Friday, May 30, 2008

Thoughts Settling

It has been five days since Gary told me excitedly that he was going to get to live with his dad.

I have written at least twice as many blog posts as I have published. In fact, I had to look over to see what I had published so that I wouldn't repeat myself too much. I've sorted through stuff and this is what I suspect and think:

1. I suspect that the break-down of Gary's dad's marriage is related to the anxiety he has over Gary going into foster care. My only evidence for that is the timing. I do not know their story. I do not even know them. I wonder what will happen if Gary's anxiety regarding foster care is diminished. Certainly he no longer needs to worry (if he ever did) that Gary is going into one of those horrible places one reads about in memoirs in which children are abused, starved, and generally treated like dirt.

2. And that leads me to what I think. I think that his promises are so big as to be worthy of a degree of doubt. It is not the bad parent thing, it is just the human thing. In movies and in our imaginations we see ourselves changing our entire lives to benefit our children. In real life, we change slowly, incrementally. What Gary's dad currently plans on doing: moving hundreds of miles away from his young children and leaving a very good job he has spent years making into what it is to get "any job, even fast food" is ... well, big. I don't know what he will do, but I think that it is important for Gary to be as prepared as we can gently make him for the possibility that this will not happen.

3. I believe that if Gary's dad does follow through on this plan, he will get Gary back. I don't know how long it will take, but the ultimate result is clear. If he does what he says he will, he will get Gary. And he should get him. He is his dad.

So it is going to be an emotional rollercoaster, and I need to take deep breaths and get ready for the ride.

I'm going to pick Gary up this afternoon for one more weekend pass. He goes back on Sunday and I will bring him home on Wednesday.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reunification Plan?

I finally heard back from Gary's agency worker. "Finally" is probably not the right word as it took all of 2 hours for her to reply to my email -- but it felt longer.

Anyway, she hasn't talked to the state worker about this, except to give her a heads up. No one, of course has talked to the judge who at the last hearing wrote "permanent foster care" as Gary's goal. But the agency worker's opinion is that the "by the end of summer" plan is completely unrealistic. The judge may agree to change Gary's goal to reunification, but such a plan would probably take at least a year to complete.

She's concerned that Gary's hopes have been excited and that his disappointment will be tough for him. She said no one wanted to confront his dad yesterday with reality because they wanted to do what we did do, which is have everyone agree on a transition plan to our house.

This is a strange and difficult place for me psychologically. I believe that of course foster care should only exist to care for children whose parents cannot care for them, that if Gary's dad can give Gary a home then that is where Gary should be. No question at all.

I am also very relieved to hear that it will probably take a year. I am telling myself that that is because I want for his Dad to be sure that this is what he wants, that he isn't going to change his mind or make up with his wife and try to give Gary back to the state.

I know that that is a lie though. It is not that those aren't good reasons for supporting a slower and more orderly process, it is that the reason I am relieved is that I get to keep Gary longer.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Update on Evan

I feel a little odd blogging about Evan since technically he could blog about himself, but I know some of you wonder about him.

College did not work out as well as he hoped. I will let him write about it or not. It is not clear at the moment if he is going to go to school part time next year or just take a break for a few years.

He is currently looking for an apartment to rent. For a while he was looking for a house to rent with a bunch of co-workers. They could not agree on a house. I suggested that if they were having that much trouble finding a house they all liked they might turn out to find it difficult to agree on just about everything else. I don't know if I convinced him or if he just got tired of waiting. He is currently filling out an application for an apartment complex that in which he should be able to afford a single bedroom. It will cost a bit more than 1/5 of a house, but it will also be about 1/5 of the headaches. Besides, he really needs his own space.

He works nights, spends a great deal of time with his boyfriend. I have not met said boyfriend, but they apparently have been dating for quite a while. We can go days without seeing him, but he will call periodically to tell us that he is still alive.

And that is what is going on with Evan.

I must be calm

It is odd for me, right at this moment. I just read a post by Brad saying how the calm of his son's adoptive parents sort of creeps him out. He was responding to a post that Nicole wrote this morning also talking about how she feels about not getting emotional reactions from her daughter's adoptive parents.

It is strange for me, because I just spent an hour with Gary's dad being super-good-me. I left the room drained. I wanted, I still want, to go have a cry out of sheer emotional exhaustion. It seemed to me to be utterly imperative to appear perfect, unthreatening, understanding, and all things wonderful to his dad. I do not think that he has any idea what I am really like. NO IDEA.

I did not intend to deceive, but I knew I had to be my best self.

I wanted to convince him that I was a safe person to entrust his son to. A very real part of me wants him to be so reassured that he decides to let me keep him. If I can't have that, I at least want him to feel safe so that he takes his time, for my sake and for Gary's. I want him to take his time and get a job comprable to the one he has now. I don't want him to take Gary into an unstable situation.

I also know that it is imperative that he approves of me, or it will be impossible for me to parent Gary. Gary loves this man. He is Gary's father. If he suggests to Gary in any way at all that attaching to me is a betrayal then my relationship with Gary will be doomed. It would take so little. He would not have to tell Gary to hate me. It could just be a tone in his voice. He could just refer to me as "that woman." He could ask questions with a certain anxiety in his voice. My relationship with Gary is barely a seedling. It is tiny and fragile and his dad has more power over it than he knows.

It isn't just that. I mean, I can parent a kid who have feelings of ambiguity about liking me. Heck, that is basic to the job description.

There is something else. I know that it is deeply important to me that my children's parents have confidence in me, and I am too emotionally exhausted from trying inspire that confidence to articulate why it is so important.

I just know that it is.


Staffing meeting completed.

Gary's dad was there. He was clearly tense and wanting to make a good impression. These meetings are apparently recurring events with a pattern. It started with Gary giving a report on how he was doing in school and at the center. The PO asked about his therapy goals and the group home people reported that they were working on reintegrating him into a family and the community.

We talked about timing. I will pick him up Wednesday evening and bring him to the agency on Thursday for his official "interview" and sign the paper work. Everyone thought it was a little silly when I mentioned that that meant that officially Wednesday night would be a pre-placement visit.

We talked about who was in charge of what, what role the state worker plays, what the agency offers to kids.

At some point, fairly early, Gary's dad, who by the way canceled a trip at the last minute so that he could be at this meeting, told everyone that he was going to be asking the judge to give him back his son in the next 30 to 90 days. He is willing to work fast food if he has to, but since he isn't going to be able to live with his younger kids anyway, he wants at least to live with his older two children. (Gary has a full sister about a year younger than he.) He wants Gary with him before school starts because he knows how difficult it is to switch schools.

The state worker didn't show so no one in the room had any clue regarding how likely Gary's dad's plan is. No one knows if it will be as easy as he thinks it will be. It could be.

I was good. You all should be proud of me.

I told him that we see ourselves as extending the kids' families, not replacing them. I told him that we tell the kids that we will be their foster aunt and uncle and that makes it easier for the kids at school. I told him that we had three boys who emancipated from care from our house and who still come home, that we had one that had spent a year in college and was back living with us while he looked for his own apartment. I told him that we wanted him to feel safe with Gary living with us. At one point he mentioned having a rule about Gary not being allowed to have unsupervised dates until after he was sixteen. It was a little unclear about exactly what his rule was. He explained and I said we wouldn't have any problem with that. I explained that we were used to dealing with agency rules, state rules, and had no problem enforcing restrictions that were important to him. I did manage to qualify that saying that sometimes it possible to make everything consistent, but that if there were things he didn't want Gary to do, that was easy for us to enforce.

His dad was visibly relaxed by the time the meeting was over and shook my hand like he meant it. At one point in the meeting I told Gary that as long as he needed us we would be there and that if he didn't need us anymore... I stopped and his dad said, "Sounds like they will still be there."

I think that Dad is relaxed enough that he won't feel desperate to get any job, even fast food, in order to rescue Gary. I also think that he is sincere in his plan to move and provide a home for Gary.

What I need to do is get my head into that place. We are doing reunification care. It might not turn out that way. The judge might rule that Gary can't go home and his Dad might change his plan, but right now there is no good reason to believe that will happen. I have to go from "maybe he will leave" to "expect him to leave."

This isn't going to be easy.

Hanging on to ignorance

I keep reminding myself that I don't know Gary's dad.

This afternoon I expect a planning committee will decide to place this fifteen-year-old boy with me. My husband and I will make a commitment to him to be his family for as long as he needs it, and for the first time in my eight-year career as a foster parent, I will face the possibility that the family of a child I am parenting will reclaim him. I know, old news for the rest of you, but a brand new experience for me.

So I have all these emotions, wishing I could protect my heart and knowing that I really can't. I can prepare myself so that the grief won't hit as hard as it might otherwise, but that is all. I will get "too attached" and I will cry if he goes.

But what I am noticing is that I am trying to paint this picture of Gary's dad. It is impossible for me to resist the urge to do so, but I have such opposing pictures fighting in my mind. And of course they fall right into stereotypes of good parent/bad parent.

Good Parent Version:
Gary's dad is a flawed person who had to deal with something deeply upsetting. He believes that all of his children are not safe living together. None of us who have not been in that situation cannot say what we would have done. In making that decision he rang bells that are not easily unrung. Perhaps he even wishes he had behaved differently, but he cannot undo what he did. Though Gary does not live with him, he never abandoned him. He has put in more effort to stay in touch, to visit regularly than most non-custodial fathers do after a divorce.

He was himself in foster care and does not want that experience for his son. So far Gary has managed to live with relatives or in group homes, but now he is about to live with a foster family. This good father is prepared to make enormous sacrifices to save Gary from that fate. He will leave his job, his younger children, and his wife. It is another judgement call, another extreme move, potentially sacrificing needs of several younger children to meet the needs of the oldest. It is not a decision I can judge, even if I think I would make another.

Bad Parent Version:
His is an abuser and a controller. The ways in which he abuses those around him has never been quite bad enough to get protective services involved, but it exists nonetheless. When faced with behavior from his son which can only be understood as a response to his own environment instead of responding with compassion, he insisted that his twelve-year-old son be removed by the police, tried and sentenced. Though he will not allow his son to live with him and his other children, he has nevertheless refused to give up control over Gary's life. At every opportunity he he has interfered. He has tried to control the process. He has disrupted court rooms, and lost his temper with judges. Now that Gary has an opportunity to bond with a family he is determined to interfere with that. Just before Gary moves in with the new family he makes promises he cannot and will not keep. The promises are designed to stop the placement, or if not that, at least prevent Gary from forming attachments to us.

This version of Gary's dad I can judge. This version is a bad parent. In this story I am a heroine, saving Gary. I can even be magnanimous and agree that it is in Gary's best interests to have some relationship with his dad. This relationship should be carefully monitored however. Visits should be supervised. He should not be allowed on our property. Restraining orders will not be ruled out. This father I can be angry with.

But the truth is that I do not know Gary's dad. I have snippets of information. Nothing is complete. There are huge pieces of the puzzle that are missing for me, and more that are missing for you, dear reader. Though I know that both versions are built more on stereotypes than facts, I still want one of them to be true. In fact, I want the first one to be true. It is better for Gary, and it has the potential to be better for me.

See in my prefered version of the story, Gary's dad is a good but imperfect man. His desire to save his son from foster care is laudable. However, once he knows who wonderful (though imperfect) we are, he will decide that the best, imperfect, solution is for him to remain close to his younger children and let me love his oldest. We will all be his family. He will visit and eat dinner with us. If he does move to the area and Gary moves in with him I still get to visit.

Either way, we all live happily ever after.

Later today I go to the planning meeting.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Email from Social Worker (updated)

From me to worker (yesterday)
"I imagine you have already heard the voice mail from Gary about his dad. Please give me a call so we can chat about it when you have time."

From worker to me (2 minutes ago):
"I did not receive a voice mail from Gary. I'll see you tomorrow at the staffing though."

From me to worker (1 minute ago):
"If you have a minute, please call me."

Worker called. "What's up?"

"Gary's dad told him on Sunday that he is divorcing his step mother, moving to the area, and that Gary will be able to live with him by the end of summer."

"Oh." Long pause.


"Wow." Pause.

"So I just wanted to talk to you, because I don't know what this means."

"Neither do I. I definitely got the impression from the state that Gary was going to be long term, that he would emancipate from care. I mean they said that his father has been unable to provide him with a home, that he doesn't live in the state. His livelihood is in [other state], right?"

"He told Gary he was going to find a new job and move."

She said she would call the state worker and give them a head's up about this before the big meeting. I told her how happy all this made Gary, and about what conversations we had had, that we had agreed that it would still be a good thing for him to move in here so that he wouldn't have to live for the summer at the group home and "just in case" his dad's plans fell through. Gary seemed to accept that there was a possibility that would happen. I also made it clear that if his case went to a reunification plan I still wanted to take care of Gary through it.

By this time she was getting her bearings back. We talked about it. She is definitely concerned that this is not something Dad will carry through on, that it is a shame that Gary is getting worked up about it, that even if Dad moves into the area the state won't just hand Gary over. Then she talked about our need to have a plan so that our family had safe boundaries -- that maybe Family Connections should facilitate and supervise their visits.

She reaffirmed that she would give the state worker a head's up so that they would be prepared to handle any questions about it at the meeting and we hung up.


Gary's dad spent his teenage years in the system. That may be the key to it all. He had a very bad experience with foster care and does not want a child of his in care. I get that. I think the desire to save Gary from that is sincere.

I do suspect that once he sees that Gary is safe and that no one wants to get in the way of their relationship, he will not move. On one hand it would be a dream come true for Gary to live with his dad. The very idea that his dad would choose him over spouse, younger siblings, job, everything has to be -- I don't even have a word for it. On the other hand, well, moving is complicated. He does have younger children and a good job where he is. I think that when push comes to shove, it will be difficult for him to carry through on this promise.

I'm afraid that Gary is going to be disappointed.

But this is a kid who has survived worse, we will get through this.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Too many possibilities

Maggie and Mary left some really interesting and helpful comments on the post "Slowly Recovering." Go on back and read them if you haven't already.

Finished? Okay.

I have been begun to wonder about all some of this. Is part of the reason that I so wish a social worker was around to talk to about what it means. It seems to me today that it is highly unlikely that the people in the planning meeting will change course because Gary reports that his dad promised to make a home for him.

Roland and I talked about the complexities over lunch. There are just so many different possibilities. It seems to me that no matter what Gary's dad intends or how seriously he intends it, Gary will be moving in with us for at least the summer. The question is what happens next? Does Gary's dad really mean it?

I think he believes he does. This is a man who has over-reacted, gotten angry at judges and stormed out of court rooms, but not someone who has ever lied to Gary. He has insisted that every possible option is unacceptable, but he has not been cruel. He is motivated by a desire to control, but also genuine love for Gary. For at least a year, maybe three, he has driven a couple hundred miles one way every month in order to spend just a few hours with his son.

So I don't think this is calculated lie intended to stop the placement.

What I don't know is how his dad will respond to any of the possibilities from here.

Thought it seems increasingly unlikely to me, what would he do if the placement did not happen and Gary stayed in the group home? Would he realize that his marriage was important to him and decide he should stay there with his other children, not to mention the well-paying, non-mobile job? Or would he carry through? Leave his wife, younger children and job, find a new job and place to live, and then go to court to get his son back?

And what will he do if/when social services places him with us anyway? Will he carry through on these promises on the expectation that when he does he will get Gary? Or will he decide that social services has stolen his son and wouldn't give him back no matter what, so he might as well stay where he is?

Will we be part of a reunification plan or will we provide Gary with a home for as long as he needs it?

If the later, will his father make it emotionally difficult for Gary to attach to us? Will Gary see us not as the great alternative to the group home but as part of what is keeping him from his father?

I really don't know, and I suppose there just isn't any way to find out except to take it all one day at a time.

I've never been good at that though. I'm a worrier.

This is new territory for me, although I know it is square one for most foster parents.

I so wish it wasn't a holiday

And not just because I don't get it off.

I want to talk to the social worker about Gary and his father. I want someone to tell me what it means to the process, or at least tell me that she doesn't know but that she will talk to other people and they will figure it out.

I have the cell phone numbers of a couple of the social workers at the agency. Theoretically I could call one of them.

But I know full well this is not an emergency.

So I won't.

Slowly Recovering

I'm beginning to feel a bit better. Still sad, but not as overwhelmed as I did yesterday.

Thanks to all of your kind words about Carl. A couple of you helped me see it a bit differently -- it might not be that he just hasn't grown up but that he really needed/wanted to slide back into the little kid being taken care of roll. That is easier to accept.

And as for Gary, well, I'm still sad. There is part of me that wants to insist that Gary's dad can't just come and take him back. He said he didn't want Gary and now he can't just change his mind. And there is another part of me that gives the first part a stern Talking To. Foster care is for kids whose parents can't take care of them. It does not exist to provide me with anything.

I still don't know what will happen officially. I don't think that his dad can simply pick him up. He will have to go to court and make his case. Gary knows that he will have to show that he has work in the area, a place to live, etc. The father thinks that will happen by the end of summer.

Brian by the way is a mensch. When I told the boys months ago that the agency was considering doing reunification care he said he really did not want to do that. He thought it would just be too painful. He doesn't like it when his brothers grow up and leave. Having kids come in for a few months and go would just be too much. When I told him about Gary's situation I said, "now, I know we said we wouldn't do reunification care..." Brian interrupted and said, "Mom, we have to make an exception for Gary."

But we will see what will happen. Though the agency in general is moving towards doing some reunification care, as far as I know, my division is not. But I don't know if anyone will want to change plans based upon the fact that Gary's dad told Gary he was going to move and provide a home for him. Part of me thinks that they will probably just put that information to the side to deal with when and if it becomes a reality and not a merely promise.

We will see.

And I will let you know.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Almost There, Not

Well, I am getting over the surprise and shock of it.

In the last post I said, "I am trying to be happy for him. Part of me really is. I could even get to the place where most of me is, as soon as I get over the surprise." I'm almost there, emotionally.

I thought I was. That was in fact why I started this post, to announce that I realized what a good thing it would be for Gary to get to live with his father. How happy it made me to see him really joyful this afternoon -- sliding across the floor in his socks when he thought no one was looking.

Objectively, I know this would mean everything to him. It is winning the lottery, the granting of the wish by the Fairy Godmother. It is forgiveness, love, family.

I have no fear for his safety. His father is no better or worse than any other ordinary human being, and he is Gary's father.

So I got there, and I started this post to tell you I really am happy for him.

Except that I wrote that and started crying and can't quite stop. This is threatening to turn into a real, unrestained, adolescent bawl.

I want him to live here with me.

A possible change for Gary

Gary just called his dad. He wanted to know if his dad was planning on visiting him today at the group home so that he could get back there in time.

His dad told him that he is leaving his step-mother, actually getting a divorce. He will be moving to the town next to here -- the one where Gary's aunt lived. He will be settled by the end of summer and Gary can come back and live with him.

Gary is thrilled, excited, over-the-moon.

There is no reason that I know of why his father would be denied custody under these circumstances.

I am trying to be happy for him. Part of me really is. I could even get to the place where most of me is, as soon as I get over the surprise.

I just don't know what our role would be, or if we will have one. He is not officially placed with the agency. Will they decide not to take him after all? I mean, providing temporary care for kids whose parents are in the process of moving and getting settled is not what they do.

On the other hand, the word from HQ is that they want the local offices to do more reunification care, so maybe they would take him as a reunification case. Gary might be the first one ever, as far as I know.

Wednesday is the big planning meeting with state and agency people. We are invited, as is his father. I'll be there.

We take him back to the group home in a couple of hours. Not to be all melodramatic, but it could be the last time we see him.

Carl is Gone

Roland took him to the airport. I just couldn't. I'm too emotional. I'm incredibly sad because he is leaving. I hate not getting to see him more. I worry about him and I have no way to check up on him and make sure he is okay. I don't want him to leave.

And I am too angry at him to be sad in front of him. I want to shake him and tell him to grow up. I want to tell him that I did not buy him a plane ticket so that he could spend 20 hours watching Buffy but so that his brothers could have time with him. I want to have a good fight, vent some of these emotions, and still have time to make up.

So Roland took him to the airport.

We both tried to get Andrew and Brian out of bed to say goodbye. Andrew had been out all night at the Grad Night Lock-In, but Brian just didn't want to get up. Carl said, "Nice to know I'm loved" with some humor, but I know his feelings were hurt. I managed to say, "They do love you" when I hugged him goodbye instead of "Well, what did you expect?"

I remember how difficult it was in my early adulthood, seeing my mother only once every few years. There was no time for our relationship to develop. Neither of us wanted to relate to each other the way we had the last time we had been together, but there wasn't time to figure out how we should be relating to each other. It was always exhausting.

Now I am on the other side of that.

Carl is gone. I already miss him. I'm worried about him. I'm frustrated with him.

And I spent the entire weekend being polite.

I don't know that that was the right thing to do.

A bit disappointed

Carl's visit has been somewhat disappointing. I'm not sure what I expected. It is like he has never left. He is just like he was when he was 17.

He talks about all the people he should call and find time to visit, but does not call anyone. When I ask him to help me in the kitchen he says yes enthusiastically, comes in and asks me what I want him to do. I tell him to chop cucumbers and he does -- sloooowwwly and not all that well. Then he quietly walks out while my back is turned. I call him back and tell him to put the cucumbers into the yogurt, please. He does, and leaves again. I ask him to come back, put the yogurt and cucumbers on the table, and clean up the mess from the cucumbers. He does -- and leaves again. I ask him to please set the table.

He does and when it is time to eat Roland and I sit down, get back up to get glasses for everyone and serving utensils for, among other things, the cucumbers and yogurt.

Sigh. Evan or David would not necessarily think to do any of these things, but they would ask if there was anything else I needed. I know this is who Carl has always been, but he is 24 years old and I had expected some maturity.

When he is not avoiding helping he has been lying on the sofa watching Buffy episodes. Really. All day.

This morning he flies away again. I don't think he has spent any time talking with Andrew or Brian, except over meals.

I imagine it has been an emotionally stressful weekend for him. He misses us, and he doesn't know how to act with us. I remember going home and feeling like it was difficult not to be the child it seemed everyone expected me to be. I remember that it was work to forge a new identity and relationships with my family. I called my mother the other day and told her that I had been thinking about how frustrated she was when I was 18 and had come home from college for the first time and still wasn't helping more without being asked. She laughed.

She did confirm that by the time I was 24 I was no longer acting like a teenager though.

I love him. I do. But I am a little disappointed.

I need to take him back to the airport soon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

I'm a terrible photographer

Andrew's graduation was ... a graduation. Sorry. I go to them every year as part of my job and I am not sentimental. I find myself rolling my eyes a lot.

Still, this was Andrew's graduation, so it was special.

I took pictures.

I have one of him walking in -- but it is out of focus.

I have one of several of the students behind him as they walk out to go down the aisle.

I have of him on the stage, but it is so far away that you can't really see that it is him.

And I have one of this big board they had where each kid's name was up in lights just after it had been called. That one is in perfect focus and shows the name of the girl who graduated right after Andrew. He is sure that her mother will like it very much.

He also pointed out that all the photos I took are "blog-able."

But he is a graduate now.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Our Big Night Out

I had a wonderful evening!

Roland had an IEP after school, so Andrew, Brian and I went to get Carl. Carl gave everyone big, long hugs. We got Gary out of the group home, and the whole family met up at the restaurant. Gary was very impressed when he got there. He said he had never been anywhere so fancy.

Going to a fondue restaurant is fun with a large group because you can order multiple fondues. If just two of you go, you have to choose one. We had four different cheese fondues. My favorite was the swiss/brie/pesto. Gary liked the "South of the border" made with cheddar. There were two very mild fondues, but I forget what exactly they had in them. We were at a long table so everyone could only reach two fondues themselves. Trying the others required passing your long fork with bread, fruit, or veggie to someone or getting up and walking around the table. We did both.

The main course came with electric grills and raw meat and veggies. We cooked, stole shrimp or strips of steak from each other, even fought over grilled mushrooms. There were six or seven different sauces for dipping and pouring. Dessert of course was chocolate fondue: milk, white, and two pots of dark. We told the waiter in advance that we would need extra strawberries, thank you very much.

We had to call the group home before dessert to ask to keep Gary out past curfew. We were actually at the restaurant for two and a half hours. The boys wanted to know if we would ever do this again. I said maybe when Gary graduated.

It was exactly what I wanted. David and Carl had never even met Gary before, but there was no awkwardness at all. Everyone had so much fun with the food itself that we did not lack for conversation. I got the waiter to take a photo of all eight of us. We passed around the camera and took photos of each other. It was pretty dark in the restaurant so we all have major red-eye, but I will see what we can do about that with all the software available.

The waiter asked us what we were celebrating. I told him Andrew's graduation, "and the fact that I have all of them in one state at one time!" He asked me if all these boys were mine. I looked at Gary and said, "What do you think? Shall we say yes?" Gary nodded enthusiastically and I turned to the waiter and said, "Absolutely."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Big Night Tonight!

Tonight's the big night -- the evening I get all the boys together in one place for two hours.

I am picking up Carl at the airport at 4:20, then David at his house which is not far away, then Gary at the Group Home which is on the way home (more or less). Andrew and Brian will probably go with me. We will meet Roland and Evan at the restaurant around 6:30.

We have to get Gary home by 9:00pm. We just today heard back from Wendy giving us permission to take him.

I am very excited.

In case you lost track -- the dinner party will be me, Roland, and six young men ranging from almost 14 to 24.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Ann May 2008: GRADUATION

I had to put up a pile of Ann posts all at once, because I have a current update which I thought should come after all the rest.

I just got a Graduation Announcement from Ann.

I'm so proud of her. She is graduating right on schedule, and that is not easy when you have spent high school moving every few months.

I have to go out a buy her a card.

Ann Update 3: Sept 06

A while back I was concerned about who might be at the Youth Ranch. I have now made contact with everyone that I can think of...including Ann. I got this email from her today:

Don't worry he [my new boyfriend] is the nicest person I've dated in a while. You should tell the boys hi for me and that i miss them. I still have that Afghan that you made for me on my birthday i love it I cant sleep with out it. I miss you guys so much i don't get around to letting you know as often as i should. I know that i screwed up big time when i was in that region but i cant change the past(but i wish that i could) That is the one thing that keeps me from talking to the "Mandy and John" as much as I'd like i know how much i hurt "Mandy" and it kills me.
Well love you all,

Ann's Story Update 2: Mother's Day 2006

Mother's Day 2006:

Ann called!

I last saw her about a year ago. She is mentioned in the early posts in David's Story (in the public blog). She was being placed with a family locally and we took her out to dinner. Since then she has been in at least: two group homes, two pre-adoptive placements, and detention. She has been in her current placment (this is in addition to the ones above) for about 6 weeks. For those not doing the math, this means that she has been averaging no more than 2 months at any one place.

The home she is in now has pre-school kids.

She did not want to talk much about what she had been up to. Mostly she just kept asking how everyone here was. She had called Mandy first, which is good. I will check with Mandy later, she is likely to have got more information out of her than I did.

It is good to have heard from her. Really good. I don't really have news; I just know that she is alive and still bouncing around the system.

Ann's Story Update 1: Febrary 2006

Ann used to live at the therapeutic foster home for which I am doing respite this weekend. They took her when she was a scarey five-year-old who hid knives under her bed. They tried to adopt her a couple of times but that would push her RAD symptoms to the point that she was a danger to self and others. So they remained her foster family. When she reached adolescence it got worse. Her outbursts of anger would result in physical fights with other girls in the home. After one such fight she spent 4 months with me. . For a while the agency was considering cycling her back and forth between the two homes. Sometimes that helps RAD kids. It keeps life from becoming too emotinally intense at either home. It also helps each family stay sane.

That did not work out. When she was with us she was on parole and knew that even threatening physical violence would land her in detention. That did not mean that she could not wage psychological warfare though. It took me 4 months to realize that it was not just me -- the boys were being pushed to their limits too.

She left us to go back to the home she had had for 7 years. She left there to go to a Ranch where they take troubled kids for 6 months. They get intensive therapy, work with horses, and go back home. In her case social services decided that living in a therapeutic foster home where other teenage girls will all sorts of problems kept coming and going was not good for her. They moved her across the state. She was in a temporary home, and a pre-adoptive placement, and then back to a temporary home at the last I had heard.

Friday I called the agency to see if they could tell me anything about her. They said no, but by some miracle her state worker happened to be in the building! I got a call back and was told that she had been put in yet another adoptive placement at Thanksgiving and it had lasted about 6 weeks. She was now living in a group home.

They can't give me an address, but yes they would take a letter and a present. I ran out, purchased stationery and put stamps on two envelopes (one addressed to me the other to the woman she called "mom" for over seven years). I also got a blank book with pens and a card. I put it all in a gift bag and dropped it off at the office.

I am trying not to hope too much. The bag will be given to the social worker who will drop it off at the group home. Ann will write to me or she will not.

My heart aches for her.

It is odd loving a child like her. She will never feel entrely safe loving me back. If she lives here then she will use every psychological technique she has perfected for so long to drive me away. She knows, of course, that the fastest way to do that is to psychologically torture the other kids. But still I love her.

I will keep sending letters to the social worker. Even if she never writes back, at least she will know that we care about her.

Please her find a home with a parent who understands RAD, where there are no other children for her to hurt, just one or two strong adults who can tell her that no matter what she does she will not be thrown away again.

Ann's Story Part 48: Afterward

Roland did also heal and we did start taking Ann to church with us a couple of times a month. She also came to our house for a couple of respites.

It turns out though that I was once again wrong. Living with Mandy and John with no more than 2 other girls was not enough. I don't know how many months later, but she eventually left Mandy for a stay at a youth ranch. Mandy expected to get her back when she "graduated" from the program, but Ann was instead put up for adoption.

For a while I was able to get permission to maintain contact with her, when Mandy was not. Everyone, including Ann, understood that placement with me was not an option. Ironically, because I was not fighting to keep her, I was allowed to have her in my life. Mandy was always grateful that I was in that position. She never once made me feel badly that I could see her when she could not. She always asked me to pass on her love to Ann when I saw her and to tell her how Ann was doing.

After the youth ranch, Ann began the series of "placment hopping" that has continued for the past two years. The state has twice placed her in pre-adoption placements which have failed. In the first case it was obvious to me that it would not work. The family had no experience at all with foster care. It was not clear to me that anyone had explained to them what Ann was really like. I don't know everywhere she has been in the three years since she left me but it includes at least the following (this is in chronological order as I understand it):

Mandy's (6 months?)
Youth Ranch (6 months)
Temporary Foster Home
Pre-Adoptive Placement
Temporary Foster Home
"Trial" Placement with my agency, again
Temporary Foster Home
Pre-Adoptive Placement
Group Home
Temporary Foster Home

Recently she and Mandy have been corresponding by email. Ann turned 16 ealier this month.*

*This post was originally posted June 2006, three years after she left our home.

Ann's Story Part 47: Life Goes On

4/10/03 (about 2 weeks after Ann moved out)
To my friend:

I had lunch yesterday with Ruby and with Ann's new social worker, “Sally.” Sally is a very experienced social worker who has just joined the agency. She has worked with Mandy and John quite a bit and knows the situation. She has never worked directly with Ann, but has known her at least a little for as long as she has been in care. She knows what she is getting herself into. It was very therapeutic for me to talk with her. I was able to give Ann away, so to speak.
The social workers keep asking me how long of a break I need before I will be ready to take on another kid. I keep telling them that we have decided that it is about the right match, not the right time.

It turns out that there is a kid coming into the agency that they would like us to take. He name is Xavier. He is almost 15 and, of course, gay. He is already in the local school system. He visits with his mother who lives in 10 miles away. She is safe, but unable to provide a secure home (I have no details). His family, being Hispanic, is deep in the culture of "machismo." I don't recall if the social worker said that he was "out" with them, but in any case his lack of conformity to expectations is still an issue. (When I warned her that most of our friends would just assume that he was gay, she said that he was used to that.) He should be a available by June. He has always been a cooperative kid and gets along with younger kids. So it could be the right kid. It sounds like the problems that he has had with his other homes has to do with their being uneasy about his sexuality.
I told the family developer that I would prefer to meet him under a no-pressure situation. Having a first visit that is essentially a blind date is just too stressful. There is an event coming up: a Friday evening and Saturday workshop on diversity. We had gone before and had not really thought about going again. But Xavier will be there and it will give us an opportunity to meet him casually.

So I am having the obvious inner debate. Am I ready? Are the kids ready? Given the current stress level at work, can I deal with this now? I think that all the answers are potentially yes, depending upon how well Xavier can fit into the family.

When I told Roland about Xavier, he was torn. On one hand he was still tired, but he hated to turn away any gay kid who needed us. It did not happen though. Xavier did not come into the agency, or even stay in foster care. Before we had a chance to meet him the court sent him back to his mother's home.

4/23/03 (Almost 4 weeks after Ann moved)
to the social worker:

I got a phone call from Ann last night. She sounded really good. She told me about their fun Easter celebration and that Mandy has committed to only have 3 girls (including her!) in the house at a time. It was really nice to talk to her and to hear her so happy. She said that she was busy working on her new room, painting and decorating, so she would not have time to come to church with us for a while (which I said was fine). She said that she thought that her room was probably the biggest, but that it would be childish to measure it just to make certain of that.

I thought you would like to know.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ann's Story Part 46: Trying to Explain

An email to my pastor in response to one from him saying, "I know things have been tense out there. I wanted to check in and see if you are all okay."


Ann has moved back with Mandy and John.

Things were getting steadily more difficult. Though I do think that there are too many girls at Mandy and John’s, Ann does love them and she wanted to go back. Anyway, the more Ann visited Mandy and John, the more defiant she became here. Last week Robin (director of social workers) called to say that they were going to call the state people who are in charge of Ann's case and talk to them about moving her back...sometime in the next few weeks. Monday night Roland took Ann to a meeting at the agency and Ann laid into him, totally unprovoked, in front of the social workers. It was quite a show. Ann was telling them that she was ready to do whatever she had to to force them to move her. Roland was quite hurt. He understands that she was trying to communicate to the social workers how much she wanted to go home, but he has never been anything but kind to her and it was difficult to take. The supervisor and director of the division told Roland that if she pulled something like that at home we were to pick up the phone, dial 911, tell them that we had a sick girl on our hands, and THEN call one of them to tell them whether she had been taken to the hospital or to the detention center.

Tuesday Robin called again and said that the particular state person who needed to approve of all this was out of the office and that she would call again Wednesday morning. I reminded Robin that I was supposed to leave at 2:00pm on Wednesday to get on a plane for a conference and that it would be difficult to do that if I thought they might move her while I was gone. She promised that that would not happen. Ann would go to respite as planned and then most likely move when I got back. I did tell her also that though it would be difficult for me, if they decided that it was best for Ann to move this week while it was her Spring Break then they should do that. I did want what was best for Ann.

Wednesday at 1:30pm Robin called to say that Ann moving back to Mandy and John’ of now. I hurried the boys into the car and drove over the suitcases that Ann had packed for her respite weekend. I cried and hugged her goodbye about 10 times. Mandy said that she really appreciated everything that I had done and said that I was still her aunt and that she thought it would be best for Ann if she could visit us often. By this time it was 2:10 and I dashed off to pick up Roland from his appointment and drive to the airport. I explained all this to him on the way. He said that he would manage everything...getting Ann's room packed and all her things moved. Everything.

I made half way to the airport. I did not go to the conference, and I am glad that I did not. The four of us needed some time together. I got Ann's room packed and cleaned...Roland and I moved everything over to Mandy and John’s. We are all still numb. Ann has said that she still wants to go to church with us, but I don't think we will invite her this first weekend. I want to re-build my relationship with her, but things got so awful the last couple of weeks that I think we all need some time.

When I dug this up I asked Roland if he remembered being told to call 911, because I did not remember anything about it. He said that he did remember and that I had not taken him seriously when he first told me about it.

Ann's Story 45: Stunned and Numb


Well, welcome back. I suppose this is a major surprise for you too. Last week Ann lived here and was only allowed to see Mandy for 2 hours at a time and now she lives with Mandy.

We are reeling from the shock: exhausted, numb, and I guess relieved too. I understand why "Robin" and the director made the decision the way they did. After the show she put on in front of the them the other night... I understand that they concluded that she was willing to do anything in order to be moved and that they didn't want her to do anything worse than call Hubby every fowl name she could think of in front of everyone.

I got a call from Carl at Job Corps. N. was apparently at the office and heard Ann down the hall. She told Carl about it. He reports that she claimed she nearly went into the director's office to "give Ann a piece of her mind." Carl wanted to know if we were okay. I assured him that Roland was able to let all that roll off. Carl was relieved to hear that she moved to Mandy and John's. N. had him quite worried about what sort of danger we might be in. I assured him that it was just teenage melodrama.

I understand, but I guess I wish it could have ended differently. If anyone ever brings up the circle of families model (what ever did happen to that idea?) I am still interested. I don't want to stop being her "auntie."

Anyway, I am writing to tell you that I got all of her things packed and I would like to retract everything I said about Mandy being inconsiderate when she packed Ann's things. I too gave up on being neat an folding clothes. Everything was such a mess. She has been eating in her room, which is not allowed, and the hiding the evidence. Everytime I moved something I found more clothes mixed with CDs, mixed with papers, mixed with garbage. I did manage to have some boxes with just clothes and others with just papers.

We took the boxes to her. Ann seemed very happy and I had a nice talk with Mandy and John. Mandy said that Ann still wanted to go to church with us and that she thought that was good for her. She also thought it was a good idea if Ann could have a regular visitation schedule with us. I told that to Hubby and he just gave me the look. I tend to live in the Land of Emotional Conflict. Hubby however hales from a simpler place where everything is always clear. The emotional weather may be the opposite of what it was an hour ago, but it is always clearly what it is. So today Roland is hurt and angry and tired. Right now he is not interested in talking about visitation with Ann.

He will though after he has had some time. As hurt as he his, and as exhausted as we all are, I know none of us want to loose her from our lives. At least I don't.

Anyway, I am going to curl up into a ball and sleep for a few days.

Next week is spring break at my school. Can we get together for lunch? I would really like to just "process" everything with you.

Ann's Story 44b: Timeline

12/8/02: I get a call asking me to take Ann on a short-term emergency basis.

1/15/03: Ann is told she will be living with us for a while and gets her boxes.

2/14/03: We meet with the counselor to discuss Ann's threats

2/27/03: A meeting is scheduled to discuss the situation. It is decided that Ann will spend every Monday evening and every other weekend with Mandy and John.

3/3/03: Ann spends her first scheduled Monday with them and gets slapped. Mandy lies about what happened.

Week of: 3/17/03
Monday - after Ann's first weekend away, I write an email in the morning saying that we probably can't do this forever. In the evening I write another to a friend expressing a desire to take it back.

Thursday - There is a meeting in which the fight that Ann got into at Mandy's on a previous visit is discussed. It is decided that Ann may only have 2-hour visits.

Friday - Ann is told.

Saturday & Sunday: We have the worst weekend ever.

Week of 3/20/03
Monday: Roland takes Ann to an appointment at the agency office where Ann yells and screams at him in the director's office. I have a conversation with the supervisor of social workers (Ann's worker is on vacation) telling me that they will be moving Ann soon. It will probably be back to Mandy's since there is no where else for her to go. I anticipate that it will take about a week.

Wednesday: I am told to take her back to Mandy, that day.

Ann's Story Part 44: A Sudden Decision

3/26/03, 10:00 am

Roland last night was kidding around about the possibility that you would not find any respite site for Ann at all. I thought there was a little genuine anxiety about it, so I told him that I would not leave if that should happen. I have complete confidence that you will find someone, but would you call me when you do? Thanks again for taking care of things while Ruby is out of town.

Same day 6:00pm
to my friend
Hi. Robin called me this morning as I was scrambling to get ready to leave on the trip. I had the car packed and was just gathering up the last few things. Ann's suitcase for respite was packed. I was going to leave in an hour.

Robin said they had decided that Ann would move back in with Mandy and John ... starting now.

I got Ann, told her she was not going to a respite placement, she was going home. "For how long?" "Permanently."

I cried when I left her, of course.

Then I got to Roland just in time for him to rush me to the airport to get the plane. As we drove I tried to explain to him what happened, but I'm not certain I know. We got halfway to the airport and I realized I just could not get on the plane. I am so exhausted. Roland said he feels like he was emotionally raped. Her room will need to be packed up and I can either help him do it tomorrow or do it when I should be teaching. He said actually that he would do it on his own while I was gone, but somehow I just couldn't go.

I want to curl up and whimper for a day or so. Then I will have a good cry and go to sleep.

Ann is gone. Tomorrow I will pack all of her things and take them to Mandy and John's.

She's just gone.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Ann's Story Part 43: Feeling worn out & Ann's big scene

Monday morning
to the social worker:

So as you know from Mandy's email, Ann went over for dinner with Mandy and John on Sunday. She went about 4:30 and called me at 6:45 to ask if she could stay longer because dinner would not be done for half an hour. I suggested 7:30 and she complained that she would not get have enough time to eat. I said 7:45 and she said that dinner might not be ready until 7:30 and she would only have 15 minutes to eat. I said 8:00 and she complained very loudly that she needed more than 15 minutes to eat. I pointed out that dinner seemed to be taking longer to cook by the second, but that I really could not give her permission to stay past 8:00. She hung up in a huff. Mandy and John’s dropped her off, with food, at 7:40.

She said that Mandy told her not to blame us, but that to blame them (Mandy and John) and the social workers if she needed to blame anyone. I did appreciate that. Ann was a little bit more civil, but when she yelled at me for being silly again I told her to get over it...and realized how very tired of that I am.

I woke up this morning tired and I realized that I have hit that level of exhaustion that Robin warned you about. I quarreled with Roland this morning about how to handle things. Roland and I often confuse each other when we speak. Usually we laugh about it, but this morning I did not have the energy to do the work that is necessary to figure out what he meant (as opposed to what I understood) and to get him to understand what I mean (as opposed to whatever he understood).

Anyway, we agreed a while back that Roland would take her to her appointment at the the agency offices this evening, and I am glad that we did. I am not up to it.

Ruby, let's chat when we can. I realize that I am feeling so tired in part because I was counting on having every other weekend off. If the boys are going to cope with Ann until the end of the school year they need it, and I guess I will need it too. I know that lots of stuff is going on and I don't want to do anything rash. I think though that it would be a good idea to set up a schedule of respite for Ann...if not every other weekend then every third. I understand that there is a limit of respite days and that if we go over Roland and I pay for it. I am prepared for that.

It may be that everything will calm down again, that this weekend was just this weekend.

Later that evening
to my friend
...So that's what happened on Sunday. Robin called in the evening. She expressed concern that things were getting to be too much for us and the kids. I told her that I knew that this was not going to work permanently, but we were trying to manage until the end of the school year.

This evening Roland took Ann to her appointment at the agency. She threw a fit and verbally abused him. It was apparently quite the show. Robin and the division director told Roland that they feel she needs to be moved. She is escalating horribly and is likely to get worse. Unfortunately, they cannot think of anywhere that is better than our house, so they will probably move her back to Mandy and John’s. This is not final, but it may happen this weekend. It hard to believe.

Ann's Story Part 42: Ann's Response

Not surprisingly Ann was furious at being told she could not spend more than 2 hours at a time with Mandy.

3/23/03 (Saturday)
to social workers

Ruby & "Robin":
This is as much for me as for either of you. I just wanted to record the events of the day, so to speak.

Let's see. I will back up to Friday. Friday evening I asked her how she was because I knew she had had a hard day. She teared up and told me that it was just not okay for someone to first tell you that you could spend several days with someone you loved and then turn around and say that you couldn't. I agreed that it was tough and gave her some comfort. Things seemed okay.

Saturday morning she got up and when Roland mentioned something about the first house we ever lived in, Ann asked what would happen if we moved … would she be able to go with us. Then she wanted to know how long we would be in Maine. It seemed to me that she was thinking about staying with us indefinitely.

But on to the exciting part. This afternoon she was bored and called a couple of girls to see if they could play. No one was available and then she asked if she could call her mom. I said yes and when her mom answered she asked if she could come over to visit (first time I had heard about that one). Anyway she pretty quickly started crying and then hung up and swore. She stomped off to her room and cried loud and long. After a couple of minutes I went to her door and asked if I could come in. "Not now." "Okay, if you want to talk, let me know." She came out and wanted to call Ruby. I had forgot she was out of town and said yes. Then Ann asked if she could call her teacher. Again I said yes. I was not certain that was a good idea, but fortunately the teacher was not home. She threw herself on the sofa and started complaining loudly (I asked the boys to please go downstairs for a while. Brian did not want to go, but Andrew persuaded him that it was a good idea). Ann said that it was not right that she was not even allowed to visit her mom. She had been told that she could not go for respite but no one said that she could not spend the night or even visit! Then she got furious because we had apparently been told that and it was not right that we knew more about her life than she did. Somewhere along here she said that her mom told her that as far as she (Mandy) was concerned, Ann could come back to stay, but that the agency would not allow it.

That was when we decided to call Robin. Robin told me that, contrary to Mandy's understanding, there was no limit to how often Ann could visit. If it was okay with us and Mandy and John’s she could go over again. Through this Ann was yelling at me that SHE wanted to talk to Robin, that she did not want for ME to be talking to her. When I was done I gave Ann the phone and she took it into her room. After Ann got off the phone she walked around the house, went to her room for a while and then called her mom. Mandy apparently said that she might be able to visit later, but that this was not a good time. Ann laid on the sofa for a while and then said she needed a hug. I gave her one and she seemed to be much better. Sad, but the storm had passed.

Since then she has been quite calm, even cheerful.

I have a hard time figuring out what Ann's real feelings are, and what is a cover. I think that is because Ann is not certain what her real feelings are. A few minutes ago I asked her how she was feeling. She said that she still felt bad. I told her that it was okay to be sad, and that she could be as sad as she felt for as long as she felt it...just don't turn sad into mean. She shrugged. I don't think she understands sad. She gets angry, but she does not know what it means to just be sad.

Robin called and asked if we were all okay. I said we were.

Anyway, everything is quiet again here. Roland and I agreed a couple of weeks ago that if Ann ever got scary that one of us would take the boys somewhere and the other would stay with Ann. Today was the first time that we considered enacting that plan. We did not have to though. Right now all three kids are downstairs playing a board game. I have the baby monitor on so that I can eavesdrop. Life with Ann can be surreal. One moment I think she is going to blow it, the next she is Miss Charming.

Ann's Story Part 41: The Fall-Out

You may recall, a few posts back, I predicted that the sh*t was about hit the did

3/20/03 from Mandy

The agency just called Ann is no longer able to come over and spend the weekend with us because of the argument that she had with B. about me last time she was here. Please let Ann know that this has nothing to do with how much we love her and want her home. This is the agency's call.

To Mandy, same day
I promise.

We should set up some visits though. Ruby said two hour spots and suggested both Monday and Tuesday. What time would be good for you? Think about what you want to do for after break. It is obviously easiest for me if she takes the bus to your house once or twice a week and then I pick her up about 6:00. But I don't know if she will see John that way. Let me know what works for you.

Next week I'm going to a conference. I understand they figured out a respite option closer to here, so she should be able to see you next week too.
Ruby came to the house on Friday to tell Ann what had happened. For the time being, she would only be allowed 2 hour visits with Mandy and John.

Reflection 2008:
This news was devastating to Ann, heartbreaking for Mandy, and deeply discouraging for us. I had been expecting to have every other weekend "off" and I wasn't sure how I, or the rest of the family, would cope like this.

Why Us?

Someone expressed some curiosity about why Gary was placed with us. The complete answer includes more of his history than I am willing to tell you, but most of it is pretty prosaic.

  • Gary was referred to the permanency program because he needs a place to live until he is grown up. He is exactly the sort of kid the program serves: adoption and reunification have both been ruled out.
  • Gary expressed a preference for a family with one or two brothers about his own age, and no other kids.
  • He wanted to live in the town where I live, or maybe the next one over.
  • They asked us because we fit the description.
  • We said yes.

We said yes because we had been waiting for a gay kid for a very long time and none seem to be needing us, and because once I heard he had never lived in a foster home I got excited at the idea of caring for a kid who hadn't been bounced around a lot.

Sort of boring, huh?

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I think he's normal

which is sort of strange after you have been doing foster care for a while.

Roland and I have each tried to spend some time with him, but neither of us is really feeling like we are getting to know him. He is polite, willing to do chores, gets along with the kids, answers all of our questions and.. not the least bit clingy.

He is not wandering into the kitchen when I am cooking to offer to help and tell me how much he likes doing chores, or coming into the living room while I am grading to ask me what I am doing and try to engage me in conversation about my work. He is not trying to ensure that I attach to him. I do not feel that I am being observed, evaluated, tested.

He found my copy of Antwone Fisher on the bookcase in the rec room and has spent hours in his room reading. When I asked him to go grocery shopping with me he agreed. He was polite, engaging, and offered to run back to get something I forgot. He was pleased to pick out some of his favorite flavor of yogurt (blueberry) and an ice cream he wanted to try (vanilla with caramel and toffee). They don't buy ice cream at the home, apparently, and he ate the entire half-gallon in less than 24 hours.

I told him that I make all the kids a quilt and asked him to look at some patterns with me. He was a little uncertain about whether I meant it, but I told him I really did. It helped when I volunteered that certain of the patterns were more difficult than I wanted to tackle. He picked out a pattern and I asked if he wanted to help me pick out the fabrics, not now, but after he moved in. He said yes and seemed genuinely excited. When I said "Okay, that's all" he jumped up beaming and went to help the boys in the kitchen.

He's excited about the quilt. Well, partly about the quilt but I think mostly about the fact that I am going to make one for him.

I think he is being himself. I think he feels comfortable and safe here.

He's not paying a lot of attention to me.

And I guess that is what feels strange. The kids normally observe us, study us, try to figure out what we want, what our weaknesses are, what our limits are. They want to know us so they will know how to stay in control. They forge relationships with the boys, but like pack animals their first task is to establish a relationship with the leaders.

It makes sense. It really does. I've come to expect that.

But Gary just seems glad to be here. He takes his cues from the other boys, does what they do and acts like a kid who has lived here for years.

He was sad when he had to leave. He did not complain, but he had a grim look on his face. He came through the main room, slowing down just a little to say "well, bye, thanks" and kept on going.

Ann's Story Part 40: A Good Day

3/20/03 (Wednesday)
to the social worker:

“Polly” ended up driving Ann home alone yesterday. She said that she asked Ann how things were going and Ann said pretty well. That she missed her mom but hated living with the Challenge girls. Living with us and visiting her mom seemed like a pretty good idea.

Ann's appointment with PO went well. Ann always seems so young when we are there. She turned in her community service records, but she asked if she could have a copy. The PO asked why and when Ann could not articulate it I said that Ann liked to look at them, it made her feel proud of all she had accomplished. So she made her copies. The PO says we should let her know when we hear about the academic probation. If Ann is off that she will submit the paper work to the judge. Otherwise Ann will have to stay on, probably until the June 17th date. Ann said that she wanted to be off by her birthday so she could party. The PO asked her what sort of party and Ann explained that she wanted to take a friend to Boondocks and stay, without an adult, until 9:00 at night. The PO told her that if she stayed out of trouble she would probably give her permission to do that. Ann was pretty happy, and proud of all she has accomplished. She has grown so much.

On the way home I talked to her about Andrew. I told him that he was a sensitive personality and things that annoyed other people really made him miserable. She said she would try to express herself gently with him.

Now, I know you are going to tell me no to exhaust myself, and I promise I won't. However, as long as Ann is in the house I am going to try to help Andrew and Ann to develop a respectful relationship. I will also pray that Mandy decides, or is forced to decide, to have only a couple of kids.

I just wanted to let you know that it was a good day.

Ann Story Part 39: The Daily Struggle Continues

3/19/03 (Tuesday)
to my friend

Things with Andrew and Ann are getting worse...or maybe they are just coming out in the open, which gives them an opportunity to work on it.

In any case Ruby is aiming for having an alternate placement ready for Ann after the school year ends. I have got Andrew committed to coping, with my help, for that long. Today there is a meeting at the agency to talk about Ann's placement and whatever the fallout will be over the fight between B & Ann last Monday. Ruby will call me around lunch time.

I don't know what this means for the future for us and fostering. Or I guess I do. We will ultimately do this again, but we will be more careful. “Hubby” pointed out last night that if we had just believed what had been reported in the file, we would have made different decisions. There was nothing that we learned about her that was not already documented. In fact, her behavior with us was much better than it was at home. Given what she did there, nothing she did here should have surprised us.

I think it is important (for Ann's sake) to remember that Brian does not have any problems with her at all. Her bursts of temper, sighing, groaning and rolling of eyes just roll off his back. I don't think that Ann's behavior is significantly outside the curve for nearly-13-year-old girls. But Ann and Andrew are both pubescent. The fight they had last night (with me and Roland trying to help them work it out) was interesting. It was all extreme: He ALWAYS, She NEVER...

I asked Andrew how he felt about foster care and doing it again. He and Roland are saying the same thing: if there is an older teenage gay kid who is nice to other kids then we should do it. The whole family has a lot of sympathy with the plight of gay youth in our red state. Basically they want another Carl.

But no rushing...we need to take a break.

I wish that we were not doing this to Ann. I don't want her to have to switch families again. But I keep hoping that the next family will be the right one. Roland and I would have been the right one, if we did not have other kids.
When I go away next week she will be going to respite in a town 70 miles away...and the location of the Air Force Base. Next week may be a very interesting time to be in a military town.

Later that day I wroter her again:
I just got an email from Ruby. She told me that at the meeting they decided that visitation with Mandy and Tom should be limited, but not yet. That is good from my perspective. I did not want to deal with the mood that that would put Ann in.
But things are complicated and messy. Ruby is again wanting not to tell me too much. My read of her silences though is that it is serious.

I still expect to travel next week, war and all. It is an issue for me though. If domestic terrorism becomes a real threat (real to me or my kids) I may stay home. It is a mom thing. It really is not that I would be afraid that I would be a victim of terrorism; it is that if things are happening that are seriously frightening my children then I will need to be where they are.

Part 40

Ann's Story Part 38: What Really Happened

to my friend

Do you remember a while back when I told you about Ann's Monday evening? Ann said that B pushed her Mom, Ann pushed B, and then B slapped Ann; but Mandy said that Ann stayed out of it all?

The incident came up in an agency staff meeting. B's social worker was there too and B's story matches Ann's.

Bottom line: Ann was slapped by one of the other foster girls and Mandy tried to cover it up.

The sh*t is about the hit the fan.

Part 39

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sharing Our Faults

So I asked Gary over dinner what he thought his biggest faults were. He gave me a funny look and I told him that when I tell people about him and say he doesn't seem to have any at all they think I am naive. Then I volunteered to go first.

"I get grumpy easily. Things annoy me and I sometime I snap at people, but it usually blows over right away. Wouldn't you say that's true Andrew?"

Andrew is staring off into space.



"Wouldn't you say that's true?"

"What's true?"

"Weren't you even listening?"

"No. Do I have to do the dishes tonight?"

"Oh, for Pete's sake! Andrew, help me out here! Would you agree that one of my faults is that I can get irritated easily?"


"Isn't anyone listening to me! Honest to G-d, I'm just trying to have a conversation with Gary about what our character flaws are! Could either of you confirm that one of mine is that I get irritated quickly, but that it tends to blow over quickly???"

They look at me like just maybe I'm insane. Then Brian says to Gary, "It's best just to hide in your room until it's over."


By the way, Gary confesses to procrastination, sometimes forgetting to do things that he is told, and getting really annoyed when people keep reminding him to do something that he said he would do 'cause if he said he was going to do it he'll do it.

Sounds like a fifteen-year-old boy to me.

Ann's Story Part 37: Stories Left Out

The emails leave out stories.

Difficult stories like when I tried to buy her clothes. I had agreed to buy her new jeans because all of hers were too small. She would only try on jeans of the same size, which I refused to buy. She already had 10 pair of jeans in that size, why would she need more? She started yelling at me in the store and I told her I was done shopping for the day and would wait for her in the car. She did not believe me at first, but after I left the dressing room she eventually caught up. She yelled in the store for me to slow down and wait for her. In the car she complained, "Gawd! I can't believe you did that. All I said was ... and then you just walked out and left! This is so stupid!" Pause. "Aren't you going to say anything?"
"I don't have anything to say. I think you summed up what happened accurately and I agree that it is stupid."
"I HATE it when you do that."
"I know."

Similarly there was the time that I reminded her to put on her seat belt and for no apparent reason crossed her arms and did not buckle up. I pulled off to the side of the road, turned off the engine, and waited. "Are you really just going to sit here? I can't believe it. We are just going to sit here on the side of the street because I won't wear my seatbelt?" I said nothing. "Gawd. This is so stupid!"
"I completely agree."
"I HATE it when you do that."
"I know."

But there were other days. Days when she worked on homework projects with Hubby and was pleased to be learning.

There were countless evenings when she helped cook dinner and told me about her day and laughed.

There were who knows how many evenings when she could not sleep and I would lie on her bed, on top of the covers, and she curled next to me like a toddler and fell asleep.

Most of the time she was just a 12-year-old girl who was stuggling to find a way to survive in the world. She was endearing, fragile, lovable, and afraid. She was also surrounded by a group of adults all of whom really did all want what was best for her. Those adults just did not agree on what that was.

Part 38

Ann Story Part 36: Wanting to Take It Back

to my friend

So I have been sad all day. Of course now I am thinking about whether I will be able to work on Ann and Andrew's relationship.

Of course it was right to alert Ruby. There needs to be a back-up plan. It is even possible that they will work out something that will be even better for Ann.
But maybe I will be able to help them to find better ways to deal with each other.


What should happen of course is that Mandy should get out of Challenge work. I just don't seem to be able to let that one go. It seems highly unlikely that she will ever do that, but it would be nice.

Ann really needs a dedicated parent and no other least none that are younger, or too close in age. But I understand why Ann bothers Andrew so much. When Ann gets angry she is so intimidating. She is loud and aggressive...down right scary.

But I just go round in circles...maybe Andrew and Ann will move to a better relationship...maybe they won't...maybe they will, now that I understand better what is going on maybe I can help Ann to get along with Andrew.

I thought I had until the end of the school year. Ann would go home every Monday and every other weekend. That would give us all some rest. We would make it. I had 10 weeks to work a miracle, and a good social worker preparing a back-up plan in case I could not pull it off. Whatever was going to happen, it was going to be okay. I had time.

Part 37

Ann Story Part 35: The Hardest Email

to the social worker

We had a good weekend with just the four of us. We spent time with the boys just relaxing. Today after church we went to the "fish park" and to the Discovery Center. When we came home we asked the boys to have a family conference. We told them that we wanted to know how they felt about Ann living here. Brian thinks things are fine and wants to know if he can go play his game. Andrew asked Brian how he feels when Ann bosses or insults him and Brian says that he wishes she would not call him a bratty little kid, but that's all. Can he go play his game now?

We let him go but Andrew wanted to talk. Things have been hard for Andrew. He said that sometimes, well lots of times, he hates school. Class is fine, but hallways are awful. He hates the way people talk to each other, the way they treat each other. He used to feel like home was the refuge, but now home feels like school. He says that Ann wants to be the older kid. He does not feel like he needs to boss Ann around, but she just won't stop trying to to boss him, "And I am NOT going to just take it." He looked like he was going to cry as he said that.

We talked for quite a while. Once Andrew got going the flood gates just opened up. He has been really stressed. I think that it is hard partly because Ann and Andrew are so close in age. Ann attempts constant power struggles with me and “Hubby”, but we side-step them and maintain our authority. Brian has been bossed around by older siblings for as long as he can remember. He lets it roll off his back and then does whatever he wants. Andrew though is used to being the older kid. He does not have the resources to fight with her, but he also cannot tolerate being bullied. (Carl accepted certain limits. We told him that he was not to boss Andrew around and he didn't. As long as we did not ask him to babysit things were fine.) There were other things. He does not like the way she treats Brian, the way that she tries to monopolize me, and that she is disrespectful of his belongings.

I asked Andrew to tell me really and truly what he wanted. He said that he can live with Ann while things are being worked out, and he knows that could take something like six months, but he cannot face the idea of her living with us forever. It was difficult for Andrew to say that, but I know he felt relieved to say it.

So what does this mean? Well, I obviously won't force Andrew to live with someone that he finds so stressful, so if we were making a permenancy decision right now I would have to tell you to look elsewhere. We have told Andrew that we will ask you to come up with a back-up plan, and that will take the stress off him. We will continue to work with the two of them and it is possible that in 2 or 4 or 6 months things will be different. It makes me sad to write about this, because I do love Ann, but we clearly need to find a solution that will work for all the kids. If the circle of family model gets proposed again I think it would be worth a try.

So let's see how things go.

And I followed that with a letter to my friend
So I emailed Ruby this morning and told her that things should be okay for the interim, but that she needed to come up with a backup plan. We would continue to try to work on Andrew and Ann's relationship and maybe in a few months things would be different.

At the moment I don't think so though. Maybe. If it were just me and Roland I am certain we could turn Ann around, but it would take a couple of years.

Did you know that one of her "complaints" to Ruby about us is that we are too nice? She keeps waiting for the other shoe to drop, trying to figure out what we are up to.

Anyway, I will start putting some mega-effort into her thinking about how she relates to the boys...meanwhile Ruby will put some effort into a back-up plan.
I have been feeling so stressed about this. Now I am sad, but it is good not to be debating anymore.

Reflections 2008:
I wonder if things would have been different if I had never written this. For a long time I thought they would have been. Now I am not so sure.

Part 36

Friday, May 16, 2008

Guarding My Heart

I'm keep space, physical space between me and Gary. It is easy to do. He and Brian enjoy playing the same games. Though there is supposed to be a time limit on gaming they keep forgetting. Roland calls them away. They find something else to do, and then they drift back again. I have papers to grade. Next week is the last week of the term and I allow students to opt out of the final. They will only opt out if they know what their grade is, so I simply must, MUST get through this pile of papers.

So I am busy, and he is happy. Besides, I tell myself, he will still be trying to impress me, trying to figure out what I want him to be. I should let him relax a bit more, feel at home here, so that I can get to know the real him.

And that is all true.

But it is also true that I am afraid. Not terrified, not quaking with anxiety, but afraid. I don't want to risk it. I want guarantees before I invest any emotion. I know I won't get them, but I want them. I ask Brian, Andrew, and Evan for their impressions. I ask the social worker. I read reports, evaluations. It is a wall of information between us.

I know it is time to step past all that, to actually have a conversation with him.

Yep, I have not really had a conversation with him. I have asked him his favorite color, what he likes to eat, whether he wants to come back. I have offered him food, assured him that he can eat all he likes, explained a few rules to him. I have listened to the sounds of him talking and laughing with Evan. I do not hear the words, but I hear the instant bond of boys who have shared certain sorts of tragedy, who know the other understands.

But that is all.

It is time. It is time to take the risk, to reach out, to get to know him. No more excuses. My mind tells me that I should, that it is time, that it is the right thing to do.

But I am afraid. I don't want to get hurt. It is more difficult this time.

How much more difficult must it be for him.

What night is it?

I have to use a real name, 'cause otherwise it won't make sense. Wendy is the person in charge at the group home, the one from whom we have to get permission in order to have Gary with us.

Me to Roland, "Did you talk to Wendy about Thursday night?"

Roland, "Thursday! Thursday??! No. I didn't ask anything about Thursday. They are coming to pick him up on Sunday."

Me: "I know. I mean Andrew's graduation dinner. Did you ask Wendy if Gary could have dinner with us on Thursday?"

Roland: "We are having dinner on Thursday?"

Me: "Yes."

Roland:"I thought we were doing that on Friday."

Me: "We were, but Evan only has Wednesday and Thursday off. David is leaving for somewhere or other on Friday, and Carl will be coming in then. It is the only night I can get everyone together. It's the big night."

Roland: "TONIGHT? What's happening tonight? I thought we were just staying home tonight."

Me: "I'm not talking about tonight. I'm talking about THURSDAY night. That is when we are having the big dinner out that I have been planning and saving for for months."

Roland: "Oh. This Thursday?"

Me: "Yes. This Thursday. Andrew gets out of school early. He and I will go pick up Carl. On the way back I want to get Gary and then we will all go out to eat and have a wonderful time."

Roland appears to have figured it out.

Me to Gary: "Do you think Wendy will let us have you?"

Andrew: "Mom! Don't get him confused too. The dinner isn't on Wednesday. It's on Thursday."

I groan. Gary laughs.

Ann's Story Part 34: Ready for My Weekend Off

to the social worker

Well we got Ann off to school this morning. She was particularly grumpy this morning.

I wanted to let you know that Ann is very condemning of a certain habit of ours, one that she sees as "mocking people." This consists in making smart-ass comments about characters on television. So for instance, we were watching Johnny Dangerously last night...which is a very silly movie. Johnny tells the boy in the pet store "I was about to face my greatest challenge yet" and I said, "trying to remove that much eye make-up with stinging your eyes?" Ann has gone from just rolling her eyes and telling us that she finds that annoying to telling us in a loud and intimidating voice that we are really beginning to piss her off.

Roland and I (and Andrew) are not going to stop this behavior. I grew up in a house where the crafting of smart-ass comments was a highly prized skill. Roland and I are educators and parents, and we both bite our tongues all day long. There is no way we are going to start to be polite to ridiculous television characters. I don't know how to explain to Ann that this is something she will have to adjust to.

At the moment I feel very frustrated with her and I guess I am writing to you so that I will not say these things to her, but I feel like telling her that her expectations that (1) everyone will behave in exactly the way she wants them to all the time; (2) that she can express her disapproval or annoyance and everyone all the time and it should be allowed since she is just "expressing her opinion"; and yet (3) no one is allowed to treat her with anything other than total deference, has just got to stop.

I keep thinking about this line from my favorite show, Buffy, "It is not about what's right. It's about power." I have had this conversation with Roland. When Ann tells the boys not to criticize her, and yet criticizes them, she is not trying to get them to follow a moral rule that she is breaking...she is trying to establish the pecking order. We are dealing with her with the language of morality and she is dealing with us in a totally different way. And I don't think she realizes that. She does not see that she is operating in the land of power. Hence her thinking about the thing with B. Monday night. It was wrong for B. to push Mandy, but it was not wrong for Ann to push B. in retaliation. It is not about whether pushing is right, it is about who has the right to push whom around.

This was a difficult morning where Ann seemed to be trying to get my goat, find a way to piss me off so that I would fight with her. Last night she was yelling at Roland because he did not point out to her that there was a make-up exam stapled to the back of the grade check sheet that he gave her "And now everyone is angry at me. That was very important and it should have been turned in, but how was I supposed to do it when I did not even know it was there!" Sigh.

Anyway, I think I am just tired and anxious. I don't know how the visiting Mandy will go. We were in a quiet place with Ann for a while and I am afraid that the added stress is going to bring it back to where it was. I'm exhausted. I use all my powers of diplomacy with Ann. I am "on" all day long. It will be good to have the weekend off.

So thanks for listening to me rant and vent....

Reflections, 2008:
Looking back and now think this was the turning point. Living with Ann was sometimes so exhausting for all of us. I worried about how much of this was fair to Brian and Andrew. I was just barely hanging on.

At the time I wrote this I did have hope. We finally had a regular visiting schedule worked out with Mandy. We were going to get regular breaks. I looked forward to working out something permanent. I hoped for a shared custody or "circle of families model" in which Ann moved back and forth from our two homes. We would get breaks, and Ann would be able to calm down because she would know what was going to happen to her.

I was tired but hopeful. We are on the cusp of a workable permanent plan. I just had to hold on a little while longer.

Part 35

Ann Story Part 33: A Night With Friends

To the social worker
March 13

Wednesday night my friend “Polly” and her kids, “Josh” and “Ella” came for dinner. After dinner the kids were all downstairs and though I never figured out all of what happened here is some of it.

According to Andrew an "insult competition" was developing. Things were beginning to get out of hand and Josh said to his sister, "If you don't cut it out I am going to beat the crap out of you." Now everyone understood that “Josh” would NEVER hit his sister, and under normal circumstances “Ella” would just realize that she had pushed about as far as she should, but this was different. Ann came to “Ella's” defense and told “Josh” that he better not even try because she would stop him. Ann was seriously angry and Andrew thought he might calm everything down by telling Ann that she should back off "because I got the goods on you." Of course Ann did not hear that as a joke either and was even more upset. She came upstairs to tell me that Andrew was threatening to tell her private information to everyone.

After Ella and Josh left Roland and I had a conversation with Ann and Andrew. It was interesting. We explained to each where the other was coming from. We tried to get Ann to understand that Andrew and “Josh” both had clear boundaries that they would not cross and that their threats were along the same lines as my saying that I was going to hang a kid by the toes and tickle him until he barfed. And we explained to Andrew that in the "world" that Ann came from threats like that are serious and that even though he and Josh were kidding, that is the sort of thing that would not be a joke for Ann. Roland said that in Ann's world you don't laugh, you duck.

Anyway, I got the feeling that they both got a picture of a very different way of living in the world. It was odd...they both found the other perspective unbelievable. "There are people who really would/would not do that?

Part 34

I feel SO much better

In October I was supposed to read my evaluations from last year, write up a self-evaluation page, and send it to the dean.

I couldn't face it and I didn't do it. I didn't decide not to do it; I just didn't do it.

Then in November I forgot about doing it.

In December I was overwhelmed and decided I would do it before Winter Term in the beginning of January.

Except I forgot, because I didn't want to remember.

Then I remembered, but I was really busy and said I would do it at the next break.

Then I realized how really absolutely horrible it was that I was supposed to have done this in October and it was Feburary and I hadn't done it and I started having anxiety attacks when I thought about it and I avoided thinking about it...only I felt worse and worse and worse.

Then on Monday of this week we got a reminder from the dean's office about having to turn in our self-evaluations by October 1 in the fall and so we might want to consider collecting the data now.*

And I tried to open my evaluations and really just couldn't make myself do it.

And I went home and I cried and Roland came to work with me and I printed them off and he read them and summarized them and helped me deal with it. Over the next couple of days he kept reminding me about how many positive comments there were.

And yesterday I wrote the self-evaluation and sent it to the dean.

And last night I slept. I really, really slept.

And today I feel good. Better than I have for a very long time.

And I thought I would let you know, particularly since I told you how miserable I was when I was first processing the evaluations.

Thanks for helping me get through it.

*It occurs to me, now that I am calm again, that if the dean is sending out reminders about next year I might not be the only prof who had touble getting them in on time this year.

Secrets and Gary's Dad

There are some posts that I have not written, and some I have tried to write and not published, because they don't make sense without a piece of information that is private. I know it is frustrating to read a story where much of what is happening now makes sense only because of a piece of information you don't have, but I am going to do that to you. And, as Claudia recently said in her blog, "No, if you email me and ask I won't tell you either."

Here is what I will tell you: Gary entered the state's custody through the juvenile justice system. He was just barely twelve when he did what he did. As I mentioned before, we would not have taken him then. Not even right after he finished, with flying colors, the rehabilitation program the judge sentenced him to. Now, after nearly four years of working hard, with recommendations from his PO, teachers, therapists, and the workers at the group home, we are willing. I think he is a kid who made a mistake and turned his life around. It isn't like Frankie where I think that he deserves a chance to try living in a less structured environment. Gary has lived in a less structured environment (with his aunt for a couple of years) and did very well.

I feel like I have to get that information out there, because it explains a couple of things. Like my anxiety about what will happen when we go to another state at the end of June, only three weeks after he moves in. Will I be able to get a travel order for him? His PO says he is past due for being released from probation, she just has to see him settled into a family first. How long with it take for him to be "settled"? If I can't get a travel order, what will we do? Will the agency be able to find him a respite place? Will I be willing to send him back to the group home where he is now for 10 days? Actually, it just now occurs to me that if we are going to do that they will probably not officially place him with us until we get back. He will spend three weeks in June "visiting" us, and go back while we are gone. None of us would be thrilled about that, but it would work.

The other thing that knowing a little about his past helps explain is his relationship with his father. Gary's father and step-mother will not allow Gary to come home. That is, in fact, why he is in foster care. When he aunt needed surgery and wanted to go live with her adult children, Gary was still on probation, and the state had an interest in making sure he had a place to live. The judge decided that the only way to find him a home was to put him into child protective services.

I do not condemn Gary's parents for saying he cannot come home, even now. It makes me sad for Gary, but I wasn't there.

The point though is that Gary's dad is still his dad in every sense of the term. He has and will keep parental rights. He visits Gary about once a month, which is impressive considering that he lives several hundred miles away. They speak on the phone. They both accept that this is the way it has to be: Gary cannot come home and his dad still loves him.

Gary's dad, who might just need a blog name soon, is not an easy person to deal with. He did not want Gary put in foster care. In fact he threatened to kidnap Gary if the judge did that. When the judge pointed out that if Gary's dad could give them an alternative they would probably take it, he quieted down. Gary's dad has made outrageous claims about the group home where Gary is now. Claims that no one believes.

So I am a bit nervous about what this is going to be like. This will be the first time I have parented a kid whose parent was this involved. I came close with Evan, but his mother was in jail, so not the same thing.

I told Gary that I want his father to feel safe with him living with us, and that I was hoping to meet him.

I am going to get my chance next Wednesday. There is to be a conference at the agency that will include the agency worker, probably some other agency people, Gary's PO, state social worker, and Gary's dad. We are invited too. At least one of us will show, probably both of us.

We will probably identify as aunt and uncle again. My experience before was that it really helped Evan's mom feel comfortable with the situation. It sends the message that we want the kids to be part of our family, but that we are not trying to replace his parents. Fill-in for them, yes. Replace them, no.

I'm still nervous though. Gary's dad has a reputation for trying to control and intimidate people. I don't know how he will react to us.