I'm still processing my feelings about Frankie's feelings.
Or the lack of them.
He was very happy to get to talk to his mom and his sisters. He wanted to tell them all about the animals and seemed to expect them to be happy for him. He was proud that he was finally in "a real home with a real mom and a real dad." Yep, they could call anytime they wanted and they could talk as long as they wanted. There were no restrictions on when he could have calls, because this was a real home. We even have dogs and a retarded cat.*
It bothered him that his sister was so sad. He wanted to cheer her up. It distressed him that he couldn't, and he really did try. In the end promising that he would come live with them when he was 18 seemed to work the best. He tried hard to explain to his sister why he couldn't home. He said it was all about choices that he, his dad, and their mother had made.
He was genuinely distressed when he warned his mother not to fight too hard for her rights because when his father did that he went to jail.
Hubby noticed that he was more relaxed with them. Hubby now wonders if some of "did you know..." conversations are partly anxiety about trying to impress us. Maybe. He did try to do a little of that with his family, but not as much. Mostly he asked them how they were and bragged about his real home.
After an hour he said he had to go because we were going to watch a family movie, but he would call them back. He hung up and told me laughing about telling his mother about wanting to be a girl. He said that his mother got back on the phone and said that she accepted it, but that his step dad was going to have to take some time to get used to it.
He was relaxed and happy and started telling me about the two glasses that he bought at the dollar store. "Do you know why Chinese glass is thin and American glass is heavy? It is because American floors are so hard. If you drop a Chinese glass" (he holds up the blue glass goblet he bought) "onto an American floor it will go crash" (He didn't say "crash" but I don't know how to spell the crashing sound) "but the Chinese have different floors and if you drop an American glass" (holding up the C*ke bottle glass) " on a Chinese floor the floor will break!"
And then he wanted to watch the movie. He had seen the movie before so he could give me useful information so that I didn't get confused "Those people are that guy's friends" and so I wouldn't get frightened, "It is going to be really spooky, so you might not want to watch this part, Yondalla. He doesn't die though."
And it seemed odd to me that he seemed to have so little to process. It was just the same ole Frankie, laughing at the scary parts of the movie.
And for some reason it was all so surreal to me. It was strange that it took him so long to figure out why his sister was upset. It was strange that he seemed to think they would be happy for him because he was in a real home with a real mom and a real dad. He used that description a dozen times. I know that he was proud to be out of institutions and group homes. He did not seem to get the implication that he was suggesting that I was more real than his real mother.
Of course that is not what he meant. I know that was not what he meant. He meant that he was out of institutions. Hubby and I are real parents, not paid employees. He did not mean to imply anything at all about his own, first, natural mother. He just wanted them to be proud of him. He worked hard and he got to leave the treatment center and the group home and live with a real family.
But that upset his sister, and it took him a while to figure it out. Actually, I am not sure that he did figure it out. Promising to move in with them when he was 18 seemed to help, so he said it.
And though Hubby insists that he does not have Asperger's, and I have completely agreed, suddenly I am not so sure. How could he be so clueless about the emotional states of others? How could he talk to the sisters and mother he has not spoken to for six weeks, rarely seen in years, and not seem to have any emotional response?
And I don't know why it is bothering me so much, except that he seemed so foreign to me tonight, so incomprehensible. I've been worried about him, and I guess the gap between him and the rest of us just seemed so much bigger tonight.
But he is still Frankie. As he settled down to the movie he said, "Do you notice there aren't many black people who are heroes in movies? We are still racists you know. We should be more like the Orcs or Trolls, they don't have any racism. So we should be like them.... Only not as dim-witted."
The cat is not retarded, but it is brain damaged. In some parts of the world they are called "spastic cats." Fortunately our kitty's condition is mild.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I'm still processing my feelings about Frankie's feelings.
His mother called this evening. Her voice trembled as she introduced herself and said she was calling to find out how Frankie was. I was so excited, and nervous, for him that I forgot all about introducing myself. Probably the fact that I am a bit nervous talking to her played into it. I just told her that he was fine and said I would get him so she could talk to him.
He spoke to her and his sisters for about an hour.
Mostly he was very cheerful.
And yes, right away he told his mother than he was transgendered and he wanted to be a girl. Of course he first asked her to promise not to be shocked or to blame us. He reported later that after he told her she said, "I'm going to take a little breather and let you talk to your sisters."
When he spoke to his first sister he said, "I understand Mom is having trouble with her breathing. Does she have cancer?" He stayed pretty cheerful throughout the phone call. He told everyone about our open kitchen, our brain-damaged (he said "retarded") cat, our dogs, etc.
He tried to reassure his sister that he was "in a real home with a real mom and a real dad." It surprised him that this upset his sister. He then reassured her that no one could replace her or their mother. At one point he referred to Hubby as his dad and then corrected himself, "You know, my third dad. He's my F-Dad." This made him giggle.
I don't think it helped his sister much.
He tried to cheer up his sister. He spoke to her in a Darth Vader voice, "I am Frankie. I am your brother." He told her to stand on her head so her frown would be upside down and then she would be happy. He told her to be happy over and over. "I'm in a real home, with a real mom and dad. Be happy."
He promised his sister he would visit. He said that he couldn't run away to live with them because he would just get caught and locked up. He said when he was 18 he would come to live with them and never leave.
Even though the previous post may have had a light tone to it, things are difficult for Frankie right now. He really doesn't have any friends.
At this moment Brian is downstairs with two of his friends. They are playing video games and have told Frankie that he may not play with them. I'm torn. There is the part of me that wants to tell Brian that that is rude, and that he must include Frankie. There is also the part that remembers how outraged I would be if I had been made to include my little sister in my games. And I know how I would have treated her if I had been made to.
But Frankie is hurt. Though he often accepts that he is annoying to others, and has left the other boys alone when he realizes he is getting on their nerves, he does not like being told he is not welcome. Who would?
[I am remembering seeing a documentary (or an episode on a news show?) about the book called "You can't say, 'You can't play.'" Is such a rule fair? Could I make it a rule in the house? Would it work if I did? Somehow it seems a better rule for a group of children the same age rather than for siblings at significantly different developmental ages.]
But Frankie really doesn't have friends of his own. He complains he can't make friends at school because he isn't given enough free time to interact with them. I suspect that is not true. I suspect that the time they can interact is very controlled, but that the making of friends would be possible if one had the skills for it. But I asked him if there were any kids from that school he would like to invite home to try to get to know better.
He said no. There are all too little. They are all little kids, under 10. (They aren't, but I am not quarreling with him.) I asked him what age he would like his friends to be. "An age where I could get along with them. My age. Like fourteen or fifteen."
And there is at least part of the problem. Frankie plays like a younger child. Merely by the fact that he says he wants friends to play with, we know he is not operating on a teen level. Most fifteen-year-olds want someone to hang out with. They would not want to make spears and hunt boxes in the back yard. I haven't taken him to the support group for GLBT teens because they are developmentally so much older than he is. They would be kind to him once, maybe even periodically, but they would want for an adult to take him away so that they could have important teenage conversations (and flirtations) without the little possibly-transkid saying, "Did you know..."
And so we have the problem. Frankie is fifteen, but developmentally much younger. He does not want to play with younger children, and their parents would probably be made nervous by it anyway.
And I don't know where to take him to meet developmentally delayed teenagers with whom to play and quarrel. I suppose there is some sort of organization for mentally retarded children and adults somewhere, but I think Frankie would respond the same way he does to the idea of playing with younger children.
Frankie is not mentally retarded. The last time his IQ was tested it was definitely below normal, but not low enough to qualify for any services based upon his IQ alone.
I feel badly for him, but I really don't know what to do for him.
I will ask his teachers if they have any ideas. If anyone would, it would be them.
But if you have ideas, please share.
Update: Hubby and I talked about it, and we have no solutions. I asked Frankie if he wanted to go to the youth group for GLBT teens tomorrow. He said "maybe" in a voice that meant "no." Same thing when I asked him if he wanted for us to arrange for either of the kids his age at his school to come over to visit.
The sad truth is just that Frankie does not have the skills to make friends. He cannot maintain two-way conversations. He can only "play" with someone who is older and being indulgent. Just like he can only have conversations with people who are willing to listen to him talk.
But that doesn't mean that he isn't lonely, or that he doesn't feel hurt when Brian has friends over and says, "You can't be here. Go away."
Once I was a married woman with one child.
I cooked things that my husband and I liked to eat. My one child seeemed motivated to eat what I did, although he did not like his food all mixed up. Still, it seemed no big deal to pull out some strips of chicken before adding the curry and put them on a plate with a carrot stick and some rice.
He came up with odd ideas about the world, and we listened. I gave him focused praise, just like the books said to. I don't think I ever insulted him. I wasn't perfect, but that one child grew up in a nuturing, positive environment. He was generally welcome to join us in whatever we were doing. If I was making a jig saw puzzle I would let him help, even help him out. He felt respected by the people older than he.
And he asked for a younger brother or sister. He said he liked little kids and he wanted to be a big brother.
We decided to have another child, not for him of course. Our lives changed. Having two children at two different levels oftem destroyed the sense that we were adults with a child. We were PARENTS. And the older child we had so carefully nurtured changed when the baby we brought home grew into a small child. The older brother who had been surrounded by love, praise and encouragement turned to that younger child and said, "You are a stupid poopy head!" When the younger child wanted to join him in his activities he said, "No! You will ruin it. Go Away!"
Of course the older brother was mostly a great older brother, but not always. When the older brother approached teenage years he started spending more time with friends and he did NOT want his younger brother, who had few friends, along. The younger brother cried, said he missed the big brother who would play with him, and said that HE wanted a younger brother to take care of.
And now we have a third boy who is devlopmentally much younger than the younger brother. The third boy makes mistakes and the first boy, who spends much time somewhere else, tries to speak in patient voices and tries to be helpful. The second brother says, "That is so stupid! Why did you do that? You will never have any fun if you keep doing that!" He said it with scorn in his voice. "How can you think something so dumb?"
And the second brother, who increasingly has friends of his own he wants to spend time with, yesterday told me that Dad was going to take them somewhere, but would I keep Frankie home so he wouldn't annoy them. I said no. I took him aside and helped him to remember all the ways that his older brother's behavior had hurt him. How badly he felt when his older brother insisted that he not join them in their games.
And Brian looked at me and said, "Now I understand why!"
Friday, September 28, 2007
I have a post I am working on about why Frankie is dis-satisfied with his school (TLC) and why his complaints are generally ill-founded, like his lack of friends isn't because they don't give students time to interact or that the work they give him is not below his level even though it looks "babyish" to him. (This second we can definitely see over the past few weeks as they have slowly moved from work that he could do easily to work that he asks us questions about).
But that post, in its entirety, is boring. The point of the post was to get to the more interesting question of how educable is Frankie and what does his future promise? So let's just jump there, shall we?
On one hand clearly the answer is that we cannot yet know. Frankie has had inadequate schooling throughout his life. His achievement and aptitude test scores are not very good, but I am not certain how much faith to put in them. We we have a better sense of it in a year. If he jumps several grade levels, like FosterAbba's Danielle, then we can have pretty high expectations.
But what if he remains what he seems to be now. Those of us who work with him are doubting more and more that the child-likeness is any sort psychological defense mechanism. I think he will mature some. I certainly hope he gets better at dealing with frustration, but I can't imagine him in college and I am not even certain that he will be able to earn a high school diploma, especially if the No Child Left Behind policy of achieving 10th grade proficiency remains.
I think he will continue to have a lot of facts at his disposal, although not necessarily the ones that other people are interested in him having. I suspect that his ability to make wise judgements will continue to be poor. I think he is going to need a job with a low level of stress and a high degree of supervision.
Right now I can see him stocking shelves and returning carts from the parking lots. There are certainly other things, but he will never be able to do the sorts of jobs that the other boys can do.
And will he be able to live independently? Will he be able to manage even a basic budget? Will he be able to do the things that people need to do to keep a car: remember to pay the insurance, remember to get basic maintenance, cope with a flat tire? Somehow I don't see it. Ideally he would work a job, ride the bus, and live with or near a responsible adult who would help him with the all the problems that crop up.
Back when we were students we lived for a while in a complex of townhouses. One of the people who worked maintenance was child-like man, let's call him "Bob." One of the units was the office -- and his apartment. He had one bedroom. The second bedroom was storage and the living room was the main office, and of course he had use of the kitchen. He was sweet guy. I remember that I asked if the bush obscuring my window could be trimmed. The manager told me that she would have it trimmed down some, but not much. She sent Bob who came out and cut down the bush. I ran into the manager later and she shook her head. She said she had a conversation with him about it. "What did I ask you to do?" "Cut the bush." "How low did I say to cut the bush?" "Halfway down the window?" "Yes. And what did you do?" "I cut it down." She was a bit frustrated, but mostly she seemed to think the solution was to make sure he did unusual jobs RIGHT AFTER getting the instructions.
I always wondered how that arrangement got set up. It was perfect for him. I know that he did not have to worry about paying for utilities or rent. When he needed new tires on his truck the manager noticed and sent another worker with him to the shop. They paid for the tires and then took it out of his wages a little at a time.
I don't think Frankie would need that much support, although he might.
It is too early to make these decisions, but I can actually imagine a future in which Frankie does live with us for a decade or two or three. I haven't even brought it up with Hubby, but I can imagine it. Of course he is going to outlive me in any case, so he will need another environment, or more independent living skills.
Or maybe he can live with Mrs. Butter B.
Frankie came into the kitchen this morning with one hand over his left eye. "I went to pet the dog and she jumped up and banged my eye!"
"She was trying to kiss you."
"I know, but she banged my eye."
"Will it be okay?"
"Yeah, it hurts though. Did you know that it only takes 5 pounds of pressure to pop an eye?"
"Why no, I didn't."
And then I was treated a long list of fun facts to know and tell, like how it is possible to commit suicide by drowning yourself in your bowl of cereal. I finally laughed and commented that he seems just chock full of information. "Any chance you have some happy information in there?"
Frankie laughed, and told me about how smart dolphins are.
Did you know that they once put one dolphin in one tank and another dolphin in another tank and put intercoms in the tanks and right away the dolphins figured out how to turn them on and started talking to each other?
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Broke favorite tea mug.
Spilled tea on self, chair, and floor.
Spent 40 minutes in office wearing regalia with pants draped over heater in front of fan.
Am now off to teach wearing damp pants.
And when I got back to my office I caught my shirt on the little triangular things that stick out of the side of the door and pop into the hole in the frame when you shut it (the door) and it (my shirt) ripped.
Definitely a wardrobe malfunction sort of day.
I have one more class to teach and then I am going home to put on clothes that are neither ripped nor tea-stained.
Posted by Yondalla at 8:56 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
This evening after dinner:
Frankie. "Yondalla, will you help me find the headset?"
Me, "No, I'm busy right now."
Frankie, "Do you know where it is?"
Me, "No. If I knew where it was I help you, but I don't know where it is."
Frankie, "Do you think it might be with the electronic games?"
Me, "Frankie, what part of 'I don't know where it is' is confusing you?"
Frankie giggles and says, "None. I'll find it."
And he did.
Recently I have been getting a lot of "I don't know how you do it. I could never deal with Frankie."
And I am not certain how to respond, because I wouldn't have thought I could either. The description I got was not wrong, but it was not accurate either. I was told that he was fifteen, had had some anger management issues but was doing much better, and had done some gender identity questioning. I made certain that he wasn't dangerous to the kids and agreed to meet him.
If I had been told that he was going to seem like a much younger child who tended to obsess and almost never stopped talking, I don't think I would have taken him. I think I would have said that I could not deal with that.
But it turns out that I can. It turns out that I did not know what I could do until I tried.
I think it helps that he speaks in a deep voice. It just isn't the high pitch screaming sound that some kids make. Perhaps having lived within institutions makes a difference, since he doesn't seem to expect you to escalate with him. He may be frustrated to the point that he is lying on the floor crying, but he really isn't trying to work me up. And of course it helps that he is not terribly difficult to de-escalate, assuming you have any skills in that area at all.
Besides, a lot of the time he is just plain funny.
While I have been writing this he has been playing his game. I just notice that he is not narrating and that he hasn't been narrating while he plays for a while. Anyway, he stopped and walked over and leaned against my chair. "How are you Yondalla?"
"I'm fine. Do you need something?"
"No. I just thought I would take a little break and say hi."
"So are you having fun?"
"Yep. Barrel of laughs."
"Okay. I'll go back now."
And he did.
Abbreviated for your reading comfort.
Scene opens at 6:45am with Frankie trying to play WoW and making loud complaints about hating the computer and how he got up early, like he does every morning, to play WoW for half an hour and now he can't because it wants to download a stupid patch and the patch won't download and the people at WoW are stupid for making him down load a patch and then he yells to Hubby, "Do we have a fire wall? It says to turn off the fire wall!"
Hubby in his Mister Rogers voice, which he does not loose all morning, walks over and tells him to turn off WoW and reboot the computer. He (Hubby) will then turn off the firewall and Frankie can start again.
Scene continues with Hubby and Yondalla preparing their breakfast and ignoring and constant stream of complaints about firewalls, companies who make them, stupid old computers that don't load quickly, stupid people at WoW who make stupid patches and then, "The patch still won't load!"
Me: "Frankie, did you start to load the patch before giving Hubby a chance to turn off the firewall?"
Me: "That's not what he said for you to do."
Frankie continues to complain about firewalls, patches, and computers.
Hubby: "Leave the computer alone for now."
Frankie clicks seeming at random at settings in N*rton. Complaining continues.
Me, trying out my own version of the Mister Rogers voice: "Frankie. Everyone else.." Frankie interrupts. Actually he interrupts every few seconds, so just imagine this little speech coming in tiny spurts, me telling him to listen and starting over. "Frankie, everyone else gets up with just enough time to get themselves ready for school. No one has time to help you with the computer." (Wow, that was short. Why did it take me like three minutes to get it out?)
Frankie: "I KNOW. I just want to ask HUBBY to help me."
Me: "Frankie, tell me what I just said."
Frankie: "I don't know. You kept interrupting me. I couldn't hear you!"
Me: "Frankie, what I am going to say is important. Listen: everyone else planned just enough time to get ready. NO ONE has time to help you. Now, tell me what I just said."
Frankie: "No one will help me. But I got up early just so that....and this stupid patch....and... "
Hubby and I ignore him, continuing to gather our things. Well, I am gathering. Hubby is sitting at his computer going over notes for his substitute. I get Frankie's communication book for school to write that he had a meltdown this morning.
I hear Hubby tell him firmly to stop trying to change the N*rton settings. I tell Frankie to back away from the computer slowly with his hands up (trying for a little humor).
Frankie says, "I'm deleting it!"
Brian yells, "What did you delete?!!"
Frankie, "MY shortcut!"
Brian, "DUDE! That could delete EVERYone's shortcut!"
Frankie stomps off downstairs to his room.
I tell everyone to have a nice day and go to work.
Monday, September 24, 2007
Today on our drive home from Frankie's appointment...
"There's a big thumb sticking out of America, but most people don't see it. We are at our apex and no civilization stays like that, so we will fall. When we fall, how do you think people will think about us?"
"What do you mean?"
"Like the may-oes."
"Did you say 'tomatoes'?"
"NO. The May-Ons. Will people remember us like we remember the May-Ons?"
"OH! I am sure people will remember us, just like we remember the Mayans."
"Because now our president is getting too much power. When we made the Declaring of Independence we said that the president could not send people to war. That power went to the Supreme something. But now the president does it and it is a big thumb sticking out of America."
"Isn't 60% better than 55%?"
"It depends of what it is 60% of."
"Well it says here that roy-jes can reduce their eminees to 60% of their power but warriors can reduce their eminees to 55% of their power."
"In that case 55% is better. It means that warriors can make their enemies less powerful than rogues can."
"Do you want me to find that radio station again? Maybe there will be another song by that cobra guy you liked."
"You mean Nat King Cole? Sure. See if you can find it. Let's listen to the cobra guy!"
And Frankie laughs.
Earlier he asked me if I liked Beet-oh-van. I said yes, but I liked Motzart better.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Someone asked if Frankie might have Asperger's. I don't think so, although it is something that some people have considered. Here's my check list:
Engaging in one-sided, long-winded conversations, without noticing if the listener is listening or trying to change the subject:
-- well, long-winded and one-sided, but my sense is not that he doesn't notice that we are uninterested but that knowing that isn't enough to make him stop.
Displaying unusual nonverbal communication, such as lack of eye contact, few facial expressions, or awkward body postures and gestures
--No. He makes eye contact and has an expressive face. His postures and gestures are appropriate to a younger child.
Showing an intense obsession with one or two specific, narrow subjects, such as baseball statistics, train schedules, weather or snakes
Well, yeah. Although, as obsessed as he with WoW, he is a collector of all sorts of information. He knows all sorts of things. Last night at dinner Evan asked me how my class was going and Frankie said, "Do you know about Socree -- Socrat -- Soe---" "Socrates?" "Yeah! Did you know that he died from poison? They made him take it because he wouldn't stop teaching ... something." I assured him I did know.
Appearing not to understand, empathize with, or be sensitive to others' feelings
No. He can tell what others are feeling, although he generally doesn't know what to do about it.
Having a hard time "reading" other people or understanding humor
Just now he came into the living room with something mess and I only got as far as "Oh" and throwing him a concerned look. He stopped and waited for me to tell him what was bothering me. When I said, "that needs to be in the kitchen" he went without protest.
He understands humor, as long as it is not too subtle. He laughs at the same thing a 7-year-old would. Put on a show with a lot of physical humor and he will roll on the floor laughing.
Speaking in a voice that is monotonous, rigid or unusually fast
Well, fast, but not monotonous or rigid
Moving clumsily, with poor coordination
Yes. Trips over air. All pieces of furniture have joined in a conspiracy against him. I swear chairs stick out their legs when he walks by.
Having an odd posture or a rigid gait
So here's the deal. The bioboys have had to buy all their electronic gaming stuff with allowance and/or gift money. (Well, we got them the Wii for Christmas and I did replace Andrew's DS when it was stolen.) However, the bioboys have accumulated so much STUFF that whenever a boy moves in who has nothing we have always discussed buying them one thing: CD player, MP3 player, hand-held game console (e.g. Gameboy).
This WoW thing is getting really exhausting. Frankie does NOT have the judgment skills or patience to play it well. He just doesn't. He is obsessed with it, but he is not doing well.
It is beginning to try my patience too. Today I listened to a long debate about whether he should create a character on a heavily populated realm so that there would be lots of high level characters to beg from (yes, I said beg), or on a less populated realm so there would not be so many people to pick on him. (That he perceives characters in WoW as laughing at him when they clearly are not is very worrisome, but that is another issue).
After an hour on that topic he spent the next couple of hours debating whether he should be a warrior or a rogue. This kid has, by his own count, created and played at least 20 characters in the past month. Most of them he has deleted. He has tried out every occupation and every race. He should know which one he would like the best, but he doesn't. He kept reading me descriptions of abilities and asking me what I thought. I said four times, "Frankie, I need you to be quiet while I am grading papers" (each request got me an "Oh yeah. Sorry" and ten minutes of silence) and then said, "I really don't know which is better. It has to be your choice" about 10 times.
So I want to tempt him into spending his electronic time on something else. Of course he may spend his time playing something else and TALKING about WoW ALL THE TIME, but that is a risk I am prepared to take.
So... if you are a gamer, I am seeking recommendations.
I would be looking for a game that:
-is easy to do well in both in terms of strategy and in terms of fine motor skills (DS games that require careful moving of the stylus are no good).
-is fantasy-related, preferably he would get to play as a wizard or druid or elf or something cool
I have a good gaming re-sell store so I can probably get older games and older machines.
And as long as I am seeing advice -- anyone who knows anything about helping children deal with obsessions, I'm all ears.
Do I tell him that he is not allowed to talk about it more than a certain amount of time? Do I continue to let him do what he is going to do and say things like, "Hmm" and "Interesting" and "I really don't know, sweetie" indefinitely?
I'll be so glad to go back to work tomorrow.
Now I wouldn't do this for just anyone -- but a foster care alum trying to find another foster care alum -- that's not just anyone.
- Stepdad owned a tattoo shop
Went to Academy of Richmond County
Was in the foster care system of Augusta, GA
Knew Connie Lord (shes the one who said you were looking)
Previously lived in Oklahoma with sister-in-law and brother
Previously lived in Gainesville, FL
Blonde hair, about 5' 8"
The names Tina Oates, John Chandler, Bill Rigdon, Margery Hall, and Clifford Black should ring a bell with him (not to mention Mr. Johnson, our high school principal).
If you know him, or might be him, please go here and contact Cari. She would love to get in touch with him again.
Posted by Yondalla at 1:51 PM
Friday evening Frankie expressed a strong desire to write to his father (with my help) and telephone his mother. I agreed to both of these, but so far neither of us has mentioned it again. I think I am making the right choice by not mentioning it, but I am not completely certain.
One thing I have noticed with kids who have been neglected is that they don't tend to ask for things more than once -- unless like Evan they don't stop asking for them at all. They have experienced so much disappointment that they protect themselves, usually by not letting themselves care too much. They tell you that they need a new coat but then don't say anything. Where the bioboys would remind me if they figure I've forgotten, the other boys will do without, not risking repeating the disappointment.
So I try to remember to follow up on commitments I've made to them. I do sometimes forget, but I try. Sometimes I tell them to please remind me the next time we are in The City that they need shoes, or school supplies, or whatever it is they have told me they need.
So there is part of me that thinks I should say, "Frankie, if you want to write a letter to your dad right now we can" or "Frankie, I'm programming your mother's phone number into your cell phone. You can call her whenever you like."
I am leaning towards doing the second (programming the phone), but not the first. But I am not certain.
Frankie's initial response to thinking about his dad is to want to contact him. But thinking about him also upsets him. I want to support Frankie in doing what he wants to do. But it is unclear to me what he really wants to do and what he feels that his is supposed to do and would rather not do.
He's a complicated kid. If he were developmentally closer to 15 I would feel more confident that I should just leave it in his hands. He seems like a much younger kid though so I am torn between feeling like I should facilitate what might be good for him and protecting him from what might be bad for him. Of course to do that, I first have to decide what is good and bad for him.
Anyone hearing the word "co-dependent" here?
I am sad, though not surprised or angry, that his mother has not called. It makes perfect sense to me that she would demand to know our number, and then not call us. Not knowing where her kid was was distressing. She was outraged that the people of the system would HIDE him from her. She needed to know where he is.
Now that she knows, the control and responsibility is in her hand. And even her lawyer, I am told, is telling her to relinquish her rights because she won't get them anyway. So she has a phone number for a son she has barely seen for more than five years. She has no relationship with him. She doesn't know what to say.
So I don't think she has decided not to call. I think she just can't make herself do it now. And it is possible that that won't change.
So I don't really know what to do. I suppose just being ready to help Frankie if he asks is best.
I wish I had taken more photos before he shaved his head.
Update One: I put his mother's number into his cell phone. He wanted me to label it "Mom2," which I did. He's now wandering around complaining about being bored.
Update Two: Following Process's recommendation I told him when he did not appear to have anything to do that if it was a good time for him, I could help him write a letter to his dad. He said it wasn't a good time and picked up the WoW manual. I'll try again another time.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
My reference to the state social worker as a "turnip" has been objected to by turnip-lovers. Bacchus has suggested "Simple Simon" instead. I agree.
So I told Frankie that I had emailed Simon and had some information for him.
I told him that I had his mom's phone number and address and he could call if he wanted. "I'll do that tomorrow."
I told him that I learned that if he wanted to send a letter or anything to his dad he could, but that we would have to send it to Simon. His dad could also send things to Simon and Simon would send them to us. "Simon will look at your letters, but the only thing he cares about is being certain you don't say anything that will let him figure out where you are."
"My dad wouldn't do anything to hurt me!"
"I understand, but this isn't a decision I get to make."
"Can he write to me?"
"Yes, but he has to send the letters to Simon. You can tell him about that when you write to him."
"Okay, can we do that with an email? Will you type and I will tell you want to say? Can we do it in the morning?"
Long silent moment.
"Frankie, I also found out some things about your mom. You know that even though your dad's parental rights were terminated, he is still your dad, right?"
"Yeah! But they won't let me see him!"
"I know. Well there is a hearing in December about your mother's parental rights. The judge might decide to terminate hers too. I talked to Simon. He thinks that is what will happen, but you will still be able to talk to her on the phone if you want. All it would really mean was that the judge decided that she couldn't ask for you to live with her anymore. It would mean that the judge decided she had enough chances. You would stay here until you were ready to take care of yourself, when you were 18 or older."
"Could I still visit her?"
"That's not my decision, but I think so."
"Will I be there?"
"At the hearing?"
"I think you can be if you want to be."
"I want to! My father said that it was my right as an American citizen to be at the hearing with him. They wouldn't let me though. They denied me my rights! My father said I had the right to be there. This is my family and I should be there."
"Okay. I think Simon will understand."
"What if the judge says I have to go back?"
"Well, Simon doesn't think he will, but if the judge says you will, then you will."
Frankie looks thoughtful. "I will have to give up my WoW account."
"I could do that."
"It would be okay. I would give up my WoW account to live with my family again. That is what I should do."
"But it could go either way. Simon thinks the judge will say you should live here."
Frankie grins, "Maybe I'll just be a momma's boy!"
"Do you mean that if you go live with your mother you will never leave?"
"Yeah, but if I stay here with you and Hubby maybe I will be like that guy in Forty-Year-Old Virgin and never leave you guys!"
Hubby, "We usually like kids to move out a little earlier than that, but we would want you to stay until you were ready."
Simon, "I like the Draenei, but Brian says they are not attracting."
Hubby says, "What?" As I say, "I understand that lots of teenagers think the Draenei are attractive."
"The women are hot! I could marry one. How do you know about them?"
"A friend told me about them. She lives far away though."
"She emailed you?"
"Does she play? What Realm is she on? What is her name? Do you think she would help me?"
"Her name is Maggie*, but I don't know the rest."
Hubby says, "What are you two talking about?"
Me, "WoW, of course."
Frankie, "Wait! I will go get pictures!"
Cut to this morning.
"Did you talk to your friend Moira? Can she help me?"
"Her name is Maggie, and I don't talk to her that much Frankie. I don't know if she will want to play WoW with you or not."
"Okay. I'm going to go back to one of my other characters anyway. I can't wait until there aren't so many people in the house. You know, that's the only reason I haven't been dressing up so much. Brian's friends are always here."
"Well, we certainly can make sure you know about times when they won't be so that you can dress however you want."
"Okay!" He grins. "Are you going with us to the Scottish festival?"
"No. That's just you, Hubby and Brian, but I will see you at lunch with Andrew and Evan."
"That's right. It's Evan's birthday.
"Hey Brian! Can you help me find the training place for my ____?"
"You changed characters again???!!!"
"No, I went back to my highest level character!"
And then they left for the festival.
I said "Maggie" but it is Maerlowe who plays isn't it? Sorry about that. Maerlowe, if you want to meet Frankie on WoW, feel free to leave the necessary info! You know, or not.
Friday, September 21, 2007
I had more email exchanges with the state worker that resulted in me sending an email to several people from the local agency in which I said, "What the hell?" (Or "What the Hot Place?" if we are still speaking Dootleese.)
I got a call back from the family developer, who was the only one I emailed who was in the office and I got to rant away for a bit. Anyway, I have my sense of humor back.
I got to tell the developer how upset I was that I found out about the TPR the day that Frankie moved in and that it was upsetting to me to have learned then because I like him and want him to stay (initially I think she was worried that the placement was shaky).
The family developer is pretty horrified at the state's worker cavalier attitude to Frankie being in court at the TPR hearing. Kids testifying against their parents is a BIG FRICATIVE DEAL, and not to be taken lightly. If it were to be necessary they would expect a great deal of preparation to be given to Frankie in advance. The state worker saying that is consistent with other things that this worker had said to them. She (developer) is not very impressed with this particular turnip.
The developer agrees that whatever happens at the TPR hearing will NOT be "great!" Either Frankie is made a legal orphan and stays with me, or he is reunited with his mom and I have to say goodbye. No matter what happens, someone will be sad.
She also does not know what The Turnip was thinking since these things don't always get settled on the date and time that they are initially scheduled. It could be complicated, and it could take multiple court dates.
The thing The Turnip said that made me lose it was to tell me that he was just now working on Frankie's alternative care plan and were Hubby and I interested in taking legal guardianship of Frankie, or even adopting him?
I imploded because being in my agency IS the "alternative care plan" or is supposed to be.
I was right about that, or at least I was right that the agency went into this with the same expectations. I did learn, by the by, that the agency is planning on moving in the direction of working with families who do permanent foster care, legal guardianship and even adoption of difficult teens. In the future I may be asked if I am interested in guardianship or adoption. It won't be thrown at me in a casual way though.
That it was the family developer who talked to me was probably a very good thing. She had not realized how complex the question would be for us families. She hadn't (yet) thought that one of my concerns would be, "Will Carl, David and Evan think that I don't love them as much if enter into a legal relationship with Frankie and not them?"
I got to vent with the developer and now I feel much better.
And I'm not going to email The Turnip any more if I don't have to.
I got back the information I asked the state worker for.
I'm trying to process it. According to the state worker "Emily's" lawyer is telling her to relinquish her rights as the TPR will happen no matter what.
And the state worker thinks that the idea of Frankie coming to the hearing "would be great!"
It sounds horribly stressful and sad to me. In which version is it great? In the version where she agrees to give up her rights to her son or the one in which she isn't and he is asked to testify that she has almost never contacted him and based in part on that, she looses her rights to him?
I'm feeling a bit nausous, and I don't think it is just the veritgo.
...In my inner ear, to be precise. Did you know that one of the ways your brain can tell which way is up is by the pressure of little calcium carbonate "rocks" in the labyrinth of your inner ear? And that when you get older those little rocks can break, or move and confuse your brain?
I try to only discuss foster care issues here, but I'm taking a break to whine, Doolittle style.
My fricative vertigo is back! Brown Word! It is not just that when I lie down the world spins, or that when I stand up the floor tilts. Or that bending over to tie my shoe can cause me to fall on my cursed hind quarters.
No. It is if I don't walk like a fricative run-way model I look like a Deity-condemned, lice-infested person who has consumed too much beverage of the alcoholic variety. Actually, walking carefully like a frictiave run-way model can in itself resemble the walk of the inebriated.
Twice in class I had to steady myself against cursed wall. The entire world has turned into frictive teeter-totter.
Fortunately I explained to the students at the beginning of class that it was just that I had loose rocks rattling around in my head.
What can I say.
Life's a dogmatriarch.
Posted by Yondalla at 10:50 AM
I've added another foster care alumni to the blog roll. I wanted to mention that on the list there are a couple of people whose blogs focus on foster care. A couple of them rarely or never talk about it.
I have them on the blog roll in part so that we can hear what they have to say about the foster care system, but also just because it is good for us to know who diverse a group they are.
If you know anyone else who should be on that or other lists, let me know
Posted by Yondalla at 10:29 AM
Thursday, September 20, 2007
I have been periodically ruminating over whether to talk to Frankie about the TPR hearing in December.
I don't know if he has been told, but if he has, I don't think it stuck. I tried to get a sense about a few days ago. He asked me if I was sure that his mother had his phone number. I said yes, but only for a few days. I asked him how much contact he would like to have with her. He said, "Just regular, you know, like the natural amount."
I did not tell him that I had no idea how much that was, but I let it go.
I asked him if he would like to live with her again sometime. He said maybe, "I think when I am seventeen. I want to give her enough time to get straightened out."
I reminded him that the program he was in took kids on the assumption that they would stay until they were at least 18 and ready to take care of themselves. He said, "That's okay."
From the beginning we could tell that he missed his dad. He did not talk about his dad a lot, but when he did there was no doubt that there was sadness. He is much more matter-of-fact about his mother, although he does wonder why she hasn't called yet. I don't think that he is matter-of-fact about his mother. Whatever feelings he does have are not ones he is feeling, or at least expressing, strongly at the moment.
But I keep thinking about the outrage in his voice when he told me that the state had cut off all of his rights to his father. He nodded when I said that technically they cut off his father's rights to HIM, but the distinction did not matter. The state had cut the cord between him and his dad. He was angry.
And so I wonder how he will react to the idea of the state doing the same thing to him and his mother. What will he feel about being made a legal orphan? Will he be as upset?
I emailed the agency social worker saying that I had not tried to really talk with him about it because I thought he would ask questions I really could not answer. She said that she felt basically the same way. So I emailed the state worker (and copied her). I asked the state worker to tell me everything he could, including who Frankie could call to ask questions of and who he can talk to to make certain his feelings are taken into consideration.
When he moved in the agency worker gave him a little booklet explaining his rights. One of them was, "To know why you came into care and why you continue to be in care." I'm pretty sure another one of the was to be fully informed regarding any decisions regarding the status in their status -- I forget how that was worded.
Of course having the right to information does not mean being forced to deal with it if you don't want to. Frankie is at that developmental age when he could easily just not notice information he doesn't want to hear. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that his mother still had parental rights although that could change. He did not seem to absorb that.
Still, I don't know if anyone tried to tell him, and I decided that unless they forbid me to, I will. I am going to try to get a little more information for him first though.
The post "How odd he is" generated more than my usual number of comments. Since I love comments I want to thank you all.
Many of you have had interesting thoughts. I'm definitely following up on your suggestions that Frankie be assessed for OT/PT (and speech therapy) services. Thank you for mentioning; I can't think why it didn't occur to me. It should have.
I particularly want to thank Elise said something I think is very insightful:
But unlike real life, no matter how bad he is at the game, he continually gets
to start fresh with a new character. Until he develops awareness that his
behavior needs to change in order the get a different outcome the result will
always be the same. I bet if he had to play the same character every time he
would lose interest very quickly.
And I think this might be exactly right. One of the things that he might like best about the game is that he gets to continually start over as a new person.
How seldom do we get that chance in real life! When I went away to college someone pointed that out to me. I was going far away, where no one knew me. I could change my style of clothing, change anything about me that I wanted and everybody would just accept it as who I was. I don't think I made any huge changes in anything, but the idea of a total fresh start was very appealing.
And Frankie gets to do that over and over. Whatever happens when he plays his ninety minutes* of game time, he gets to sit down with the manual and plan out who he will be next. Will he be a tall and graceful spell-casting woman from the Alliance? Or a strong, burly troll warrior woman from the Horde? I heard him telling the boys last night that he though next time he might be a boy -- so that he could join them.
They responded of course they way they always do. If he sticks with a character until it gets to level 10 they will help him.
But I don't know if he will.
The seduction of starting over, of being someone new anytime you want to be, even I can see the attraction in that.
*I told his babysitter recently that he got 90 minutes of play time and he responded with outrage. "Uh huh! I get an hour and a half!"
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Frankie is still obsessed with W*rld of W*rcraft. When he isn't playing it he is talking about it or reading about it. I mean really. If you start a conversation about something else he will talk about that, at least for a while. If you pause though he will probably say something like, "I want to get my character new armour. What do you call those things that over the bottom of your leg, but not the top?"
Now being 15 or 10 and obsessed with a video game is not outside the normal range of behavior.
But the combination of being obsessed with it, being really bad at it and not getting better even though he keeps playing is mystifying to me. I have trouble understanding how the obsession continues when he does poorly.
This is what happens: he creates a character who has strengths in the areas that he previous character did not.* He then goes out on his own, perceiving that none of the other characters like him, and hunts down beasties. He spends his money recklessly, takes on beasties he is not strong enough to defeat, and ends up with a character who is low on health and has no money. This character having failed him, he deletes it and creates a new one.
And makes the same sort of mistakes again.
This is called "perseverating," right?
It's just odd, especially since he doesn't seem to be having a great deal of fun, at least while he is playing. When he is playing he seems mostly frustrated. When he is not he is very excited about whatever he plans on doing next time.
His motor skills are horrible. He could trip over air. He holds implements in what my mother used to call the "shovel grip." It means of course that he has to use his whole arm to get food from his plate to his mouth, but it isn't something that I have been concerned to correct.
But yesterday I made soup for dinner. Frankie was very excited about the "homemade noodles" (direct from the local grocery store freezer). He cupped his bowl in his left hand, scooped soup with the ladle with his right, and then poured hot soup all over the bowl and his hand. The ladle probably holds about a cup, and only a few tablespoons landed in the bowl.
Fortunately the soup had been off the burner for a while, so it was not scalding hot. It did hurt though. He yelled, "ouch."
And then he did it again.
He did not seem to take a moment to think about it. If he changed his grip or speed or anything about how he did it, I could not see it. He got the same results. On the third scoop, after cheerfully refusing my assistance, he managed to get mostly noodles and very little broth into the ladle and most of those landed in the bowl. Pleased with his success he carried the bowl off and ate his noodles.
He's just such an odd duck. So lacking in the abilities that he needs and so cheerful.
Most of the time.
Is this FASD? Low IQ? ADD?
And I know in some ways it just doesn't matter, because whatever the cause, it is Frankie.
But I can't help wondering.
*For those who don't play WoW or live with those who do, you get to choose what race (human, elf, troll, etc.) you want to be and what occupation (mage, warrior, etc) you want. Each sort of character has different strengths and weakness. You can be good at healing yourself or others, good at casting spells, good at fighting, but no character is good at everything. I'm sure Maerlowe can explain it better and more completely!
Dawn so often makes me think. She wrote today about Madison crying at pre-school and how understanding adoption issues helps her to deal with it. I left a comment about parallels in children who foster, but there are already comments there about why she has to think about adoption in order to deal with Madison crying. I mean, lots of kids cry at pre-school right? Does it matter why? Don't you just deal with it?
Those comments have got me thinking -- how much does understanding the cause of our children's behaviors matter when we have to deal with those behaviors?
For me, understanding helps a good deal.
It helps because I am such an imperfect parent. See, I have this tendency to think that behaviors are somehow about me, or are at the very least behaviors that I should be able to fix easily.
If I had a kid, like Madison who was cheerful, friendly, and confident who cried whenever I dropped her off at preschool I might be inclined to think that the child just didn't want to be there and was trying to manipulate me. Or when Frankie just won't stop talking, I might think he was trying to annoy me, pushing my buttons, seeing how long I could hold out before I screamed. When Ann would absolutely refuse to follow a direct command, even one as simple as "Put on your seatbelt" I would see it merely as a power struggle -- a rebellion against ME.
And if I feel personally insulted, my emotions come into it and ... well ... it goes badly. But if I understand that it is not about me, if I take the way it makes me feel out of the equation (not easy) and understand it from the child's perspective, it is easier. At least a little.
So let's take Ann becoming defiant at anything expressed as a command. First I know that children, like other human beings, tend not to respond well to direct orders, but her reaction is excessive. I did not bark "Put on your seatbelt." I just noticed that it wasn't on.
If I did not understand her, I think I would have just gotten angry. I would have seen only a child who refused to do even the simplest of things. I might think, "I am the parent and I will not let her get away with this." So I would order her to do it. She, of course, would become more defiant. And we are off to the races.
But I "get" Ann and on that evening at least I was on top of my game. I knew how little control Ann had had over her life in general and in that moment in particular. On that particular drive I had picked her up from visiting the place she had lived for seven years, the place she wanted to go back to. I was driving her to my house where I knew she felt guilty for, in some ways, being happier. Her life was unstable; adults she didn't even know were in the process of deciding where she would live, and she was barely holding it together. She needed to feel like she had some control in her life.
So knowing that, I knew it wasn't about me. So I did not feel hurt and angry.
I also knew it was not safe or legal for me to drive with her unbuckled -- and I knew she knew it too. So I pulled over to the side of the road and said, "I'll wait." She sat with her arms crossed staring out front. I waited. She said, "Are you really just going to sit here and do nothing!" "Yes. I can't drive unless you are buckled up."
She glared. I waited.
She said, "This is so stupid!" I said, "I quite agree." She said, "I HATE it when you say that." I said, "I know" and I turned on the radio, put my hands in my lap and waited.
After another minute or so she put it on and I drove off. I made a "conversation start" about something. I don't know what. Probably not "Read any good books lately?" but it was something unrelated to seatbelts.
Now did I need to understand her to handle this fairly well? Technically no. Psychologically yes.
If I had seen the behavior as being (just) a challenge to my authority, it would have been much more difficult for me to stay calm. Seeing it as the understandable attempt of a girl to excerise just a little control over her environment made it easier to be sympathetic and patient while I waited for her to realize that this particular thing was also not something she could control.
Understanding is not a magic bullet, it doesn't always "work."
Even though I know that Frankie isn't talking non-stop to annoy me, I get annoyed. Even if I understand that controlling that behavior is difficult for him, I still get frustrated when I am tired and he Just. Doesn't. Stop.
And there were times when I did turn to Ann with fire in my eyes and said loudly, or with quiet rage, "You will NOT talk to me like that young lady." That never worked as well as saying, "Come find me when you are feeling better and we will talk", but I did it.
And there were behaviors that no amount of understanding allowed me to deal with. I could understand her need to establish a pecking order with the kids. I believe that, given how she had lived for so long, establishing and re-establish her dominance was what she needed to feel safe. I also saw what it was doing to Andrew and Brian and I finally had to call the social worker and say that this was not going to work out.
So there is no magic here, but still I find that understanding where my children's behavior comes from helps.
At least some of the time
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Yesterday, after the bus trip, a couple of silling little things went wrong. And as Maggie knows, sometimes the big things are easy. It's tripping over the pieces of metal the kid drug in from the rubish heap and left in the dining room that throw you over the edge.
Anyway, after muttering very bad words, taking the pieces of metal outside, tossing them into the rubish heap, and, unknown to me, scaring Frankie who was at the other edge of the heap behind the garage still digging for treasure, I took a break. Later I wandered back into the kitchen and complained about the inability of my family to put dishes in the dishwasher. Frankie was there and said, "I put all my dishes in the dishwasher."
Now he may or may not have put ALL his dishes in the dishwasher, but I am confident he remembered putting something in so I said, "You're a good boy" in a voice that sounded quite sincere, if I do say so myself.
Frankie grinned and said, "Don't you wish I were your real, natural-born son?" I gave him a quick hug, forgetting he doesn't like hugs and said, "I'm just glad your mine, however you got here!"
His grin got even bigger.
Monday, September 17, 2007
So I recently found out that the public bus goes by the charter school and within blocks of my house. So, today one of the other parents drove me to the school so I could ride the bus with the kids and show them how easy it would be.
Now, the bus only comes once an hour, and it is a wave 'em down system. There should be actual bus stops later, but for now you gotta watch and wave.
Fortunately, one of the kids was home sick (you will see why that was fortunate later). I collected the kids, we got across the busy four lane road and stood under the sign for the big city high school. We accidentally waved at a couple of charter busses and one RV, but that was no big deal.
The big deal was when the bus we needed came barreling down the road, in the inside lane, and did not even see us waving away.
So I'm trying to be cheerful. I call the mom who dropped me off, who is on the freeway half way home. School's been out for 25 minutes, the next bus doesn't come for an hour, and we are currently stuck.
I called the bus company and told them what happened.
They sent a car for us. I hadn't actually told them that it wasn't me, and it was a small car, but we managed to squeeze all three boys into the back seat. See why it was good that there weren't more of us?
Anyway, it turned out that the woman in the car was the dispatch supervisor. She assured us we were standing in a good place, in fact they pick up kids at the high school right there all the time. It was a new driver though who was picking up for a bus that had broken down and he was thinking that his route started five blocks from where we were (where the bus route turns to come back the other way). She said it should never happen again.
It took her a while, zipping around town, onto the freeway and back down to the boulevard, but she finally caught up with our bus and we sat on it for the last 10 minutes of what was supposed to be a 50 minute ride.
I promised the kids I would ride with them again before making them do it alone.
We did get the ride free though.
I am really hoping that the kids don't whine too much to their parents about it -- you know, so they parents will all agree to this system for getting them home. I've picked out a spot where I can park to meet the bus as it comes into town. They can all get out and right into the van and I will drive them to their homes.
I think the next time I will ride the bus from here and meet them there. That way I can make sure the bus stops!
Posted by Yondalla at 4:36 PM
Sunday, September 16, 2007
One person emailed and asked for some help on this issue. On one hand a straight woman is probably not the right person to write this post. I can't really tell you what it is like to be trans. On the other hand, I have had to think about it and figure it out, so maybe I am the right person. In either case, I think a blog post on the topic is needed and I am going to give it a try. I hope my queer readers correct and complete what I say in the comments.
The short answer is that sexual orientation is about who you are attracted to (in all senses of that word), and identity is who you are.
I ask you to take a moment and think about each of those separately. For me it is easier to go back to my childhood thoughts. When you were eight what did you think about the other children of your gender, and what did you think about the opposite gender?
Here are the things in my experience I refer to help me understand.
When I was in elementary school I remember watching the "giggly girls." I thought they were a different breed of girl. I was not like them. Sometimes I joined their games, but I was never certain what they were laughing about. They seemed to have learned some rules about giggling, whispering, and squealing that I never learned. I had a strong sense of being different from them.
But it never occurred to me that I might be a boy. It was clear to me that I was a different sort of girl. I was not one of those loud, raucous, competitive boys. I was a quiet, bookish, shy girl.
I had my first crush on a boy when I was in kindergarten. I don't remember what I felt, except that I was pleased that that boy was my boyfriend. The real stirrings of passion happened, as it did for all of us, in puberty. There were boys that I thought were cute, but one in particular that I wanted to be my boyfriend. I imagined kissing him, but mostly I imagined holding hands.
Being heterosexual did not mean just that when I had sexual fantasies I fantasized about boys. It meant that I imagined dancing and going on walks in the woods with boys. I wanted a boy to like me "like that." Long before I was ready for sex, I wanted a boyfriend. After I was ready for sex I wanted one too. But it was never just about sex. I never wanted to be with Hubby merely because I was sexually attracted to him. Being heterosexual meant that the people I am inclined to fall in love with are male.
That's sexual orientation.
I have a fairly good imagination and I can make up stories in my head in which I am different from who I am. I can imagine myself as Queen of the World, loved and obeyed by all. I can imagine myself as Buffy fighting... well, I can imagine myself as Willow casting a supportive spell.
I can also imagine falling in love with a woman. I can form a picture of who I would be if I were a lesbian.
However, if you ask me to imagine myself as a hawk, what I imagine is me in a hawk's body. I imagine what it would be like to soar on air. I don't know that I can imagine myself being a hawk. Once I am imagining sitting on a branch, springing into flight when a mouse appears, grabbing it in my talons and ... okay, done now. The point is that the more I think about being a real hawk, the less it feels like I am imagining ME at all.
With me so far?
So on a scale of 1 to 10, my ability to imagine myself as Queen of All I Survey is about a 10. My ability to imagine myself as a hawk in any meaningful way is about a 1. My ability to imagine myself being a man -- well -- it's about a 3 or 4. Just like imagining being a hawk, it is difficult to figure out what it would be for me to be me and a man at the same time. What I tend to imagine is me stuck in a man's body.
Now I have one more thought experiment for you. It is not one that any of my trans friends have found helpful, but it is the thing that made it "click" for me.
My husband gave me a DVD copy of Trick for Mother's Day (yeah, I know). He gave it to me because I love it. It is a sweet story of two young men falling in love, and one of those men is hot. I watch the movie and every time I sigh when they finally kiss. It is sweet and romantic. And if I imagine myself taking the place of one of those men in that kiss -- I'm a woman every time.
An anonymous commentor says:
Maybe some of Frankie's conviction that he wanted to present as a girl was a
form of rebellion, (unconsciously) calculated to enrage his previous caregivers?
Or something that he only wanted as long as it wastruly unattainable? It sounds
like now that he has the opportunity to explore this option in safety, he's just
not that interested with the reality of it. Although, of course, I suppose this
could change in a heartbeat! :-)
My gut tells me that desire to be a girl wasn't to upset caregivers. It could be, but I don't think so.
I still think his desire to be a girl is one of several things:
1. He is transexual.
2. He is something between a boy or a girl, or part boy and girl.
3. He is a gay boy who has reasoned that if he were a girl then he would be straight.
4. Fantasizing about being a girl has been something that has somehow kept him safe. Like imagining that you are really a superhero, or that you are really the child of a very rich family who is looking for you and will come and take you away.
Normally I would not suspect 3 or 4. But Frankie is a special case and ... well ... either of them seem quite possible to me. One of the reasons that I stitched up the falsies is to see whether it renews his interest in presenting as a girl.
By the way, I tend to assume y'all understand the difference between being gay and being trans. I know from inviting speakers to my classes that most of my students don't. Does anyone want me to try to write a post about how I understanding it? Or maybe even try to get a guest trans poster? The later option would probably be anonymous.
I finally got around to stitching shut Frankie's sock falsies that he has had for so long. They are made out of socks, some sort of grain, and were tied shut with a knot. Now they are stitched neatly across.
I gave them to him and he decided to practice juggling with them.
There's just something wrong about that.
Posted by Yondalla at 1:17 PM
I said that Frankie was very calm yesterday, but I thought I would write a separate post about why I am grateful, surprised, and watchful.
Frankie would tell you that this house is the best place he has lived. It is the first place where he can present as a girl (which by the way he does far less than I expected -- maybe it is the icky falsies). It is the first place in a long time (maybe the only place ever?) where there was consistently plenty of food and an open-door policy to the kitchen. Frankie still adores that he can make himself a sandwich or get a bowl of cereal any time he wants.
And there is a "TV dad, like on the Brady's." Now Hubby is not really all that much like Mr. Brady, but he kinda is to Frankie. Hubby gives himself breaks, but when he interacts with Frankie he turns on that Mister Rogers thing. Yesterday Hubby came home excited that he found a full-size basketball hoop and stand outside a thrift store for $20! Hubby is not a big sports player, but he would be very willing to go out and play basketball with boys who are even less good at it than he is. I think Frankie likes him more than he does the open kitchen.
And Frankie feels deeply guilty for "abandoning" his father. His father is not an evil person. Like David's mother, he is one of the millions of people in this world who do not have the skills to take care of themselves. In a more ideal world, they would live with their children in supportive environments where they were all cared for. In a more ideal world, David and Frankie would have never been separated from their parents, and no one would have expected those parents to be able to provide food or structure. Our social services doesn't (can't?) distinguish between parents who are loving but genuinely incapable of coping with the world, and people who under any circumstances would be bad for their children.
Where David hated his mother for failing him, Frankie currently hates himself for failing his father. I think he took on a fair amount of the adult responsibilities. I imagine that his father did try harder to keep a job and keep them fed when Frankie was around. Frankie imagines that after he left for good that his dad spiralled downward. He may be right about that part.
So the story that Frankie is telling himself is that he was selfish and unwilling to fulfill his responsibilities. He wanted things he should not have wanted. He called in the state, abandoned his dad, and now he has all the things he wanted and did not deserve.
So what will happen next?
If I were the naive parent I was seven years ago I might have just expected that Frankie would be grateful and happy for all the good things I am providing.
Now I know that he could go the other way. He could respond by punishing himself and everyone who dared to give him the things he doesn't think he deserves. He might inflict pain on himself or damage to property. So I find myself looking around and thinking, "Is there anything out here that it would break your heart if he destroyed? Better baton down the hatches; there could be one heck of a storm on the horizon."
What I hope though is that Frankie will be able to deal with is feelings in counseling, by talking and crying with us, and by beating up wufs in WoW. If it works out that way I will be grateful and happy.
Yesterday Frankie was calm and happy. He spent the first couple hours he was awake playing WoW and just about the entire rest of the day looking through a manual trying to decide which new character would be the least expensive since all his characters run out of money.
I am told by the boys that he runs out of money because he spends it impulsively; attacks "wufs" and other things without strategy or help;' and uses very expensive shorter means for self-rescue. I don't know if it is a lack of attention span thing, or a difficulty understanding that actions have consequences thing.
I was leaning heavily towards the consequences part, but he seems to get that in real life.
Anyway, he did not bring up his father and I let it go too. I did bring up his mom -- whom he has not lived with since he was 9 (when he first went to live with his dad). He was pretty calm about her. He wonders why she hasn't called when she has his number and said she would, but it doesn't seem to bother him much.
While it seems like he would give anything to back in time and do things differently with his father, he has no desire to live with his mom, at least now. Maybe when he is 17 she will have her life together enough that he will want to live her now.
I pointed out that the program he was in was for kids to stay in until they were ready to live alone. He said, "Yeah. I know." At that point he seemed bored or irritated with the topic, so I let it go.
I'm glad he has a really good counselor and that he is going to be seeing said counselor twice a week for a while. A whole lot is bubbling to the surface and though I hope it continues to come out in language and not action, well... it would be unusual.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
One of the things I want the blog to do is help people understand something of what it means to care for traumatized children, and sometimes this goal is hampered by my very important duty to protect Frankie's privacy. I try to share my journey in taking care of him, and that often means talking about what he is like and what he is doing, but his past, that I try to keep private.
I shared here that I wondered at Frankie's attitude towards his own past -- the lack of expression of trauma. One of you said that it was probably going to be like the gender identity stuff - no hint and then BAM! Was it Cathy? I think so...or was it Innocent Observer? Whoever you are -- leave a comment and take credit for being right!
Over the past few weeks Frankie would mention something about his past in ways that were surreal. Like talking about how much fun he had during the time he and his dad were homeless.
Yesterday he mentioned something else. It was all in a stream of ADD-generated conversation. Here is the extremely edited version, "I have this feature, because this happened." "How did that happen Frankie?" "Well, xxxx, and xxxxx, but I don't do that anymore. So now I still have this feature, but it isn't as bad as acne. Do you know how to get rid of black heads? I can't make them go away and I really hate them."
And in my brain I am screaming "WTF????" What he is casually sharing is, as far as I know, not in his file. I am not sure that he even understands that it should not have happened. Is this information bubbling to the surface because he feels relaxed with us? Is he testing to see if we can hear this without freaking out? Could it be that this information for him is not more significant that that he likes pizza and hates his blackheads?
Later, after everyone else had gone to bed, and Frankie was more tired than he should have been for this conversation, I asked him if he wanted to tell me more about what he had said earlier. He did, and seemed to notice right away that though I was quiet, I disapproved of his father's part in it all. I wanted to figure out a way to say, "Frankie. That was wrong. Good parents don't do that." And I know on the scale of things that might have happened to him, this is one of the lesser ones. And Frankie wants to convince me that I am wrong.
It sounds bad, but I don't understand. It's like parents who take their children rock climbing. You might think they are exposing their children to danger, but they know what they are doing and they are safe. (Frankie did not use that example, but it works). I see his passionate defense of his father and I cannot argue with him. I cannot tell him his father is was an irresponsible parent.
"You love him very much." I say.
He nods and then the flood pours out. He wants to tell his dad how sorry he is. Everything is his fault. He just wanted attention. He wanted a TV dad, like Hubby, and a cell phone, and things. He just wanted things. So he lied and he manipulated and he got the state's attention. And his father was a good father who was poor, and who had never hurt him. He had hit him, but never hard. Frankie had bruised himself. Frankie had lied about being hungry. He did it because he thought living in a foster home would be better, but it wasn't.
And when they took him away, his father fell apart. He couldn't cope anymore without his son.
There was no end to the guilt that Frankie expressed. His stories about how he manipulated everyone, made everything up, created evidence to back up his story were too fantastical to be believed. Did he ever exaggerate? Probably. Could he have manufactured everything we read in that file? No.
And Frankie, in his innocence, did not realize that the new picture he was painting of his father, a "gentle fool" who needed his son to cope with reality and who was so easily manipulated was not one which would have made the state decide to let him stay.
We did try to convince him that the state did not make their decisions based upon his word alone. We tried to convince him that it is not a child's job to take care of his father. It all kept coming back to the same thing though. If he had never made that first complaint to his teacher. If he hadn't said he couldn't sit down because of bruises he now says he gave himself, he would never have attracted that state's attention. They would have been poor, but they would have been okay.
But he, Frankie, destroyed it all. He manipulated people -- because he wanted a TV dad and a cell phone.
At some point we realized that nothing we were going to say, and no amount of listening, was going to get him off this track. We finally suggested he go to bed. He went.
This morning he is calm -- spending his Saturday budget on WoW before the doing anything else, as usual.
Clearly Frankie is feeling safe enough to start talking. It seems equally obvious that he is bonding deeply to Hubby and feeling very guilty about it. In the beginning of the conversation, before Hubby joined us, Frankie said that Hubby was the sort of dad he had wanted. The kind that helps you with your homework and does things with you.
I wrote his counselor and social worker. Hopefully he can talk about this with the counselor. He has a lot to work out.
And I am amazed with him. I am amazed that living here could trigger this much guilt and he could respond by crying and talking about it. I would expect him to feel he didn't deserve it and act out violently or destructively in order to loose it.
He's a pretty incredible kid.
Friday, September 14, 2007
I have had more than one person tell me that, as endearing as Frankie seems to be, there is no way they could live with them.
And I absolutely must reply to them because I cannot take the credit that is being offered to me. It all goes to Hubby.
He is a special education teacher, and I gotta say, he's a good one.
He spends more time with Frankie than I do. This is a marked change from the previous kids. Every now and then I felt like foster care was considered, by him, to be my hobby in which he fully supported me. That was never true, but when I was tired and overwhelmed it felt true.
Now though it is different. He and Frankie have really bonded. Hubby has this "Mister Rogers"* voice that I didn't really know he had. Frankie comes bounding in, talking loudly and not stopping, and Hubby says in a gentle, slow, quiet voice. "That's interesting. Where did you learn that?" (Or something else appropriate). After about two responses from Hubby, Frankie is sitting down, actually listening to Hubby and having a conversation.
Late in the evening when I know my husband is getting tired -- and I am just plain checking out -- he will turn on a recorded comedy routine. Frankie will laugh and ask questions. Hubby will pause it and say things like, "Nobody can understand that character. That is what makes the sketch funny. The funny thing is seeing how everybody else tries to figure out what to do."
I don't want any of you to think that I am not interacting with Frankie. I am, just not nearly as much as Hubby is.
And Hubby isn't a saint either. Wednesday evening he went spent four hours with all three boys, getting two of them to meetings, getting fast food dinner, and buying us a new microwave. When he got back he mouthed, "I need a break." So I gave him one.
With kids like Frankie, you need a team.
Before Mister Rogers died I heard an interview with him on NPR. Mister Rogers said, enunciating every word perfectly, "People say that I speak slowly. I don't think that I do. Does it seem to you that I speak slowly?" The interviewer just laughed, as I was doing.
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Email from me to social worker: "Do you know if Frankie's mom was given our phone number? It is still okay with me, although maybe (with Frankie's permission) we should give her his cell phone number."
Email from social worker to me 30 minutes later: "I just gave 'Emily' both of Frankie's numbers. How is he doing in school?"
And so why do I feel like crying? It occurs to me that I might be angry that the social worker gave Frankie's cell phone number without asking his permission, but I know that he would have agreed without hesitation. I cannot work up anger over that.
I know that I wish I had said that I would rather she had not given the house number, if it wasn't too late. I'm afraid. Not that she will do something mean or dangerous. I am just afraid of dealing with her. I had fantasy that she would only have Frankie's number. She would only talk to him and she would never be quite real for me. If she upset him, I could change Frankie's cell number. I would have the power of drawing a curtain around us.
But I have been assured, and I do believe the assurance, that she is no danger to him or to us. The worst things she may do is promise to visit or call and then not show up. I don't want to measure how bad that would be to Frankie, but it is clear that it is not something that is dangerous to me.
I read Dawn's article about meeting Jessica, and like Baggage today, I am jealous of their relationship. I want to be chosen by my children's mothers.
Sometimes I think it is ethically easier for those of use who care for children from foster care. We can tell ourselves that the children are better off. The children we love were once physically abused, neglected, abandoned. They were traumatized. Now they are safe and nurtured. Surely we foster parents are angels of mercy.
But talk to Frankie and ask him what was the worst day of his life, and he will tell you it was the day when the police, the people from the government he had been taught to fear, came and bodily took him from his father. He will tell you about how he struggled and fought, about how many people it took to carry him off, about how his father cursed and cried and struggled with even more police officers.
And if you ask him if he wasn't better off afterwards, he will look at you like you are crazy. He went to live with people he did not know. People who told him he was safe and then told him he was a pervert when he shared that he really wanted to be a girl. He was forbidden to be alone with other children. He was forced to attend school. He was sent to a high-security group home.
He was angry and afraid and with every expression of that anger he went some place with tighter security.
If you ask, he will say that he likes our house. He likes that he can eat when he wants, that we purchase rye bread that no one likes but him. He likes that we accept that he wants to be a girl. And he is increasingly frustrated and confused by all the people who say they support him and then tell him that he can't see a doctor to get hormonal treatment.
And if you ask about his parents, he will tell you about all the marvelous things his father taught him. He will smile about how frustrating it can be to live with someone who, it must be confessed, was crazy, but it was a whole lot more fun than the places the governtment put him. Yes, his father hit him sometimes, but he was not as mean and controlling as the people at the institution.
And his mother? He is proud of his mother. He will tell you of her accomplishments, though he will acknowledge that it was difficult to move around so much. And do you want to see pictures of his sisters? He doesn't have recent ones, not good ones, but do you want to see them? He misses his sisters.
And me? I am not the heroine of his story. I'm the best thing to happen to him since he was kidnapped.
No, there is no ethical high ground in foster care. Whether it was the first family or the state or both who traumatized these children, we are privileged to parent these kids only because someone else hurt them.
But for me it was easier with the others. The decisions that resulted in Carl, David, and Evan being separated from their mothers had been made, and not by me. Perhaps they were unjust. Perhaps they were the best decisions that could be made given the injustices of the world. But in any case they were in the past. I was presented with a child who had no home to go to. Would I open mine?
But things with Frankie are so much more difficult.
And I did not sign up for this. I never tell anyone, including myself, that they should not talk about how difficult it is because "after all, they signed up for it." Signing up for it doesn't mean ... well it doesn't mean much of anything.
But not signing up for it ... I find myself thinking it. Wanting to tell people.
I did not sign up for this!
I did not ask for a child who might be taken away and given to his real, natural, true mother. I can believe with my whole heart that if his mother can parent him then she should. I can believe that it is best for him.
But I cannot want it.
I cannot love this child and hope he leaves.
I am afraid of his mother. I am afraid of how she will speak to me. Is there any chance that she will see me as a benevolent figure who offered security to her child while she fought to get him back? Or will she see me as part of the forces who work to separate her from the child she gave birth to, sang to sleep at night, whose accomplishments she celebrated and over whose agonies she wept?
I believe that if she is able to parent, she should. I believe that Frankie will be better off reunited with a mother who never stopped loving him, who fought the state to get him back. I can believe that the right thing was for me to have just a few months to show him possibilities that are waiting for him.
I believe Emily should know where her son is. She should be able to call him on the phone.
And I gave permission for her to have our phone number.
And now she has it.
And I want to cry.
Yesterday I read a post about seeking diversity at Peter's Cross Station. I left a comment there saying I was going to write my own post about it, but it got all jumbled up with how I feel about being a foster parent and about the feelings I am having particularly about Frankie's mom. But I want to try again, because sometimes when I read something written by a white parent of a non-white child I think, "Wow. Change a few of the nouns, and I could have written that."
Anyway, I gave up on it yesterday, because I could not keep focused. I'm going to try to write about what it means, to me, to be a heterosexual married woman rearing queer kids, about having chosen to parent queer kids, and that seems carries meaning and obligation.
It means educating myself about what it means to be gay or trans in this world, and yet holding back and knowing that I cannot figure out what it means to be Carl, or David, or Evan or Frankie in this world. But it is not just that. I cannot sit at home and read books and try to understand. It is not intellectual work, or not only.
Initially I thought it meant striving to form friendships with people in the GLBT community for the sake of my kids. I thought I needed to have these relationships so that I could get advice I needed and so that my children would have positive role models. So I put myself in places where I could meet people who could give me that advice and become those role models. For the most part it worked, and I have never sensed that the people I approached honestly resented that motivation.
But something happened along the way. First, some of the people I made attempts to get to know became friends. People that I simply enjoyed being with.
And the more fully I thought of myself as a mother to Carl, David, Evan, and now Frankie, the more my sense of my relationship to the GLBT community changed. In some ways it is just that I feel relaxed where once I would have felt awkward. And usually I have felt accepted. Not always of course. There have been times when I assumed that I would be welcomed and found myself wanting to justify my right to sit at the table.
But it is more than that. Where once I would have been an advocate for gay rights, now I am passionate on behalf of my children. Once I might have said that civil unions were not an adequate substitute for marriage, but perhaps was a compromise that should be accepted. Now I hear myself saying, "If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck and turns into an egg when you cross state lines, it isn't a duck. It is a decoy to confuse and pacify us."
And I mean us. We are talking about my children, their potential spouses, and my hoped-for grandchildren.
Parenting children from a community other than my own has meant for me not that I need to diversify my world, so that my children will feel safer here. It has meant for me that I have to claim a space in their world. I have to walk where I do not fully belong. I have to learn to say, with Abigail Garner, "We are not allies. We're family."
As I said in the beginning, this post did not become what I expect it to become.
You see, it is something of a motivational speech for myself.
It is not enough to buy Frankie dresses and let him present as a girl at home. It is not enough to have a transwoman friend to invite into my home to answer his questions.
Committing to parenting him means more than that. It means taking a deep breath and walking with him into the Transexual Support Group meeting.
Because he wants me to.
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
So I have been tired and cranky and feeling over-whelmed. I started work less well prepared than usual. I was just far enough along that if I worked like a crazy woman I could get everything done.
I did, and I turned into a crazy woman, but it was a gradual process.
Last evening, Brian said that he could not do his math homework because he wrote down the problems but not the page number. Hubby lectured him about how this was just like last year and Brian needed to be more responsible. I got his math book and asked him to show me the last assignment he was sure he did. With a voice that exuded patience and positive parenting skills I said, "Do you need to do these problems?" "No. We did all those!" "Okay...the next two assignments don't have problems 31-50, they stop around 30.... Now this is a new chapter on Real Numbers." "I remember that! We talked about real numbers today!" "Okay...this assignment goes to 54 is this..." "Yeah! That's the one we started in class!"
He did his homework and then told me that he had to have a coat for tomorrow morning (today) and that none of his coats fit him. I went to the mud room and found the freaking coat I bought him last spring.
Last night I wanted to talk to Hubby about something. I forget what, but I know it was very important. Frankie came in with these new cards he has (I think they have something to do with WoW. Everything has something to do with WoW) and wanted Hubby to read the interesting factoids on them. Frankie knows I'm not into that sort of thing. They read one set together. There were things like, "To kill a person is bad; to kill an idea is a travesty." Frankie asked Hubby to confirm that they were profound and Hubby agreed the were.
Throughout he gave me kind glances that basically said, "I know you have no patience with this, but see, I'm doing it."
Then Frankie left and I started talking to Hubby again. Did I remember to tell you that it was very important, and that I don't remember what it was? Anyway, Frankie came right back with more cards and Hubby said, "Just read me your favorite one." So Frankie did, and then said very quickly "This one will be YOUR favorite it says...." Then he stood up took two steps and said, "This might be my favorite, it says...." And then he got as far as the door and said, "OH! This one is good! It says..."
I was quiet and did a lot of deep breathing.
Later, I went into the kitchen and saw what a terrible job Brian and Frankie had done cleaning up (Andrew had cooked us a gourmet meal of grilled cheese and canned soup) and muttered something angry. Frankie, who is not yet used to me being angry, jumped up and came running in and asked how he could help. I have him a job and then called in Brian to finish it. "Just me? Why aren't you making Frankie help?" I said something irritated, but not mean.
They worked on it. It was still a mess and I finished it and went to be early.
I woke up still angry. Do you ever do that? Wake up wanting to fight with someone?
I didn't wake Brian up gently after he slept through his alarm. He always sleeps through his alarm. I filled up on the light and said "Get up!"
Hubby asked me what times the boys appointments are this evening, and I stared daggers at him while I told him again, for the like the 10th time. Hubby left to shower and I asked Andrew if he had packed a lunch for his band thing.
"It was cancelled?"
"I told Dad like four days ago."
"Do you know that we hired someone to watch Frankie?"
"I did tell Dad four days ago."
"When, in your entire life, has telling Dad something like that kept you out of trouble with me??"
Andrew watched me silently, knowing there is NO right answer to that inappropriate question.
"Well, I want you to know that when you get home there will be a highly qualified, highly paid babysitter in the house and you have to do whatever she says."
If I had known that Andrew was going to be there I might have hired the sitter anyway, although I would have told her both that Andrew was going to be home and that she did not have to worry about him.
THEN I got to work. Now I have told my students since last week to make sure they can get onto the course web page. I have told them to talk to IT if they are having trouble. I told them that if they talk to me in advance about issues, I will be accommodating.
I had an email sent last night at 8:00pm. I read it this morning and it said, "I just realized that I cannot get onto the web page and so I cannot do the assignment due today. What are my options at this point?"
I fortunately deleted the email that said, "None. You're screwed" and wrote another, more professional email that basically said the same thing.
I dare any of my students to whine to me today. I JUST DARE them.
On the up side, Hubby is taking Andrew and Frankie to their appointments this evening in The City and it will be just me and Brian home for at least four hours.