Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Roland

Actually, today isn't his birthday, but all the kids were available. Well, not Carl, but I guess I can't have everything. I made us an appointment at a department store protrait studio. I've got a pretty good one of the five boys and another of all of us -- including Andrew's girlfriend and David's boyfriend. Evan didn't bring his boyfriend, though he might have if he realized I was including everyone in the photos who wanted to be there. Brian and Gary's girlfriends were not invited.

We debated about the romantic partners but decided that exactly who are members of our family at any given time is a bit flexible. This is a picture of who we are this years.

I do wish that Carl could have been there though. David says he got photo shop for Christmas and if I give him a photo of Carl he will stick him in the one with the boys. I would like a photo of all six of them.

I'm still having that "six is a complete set" feeling, while at the same time not liking the idea of being done in just a couple of year. Fortunately I don't have to make a decision for a while.

They are really good boys.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Gary just got a call from CASA. Roland spoke to them briefly. I was in the bath.

I spoke to Gary and he said that they were going to be supporting emancipation as his goal. Since he lived in a juvenile justice facility and some of the residents did emancipate at 17, he was a little confused about what that meant. While some of the kids at the facility were able to get job and become emancipated minors (on probation), they were not already foster kids.

So I explained that for foster kids having emancipation as a goal meant that the plan was to keep him in foster care until he was 18. The only ways for him to stop being a ward of the state was by guardianship or adoption. So he started talking again about taking extra classes and graduating at the end of his junior year. That is fine with me, but more difficult than he thinks it will be.

At least now he doesn't want to do anything that would entail notifying his father, and that is okay with me.

His permanency hearing is next week. I have learned that his judge has a reputation for incredibly short permanency hearings. What we experienced last time was typical. If everyone shows up agreeing to a plan, the judge won't do more than ask Gary if he needs anything and we will be out of there.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why renters are happier than home owners

The large black cat who lives in the basement whom I never see, got an injury on his foreleg which turned into an absess. Gary showed it to me when he first got it and I remarked that it wasn't infected. However, it got pretty bad. So he went to the vet on Friday, had icky things done, and now has a bandage which he is not supposed to get wet. Um...yeah. It's winter. This cat has a cat door and hasn't used a litterbox for years. Roland blocked the litter box with his toolbox, but our very large cat (16 pounds of bone and muscle) pushed that thing out of the way. So now there is a board nailed over the window. (The cat door replaced one pane of glass in an old basement window in the laundry room.)

This also means the dog door is shut. Fortunately it came with a cover. Anyway, we now have to remember to let the dogs out regularly. We have had fewer accidents than I would have predicted, given that the Shih Tzu was never trained to ask to go out.

Our washing machine died. We bought it and the accompanying dryer when I was expecting Andrew, so almost 20 years ago. We bought a new one which will be delivered on Friday. It was a Consumer Reports Best Buy. Roland is the laundry guy and says that he can manage with the old dryer even though its capacity is much less than the new washer.

AND we are having eletricity problems. Joy. Two ceiling lights now blow out blubs as soon as you put new ones in and we are getting more sparking at plugs than we once did. We called Roland's dad who is a retired electrical engineer. We asked him if he thought it would be a good idea to have our 80 year-old electrical wiring inspected. He agreed. The thing is, this is an old house -- 80 years to be approximate. The basement has been renovated in a way that cut off access to the crawl space. Totally not code, but there it is. When the bathroom and kitchen were renovated by the previous owner they re-wired those rooms, which involved removing the internal plaster walls to get to the wiring and putting up sheet rock. I'm not prepared financially to have all my walls dismantled and replaced, so that probably means having wiring molding all over the house. We already have it in much of the basement, but it is more appropriate to a basement than a late-1920's living room.

Anyway, I seem to have to choose between dying in an electrical fire, going deeply in debt to rennovate my house, or live with wire molding running around.

We are supposed to be getting an estimate today. I am hoping that the ceiling lamps can be re-wired from the attic crawl space. If they can't then I might just have the charming ceiling fixture in the living room disconnected and light the room with lamps. In the dining room though I think we will have to do it one way or another. We really can't light it with lamps.

Anyway, I'm sighing here.

I keep thinking how pretty my ceiling light and wall sconces are -- and reminding myself that they are not worth dying for.

The electrician is supposed to be calling to make an appointment to give us an estimate.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas

I had a conversation with Gary that had absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

I asked him why he was dating Trouble again.

He asked me how I knew. I told him that I was psychic. The real answer is that I am minimally observant and not stupid, but psychic sounded better.

Anyway, I said that I understood why he would be friendly with her, but why was he romantically involved with her?

Really it was like reading dialogue from a TV movie on domestic abuse.

She is really making a change, and he feels obligated to support her in it. He knows that she might not really change, that she probably won't change, but he won't feel good about himself if he leaves. She knows that if she does anything really terrible he will leave, and he thinks that will work.

That was the point where I broke in. I told him that I wanted to explain about how boundaries "work." If they are working, they are keeping chaos out of your life, but they don't make people stop producing chaos. He can't fix her.

He said he knew, although his face indicated that he wasn't happy about it. He still wants to be with her, support her, because she wants to change. He says that if she does something really bad, he will leave, but he thinks he can help her change.

So we talked about the frog in the pot, which is not true in the sense that frogs won't in fact stay in a slowly heating pot because as the frog slowly gets warmer it slowly becomes more active, but which is a good story for talking about how abuse victims can find it hard to leave. I suggested that what he wanted to happen was for her to either become the wonderful person he knew she could be, or else do something so bad that he could walk away without guilt. He agreed.
I warned him that there was a good chance that wasn't going to happen. He could very well have to make a decision to leave and that he would have to deal with the feelings that came with that.

He didn't disagree, though he was sad.

I said that I understood because I had my co-dependency side too. I also wanted to fix people's lives for them. I tended to think that I can make them make better decisions by just explaining things to them.

Then I got the irony and shut up.

Well, sort of, I did make him promise to think about what I had said.

Friday, December 26, 2008

No Calls

Gary's father did not call Gary, has not called since Gary's birthday.

The agency social worker seems to think the permanency hearing is the most important indication of his father's commitment to his life. Whether he show for that, which she expects he won't, is symbolically important to her. For me the symbolic importance was calling at Christmas. I thought there was only a 50/50 chance, but I did hope. It will still "count" for me if he calls in the next day or so.

I'm not holding my breath.

It was fun for a while

I have reached a new level of peace with the world. I can say things like, "Don't worry about. We will go ahead and open our presents now and when you get here you can open yours" and not be the least bit sarcastic about it.

I was much more go-with-the-flow, release all expectations, and that was a good thing.

We had a pretty good day. Roland gave me key finder that beeps loudly when someone whistles, or the dog barks, or someone laughs just so, or if the TV hits a certain note. Everyone had fun with that. Evan and David seemed to really like their robes. Actually I think everyone was pretty content.

Evan got here late because he works nights and so 9:00am is as unreasonable an hour for him as 3:00am is to me. He brought his boyfriend who looks fourteen, but thanks to heaven isn't. David got here around 11:30 and also brought a boyfriend. His boyfriend is older, but not too much older. They brought along David's tiny Yorkie. The Shih Tzu spent most of the day hiding. When Brian carried him out to sit in his lap the poor dog shivered in terror. After about four hours he calmed down and decided that the Yorkie was probably not going to kill him.

The food was good, although not everything came out as expected. Roland shook his head over the roast because I cooked it too rare. He just cut pieces off the end and a couple in the middle. I had to go back into the kitchen and slice up the middle so that those of us who know how meat should be prepared could enjoy ours. We ate lamb, which Evan's boyfriend had never eaten before and also found vaguely sacreligious -- eating lamb on the birthday of the lamb of G-d. Not that he is religious, but it just seemed wrong to him, like eating rabbit on Easter.

My mother sent Roland, Andrew, Brian and Gary all pj pants, as is her custom. She labeled Gary's "To Gary or foster son." She wasn't sure she had the name right, which is partly my fault. I don't call her often enough. Of course she could have called me before she mailed it, or just left it blank.

Roland's parents gave all three boys gift cards to iTunes. Gary's was for half as much as Andrew's or Brian's. I am going to have to figure out a way to let them know that that is just not cool. I understand and accept that they stop giving gifts to boys after they move out of the house. If they give gifts to the boys here though they can't be of obvious different value.

Gary was appreciative of what he got though, and did not seem to expect more.

I don't think his father called him, although I did not ask.

Late in the evening Carl called. He had a tale of woe, much of which is probably true, but I am never sure. His life is currently at a cross-roads or in the toilet -- sort of glass have full/empty situation. He asked for money to help him through the next couple of weeks. We debated for a while but when it was finally clear that he wanted about as much as we spent on the older boys for Christmas presents we agreed. I hadn't sent him anything because I wasn't sure where he was, and I did sort of think of the bus ticket as a combo birthday-Christmas ticket.

Brian and Gary got into a tussle at the end of the day. It was pretty minor. Brian has a tendency to over play his injuries, especially if he thinks people are not believing him when he says it hurts. Gary on the other hand doesn't like to admit to pain and even when he does it is in a matter of fact way that leaves you wondering if he is seriously injured or just letting you know that his last workout left him a little sore. Anyway, Gary used a martial arts move, pulling Brian's arm into a decidedly uncomfortable position after Brian, wanting Gary to look at something, wouldn't let go of Gary's shirt. There was crying from one boy and eye rolling from the other. We are establishing two rules: 1) nobody attempts to physically restrain others from leaving and 2) nobody may use any martial arts move or other physical force on anyone outside the gym.

So it was an okay day. Gary spent a good deal of time in his bedroom, which is cool. If that is what he needs to do to cope, it is okay with me.

And now I am tired.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Foster Teens and Sex

I have said in various contexts that it is important to remember when you do foster care for teenagers that you are parenting someone who is somehow "finished."

I can't find the words to say what I want to say without saying something that is obviously false.

Let's see ... the younger a child is when he or she comes to you, the more influence you are able to have over the development of their character and values.

That's better.

Sixteen is an age when young people are supposed to be separating themselves emotionally from their parents. They are often beginning the process of reflecting upon the values they have been taught and deciding for themselves what they believe. Gaining their trust and respect to the point where they will include you in this process is a wonderful thing. Still that is not the same thing as teaching my values.

I can have rules, of course. I do have rules. The agency imposes some rules upon me, things like "people can go into other people's bedroom by invitation only and then the door must stay open" and "no one has sex in this house except mom and dad and then always with the door closed."

But having and enforcing rules is not the same thing as teaching values.

What is lately becoming clear to me is that parenting a teen who has been sexual active from before they met you, is a very different thing from parenting a teen who is very much in the process of deciding for himself when he will become sexually active.

I'm just sayin'.

Ettiquette Advice

Let's say your college-aged son is home for the holidays and has been spending every third night or so playing on-line games at one of his friends' houses. Though the young men could play in their separate bedrooms, it is apparently more fun to bring their laptops to one house and play together.

Having been to all the other houses you say that yes, they can come to yours.

When you get up on Christmas Eve and find your living room furniture completely covered by sleeping young men, at what time is it social acceptable to wake them up and kick them out?

Perhaps it would be best to wake them up with pancakes...

Which one are you dating now?

So...remember about the girl friends?

Since June there really have only been two girls that he has dated for any length of time. One is a girl who went from mother to foster care to father. She ... well she has stuff she has to work out, and she is not my responsibility, and I don't like it when she pulls Gary into the drama. Sitting with an anxious and depressed Gary explaining that a particular action, though stupid, would not induce an abortion and the girl was either mistaken about being pregnant or had a miscarriage is not my idea of a good time. All this while I am thinking, "She probably made the whole thing up to suck you back into her drama after you broke up with her. Remember when you said she wasn't good for you?" I would like to come up with a nice blog name for her. I shall call her "Trouble" as it is the nicest thing I can think of at the moment.

The other girl was the first girl's very best friend, so how about we just call her "Trouble's Friend"?

So I think the last time I told you about them he had broken up with Trouble's Friend because she and Trouble were fighting and drawing him into it. He thought he could be friends with both of them. Even though Trouble's Friend was angry at Trouble for speading unspeakable lies about Gary to everyone at their little school (the Charter school Gary had wanted to go to), lies which Trouble's Friend initially believed.

Shortly after I wrote that post, Gary was dating Trouble's Friend again. They were united against Trouble and her dramatic, manipulative, deceptive ways. Gary was often sympathetic with how hard it was for Trouble's Friend to go to the small charter school where everyone was hearing terrible lies about Gary and now her.

Last night Gary asked if Trouble could come over for a while today. I looked at him in disbelief. Did he say who I thought he said? "Yeah, we worked things out. I mean, we worked some things out and I just thought it would be good to spend some time with her." What would Trouble's Friend think, I wondered. "Oh she won't care."

So he is off to ride the bus to her house and ride back with her so that the she won't have to ride alone.

Just before he left he said, "Oh, I put my iP*d through the wash. It doesn't work. Good thing Trouble's Friend broke up with me! I get to keep the [refurbished] S*nsa I bought for her."

"Wait! You and Trouble's Friend broke up?"


"And now Trouble is coming over here for the day."


"Are you two dating again?"

"No. Well, not yet. I mean I don't know if we will again, but maybe. Don't look at me like that!"

And now he is off to catch the bus.

MMA and Braces and More MMA

Because a couple of you have expressed concern, we will certainly not make Gary give up MMA for braces. I'm hearing different things about whether he can be safe with braces and a special mouth guard. I am thinking about telling him that if he wants to find out if that would work for him we could make an appointment with the orthodontist and ask. I don't think it came up when they were there before. I don't know for sure because Roland was the one who took him.

Right now MMA is the most important thing in the world to him.

I did tell you that he is incredibly fantastic right? And that I know this because he tells me so? He goes to the gym (I am told that it no one there calls it a "dojo") four times a week. He earns his lessons by cleaning the gym after. He is very proud of the fact that he is paying for his own lessons.

If I was good at remembering these sorts of things I am sure I could tell you in exactly what way he is fantastic and which ways the other people are able to beat him. I can tell you though that these other guys beat hime only because there is this one particular move (different ones for different guys) that he hasn't learned to defend against, or have longer legs, or are stronger and have studied longer than he has. This does not, however, make them better. Gary is the most talented young player anyone has ever seen and in a month or two he will be able to bring down all those guys. Well, maybe not ALL of them, but most of them.

'Cause he's the best.

Honestly, I prefer to have a teenager who unrealistic picture of himself in a positive direction. I wish he had some of the same confidence with things like writing.

He is complete focused on the competition this summer. The gym will have some fund raising and the agency will help him, but even so that leaves an estimated $900. Now we are good for part of that, but he still needs to get a job or figure out another way to raise money. He is looking for a job, but those are not easy to come by at the moment. Yesterday he learned that there are such things as grants, so he spent quite a bit of time on the Internet trying to find one that would help a sixteen-year-old go to a tournament.

He also has been trying to find cheaper housing. The tournament is at a convention center and of course everyone is staying there. He has found some cheaper housing, but it only works if everyone is willing to do it. He was very excited when he told me about it, and I just nodded. I didn't tell him that they probably wouldn't want to go. I remember when I went to a professional convention very close to my brother and sister in law's. SIL was very confused and sad that I let the college pay my expensive hotel bill instead of staying with her, but staying with them and taking a taxi to the convention would not be the same. I wanted to go to evening sessions, be able to take a nap in the afternoon, and eat dinner with people I had not seen for a year. This tournament is not a youth event. It is an adult event with some youth competitions. I think the adults who are going are going to want to be there, where everything is happening.

But I digress. The point is that he is putting lots of creative energy into figuring out how to pay for this, and/or reduce the costs of it. A lot of what he comes up with is unrealistic, but Faber and Mazlish (authors of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk) convinced me long ago that it is best to let kids pursue these plans. They tend to learn stuff along the way.

I didn't do such a good job of keeping my mouth shut when he was talking about getting a sponsor. I finally asked who he thought might sponsor him. I was kind, really I was, but I was also confused. It didn't seem to me that a local business would give him a lot of money in return for putting their name on his back because the competition was so far away that it wasn't going to help them. "That's why I need to get a national sponsor."

"Okay, but why would they sponsor a sixteen-year-old who for all they know could get eliminate in pre-competition trials?"

"I won't get eliminated!" (Insert here explanation about good he is).

"Sure, but a national sponsor won't know that. If they are going to sponsor a youth at all, they will probably sponsor one who has already competed."

He acknowledged that was probably true.

Still he hasn't given up. He will find a way.

Although when I suggested taking the snow shovel around door to door he said that would be his "plan b." I did point out that the snow was not going to be here in June.

Sometimes all this gets to Roland. Of course, he is the one who drives him home from the gym and so has a full 20 minutes four days a week of this. I probably hear as much or more than he does, but in smaller spurts and usually while I am able to do something else like cooking dinner. Besides, I find it just a little bit cute. Roland is more ... flabbergasted.

The guy who got Gary set up with this work-for-lessons thing is the job-services guy. He used to be heavily into martial arts, and has the damaged knees to prove it. He wants for Gary to be able to do this, and I suspect he will work hard to help him find a way to raise the money, hopefully by helping him and the other kids in the program actually find jobs.

It is possible that after the competition this summer he may decide that he can back off serious competition for a couple of years and get the braces. Or he might not ever get the braces and then need dentures when he is sixty. As I told the social worker, I'm not going to worry too much about that. When he is sixty I will be dead. Cause Gary says I'm already old.

Seriously, the little twerp yesterday informed me that based upon his mother's age when he was born and my age when his mother was born I could be his grandmother!

"If I had given birth to her when I was like, what, thirteen or fourteen?"

"I know girls who had babies at fourteen."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Like he cares about when he is 60

Months ago we took Gary to a dentist who refered him to an orthodontist who couldn't see him for weeks because there are only so many spots open for medicaid patients. The orthodontist said that he really should have braces, which medicaid wouldn't pay for because his teeth weren't really bad enough, but still needed. This orthodontist of course knows that the private agency will pay for them.

Gary however really, really doesn't want braces. If he has braces he won't be able to do martial arts for two years, and his life would not be worth living if he had to quit martial arts. Of course, he wasn't allowed to do martial arts when he lived in the group home, but that is not relevant. He is doing it now, and he loves it, and he is going to be professional fighter for a long time, maybe even until he is 30. (Yesterday he saw a photo of Obama on the beach shirtless. Gary was very impressed -- he looks good for an old guy. I protested that Obama is only two years older than I am. Gary looked at me with sincere confusion...exactly what was my point?)

So we got a consult with my dentist whom I trust.

My dentist said that Gary really should have the braces and that if he doesn't his teeth will suffer more wear and tear causing him problems later on. Then the dentist said in ominous tones, "You might even have to get dentures when you are 60."

Oh the horror! Dentures at 60!

Gary is sixteen. The 60-year-old man who will remember being him means nothing to Gary. That is an old man. Don't old men wear dentures anyway? As far as Gary is concerned the dentist said something like, "If you don't have braces, when you turn 60 you will be 60 years old."

If he has the braces he will not be able to participate in martial arts for the two years it would take. That is NOW. That is his life, his passion, his future. It is everything to him.

Why would he even consider giving that up so some old man won't have to have dentures?


Monday, December 22, 2008

Advice for a newbie

Jenniebee, who has been commenting here recently, is on her way to becoming a foster parent. She has started a new blog, which you should check out, of course. She's written two posts!

At the moment she is looking for advice about private agencies in Virginia. If you know anything, you can leave a comment here...or go over to her blog.

On Rick Warren

via Andrew Sullivan, this post by Mellissa Ethridge's wife.

So you should read it. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Okay, so I don't have any reason to doubt what she says, but this leaves me wanting to say a few things to Rick.

The comparison of marriage to a religious thing that other people shouldn't claim would be a whole lot more convincing if the religious people weren't saying, "All the people who are similar to us in a way that makes us comfortable, get to participate in our religious insitution, even if they totally reject everyone of our religious values and beliefs, but people who make us uncomfortable because they are different, even the ones who hold our religious values and beliefs, can't participate."

Once you have opened your religious institution to everyone, you cannot with any consistency deny it to one group because they violate one of your religious principles.

Consider for a moment those religious groups that have a form of marriage restricted to their own: Mormons and Catholics for instance. If I were to convert to either of these groups, they might very well ask me and Roland to get re-married. My marriage doesn't meet their standards. However they have never tried to pass a law, much less a constitutional amendment, saying that I can't use the word "marriage" to describe my relationships. They have never said that all those laws the government has passed don't apply to me because in their eyes "marriage" only refers to their relationships, the ones blessed (as they see it) by G-d.

They couldn't get away with saying that because in this country we believe in religious freedom. The government does not represent one religious view.

So maybe the post above is right about Rick Warren. Maybe that makes him more educable or less offensive on gay rights. Maybe. It makes him more disturbing on other levels though. He doesn't hate gays, he just thinks that the government should reflect his religious views.

Oh, I feel MUCH better now.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

First Christmas in years

I always ask the kids if there is any particular treat they want for Christmas. Gary wants to make white chocolate macadamia nut cookies. I think David is the one who wanted fudge.

Gary mentioned that he hadn't had Christmas outside a group home in years. I asked about the year he was with his aunt. He said no, that she used to have him taken back into detention for something or other when she didn't want him around, so he was in juvie for that Christmas too. He's sixteen. He hasn't had a Christmas outside a group facility of one sort or another since he was eleven. No presents to speak of because even the most recent group home was a juvenile justice facility and those projects where people give presents to kids in group homes don't go to the detention facilities.

There is part of me that would like to try to make it up to him with a big Christmas, but I think it is better to keep it calm and quiet.

I'm going to make ginger bread people today. In past years I have decorated them with mini M&M's, but I can't find them this year. [Update: Brian walked to the drug store and got some for me.] Tomorrow Brian says he will bake golden bars (little more than brown sugar and butter). Andrew and his girlfriend are going to bake more cookies on Monday. That along with the cookies Gary wants to make should be good.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And now for a pet peeve

Today, December 18 2008 is 7 days before Christmas. It is NOT the 5th or any other day of Christmas.

Christmas is the first day of Christmas. That's right folks. The FIRST day.

Christmas does last for 12 days, as you know from the song. The twelfth day comes early in January. They used to celebrate it. There is even a play named after it... you may have heard of it:

Twelfth Night

Currently, we are in the liturgical season of Advent.

I have nothing against the pagan/secular Christmas. In fact I have been known to remind Christians that the secular world did not "take over" the religious holiday. They took it back. All this mid-winter stuff with trees and lights and revelery -- that was never Christian. Christians can do it too, but if it is "taking over" your religious celebration it is only because a bunch of Christians decided to try to take over another people's holiday. So deal with it.

It's just this "days of Christmas" thing bugs me.

Christmas day is the first day, got it? THE FIRST DAY.

Okay, I feel better now. Also the nice people working at the store who don't decide what sort of stuff to put on their advertisments are less likely to have to listen to that.


Lying about School

I'm very clear about the food thing. One on hand, I would not quarrel with someone for whom family meals were important. There are some real down-sides to my relaxed attitude about food. One of them is that my kitchen is almost always a mess. It isn't just that Gary eats off-schedule, everyone here grazes at will. If I had more kids, younger kids, or kids with some other kinds of food issues I might make a different choice.

I just don't want anyone here to think that when I write about a problem and a solution that has worked for me that I am explaining the "right way" to handle it. The right way to handle a problem always depends upon the particular people involved.

I work with teenage boys, which complicates things too. I suppose I should just say "teenagers." They come to me pretty complete. Their developmental stage is, and should be, one of establishing independence. They should be wanting to solve their own problems, and not wanting their parents in their stuff. Add to that the fact that they don't really see me as their parent, well, I have only so much capital, so to speak. Things work out better if I think of myself more as a mentor, ready to help, than as a parent responsible for making them do everything they should. I don't mean that we don't have house rules that they have to follow, but today I want to talk about school.

How Gary does in school is clearly something that doesn't affect me. It isn't like asking him to do a reasonable number of chores around here, and it certainly isn't in the category of speaking to us respectfully and not using my stuff without asking. He knows that, so it is an area in which it is much more difficult for him to accept me butting in. From his perspective it has nothing to do with me.

So he is lying to us about it.

The charter school has a system where you can log in and see exactly what your kids' grades are. I can see that Brian still hasn't made up the quiz in Spanish they had the day that he went to the doctor, and that both boys have not turned in all their journals in Drama. Actually, I can see that Gary hasn't turned in ANY journals for Drama. He also hasn't turned done the second paper for English. Most of his grades are actually pretty good, but some are in the basement. Brian's problem is that he does really well on things that happen in class but forgets to turn in all the small stuff. Gary on the other hand has trouble making himself write papers and can get his back up about things that he doesn't want to do.

So recently we have been pulling up the boys' records and talking to them about it. The conversations are different with each boy. With Brian we are sometimes firm, sometimes angry, sometimes gentle. Always though we are insistent. He MUST stay after school and see if he can take that quiz. He needs to get his back pack RIGHT NOW and see if he has these missing math assignments or he can sit down at the table and do them. Like I said, sometimes we are gentle when we say this, but we say it.

I certainly don't want Gary to feel like we care less, so we talk to him too. With him though we am always more gentle. "Gary, there is still no grade for this paper. What's going on?"

"I turned it in on Monday. I guess he hasn't graded it."

"Well, maybe you should talk to him about it?"

"I turned it in."


"What's going on with all these Drama journals that are missing?"

"I did those! I don't know what is wrong with her. She is really getting on my nerves. You know we are supposed to do these presentations tomorrow and she hasn't given us any time to practice at all! She just sits there and lectures us telling us that we should be practicing but she doesn't give us any time to do it. I don't know how much longer I am going to be able to deal with her."

Uhuh. This by the way is a real problem since at the Charter school you need to have a 'focus' in high school. Since he has no particular artistic talent or experience, he picked drama where he can do things like set and light design. (I know, it takes a talent to do these, but it is at least something that the other kids haven't been practicing for 10 years). He needs to take a class with the drama teacher every semester. He will need to work closely with her when he does his senior project.

Roland talked with him gently about how he was going to need, all his life, to work with people he didn't like. He would have jobs with supervisors that got on his nerves. He was going to need to deal with this. Gary sat silently waiting for Roland to finish talking so he could leave. This is a little better than having kids talk about, but it is fairly clear they are not paying attention. Well, they are not going to let you think they are paying attention.

But Roland has been doing this for a while too, and he didn't let Gary push his buttons. He said his piece and Gary left.

We went to the bedroom. I said, "You know I don't like being lied to."

"Me either. What do you think is happening in drama?"

"I think the kids are wasting most of the class time and the teacher spent the last few minutes reprimanding them. Gary left thinking that she had used up all the time they had left so it wasn't his fault."

"That makes sense. He never did turn in the English paper or write those journals. Do you think we should do anything about it?"

"Remind ourselves that we are not the ones who will have to go to summer school."


I really think this is the right thing to do, but I have less certainty about it. I made different choices with Carl and David and that didn't work out so well. They made pretty much the same choices at school they would have made anyway. It just brought another level of conflict into the relationship. I also think our interfering got in the way of them bringing their problems to us. In the end we might have been able to help them more. Or not.

I think that letting school be Evan's business worked out better.

I think it is right with Gary because he has career goals that matter to him. He envisions becoming an assistant for a physical therapist and eventually getting all the schooling he needs to be a PT. He brings it up with me, asking me questions. He has asked me what it takes to get in and how it is different from high school. He wants to know if he gets an associates degree will those credits count towards a bachelors.

In other words he has his own reasons for succeeding, our reprimanding him would not give him more motivation. It would bring a new source of conflict into our relationship though. I think it is better to keep going as we are, letting him know that we know he is struggling and that we are ready to help if he will let us.

Although I'm still debating about whether and how to call him out on the lying, because I really don't like being lied to.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Not being a burden -- food

Is there anything in your life that it is difficult for you to do, even though you know that you don't have any rational for avoiding it? Maybe you can even explain why you hate it so much, but that doesn't make all the resistance go away?

Well, Gary has some complex stuff that all centers around not wanting to be burden to us. Some of it is conscious, but that doesn't make it go away. Some of it is less than conscious.

The less-than stuff includes food. He doesn't seem to be able to be hungry in front of us. I don't think he is feeling hungry and denying it, I think he stops feeling hungry. Now part of this is the result of institutional living when he had to eat on a schedule. Dinner was a six and if you didn't eat then you went hungry until breakfast. He hated that. I think he hears, "It's time for dinner" and he has some level of anxiety and just doesn't feel hungry.

If I tell him that I really want him to sit with us at dinner he will and he will be nice about it. He won't put much on his plate though, because he isn't really hungry and he doesn't really know why. Half an hour after dinner he will be loading up a plate in the kitchen. If I announce that dinner is cooked and available and people should just serve themselves and yes, you can eat wherever you want, then he is hungry, although he generally won't come into the kitchen until I am gone.

Now part of this may be the "being a burden" thing and part of it may be that he is embarrassed about the amount of food he puts away. He's a teenage boy and he works out hard at least four evenings a week. He needs food and lots of it. He doesn't really want people commenting on the piles of food he eats. It isn't just that though. I really believe that he is just not hungry when he has to eat in front of us.

If I am not feeling like cooking and we decide to go out for fast food (something we do less and less) then he really isn't hungry. Sometimes he insists that he would rather stay home.

When he does eat out with us, he orders the least expensive options and claims that is what he really wants. I still remember one of the first times he ate with us. We had Evan along. We went to a bagel shop, got sandwiches and Gary was turning down all the extras, things like chips or cookies. Evan said, "Come on dude! It's FREE FOOD. Eat!" Gary said, "Free? Oh!" and he grabbed as much as Evan did. Gary of course didn't realize that Evan meant that it was free because I was paying.

Anyway, this is on the list of things that I just accept. I've moved to serving buffet style, eat-where-you-want more often than not, and when we do eat as a family I don't comment on Gary's lack of appetite. I also leave the food out for a while so he can come back later for seconds. I think it is getting a little better since I have learned not to say anything about how much he is eating. If I don't seem to notice one way or the other, his appetite slowly returns.

It occurs to me that all this could have been a real problem for me in the past. I like family meals and I like to see people eating and appreciating what I cook. Having someone refuse to eat what I cooked and then sneaking off and eat it behind my back might have felt like a personal insult. Clearly it wasn't the food he disliked, so it must be me, right? I would have felt hurt that Gary couldn't allow me to feed him. I might have experienced his behavior as rejections of my attempts to love him. Just think of all the posts I would have written. "Would it be so hard for him so hard to just eat with the family?"

If I had decided to make a big deal of it, to tell him that in this family we eat together and I expected him to sit with us and eat what we ate, the whole thing could have escalated. Gary has trouble with authority, with being told to do something. So that would have been ugly.

I probably would have decided that this wasn't a battle I should fight. I would have eventually decided that I wasn't going to make a big deal about it, but I still would have struggled with it, felt bad about it. It would have been hard.

Now though, it isn't hard at all. It is a little sad, but that is just the way he is.

I don't experience it as having anything to do with me at all. I'll just make sure the food is there when I am not. He will eat. Slowly I hope he will feel safer and when he actually starts feeling hungry when dinner is served, I will be happy.

But I won't comment on it.

How I am feeling

Feeling a bit emotion very strong but still lots of them...

1. Relieved. So relieved that apparently pushing for TPR is nobody's priority. I wasn't there for the discussion but I don't have any anxiety about that. Also relieved (especially after turning on the news this morning) that even though both agencies are facing budget cuts neither of them let that figure into the guardianship issue. If they had pushed for it I would not have known if they were considering budgets, but gently pushing us towards the most expensive (for them) option pretty clearly indicates that they were NOT worried about saving money.

2. Let down, slightly annoyed. This is minor, but it is there. When I first brought it up with the social worker I wasn't committed to doing anything, just wondering if it was a good idea. She seemed excited too, and now after talking to people she is shifting sides. Rationally, I don't blame her at all. I know she was always cautious and that I am very much responsible for my own emotions. It would have been easier though if she had somehow known the answers to the questions when I first asked them. If she had said in the beginning, "I know you've been hearing that the agency wants to move in that direction, but we really are not there now. If it is really important to you we can try to figure it out, but I'm not sure it is in Gary's best interests." Of course she didn't have that answer for lots of reasons...

3. Feeling peaceful with it, at least for myself. I like working with the agency. I certainly like the degree to which they support the kids and I like that they are there if I need them.

4. Disappointed, cause yeah, it would be exciting.

5. Worried about how to strike the right note with Gary. We can still do this if it is something that he wants. The social workers are striking cautionary notes, but they are not saying no. If it is important to us, we can do it. The thing is it is not so much important to me, and it is difficult for me to get a good read on how important it is to Gary. I think he wants it, but I know he recognizes down-sides. I think for him the biggest worry is that his father would have to be notified and would make trouble, which his father is capable of doing. Right now his dad is the proverbial sleeping dog. I mean no insult by the 'dog' language - I just mean that there are risks to stirring him up and making trouble, specifically making unsubstantiated allegations about us. Of course I think part of Gary is also worried that his dad would NOT get worked up and make trouble. What if he just said, "Yeah sure, take him, I don't care."

Gary also really does want not to be burden to us. I've been meaning to write a post just on this. It comes out in all sorts of little ways, but like I said, another post.

Anyway, we will just let that particular conversation go for a while.

I went into the kitchen last night and made him face me. I told him that he was NOT a burden to us. He said he knew. I hugged him and he hugged back hard.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

And the answer is...


The social workers just left. They were here for two hours. We talked about ordinary things for a while: school; his trip to the dentist; martial arts. Then they finally got around to asking Gary what he thought about the various permancy options. The current plan is long term foster care with the possibility of reunification (or something like that). What did Gary think?

Well Gary took some time sort of mumbling around and finally said something to the effect that he would LIKE it if he could live with his dad, but he didn't think it was realistic. The conversation sort of dead-ended. I announced that I didn't want Gary to say or not say something because he thought it might hurt my feelings and so I was going to leave for a while. Roland followed me out and they talked for 45 minutes without us.

I explained to Roland that I was only partly worried about the "hurting my feelings bit." I was mostly concerned that Gary would just not talk if I was there, perhaps hoping that I would talk for him. Anyway it seemed to work. We could hear his voice (though not his words) as soon as we were walking down the hall.

We came back when we heard the state worker leaving.

The sum-up seems to be this:
1. Gary qualifies for all the agency's education benefits after being in the program for 12 months, which will be in June so they are not making any changes to the plan for now.
2. Though the agency at the level of vision wants to support kids exiting from foster care by reunification, adoption, or guardianship, at the level of practice they really do foster care. They haven't really thought about what the other options should look like. In the few cases where they have done it was more clear what the family wanted or needed.
3. Gary had stated that what he likes about being in the agency is that he doesn't feel like he is a burden to us. He doesn't like asking us for things. On the other hand he doesn't like the stigma of being in foster care.
4. The state worker has almost never seen foster parents take guardianship and though he is not opposed to it, he doesn't see how it would be better for Gary. He understands what Gary means about not liking the stigma.
5. Gary was reassured that his social worker would give him permission to compete in martial arts competitions, which was one of the reasons he thought guardianship might be better.
6. If we went into guardianship, the agency would probably only offer limited support for one year. Waiting until he is about 17 (next fall) would mean that we would receive some level of support until he was 18.
7. He would definitely qualify for the state supports available for youth who emancipate from foster care no matter what happens.
8. Gary asked the state worker to find out whether one or both of his parents had to be notified if we petitioned for guardianship. (My understanding is that notification is not necessary if it is not possible, but that you can't just skip it when it is possible.) Gary is clearly concerned that his father would object and possibly make life difficult.

Anyway, the bottom line is that they really don't think we should do anything until at least June, and they seem to be recommending against pursuing guardianship altogether, although if it is something that is really important to us they will support it.

And the social worker acknowledged without my asking that we were getting contradictory messages.

Now, I know some of you are thinking about the TPR issue. That sort of almost came up. Just about everything I typed above I got from the social worker in summary, after getting Gary's permission of course. She started out saying that they reviewed all the permanency options. She mentioned all of them including, "[state worker] told Gary that sometimes teenagers are made available for adoption, but that does require terminating the mom and dad's parental rights. Then we talked about guardianship and staying in foster care..."

I'm thinking that Gary wasn't thrilled about the TPR either. It may be that he doesn't want the TPR itself or that he doesn't want to deal with the likely consequences -- or both.

Anyway, I like working with my agency and I have only wanted guardianship if it was best for Gary. I think the social workers are asking him to think seriously about whether it is. There is a lot that they can offer him if he stays in the system.

The agency social worker even told him that she could back off so that we only saw her when we needed to -- except that she still would have to drop by once a month.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Things about me

So this is inspired by Dawn's meme. I don't normally do meme's, but I thought I would just this once. I'm supposed to come up with sixteen things.

1. When I buy consider buying new furniture I look at it and think, "This will have so much more character after the kids scratch it up." If I can't make myself believe that I don't buy it.

2. My best friend from high school reports that I told her when we were in high school that I wanted to be a professor and I wanted to raise kids from foster care, but that I didn't think I would be able to do both. I do not remember this conversation. (Wait I think I metioned that on this blog once. Oh well.)

3. Roland asked me out because all his friend would tell him about me was that I once asked him if he masturbated. I remember that conversation. The question was rhetorical and followed my exposition on my recently acquired knowledge about the percentage of men and women who claim not to masturbate. I was insisting that that was actually the percentage of people who lie about their sex lives.

4. I went out with Roland because when I went to the library there was someone at every table. I had briefly met him, so I sat there. He asked me what I was reading and I told it was an article arguing that golden mountains had to exist in some sense because we had to refer to them in order to sensibly say sentences like, "golden mountains don't exist." He seemed really interested and we actually talked about it.

5. I did not know that the reason he was interested was that he was curious about the girl who had asked his friend if he masturbated.

6. I took Greek in college because we had to take a foreign language and if you took Spanish, French, or German you had to go to drill in the afternoon and a foreign language major would snap her fingers in your face if you didn't answer quickly enough. Oh, and the only other choice was to take Latin with the football team.

7. I went to my college sight unseen because it had one of the best programs in education for the deaf.

8. I knew I wasn't going to major in any sort of education after two weeks at that college.

9. My first job after college was waitressing at Mr. Omelet. We had to call in orders.

10. I got the best tips because I was mean to people who were mean to me (mean people never leave good tips, but sometimes they will leave apologies) and treated teenagers like royalty (they have no idea how much to tip).

11. I once kept a penny a regular left (an insult to let you know that he didn't forget to tip) and gave it back to him when he came back. I refused to serve him and he sat with nothing at my station until the other waitress asked if I minded if she did.

12. After that he was always nice to me and I brought him his coffee the way he liked it without him needing to order it.

13. My sister has a small scar over her eyebrow that she got because I threw her into her room and she hit a plastic crate. She had to have stitches. Neither of us remembers why I got so angry, but she does remember that I gave her the new giant Barbie head I got for Christmas as an apology. She enjoyed it more than I would have.

14. My vision is so bad that I can't read the big E at the top of the chart without my glasses. (I'm running out of ideas here.)

15. I went to a Unitarian church once and realized that if I wasn't a college professor I would have enjoyed it, but it sort of felt like being at work.

16. When I was in labor with Brian I had considered having him at home (one of my friends was a midwife) but went to the hospital because I wanted to have an epidural. I had done this already, remember. I asked for one but they said that all the anesthesiologists were busy. I kept saying, "Busy? What do you mean they are busy?" At the worst point in labor I made Roland promise to kill all the anesthesiologists. I meant it. He said, "I promise." Then I panicked and said, "But not now! Don't go now!" He was very calm and soothing and kept saying, "I won't go. I'll wait. I will kill all the anesthesiologists after the baby is born ." I think I may have made him promise to murder the child birth instructor since she had said there would be anesthesiologists.

Church Post

By they way, this is not a particularly religious post, and it does have something to do with foster care.

We all went to church yesterday. Roland has been attending regularly. I haven't mostly because whenever I go I cry. Services tend to strip away whatever emotional defenses I have and I feel whatever I am feeling very strongly.

For those that don't know here is an extremely brief history of me a church. From 14 to 40 I was Lutheran. I stopped going to church for a while and then the local Lutheran pastor helped me find my way back. Then he decided it was time to go to a new congregation, which I understood, but it was so hard. Then my beloved Lutheran congregation voted, contrary to national rules, not to allow a gay man to serve communion. Then they ran off our pastor and we resigned. We joined an open and affirming UCC congregation where I was mostly happy except that I missed the liturgy so much it hurt. There were some other Lutheran refugees there and we comforted each other. At the end of the service one of us would whisper/yell to others "Go in peace. Serve the Lord." The rest of us would whisper back, "Thanks be to G-d!" I did like the pastor though. But then she had some never-explained conflict with the lay leadership and resigned while I was on vacation. She just disappeared.

Since then every time I went to church I cried, so I didn't go so much. It was hard to feel safe. I was angry at people for whatever it was that happened, but I didn't even know who I was angry with. Everything annoyed me. I mean everything. The candle lighters are always in a mess because no one knows how to use them. If they had acolytes and trained them that wouldn't happen. Why can't we get a couple of ten-year-olds, put them in a white robe and teach them to light a stupid candle? And why couldn't we ever sing the songs I loved?

But this Sunday the pastor that was being presented to the congregation as potentially our new pastor was going to be there. So I went. I liked her, which is a sort of scary thing. What I really like is that she has a history of coming to churches that have had internal conflict, including two congregations who had just run off a pastor. She used to be Episcopalean but ended up in the UCC because that is where she could be ordained. She appreciates liturgy and won't push it on us, but she does like to use it every now and then.

She seemed to be everything I wanted in a pastor, everything our church needed. Everyone really liked her. I liked her. Realizing that I liked her, I felt my stomach clench. I caught myself holding my breath and trying not to cry.

We had an opportunity to ask her questions and I wanted to ask, "Will you stay? Will you promise to stay? And if you go, will you promise to say goodbye? Because I just can't do this again."

I want to make myself go back. I think it is the right thing for me to do. I need to make that connection again.

But it is so hard to let myself trust and attach again. It is much, much easier to stay home.

She gets that, by the way. When some people asked her about Exciting New Projects she cautioned them, said a congregation that had been what we had been through needed to rest and take time to heal and reconcile. So she understands, which is something else I like about her, which is another reason that I could get attached to her, which means it will really hurt if she leaves, which means a very large part of me just doesn't want to bother.

It would be easier if she was sort of a jerk or something, if Icould be more confident that I could keep some emotional distance from her.

That's all I wanted to say. I'm sure you can make the connections to foster care all by yourselves.

Reasonable Avoidance

Tomorrow, unless something happens, is the day when the agency and state social workers are coming over to discuss permanency plans. I've only really been able to talk about this to Gary once. I told him that it was routine, but important, and that he should have a say in what happens. The one time I talked to him I got the bravado answer.

Since them I have brought up the topic gently, but he deflects. Yesterday he was talking about everything he needed to get done this week. I reminded him that he needed to be here Tuesday afternoon for sure. He said, "Oh yeah! I have to remember that. I have need to remember to get those permission slips from [guy at dojo] for the competition!"

At one point I told him that if he wanted me to get the phone number of he guardian at litem I would. He shrugged and changed the subject. He doesn't do this when I mention guardianship. I have wanted him to know that the delay doesn't mean that we are not still working on it. He was talking about this competition he wants to go to this summer and how expensive it will be. (It really is hugely expensive.) He was wondering if I thought he could get permission and if the agency would help him pay for it. At the end of the conversation I said that if we were able to get guardianship rights by then I could certainly give him permission but that was far more money than I would be able to come up with. He brightened and said, "Oh, I can figure out a way to raise the money!"

Guardianship is something that is familiar to him. His aunt was his legal guardian during the year he lived with her. He knows that it means getting out of foster care, doing without the resources the agency has, that it isn't necessarily permanent, and that it doesn't change anything with respect to his dad. He is comfortable with that.

He doesn't want to talk about the other stuff though. I told Roland that I wasn't sure if his anxiety was more about not being sure that we would adopt him or not being sure how to tell us that he likes us and all, but he isn't ready for that. Of course, it is more likely that whatever is going on, or whatever he is trying NOT to think about, has more to do with his dad. I suspect he is angry at his dad, but not THAT angry. Not disown him, make-him-not-even-be-my-dad angry.

Before I brought it up, I don't think it even occurred to him that his father's rights could be terminated and that he could be adopted by anyone. If he had been in the system because his father had been accused of anything it would have been in the back of his mind. He would have known that if his dad did not complete his case plan, it could happen.

I don't know though. I hope that there is some one that he does feel comfortable talking to. I am not the ideal person because even though I am committed to doing whatever is best for him, he may worry about hurting my feelings. He needs to talk to someone who is not part of the equation. I plan on stepping out of the room for a good portion of the meeting tomorrow.

It is a delicate balance. Whatever decisions are made should be ones that he is comfortable with, but he also should not feel responsible for those decisions.

Of course, a lot of things have happened to him that never should have happened.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The boys are out (update)

Andrew took Brian and Gary out Christmas shopping some three hours ago.

The roads are icy, but I am pretending that that doesn't concern me at all.

I really do love that they are getting this sort of time together. Andrew and Gary have really not had much interaction. It isn't just that Andrew has been away at college. Even when he was home he has been in his own world most of the time.

Brian called a little while ago. "Um, Mom? Um...we are in The City and we were wondering... I mean... um ... we are probably going to be out for a while and um..."



"Your Dad and I were taking bets on what time you would call to ask if you could get dinner. Tell Andrew I will reimburse him, but nothing expensive!"


And so we are here, in the quiet house, and they are out there shopping, and driving home on icy roads.

Update: the boys got home safe and sound

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Talk, All Talk

In case any one is wondering why I keep talking about guardianship/adoption and am not DOING anything, I want to say ... um ... welcome to the system. The wheels of the court turn slowly, and official permanence is low priority. I actually understand that. I have called social workers because a kid was possibly suicidal and I would have been incredulous if she said, "I will try to get out there later today, but I have an appointment to talk with the director about some permanency options for one of my other kids." Not that she would have revealed that, but you get the idea. Things will happen whenever they happen.

It is particularly non-urgent because no one questions where Gary will be living for the next several years. He's here, unless his father makes a surprise appearance, which no one expects. The only question is whether he is here under the umbrella of guardianship, foster care or adoption.

I remain opposed to the termination of parental rights unless it is necessary for the child's safety or permanence. Since it isn't in Gary's case, I am opposed to doing it. It really is that simple for me. I know that there is a difference between being a mom who is present daily and being the mother who left when you were two and never came back. I just don't need for someone else to be made officially not the mother so that I can be the mom.

Anyway, we will see what happens. I'll be sure to let you know.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Teenagers: Asking for help with on-line phone account not recommended

Dear Teenagers,

Think twice before asking your parents how to get to the on-line photo album associated with your phone. It will prompt your mom to notice how many minutes you have used and messages you have sent. This in turn may induce her to look at the actual calls and messages and then notice that twice in the past week you were up all night on the phone AND that you apparently manage to text message during school every single day.

You don't want your parents to notice this because they may threaten things like taking away your phone at night or even worse paying Veriz*n $5/month so that you can't text at night or at school. And just to add insult to injury, they will deduct the $5/month from your allowance.


Dear Parents,

I recommend checking your children's phone usage regularly.


Dear Readers,

Apparently Gary and his most recent girlfriend have made up.


Disappointed with Roland. Tells me he is going to check the school homework cite regularly. Never does unless I remind him. Didn't remind him all week because he was so offended at the idea that it was necessary. He didn't check.

Brian missing a couple of assignments from last Friday when he had an appointment. Piles of math homework he insisted he turned in but agreed to redo. Very heated discussion about a set of assignments that he said he had, then couldn't produce, then admitted he didn't have. Sigh.

Gary doing poorly in two classes. Has another English paper past due. Claims he wrote it in the school computer lab and will print it out Monday. Roland and I seem to recall same thing said about previous paper. We agree, privately, that he is lying because he doesn't want a to spend another weekend writing a paper. Roland asked what I want to do. I shrug. I'm not the one who will have to go to summer school.

It is so much easier when you don't feel responsible for messing them up.

Andrew is coming home tonight. He will be here for three weeks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Missed Bus -- Twice

Yep, Gary missed the bus twice this morning. This is possible since he rides the county public bus and not the city bus. Sadly, the bus that goes to his school comes by only once an hour. Since he might have caught the second one if he hadn't been deep in conversation with me, I gave him a ride. He got there before he would have had he caught the bus.

We were talking about getting into college, what grades he would need to have and such. It was a ways into the conversation before he realized that according to me at least it is more difficult to get into the private college where I teach rather than the big public university in The City.

He's still not sure I'm right about that -- what with them being a university and us just being a college.

I am always surprised by the things that kids in foster care miss. It is unpredictable, these holes in their knowledge about the world. What saddens me even more though is the embarrassment or even shame that comes with it. I have had foster care alumni tell me that they were so embarrassed to have to admit to someone that they didn't know what escrow was. I tried to assure her that really no one did, or at least no one learned until they needed to know.

There are lots of things I don't know, but I don't tend to be embarrassed about it. If I need to know I find out.

Gary is having a hard time in school right now. When he was in the first treatment center he had school on site. He is under the impression that he studied Algebra I, II and Geometry all in the same year. I am inclined to think that there were students studying at these various levels, but that he was only doing one of them. Probably. Anyway, he is taking Algebra I right now and having a very hard time with it because he shouldn't be having a hard time with it it and so doesn't want to ask for help. He shouldn't need help.

I gave him a little pep talk in the car, asked him what he would do if there was some MMA move that he used to be able to do and now couldn't remember. Would he fake it? Work around it? Or would he has someone at the dojo to re-teach it to him. He acknowledged that he would ask.

So last night he asked me to help him with some graphing problems. He had to graph equations like y = 3x. I showed him how to do it and of course he was hitting himself on the forehead because it was so easy and he should have been able to figure that out by himself. I hope I struck the right note with him, acknowledging that it was easy once you know how to do it, but understandably mysterious if you don't.

It also turns out that he doesn't have basic skills in word processing. I found that out when I was helping him with the paper. It caught me by surprise too. He has had keyboarding. He can touch-type. He can do all sorts of things with his MySpace page, but he doesn't know that when you are writing a bibliography you can tell the computer to do that "weird indent thing where the first line sticks out." When that the the first name of the author should come after the last name he started retyping it. Without thinking I asked him why he didn't just click and drag. He said he didn't know what that was. I felt instantly horrible because I asked it in a teasing tone of voice, like of course he knew and just wanted to do it the hard way.

It is a constant mine field. Now they are just little mines, but there are there. At any moment I may insult him by expecting him to know something that he doesn't know. At any moment he may be struggling and not asking for help because he doesn't want to admit he doesn't know something.

And of course the solution is not so easy as just teaching everything, because he will also be insulted if I try to explain something to him that he already knows.

I want to make this easy on him. I want him to feel safe asking me. I know I can't force that though. I think asking for help on his algebra was an important step, as was finally accepting help on his paper.

Trust comes slowly.

Even with the "easy" kids.

Claudia has some really interesting thoughts this morning.

She writes about parentified kids, kids who have had been in a position of responsibility and how they need a different sort of parenting style.

Gary may or may not be parentified in the way she speaks, but he is a really good example of a kid who needs not to be feel that the parents are trying to have power of him. Actually all my kids have responded poorly to anything they perceive as authoritarian. That doesn't mean not being the parent, but it does mean using a different sort of language.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Oh poop

Okay, I don't know what is going to happen but my mind keeps wandering down the various paths trying to anticipate what could happen. I've been wondering about the TPR/Adoption path.

Roland and I still agree that there is not a compelling case for termination, and that we would adopt Gary if he needs to be adopted.

But what if...

I am nervous about how Gary's father might react and what trouble he could cause for us. My worries are not just anxiety. I know enough of his past behavior to know that there is no reason to fear for my safety, but I could easily be subjected to verbal abuse on the phone or in person or have to deal with allegations of abuse or neglect.

Okay, so I can deal with that.

Then it occurred to me...the real problem. The Big One.

I think I would have to have an adoption homestudy, and I am pretty sure that means going through the state classes and getting a state foster care license.


I'm not telling Roland unless and until I am absolutely certain.

Oh the horror.

Wondering What Will Happen

I keep finding myself wondering what will happen with the whole 15 of 22 months TPR question.

I'm not worried about it. I can find that calm place where I know that whatever happens we will be okay. The most probable options are that Gary stays with us or lives with his dad and those are both good for Gary. One makes me feel sad for myself, but both are options I can accept. Some roads are just bumpier than other.

So, like I said, I am not worried about it, but I am finding it hard not to think about wonder and, well, worry ... a little. Ahh, if only we had words to describe the exact feelings we have. I don't dread any of the options, but I very much want to know RIGHT NOW what will happen. Each possible path offers different issues, and as long as they are all open my mind runs through them all.

The thing I really and truly do not know is how the state social worker and the judge feel about the "15 out of 22" month thing. I don't even know how my state or county generally operates. The ASFA clearly favors termination, unless the kid is under the care of a relative, that state realizes it hasn't provided the services the parents need, or "(ii) a State agency has documented in the case plan (which shall be available for court review) a compelling reason for determining that filing such a petition would not be in the best interests of the child."

So in other words the state has to initiate termination of parental rights unless they decide it is better to do something else.

Ultimately the law requires the state to take a moment and think carefully about what they should be doing so that the kids don't just "languish" in foster care with no plan, and I that is a good thing.

To be clear, I am opposed to termination of Gary's father's parental rights for all sorts of reasons, the question of this post though is not what I think is right. I'm just dealing with wondering what the social worker and judge will think is right.

I mean, I can see the case for termination. Gary is never going home. His father has moved and changed his phone number and not told social services or his son. He seems to prefer not to be found. He demanded visitation and a meeting with all the new people in his son's life. Once he was told he could have both, and that the meeting would be the new and easier precondition for the visits, he stopped calling. He has not contacted his son for three months. He has, so far as I know, not contributed financially to his son's care. Unlike other sixteen-year-olds in care, he would be adopted. (It is uncomfortable for me. I don't think the rights should be terminated, but if the state does, I would be willing to adopt him. This willingness may be more likely to get added into the equation than my opinion.)

So it sloshes around in circles in my brain. What is the predisposition of this social worker and this judge?

What would your county do?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


He broke up with the latest girlfriend today, because she used to be best friends with the last girlfriend (not the one that he dated for five minutes or the one that he never really dated but was flirting with, the one he actually dated for a while and whose life is deeply complicated and dramatic). Anyway, they've been fighting and he's been pulled into the middle somehow and he just had enough and said that he wasn't dating either of there! He done. He's out of it.

He thinks he will just not date anyone for a while.

And he was texting all the way home. I asked who. It was one of the two girls.

"I thought you said that you were out of the whole thing, escaping the drama."

"Well, now that I am not dating either one of them I can be friends with both of them."

Yeah. Good luck with that.

You know, seriously, I thought that straight boys would have less drama in the romantic lives. Really.

Profile re-write?

Someone just sent me an email asking my my identification in my profile as a "birthmom." Given that that word is normally used for women who have child who have been adopted into other families, it has the potential to be confusing.

The profile really hasn't changed since I started the blog almost three years ago, so maybe it is time for a re-write. I didn't really know what to write then, and I am not sure how to change it now.

Anyone got a suggestion for me? I'm not necessarily looking for a replacement for "birthmom." (I could just replace that with "mother by birth"). What would you say to briefly describe me and the blog?

Oh...and the social worker (agency) emailed yesterday to say that she had a meeting with the division head (well, live vice-division head) about what sort of support the agency could offer for guardianship. She didn't tell me just WHEN that appointment was. So this is the official "pursuing" the idea. This "vice director" was Carl's social worker. She is the first person from the agency I met.

I'll let you know. In the meantime, I'm open to suggestions regarding that profile.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Apparently I don't want to grade

So I have been self-examining my thoughts about adoption and Gary. First, I want it to be clear that if Gary needs to be adopted, Roland and I would do it without hesitation. The question at hand is not what we are willing to do, but what Gary needs. I also don't want it to sound like my willingness is just a willingness, like I would regard it as a chore that I was obligated to do. I can't let myself go to that emotional place. For me, imagining that feels like imagining whether I would be happy to marry someone who is currently married to someone else.

Anyway, what does Gary need?

A lot of the way I feel about Gary's situation is informed by my history with my father. My father did not speak to me, except to ask for my sister when he called the house, for nearly a year. He was, frankly, a mostly bad father. I went through sections of my life in which I denied that he was really my father at all. I acknowledged a genetic relationship, but he was never a DAD. Healing from this relationship was a long process. I had to get to a place where I realized all the good things that I got from him, and deal with the baggage from the abuse. It was complicated.

My parents divorced when I was seven, and I lived there after with my mom. I had security.

If my mother had got married, I don't know that I would have wanted to be adopted by my step-father. I might. I might have even thought about it as divorcing my father, which is something I very much wanted to do for a while.

But I know that being adopted by someone else would not changed things with respect to my dad. There would have still been all that emotional work to do. There also would have been the emotional work involved in accepting someone else as a father. It would have been very hard to trust. VERY hard. So though it may or may not have ultimately been a good thing, it seems to me now that it would have just meant having to emotionally cope with two fathers. It wouldn't have really replaced the first one.

I favor guardianship for Gary because I hope that it will give him the security I had with my mom, that sure knowledge that he is not going to be sent away and that his needs will be taken care of. He wants it because to him it represents a sort of freedom, "not being in the custody of the state." It doesn't bring along a lot of extra baggage though. Our relationships develop however they develop.

The downside of guardianship is that it just takes him out of foster care without bring along the benefits that he would get if he left via adoption, but that is a separate issue.

Anyway, in the end it is up to others, including Gary. I suspect that his parents' rights will not be terminated, but that is just a guess. I don't want to be part of that decision. Officially, all I have to say is that I do not see a compelling case for termination, and whatever sort of parents Gary needs us to be, we will be.

Adoption Birth Certificates

So I thought I would start a discussion about what we should do about birth certificates.

I don't mean about the old ones which have been sealed. I think that they should be unsealed. Period. If there are birth parents who don't want to be contacted they should be able to attach a note of some sort so that when and adoptee requests the certificate he or she knows the parents want to be left alone, or only contacted through an agency, or what not. Birth mothers were never promised anonymity -- they had it legislated upon them. The sealing of original birth certificates was initiated to cover up crimes.

Anyway, I don't want to argue about that. You can argue with each other in the comments and as long as you are respectful I won't delete your comments. There are certain topics part of me just can't believe it is necessary to argue for. Of course people should have access to their original birth certificates. Of course gays and lesbians should be allowed to openly serve in the military and get married. Oh, and pharmacists who are opposed to dispensing birth control pills need to find a different job.

A more interesting question, to me, is what we should do about adoption and birth certificates going forward. If I am correct about the state law here (and I really might not be) adult adoptees can decide whether they want their birth certificates altered. That I think is appropriate. They should decide. If they don't want the certificates altered you just have to keep track of two documents: the birth certificate and the court order of adoption (or whatever it is called).

I would extend that right to teens, but I see where we might disagree on the cut-off date.

But what about young children?

You have to show your birth certificate at various points in your life and the people to whom you have to show it don't really need to know that you are adopted. Probably the person at the driver's license bureau doesn't care, but you might be a bit worried that the school would remark on it in ways that might make the children uncomfortable. Or maybe those occassional points in ones life are not so important.

So...what do you think? I can come up with a couple of options:

1) Two certificates (both birth certificates or maybe one should be labeled an "adoption certificate) to be available:
a) Always
b) Always if birth and adoptive parents agree
c) when the adoptee reaches a certain age


2) One birth certificate that has all the names on clearly an amended document.

Now...I have a pile of papers to grade. Discuss among yourselves.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Suggested Reading

The Lie We Love, E. J. Graff. Foreign Policy

An article on international adoption.

What is your real self?

Someone asked me a while ago whether I thought Gary was being his real self with us yet. I find the question a complex one, and I am not certain how to answer it. But I thought I would puzzle it out a bit.

I think Gary is out of early "company behavior" stage. You know, the one we are so tempted to call the "honeymoon" because it is so easy for us. He has stopped cleaning compulsively. He still likes to keep things clean, but other people have stopped complaining because they can't find their things. His room also often looks like a teenager lives there. It cycles. He will get it very tidy for a while and then it will devolve. He never makes his bed. He has also stopped claiming that he doesn't eat a lot, although he still prefers not to eat a lot in front of me. He seems more relaxed.

He has done the sighing and eye rolling periodically and he has lied about his homework more than once. So if what we mean by "being his real self" is "no longer trying to be perfect" then yeah, we are getting there. However he is also still on probation, and that takes stress out of our relationship. Parenting a teenager who is required to be home by 8:00 every evening is really easy. There is also a county rule that says he can't be driven around by anyone under 18. So yeah, I get to be sympathetic with how tough it is. The past two weekends I have supported him calling his social worker and asking if he could stay out late. Last Saturday it was to go to a birthday party. Last night it was to go to a school play and after party with the girlfriend. I told him to be home by midnight. He was here by eleven.

So I don't know what will happen when and if he is off probation. Will he lose track of time and not come home until 3 in the morning?

I think the whole question is complicated by the fact that Gary has spent several years in intensive therapy trying to become a better person. I am assured by people who have known Gary over the years that he has changed a lot. He has wanted to make those changes. He went back to seeing his counselor because he wanted to go. Still, I think this makes the whole "real self" question unclear. I don't think he knows who his real self is right now. Actually the more I think about it, the more unclear I am about the whole concept.

Not so long ago I responded to a question from a reader giving what I thought was one typical pattern for kids to go through. I don't think I was as clear as I might have been that I don't think that particular pattern is universal. In fact, children vary significantly. About the only thing that seems close to universal is that kids start off on their best behavior. I think it mistaken to call this a honeymoon because it implies a state of happiness when I think the kids are more likely to be experiencing anxiety.

I also think that kids behaviors escalate in ways that are really confusing to new foster/adoptive parents. It isn't just that they can have triggers that we can't predict. It is also true that their anxiety can be increased by things like perceiving you as making promises you are not likely to keep or even beginning to think they might be safe. That may seem strange, but being safe and happy means being vulnerable. In some ways it is easier to have nothing to lose.

Anyway, I mention this because I don't know what, if anything, will happen with respect to Gary's behavior as these conversations about permanency planning go forward.

Maybe nothing much, but you now I will tell you all about it.

Tudu has a post this morning that starts out "....has started showing her true self." I swear I wrote this post before I read that!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Adoption/Guardianship Conversation

By the way, I actually think it is unlikely that the court will initiate termination of Gary's father's parental rights. I think so anyway. They would have to notify him and I assume sending a letter to an address they know is bad wouldn't be sufficient. All past history indicates that he would respond aggressively. This would put Gary in a difficult place. He may say now that he doesn't care if his father's rights are terminated while his dad out of contact, but if his dad showed up and started protesting that no one was going to take his son away, well, Gary would feel understandably gratified.

It is an emotional conflict that I don't think we need to put him through.

I'm just saying.

Anyway, Roland and I talked briefly about it. It just didn't take us long to agree that we were committed to Gary and were willing to be any sort of parents he needed us to be.

I also told Roland that if we ended up petitioning for guardianship for Gary, I really wanted to offer adult adoption to the older boys at the same time, and that if we by some stretch actually adopted Gary I would insist upon it.

Roland is a little confused about why adult adoption should matter to them. I tried to explain.

He finally got it when I pointed out that as the older boys are gay they don't have a reliable way to create legal family. If we adopt them they don't just get us, they get a pack of brothers. It means that if they are in the hospital there is someone who will be able to make some decisions -- and of course back up the claims of partners that they are family too.

The older boys can turn it down, of course.

For Evan it will be more complicated. Our plan is to suggest that Roland adopt him but not me. I would be his stepmom.

Anyway, I told him one of the advantages, I think, of adopting them as adults is that they don't have to have their birth certificates altered. Apparently Roland lives under a rock and only listens to me talk with half his brain because this was the first time he (that he remembers) hearing about altering birth certificates.

It never occurred to him that an adopted child would get a new birth certificate with the adopters names on it. "But, that's a lie. How can the government issue a document that isn't true?"

Oh, my innocent husband.

I wonder how many people who don't know about the practice would be similarly surprised.

Fun Silliness with Google Reader

From Megan McArdle:

Go to the new Google Reader and do the following:
Press the "up" arrow twice
Press the "down" arrow twice
Press the "left" arrow once
Press the "right" arrow once
Press the "Left" arrow once
Press the "right" arrow once
Press the "b" key
Press the "a" key

That sequence, again, is up up down down left right left right b a

Oh, and in case you are as slow-witted as I am, don't look for arrows on the screen. She means the arrows on your keyboard. Took me a while to figure that one out.

Fifteen Months

If you know much of anything about foster care in the US you probably know about the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). The act requires that states initiate termination of parental rights proceedings after the child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months, unless certain exceptions apply or the judge decides that it is in the child's best interests. Generally any law about children is like that "You must do this unless the judge decides it is in the child's best interest to do something else." Anyway. There are good summaries all over the web. Here is one from The National Conference of State Legislatures.

Gary's has now been in foster care for 17 months.

He has not lived at home for more than five years.

We have now hit the official moment in time, passed it in fact, at which the state must decide whether to initiate termination of his father's parental rights or explain why they believe it is the Gary's best interest that they don't. Note that that said initiate termination, not terminate.

There are lots of reasons why a judge may decide that it is not in a child's best interest for the parental rights to be terminated. It could be that the parents are working their case plan and there is a reasonable expectation that they will be able to care for their child soon. Some states, I believe, typically do not terminate parental rights until they have an adoptive family lined up. That the child was going to soon be 18 would be another reason not to initiate termination.

I find it all rather distressing. The law was written based upon the idea that there were children who could be adopted but were languishing in foster care, growing up there with no permanent home. It makes sense in those cases, but in Gary's...

I just explained the law to him, trying to down play it. I explained that his state social worker was going to have to write a recommendation one way or the other and since he was sixteen the worker would definitely talk to him about it. His guardian ad litem should also be getting in touch. I tried to be reassuring and tell him that what was required was that the court look at the question, not that they terminate his father's rights.

His response was all teenage bravado. "I don't care if they do. My father has made it clear that I am the last thing on his priority list so I don't see that it makes much difference if he has parental rights or not."

I get that anger. I really do. Gary is not wrong about his assessment of his father's priorities, and I think his priorities are defensible -- to a point. He has a lot of kids. One is a fifteen year old girl getting into all manner of trouble. Two are step daughters who are about 12 and 14, I think. Then there are three little ones, now between four and eight. Finally there is his 16-year-old son who is living in foster care, reasonably happy with his family, and be provided for by an agency that has extensive resources. Oh, and he (the dad) gave up a well-paying job in another state in order to save his marriage right before the economy went bust. Life is pretty tough.

So I have a degree of sympathy for the man. I also have anger at him for not paying any attention to his son at all.

But I worry that the system has somehow taught Gary that parents are replaceable, like tires on a car.

I have been officially asked if Roland and I would be willing to adopt Gary. My response was that Roland and I are prepared to parent Gary in any way that he needs parenting. If he needs adoptive parents, then yes, we would be willing to adopt. However, I don't support termination of parental rights. I don't know if anyone really cares what I think though.

We have been talking about guardianship, but there is no doubt that adoption would be better for us. There are adoption subsidies and medical assistance for instance. In some ways it would be better than guardianship for Gary. It is clear that if you emancipate from foster care or are adopted from it as a teen that you qualify for certain types of funding for college. If you leave via guardianship...well, there are no clear guidelines.

But all this doesn't take into account the fact that Gary's dad is his father.

Gary's dad is not like a tire on a car that you can replace at will with few to no consequences. He is more like a limb that you can replace with a prosthesis if you have to. Or maybe kidneys are a better analogy. A kidney transplant can be wonderful when needed, but you don't go around taking out kidneys, even ones that aren't working quite so well, because you happen to have a transplant kidney on hand.

Okay, all you adoptive parents who are angry at being compared to a prosthesis or kidney, please, take a breath. Remember I am talking about a teenager, specifically Gary, his dad and us.

Anyway, it was an email that set me off. The agency worker got some sort of message from the state worker indicating that he wanted to talk to us all about this and wanted to know if we are interested in guardianship or adoption. By the time it got to me it just sounded so ... casual.

Then I tried to talk to Gary and he was also casual, which is typical teenager self-protection. I get that.

Still, I sort of feel like I've fallen down the rabbit hole.

Social worker in a top hat, "Say, if we took out his kidney you'd give him a new one, right?"

Me, "Well, yes, of course, but..."

Gary, "Fine with me. I don't like this old kidney anyway."

Conversations over paper writing

"Yondalla, so why didn't Christians have all the Greek philosophy stuff for a while?"

"Google 'death of Hypatia.'"

A few minutes pass...

"Wow! That's graphic."


"Yondalla, is it true that all our science and stuff is built on Aristotle?"

"Well, think of it like this. If you were on a treasure hunt and you got a clue, which led you to a clue, which lead you to another clue until finally you got to where you are and that place was not where the first clue led you, would that first clue be a foundation? Probably not, but if you didn't have it you might not have ended up where you are. Aristotle is like that first clue."

"Oh!" Holds head, "This is so confusing!"


"Yondalla, how do you spell 'Plato'?"

"P l a t o."

"He was like, important, right?"

"Yes. Like really, really important."


"Can you ever really be wrong in philosophy?"


"But how?"

"By being wrong."


Friday, December 05, 2008

Gary's Paper

Gary is actually working on his paper!

I passed on your suggestions to Roland. Now that isn't wimping out. It is recognization of strengths. Roland made what could be an outline of any high school paper. Sort of the classic, horrible 5 paragraph paper. As a college professor I hate those. However, they are probably a good pedagogical tool for helping students to learn how to organize a paper. Anyway, Gary has an outline.

It has totally energized him and he is going to town.

I also told him that Andrew knew about some web site where you could plug in your information and then tell it if you wanted your work cited list to be MLA or Chicago or whatever. So he called Andrew and got that and suddenly the bibliography is easy too.

Now he is working on it and saying things like, "Heh, Yondalla! Is it common knowledge that there are two groups of Muslims?" "How do you spell them?" "Yondalla, is it common knowledge that Muslims are supposed to go to Mecca once in their lives?"

Oh, did you guess that he is writing his paper on Mohammed?

Technically it might be a stretch to say that the Mohammed's legacy includes the discovery of zero. You know, since apparently it was discovered in India when Mohammed was a kid, but you know what? I want him to get the paper finished and I am not going to let a little thing like the facts get in the way.

Maybe he will come up with some other interesting tidbits and then I can suggest dropping that one out.