, what's the best way for you to pay me?"

And sometimes that is followed up with things like not allowing them to borrow my cell phone anymore.

It can feel strange though, because it also defuses me. In dealing with it that way I am cutting off my own opportunity to rant and yell at them. I am not telling them how angry and disappointed I am that they have lied or done whatever they have done. They know though.

Now it is good that it defuses me. Not escalating, simply imposing consequences is a good thing, but it can still feel strange. It feels like there is this other part of me that wants to yell, or at least lecture, dying to get out. But I know this path is better. I am sad, but my blood pressure is staying down. He knows he got caught. He knows I disapprove. We both know I can't control him and trying to would just push us into an escalating battle.

No, there isn't a lot that I can do that is productive.

Well, except re-instate that service where no one can make a long distance call without knowing the secret code.

Why did I cancel that before? I forget.

Update: I put on the block. He reactivated his cell phone. Good thing I wasn't deluded about my ability to control him.