Monday, December 31, 2007

Breathing

I've been having trouble breathing. No metaphor there. I have a very mild case of asthma is less mild recently.

I had regular asthma when I was an infant. As an adult the only real asthma attack I have had was from sleeping in a very old feather bed. I am very alergic to the mites or whatever it is that lives in old feathers. I spent the night in a hotel room where they removed all the down, at my request, but put cover that had been on the down comforter on the synthetic-fill comforter. I knew as soon as I walked in the room, but it took me a while to find the down-contaminated item, since there were no down pillows or comforters around.

Anyway, I also seem to have what is called "excerise-induced asthma." It only bothers me when it is cold outside. I've dealt with it over the years by avoiding spending time outside when it was cold, and pulling my coat up over my nose when I had to walk outside for any length of time.

Two days I took the dog for a walk. She was being a pill so I did rapid reversals to remind her about heeling. That of course meant breathing in lots of cold dry air. I went home when I realized how stupid I had been. For the next hour I could not get a deep enough breath to speak loudly. I had a cough for the rest of the day.

So I am going to call the doctor and make an appointment. I've decided that I don't want to spend the winter inside.

The weird thing is tht even though I am feel better, I keep "testing" my breathing. I keep taking extra deep breaths of air to see if I can. Of course then I cough.

Ridiculous.

Quiet Days

I spent a nice day with Andrew. We drove to The City, found out that the store we intended to patronize was closed for the day, but we went to a book store and a game shop, and generally had a good time. We ate lunch at an Egyptian restaurant. We shared a large appetizer platter: hummus, baba ganoush, falafel, tabouli, kibbe, fava beans, yogurt cucumber sauce, and flat bread. Oh...and mint tea. Andrew really enjoyed it, and it was fun to spend the day with him. There were things that I needed to do, but any of you with 18-year-old boys will understand how impossible it is to do anything other than say "of course" when those boys actually want to ask to spend a day with you. I mean, I know he wanted to practice driving in the city, but still, he wanted to practice with ME.

Olivia seems to be enjoying the peace and quiet here. All Mandy's girls comment on it. Our house seems to them to be remarkably drama-free. No one screams at anyone else. No fights break out. And we all use big words, even Brian who is just 13. I'm not sure what big words he uses, but I suppose they don't seem particularly big to me.

I was told I used a lot of big words when I was in high school.

And that was before I knew what "prevaricate," "perseverate" and "apoplectic" meant. Such good words, all.

But this is our boring New Year's Eve. No parties. No wild night. Just another evening of reading, watching TV, and doing dishes. I think it is good for Olivia to have such a stretch of quiet days. And it is good for us to notice how many of them we have, if that makes sense.

Even Evan is just hanging out tonight. He wants to know if not going out to party on New Year's is lame.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Not Stupid

There is a vent between the living room, right where my favorite chair is, and Brian's bedroom where Olivia is currently staying. Last night, as I sat here working on a sudoku puzzle, I smelled cigarette smoke coming through the vent.

So I knocked on Olivia's door and opened it fairly quickly. I asked if she had been smoking. She said no, while sitting on the floor, next to the cracked window. "Funny, I could have sworn that I smelled smoke." "It must just be on my clothes. The girls at Mandy's smoke."

I have her my patented "I'm not stupid look" and said, "Okay. Well, if you did smoke, I would prefer for you to do it outside. And do shut that window before you go to sleep; it is below freezing outside." "Oh, yeah, I will!"

So I went to the bathroom to get ready for bed and she came out of her room. "Yondalla?"

"Yes?"

She trots up to me. "I hate lying to people. I just feel so guilty. I was smoking. I'm sorry."

"I figured it out."

"So you don't mind? I mean, if I smoke outside?"

"Well, I mind. I don't think you should smoke, but I have a pretty good understanding about what I can control and what I can't."

She nods, knowing herself how unsuccessful I would be at getting her to stop smoking. She laughed and told me how she burned her fingers putting out the cigarette when I came in. She told me that Mandy accepted that the other girls smoke but since she is Mandy's niece it bothers her more. "So it is okay if I just go outside?"

"Go outside, don't leave any butts lying around, and I would prefer that Brian not see you smoking."

"Okay." Pause... "Will you not tell Mandy?"

"Not unless she asks."

I didn't add, "But, you know, she's not stupid either."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Best Present Ever (update)

Roland really loves the iPod I gave him for his birthday. Since I put every single comedy album he owns it is so easy! He doesn't have to go searching through his CD's to find one. He just takes the iPod over the the stereo, speakers to which he has placed all over the house, and plugs it in! Whoo Hoo! Stand up comedy anytime, anywhere! It's so cool.

We now have a non-stop soundtrack of Allen Sherman, Bill Cosby, Dave Attell, David Sedaris (2 audiobooks), Ellen Degeneres, Geroge Carlin, Jim Gaffigan, Lewis Black (2 albums), Mike Birbiglia (2 albums), Mike Nichols & Elaine May, Monty Python (3 albums), Robin Williams (3 albums), Stephen Lynch (2 albums), Weird Al Yandovik, and we mustn't forget the compliation of the best from the Dr. Demento Show.

Best birthday present ever.

Just shoot me now.


I wonder if it would help if I have him a really good pair of lightweight headphones? The pair he has to use at the computer are large, over-the-year, noise reducing things.

___
12/29/07 -- update

Roland plugs iPod into stereo so he can listen in kitchen.

Me: "What sort of portable earphones would you like?"

Roland: "Oh, I don't need any. I have the big ones to block out noise when I'm working on the computer, but otherwise I have places all over the house where I can plug this in."

Sigh. I know.

Present for Sis and Summer Vacation with Dad

My sister, the fundamentalist Christian who always told her children that Santa was a sort of clown stores had around Christmas to sell toys, called me yesterday and said, "Santa's real! I never believed it, but he's real! Guess what he sent me?"

I guessed right and said, "So they didn't put in the card?"

"Well, there is a blank card, but it doesn't say anything! I knew it had to be you though. You are the only one I told."

What she told me was that her big worry, at that moment anyway, about school was that she had developed pains in her neck and wrists and didn't know how she could and read her text books when she starts school. So I sent her a book stand for Christmas, birthday, and congratulations on going back to school. (Yes, my sister and my husband's birthdays are immediately after Christmas.) She loves it. It can be taken to pieces for storage or carrying, and sets up quickly. She says she started reading some of her texts, even though classes don't start for another week, and she loves being able to have the book on one side and a notebook to write down all the words she doesn't know to the other side. I'm glad she liked it.
She also told me that our father has bought her plane tickets for the vacation this summer. So I guess the trip is on. The good news is that it is barely a week. My sister who will be going to classes this summer has only two weeks off and her children are unwilling to give up all time at their regular vacation spot, so they are splitting it. So they are flying in on a Monday and out on a Sunday. I doubt they will be able to fly into my father's town and make the drive to the lake in the same day. So that means Tuesday through Saturday.
It is 600 miles for us, so I suppose we will drive.
With that amount of time I suppose Andrew might even be able to get off and come along. He could help with the driving. I wonder how long it will take him to call us to confirm the dates. I know, I could call him, but see... I don't call my father. ESPECIALLY, if I think he may be drinking.
Bad memories of calling him and cathing him drunk...very bad memories.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Olivia Arrives

Well, Olivia is here. Her real first name is the same as my real first name. We have one of those names that everyone wants to shorten and both of us go with the long version. So we have fun talking to each other, "How are you doing, Olivia?"
"I'm fine, how are you Olivia?"
"I'm good, are you hungry Olivia?"
...you get the idea.

She said that all the other girls from Mandy's were complaining about where they had to go to respite, but she was happy because she likes it here.

Mandy usually asks me to take two girls, but I never told her that Frankie left. Of course she might want to give Olivia a break. Mandy normally only takes teenage girls with major behavioral problem histories. Olivia is however her actual niece, so she took her.

Olivia is a nice kid. I'm not worried about having her here. It's kind of nice every now and then to have another female in the house.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Roland's Birthday

His birthday isn't really for two more days, but Olivia is coming tomorrow for respite, so we all went out today. We usually go out for dinner for his birthday. Coming as it does right after Christmas I have had trouble getting up the energy to celebrate. He does not mind.

For his birthday I gave him my iPod Nano, which I don't use anymore since I got the Zen. Now that sounds like a pretty crummy present, but I spent two days ripping every single comedy CD he owns and putting them on the Nano. I also gave him a "gift certificate" to one audiobook to be purchased on-line. I have a subscription and get a book a month -- I told him he can have my credit for this month. He seems suitably impressed.

Now, here's the part where the joke is on me. I put his comedy CD's on it because he listens to them all the time, and they make me crazy. The first time I found most of them funny. The second time I thought they were cute. Now though I have them memorized, do not think they are all that funny, and want to scream when he plays them. I had imagined that if I put them all on the iPod he would listen with headphones when he was doing stuff in the house.

Um...no such luck.

He was very pleased with the iPod and said, "Wow, I can listen to all these albums in the car!" Sure enough, we came out of the restaurant, climbed into the van, and he found this thingamjig that allows him to attach the iPod to the car stereo via the cassette player. He plugged it in and we listened to comedy routines all the way home.

Sigh.

Happy Birthday, Sweetheart.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

My father

When I started this post I intended for it to be all about using our own experiences of pain to be better parents to traumatized children. It didn't really get there though. I will try to write about that eventually. Today this is just me ... dealing.

My sister and I agree. Our father is drinking again.

Now since I live a couple of hundred miles from him and she lives a couple of thousand miles, making these determinations is not simple. Still, there are signs.

The fact that he sent Andrew two separate birthday checks within days of each other could just be a mistake, but I don't think so.

Then there was that strange phone call. He called here and said to Roland, "So I supposed you heard from the hospital in ____." Roland said no and my father said, "Oh. Well, I guess they just called Yondalla's sister." Pause. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry it happened." Click. Yeah. Well, there are multiple possible explanations for that one, but I'm fairly confident that it involved alcohol. Certainly it involved my father being unable to speak for himself for a stretch of time. I called my sister to ask her about it. She had never received a call from any hospital or a call from our father about it.

Recently my sister told me that he has called her crying because he doesn't think I mean it when I say that, yes, we will attend the vacation he has been planning. Now maybe your father cries on the phone with your sister all the time. Mine however only does that sort of thing if he is drunk. And this vacation thing ... well, I'm trying not to think about it too much.

He has owned this piece of land by a lake since forever. Now, he was supposed to sell it right after the divorce and give my mother half of the proceeds, but that is another rant. It is relevant, because I have a certain attitude about this piece of property that makes me less than excited about it as a vacation spot. In fact, normally when I think about it I think, "When my father dies, I'm selling it and sending my mother a check." Okay, so he has this piece of property that I have all these resentful feelings about, and he has finally put two cottages on it. Now he wants for us all to go out and have some sort of idyllic vacation with our children on the lake. At best, there will be a great deal of pressure to have fun in whatever way my father has been imagining us all having fun for the past couple of years.

But I will go. Andrew really has to work next summer and is planning on staying here. He is relieved. He knows how bad it could be. Brian wants to go, and will. Well, he will if any of us do.

As I see it there are three possibilities. The first is that my father is still drinking heavily and cancels the vacation. He could do this by telling us at the last minute that something has happened to the plumbing, or else he could just not buy my sister plane tickets, or never get around to setting a firm date. He will, of course, not admit that he is calling it off because he is not sober.

The second is that he sobers up and we go out there and have a vacation in which the kids often complain about being bored, my sister and and I have fun chatting, and we all attempt to show my father how much we appreciate it all.

The last option is that he sobers up enough to get us there, and yet is still drinking. I regard this as the least likely. My father has managed to avoid any of his grandchildren seeing him when he is drunk. I have actually never seen him genuinely drunk. (Does anyone know if there are words to distinguish between the maintenance-level of inebriation alcoholics can live in and the level of inebriation that results in drunk-seeming behavior? In most of my childhood memories of my father he is holding a glass of some sort of alcoholic beverages, but I have few memories of him seeming drunk. My sister, who lived with him for a year when she was 16, has more.) In any case, I think that he will either manage to get sober or he will cancel the vacation.

So when my father calls me about it and I say that yes, if he gives me firm dates, I will put it on the calendar and I will go, he doesn't feel that I am genuinely committed to the trip. This should not be surprising, because I am not genuinely committed to the trip. So he calls my sister and cries and says that he is afraid that I won't go and will she call me and talk to me about it. And she calls me, or waits for me to call her, and we agree that he is drinking and that there is a good chance that the trip won't happen.

And part of me wants to call him and give him a lecture about how I have never broken a promise to him. I have never agreed to be somewhere and then not been there. I have certainly never agreed to do something, not done it, then accused him of lying when he asked me about it, and then shut him up when he tried to defend himself against the charge by forgiving him.

But I digress.

It's been a long time since I have been in the position of having to deal with my father when he was not sober. He joined AA, for the first time, about 20 years ago. Since then there have been stretches when he is in communication and sober, and times when he has been out of communication and drinking. Some of those stretches of not hearing from him have lasted a couple of years ago. The last one was around 2000 -- I know because I was dealing with it when Carl was moving in. I know that at the beginning of that school year he almost got fired, again, and was given a leave of absence to go to rehab, again. I know that the charge of public drunkenness was dropped because the judge determined that his office on the weekend wasn't a public place, and though his not being fired included a commitment not to be drunk in his office again, weekend, evenings and days.

My father only finally retired this past year. I wondered if he would start drinking again when he did. I also wonder if he will be able to stop drinking. Getting sober in the past has only happened because he was given a leave of absence from work and sent to rehab. He had to get sober in order to go back to work.

And so what will happen this time?

I have such a feeling of tiredness when I think of him.

I have avoided having any sort of relationship with him for decades. When he first got sober, when I was in my 20's, I felt that I somehow was obligated to try to build a relationship with him. I wasn't confident that sobriety was going to make him into a better person. When I got his step nine letter I got over that. I threw it out, but I still remember it. He wanted to apologized for anything he might have done or any way he might have hurt me by what he had not done. I was fairly outraged over all the "might haves." I stomped around for a few days or years mumbling out loud, "might have? Just covering your basis, huh? Because maybe, just maybe your drinking affected me? Can't actually think of anything, but there's always a chance."

And this is why Evan going to rehab sent me to therapy. In my experience there are two kinds of addicts. There is the sort that you meet who have been in recovery for years who tell you that the are recovering addicts or alcoholics. Those of course one believes, because why would they lie? Then there are the sort that you know while they are drinking who maybe attempt recovery, but should not be trusted because they are going to start drinking again.

Sigh.

Anyway, it seemed something important to note on the blog. My father is drinking again and he no longer has a job to sober up for and a boss to tell him to go get sober. He is 68 years old. I don't know if he will sober up, and I though I feel sad, I find that I can't bring myself to hope for anything in particular. I have never had confidence in his ability to remain sober. I have always imagined that his life would end from alcohol poisoning, or liver failure, or from an alcohol-related car accident.

I find myself, sometimes, wishing he would just get it over with.

Updates on Ann, Miss E and Jackie

I just spoke with Mandy about Olivia coming over in a couple of days, and I got the scoop on some of the girls.

Jackie is struggling along in her first year of independence. She came home to Mandy for Christmas. She is still suffering under the delusion common to adolescents in foster care: that at 18 they are adults who should be able to take care of themselves. Forget that most young people are supported by their parent at college or actually continue to live with their parents for years past that. Ah well, Jackie will come around and accept help...

...as apparently Miss E has. I don't know exactly what that means, but she was spotted at the agency's Christmas party and her social worker reported reassured someone that she had agreed to accept help even though she is 18. And it turns out that she reported her last foster family for abuse -- just as she had every other family she ever lived with. It makes me sad because I know she believes what she reports. When Mandy said, "I love you, " Miss E experienced it as a clumsy attempt at emotional manipulation.

And Ann not only sent Mandy a Christmas card, she telephoned her. Ann expects to graduate on schedule this spring. Mandy, who parented her for 7 1/2 years of her life, is thrilled that Ann wants to be back in contact. Mandy said when someone asked Ann who she was talking to she said, "My mommy."

And that's the news.

Christmas report

Christmas with teenagers is very different than with young children. Teenagers know the presents will be there when they get up...later. I finally told the kids who were up at 9:00am that they could wake up the ones who were not.

We had a really nice day. The boys were all thoughtful, generous and gracious. I enjoy seeing what presents they decided to get for each other, and their pleasure at what they have received. David is still surviving on too little money and did not bring presents. Though I am sure the other boys knew that would happen, they did not hesitate to give presents to him. Two of the presents the boys gave had been order too late over the Internet, so they printed off photos and wrapped those. Everyone had a good time.

Poor Carl is alone in his city far away. He lives in a house with half a dozen young men, and it is easy to get lost in the shuffle. He works at a cosmetic counter in a large department store and the last few days he has had to deal with a lot of people suddenly realizing that they forgot to get anything for someone or other. These are not people who are making joyful purchases -- these are people who want something fast! It has been tough for him. We all chatted with him on the phone.

Mostly though it was a quiet evening. Of course there was that excitement when Roland and Andrew spilled some of the juices from the roasting pan and the Shih Tzu, whom FosterAbba calls a "floor mop," decided to help by rolling in it. Oh well, he needed a bath anyway.

Another Blogger Goes Private

Yes, my darlings, it has happened again. Another blog has been discovered by the blogger's family member -- and not at a good time.

This time it is Jody from NDFostermom. I mentioned her on a list of blogs I had recently found in January. In November I asked you to go show her some love as she had had to take her daughter to a treatment center.

She sent me a note this morning:

I have decided to go private for the time being due to some issues from the holiday weekend. Nothing too major, but enough to want me to protect my immediate family for the time being. If you are a reader of my blog, please send me an email or you can leave a comment here and when I get a chance, I will send you an invite. My hope is that within a few weeks I can go public again.

And a big Thank You to Yondalla for being the message board yet again. You are a wonderful woman!



Feel free to leave her messages of support. If you want an invite she must have your email address so, if it is not available in your profile, please write it like this:

pflagfostermom at gmail dot com

Monday, December 24, 2007

Evan's Family

Evan's mother and sisters dropped by. Evan had told me they were coming, but I forgot. They had brought his presents, and insisted that he open them all while they watched. Baby sister, who may be about 6 now was especially insistent.

She doesn't get to see Evan very often, but she has no shyness with him. She wouldn't take a cookie from me, even after her mother and sister did -- and even after her mother encouraged her to -- but she also wouldn't let Evan get more than two feet away from her. When he was done with the present she planted herself firmly on his lap.

Evan gave his mother and 16-year-old sister manicures for Christmas. They got them today and show off their nails while they were here. He got his baby sister a gift certificate to that store where you assemble and dress your own stuffed bear. He was very thoughtful about his gifts. He wanted to give his sister gifts that would allow his mother and sisters to do things together that they don't normally get to do.
I am so impressed with him. He is a thoughtful, kind guy.

Christmas Card from Ann!!!

Yep, I got a Christmas card from Ann. Doesn't say much, but I have her latest address and phone number.

Cool huh?

She turns 18 in June. It is hard to believe. In my mind's eye she is still 13.

Cookie Sweat Shop

So...I wondered, what if I didn't do any of the Christmas prep stuff? Other than buying presents of course. If I didn't decorate or even mention cookies, at what point would the kids say something?

Answer: on Dec. 21 Brian will go by himself to bring in the boxes from the garage. He will set up the tree and Andrew will help him decorate.

On Dec. 22 Andrew and Brian will ask if we are going to make cookies and promise to help, except they can't do it today or tomorrow, but really, on Christmas Eve they will bake cookies with me all day.

So now it is early afternoon. In the past five hours we have accomplished quite a bit:

Two dozen pecan puffs have been made. I made them, but Brian rolled them, twice, in powdered sugar.

Four dozen gingerbread cookies are baked. As the people-shaped cutters have mysteriously disappeared, we have stars, bells, and candy canes. Evan rolled, I cut, Brian attached mini M&M's to many. We left some plain because I like them that way and others because Evan said he wanted to put icing on some of them, but it turns out that he assumed I would mix of up the icing. Sigh. I'll help, but he's a big grown up man with genuine cooking experience. If he wants to ice cookies he can mix up powdered sugar and butter. I'm sure of it.

Two pans of Aunt Bea's Golden Bars, made entirely by Brian, are finished. For those who don't know, golden bars are little more than brown sugar and butter. This recipe is part of Roland's family holiday tradition. I don't even know who Aunt Bea is, but I have had a copy of this recipe since I got married.

Sugar cookies are more than half done. Roland has been rolling. Andrew is doing most of the cutting and decorating. I've been supervising and teaching Andrew the fine art of moving delicate cookies from wax paper to baking sheet.

Andrew says he wants to make a cheesecake.

I did promise to make a gingerbread (cake), but that will be easy, since all the ingredients are already out and the kitchen is a mess anyway. We have to have something to put under all the whipped cream I bought.

So who thinks we still need pumpkin pie?

David will get here later this evening and has invited a "lost boy" for tomorrow at dinner.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Home Dorm Room

So I have spending time imagining how to make one room comfortable for Andrew and Evan to share. I have a plan though it is under revision.

There are two bedrooms in the basement. In terms of square footage the two rooms are really about the same size. The one Andrew is currently in is long and thin. The other is square -- and has a legal egress window. We know we have to have second exit in the from of an egress window or second door in the basement in order to have a foster child down there. We are pretty confident that that second exit cannot be in another person's bedroom. This means that if we another foster child comes along they will have to have the square room, which in turn means that I have to figure out how to fix the long and narrow room to be comfortable for Andrew and Evan.

In case you are wondering, putting Brian downstairs in the long and narrow room would be a perfect answer except except that whither Brian goes so goes the Shih Tzu and we have the dogs trained not to go into the basement. It is cat-land. There are cat holes cut into the walls. There is even a catwalk that runs from the cat door in the window of the laundry room, into the rec room, through a hole into Andrew's room, ending with a ramp to his dresser.

So again...it is the most awkward bedroom in the house that I need for Andrew and Evan to share.

When I first started talking to Roland about my ideas he said that he didn't mind doing the work I proposed, but he really wasn't feeling ready to take another kid. When he thinks about it he still clenches up inside. I told him that I thought that what was going to make the difference for us would be the kid, not the time. He of course was not quite convinced so I said, "What if they called us today and said there was a genuinely trans girl at the teen shelter being bullied and teased." Without hesitation he said, "We would go get her."

Okay then. We both agreed that we would prefer for them not to call for months, but that yes, if there was a kid who really needed us, who was the sort of kid we can help, we would do it. That said, he agrees that it makes sense to be ready.

So here is the plan. Roland has agreed to build two low loft beds. (The ceiling is too low for regular loft beds). There is 34"of space under these beds. In consultation with the boys, I will buy a collection of storage units on wheels, some with drawers and some with shelves. They can either have one shelf unit and one drawer unit facing out with empty space for whatever in the back, or they can have more storage units going in sideways so they can pull them out as they need access. All their books, clothes that don't get hung up, and generally everthing they own will have to be stored under these beds. It won't be beautiful, but it will be functional.

Though I think we will set them up in the square room at first, where there is be enough space for two computer tables, they will have to move into the other room if and when we get another kid. We can get two of those beds in, but given the location of the doors, etc. there won't be much more space than that. One kid will be able to have a computer work station in the room itself, but the other one will have to be set up inside the closet. Fortunately it is a large closet. It might even be 8 feet. The left side would still be closet space, with one bar high and one low. In the middle is a tower of cubicles. The 40" to the right of the tower would become another computer station.

Not the most elegant of spaces, but acceptable for young people coming home for vacations and summers.

Roland got more excited about it when I explained that when Brian leaves in 4 years he can use the home dorm room for vacations and we can turn his room into an office.

Okay...so I know you all might not be all that interested in my plans for furnishing bedrooms, but the real point is that this is the first time that Roland has confessed that there are circumstances that would make him want to do care again. That makes me happy.

Oh...and when I told Brian the other day that we were called about David's brother and I said no he sighed and said, "Good. We're not ready for another kid yet. We're still recuperating."

And I thought, "Brian said 'yet'!"

Friday, December 21, 2007

Home for the Holidays

Evan is back! He got in last night. He and Andrew played guitar hero for a while and then went to bed.

This morning I got up and finished working on Roland's birthday present. Yes, I said birthday. It is on the 30th, but Olivia is coming over on the 28th, I believe, so we will celebrate on the 27th. His main present from me is costing no money, but did take about 10 hours of my time. I think he will appreciate it. I will tell you about after I give it to him.

Anyway, I went, and FINISHED CHRISTMAS SHOPPING. Well, almost. There is one book that I want to give Roland, but Evan is shopping tomorrow and he will pick it up for me, so I am done with the actually going out in the world part. Andrew and Brian are out shopping -- just the two of them. It's pretty cool. They both need to shop and so I just gave Andrew the keys, and off they went. They called and asked if I would reimburse them for a meal. I said yes.

Evan and I had a little bit of time to chat before he went off to work. He asked about staying here this summer and I said of course. He said, "Yeah, I don't see you getting a new kid any time soon. I mean, they probably won't call for a while."

Ha!

I told him about the call yesterday and that I had said no. He agreed and said, "It would be weird having siblings, wouldn't it?"

I explained that it wasn't because they were siblings, but because of the particular relationship David had with his brother. I told him that if his sisters were to come into care I would take them. "You would?"

"Well, yeah. You would want me to, wouldn't you?"

He pondered that, clearly trying to think about what it would be like for his sisters to be in this house. I said, "Wouldn't you feel safer having them here instead of a foster home where you didn't know the family?" Then he got it and said "Yes!" It fell into place for him. He is very protective of his sisters. If they were here he would know they would be safe and he could keep an eye on them. Of course he then had to tease me about how hard it would be for me to have a girl. I agreed, of course.

I told him about my ideas for turning Andrew's room into a room for two kids so that it would be there for both of them to share summers and holidays while they were in college. Of course, if the currently empty bedroom was empty, one of them could have it. He was okay with that. Andrew is too. I'm glad. Neither of them has had to share a room for years. Neither would normally want to share a room. On the other hand if they are living here for less than half the year, it makes sense to them to share one room.

I will have to start saving up for those captains beds -- or maybe those loft beds with desks under them.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Did I Say "Empty Bedroom"?

Shame on me. You know I shouldn't go around talking about how nice it is to have an empty bedroom. It's like telling your spouse that you got a bonus in front of the car.

***

Since I started this post I have had a couple of phone calls. I deleted previously written paragraphs recording my debates. I will give you the bottom line.

They called us because David's younger brother, who just turned 17, needs a new place. The only reason they thought to call us is that he is David's brother. Well, more than that. Because he is David's brother he knows us a little. We are not complete strangers to him. He is not however a kid they would typically ask us to consider.

David has issues with his brother. It is at least as much about David as it is about his brother. It is about David having been the one who had to get everybody fed and clothed. It is about David having to be responsible for everything and everyone. And it is about David learning to survive by turning off and moving on. He does not work out problems in relationships; he finds new ones.

I told the social worker that if taking the brother would make David reluctant to visit, then I wouldn't do it. I called David and talked to him for a while. Now I will call back the worker and tell him I won't take the brother.

If I were in charge of David's goals in life, I would make developing a healthier relationship with his brother one of his priorities. But I am not in charge of David's goals. One of my slogans has been, "the needs of the kids I already have come before the needs of the kids I might have."

I feel sad about saying no, but I know it is the right thing for me to do.

An Extra Bedroom is a Good Thing

Evan called yesterday. It was one of those "what if" conversations. He is switching from the computer tech program to a program to be a social worker and there are conflicting rules. He's done everything that they told him to do, but well...sometimes institutions of all kinds set up rules that are contrary to other rules and people get caught in the middle.

The bottom line is that almost certainly nothing will happen, but it is possible that they will make him change his schedule. And if they make him change his schedule he might not be part time. And if he is part time his financial aide package will be in trouble, and he might not live in the dorms.

We had a nice chat. I first reassured him. I don't think anyone is going to make him change his registration. It is just too much trouble, you know? What's done is done.

But I was also very glad to be in the position of reminding him that we do still have an empty bedroom. The worst case scenario is that he moves in with us next semester. It wouldn't be ideal, but he could do it. It made me glad to be in this position.

Andrew is willing to share his bedroom, especially during the college years. I keep imagining ways to use the space more efficiently for two. I would love to get a couple of captain's beds, for instance.

No hurry, I guess. Right now we just have the extra bedroom.

And I like that.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Rhetoric of Disruption

I've done it. Twice.

Okay, they weren't pre-adoptive placements, and one wasn't even officially a permanent placement. Oddly though, the one that wasn't the permanent placement was the one that I most hoped would be permanent -- or at least was more emotionally invested in. The one that was supposed to be a permanent placement, on paper, was the one where we were all saying, "This kid deserves a chance to make it in a home. He might not be able to, but Yondalla and Roland can give him the best chance."

But whatever the circumstances, there are two foster kids out there who have a long list of places they have lived. They have hoped, or tried to hope, that this move would be the last. They have wondered if I would be the mom who would stick with them, and I wasn't. It is entirely possible that someday someone will look at their file and say, "How could all these people do this to a child? Kids are not puppies from a pound. You don't get to take them home and try them out and then send them back because they are not perfect." And I will be on that list they are shaking their heads over.

When I hear about kids who have been moved a lot, who have experienced disruption after disruption, I have a different take on it than most people. We come across these stories in news sources. Sometimes it is a story about foster care; sometimes it is a story about a particular person who has done something horrible. And we hear the typical rhetoric.

And I think, "Maybe the youth doesn't have all these problems because he or she was moved, maybe the child was moved because his or her problems were just too difficult to be handled in a home."

I'm not denying that there are people who become foster parents* without seriously thinking about what they can handle. I'm not denying that there are abusive foster parents, or even some foster parents are callous and give up on kids when they shouldn't.

It is just that I personally don't know of many.

See, I work with those kids. Carl had three foster families in less than two years when he moved in with me. David had at least six. I was only the second stop for Evan the second time he came into the system (group shelter home then here), but he can't remember just how many places he had been when he was in care for a few years around junior high. He guesses maybe twelve. Ann had been lucky. She was in just two places (I think) before she ended up with Mandy, where she lived for seven years. Of course after she left Mandy she averaged a placement every four months or so. And Frankie has never stayed in a foster home for more than about three months, though he has made it for 6 months in residential treatment centers (and left there because he was supposed to be ready to live somewhere else).

The kids I have had for respite or met at agency functions generally have long histories of disruptions. They have been in and out of homes, residential facilities, detention.

It is simply false that had one of their foster parents simply decided to keep them that everything would have been better. It just isn't that simple. It would be nice if it were. Though there are simple and horrible cases, I don't think they are the typical case.

I think the most typical case is that a child is placed with a family who does not have the capacity to properly care for him or her. That lack of capacity can happen in different ways. It can be that a child requires 24/7 supervision. It could be that two children are not safe with each other. Please understand I am not blaming the kids. They are not getting moved because they are bad. They are getting moved because they are hurt and they are not getting the help they need. It is as though we keep taking critically ill patients to walk-in clinics and wondering why they don't get better.

Foster parents are not adequately trained and prepared. Of course, it is impossible to adequately train and prepare us, because frankly we don't learn from what we are
told. In our defense, no one else does either. You simply cannot know what you can do until you try. Will this storm be the sort of thing you can ride like a surfer does a wave? Or will it be the sort that pounds you into sand leaving you half-dead on the shore?

I do believe that something is going very wrong when a child is moved from place to place. What is going wrong though is not necessarily that a series of foster parents are giving up on something they are able to do. Fixing the problem of to many placements will not be easy. We will have to figure out what kids really need and then provide it, instead of hoping that the kids can get by on what the system already has to offer. I suspect we would need to have a wider variety of types of homes and treatment centers. And foster parents should get not just more training, but more mentoring from other foster families.

In my limited experience, the disrupted placements rarely happen because some naive family thought it was going to be easy and just gave up. Oh, there are certainly those cases and some of them even make the news. Most of the time though it was something else both simple and complex: this child's needs surpassed this family's resources.

And we need to stop saying of parents who disrupt a placement, "Didn't they know what it was going to be like?"

Because the answer is always, "No. They didn't. And neither do you."

____________
*Some of what I say may of course apply to adopters. Maybe all of it. I am really going to try to stick to my own turf this time though.

Voluntary Relinquishment In Foster Care

I have got some really interesting comments on the posts about adoption. A couple of them are written by people who do not have blogs, and I am thinking about republishing them as posts, since I know most people don't go back to old posts to read comments. (If you do have a blog, I will let you decide whether to post any comments as posts on your own. If you are one of the people who don't and would rather I not push your comment up to a post, let me know.)

Many of the comments have focused on the issue from the perspective of foster care. That makes sense. I usually write from that perspective. I should write from that perspective since that is the only practice that I know something about. I have to be careful though, because I really only know about one part of it: the care of teenagers for whom foster care is the long-term or permanent plan. Frankie was the first kid for whom there was any question.

I don't have any experience with children in foster care -- just teenagers. I have no first hand experience of caring for a child or teen whose plan is reunification. If I know anything about that, it is from reading blogs, articles and books.

So...all that said, I think I do want to write about voluntary relinquishment within the general context of foster care. And by "the general context" I mean families whose kids are in or may soon be in foster care. I know that is vague, but there it is.

Now what I was writing before was different. I was thinking about relinquishment of babies for reasons other than the ones that get kids taken into foster care. I was thinking about women who are privileged relative to those women whose kids are taken. Now, I want to be careful here. I agree with Zoe that the women who are in the position of considering relinquishment are not a privileged bunch. What I mean is just that before I was thinking the advertising and coercion that happens in the US to women who are making that choice. Here I want to talk about women who are facing having that choice taken away from them.

So the question is: should voluntary relinquishment of older children be possible?

And I think the answer is, under some circumstances, absolutely yes.

The most obvious situation in which it makes sense is when termination is inevitable, the parents understand that, and agree that it is better for the child for it to be "over with." I would not dream of trying to give more specific criteria than that. It may be that it is often better for a child to know that his or her parents fought. In some cases it may be better for the child to know that his or her parents agreed that relinquishment was best.

There are other more complicated situations too. I think that it should be possible to self-report. Z left a comment (scroll to the end) about her biological grandmother calling social services and telling them to take her kids. Z later in her comment says things that indicate that her biological grandmother had a history of abusive. I don't know all the details in her case. I think though that a parent could come to understand that they are unable to control themselves so as to be minimally good parents. I think it should be possible for them to call social services and say that the kids are not safe with them and asked for them to be placed.

I think that voluntary relinquishment (signing away parental rights) and voluntary placement (putting your kids in foster care while keeping your parental rights), should be available. I believe that voluntary relinquishment once termination proceedings have begun is legal everywhere. I don't know about voluntary placement. I am guessing that in most places you can call social services and ask them to take your children temporarily if you are about to go to the hospital to have surgery and there isn't anyone else who can watch them. I suppose there are other cases, and that what is allowed in theory and practice differs. I would also guess that any time you invite protective services into your life you risk them making judgments about you, and taking action on those judgments.

Anyway, it seems obvious to me that voluntary relinquishment and placement are acts that can be ethical and should be allowed under some circumstances.

Now, here is part of why I think that in the US our practice within foster care, at least how it works in theory, can be better defended than our practice in private infant adoption.

In private infant adoption, the professionals who deal with the parents are not obligated to first help the parents parent successfully. Their obligations are not even necessarily to the best interests of the child. In fact their professional obligations may be to the potential adopting parents. Now many people in the industry may very well be dedicated to the best interests of the child. There are probably some ethical agencies that only help mothers place babies if they are confident that the mother understands all her options. How often it happens that way I cannot tell you.

Relinquishment and placement within the context of foster care is different. In that system the social worker is professionally obligated to help the parent parent. I know that there are cases in which the system gets it wrong, and it can happen in either direction. At least some parents who were decent parents lose their children and some really abusive parents have their children returned. I know that our actual practice in the US is underfunded, understaffed, and often fails to be what it should. What I want to say though, is that we have our ideals in the right place. The laws and policies we write are attempting to do the right thing: help parents parent their own children and find new parents for the children only when that really is the only good alternative.

If I could make one reform in the adoption industry in the US, it would be that the people in the industry be committed to that ideal. The goal should be to help parents parent their own children. Finding new parents for children should be pursued when that ideal cannot be met. Note that I am not saying that the parents should be ideal.

Now that needs to be tweaked, because I do think that a woman should not be morally obligated to parent because she got pregnant. If a woman gets pregnant, chooses not to terminate, I think she should have the option of placing. And I think that if she decides to place genuine efforts to identify the father should be made. He also should have the option of parenting. I just think that the person who is working with the parents should not come to the table with that objective. The person on the other end of the conversation should be saying things like, "Have you considered all your options? I can help you apply for welfare benefits, if you like. Someone here can help you tell your family. If you want to parent your child, we will help you" and not things like, "Thank you for considering the beautiful choice of adoption. We have profiles of many wonderful parents who will love and care for your infant."*

I suspect that making that one reform would mean shutting down the private adoption industry altogether. Though it is certainly possible to be a private agency committed to ethical practices, the pressure to be otherwise is enormous. It is, after all, the adopters who are paying the bills. No private agency stays in business if it is too successful in helping first parents be the only parents.

The thought that we might shut down an industry may cause many US citizens to gasp, but it really isn't all that unusual. There is no private adoption in Australia, and I am pretty sure there is none in Canada. Anyone know about the rest of the world? I wonder how many places have a public system capable of handling all adoptions existing along side a private one.**

Okay, I said I was going to talk about foster care and not about private adoptions, but I guess I lied. Perhaps I should tell you that I decided to cover adoption issues in my last ethics class. I had to do some digging for information and articles, because it is not in any of the anthologies. I haven't been so complacent since.

___
*That is part of a radio ad I heard a month or so ago. I don't know that that agency's representatives who talk to the young women say that, but their commercials do.

**At least in Australia mothers who place infants in the public system do help pick the adoptive parents for their children. The public system can include the features we value.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Too Hard

I've been asked to read a list of questions to be asked foster care alumni.

The questions themselves are considered confidential, but I don't think the fact that it exists or will be used or anything like that is.

I'm halfway through and having a PTSD reaction.

This isn't an interview, it's an autoposy of one's soul.

In one section, one in which all my answers would have been "no," I thought, "Wow, this would be tough. I hope the interviewers are well trained."

Then I got the section where I would have had to answer "yes" to several. Some of them made me remember things I hadn't remembered for a long time. One of them made me recategorize an event. "That wasn't really abandonment, was it? My sister was afraid, but I knew the parent was coming back. Is it abandonment if they don't say anything and just walk out and you don't know for sure how long they will be gone? If you don't feel afraid? How about if you realize almost 40 years later that you weren't afraid because you couldn't let yourself be -- because your sister needed you not be afraid? What if it turned out to only be half an hour? Is that abandonment?"

How can I give any sort of approval to this survey? How can I tell them it is okay for them to go out and take inventory of someone's pain?

I feel so awful right now.

And I know what my counselor would say if she were here. She would tell me that I was finally ready to feel the fear I didn't let myself feel 30 some years ago.

I hate this.

Me and my sister

After I wrote my post about my sister going back to college Deb commented:

That is really wonderful.I'd be interested in if it has been as issue for you and if so, how you navigate the differences between your education levels in the family. I think a lot of us in academia navigate these issues in one way or another and I find it tricky, myself.
It is not something that I have had to think about a lot, and I guess that is because I am second-generation, or maybe it is because my sister and I have so much else to navigate.

Both of my parents and were the first ones in their families to have any schooling after high school. My mother was actually the only one. My father's much younger baby brother eventually went to college. Of course my father is a college professor, and that probably makes a big difference. My sister is not the least bit intimidated by the fact that I am. Or at least I don't think she is. The other day she seemed very pleased that her sister was an experienced academic advisor who know about mysterious things like how to order transcripts.

For as far back as I can remember I was identified as the good kid, the smart kid. I was bookish, and shy. She was the pretty one, the outgoing one. She was the athletic one that made friends easily, was a picky eater, got into trouble, and didn't do well in school. My father in particular compared us. Neither of us felt like we were good enough.

I was always the big sister though. I don't remember a time when I wasn't taking care of her.

If you were to talk to each of us about our mother you would think we just didn't have the same mom, and in some ways we didn't. She and Mom didn't get along well. Sis wanted attention, and she would act out. Mom felt manipulated and angry and withdrew.

Here's my most often shared example. My sister one day stubbed her toe on the piano. She was probably about 12. She fell to the floor, held her toe and rolled back and forth screaming that it hurt. My mother stood over her and told her it did not hurt that bad, stop screaming and get up. About a week later I fell down the porch stairs and had the wind knocked out of me. Mom heard the racket, saw me at the bottom of the stairs and came running out. I could not hardly make a sound and she helped me into the house. As I caught my breath I said, "I'm okay. I'm okay." Mom said she just wanted to make sure and started running her hands over my head. My sister started yelling, "She said she's okay! She said she's okay!" Sis started yelling and crying that Mom didn't care about her. Mom turned and yelled back saying that I hardly ever complained and that was why she believed me, and falling down the stairs was more serious than stubbing your toe. I don't remember how long they fought. It wasn't very long but I remember sitting there, still finding it hard to breath and realizing that I had quite a few bruises and scrapes and thinking, "Don't mind me. I'll be able to breath any minute now."

Mom really did try not to compare us. Certainly I never felt that she thought I should be more like Sis. And Sis said told me once that she never thought that Mom wanted her to be more like me -- well not in fundamental ways. Mom was proud of the things that Sis could do. They just had this extreme relationship. They were either getting along perfectly, or they were fighting.

As adults we also ended up in very different places. She is a fundamentalist Christian, but one with a really funny snarky attitude. She enjoys being with me because she doesn't have to be so nice all the time. For years though, things were a bit tense between us. I was teaching feminism and she never wore pants because she thinks Deuteronomy 22:5 says she has to, even thought the passage even talk about pants. She married someone who I think is a sexist, pompous, a$$ and I married someone who was a stay at home dad for three years.

Once I started fostering gay kids things got tense. When we finally had a chance to talk about it, we realized that we had both been assuming that the other disapproved of us. We both know what her church thinks about homosexuality. I couldn't be close friends with anyone else who went to her church. She probably wouldn't be friends with anyone else who was a feminist, gay rights activists, but the fact that we are sisters makes it possible for us to put those things in the background.

Of course I not-so-secretly believe that this fundamentalism thing is just a phase (I know, 18 years and counting is a long "phase") and she probably believes that G-d is just waiting for me to repent and will forgive me for my sinful ways. Fortunately both of us are committed to the position that it is not our job to convince the other of the truth.

So you see, that I am an academic and she is a 40-something going back to college for an associate's degree is the least of our issues.

Further thoughts on adoption

Some of you responded to my previous post about my disturbing thought by talking about voluntariy relinquishment of children who were taking into foster care. That is good -- I always like it when people help other realize that something is more complicated than others were realizing.

The post was written because of some of the posts I've been reading lately, and because I kept seeing adoption advertisements on that site where Cindy's Older Children Adoption Blog is. There are always pictures of pretty, young white women and several photographs of happy couples. I look at those ads and wonder, Why is this okay? Why is it is okay to advertise to young women to encourage them to make this choice? How would we respond if the ad were addressed to women caring for babies and toddlers? "Are you exhausted and overwhelmed? Worried about how to pay for college? We know you love your child and want the best for her. Consider adoption. The loving choice."

I suddenly saw a whole series of ads. They could show photographs of women being told they had lost their jobs because they missed to many days of work because the baby was sick, or watching their toddler play with scary gang-member types in the background, or even crying while watching a man walk away.

And I got nauseous. And rather suddenly the ads for the infant adoption seemed abhorent too.

I should be clear. I want to be supportive of women who are deciding what to do when they are pregnant. I want to support women who are considering an adoption plan. If I am that woman's friend, I want to help her to discover what all her options are. I want to help her find all the resources she can. If she decides making an adoption plan is what is best for her and her baby then I will hold her hand and if anyone tells her, "I would never give away my baby" I will offer to slap that person, or maybe just go make them read Suz's blog or Zoe's most recent post.

And at the same time I will be angry about the injustices of the world. I will be angry that women have so few options, that single parenthood is made so difficult, that we do not take care of adults who need to be cared for, that basic things like health care and day care and jobs that provide a living wage are so hard to come by.

Yesterday my husband came home angry because one of his aides has asked to quit and be rehired as a permanent substitute. Her husband has lost health care benefits at his work. Her children have chronic health problems and they cannot pay the bills. In order for her children to qualify for medical assistance, she has to make less money. He is not angry at her for asking this. He thinks she is making the only choice she can. He, and I, are infuriated that we live in a world where people have to quit their jobs in order for their children's health care needs to be met.

So when I think from the place of the woman who has to make the decision I feel calm and ready to support whatever decision she makes.

When I think about the ways our society puts women in this situation, I get angry.

And when I think of an industry that exists to persuade her to relinquish because she is poor and some infertile couple are so very sad, I want to vomit.

--
And yes, I have left fathers out of this post. I think that most, but not all the time, when women are in this place the fathers are not part of the decision. They are not there. That makes me angry too, but that is another post.

Monday, December 17, 2007

No presents

It is probably self-centered of me to think that Cindy was actually thinking about me when she wrote this, huh? But she was at least thinking about people who feel caught, like I do, in the present trap.

I want to have the courage she does; just toss out the expectations of present-giving completely. Get rid of it.

I however find I can only take a baby step in that direction: buy less but do it more thoughtfully.

I imagine following Cindy. Part of me wants to...

And in my mind's eye I see Roland looking at me like I am insane.

Disturbing Thought

If there was a demand for healthy two-year-olds, if there were a sizable number of parents who wanted to adopt, but did not want to deal with the baby stuff, would there be a system for mothers to relinquish their toddlers?

Would we have laws describing how many days or hours she has to change her mind? Would there be advertisements on the bus? Would there narratives about young single women who realized that their toddlers simply needed more than they could give and who then made the "beautiful choice" the "loving sacrifice" of surrendering them to infertile women who had spouses who worked full time and could stay home and give the toddler the love and care he or she deserved?

When women with toddlers went to apply for welfare benefits, would social workers ask them if they had considered adoption? How about when they broke down and cried at the doctor's office about how overwhelmed they were?

If this is unthinkable, why is it so?

Surely we could give counseling and support to all members of the triad so as to make the change in family as non-traumatic as possible. Children of all ages sometimes need new parents. It has always been that way, and it always will. Surely abuse and neglect are far worse for children's psyches than transfer from one loving but overwhelmed parent to another loving attentive parent.

Can you imagine that world? Imagine that when protective services was called for the first time about suspected abuse the social workers always reminded the parents that surrendering their child could be a loving choice. Perhaps she would even show them photographs of smiling couples with beautiful houses in excellent school districts.

Why is that world so disturbing, but the world of infant adoption not?

I find this imagined world appalling, and yet part of me is not so sure. I care for children who have been badly neglected and abused. They are severely traumatized. I have argued many times that David's mother when she first was an abandoned, abused, uneducated young mother of two should have been offered the care she needed so that she could have cared for her two sons. She should not have had to live the live she did, often homeless and unable to feed these children and the ones who came after.

It had never occurred to me, before today, that maybe she should have been offered the chance to surrender her children to "a better life."

Why do we demand that people take care of their older children, only removing them from their care when they have been severely abused, but set up systems for people to give away their infants?

Is it just because there are so many people who want to adopt those infants?

Of course partly it is because we believe infants are somehow blank slates. They will not remember; they will attach to their new parents; it will be just as if the parents had had the child biologically.

Perhaps it is because of how we perceive options? Historically women could not control whether they got pregnant or stayed pregnant. Today their ability to do so is far from complete. Is infant adoption part of our culture because that was the first point that parents really had a choice? Do we deny parents of older children the choice of surrender because they really had a chance to make another choice and didn't? "You took this kid home from the hospital, now you have to take care of it."

Does anyone know the current laws or history of surrendering children for adoption? How old does a child have to be before people stop saying that surrending it is "a loving choice" and start thinking it is appalling?

Where is that line, and can we persuade ourselves that it is there because that is what is in the best interest of the child, or is it about what the adopters want?

I know I sound anti-adoption, but I'm not, not really.

It's just these questions come into my brain and I find I cannot answer them.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

"What's a Search Engine?"

My baby sister is going back to college! Woo Hoo!

Okay, baby sister is over 40, but she is always going to be my baby sister. She went to the community college and then university in our home town for about a semester each. Then she joined the army. Fast forward to today and she is married with three kids and she cleans houses for a living. Her husband who is about 10 years older than she is is trying to get back into the army (yeah, I know).

She has been having more more physical problems and has been concerned about what will happen when she just can't clean houses anymore. A woman she knows from church told her about how she went back to college. It was like a commercial on TV. The woman explained about how the college helped her to get student loans and a job and how she is so much happier with her office job. Yes the loans seemed really high, but she just makes the payment every month and she still has more money than she did before she went to school.

So Sis just drove herself over to the local college that advertises programs for people who want to go back. She was surprised at how easy they made everything. She can go to school Monday nights and Tuesdays and Thursdays. She looked over the programs and decided on paralegal. They told her she would plan on spending one hour a week studying for every hour she spends in class. She sat down, drew up a schedule, and figured out how many houses she could keep cleaning. She then sat down her family and showed them the schedule. "Notice that laundry isn't on here. I don't have time for that. For the next two years everyone is going to have to do some extra chores."

In order not to have to take the remedial courses she had to pass tests in English, Reading Comprehension, and Mathematics. She figured she would pass English and Reading, but was worried about Math. Her daughters though gave her a crash course in Algebra and she passed!
She told me that they had recommended to her that she take a course in computers since so much has to be done on-line, but she really wanted to get to the regular courses, and she can always go in and they will help her. I told her that I would help her too.

"But what do you need to know?"
"How to use a computer."
"Well, Sis, I mean, what do you already know how to do with a computer?"
"I think I can turn it on."

Oh. So we chatted. Conversation got around to my father and we compared our recent phone conversations and agreed he was drinking again. She said, "I hope he is sober enough to have the university send me my transcript."

"You don't need him to do that."
"I don't?"
"No. Just go to their web page and request it yourself."
"A web page is on the Internet, right?"
"Yeah."
"How do I find it?"
"Just type the school name into the search engine window."
"What's a search engine?"

It took a while, but I talked her through it. Her son got her onto the Internet and took her to the Google page. She typed the name, got the list of links and then told me that she was clicking on it but nothing happened. "Are you clicking on the thing that is underlined?" "Oh...that works!"

She was so pleased when she finally found the form to request her transcripts. She asked her son to help her print it, "J. I clicked where it said print, but this other thing popped up. Do I click 'okay' on it?" After he told her, she said to me, "I don't know how he knows all this."

And she is pleased at everything she learned just today. She knows what a search engine is and how to find things on the Internet! It was fun, maybe she will see what else she can find.

I am so proud of her.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

He Passed!

Andrew passed his driving test. This means that at the moment Andrew is the proud owner of a sealed envelop, which on Monday will allow him to get an actual license. If you wish to offer him congratulations, here is a link to his blog.

Speaking of his blog, the reason he started it was that I assured him that it would get his creative juices going so he could write his college application essay. It worked and the essay is written. I don't know if he plans on continuing the blog. I will suggest to him that he post his final essay though.

Today

Today two things are scheduled.

First, I am taking Andrew to have his driving test. It has been almost six months since he got his permit. The permit expires on Wednesday, I believe, so he finally scheduled the test. I think he is ready. He could pass today.

If he does, then I have another licensed driver in the house. I'm excited for him. It is a beginning, a sort of right of passage into adulthood.

Second, tonight the officers of the local PFLAG chapter are going out to dinner with our spouses. As of today we were all supposed to have completed our jobs in shutting down the chapter. We haven't all. I still have to transport our library to the community center. I haven't received a copy of the letter someone else is sending out to all the members telling them that they are still members of PFLAG national. The treasurer may or may not have closed the bank account and sent the check to the youth group. There are a few other jobs, but they are all individual chores. We have no more need of meetings to assign jobs and report on the completion of those jobs.

Tonight will be the last time we meet as officers; or perhaps it is the first time we meet no longer being officers.

It is an ending. An organization that has existed, been a part of this community for 20 years is being put to rest.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Why I don't write about being a transracial family

even though we are one.

First, this is not going to be an insightful piece of writing, or if it is that will be surprising. Nothing I am going to write here is going to impress you with how smart or skilled I am. It is just that I had an odd experience. I just read this post by Deesha Philyaw post on Anti-Racist Parent, "FUNNY...I DON'T FEEL LIKE AN ADOPTIVE MOTHER." It's an interesting read and I recommend it to you. At one point she says, "Maybe it’s because the adoptive parents on the panel had adopted transnationally and/or transracially, and I did not. Maybe I felt this way because no one simply looks at my family and questions whether we belong together, or verbalizes assumptions steeped in race- and class-based stereotypes about my adopted child’s birth parents." Dawn wrote about the article too. In her post she also discusses what adopting transracially has meant for her and her family.

And I read them both and thought, "Funny...I don't feel like a member of a transracial family." See...I think of myself as a mom, as a foster mom, and as a PFLAG mom, but I don't think of myself as the mother of a child with a different racial identity than mine.

And I am not going to tell you that "I don't see race" because that is a crock. I see it as much as any one else. I live in the US and race matters here. I teach classes in which I ask students to think about race and privilege. I don't think I do it particularly well. I should be no one's example. I mean...I am a white privileged mom living in a town with over-crowded schools that are more than 50% Mexican American. I can talk the talk about being anti-racist. I can even do it while I am driving my son and three other white kids to the charter arts school in the next town, where all the students are privileged and almost all of them are white. None of them have parents or even grandparents who were migrant farm workers.

So yeah, nothing to brag about here.

But back to the point.

Carl is multiracial. It is difficult for me to write because it feels like I am sharing something that I shouldn't share -- and I guess that is because Carl hasn't really talked to me about it. It just hasn't been something he wants to address. And it is difficult to talk about because I try here not to talk about my children's parents very much, but if I am going to write about this I have to tell you something.

Okay...here's what I know. Carl knows a little bit about his father. There is every reason to think his dad would be greatly distressed to learn that Carl's mother died and Carl ended up in foster care. But even though people contacted the embassy of his country with the information they had, no one could find him. They just didn't know enough. His name is too common. The city where he used to live is too big.

So Carl has a photograph, his name, the name of a city in a foreign country, and a letter written to him when he was nine. And he knows that our concept of race does not really translate well into his father's country, where most of the population has ancestors from a several continents and people care more about ethnicity than race. He knows that his father probably identifies with one of the ethnic groups and that his father's ethnic identity cannot be discovered by looking at his photograph.

So Carl just grew up as a brown-skinned boy in a loving white family, and what he thinks about that is unclear to me.

When Carl moved in with me he was just beginning to come out. I was learning what it meant to be the mother of a teenage gay son. I thought it wasn't going to be a big deal because, you know, I had gay friends. It turned out that that was not true. It turned out that I had a lot more growing and figuring out to do than I had expected I would have to do.

It also put me in a relationship to a community. Before I was Carl's mom anti-gay comments irritated me. When children or my students said things that were offensive I responded. When adults said them I responded far less than I should have. I was angered that I lived in a world that could be so intolerant. After I became Carl's mom it was different. I did not hear politically offensive comments -- I heard people attacking my son. When I heard someone say that gays were a threat to families I thought and sometimes even found the courage to say, "How the hell would the security of MY family make YOUR family less safe?"

I wasn't just someone who cared about civil liberties and equality and fairness. I was Carl's mom. I was a PFLAG mom.

But that switch, that personalization never happened to me with race.

That Carl is brown meant that people would wonder about us as a family. It meant that people assumed he was adopted, or that he was born (probably to me) before Roland and I met. Surprisingly (to me anyway) it meant that the more liberal people were the more they wanted to ask exactly how it was that he became our son. And I did notice that.

And I noticed that apparently because he doesn't fit into any of the boxes that people seem to have available ("Black" "Mexican American" "Asian" "American Indian") he seems to get a sort of guest pass to white society. It's like people decide that since he isn't really one of them, he gets to be one of us...sort of. I notice, with shame, that I do it too.

So I notice these things. I think more about race in America than I did before. I care more about it than I did before.

But I haven't found myself in relationship to some community. Race did not get personalized for me in the way that sexuality has. When I hear racist slurs I think that it is wrong; sometimes I say something. But I do not have to hold back the rage of the mother who feels her child is attacked.

I feel like in this journey I have learned a lot about what it means to be the mother of gay sons. I have learned a lot of what it means to be the mother of a child who has been traumatized, or the mother of children who have very different needs. I think about these things. I sometimes write about them.

But I have not learned nearly as much about what it means to be the white mother of a child who is not white. I don't think about it very much, at least not until I read an article like the one posted above.

I mean, I even find myself wondering what it would be like to parent a child who does not share my racial identity.

And then I remember, and it surprises me.

And I don't know why I wanted to write this. Perhaps a compulsion to confess? It feels like it...except I am not sure what I am confessing, and I suspect that is part of the problem.

I think there is a part of me that wishes that Carl had a clear racial identity. There is part of me that wishes whatever it was that happened when I became a PFLAG mom and happened in other areas as well.

And yet ... I don't know.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Recommended Reading

It's called "Adoption Ramble"

Here's a selection:

To adopt consciously is to understand that the joy of your family is built on someone’s loss. It is to acknowledge the beauty of your children is the result of someone’s pain. It is to know every day that what you have and feel is the result of something going wrong.

Go check it out. It's worth it. I promise.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye!

So, you all know about that blog named "from zero to five" written by our beloved mama lion?

You know, the one with teenage girls who read her blog and whined?

Well, she has moved. Check her out at her new den:

http://mommylion.livejournal.com/

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Whatcha Complaining About Woman?

Somehow I feel I deserved (or needed?) this. Warning: Those with a low appreciation of irony might want to skip this one.


Report: NationĂ¢��s Wealthy Cruelly Deprived Of True Meaning Of Christmas

More on Fairness

It is interesting reading your long and thoughtful comments. Those of you who read the past two posts on gift-giving and fairness may want to go back and read the comments. There are some really good ones.

Carolie has a wonderful account of how her parents taught her and her siblings generosity.

I've been thinking about the special difficulties presented by having biokids and foster kids. Andrew and Brian are confident that we love them and will provide for them. They are basically generous people. I honestly can't remember either of them getting seriously put out because some other child got something they did not. And the other boys have definitely got large-ticket items from the agency under situations that they would not. David came here having failed every class the year before. One of the classes he signed up for was digital arts and his social worker told him that if he got at least a C in everything at mid-term she would buy him a $200 digital camera. He did, and she bought it. Shortly after he moved in, the agency bought Evan a laptop computer. When Evan got a job, the agency bought him a $300 bicycle.

Andrew and Brian may have sighed a bit to themselves, but they did not complain to me. They knew that I would not have bought them similar items under such similar circumstances. If they had wanted similar items they could, at best, expect me to be willing to match money they have saved. Of course David and Evan would be appalled if Andrew or Brian had been jealous. They would look at Andrew and Brian's piles of accumulated stuff, not to mention the whole living with one set of loving parents you entire life, and been disgusted. How could they possibly complain?

And to their credit, they rarely do.

On the other hand, Evan, David and Carl have been understandably anxious about whether they are loved as much and Andrew and David. Every one of them kept a sort of internal account of things I had done for the bioboys as compared to what I had done for them. It always seemed to me that what they choose to add or not add was a bit skewed. My favorite example is Evan and the driving. He periodically pointed out how often I gave Brian rides to his friends' houses. Several times a week, I would drive Brian to visit his friend who lived 10 blocks away. Sometimes I told Brian to walk, but he could often talk me into giving him a ride. Even if he walked up, I would go get him. (Part of the dynamic was that his friend's parents would give him a ride if I did not. It was complicated). Evan would point out, rightly, that I would not have been willing to give him (at age 18 or 19) rides to friends who lived 10 blocks away, but was always given rides to Brian (at age 11 and 12). What was especially was strange to me was that at the time that Evan was complaining about this I was driving him into The City for appointments once or twice a week. Each trip took two, three or even four hours out of my life.

From Evan's perspective my giving him rides to his necessary appointments was irrelevant. He needed to go there. Brian was being pampered and spoiled in ways that I would never spoil him. Had Brian known about Evan being annoyed about it, he would in turn be irritated. Brian did not complain about my being gone for hours twice a week because Evan needed me to be. Evan lost nothing by my spending 10 minutes giving him a life to a friend's house. What did Evan have to complain about?

I actually do have a point in this post, and it is a fairly obvious one. Well, it is obvious when you stop to think about it.

Foster kids are insecure relative to biokids. They desperately want to feel that they are loved and valued as much as the biokids, and they find it almost impossible to believe that it could be true. I don't know if it ever really goes away.

And that is why Christmas is potentially so frustrating for me. This year it is particularly delicate because all the kids who have emancipated came to us from the foster care system and both of the kids who are living at home are biokids. If I make a distinction which I think is based upon "older v younger" it will be perceived as "bio v foster."

---

Some of you shared about your own experiences with your sibs and parents. Here's mine.

When I turned 16 I got a job and my mother no longer gave me allowance. My sister's last two years in high school she did not work and my mother gave her was I thought was an outrageous amount of money in allowance. As I remember it, I think I was miffed and knew better than to say anything to my mother who would NOT have appreciated any comments on that score.

As adults I know that my sister received much more support from my parents. She and her husband struggle financially. My father has often paid for things they cannot afford and I can honestly say that that has not bothered me. On the other hand, he usually visits during the summer and typically gets to my house first. If he offers to buy my children presents, I don't let him forget. He tends take us out to dinner, even if I insist that I can and am happy to cook. He spends money impulsively, and by the time he gets to my sister's house he is usually running short on his budget. He rarely spends nearly as much money on them as he has on us. He doesn't take them out to dinner, though my sister hates to cook. He offers to buy her kids presents, and she does not make him remember to do it.

There have been other times when he has sent her large checks for Christmas and nothing to me. Once he sent her two checks and nothing to me (I think that was simply a mistake, but not the sort of mistake that most people would make. I suspect the influence of alcohol). Both of us, adults that we are, find this sort of treatment bothersome. Neither of us waste much emotional energy on it -- it is how our father is. On the other hand, neither of us would take his behavior as a model.

My mother made out her will years ago and called me to say that she wanted to leave the same amount of money to each of her grandchildren, but as I had two and Sis had three that meant that her family would receive more money than mine. I told her that I thought that was the way it should be. She called me just a few weeks ago to say that she was thinking about offering to buy pay for orthodontia for my niece. It would be expensive and there was no way she could offer anything similar to any of the other grandchildren, but my niece really needs the work done. I agreed.

My sister needs help that I don't need. I am glad my parents are willing to give it to her.

Some of you have used the phrase "life is not fair" and though I agree with what you have said in general, I would not use that expression for the sort of disparities that we are talking about here. I DO think that parents need to help children learn to deal with the fact that life is unfair, but I don't think we do that by being unfair.

I think the issue is that there are different conceptions of what it means to be fair. Parents are being fair to their children when they respond to each child's needs with equal attention. Giving each child what that child needs is treating them fairly -- even when what each child needs is very different.

It is never easy, and when some of your children come from very different backgrounds, when the world has already treated them unfairly, and when they find it difficult or impossible to believe that you would be any different, it is worse.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Difficulty of Fairness

Jody writes:

Hubby and I are "discussing" this issue right now. I was raised that each kid got (for example) $100 worth of presents. If that was 1 big thing or 10 little things, it really didn't matter. Value was always equal. Hubby was raised each kid gets the same # of gifts regardless of value.
Roland and I have actually worked to be equal in both senses. We found that kids count the presents before Christmas and expect that there should be an equal number. On the other hand, we have felt like we should spend the same amount of money on each. In order to make that happen we have sometimes wrapped two things up together or bought very inexpensive presents so that we have more things to wrap.

Once we started doing care we pulled Andrew and Brian aside to explain that we did not think that all the aunts and uncles would be giving Carl presents and so we would give him a few extra presents. The first year we over-shot and Carl had more things to open than anyone, but no one seemed to mind. We didn't usually spend (much) more on the foster boys. Sometimes we bought things that we knew the agency would reimburse, like clothing, and even labeled it from "Uncle John" (using the real first name of the man who founded our agency). We later did the same for David and Evan.

Andrew and Brian have generous spirits and never minded -- although I think it helped that we did not actually spend (much) more money on the other boys. We aren't worrying about it this year, at least I don't think we are. As the kids get older there are fewer extended family members who send gifts anyway. There may be a disparity in that I have always taken money out of my children's allowances for the buying of presents, so Andrew and Brian will buy for Evan and David as a matter of course. How much money they have for themselves will not be affected. Evan and David however are surviving on their own incomes and may or may not bring home presents for us, and if they do it might be a small gift to the whole family.

It gets complicated at we move from a small family to a big family, and we are not quite clear on how to do it. It has been a genuine part of our discussions about whether to continue to do care. In the past the budget has been about $100 per kid, but that gets more difficult as we add kids. I mean, we have five now.

A couple of things we agree on. One is that there is some point where a child has become an adult and it is no longer necessary to spend the same amount of money one them. We agree that Carl, at 24 and living far away and on his own, has reached that point. He will get a card and a check from us, but it won't be for the same amount.

I am not sure that we agree about what to do about Carl because Carl is 24 or if it is because he lives far away and isn't coming home. See, we also agree that it is awkward to have all the children home and have significantly disparate gift amounts. When I imagine myself in the position of a 20-year-old at home for Christmas getting far less than my 13-year-old sibling, I imagine that I would feel jealous. I might try to convince myself that I shouldn't, but I would. Roland definitely sees it that way. He wants, I think indefinitely, to have the same budget for any kid who gets his (or maybe someday her) butt home for Christmas.

And at $100 a butt, we need to give this some serious thought. (Pardon my language).

I only know what we have decided for this year. All the kids who are coming home are getting equal value from us. One issue is of course that all the kids who still live here full-time are bioboys. We may both be more comfortable spending less on older kids when Andrew is one of the "older kids."

Anyway, there isn't really a point to this, just a rambling about how difficult it is to be fair. And as long as I am rambling, I might as well point out one more issue: In my case I have felt the need to at least sometimes give more presents to foster kids to make up for their lack of extended family, but other families have the opposite problem. Sometimes the foster kids' families do send gifts, and sometimes, I am told, they are expensive gifts. Families, immediate and extended, who cannot provide care for the children sometimes try to make it up with presents.

I suppose this is a problem for all people who have blended families, whatever the sources which have added to that blend. If your kids have different extended families then they will probably get different numbers and value of presents. Trying to even things out when you are dealing with that can be impossible.

Like I said, this whole fairness thing can just suck all the fun out of the holiday -- if you let it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Present-Buying Quandries...

If you have more than one child you know about the challenge of fairness.

I really enjoy Christmas -- or at least I used to.

In my home there was a game to it. You were supposed to surprise other people in the family. The best gift was not the most expensive, but the most unexpected. We were ruthless. We squeezed and shook our presents. We guessed. We tried to trick the other into telling us what our presents were. One year, afraid that my mother would be able to guess that the large box held the special standing bag for knitting she had too-recently admired, I tied jingle bells to it. When she shook it and it made noise I assured her that I would be able to put it back together. She kept coming back, trying to figure out exactly what the noise was and asking me if I was sure it wasn't broken.

Of course if you were going to surprise someone you could not ask what they wanted. To this day I feel just a bit unloved when someone asks me to tell them what I want for Christmas. Roland sadly thought in the beginning of our relationship that this meant that it wasn't important to me what I got. His family asks, then they buy something on the list they were given. Everyone gets what they want and everyone is happy. Our first few Christmases were cultural clashes, but I won't go into that now.

So Christmas is a challenge for me. I feel like I am cheating unless I can think of something the recipient has not asked for. I need to surprise him or her. I want the gift to show that I thought about him.

But I know that part of what will happen on Christmas morning is that the children (some more than others) will calculate whether I have spent more money on one than another. They will compare. Even if they cost exactly the same amount, if one boy is more pleased with his gift than another, the one who is less pleased will feel slighted.

It can just sap all the fun out of it.

This year though I am trying to find my own Christmas spirit again. I gave myself a fairly low budget for each boy, and I am trying hard to think of something for each one that will surprise and please each one.

What to get for Andrew and David came quickly. For each of them I knew exactly what I wanted to get them as soon as I even considered it. I haven't come up with anything for Brian, but he is 13. I'll think of something.

Evan though is a stumper. He is a frugal young man, but if he really wants something he gets it for himself. I bought something already, but the more I look at it the more stupid it clearly is. I will have to take it back. I just can't think...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Not Done

I find myself "checking" to see how I feel about doing care. Sort of like pushing on a bruise to see if it still hurts. I imagine how I would feel if the social worker called today and asked me to consider a kid.

For a while imagining it was just impossible. Then it was overwhelming. Now I imagine myself just sighing heavily and saying, "He's safe right now, right? I mean, you want me to read about him and maybe meet him, but he wouldn't move in until after the holidays...right?" Hubby Roland is right behind me in emotional readiness. And Brian is somewhere behind him. Emotionally Andrew is already half way to college. As long as I don't give away his room, he's fine. Actually, he probably would feel the need to vet any new kid for Brian's sake, but that's about it.

I think though that the youth who needs us will come before the desire for a youth -- which is as it should be. When we are needed we will respond to that need. If no one needs us, we accept that as a good thing. But I do like feeling better, knowing that there is a good chance that by the time we are needed I will be ready to be needed.

I've accepted an invitation to spend another year on my agency's research review board. I will get to fly to the cool city where their headquarters are. I will spend the night in a hotel, and a day involved in reviewing the review board -- helping to train new members. I will be there as a foster parent. Accepting the invitation was, for me, an acceptance that I am still a foster parent. I am between placements, but I am not done.