Monday, June 23, 2008

It's All Good

I'm beginning to wonder if a determined positive attitude is part of Gary's character, a more recently developed strategy, or just part of his I'm-new-here-and-need-to-be-likable persona.

It is difficult to tell.

Some things, like the claim that he did not really eat much, was definitely part of the persona. Gary put that one to bed quickly. Not by attacking it directly but by saying, "Hay man, you hungry?" and then serving them both bowls containing mountains of ice cream, or leading the way to making 4 inch thick sandwiches.

The determined positive attitude though, I'm not so sure about. I know that when he first entered the state's custody he did not have such an attitude. He was in fact diagnosed with conduct disorder, among other things. At some point though he started working with the therapist in his treatment program -- this would be when he was twelve. I don't know how quickly he changed.

I know that when he first went back into the more recent group home he was angry. Who could blame him? He had to live in an extremely restrictive home, be cut off from all his former friends, and repeat a treatment program that he had successfully complete two years before in order to have a place to live.

But at some point he seems to have decided that the way to get through all this was to maintain a positive attitude. His PO and the staff at the group home are all incredibly impressed with him. He worked hard. He stayed busy. He was encouraging and supportive to the other kids. He cooked desserts for everyone. He did yard work when there was nothing else to do.

And here "It's all good unless you're dead. See, in the group home, it's all bad, but out of the group home it's all good."

I've seen him really happy about something, and I have seen him disappointed. The most significant moment I saw was when the agency worker told him that his father would not be allowed unsupervised visits. He said that it wasn't right for people to get your hopes up about something and then take it back -- and I think he was thinking about the social worker, although it had been his dad who had raised his hopes without talking to anyone else first. He said that his dad wouldn't come to visit him unless there were supervised visits. He was sad, disappointed, and angry, but he sat there and felt it for a few minutes and then wrestled those feelings down into place. He moved on. "Don't worry, be happy" is his theme song.

Gary is most likely to share disappointing news with me while we are in the car. I think he feels he has more control. I have to look at the road. I can't make eye contact. He can share just a little and know that I won't be able to look at him sympathetically and invite more expression of negative feelings. He relays to me the messages he got from his last call with his father. They are always mixed signals amounting to, "I'll be there soon son, but..." He tells me about his sister now living with his grandparents and getting into trouble, he expresses concern that she will end up "in an institution, but not as bad as the one I was in." He tells me that someone in his new social circle told someone else about the details of his criminal record without his permission.

This last I know is the worst for him. He doesn't want to be that person; he has worked so hard to earn the right to be something other than The Boy Who Did The Terrible Thing. Part of being the new him is being willing to be honest with his friends about his past, but that honesty means that there is a real risk of people who will not see past it finding out.

But even this he quickly puts away. "It's all good."

Last night I asked him how he was doing. "That's your favorite question."

"I guess so. It's just an attempt to start a conversation."

"I know, but it is all good unless your dead."

"You know, you are allowed to be sad or mad or have all sorts of emotions."

"I know, but it's all good."

I didn't push. He grinned and went off to do whatever it was that he was going to do next.

Those other feelings are there though, and I expect I'll see more of them as he feels safe. Right now though I think he equates feeling good with being good. I don't think he really believes he is allowed to feel mad or sad.

Not really.


  1. My new little guy is very easy-going, too. I am still wondering if maybe he is saving it all up for a nice surprise one day or if this is who he really is. Are you waiting for the (what's that saying...) other shoe to drop, too?

  2. I had so many Big Conversations before college with my mom in the car, driving an hour to buy college things. Cars are good for talking.

  3. If it is a change, I am hoping he can make it a permanent one. An optimistical (I made that word up and I rather like it) attitude will take you far in life.

  4. I keep coming back to this post over and over again because it hits so close to home. I remember thinking that if I was "everything" that the foster family could possibly want, mixed with a seen/not heard type attitude as well as taking up as little extra resources as possible... that maybe "this time" I might stay somewhere for a while. It's like adapting to the environment around you in order to "survive"... and it's a shame that kids are learning thsi younger and younger in care...


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