Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pieces of Information (Updated)

I know that:

  • He's straight.
  • He's 15.
  • He has never been in a foster home.
  • He lived in was sent to a state far away for treatment when he was 11.
  • His step-mother would not allow him to move back in so he lived with a relative who got too sick to take care of him.
  • So they moved him into a group home because there wasn't anywhere else for him to go.
  • He acts older than his age.
  • He really wants to live with a family.
Roland has agreed to let us get more information -- even though the poor kid has the misfortune to be straight.

Andrew and Brian are willing to follow up as long as I don't let it go too fast and I get lots and lots of information before we make a decision.

So we take our time here. No sudden moves. Perhaps it is good that I am recycling the Ann posts, shaking my head at how incredibly naive I was then.

And just when I was really, really bored

I hit publish on the last post and checked my email. There's a new one and it starts like this:

Hi this is [name] from [agency] and I am approaching you about a possible placement. [The Family Devloper] suggested that email might be the best way to get in touch…so I am working on an intake and am wondering about your family as a placement option. This is a 15 year old boy...
Don't get all worked up. I don't know hardly anything about him.

On Blogging Dry Spell

Yes, I am using the Ann story to get me through a blogging dry spell.


It isn't that I don't want to blog. It is just that at the moment my life is boring.

In a good way.

Still, I don't have much to say.

So I will trickle out the Ann posts one or two a day and hopefully by the time I give all 50 of them to you something will be happening in my life. Actually I hope to have something else to say some of the time, but I did want you to know that silence about my day-to-day life just means that things are humming along quietly.

So today my big day consisted of the following:

7:00am -- calling Roland to ask where my car keys were and then waiting for him to borrow his principal's car to bring them to me so I could go to work.

7:05 am -- noticing that the van was in the back, which means the Andrew snuck back into the house as part of his participation in "senior cut day" -- which I had told him I absolutely did not support.

7:10 am -- deciding I didn't really care all that much if Andrew cut school.

7:20-9:00 grading, writing notes, and getting up an Ann post.

9:00am-2:00pm -- teaching class and grading papers

2:00-3:30 -- car pool w/one errand on the way

3:30pm -- taking Brian to the optomotrist to pick out new glasses having finally convinced him that he was not going to meet the requirements for contacts any time soon.

4:00pm -- sitting in my chair, surfing the web and reading the political news.

5:00pm -- eating dinner Brian cooked.

5:30pm -- writing one of the most boring blog posts EVER

Next: a bath and deciding what dessert I will bring to the potluck tomorrow. Will I bake or buy?

After that: bed

See what I mean?

Drama-free is a great way to live, but it doesn't provide much in the way of blogging material.

Ann's Story Part 10: Jan 13

During January there were meetings at which it was supposed to be decided where Ann would live. I kept expecting, as did the social worker, an official decision that she would be placed with me as her primary home and would visit Mandy and John on a regular basis. The recommendations were always looser than that, and the situation never officially changed. Her placement with me never left temporary status.

It made it difficult to know how to talk to Ann.

To the social worker:
Jan. 13, 2003

We have had an intense evening around last night. Ann cried and told me that she wanted to go home. She likes it here, but she wants to go home to stay, but her case worker will might make her stay. I spent about half an hour with her. I reassured her (several times) that no matter what happened her Mom and Dad would love her and be part of her life, as would we. At one point she said that if she could go home she would do all her chores and her homework, but if she had to stay here she would just mope at school, not try and not do anything. I did not respond to that. She told me that she could not stand to live with an 8 year old boy. I agreed that it was difficult. 8-year-old boys can be whiny and throw temper tantrums. "Like me." "I suppose." "Is what I am doing now throwing a tantrum?" "No. This is just being sad. It is okay to be sad and ask someone to spend time with you. It is okay to cry and to be homesick." I told her that it was always okay to be sad and that she can tell me if she feels homesick -- my feelings will not be hurt.

I told her also that everyone wanted and loved her and that we all thought that it was just so hard for her to live with all those challenge girls. She told me that one girl (only one) had tried to comfort her and told her that her Mom loved her, that her Mom had cried when she left and she never does that with the other girls. She also told me that the other girls though were mean to her and that her Mom and Dad thought that it was always all her fault and nobody else's fault (this brought on more tears).

We kept going back and forth. She would cry and say that she wanted to go home. Then she would talk about what she liked about being here. Finally she got out the photos she had with her and told me all about each of them. She told me about her pets and about sleeping with the big dog. She listed some things that she did like about living here, and asked (as she has in the past) about whether she could have a pet here. I told her that I would talk to Roland about it.

Roland and I talked about room pets and agreed that we should give Ann the same rules we gave the boys. We told her the rule about room pets is that someone has to go 3 months being very responsible about chores and homework and then when they save up half the money needed they can have a caged pet in their room. We discussed the cost and she thought she could do it. She then suddenly remembered another homework sheet she had and got it out to finish.

I suspect that this is one half manipulation. "I feel miserable the least you can do is give me a rabbit" and one half trying to make the likely prospect of being here full time seem more attractive. I don't know if she will be able to save up the equivalent of two months allowance. I rather doubt it, but if she does, she can have the rabbit.

She is feeling better now and having snack.
Parts 11&12

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Update on FosterAbba and FosterEema

Check it out!

Ann's Story Part 9: My Hopes and Expectations

When I tell people the story of Ann I often lie. I tell them that the placement was supposed to be temporary. It wasn't. At the beginning of January the plan was for it to be at least indefinite. I expected to be sharing her with Mandy and John, but I also expected her to stay with me.

Note: most of the emails used in these posts are either to the social worker or to my friend Mary, who has no kids, does not understand why I would want to, and has known me since high school.

Jan 6, 2003
To Mary:

It was a busy Christmas break. Carl has been home and of course we have had Ann. I have a station wagon with a jump seat, but we are pretty packed in it. Ann has been volunteering to sit in the "way back". The car was quite weighted down and scraped bottom quite a bit. So we are now talking about mini-vans. By the time you get to 4 children (only one of whom is under 5 feet tall) it becomes difficult to resist.
Ruby (Ann's social worker) came over today. She had a long conversation with “Robin” (Ruby's supervisor) and they definitely want to move Ann here, officially and indefinitely. They are going to wait until they get the psychologist report though. It is supposed to state that she should be moved to a different home. They are legally obligated to follow those recommendations. Having them will give them a way to set up the discussion with Mandy and John. So right now we wait.
Jan. 11, 2003
Ann has been experimenting with her bad behaviors. You know that she throws temper tantrums at home. We figure that even if Mandy does not give her attention for it the girls do. Two nights ago she was rolled over on the floor and hit her head on a stool. I am certain it hurt, but she pulled the afgan over her head and starting loud, artificial whimpering. I imagine that if she were home one of the other girls would tell her that it couldn't hurt that bad and to shut up. This would allow her to start yelling that it did hurt and no one cared about her. If she could get it all loud enough Mandy would intervene. Ta-da! Ann center of attention.

I stood up and mentioned quietly to Roland that I really needed to get the dishwasher unloaded. When I came back later she had uncovered her head and she asked if I would give her a hug...which of course I did. I also asked her if she wanted an ice pack for her head.

Last night she was not going to bed. She just lay in the middle of the living room floor humming waiting to see what I would do. I turned off all the lights, said goodnight and went to bed. She got up a minute later and went to bed herself.
This morning she did not want to go to her art class. She said that her mom did not make her go. I told her that I was not told that it was optional and if she did not get up and go she could not go to the movies this afternoon (this is a quiet, matter-of-fact voice). I left the room and she got up.

Wednesday morning she meets with her counselor, Ruby, Tom and Mandy and that is when she will find out that she is not going home. We will then be the permanent place. She will then have to test us for real. Knowing what will happen if she flatly refuses to do something or throws a major fit is important. I am not looking forward to it, but hopefully we can move through the worst of it quickly.

Wish me luck!

Part 10

Ann's Story Part 8: Jan 2

To the social worker:
January 2, 2003

To Ruby:

Hi, me again. We did not get to see the psychologist's recommendations when we met wth the PO, so I do not know what it said about where Ann should live. So I don't have any idea what amount of time you were thinking of for Ann in the two houses.
I wanted to recommend that Ann spend the school week here and weekends with the Mandy and John’s. I don't know if she should go every weekend or just some of them. I personally like this idea better than moving her back and forth by whole weeks partly because she has been doing her homework here. I suspect she gets more sleep since she can leave an hour later in the morning. We can also use the school bus to switch houses...perhaps take the bus from the Mandy and John’s on Monday mornings and then back of Fridays.

Just a thought.

Yesterday was a hard day for Ann. She said that January 1st is the day that Mandy and John opened presents. She said that she wanted to go home, that her mom and dad did not want her because she was bad. Whenever she tells me that she wants to go home or misses her mom she always also tells me that she likes it here.

Mandy sent us a document describing Ann's behavior while she was there. It sounds like Ann had more good days than bad, but that she got into loud quarrels with the other girls on the 24th and the 29th. On the 24th it started with Ann telling the other girls how much better life is here (in what way I don't know) until they asked why she did not just move in with us permanently. Ann became furious and said that she might as well as no one there wanted her. It sounds like things went from bad to worse.

Again on the 29th Ann had an argument with one of the girls that seemed to be centered on whether she was wanted and whose fault it was that she was not there full time. One of the girls told her that Mandy must want her the most because none of the rest of them would be allowed to come back if they behaved as Ann did. Again things escalated.

Mandy seemed frustrated when she dropped Ann off.

Ann was very sad yesterday and said that she likes it here, but that she wanted to go home. I asked her if she thought she could work with her counselor to develop some strategies for dealing with the foster girls at Mandy’s. She said that she tries but that nothing works. No matter what she does she ends up fighting with them.
Reflections Aprill 2008:
Sigh. So optomstic was I. They were going to work out a sort of shared custody agreement ANY moment. There was certainly no guarantee that it would be permanent, but it would be indefinite.

Part 9

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ann's Story Part 7: Background

I probably should have started all of this with a little more of the background.

Ann's first 4 years were horrific. I have read maybe half a dozen files. None of them are pretty, but Ann's is the one that made me want to vomit, curse G-d, and die. How could anyone do such things to a child? How could anyone do such things in front of a child? I will give you only one detail. When Ann's mother's parental rights were terminated she got one last chance to say goodbye to Ann. She said, "If you ever love anyone else I will find you and kill you."

Ann first went into care with her brother. Ann's behavior though was both violent and sexualized. She ended up in a children's psychiatric hospital at 5 years of age.

When she got out, Mandy was willing to take her. Mandy and her husband tried to adopt her when she was seven, but she once again became dangerously violent. She was not adopted in part because she thought that if she were her birth mother would know and would find her and kill her. She went to a private school where they agreed only use the foster family's last name, at least on any document that Ann might see. Whenever she did see her name written as it was on her birth certificate she was afraid that it meant there was a way her mother could find her. When she was 10 she was admitted into the program for which I work. Mandy and "John" (I have to start using a name for Mandy's husband) were very happy. It is a permanent placement program. It was supposed to mean that they were going to be Ann's forever parents without putting Ann through adoption proceedings.

Somewhere in her twelfth year things got difficult. Ann started having more rages and tantrums. Shortly after her twelfth birthday she got into a fight with another girl in the house. Ann had a new pair of jeans with some sort of distinctive decorations. The other girl went shopping with her social worker and picked out an identical pair. This started a conflict that ended in a fist fight, a call to the police, and a juvenile justice proceedings for Ann.

That was when I first knew things were getting bad. In October of that year we were asked to consider taking another young man. He wasn't a match, but even before I agreed to meet him I called Ann's social worker. I wanted to know if her placement was likely to disrupt because if she was going to be moved I wanted her.

When she first came to my house in December it was because the other girls had ganged up on her and she had called her social worker saying she did not want to live there anymore. She was brought to my house to cool down.

She had a hearing connected with the fist fight in the summer and, though I never got clear on the exact recommendation/requirements, we were told that part of the result was that Ann could not go back home for at least a while. Ann of course was not happy about the decision being taken out of her hands.

Ann's sentence was to do community service hours and attend some courses for juvenile offenders. She did these things while she was living with us.

Part 8

Ann's Story Part 6: Trying Not to Hope Too Much

The day after Ann moved in I wrote this to my friend:

December 9, 2002

I am trying not to invest anything in Ann's visit. The social worker wanted to talk about the possibility of her staying. I told her that I was just going to think about it one week at a time. Of course Ann is welcome here, but as I said, I don't want to invest. Yesterday happened because Ann called her previous social worker and said that she did not want to live there anymore. She had got in trouble with her mother and was pouting. The other girls started picking on her. They tipped over the chair she was sitting on and sprayed her with a water bottle. The social workers told her that she should not make any decisions while she is angry. So I guess they have suggested that she might live here. I told her last night that I wanted her to feel that this was her second home, and I wanted everything to work out for her with her parents and her sisters.

And then:

December 10, 2002
I am trying not to get wrapped up in the possibility of Ann moving in, but it is an effort. I have decided that I just won't talk about it with hardly anyone in my regular life. That way I don't have to tell many people when it does not happen again. So prepare yourself for lots of emails.

The social worker went with Ann to her therapy appointment yesterday. She told me that Ann has a good handle on things. She talked about how difficult it was for her to deal with the girls coming and going. She would get to like one and then they would leave. And she is angry at Mandy. She feels like she is always in trouble. The social worker told me that for the second year in a row Ann is not invited to the family special Christmas celebration. They celebrate Christmas on the 25th with all the Challenge girls, but then they send them all to respite and do something special with the “real” family. Ann had always been a part of that, until last year. The social worker wants to "work that out" but she said that she thinks this might be the beginning of the process of moving Ann. I think she feels like I do. Ann should be considered part of the real family. If she is not, then she should be part of mine.

On one hand I understand Mandy. She cannot control the Challenge girls if Ann is allowed to get away with things they are not. On the other hand, Ann is not like the Challenge girls. They are kids that have been out of control. They need that tough hand. Ann is caught between being Mandy's real daughter and being just a foster kid. She acts out because she wants to be reassured that she is really loved.

Ann decided in therapy that she would just stay here 3 or 4 more days. I am glad that she is going back. It would be best for her if she and Mandy can work things out. On the other hand, if they can't, then I want her. I am really bothered about the Christmas thing

December 11, 2002

“Ruby” (the social worker) was here again yesterday. She told me that she met briefly with Mandy and her husband yesterday and said that she wanted to arrange a meeting with the three of them, "Robin" (director of social work, previously Carl's worker), and Ann. Mandy and her husband said that they wanted to meet with just Ruby and Robin. They also said that sometimes it is just time for kids to move on. Ruby asked them to consider the "circle of family" model. And they said they would.

Ann has been diagnosed with attachment disorder. That means that she is charming with strangers and increasingly panicky with relationships. They tried to adopt her a few years ago and she freaked. One strategy in my agency for these kids is “the circle of families” model. They find them several different families and they rotate them every week if necessary. The kids are told that they will not be placed with one family. Over time the kids start asking if they may spend more time with one family and if everyone agrees they are allowed. Mostly though they don't take them out of the circle. Even when they are mostly attached to one family they still put them one week a month (or something) with someone else. It keeps the situation from getting too emotionally tense. I don't know if Mandy and her husband will agree to that. I think we can deal with Ann on our own though. We already have an emotional attachment and we are pretty good (after Carl) at de-escalating. The trick is to recognize the reaction and disengage emotionally (just a little).

Mandy and her husband are really great foster parents. They take the hardest kids that can be placed in a home. We need more foster families like them. Ann just doesn't belong there.

So Ruby and I are agreed that the circle of family model is worth trying, but the rest of the staff have to agree. Of course if they tell Ruby and Robin this morning that they want her to move, that will be the end of that.

I wrote to my friend nearly every day during this time. She was the only one to whom I confessed how much I wanted Ann, and how much I thought that Mandy and her husband were not providing her what she needed.

By the way, I still think that Ann needs to be the only child in a home. She also needs a foster mother who is as good as I now know Mandy is.

As of now, Spring 2008, Ann is about to turn 18. She never found a home she could stay in for more than 6 months.

Part 7

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Tudu needs a hug

Tudu needs a hug. That's all really. She had a bad day and behaved like a human.

Ann's Story Part 5: Backing Up to October

I have been calling this "Ann's Story" but of course it is really mine. It is a story of my journey from being naive and judgmental, to being at least LESS naive and judgmental.

I wanted to try to get to the beginning of the story, so I went back into my file of emails to my best friend and I found this from October of 2002. At that time we knew that things had been tense with Ann and Mandy's house. Carl was at Job Corps and coming home on the weekends. We had been asked to consider taking a young man, and we had responded that we would, but we wanted to know if we should stay available for Ann.

I wrote the following to a friend after doing a respite with Ann and another girl from the house.

October 25, 2002

Mandy and her husband definitely regard the "High Level" girls differently. They are their business, and they are good at it. Their attitude is a lot like Roland's (and my) attitude towards our students. We like them, we do what is best for them, and we don't spend much mental energy on them once they have left us.

They tell Ann that she is different though. About a year ago Ann was having a hard time there. She was acting out, yelling at people and I don't know what all else. Anyway, she was here on respite with a girl named "Faye". Faye said that she was looking forward to getting the "good room" when J moved out (good because it is so small that you are not ever required to have a roommate). Ann said that she (Ann) would never have to have another roommate, just like “Mary”. Faye said, "No...Mary is their real daughter! You are just like the rest of us, and if you don't start behaving they are going to send you away."

I could see that Faye had hit a sore spot. Later I sat with Ann and told her that I knew that she was not like the Challenge girls. She really did belong to the Mandy and her husband. She said, "I know. Mom tells me that when they say things like that I should just remember that they are jealous."

But it is certainly possible that even if they don't think of Ann in the same way now they will as soon as the idea is brought up. It might be that they will let go of Ann as easily as I let go of students dropping a class.

Yes, I actually wrote that last line. How little I understood anything.

This is just one email from this month. During this month the social workers considered whether Ann should be moved and in my naive little heart I hoped that she would be given to me and I would love her and she would be mine and we would all live happily ever after.

Do you ever want to go back in time and just slap your former self?

Part 6

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Feeling Ready

I finished the list of Things To Do To Be Re-licensed. Well, except for hounding Roland into taking First Aid/CPR and having the actual home visit. But the things I had to do are done.

Most of our kids have come to us during the summer. That is in part because it is in the summer that a higher number of young adults leave the comprehensive care and move to transitional services. That frees up spaces, and new kids enter the program. I don't know that we will get a new placement this summer, but I do feel like we are entering the stretch where the statistical chances of it happening are higher. Once school starts again it will drop. That isn't, by the way, based upon anything other than that it is the way things have been in the past.

Brian is definitely (unless he changes his mind again) staying at the Charter School. That is probably good. Now that I have insisted that I can do no more than two afternoons a week car pooling is no longer so terrible. This is relevant because the possibility that Brian would switch to the big school and have more stress was a reason for not taking a new kid. Not that we have any control over it. At some point a teenager will come along who needs what we can offer and we will accept him.

Bacchus asked me a while back, in an email I believe, if I was starting a quilt yet. Those of you who know me, know that is a test of my emotional readiness. I like to have a new quilt ready for new kids before they show up, but after Frankie moved in I couldn't even think about it. The answer is that the quilt books are beginning to call to me. I haven't started digging in them, but I have started thinking about it.

I have to do Andrew's college quilt first. I will probably write about it when I am doing it. It is going to be a complicated and messy project. The best way to do it will be to draft some help and work on it more or less continually for a couple of days. Anyone want to come over and do the ironing?

I am considering picking out a pattern that would be good for hand-piecing*. I could take it with me to the vacation with my father. It might be a really, really good idea for me to have something like that for me to do. It is calming and would help keep me sane. I'm trying to decide if that means it shouldn't be another log cabin quilt. Long straight seams are easier to do on the machine.

Maybe I should just do simple pinwheels. Everyone loves pinwheels. Right? [update: maybe this one, although in deeper colors. What do you think?]

So yeah...I guess I am beginning to feel ready.

Not that means anything of course.

Making a quilt is done in stages. The top of the quilt is pieced -- the pieces are sewn together. That can be done by hand or with a machine. Quilting is sewing the three layers (top, batting, backing) together. Some quilts are not quilted at all; they are held together with knots, which is usually referred to as "tying the quilt." I usually tie my quilts that are intended for beds, although I will pay someone to machine quilt Andrew's college quilt.

Ann's Story Part 4: One Doctory, Two Moms

Ann went home for Christmas at Mandy's. Though no fist fights broke out, Ann was quarrelsome and defiant. The agecny hires a child psychiatrist to come into the office and see all the kids who are on medication. We took Ann in and had a visit that included Mandy.

December 31, 2002

I wanted to tell you that I was disappointed with how the meeting with Dr. N went. I am copying this to K. [other social worker who was there], she may have had different impressions.

Mandy was there first, as she had just had an appointment with J. Before we got into the room, Mandy was already telling him how awful Ann had been behaving. Mandy and Dr. N spoke about Ann as though she was not there. I kept quiet, but it was bothering me that no one was addressing Ann at all. Finally Ann said, "It is not like I am not here." Dr. Nielsen and Mandy both told her that they knew that she was there and they were trying to help her. When “Hubby” and I finally mentioned how wonderful Ann had been at our house it was only used against her "we know that you can make good choices." Dr N told Ann that if she could not behave in ways appropriate to a family then she should spend time in a hospital. He changed her medication to a higher dose.

It was just a horrible experience. Ann had just spent two weeks being good only to have to listen to someone describe her as a little demon and be threatened with institutionalization.

I do understand that Ann is still on her good behavior here. We are still the refuge, not the home and Ann is not reactive to us. But if she is able to be cooperative here for 2 weeks, shouldn't that have meant that she does not need more drugs? Maybe.

I do not want to be competitive with Mandy. I know that she believes that Ann's behavior at her house is the "real Ann" and I am dealing with an illusion. She knows Ann best and I do not feel comfortable with contradicting her...especially in front of Ann. On the other hand I do not think that the way that Ann has been at Mandy's is the real Ann. Well, that's not quite right. I think that Ann deserves for us not to assume that it is. She deserves a second chance and that means being rewarded for her behavior here.

So forgive me for going on and on...and had to vent.

Part Five

Congrats to Maggie & Slugger

Maggie and Slugger's adoption is finalized!!!
I don't have to tell you to go congratulation them do I? I didn't think so. Here's the link to make it easy.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Lawrence King (Bumped up)

Today is the National Day of Silence which is this year dedicated to the memory of Lawrence King. To honor this, I am bumping up this post I wrote last month.


In the current issue of The Advocate, there is an article about the murder of Lawrence King.

Lawrence King was fifteen, gay, effeminate, and a foster child. He lived in a group home where he was told he had rights to be himself and to express himself. He went to school in high-heeled boots and eye shadow. He was bullied, and he stood up to the bullies. He was proud, and his group home actually helped him to be strong and proud.

Brandon McInerey is described by The Advocate as one of the chidlren who are "products of their society, one that simply does not know what to do with a boy in heels." Brandon's home life was violent. The Advocate is a little vague on the details, but we are left to imagine that it was quite horrific, certainly much, much worse than the idyllic group home (see bucolic photo of farm-like home on page 31) where Larry lived. Larry was bullied at school and the school knew it. Brandon heard a rumor that Larry had a crush on him. Brandon yelled insults at Larry. An older student asked the principal to have an emergency assembly to address this issue. The principal asked Larry if he was okay and when Larry said yes, the principal didn't worry about it anymore.

And then Brandon came to school with a gun and shot Larry.

And who is to be blamed? The Advocate is willing to consider different villains. One serious contender might be No Child Left Behind, which is preventing the schools from teaching things like acceptance and non-violence. Damn government. Because you know the schools would have acted if they just didn't have all that pressure to get the math scores up.

The Advocate tells us that Brandon's home life is violent, but the article does not investigate the theory that teenage killers may be who they are because of abuse they suffer. In fact, Brandon is really quite normal, just another product of society.

The Advocate is most concerned about that group home where they encouraged Larry to express himself. They gave Larry a pamphlet from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) which listed entitlements. The pamphlet told Larry he had the right to dress the way he wanted and be who he was. The pamphlet told Larry he had the right to be safe. And the people at group home drove him 15 miles (one way!) to attend a support group for GLBT kids, furthering his sense that he had the right to be safe in this world. The group home went to great length to support Larry. Did they, the article asks over and over, send him to his death?

Can you tell that I am angry yet?

I keep wondering if the article would have been different had the people who had been trying to make Lawrence King proud and strong were his parents: good, loving people who were the parents every GLBT person wishes they had. Then perhaps it might have been Brandon's violent parents who were at fault. Brandon might not then have been presented as just another product of society. The school might be held responsible for knowing the problem existed and doing nothing. Would they have then suggested that the requirement to teach math somehow explains or excuses the school's inaction?

The Advocate article states that King's death is part of a "a growing epidemic that is claiming the life of another gender non-conforming young person every couple of months." Yet they give us NO reason to think that kids who are proud and confident are somehow more likely to be victims than those who are ashamed and trying to hide.

At least The Advocate article has a link to Gender Public Advocacy Coalition where you can find their article on Lawrence King. CPAC's emphasis is in the right place -- schools must be safe.

I am disappointed in The Advocate article, deeply, deeply disappointed because this is a live question for me. I parent kids who need help as they figure out their identity and experiment with self-expression. They DO have the right to be safe. They DO have the right to self-expression. My experience is that kids who are ashamed and hide are more likely to be bullied than those who are confident about who they are. Carl wore make-up to school for a while -- really bad make-up that did not work with his coloring at all -- and he was bullied far less than the year before when he walked with his head down and tried to pretend he was straight.

But it touches a nerve because I do worry that in teaching my kids to be confident I may also not be teaching them to be safe. I want to know what tips I could give them. (I once brought this up at a meeting of the GLBT support group asking the kids what tips they would give others, especially effeminate boys. They bounced around a couple of ideas but in the end they agreed that the most effective strategy was to make friends with the popular girls.) Though there is some part of me that wants to tell the boys to be careful, not to cross some invisible line, I do not think the line exists. Or if it does exist it is exists in the minds of the violent. "Flaunting" means doing anything that makes the homophobic uncomfortable, and there is no way to know what that is. Would Lawrence King been safe if he had not worn make-up and high heels? Or would that not have been enough? Perhaps he would have been safe if he never developed a crush on another boy or denied any crush he did have. Perhaps if he have been closeted and filled with self-hatred, Brandon would not have bullied him. Would Lawrence be safer then? Perhaps he might have been able to stay under Brandon's radar.

If he had, would Brandon have not killed, or would he have killed someone else?

And would we then ask what THAT victim had done wrong?

Ann's Story Part 3: The First Report

(NB: these posts were originally written the summer of 2006)

I have actually thought about posting the various emails I had written about the kids to their social workers since I started the blog. In fact I started the blog when I realized that I may have lost all the emails that I wrote about Carl. I am still putting off talking to I.T. about whether they can help me find them. As long as I don't ask it isn't hopeless.

So Ann is as far as I can go back at the moment. So yesterday I thought, "Now is the time." I'm caught up on a lot of other things. It is summer. I should not obsess about Evan so much. It was when I opened up the first couple emails and started reading them that I realized how painful it was going to be.

See, in the beginning, I was so confident that Ann's major problems were the result of her interactions with the other girls in the house. Ann was living in a house in which there were girls who came and went on a regular basis. It is a treatment home and, in theory, girls are only supposed to stay there for 6 months or less. They are runnaways or have just got out of treatment for drugs, or eating disorders, or cutting. Some are on probabation. They are supposed to spend half a year in Mandy's tightly controlled environment and then go back to their adoptive homes or into a regular foster care home.

So it is not unusual for fights to break out. Girls have come home to find that their clothes have been urinated on. And girls are always running away.

Ann was in this strange place. She was not adopted, but she was not like the other girls. Mandy had tried to adopt her. Mandy wanted to keep her forever. Ann got away with stuff that the other girls could never get away with. And the other girls hated her for it.

I also did not understand the respite phenomena. I knew about honeymoon periods, but I had no idea that the worse a kid was at home the better they would be on respite. On respite they are proving to themselves and everyone else that they are not the problem. And Ann, like S. right now, really did appreciate the relative calm of my house. She loved coming over for respite and always was happy here.

So I thought my house was what she needed. If she was just moved in here, everything would be fine. Knowing how the story turned out, it is now painful for me to go back and read the early emails.

After she had been with me a little over the week the social worker asked about her behavior at MY house.

December 17, 2002

Here is the info you needed.

Medication: Ann has been here since Sunday, Dec. 8th. She has been taking her medication regularly (though I am not certain that she took it this morning --Dec 17th).

Behavior: Ann has been getting along well with everyone. She has been doing the couple of chores that we have asked her to do, and getting along well with my boys. She needs more sleep than my kids and recognizes that. We have been getting her in bed between 8:30 and 9:00. She is difficult to get up in the morning, but she makes it. I take turns with a neighbor driving her to school, which allows her to sleep later in the morning.

So, other than getting up in the morning, we have had no behavioral issues at all
Part 4

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ann's Story Part 2: Ann's Emotional Turmoil

Letter to Ann's social worker
December 13, 2002

Ann did a lot of crying last night, and I did a lot of comforting. She called Mandy and spoke to her for about half an hour. She did some crying on the phone, but Mandy also told her a funny story about the baby taking off her clothes and diaper and soiling the crib which made her laugh.

She told me that she missed her mommy (she refered to Mandy as "mommy" all evening) and that seemed to lead into telling me about how she was separated from her brother when she was four because she poked him with a pencil. I am thinking now that she was seeing a pattern where she looses people because of bad, but not very bad, things that she does.

After we talked for a while she told me that she liked being here, but missed her mommy so much. I explained that everyone was trying to find the right balance for her, and that she needed to be part of figuring that out. What we were thinking was that she needed time to be with her mommy, and she needed time being here where it was less stressful. At one point I characterized it as time at home and "breaks" here, but I did keep stressing that no one knew yet what the right balance was. I asked her if she thought that something like that was a good idea, time in both homes. She agreed that it was. I told her that her mommy would always be her mommy and I would always be her aunt. She hugged me and said, "My mommy is my mommy, and you are my auntie." She was able to go to sleep right after that (about 10pm).

She seemed okay this morning. We agreed that she would sleep in until 7:30 and that she would get up quickly so we could leave at 8:00. She did.

We are supposed to go to Mandy’s house Saturday at 7:00pm to pick up more stuff.


Reflections April 2008

Ann was 12 1/2 at this time. She normally seemed her age. Had known her for a couple of years and this was the first time she had called Mandy "mommy" instead of "mom."

She really was torn.

Part 3

Political Post: MAKE IT STOP

This is my step into actually trying to DO something. It is time for the super delegates to announce. If the Democratic Party is not going to self-destruct we need to have a nominee.

So here is my idea. If you are a Democrat and you want it to stop, contact the super delegates in your state. Here is a link to superdelegates who have not made an announcement.

Write to them. Tell them to make an endorsement now.

Ann's Story Part 1: The Beginning

In 2006 (I think) I started going back through the emails that I had written during Ann's placement with us. I re-constructed that story with the emails and what I could remember. At one point I decided that they should be moved to the private blog. Ann is nearly 18 now, and I am bringing them back.

The background is this. I started doing respite care for Mandy as soon as I was licensed. Ann was a girl I had from the beginning. She came to our house for the first time in the fall of 2000. She was ten. From the beginning she was charming with us. Mandy takes hard girls, usually teenagers. Ann however she took at age five. There were always other girls in the house: girls who fought; girls who destroyed each other's property. Mandy always wanted to adopt Ann, but every time she tried Ann acted out in frightening ways.

On December 8, 2002 I got a phone call from Mandy's. Ann had got into a serious fight with another girl in the house. She had to have a break, and they did not know how long it would be. Could she stay with me? I said yes. For a while we all discussed the possibility that Ann would be passed between our two houses every two weeks or so indefinitely. I wrote the following to her social worker on the 12th.

December 12, 2002
Mandy called last night. She was very sad. She said that she did not want Ann to think they did not want her. We talked for a little while and I reassured her that I wanted what was best for Ann. She said that she would like to get Ann on the 23rd and keep her for Christmas. She would bring her back on the 26th or a couple of days later depending upon her behavior. I told her that would be fine. She wanted to say hi to Ann but Ann was at a ball game at her school with friends. When Ann came home I told her that her mom had called to say hi and she could call her back. She did not give a response to that. I told her about that she was scheduled to go home for a while on the weekend. She asked if she could stay here until after church on Sunday and not spend Saturday night. I told her that I could not make that decision alone, but I thought we could probably work it out. She never did call Mandy.

It made me sad, and somewhat anxious to talk with Mandy. I still think that Ann does poorly there because of the entire environment. Roland, who works with kids with severe attachment disorder, also thinks so. But I know that Mandy thinks that Ann's behavior there is entirely a matter of the attachment problems. If she is right then as soon as our house is identified as the home and not the refuge, we will have the same problems. I do hope not. I know there will be problems, there always are. Hopefully we will not have the constant defiance. I am a worry-wart. Anyway, the Mandy also seemed willing to consider passing Ann back and forth...if it works.

Reflections, April 2008
Can you say "Naive"? How strange it is to read those words now!

Part 2

Ann's Story

Ann will be turning 18 soon, and I think I feel okay about moving her story back from the private blog.

And yes, this is motivated by my lack of having anything else to write.

I will move over one or maybe two posts a day.

All I know to do is copy the content, paste and re-post. If anyone knows how to import, would you please tell me?

Bloglines Readers: As I publish new posts I will go back and add links to old ones to make reading through them in order easier. That means that nearly ever posts will appear as new at least two time.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Don't you have enough to worry about?"

Well, apparently NOT.

I have a new theory about me. I think I am addicted to stress and anxiety. If I don't have enough at home I will get worked up over something else. I'm just one sick puppy. What follows is evidence of that neurosis. Be afraid.

How other than insanity can I explain addiction to the 24-second news cycle coverage of the campaign? Why else do I have a burning desire to find out what idiotic thing Bill Clinton has said every single day? I know that my anxious energy isn't going to change anything. It really isn't.

And now the race is in Indiana, where I used to live. Now I am about to piss some people off, but I have lived in North Carolina and in Indiana and there is a big ole stretch of Indiana that is the most racist place I have ever lived. We lived in a town for a while that I later learned had a very specific reputation. It was in 1989 that Roland, teaching in the high school, said something positive about someone Jewish and one of his students said, in class, "Are you for the JEWS?" The entire class looked stunned. Roland replied, "Absolutely. I'm for everyone. And you know, there are Jewish people every where they are not really any different from anyone else." One young woman said with anxiety, "There aren't any in OUR school are they?"

We looked a house to rent there and the woman who owned it met us and then apologized for telling us over the phone that she wasn't sure it was available, it was. "I couldn't tell you on the phone because with all these new laws you can't just ask people if they're white, you have to meet them to make sure." We didn't rent from her. We did however live next door to a woman who was HAPPY when I told her that a cross had been burned on the lawn of the Black Cultural Center at Purdue University and confused when I told her that I was going to protest demonstration. There were more of those lawn jockey statues (all black, of course) in that town than I have every seen in my entire life.

Of course I can't do anything about that. My sitting around and wondering if Indianapolis and the land near Chicago will out-vote the People of the Corn won't change a d*mn thing. (Go ahead, flame me in the comments. See if I care. I'm a woman barely holding onto sanity.)

I keep reminding myself that I would be an enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporter if she had, you know, actually won. Well, enthusiasic if someone would hog-tie Bill and leave him in a barn somewhere. I supported him too, by the way. I just think that having a president whose spouse is a narcissist who will undercut her and embarrass the rest of us is a very, very bad idea. I get these thoughts running around in my head -- like I shouldn't hold Bill against Hillary, but then part of the experience she is ASKING me to judge her on is being his wife, right? So am I only supposed to count the ways in which that is a good thing? Personally I would rather rate her on HER experience.

And just so long as we are clear, she hasn't actually held public office longer than Obama has.

And the only way she can catch up in the popular vote is to count Michigan and Florida and NOT consider caucus participation, which really irritates me to no end. Every time someone talks about the popular vote I feel like a Who from Whoville. I want to round everyone up everyone from the caucus states and get them all to yell together:

"We are here. We are here! We are here!"

I've given you the link to Nora Ephron's "Hooked on Hillary" twice now, but my favorite part has been running through my head. I must quote. "[I]t's turned into an unending last episode of Survivor. They're eating rats and they're frying bugs, and they're frying rats and they're eating bugs; no one is ever going to get off the island and I can't take it any more" (Emphasis most emphatically mine).

I feel better now. A little.

I told Roland this morning, after I added The Indianapolis Star and the Charlotte Observer to my favorites so that I can start checking THEM out every day, "You know, maybe I need more stress and anxiety IN the house. I think I am addicted to it. I think I would be better if the agency sent us another kid. I really do."

And he said, "I think you are right."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Between

It is an odd moment. In between placements and faced with tasks that pull me into two directions.

It is April, which means it it time to fill out my application to renew our foster care license. It has sat here for a couple of weeks, waiting my signature. I am supposed to list my training hours, get a copy of my driver's license, car and home insurance, and have my physician to send in letters stating that we are healthy enough to continue. I need to tell them that Andrew needs ANOTHER copy of the letter to get finger printed. It just hasn't been important since there is no kid in the house, but I have to get it done in order to have my license renewed. And Roland must up for CPR and First Aid.

A to-do list that must be accomplished so that we can remain a foster parents. So that we can invite chaos and frustration back into our home.

Right now I have time. I come home and read or even nap if I want to. I piddle away a Saturday afternoon surfing the web. I read your blogs and I consider not sending in the application at all, but I will. I have signed it. Roland has signed it. It sits where we put the out-going mail.

Part of me is very much inclined to not send it in. Another kid in the house feels overwhelming. It is peaceful now. It will be even more peaceful later.

It is April, which means I can cancel a line on the cell phone plan without paying a penalty. We added one for Frankie, and we have had an extra cell phone lying around since he left. I had imagined, when he left, that there would be a new kid here by now, but there is not. Now I can cancel it.

And, like the work for the application, I find myself disinclined. Canceling it seems to mean accepting or expecting that there will be no new kid for a while. Given the cost of starting a line, canceling it means that I am betting it will be at least four months. Any sooner and it is less expensive to keep the phone. So do I want to say that? It seems reasonable. How long has it been since Frankie left? More than six months. There is no reason to expect them to call soon.

It makes me sad to think that. I wonder what it will be like when Andrew leaves in the fall. I really have never imagined parenting just one child. I have imagined being child-free, but I expected to continue care until Brian moved out at least. Just one child. How strange. How wrong, somehow. Not my life.

Silly as it is, canceling the cell phone feels like giving up hope somehow. And I don't want to do that.

And so I sit here, preparing to send in the application for renewal and canceling the cell phone.

Both tasks I want to avoid thinking about.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Brian on purses

I went look for purses and I took Brian with me. I like taking teenagers with me. The help prevent me buying things that scream "total dork." Of course what I buy tends to quietly say, "Geeky mom out of touch with fashion" but I can live with that.

He was very helpful:
Me: "Remember, I know I'm a grown up woman. I am not trying to look like a teenager."

Brian: "Right -- no sparkles. How about this one?"

Me: "I like it, but if you want me to be able to hand you tissues, eye-glass cleaner, a comb..."

Brian: "Okay! Something bigger."

Me: "What about this one?"

Brian, thoughtful: "That one says...I'm so menopausal I have to carry everything I own."

Monday, April 14, 2008

The First Step ...

... is admitting you have a problem, right?

It all started a few weeks ago, I think. I started watching the delegate count. I dug around at the New York Post politics page. I figured out how many pledge delegates were in each column and how many super-delegates had made an announcement, and how many were left. I did the math. Hillary Clinton would need to get between 60-70% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination.

I knew it was over. I also knew that Hillary Clinton wouldn't give up. I started checking back at the NY Post regularly to keeping tabs on the delegate count. It was just one site.

Then something, I don't know what, sent me to It wasn't why I went, but I found segment called "The Hillary Deathwatch." It was dark and funny in a way that appealed to me. I checked back periodically to see if they updated. I decided that that was too much work and I subscribed to it. I also found the Nora Ephron piece Hooked on Hillary that I told you about a while ago. [Correction: This essay is at The Huffington Post.] I laughed myself silly. I also found a delegate calculator that will allow you to see for yourself how hard it will be for Clinton to win. I added Slate to my daily reading list.

Periodically I read the Washington Post on-line. I checked them out. It turns out that they have a blog The Trail where they give regular updates on whatever what is happening. So I started checking it out.

And then I subscribed to it. I'm not sure why it appealed to me more than the New York Times The Caucus, but it did. Besides, reading the Times was such a regular part of my routine that I didn't need to subscribe to it. Now, subscribing the The Death Watch and The Trail was supposed to HELP me stay focused on my life. Sadly, they only send out the beginning of the posts, so I had to go to the sites to read. I often found other things to read, but that was okay. There were fun moments. I watched Obama campaigning in Pennsylvania. I added a couple of Penn newspapers to my favorites, just so that I could check up on what they had to say, which was surprisingly little.

And then, G-d help me, one of these things, I do not know which, sent me to The Huffington Post. I will not link there. Search for it yourself. It is political junkie crack. They update all the time. At any moment you can find a new story. Any moment. Much of it is legitimate breaking news, being reported there first, but some is a little ... soft on facts. Still, if you want to be the first person to see a photo or video of Obama bowling or Clinton pouring down a shot of whiskey -- it is the place to be.

Was it on Slate (or was it Huffington and I just don't want to acknowledge that because I'm trying to get myself to stop going there every hour?) that I first learned that Bill brought up the Bosnia lie again for no good reason. He actually volunteered the defense that his wife mispoke because she was 60 and tired at 11:00pm. It hit me -- he is a narcissist and consciously or no, he does not want Hillary to win. He can't play second fiddle. He WILL sabotage her campaign. It was a train wreck, and I could not stop watching.

I started surfing the sites hourly looking for what Bill had said today. (In case you are wondering, today April 14 he has claimed to see "I'm not bitter" signs wherever he goes -- except the reporters who go with him don't see them.) It is hard to turn away from a train-wreck, impossible when the crash is imminent.

Friday morning saw a clip in which Hillary laughed, LAUGHED when someone asked about whether her profiting by Bill's work on behalf of a trade proposal she opposed was a conflict of interest. I sat back. It was so over. Bill was too much of a liability. Hillary wouldn't admit it, but the superdelegates would all see. It was over.

And then "Bittergate" broke out on Huffington Post.

And my life hasn't been the same since.

I'm obsessed.

See, I was watching the train wreck. It was just about to be over, and someone pulled a switch and it didn't happen. Something else happened. Terrible. Horrible. It really wasn't so much that I preferred Obama to Hillary, although by then I certainly did, it was that I wanted it to be OVER. I really, really did. And then there was that thing that Obama said, and what he meant, and how people were going to understand it, and the unbelievable spectacle of it all.

And since Friday I just can't stop. I read the sites. I don't even know how The Daily Kos and Andrew Sullivan got added to my list, but they did. So now I have two national papers, four Pennsylvania papers, Slate, Huffington Post, Kos, and Andrew Sullivan. Sometimes I find myself compelled to check out or or even USA Today. Some of the links take me to Politico, but I refuse to bookmark it. I just can't take another -- although the long-lost article Obama's father wrote on African socialism which has been published there in its entirity is calling me. (No, I won't give you a link! I will not be responsible for further spreading my disease.)

And it takes long enough to go through all of them that by the time I am done it is perfectly plausible that there will be something new on Huffington.

I can't stop myself.

I watched the compassion forum on CNN. I got to see the candidates answer probing questions like "Why do you think that if God is is good he allows suffering in the world?" It is, by the way, a total rumor that anyone asked anyone else, "How many bitter angels can dance on the head of a Pennsylvanian?"

I am a fountain of meaningless trivia. Does anyone really care that Cindy McCain has "McCain Family Recipies" on the McCain web site that are plagiarized from the Food Network? Or that Judicial Watch has filed a complaint with the FEC claiming that Sir Elton John's benefit concert for Hillary is illegal since he is a foreign national and so unable to contribute to an American campain?

Maybe you care that the very day Hillary was walking the streets of Scranton PA talking about learning to shoot a gun (Don't ask her when, that's irrelevant) and trying to prove that she is in touch with real Pennsylvanians, the Scranton newspaper endorsed Barak Obama. How about that as of today Barak Obama has one more delegate in the New York Times count than he did yesterday?

I could explain to you about how misleading the "total vote" counts are. I could use my own county, now that so many caucuses have happened. It is not a big clue to my location. More than 1600 people went to my county caucus. 78% of the participants voted for Obama and so he got 23 county delegates. Hillary got 6. Since no official count is made of the number of participants, in places where it tells you how many people actually voted for Obama or Clinton only 23 votes from my county are counted. But those 23 votes represent well over 1000 participants. It is like that in every caucus. It might not be that the officially counted delegates typically each represent 50+ caucus attendees, but they sure as hell represent at least 10 and probably 25. So take all the vote counts from all the caucus states and multiply by 10 to 60 in order to find out how many people actually drug their butts from the house to vote for him.

I can't stop -- although confessing to you is supposed to help. Jo said it would.

Because I have got to stop. It's taking over my life and it just has to end.


I remind myself that the rest of the world really isn't paying that much attention and the current firestorm doesn't have as much of an effect as the pundits want to believe (because they would be out of a job if no one really cared).

And I know lots of ordinary citizens just aren't paying attention.

I mean, just Saturday a very nice woman whom I really admire told me that she was supporting McCain and asked me if I didn't think he would be a good president. I said, "I would feel better about it if he could keep the Shia and Sunnis straight."

Her response? "There are so many tribes in Africa I don't know how anyone can keep them straight."

Friday, April 11, 2008

On the bright side...

... of the whole dog snapping at Brian episode...

Brian was quietly, but deeply upset. I understand how it would be disturbing from his perspective. Though the dog did not even nip him, total contact amounting to one dog tooth hitting his cheek bone, it still must have been very frightening having that open dog mouth coming towards his face. Anyway, he was upset, and I gave him some comfort. We sat in the big chair and talked about what steps we needed to take to make sure it didn't happen again. After a while I told him that he really had to go do his homework. He left and was back in the living room ten minutes later.

He looked panicked and between gasps said, "I'm ... having a ... really bad ... anxiety ... attack, Mom. ... What ... should I do?"

I thought about some techniques I got right here on this very blog and said, "Well, I hear that sometimes it helps to look around and find 10 things you can see, then 10 things you can hear, and then ten thing you can feel. Then find 9 of everything. Just keep going until you feel better."

Then I turned my attention back to my computer, upon which I am sure I was doing something very important. I glanced over every now and then and watched his eyes darting around the room. I'm not sure how long he sat there, but it was less than 10 minutes. When he was done he got up, walked into his bedroom and practiced his trombone.

Those of you who understand the relationship of breath control to anxiety attacks and trombone playing will be suitably impressed.

I was.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dog Training Advice Sought

The Cattle Dog (CD) nipped Brian.

CD (six to ten years -- she was a rescue) has been getting grumpier recently. The Shih Tzu (15 months) tries her patience. He (the Shih Tzu) is the epitome of the annoying little brother. He likes to grab whatever he thinks someone wants and run off with it so you will chase him. It drives CD nuts.

CD is also a control freak. She has always understood that she is way down in the pack order. She will sit and stay for anyone of us. She polices all the other animals though. Before my cat died she would periodically hold down the kitten so that the cat could get away without being attacked. Now CD regularly stops the Shih Tzu from tackling the kitten (now an adult, but still mildly spastic).

So, like I said, CD has been grumpy recently. A couple of times I have bumped into her or tripped over her and she has snapped at me -- and then been very, very sorry because I am the alpha momma and she knows it.

So tonight Brian was trying to play with the Shih Tzu. Brian was tossing a ball, the Shih Tzu was chasing it, and CD was trying to get in the middle. CD didn't want to play; she just didn't want anyone else to play either. Anyway, at one point she snapped at Brian and one of her teeth made contact with his cheek.

It was the sort of thing that CD does to the Shih Tzu all the time. She grabs the puppy's face and holds him down. Of course CD didn't go through with it. She realized quickly that she had made a mistake. She has spent all evening apologizing. Brian put her on a down-stay for a while. I put her on a down-stay. Roland did too. All in all, she has been thoroughly reminded that she is on the bottom rung (well, maybe just above the Shih Tzu and the spastic cat) in a benevolent, well-run pack.

But Brian was very upset, which I do understand.

So this is what I know to do: put CD in a separate room when Brian plays with the Shih Tzu; make sure CD gets lots of exercise to tire her out; and have Brian put CD on down-stays regularly.

Anyone have any other ideas?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Respect for privacy

Mrs. Butter B, you would never be banned -- even if I knew how to do it. For those of you who are confused by that, please read her comment on the last post. And if you want this post to make sense, please read it anyway, 'cause I'm going to respond.

The last post was a bit incoherent. I've mentioned on the blog before about a committee I'm on whose work is confidential. Quite a bit of what is going on has become public knowledge (through no action of my own) so I can tell you in broad outlines what is going on. I'm on a committee that reviews disciplinary actions taken or proposed against tenured* professors where I work. If the college president thinks you plagiarized something, he can suspend you without pay, or fire you for that matter. In either case, you can appeal your case to the committee I'm on. If we decide that you were right and he is wrong he is supposed to "take time to seriously reconsider his decision." **

The committee goes decades without having to meet. It is meeting now and I am on it.

The case is on my mind a lot. I think about the evidence and arguments, about the decision, about how to write the report of the decision, about what, if anything, we can tell the students some of whom are quite upset.

And what I find is that making conversation with colleagues and friends feels deeply artificial. My mind will not always be preoccupied with this, but so long as it is, I have have to struggle to make conversation. So I find myself retreating into silence. I am working at home as much as possible. I'm not blogging.

And it reminded me of the weeks in which Carl did not want us to tell anyone he was gay. I was pre-occupied then. I don't dwell on my kids sexuality much these days. It is a part of who they are, but that is it. In the beginning though I did think about it a lot. I thought about what the house-hold rules were supposed to be. Should I allow him to have boys in his bedroom if he promised they were not dating? Should I forbid a clearly straight boy from going into his room to study with him because the "no boys in the bedroom" rule seemed right? I was feeling new feelings too. I was fearful for his safety. I was embarrassed that I was embarrassed when he talked about the cute boy in English class. I wondered if, as his parent, I should be taking responsibility for making sure he had appropriate sex education and I wanted to run for the hills. A counselor of his told me about a technique for safer oral s*x and just the thought of explaining that made me too embarrassed to ... anything.

So I read anything I could find about the experience of being gay in America. I did everything I could think of to get over being embarrassed, including watching Queer As Folk with him. I subscribed to The Advocate and got him a subscription to Out Magazine. I started being more informed about gay issues. I started caring about them passionately.

And then I would run into a friend who wanted to know how things were going with Carl.

And I had nothing to say. Nothing I could say. At the time EVERYthing in my mind seemed to be about homosexuality. I found myself retreating into silence and asking them to talk about their lives. Sometimes it worked. Usually they figured I was hiding something and would make a guess. They were always wrong, but I had to decide whether to let them believe the falsehood they had created or tell them it was false and hope they didn't make another guess.

I started isolating myself. I stopped calling my mother. I avoided my friends.

Then I realized how unhealthy all this was and we spoke with his counselor about why I needed to be able to talk about it. I had to come out to my friends.

It was during this time that I realized that the military policy of "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" was impossible. I kept asking people to do a thought experiment. Imagine working somewhere for years and not letting them know you were married, or had kids, or attended church, or whatever else is most important to who you are. How can you do that? I know some people can, but they are unusual.

Now, that last post was a little strange, and Mrs. Butter B points out that people often ask questions they should not ask. Strangers ask questions about how we came by our children in front of our children and that is just not acceptable.

But I think that Mrs. Butter B and I are talking about slightly different things, or maybe about two sides of one thing: privacy. I also think are likely to agree on something: privacy should be respected and that means not imposing or invading it.

Of course there are limits to this too. There are private things that it is wrong to share (no flashing) and there are secrets that are wrong to keep. Trying to figure out general rules for that though is just too complicated for me right now. You all are more than welcome to tackle that project though.

*Nontenured professors can theoretically also appeal. However, nontenured professors are "at will" employees. Since they can be fired without a specific cause being given, there would generally not be anything for the committee to review in an appeal.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Keeping Secrets

Of all the major philosophers studied today in colleges, Immanuel Kant has to be the toughest on lying. I mean, there isn't any tougher position than forbidding someone to lie to a murderer about the whereabouts of the intended victim. His arguments apply equally well to any sort of deceptive action. Anytime I am trying to get you to form a false belief, I am lying. What some readers do not notice is that Kant does not require you to speak. The requirement is not that you tell the truth, but that you not lie.

Mark Twain is claimed to have said that he does not lie because his memory isn't good enough. It makes sense. If you tell the truth then you only have to remember one set of facts. Liars have to keep multiple versions of the truth in their heads and remember what they told to whom. Maybe that is why some of the most deceitful people seem to believe their lies -- there is only enough memory space for one version.

I am re-learning what I learned during the time when Carl didn't want me to tell people he was gay, when I was in the parents' closet: it is difficult to make conversation when you cannot speak about what is on your mind. Silence is easier.

When I went through that time, which I have written about before, I found that retreated into silence. It is difficult having something on your mind and not being able to talk about it. The more that thing occupies your thoughts, the more difficult it is.

It is not just NOT saying the thing that can't be said, it is trying to figure out what to say in its place. One feels inauthentic. An actor. Pretending.

How could anyone think that "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" could ever work?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Delegate Calculator

So if you want to figure out the scenarios for yourself, here's an interesting calculator. It is just for ordinary pledge delegates, not super delegates. You can fiddle with theoretical election results to see what happens with the total delegate count. "Let's see, what if Senator Clinton wins everything by 60%? What if she wins Penn. and Indian and North Carolina, but looses Oregan?

See for yourself. If you are as obsessed as I am.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Being Questioned about Identity

I have a story to share. It is about the one and only time I was questioned about my ethnic/racial identity.

And it was in foster parent training.

We were all supposed to bring in something that symbolized our heritage. The point was of course for us to reflect on how important it was to us so that we could understand how important it was to the kids, and what it might mean for them to be separated from it. The instructor identified as Irish American and had a leprechaun doll, if I remember correctly. That was his illustration of the sort of thing we were to bring.

The next week I showed up with the quilt that had been on my bed through most of my childhood, starting at whatever point I was considered old enough to be trusted with it. I love everything about that quilt. I love that it is a thing of beauty, while clearly intended for everyday use. It is made with largish squares of dark and light fabrics set on point. The light colored squares are embroidered with flowers and vines. They embroidery, like the everything about the quilt, is sturdy and simple. What I love most about that quilt is that most of the fabrics were originally seed bags. My great-grandmother made the quilt before I was even born. It is an example of making something extraordinary from something common-place. I look at the quilt and I think of how my mother lets nothing go to waste. I imagine generations of women working, living, and dying on dairy farms dedicated to thrift and beauty.

So I showed the quilt. I explained to people about the seed bags and about how much it meant to me.

The instructor looked uncomfortable and said, "But where is your family from?"

I stuck my chin out and said, "Pennsylvania."

"No, I mean, before that."

"As far back as anyone can trace my mother's family they have lived in Pennsylvania. Some of my ancestors were living in the mountains of Pennsylvania before America was a country."

"Yes, but where were they from?"

"My mother's last name is from Scotland, but I can't tell you how many ancestors were from there."

"What about your father's family?"

"One of my great-grandparents immigrated from Ireland."

"Okay. So you are Scottish and Irish."

I sat down, miffed. I am not Scottish and Irish. Or maybe I am. I don't know. My mother grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch territory. I always assumed I had some ancestors that were German. I hadn't told the instructor, but the family documents indicate one ancestor who immigrated from France and oral history includes an American Indian some seven generations back. From my father I am verifiably 1/8 Irish. I know that, but there is nothing about me is explained by knowing that. Well, except that I was baptized by the Lutheran pastor since the same great-grandparent got excommunicated and the family was too embarrassed to take the babies to the priest, but that's another story.

I am the daughter of a woman who grew up on a dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Much of what I love about my mother explained by that. It is why she never could make fewer than five pies at one time. It is why she composted, recycled or re-used before it was cool. It is why I grew up loving sauerkraut cooked with pork roast and eating Lebanon baloney whenever I can find it.

I am descended from women who took seed bags and turned them into beautiful blankets for their children to sleep under.

THAT is my heritage.

And I resented being told that I was giving the wrong answer, that my answer was unacceptable because it wasn't the sort of answer the instructor wanted. I would like to think that it was an exercise to help us understand how it felt to have our identity questioned, but I don't think so. Everyone else in the class gave the right sort of answer. I was the only one who got the answer wrong.

It took me years to realize that the reason why that experience is unique in my life is that I am white.

I've been casually asked where my ancestors have come from many times. Usually in the context of a bunch of white folks sharing what they know, and don't know, about their family trees. Sometimes I volunteer that the furthest we have been able to document is the French couple who immigrated in the mid-1600's. Sometimes I share that my great-grandfather was born in Ireland. Often I just say, "Oh, all over Europe I suppose." And no one has ever thought the answer wasn't good enough because it wasn't complete enough or specific enough. No one has said, "Yes, but what about the rest of you?" The only time some did reject my answer was after I had been told explain not how my family got to the US, but was asked to share whatever was most important to me about my heritage. Being told that what mattered to me was not what was important was a pretty disturbing experience, and one that the unearned privilege I get from being white makes rare.

Those funny, funny student reporters

Yesterday the student newspaper came out. You know, on April 1st.

In case you are curious about the important news in my part of the world:

The governor's wife held a press conference and confirmed that she was a lesbian. She apologized for putting her husband through a sham of a marriage, but it was the only way she could realize her dream of being married to an important political figure.

The students of the math department worked out the last digits of pi and proved the existence of G-d when doing so. Students were shocked that it was not the religion professor as had been commonly believed.

The campus police are no longer issuing tickets. Instead they are simply burning the vehicles. personal favorite... a group of Christian employees are suing the school bus company over its "rapture clause" which states that employees who have a more than 50% chance of being raptured will be fired. The employees argue that it is unfair discrimination. The manager of the bus company insists that it is necessary for the safety of students riding the bus. "We grant that the students left in the bus will be kids who didn't get raptured, but the bus company regards all the children as equally worthy of protection."

**Details of some stories have been changed**

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Nora Speaks My Heart

Okay, I wasn't going to write more about politics, but see, I was just telling my husband that I HAD to stop reading the on-line newspapers. I just had to make myself stop following everything that anyone had to say. I have to take a break. I can't take it anymore, and yet I can't make myself stop.

There was a time when I adored admired Hillary Clinton. And it just hurts. I wanted to cry. But then I read this:

Nora Ephron, "Hooked on Hillary."

And she made me laugh, the way that only someone who really gets your pain can make you laugh.

And I needed that.