Thursday, July 31, 2008

MIL Makes Dinner

FosterAbba here, posting another update from Yondalla:

Years ago my MIL used to make me crazy. She has mellowed as she has got older...or maybe just got tired. She no longer buzzes around, tisking and redoing everything. I do in many ways love her deeply, but she can still be aggravating.

On our second night here she cooked dinner. It is a recipe my kids love so much that it has become a regular at our house. She knows this.

She prepared the dish, put it in the oven and told me that it was very important that it cook for a full hour. I said okay. She started to leave for her cottage but seemed worried. She got out a piece of paper and wrote down that it should cook for one hour at 450 degrees.

Then she left. I remembered that she and my FIL both have become very dependent on a schedule of meals, snacks, and on time. I asked Gary to call on the intercom and ask, "What time do you usually eat dinner?"

MIL responded, "We eat at 6:30, so the chicken needs to start cooking at 5:30. It won't take too long for the oven to heat up, but you should probably turn it on by 5:20. I already got the broccoli cut and ready and it won't need to be turned on until 6:20. I will be over in time to do that, so you don't need to worry about it. I will take care of the noodles too, but it is very important that the chicken cooks a full hour so don't forget to turn on the oven at about 5:20. It will be okay if the chicken cooks a little long ."

Gary stared at me. I said, "Just say thank you." He pushed the button and did. He then said to me,"Don't you know all of that?"

Yeah. I know. She knows I know. I was glad to realize it just doesn't irritate me like it used to do.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Last Firsts

FosterAbba here. Yondalla asked me to post the following:

This message comes to you by the gracious assistance of FosterAbba. I can access email on my phone, theoretically. What that means however is leaving the comfort of the house and perching on a rock on the beach where the sun is too bright and the signal weak. Text messages are more complicated for FosterAbba, but they can be written and saved off-line and resent as necessary. Emails lost to bad connections are simply gone. So everyone buzz over to FosterAbba's and say thank you. Now...on to my report.

It is beyond lovely here. It is, as always, breath-taking. Today in particular is spectacular. The sun is bright, the water blue as far as one can see. I sit and look at the surf, the islands, and the sail boats that go by. Lobster boats too, of course.

It is difficult to be here. It is the last time. I tell myself that it is just a place, but I don't believe it. This corner of the world is the spot where my husband came every summer, where my children have come every year but one. The boys have imagined coming here with their own children. A piece of my soul is in the rocks on that beach. I don't disagree with the reasons for doing it, but that doesn't make it easier.

What does make it easier is Gary. Everything is new for him. Everything that is for me a last time is for him a first: a visit to our favorite ice cream place; going to the dock to buy lobsters ("sheddars, pound an a haf each"); the cookies I for some reason only bake here. I think without him we would just sit sadly on the beach and hide in our respective bedrooms. That however is not fair to him. He must be taken to the cove at low tide to catch, and release, tiny crabs. He must go to all the favorite spots. When I might otherwise feel I just cannot face one more "last time" I see him grinning with pleasure and amazement, and I smile.

Well most of the time. When we first were driving here he exclaimed, "This must be the most beautiful place on earth!" I lost it. So did Brian. We spent some time in a bedroom crying.

But I am better now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Missing All the Firsts

FosterAbba here. Yondalla is on her way to her vacation destination, so she asked me to post the following update:

Don't let anyone tell you that caring for an older child means missing all the "firsts." As we boarded this morning I said, "you've flown before right?" He grinned and said, "Yeah, but this is the first without handcuffs."

We are scheduled on separate flights next. I took him to his gate and gave him a hug. He will have to wait for us for hours as we are taking two planes. Ridiculous itinerary.

Still it means this is his first flight alone! No guard, no handcuffs, no parents.

Friday, July 25, 2008

On Vacation

I'll be gone for about almost two weeks. Take care, be good. If I can publish anything remotely, I will.

FosterAbba has agreed to babysit the blog as necessary.
To the right is Yondalla, D&D goddess of the halflings. "Yondalla is represented as a strong female halfling with red-golden hair, looking determined and proud. She dresses in green, yellow, and brown, and carries a shield. Yondalla has two aspects that the halflings speak of in front of others: the Provider and the Protector. As the Provider, she is a goddess of fertility and growing things, of birth and youth. She can make barren things fertile and increase the growing rate of plants and animals to any speed she chooses. She can equally easily make fertile things barren, if she chooses. She can age, wither, and slay as easily as she can create, though it takes much to drive her to do this.
As Protector, Yondalla wards off evil influences and intrusions and gives halflings the strength and determination to defend themselves."

Conversation on Photolistings Continues

Two comments I want to share. One is from Janine in Australia:

As I mentioned in Torina's blog comments, here in Australia there are no photolistings. To 'entice' permanent carers we have occasional media efforts featuring a 'poster child' which is usually followed by a rush of interested callers, who are directed to information sessions, and then onto training (with lots dropping off along the way, of course). Again, I don't know how successful we are at placing older or special needs kids compared to you in the States, so how do we know if these photolistings are really needed?
I have no answer for this. In some, perhaps most, places the photolistings are out of date and incomplete. That would bother me not at all if there were an efficient and more private system for matching potential carers and and adopters with children. If the photolistings are the main way that people who can provide traumatized children with homes get connected to those children, then the fact that they are not current means they fail to meet the only criteria that justifies their existence.

I think it is good for US citizens to become aware of how things are done elsewhere. We tend to think that our way is the best way, or certainly the only feasible way, without even knowing what is done elsewhere. Imagine though a country in which there is no private adoption at all, in which every mother who is considering placing meets with a social worker whose job it is to help her get resources so that she can parent her child. Adoption exists as an option, but promoting it is no body's agenda. [update: See Sassy's comments below for more information on Adoption in Australia.] [Also note: if it didn't make Sassy's comments irrelevant, which is rude, I would probably delet the second part of this paragraph. The issues in infant placement overlap but are not the same as the ones in child protection.]

Of course, as we talk about the lack of resources for private matching, or keeping the photolistings updated, I will want to talk about our unwillingness to provide families, particularly young mothers, with the help they need long before the situation has deteriorated to the place where removal of children is an appropriate response. That though is a conversation far too big for me right now. Feel free to discuss.

Bacchus in his comment provides a challenge:

This was my least favorite part of adopting. Knowing there was a code to listings and trying to decipher it. There were times we were drained from reading these. I hate the fact that kids are reduced to innuendo.
Thanks for posting these. If I can challenge people to truly get these, if you have bio kids.. describe them in terms of an adoption listing. It is amazing how it reads.

The level of anxiety I feel about doing this I think is partly an indicator of the level of why the photolistings bother me so much. Can I bring myself to do it?


Brian is a fun-loving kid with a wacky sense of humor. He loves animals and recently has started baking for fun. He enjoys cartoons and is a great mimic. He will amuse and confuse you by quoting lines from his favorite shows at unexpected times. Brian loves animals and assists in the care of his current family's dog.

Brian goes to a school that focuses on artistic expression, which has helped him significantly. He enjoys art and recently acted in the school play. Parents who will support this activity, which includes making a commitment to get him to appropriate schooling, transportation to and from rehearsals, and attend performances is very important. Brian tests above grade level in most subjects, however his school performance and grades do not reflect his full potential. A family with patience, who can help guide him to develop better organizational skills and focus would be a great asset to Brian. Brian also needs a family who understands anxiety and can accept how this has been exasperated by multiple losses.

Brian does take medication which helps him control his emotions. It will be important for any family to ensure that he remembers his. Brian sometimes has difficulty expressing himself, but an art-based therapy program has been very helpful. Brian responds best to a firm but gentle parenting style. Brian is very sensitive to the needs of other children, and gets along very well with younger children. His new school has helped him to develop better relationships with his peers.

This gentle young man has amazing potential. Do you have the patience, structure and creativity to help guide him to adulthood?

Yeah. That was fun. (Can you hear the sarcasm?) I think it is accurate, and yet it doesn't seem to capture who he really is, you know? Does it make him sound like a fragile emotional wreck? He can be. He has made amazing progress over the past year, but long-time readers know there were times when I was torn with trying to figure out if I was giving too much attention to his anxiety, thereby rewarding it, or failing to adequately address it. If he needed a family to care for him, they would need to know that, but this description paints a picture of a kid who is and is not Brian. It is a character from some TV movie who does not have the complexity and reality of the kid who is Brian.

I have read photolistings of children whom I already knew a couple of times, most particularly Frankie and Ann. In both cases major issues were stated in ways that sounded like little quirks, or problems that are probably in the past. I still have Ann's six-year-old profile on my refrigerator mostly because I love the photograph. It shows the smile I almost never got to see. When I look at it, I see the young woman she should have been, but wasn't. The profile lists things she likes, including animals. It claims, I believe falsely, that she is ready to form a long-term relationship with an adult and understands that this will take work on her part. There is no mention of dangerous behaviors or problems she may have with siblings. Then it says, "[Ann] sees herself as open-minded and wants to share her sense of humor with a family that eats together and plays together." I don't doubt that she saw herself that way, but I don't think that was accurate.
It goes on, "She may struggle with forming anything deeper than a superficial attachment, so a willingness to focus on [her] needs will be important qualities for her adoptive parents. if you know about insecure attachment and its causes are are willing to wait for [Ann] to return your love, please call..." For a while I was seeing "insecure" or "superficial" attachment for a while, but I think too many people figured out that that was code for reactive attachment disorder.
I would have written:

Ann, having grown up in a foster home with difficult older girls, does not have an understanding of healthy sibling relationships. She has a strong need to dominate people around her, and will bully children her age or younger. She has on occasion escalated to physical violence when arguing with her foster sisters. She would do best in a family no other children or perhaps an older, understanding sibling who can help her learn positive interactions. Ann forms attachments to animals whom she feels she can trust. Though like any child she needs help remembering to care for their needs, it is important there there be a pet as that may be the only relationship she will have that will feel safe to her. Ann is an expert at triangulation. If she is adopted by a two-parent family they will need to be skilled at avoiding this and other manipulations. She can and often is very critical of the behavior of others including her caretaker.

She has a brother who has been adopted by another family. His parents have concluded that Ann is not a safe person for him to be around. She will need parents who can help her deal with this grief and loss.

Ann has reactive attachment disorder and in the past has escalated to behaviors dangerous to herself or others when her foster family tried to adopt her. She will need a parent or parents who understand this dynamic. She has never physically injured a caretaker, but she is capable of spewing verbal venom and using language you would not expect a twelve-year-old to know. She seems to respond best to an approach in which caretakers allow her to wear herself out while refusing to engage in argument.

Ann can also be very affectionate, often seeming like a much younger child. Though this could also be a part of the attachment disorder, those who love her feel they get a glimpse of the girl she should have been and perhaps with time and patience will have a chance to become.

If you have the ability to withstand verbal abuse in private and public places and respond without escalating yourself, you may over the course of several years develop a level of trust with Ann, although you should be prepared to take satisfaction in having provided her with a safe place to grow up, even if she never seems to respond to or even believe in your affection for her.

Should it have said that? Would it have been a violation of her privacy to be that honest? Ann was old enough to read her profile herself. I doubt she would appreciate such truths being shared about her. And I guess I don't think they should be -- at least not in any way that can connect these words to her in real life. She deserves more respect for her privacy than that, but I also think this is what anyone who might consider adopting her really needs to know.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Responding to comment on photolistings

silpheed-tandy writes in response to my post on photolistings:

i did not know photolistings were so encoded with such indirect language,
instead of being upfront. i'm curious, do you think this is a good thing or not?
does it entice capable people to foster parent who otherwise would've been
scared off, or do you think it instead doesn't give the proper information that
potential foster parents would want right from the initial stages?
This is so difficult to answer, partly because if the world were the way I would design it, there woudn't be publically accessible photolistings at all. I would be willing to compromise on having one or two mini-profiles available for advertising, but otherwise I think only people with passwords, which presumably they would get in classes should be able to get in. These profiles I would want to be more complete and honest.

Partly because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, you know? If a description says that a child will need to build up trust before attaching, it may very well be code for reactive attachment disorder, but it might just mean that this child needs to built up trust before attaching. But the main reason I am uncomfortable with the photolistings is that they don't respect kids' privacy. The similarities between,, and is hard to miss. You have to have a membership and password to get into any of the dating services, for pete's sake.

Children in the system have had their boundaries violated in every possible way. I find it ironic that the profiles, which violate a child's privacy, so often talk about the child needing help developing boundaries. Sometimes the whole system is just so messed up. How do we help children learn how to discriminate between strangers and friends when other people are constantly knowing intimate details of their lives before they've even met?

Yeah, the photolistings bother me at multiple levels. At best they are a necessary evil in a flawed world.

And I don't know a better way to entice foster parents, but I guess I wouldn't want more detailed, honest, and negative profiles to be available to every curious person with access to a computer. But that doesn't mean that those of us who read them shouldn't be very aware that they are not giving you the information you really need to make any sort of decision.

PO cometh again

So the probation officer was here again. Gary says he has never seen her this often. You may remember that she was here just a month ago. That time I learned that in my county kids stay on probation until they are 21, although they can go to "unsupervised probation" which is just like NOT being on probation except that if you get arrested for anything it is really, really bad.

Anyway, she said then that she couldn't see getting him moved to unsupervised for at least a year. Today she said that she thought she should make sure he is doing okay in school, but if everything looks as good as it does now, she will ask for him to be released in October.

Cool, huh?

I really think the reason that she didn't want to raise expectations was that she wanted to make sure this placement was going to stick. If Gary was going to be moved again, she wanted to stay in his life. She clearly really likes him. She has seen him grow from an angry, defiant twelve-year-old to a really cool fifteen-year-old. I don't think she feels like she has to supervise him because he might start getting into trouble, more like because she wants to make sure he really won't need her anymore.

Oh, and since he was ELEVEN when he was so very naughty, his record will remain sealed. If he has to have any sort of background check it shouldn't even show that he has a sealed record. At least that is what she said.

I asked Gary if he was disappointed or had mixed feelings about not being able to move in with his dad. He said, "Not really, no." I'm not sure what that means, other than he didn't have anything he cared to share with me at the moment.

And that is okay too.

Translation of Photolistings

Torina has a good post about how to translate the "code" of photolistings. I thought I would add to it.

Child would benefit from a family who can help him refocus and broaden his interests.
Child has OCD and may perseverate on one thing for days until you will want to scream.

School has been emotionally difficult for this child.
Child may be labeled "emotional disabled." Is unable to attend a normal classroom without a one-on-one aide to help him control his emotions. Child may rage or throw tantrums at school. If you have a job, plan on leaving it two or three times a week to deal with behavioral issues.

Child has been exploring self-identity in counseling and has a strong interest in gender roles.
Child is GLBT.

If you can postpone your need to have your love returned while trust is built, this could be the child for you!
Child has a severe case of Reactive Attachment Disorder. She may never trust you, be frightened by your love for her, and attempt to destroy any possibility of a relationship by screaming things like, "You're a f*cking b*tch! I hate you!" in places like the grocery store, church, or family reunions.

A supportive extended family and respite care plans would be a plus!
This child would exhaust a saint. It will help if you have a friend who will listen to you cry in exhaustion. The fact that you used to sleep for seven hours in a row in one night will be a distant memory.

Parents will need to access community resources
Child has a major disability we are not going to name here.

Child needs a family that can provide safe boundaries.
Child does something, acting out sexually, setting fires, hitting other children, which is unsafe -- but we're not telling what it is.

Oh...I quoted these from photolistings of children I know in real life. I know what they meant.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Shortest Permanency Hearing EVER

1:25 -- phone call from state social worker. "You live close to the court house, right?" "Yes." "Well, Gary's hearing is in five minutes, can you get him here?"

I change into long pants, grab my MP3 player and sudoku book as I know I need to be ready for a long wait.

1:45 -- Gary, girlfriend and I show up in the hallway and are immediately ushered into courtroom by social worker.

Transcript (from memory).

Judge: "Hearing case ######. Does anybody have anything they want to say?"

State attorney: "Yes your honor. For the record, we sent a letter to [Gary's father] at x address on ##. I understand that he is a long haul trucker often out of town, but we believe we exercised due diligence."

Judge: "Anything else?"

Gary: "Yes. I just wanted to say that my dad doesn't drive trucks anymore. He is a contractor and works in [place name]."

Judge: "I thought that was so. You look like you are doing okay."

Gary: "Yes, sir."

Judge: "Do you need anything I can help you with?"

Gary: "No sir."

Judge: "Does anyone else have anything they would like to say?"


Judge: "Okay. The court finds that the department exercised due diligence."

And then I knew it was over because the social worker and lawyers stood up and started to leave. The judge remained seated and appeared to be opening the file for the next case.

We leave when?

If you had an early morning flight, as in you had to leave the house at 4:00am, would you even bother going to bed? The boys say they are just want just to stay up and then sleep on the planes. I think I might take a pill and go to bed really early. Of course if I really take a pill it will be difficult to wake up. Maybe I could just take a little piece of a pill.

I wonder how much time I really have to have to get ready in the morning. I know that people don't dress up to fly these days, but probably a summer nightgown is a little too informal.


We are on our pre-vacation budget, which is going to look remarkably like our "getting out of debt now that you told me about it budget." We've both agreed that we have to make changes, including writing down everything we spend money on and talking about it. It is a very interesting experience.

Roland and I just grew up differently. I never had and never expected to have everything I wanted. I have always understood spending money as making a choice -- if you spend money on one thing then you can't spend money on something else. I hoped to have a secure job someday that would allow me to have any particular thing that I really wanted, knowing that I would never have everything I wanted. My idea of what is genuinely necessary is fairly minimal.

Of course my good parent who made me feel safe was incredibly frugal, and the parent with whom I was unsafe spent money carelessly.

From my perspective Roland is just screwed up. His parents during his lifetime went from comfortable to wealthy (at least by my standards). I have been frustrated by trying to buy them presents because anything they want, they buy. If they don't have it they either don't want it or don't know about it. Roland was never really denied anything. I saw it when we were dating. If he ran out of money, his father gave him more. They insisted he get a job in the summer, but he did not really save money.

Roland has equated being a successful adult with being able to buy pretty much everything he wants. Where I feel like a responsible adult when I tell myself that I can't have something, Roland feels like a child or a failure.

We are having different responses to our new commitments regarding our budget. I am actually happy and excited. I feel hopeful that being frugal on my part will make a difference in our budget. It hasn't for a long time. He of course is anxious about not being able to get everything he wants the minute he wants it. We are also learning that we have different ideas of what is simply necessary. I'm not giving up my high quality tea for nothing, but I don't see why it should be any hardship at all for him to switch from bottled body wash to a bar of soap.

We have been married for more than two decades, but in some ways this is like going back to the very beginning all over again.

And for those of you who aren't married, this sort of thing is central to what it means to be married. You imagine the joy of spending time together, even the struggles of making major decisions regarding jobs and family. The reality of marriage though so often boils down to standing in the aisle of a grocery store and saying, "Really? Body wash is a necessity of life? Like you would die if you used a bar of soap?"

The Need to Clean

Today Gary's girlfriend, I do think we can now label her as such, is spending the day here. Her mother works nights and sleeps days and will drop her off before going to sleep. Gary had said that he would spend all day yesterday cleaning the downstairs, but you know teenagers like Gary...

...he spent ALL DAY cleaning the downstairs. He cleaned the floor with a cloth, telling me that the mop would just push the dirt around. He wiped down the wooden stairs. He dusted and vacuumed the sofa. The bathroom, oh the bathroom. It is just too perfect. Really, I don't know if it is nice or frightening down there.

I'm sure he is itching with anxiety about the main floor. My papers and books are on the table by my comfy chair. There is clutter on the dining room table. The kitchen should be swept. The bathroom just needs a good cleaning because even though Andrew is supposed to do that every week, he doesn't. She is supposed to be here in half an hour, I suppose I should pick up a few things.

I really don't know if this need to clean is a result of Gary's more recent past. It seems possible. Over the past few years he has lived in chaos and not been safe or been safe in group homes in which everything was kept extremely tidy. I do wonder about his years with his stepmother. Was/is she compulsively tidy? When he left home there were three kids under three years of age (remember, one set of twins), three school-age girls, and him. It seems unlikely to me that that house was kept exceptionally tidy, but then maybe again that was how step mother coped.

My sister and Gary get along wonderfully. She has to mop the floors every day. She too has to keep everything just so. She admits to me that somewhere deep inside she feels like she will be okay if she just keeps everything clean. She laughs about it, and accepts it. I on the other hand am just not like that. My sister and I had roughly the same experiences growing up, and we did not respond the same way. My sister worked to control her environment and I retreated to a world of books and fantasy. She tried to please my father; I tried not to be noticed.

For a while I wondered if Gary's need to clean was just about phase one behavior, part of the whole being extra good while trying to figure us out. I am beginning to think not though. Oh he may relax a bit as he gets more comfortable. I have noticed that he will sometimes leave a dirty dish in his room for a whole day, but this level of tidiness has to come from somewhere deeper.

I must admit, of all the "issues" a kid could come with, compulsive tidiness is one of the easiest to accept.

Then again, maybe he isn't compulsively tidy. Maybe I'm just a slob.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Boring Goodness

I feel that it is important that I blog today. So much of doing care is difficult and emotionally exhausting. It is rewarding, of course. Those of us who blog often do so to deal with the difficulties. I have "talked through" any number of challenges with my children here. Often just in the writing I come up with solutions just by writing. Of course those of us who blog generally hope that our blogs are useful to people considering or starting care.

So we write the difficult and the painful. You, the reader, hear about rages, cutting of school, drug addictions, manipulative behavior, and the heartache when a child leaves.

And yet, it isn't always like that. Sometimes it is just quiet, ordinary goodness.

You want to know what our big event was yesterday? We took the boys shopping for clothes for the in-laws anniversary party. Nothing significant happened. They boys found clothes they liked in my budget. Gary got what I am pretty sure is his first pair of dress pants. He was quite pleased at how he looked in them. Andrew picked out some button-up shirts. He got one fitted dark blue shirt in which he looked really good. I mean, just one hair cut away from dashing.

And today? Well today Gary just got back from an almost-date. The mother of the girl he has been text-messaging constantly, who goes to the charter school he is hoping to get into, took the two of them to play miniature golf. Gary is pretty sure he passed the mother-test.

And I find I can't really make a whole story out of it for you, and yet I feel I should blog it, because this too is what parenting a child from foster care is like. Sometimes, a lot of times, it is just ordinary days, with a pretty ordinary kid, doing ordinary things.

***And, Maggie, I didn't have that "waiting for the other shoe to drop feeling" until I wrote this post. Please everyone KNOCK ON WOOD.***

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Andrew Bribes Me

Andrew told me the other day that he had been thinking about what he should do since he wasn't going to be able to find a job. We are leaving for Maine in a week and then he will only have a little while before he has to go. It just doesn't look like he will be able to find a job.

SO...he wants me to know that he plans on going down to the animal shelter to see if he can volunteer so that he has something productive to do. He also wants to contribute to the household some way.

Maybe I would like him to take over cooking dinner?

I agreed, of course.

Update on Gary's Father

Gary told me that his father and stepmother are definitely getting back together. It means that he is not going to get to live with his dad, but he saw it coming. In the course of the conversation he mentioned both that his stepmother does and always has lived in the town next to ours and that his father is still committed to trying to find a job in this area so he can live with them full-time.

I had thought that that the stepmother and siblings lived in another state, but I realize that no one actually said that. It creates a different picture for me, of the past and of the possibilities for the future. I don't know if his father will find a new job. I understand he has quite an incentive. Before I thought it was something he was going to do if his marriage failed. Now I suspect it is something he needs to in order to save his marriage (although I recognize that as a guess).

It does mean that his father is in the area much more than I thought, and that his presence here is not just to see Gary.

I think Gary is happy here. He is sad not to live with his father, but he does not dislike us. He knows he is safe. He talks with us. I'm glad the new state social worker is more supportive of him having visits with his father in ways his father is comfortable with. I know that as long as his father and stepmother are living together, Gary will not be allowed to go home.

I find myself relieved for myself. I do really like this kid and I want him to stick around. I am sad for him, but also relieved that he wasn't kept dangling too long.

We will see what will happen. The agency worker has had one conversation with Gary's father about setting up a dinner with everyone. He wants to meet with her separately first, and she has agreed to that. Gary is nervous that he will be antagnostic and make a relationship which should be helpful to him more difficult.

I suppose we will see.

Friday, July 18, 2008


Gary's quilt is completely done. I showed you a photo of the top a while back. I finally got it tied and yesterday I finished putting on the binding. It is on his bed and he seems quite happy with it. Andrew's top is finished and prepared to go to the professional machine quilter. When it comes back I will have to put the binding on it. I am so ready to be done with these quilts. Never again do I want to do two in one summer. The boys seem to be happy with them though.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just when he thought he was safe...

Gary and I had another talk about PTSD triggers today. He generally has an "I'm okay" attitude about everything. He has had enough therapy to last a life time. He's all better now. He knows we want him to make an appointment with his therapist, but I haven't been pushing.

Something happened yesterday, he didn't tell me what, and that is okay. He recognized the experience for what it was. Something happened while he was with his girlfriend and it brought back a bunch of emotions. The thing is, he says, he has dealt with what happened to him. It doesn't upset him to talk about it or anything. So he felt angry that he was having these emotions that he wasn't supposed to have. It was confusing for him to be feeling both the triggered emotion and anger about having to feel the emotion.

Personally I was thrilled that a fifteen-year-old can recognize the experience for what it is. Most boys his age would not, they would look for an explanation for their emotions in the current environment.

He didn't want to talk about the details. I told him that was okay, that many kids in care had had their privacy violated when they were little by people who were supposed to take care of them and then again by a system that was trying to protect them. I told him that I thought a lot of kids in care have trouble finding the right place in between total secrecy and total sharing, and that he didn't want to share what happened yesterday or what happened in his past that was okay.

He still wanted to talk about how wrong it was for him to be having these experiences after he has worked so hard for so long to deal with everything. I managed not to smile at that. I know that he has had four years of pretty intensive and directed therapy, but the kid is just fifteen.

So I talked to him about my triggers and dealing with the experiences. I told him that I have an extreme startle reflex which I have accepted isn't going to go away. I HATE that I do that. I embarrassed that I nearly jump out of my skin when I hear a sharp noise, but it isn't going away. I told him that some of what I did in my therapy, which I still needed in my forties, was deal with what happened so that I wouldn't get triggered, but a lot of it was learning how to deal with the experience when it happened.

He said, "I just don't get why it happened yesterday."

"You were safe."

"What? That doesn't make any sense."

"You know that I get out of taking CPR classes, right?" He did. I've already told him about the whole drowning thing. "I know that if I actually needed to do CPR, I wouldn't fall apart. It would be a real emergency and I would shove all that emotion down and deal. I fall apart in class because there isn't an emergency and so there isn't anything to stop the emotions." He got that.

"I don't know about you, but for me part of surviving the abuse was not reacting or feeling very much. Sometimes even 'going away' in my mind." He nodded. "So we didn't feel it then, and when we are reminded and safe we feel it now."

"Oh great" he said, rolling his eyes. "I'm going to call my therapist and make an appointment."

He is an amazing young man.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Still "honeymooning"?

A foster parent trainer once told me, "There is no such thing as a 'honeymoon.' It is 'observation and assessment.'"

The training was on RAD, but I think it applies generally. A honeymoon is a vacation at the beginning of a marriage. In theory at least, and perhaps in practice, both are deeply in love. Everything each does is motivated by care and love for the other. And that is not what the first days, weeks, or months of a placement is like.

The beginning of a placement is not like that. As parents we often feel a deep connection and love for our children from the very beginning. We may start to feel it the first time we saw a photograph or read a short description. I think those feelings, which I also experience, are not the same thing as love based upon actually knowing a child, but that is a different topic. The point is, we as parents, sometimes feel like we are on a honeymoon at the beginning of a placement because we are full of warm fuzzy feelings and everything seems to be going so well. The children or youth however are NOT on a honeymoon. They are not floating on a cloud of warm fuzzy feelings. They are carefully walking through a mine field, waiting for the deluded, infatuated adult to get real so they can find out what life here is going to be like.

So the other day when someone asked me if we were still on "honeymoon," I stopped to think about how I was behaving. Gary has lived here exactly six weeks. I have had some days that were not as good as others. I have been a tiny bit grumpy, but not much. When Roland and I have had a disagreement of any kind we have gone back to the bedroom to talk about it. When I
"correct" Gary I still treat him like a guest. For instance today I said, "Gary, it's okay to take the portable phone to your room when you want to talk to someone, but I really need for you to put it back on its cradle when you are finished." To which he replied, "Oh, okay. I was just about to bring it back."

In six months I may very well say something like, "Gary! Where is that phone?! If you don't stop leaving it in your room you will not be allowed to use it at all! I mean it. Put it away NOW."

So, are we "honeymooning"? Well, I'm still on my extra-good behavior, and I imagine he'll still waiting to see what we are really like.

It's a process.

Three New Blogs

Here are three new blogs to consider adding to your every growing list of foster-care blogs.

Two newish blogs by social workers:

The Mellenial Social Worker

Blue Jean Social Work

One blog by a social worker/foster mother, Postcards from Insanity. This one is doing what I did with Ann's Story. She is going back through old journals and notes and reconstructing a story from years past. I strongly recommend that you start reading this one at the beginning. The blog comes with a warning,
"If you are here looking for a touchy feely, the world is sunshine and roses blog about how wonderful foster care is....STOP, turn around and back away slowly. Don't make any sudden moves, you don't want to startle the children. My life is like a car wreck- you don't want to look but you just can't help yourself! I am blunt, cynical and sarcastic- all necessary character traits for the successful navigation through the insane world of foster parenting. I call it like I see it with no regard for who gets their granny panties in a bunch. You have been warned ;)"

These blogs will be added to the feed box.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Overheard Conversation

This morning I asked Gary and Brian to unload the dishwasher, telling them that I would reload it. A bit later Brian came to sit in the living room, and I could hear Gary still in there.

"Why are you here when Gary is still working?"

"He's putting dishes IN the dishwasher, Mom. I told him that you said you would reload, but he is just doing it anyway."

I gave Brian a look.

Tonight was Gary's turn to cook dinner. After I asked Roland if he would help Brian in the kitchen. He said yes and as I walked out I heard Gary said, "I'll help. I don't mind."

To which Brian replied, "No! You have got to stop doing this. Don't you see you are making me look bad? The more you do the more she will expect me to do. Just stop!" Brian said it with a sense of humor, but also real aggravation in his voice.

Gary laughed and told me after that he wondered how long it would take Brian to complain.

I'm beginning to wonder how much Gary might be enjoying goading Brian this way.

I don't think I mind.

Andrew's Back, for now

Andrew just came back from orientation. It turned out that there were two full days of activities. I got nervous that they were going to have "enforced fun" and that Andrew would come home thinking, "Oh no, what have I done?"

But apparently they didn't. He got his schedule, and an ID. He heard about rules. He also got to go to a class lecture. There were a bunch of choices, and he picked something from my field so then he got to ask me about it later.

He's happy about the school and the town. It was good for him to have to do the whole travel alone thing.

I was sighing to Roland the other day about how Andrew was going away and leaving me. Roland was sympathetic and said, "The last one who is really like you is going to go away." And he is right. Andrew is going to go away and leave me with a three males who all laugh at the same stupid jokes. I will be trying to grade papers and they will be hooting with laughter over idiotic, slapstick movie.

I am going to miss him so much.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Charter School Plans [update}

[Update at end.]

Gary is busy filling out the form to get on the waiting list for the Charter School he wants to go to.

If Brian wasn't already going to a Charter school I would just be telling him no. Brian is going to a charter school because going to the big school was giving him major anxiety issues. Gary wants to go because he has friends there, especially one girl whom he is "wooing." Right now, now obstacle is too high, if you know what I mean.

The only plan we have for getting him to the school is for Roland to drop him off at one of the school's bus stops. It means an extra 10 minutes in the morning for Roland, but that is okay. Coming home will be more complicated. There is a public bus stop 3 miles from the charter school and a bus will come by there 10 minutes and 70 minutes after school gets out. Currently Gary's plan is to go home with a friend, preferably the girl he has his eye on with whom he currently spends hours on the phone, and then catch the bus.

I would rather he go to the local high school in part because I would like him to make local friends. On the other hand, I certainly see a value in him going to school with a group of people he has known for years. Kids in care have so many relationships severed. If he can make it work with nothing more than 10 minutes from Hubby, then we will support it.

Of course it effectively means no football. All the time in transportation may get in the way of other activities too.

He called the school this morning. The waiting list is huge. If I have the numbers right, and I might not, the class is capped at about 30. That class is enrolled, but some students will fail to show. The waiting list has more than 70 people on it, although a significant number of those will have changed their minds when they are called and offered a spot. The woman at the office was still encouraging though. She mentioned that the list is prioritized by credits earned. Since he has not failed any classes he won't be at the very end.

I am quietly hoping that he doesn't make it. I think it would be good for him to make friends here. I would like for him to be in football. And I don't want to have to drive 20+miles whenever I need to go to a parent-teacher conference or pick him up when he is sick.

Having one kids in school out-of-district is hard enough.

If it were Andrew I would tell him that if he wanted to go to the same Charter school, we would try to get him in, but otherwise he needed to go to the big school. That choice would make more sense for and to Andrew since Andrew's extra-curricular activities are music oriented and he likes drama and art. For Gary it is absurd. Dance for PE? You've got to be kidding.

We shall see. Right now I think the chances are slim -- and I am secretly happy about that.

Update: Gary called again today. Worst case scenario is confirmed. The sophomore class is fully enrolled, and the waiting list is twice the size of the class limit. Worst news yet, out-of-district students can only get in if there is room after all the students in district have a chance. He is, and will continue to be, at the end of the waiting list.

He has accepted that he almost certainly won't get it. He isn't happy about it, but you can tell this is a kid who has learned to roll with disappointment. Maybe he will meet a girl at Our Town High.

Updates on my life

When I started this blog it was supposed to be about foster care alone. I wanted a focused blog. I've mostly managed to do that, but something happened I didn't expect. I developed a relationship with many of my readers who are also bloggers. sometimes writing a post feels like writing an informal essay on an issue in foster care (less often recently) or keeping a journal about my experience in foster care, but sometimes it is feels like I'm writing a letter to friends. Those were the sorts of posts I was planning on keeping out of the blog, but they sometimes sneak in.

This is one of those posts.

I need to come up with pseudonyms for the college Andrew is going to and the city in which it is located. I think I am going to go with "Liberal U" and "Seaside City." Probably other people would not think those are the defining features, but they are for Andrew. They were what he wanted when he was looking for a college. Basically he wanted to get as far away (politically) from the Reddest Red State as he could.

Anyway, today is flying to Seaside City all by himself for one of many orientations at Liberal U. I've been feeling so nostalgic about him. I have body memories of holding his when he was small. I can FEEL him all curled up in my lap. I want to give him one of those cuddles, but it is impossible. I really don't want to live with a baby or a toddler anymore, but I miss holding Andrew when he was small.

He called from the airport at Seaside City. He was having trouble finding the shuttle, but he was perfectly calm. Just wanted to know if I remembered where they did pick up. Initially all we knew was that the orientation was supposed to be two days, so his ticket for coming home is tomorrow evening. It turns out that it really ends after they spend the night in the dorms. So he has all day tomorrow to spend in Seaside City doing whatever he wants to do. He says he thinks he will be able to figure out something to do.

Dog News:
Taking the Shih Tzu ("Puppy") on vacation has seemed to change the relationship between him and the Cattle Dog ("CD"). Puppy came here at three months. CD is an anxious-alpha. When large male dogs have come over she seems very relieved to turn over leadership duties to him. She doesn't however want to let any other sort of dog think they can push her around. So CD and Puppy played, and it got more tiresome. Sometimes it really looked like the annoying little brother antagonizing his big sister. "Look! I have you favorite toy! Chase me!" CD fell for it every time. She was anxious and irritable.

And CD's need to always been on top was frustrating. The Puppy tends to eat slowly and wouldn't eat at all unless we were in the room and telling CD she couldn't have his food. Even then it took a while. I had got to the point where I knew I had to do something about that, but I didn't know what. It was hard to cuddle Puppy. He is small and cute and likes curling up next to you. CD is big and doesn't like being cuddled, but doesn't like Puppy getting something she isn't getting. So she would try to jump up next to you, her face in your face, anxiously demanding attention she wouldn't enjoy. Sometimes she would try to herd him away from us.

Anyway, having the puppy alone for a week was nice. He seemed to enjoy not being pushed around. He got used to be the only dog. He has come back more mature. He isn't antagonizing her, and he isn't taking any of her crap either. He was sitting next to me on my chair yesterday and she came up. He gave a quiet little growl and she turned and went to her bed. He will eat his food when I give it to him without worrying about where she is. I've also noticed that every time she pees, he pees on top of it. So the balance has shifted and the house is more peaceful as a result. I like this better.

Cottage & Money:
There is an agreement on the selling of the cottages in Maine. Waiting for them to sell was painful; having them sold is painful. Knowing that we are going to get a share of the proceeds turns out to be more difficult than I expected. Most of it will go into a retirement fund, that we are agreed upon. We also agree to pay off our debt except the mortgage. This however led to a discussion about our debt, confessions about debt I didn't know about, and then a really touching Hallmark moment in which I did not kill him.

We're going to be okay. We have a plan. We have had a lot of serious conversations about money and our very different feelings about it. We are using the cottage money to pay off some, but not all of the debt. Most of the money will still go into retirement.

I have almost finished Andrew's quilt top. I am paying someone to do the actual quilting (with, by the way, my "allowance"). Yesterday I made a mistake in the piecing of the blocks. I tried to convince Andrew that it created more visual interest, but he really thought it made it more interesting than he wanted. Since this is his quilt design I tore out the seams and re-did it. I might be able to get the top done today. I'll post a photo when it is pieced. Once I get it done I can finish tying Gary's. I plan on never trying to do two quilts in one summer again. I am so behind on the work I should be doing for school.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

At least he eats

When Gary first was here on pre-placement visits he said more than once that he didn't eat much. I was glad that Evan was here. They hung out together and Evan just brought Gary along to the kitchen. Together they filled bowls with mounds of ice cream and made giant sandwiches. Yesterday we had "fill your own tortilla" night. I stood there almost commenting on the mountain of cheese that Gary had put in his when he said, grinning, "This family eats more cheese than the rest of the town, you know. I mean, I have never ate this much cheese in my whole life!"

I said nothing. He is comfortable eating here now. He has learned that he is entitled, yes entitled, to the food in the refigerator and cupboard. He told me yesterday without embarrassment that we were out of sugar. It is a little thing, but it is important.

We are not all the way there yet. When he moved in I put a quilt on his bed. It is one I made years ago and does not belong to anyone in particular. I told him he could use it until I finished his. At least I think I did. I certainly put it on his bed. A week or so before we left on vacation he said something about it smelling musty and could he wash it. I told him that the quilts are sort of fragile and I would. Roland actually did the washing, which is unfortunate because he doesn't treat them as gentle as I would like (but that is a different story). When he was done he left it out in the rec room.

Yesterday I went to Gary's room to ask him something and he was curled up in the throw his father gave him -- that he had previously had up on the wall. I asked where the blue and white quilt was. He looked uncomfortable, "Well, it's been out in the rec room."

I told him that it was for him and he was allowed to take it into his room.

It is a slow process, getting him to feel comfortable, realizing that HE LIVES HERE. This is his home. The things that are in this house are for his use as much as any one else.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The new state worker

We had our meeting with Gary's new state worker and I really like him. He is part of a team that just deals with teens who are expected to age out of care.

The previous worker wanted Gary's dad to visit Gary in the visitation room under her supervision before she approved unsupervised visits. This wasn't going to happen. Sadly it had turned into a power struggle between the worker and his father, and Gary was the one who got hurt.

The new is fine with the agency worker setting up a dinner with us, Gary, his dad and possibly the agency worker. If the agency worker and Roland and I all feel like it would be wise for Gary to have unsupervised visits, that will be okay with him. When the worker found out that by "unsupervised visits" Gary was thinking about going fishing, walking and talking at the park, or going out to lunch he really relaxed. He (the state worker) thought Gary wanted over-night visits with his dad.

The worker is even okay with his father signing permission forms that I cannot sign. If Gary wants to take Judo, Gary can get either the worker or his dad to sign. Just so long as he knows about it, that is okay with him. Of course there was the implication that the worker had and might use the power to over-ride these decisions if he felt it was necessary.

The worker is also supportive of the agency worker setting up visits with his sister. Again, Gary doesn't even want permission to spend a night or weekend at their grandparents where the sister is currently living. He just wants to be able to meet her at the mall or something.

The new worker told Gary that he had not read his file yet on purpose. He wanted to get to know Gary for himself. I liked that, and I think Gary did too. It did create some awkward moments like when the worker said how important it was that young people learn about certain realities, "I've seen too many young men slip up and end up under the supervision of juvenile justice until they are twenty-one. That's a long time if you are sixteen." To which Gary of course responded, "It's longer if you were twelve."

All in all though I think it was a very positive experience. I liked him.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Gary's Shifting Focus

I'm not sure if it is a part of his personality or about his new found freedom, but Gary is having trouble staying focused. Have you noticed?

A while ago he was very excited about football. Our high school is large and one of the advantages of that size is that we have a good team. He was anxious about meeting the coach. He made all the necessary calls to get medical information to the school. Permission forms were faxed from office to office to school so that he could play. Roland even bought him cleats.

Now he is excited about this charter school. It is a K-12 school and has a total limit of 400 students. This does not bother him as he once lived in a tiny town with a tiny school. Of course they don't have football. He might still be able to play football with our school, but if he can't that is okay.

There is a judo class at the recreational center near the charter school (which is not near the house) that he would really like to take. There is a martial arts class MUCH closer to us, but it is a class in which they teach a variety of martial arts. He wants to study judo. The class meets two nights a week and starts in the fall. He could take the public bus over (right after he gets home from the charter school?) although he would need us to go get him after since the buses don't run that late.

The kid in a candy store metaphor is so tired, but it is what seems to come to mind. At least there is something very little kid about him right now. "I want this one, can I have this one?" "Ooo....wait, can I have this one instead? This is SOOOO cool." "Oh! Oh! Look! I want THAT one."

I spoke to him, very gently, about it on the way home. Told him that I knew it must be difficult to stay focused when he has had no choices at all for so long, but that I wanted him to know that I was hoping he would find a focus soon.

School will, I hope, focus him. Whether he ends up at the charter school or the local high school he will actually be somewhere. His time will be structured, and I am confident that he will make friends wherever he is.

Another Charter School?

Gary has friends who go to a charter school in The Next Town Over. It is not the same school Brian goes to. Brian's school is on the north side of town; the one Gary wants to go to is on the south side. I've had so much anxiety dealing with one carpool that I just don't know how to even think about this. I have had two thoughts banging each other in my head.

1. It is absolutely, totally, completely unfair to make efforts to get one of your kids to a charter school and then tell the other, "sorry, you're going to the big school."
2. I absolutely, totally completely cannot drive Gary to this school. I just can't handle the stress of two carpools, even if we could get him in.

Roland has the sensible attitude that we should not worry about it unless he actually gets in. He has missed the lottery and so would have to be on the wait list. The whole issue could be moot. Of course not worrying about it is so not my style.

The issue is transportation. I looked again at the county public buses. They can get Brian to school easy peasy. It would be as quick and easy (for him) as if I took him. Getting home, not so much. This is a shame as it is generally easier for people in the car pool to do mornings than afternoons. Currently I am looking at the school bus schedule to see if it can drop him (and maybe the other kids) off in some location that is easier for pick up.

With Gary it is also complicated. The county public bus system just cannot get him there on time. Not possible. He can take it home, theoretically. The closest bus stop to his school is 2.8 miles away. It leaves 10 minutes after school gets out and 70 minutes after that. He also looking at the school bus routes to see if there is a stop where he can be dropped off and maybe picked up.

Gary is so excited about this right now. He is currently willing to do anything. Wait an hour for the bus, ride almost any distance on his bike in all weather. Mostly he is willing to look at maps and find solutions, which is great.

Brian will be willing to ride the bus as long as it isn't too difficult for him, and as long as I figure it all out.


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Back to real life

My big accomplishments yesterday were sweeping the kitchen floor and getting through all the posts on my Reader. Really. I was really exhausted. There is something wrong when traveling home from vacation makes you more tired than when you left.

Today though I need to make myself get into the swing of things. I have to finish piecing Andrew's quilt. I really, really, do. I also have to do real work like prepare for my courses in the fall. The living room carpets desperately need to be shampooed, but I might just pay Gary to do that. He loves to clean -- or perhaps he just cleans compulsively. Either way, he will do it.

Still, I must work. Time to get up and go.

By the way, Andrew did not get the job at the grocery store. He has not got any job at all. It is really difficult for him to put himself out there. I know, we all have to do it, but I know he isn't lazy, just anxious. He is also a terrible liar. That is mostly a good thing, but when people tell him what his future plans are he tells them that he is leaving in the middle of September to go to college. It does not help. I have sent him to the temp agencies hoping they can find something for him. I don't know what will happen though.

Though I have told him that if he doesn't get a job he won't have any spending money I have promised him that I will make sure he has enough money to do his laundry without having to steal from fountains. I wish I had the ability to give him his first job. None of his friends have been able to find jobs either this summer. I don't know if they are all that bad at looking for them or if jobs are really that difficult to come by.

Taking Gary On Vacation

It was just plain fun.

Did I tell you that Gary had never gone on a vacation before? Not like this anyway. His family had "done stuff" together and he had travelled, but he had never packed to leave for a week where the point of it all was to "be on vacation." He really enjoyed himself. He just had fun.

We took a different route back that allowed us to stop at two different natural wonders. I would tell you about them in detail, but then you would be able to guess where we were and I am so secretive about that. He loved it. He was fascinated. He took lots and lots of pictures. I had thought that I had got him all the electronic equipment he could want, but I need to get him a camera for his birthday or Christmas.

I took some pictures of him, but he insists on putting on this bored teenager face for photos. He quite literally never looks like that except when he is posing for pictures. He has this great smile. He may be having a wonderful time, and if I pick up a camera he strikes the pose: crossed arms; bored expression; eye brows slightly lifted. It is like trying to take pictures of a teenage Derek Zoolander. Different expression, but just as ridiculous. I remember Carl did the same thing. I remember that I sat down with him and told him that I knew he was trying to look mysterious and deep but really he was just looking sullen.

Gary isn't ready for such harsh language though. I may have to work hard at getting a stealth photo of the real him. I just need one.

Ah, but the point of this post was that I really enjoyed taking Gary on vacation. It was fun seeing someone having so much fun.

He even made friends with the Shih Tzu who he previously thought was only annoying.

Monday, July 07, 2008

His Mom

Gary googgled his mom. He found his mom's aunt who gave him his grandfather's number. He in turn told Gary where his mom is. He is very excited. They have been in touch on and off throughout his childhood. It is complicated, of course, how could it not be? Still, he is excited to have found her again.

I'm happy for him, and as always, worried that he will get his heart broken. There is something to open and trusting about Gary. He is so ready to forgive everyone and everything. He just wants his family back in his life. All of them.

Sunday, July 06, 2008


We are home and I feel like I have so much to share. Little things, like learning that if we take a route that is longer by both driving time and distance but which is all freeway driving we actually get home sooner because we don't get car sick and need long breaks from the car. Today we ate two fast food meals in the car. We stopped only for gas and potty visits. Also, if you snore at night your children won't be able to sleep in the hotel. This means that they will sleep in the car the next day, which makes for a more peaceful ride.

I want to write about some stuff that has just to do with my sister and my father, but I don't know that it really fits on this blog. And I am not certain exactly what I want to say. The short version is that my sister is really trying to grow up and my father is not helping.

Regarding my father's pot use: Roland is going to write him a letter telling him that we really appreciate the cottages and we hope to be able to come again, and that we need for him not to smoke pot in either of the houses. I don't know if Roland will mention that it is a problem because the caretaker, my niece and I all have asthma, or that it is a legal issue for Gary, but Roland says he will write the letter.

I am not certain about what, if anything, to say to the social worker. I want to pretend that I can put "my father smokes pot" in the same category as "my father takes out his dentures and puts them on the table when he eats oatmeal." You know, true stuff that I don't necessarily repeat. I don't really believe that they are in the same category though. She might prefer not to hear about either one, but only one is something that really affects Gary. I don't know if they will say that Gary can't go with us if we go again, even if my father does promise to keep the drug use out of the houses.

At some point I have to write about how Roland and Gary are getting close. Even though Frankie took a lot of Gary's time, it wasn't like this. This is the first time that one of the boys has bonded to Roland early. Actually, none of the boys are as close to Roland as Gary is. It is becoming fairly common for me to hear about something that is going on in Gary's life from Roland. It is cool to watch.

And I want to write about the incident at the lake. I'm not sure exactly what I want to say though. I keep thinking about how vulnerable he looked, how much like a little boy. It took me quite a while to consider that he wasn't coming back for a reason. I had no idea until he grabbed the raft that he was terrified. We were on that lake for a long time. Swimming by holding onto a flotation device and kicking is not the fastest way to move through water, even if it is relatively safe. I kept thinking that his fear was subsiding, and it kept re-surfacing. He was pretty quiet for a long time. He talked to Roland about it while I was in the shower and that seemed to help. Men (some of them) seem to have a telegraph speech. They speak very few words, but that is enough.

I feel like Gary trusts us a little bit more. He was terrified and I came to get him. He told Roland about it and Roland's reaction was calm and accepting. I think we passed a sort of test, even though I don't think that Gary was setting out to test us.

Thank You FosterAbba!

I'm home and I will be going to post some more soon.
Right now, I just want to take a minute to thank FosterAbba for doing the laborious work of moving text messages to this blog. I really appreciate it.

Thank You!

Friday, July 04, 2008


FosterAbba here, posting another update for Yondalla:

Last night my nephew bunked with Brian. We are staying in the two bedroom cottage. Brian and Gary share a bedroom, Roland and I another. Every bedroom is equipped with full-sized bunk beds. In the other house, my sister shares a room with her two daughters. The caretaker and her granddaughter are in another, and my nephew and my father are in the third. Gary finds the puppy's noises irritating and so has been sleeping on the sofa. This worked well for my nephew. It seems that my nephew has tired of the reek of pot. I asked Brian if he minded. He wanted to know why, but once he did he said of course.

Nephew is difficult to live with. Roland thinks it the result of too much isolation from other childredn, particularly boys. Sis thinks it is inattention from his father. In any case he can be difficult.

For instance, yesterday the boys went fishing. Nephew shared his fishing things. Both boys managed to catch one fish. There was some confusion in the catching of one. Seems the lines were tangled and Nephew was surprised when the fish was attached to Brian's line. I guess by the end of the time he had quite convinced himself. He told Brian that if he did not hand over the fish he would tell everyone that Brian had stole his fishing equipment. Brian came into the house, angry, telling us that Nephew tried to blackmail him for the fish!

Sis talked to nephew. She said that she really tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, and just asked him what had happened. Nephew cried and protested that the fish had been caught with his equipment and Brian had stole it.

Sis apologized to Brian for it. Brian had nearly forgotten that Nephew is almost a year older but is much shorter. Brian has come to treat him with the combination of patience and irritation he would normally display towards much younger childen. I guess we all do. It is easier to pretend he is ten. He just does not act almost-fifteen.

Ignoring a Little

From Yondalla:

All things considered, I think it better for my father to be sneaking off to smoke pot rather than to drink vodka. Don't you agree? I mean, if those are my choices.

It is difficult to know what to think when one's father is an addict. I have very little sense of where the line is. What is unreasonable on either of our parts?

What would the social worker or probation officer say if they knew that we were spending five days with an old man (69) who thinks he is successfully hiding his marajuana from his grandchildren? Certainly as a one-time thing they would forgive.

No one would yank our license and take Gary away to live somewhere else. Would they refuse permission for him to come next year? Would they say yes but tell me not to let my father drive with the kids in the vehicle?

That seems an entirely reasonable limit. It is one that I would like to enforce myself. The only problem is that it would require acknowledging that he is using. I don't know how to deal with that level of confrontation with my father. I do try to keep the kids out of the car, but no else seems to think it so terrible if he is just driving them to the lake.

We laugh at how scary it is to be in the car, how fast he takes the turns but no one seems to seriously believe the kids are in danger. He never SEEMS high when he takes the kids. Roland is almost as cautious as I am

I am agreeing to drive the kids as often as possible. I am very conscious of being bribed. He has built (paid to have built) these two lovely cottages on this secluded, beautiful piece of land. He has paid for us to get here at the same time as my sister.

All I need to do is ignore a little pot.

Doing Well

Once again, another update from Yondalla:

Gary is doing well here. He is very happy I think. He spent most of the day yesterday making the perfect walking stick. He climbed a tree, chopped off a branch with a hatchet, used the same hatchet to cut off the bark. Tomorrow he says he will roast it in a fire, scrape off another layer of wood, sand it, and maybe stain it. It will be his souvenir.

Gary told my sister today about how spoiled he was with us. Sis laughed and said that Gary would never want to leave us. I smiled and and that that was not true. If they called and said he could go back to his dad, he would hand over the cell phone and pack. I said something about expecting him to stay in touch, cell phone or no. Gary, perhaps wanting me to feel better, said "I will, but that will probably never happen."

It was sad to hear him say it. Although I think I am also relieved that he understands the reality of his situation.

Yesterday (or more since it is after midnight? I do not know) Gary said that this place was fantastic. All it needed was a hot tub right at the edge of the deck. This past evening I gave Dad a list of things I thought the cottage needed: steak knives; a serving platter; a folding table and chairs would be nice; Sis wants a vaccuum cleaner; and, oh yes, Gary says there should be a hot tub.

Gary smiled uncomfortably and protested that it was only kidding. I winked at him and said I was too.

Dad however replied that he had a hot tub at home he never used. Did we remember from our last visit? Would we really use it here? He would bring it up. Poor Gary was so embarrassed as we all assured him he would.

I'll have to warn Gary later that there is only a 50% chance he will do it.

Although as Roland has recently pointed out numerous times. he did get around to building this place.

I'll Just Go Wading

FosterAbba here, posting another update from Yondalla:

For three days I have barely wandered further than the deck of this cottage. A couple of times I have walked the dog a bit down the lane, and I have walked across the way to the other cottage, but really that is all. I have not gone on fishing trips or swimming parties. I have not even explored the creek. Today, however, I went along to the lake to swim, or rather to wade. I really had no desire to jump into a cold mountain lake.

So I wore my shorts, took the dog, and planned my relaxation. Then Gary and the caretaker's granddaughter decided to swim across the lake. It wasn't that far, right? Gary swam with strong strokes. Princess not so much. Sis asked me if I was worried about Gary. I said no, at least if the Princess didn't decide to pretend to be in trouble and drown them both. Then nephew decided to do it. Sis said she wasn't worried. Nephew would turn around, but he did it. He stopped to float a few times, seemed tired at the end, but he made it.

Sis was impressed and a little concerned about whether he had exhausted himself. When he and the Princess started right back she got worried. She borrowed a large floaty thing from some other swimmers and went out to meet them. Caretaker and I watched and debated whether she would make it. Sis isn't a strong swimmer and she just wasn't moving fast. So I took off my glasses and dove in to help. I started off strong and impressive-looking I am sure. It wasn't long before I remembered that I was in terrible shape. I got to Sis though and we got to her son and the Princess mid-lake. They denied they needed a break, but indulged us by resting and holding onto the floaty thing until they were breathing normally. We all made it to the dock. Personally, I was pretty proud of myself. It was further than I had swum in a long time.

Sis said, "are you worried about Gary?" I assured her that he was a strong swimmer and probably just enjoying the solitude. Except he still made no move to return.

Finally I started trying to yell across the lake. "ARE YOU OKAY?" Sadly, none of us could understand his response. I yelled again, "DO...YOU...WANT...HELP?" The answer came barely audible. "Yes."

So again with the borrowing. I put on a life jacket and took a flotation mattress. It would be easier to push than the fake inner tube thing Sis borrowed.

And I swam. And swam. And swam some more. My legs were getting tired and I had to tell myself I was getting closer. Towards the end I wasn't sure if I wanted him to swim to me to save me some effort or if I wanted to get there so I could have a rest. I was relieved though when I saw him head my way.

He got to me and grabbed the mattress. There was embarrassment and anxiety in his eyes. He told me that he hadn't realized how far it was until he was there and that he had a cramp in his leg. He kept thinking about how scared he had been when his dad had thrown him in the water to teach him to swim. I told him that waiting for help was the right thing to do.

I tread water and took off the life jacket and got it on him. It was difficult but the panic in his eyes subsided. We both held onto the flotation mattress and kicked. My legs were aching and though I said I wanted to rest a couple of times, he would start looking panicked again, so I would just make myself kick.

He was doing well. It was like being with someone who was afraid of heights, knows they are safe, but still has to put all their energy into controlling the panic.

After I have no idea how long, we were within one standard pool length of the dock. He let go and started to swim. I was able to put the mattress under my belly and use my arms, which helped. I stayed even with him though and he kept looking at me for reassurance.

We made it to the dock. He was able to get up first and then pulled me up. Strength had never been the issue for him; I just lay there a while, not trusting my legs. He stood on the dock hugging himself and looking scared. I got up and hugged him saying, "Thanks for pulling me up."

I realized he really needed to leave and I made the one decision I regretted. I didn't ask Sis to drive. I made it, but my legs were trembling hard enough that it was difficult.

Back at the cottage I called the shower first. Reasonable I thought as I was wearing soaking wet cotton twill shorts and t-shirt. I do not, by the way, recommend that attire for long distance swimming.

As soon as I got out I realized that if I was still out of breath it was an asthma attack. I used my inhaler and then used it again ten minutes later. Nephew said, "Wow. You're in bad shape. Didn't you used to be a lifeguard?"

"Yes. I also used to be in shape."

I went to Sis's cottage to wait for the asthma attack to quiet. I was very conscious that Gary needed us not to make a big deal of this and it would be hard to sound casual if I couldn't breathe without coughing.

I was pleased when Roland told me that Gary told him about it. Roland said he was sort of sheepish but seemed to think it was important to explain why I was sopping wet.

He seems fine now. We had huge steaks for dinner and we both impressed ourselves by eating them all. He even joined in with the family conversation.

My breathing is almost normal and my legs aren't shaking at all. I rather expect that I will swim back and forth across that damn lake all night in my dreams.

Vacation Update

FosterAbba here...

As Yondalla previously mentioned, she has gone on a family vacation. Unfortunately, there is no cell phone or Internet service where she is staying, so she's asked me to babysit her blog. She's been writing text messages on her cell phone, which have been saved on her phone until she moved into a covered area.

Last night, she went into town, and I received quite a few text messages which she has asked me to post.

It turns out that it's not so quite as easy as we'd thought to transfer text messages from my cell phone to my computer. It's a fiddly process, involving synchronizing my cell phone with my computer, and then using a special utility to extract messages from a database.

So, after a bit of wrangling, here is one of Yondalla's posts:

The drive here seemed endless, especially the second day. We drove on mountain roads, corkscrew turns. The kids started laughing at each sign declaring that the road would be curvy for the next however many miles.

It is so quiet here. We do not allow the TV and there is no stereo, no road, no cars, no sound but the birds -- and my nephew firing the BB gun. I have ungracious feelings about the caretaker. Her grand daughter, a 16-year-old with heavy make up, is here for some days or weeks. There is some sort of problem in the family, I know not what.

Still the girl is nervous the her mother won't take her back and she will end up in foster care. Grandma, the caretaker, was nervous leaving her here with Gary while she went for work. She said "Keep an eye on them!"

I declined the honor.

I just don't care to watch other people's children while I am on vacation. I feel resentful of the caretaker's presence, which is not kind of me. Getting to know people is work and I don't want to work. I don't want to be gracious and interested in their lives. Fortunately for me and my ungracious heart, the care taker is horribly allergic to dogs and can't come near our cottage. I knew the dog would be useful. The dog has been very good. We have even allowed him to wander around without the tie out. He never goes far and always comes for the whistle. In fact I suspect he might be just going out of sight so that we will whistle and give him a treat.

My father has many things to entertain us: a volley ball court; horse shoes; a horse; satellite tv. I however am not just ungracious, but ungrateful as well. I want only to sit on the deck and listen to the wind or sit inside and work on Gary's quilt.

It really is lovely here. Brian says that if we must sell the house in Maine this will do as a replacement. There is no ocean in view, but it is still nice.