Sunday, August 31, 2008

Getting some 'tude

He rolled his eyes at me today. He wanted to make Saturday his regular cooking day and I said no, that my experience in the past was that kids tend to get busy on weekends and it doesn't work out. I needed him to pick a weekday.

He rolled his eyes, looked at me like I was stoopid, and said, "okay, Thuuurrrsday."

I take all this as healthy -- especially if he goes from just showing annoyance to actually expressing it. He told me before that he had a schedule all worked out for himself -- when to go to the Y, when to do homework. If he presents his case at all, I'll let him give Saturdays a try. I think it will turn out to be less convenient that he thinks, but I would be willing to give it a shot.

I mentioned it to Roland and he said that he had also noticed the defiance just under the surface. He grinned. It isn't that we like making him angry, but we are both happy to see that there is some spirit in there. It means he is feeling safer.
At his "graduation" from his group home all the boys there got to express their hopes and fears for him. Several of the boys talked about fearing that he would have a conflict with an authority figure and not deal with it, just hide in his room or something. He hasn't gone off and hid in his room. He is playing a puzzle game on the computer and when I asked about it he showed me, smiling as he talked. So he is talking to me.

My theory has always been that at some point the kids have to find out two things: what are you like when you are really angry and will you toss them away if they are bad. I think he knows that he has seen me at my worst -- although it wasn't directed at him. He hasn't broken any rules or done something he knows will piss me off. Not yet anyway. I predict that the worst he will do, for a while, is be non-compliant with my stupid request that he check in every couple of hours even when he has not changed locations.

So, that thing he did today, rolling his eyes and throwing me that teenager to idiotic parent look? That is something that could get on my nerves after a while. Today though I had to hide my grin. Cause this perfect teenager thing was beginning to get freakish.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Nobody can be perfect forever

Well, it had to happen, right? No one really thought that Gary was going to be Mr. Perfect forever. I mean, the kid who cleans up after everyone, follows every rule, and is just generally easy to live with would have to do SOMEthing against the rules, right? Of course right.

He left for the Y today and even though I asked him to check in every two hours he didn't. He was gone for six hours and he just forgot to call me.

oooo....he bad.

Actually, I don't think he forgot, or maybe he forgot sort of on purpose. He doesn't mind calling me when he is changing locations. That makes sense to him. However calling me to say that he is still at the Y is just pushing it a little too far. I do believe that he was at the Y the whole time. He spent a good bit of it hanging with a friend who works at the rock wall there. It wasn't busy and in between supervising others, he learned all about the knots and such.

It is actually a bit of a relief to see he has some defiance in him. I take it as a sign that he is beginning to feel a little bit safer here.

Oh, he has also left things that belong to the whole family in his room instead of putting them back where they belong.

Like the vacuum cleaner.

Waking Brian Up

I'm letting Roland worry about it, more or less.

Brian and Roland are on the same wave-length. They both make noise almost constantly, just to make noise. They are both great mimics. They both find jokes just as funny the 100th time they tell/see them as the first. They both start doing scenes or lines from Mel Brooks films for no apparent reason, although there must be a reason since they both started the same line or scene. Just for the record, I enjoyed Blazing Sadles. I really did. I just don't really need to hear quotes from it all the time. And I was impressed the first time Brian made a perfect Wookiee noise -- but that was like 1000 Wookiee-calls ago. I don't know if Roland is still impressed, but the sound doesn't grate on his nerves at all.

Anyway, they both have trouble getting up in the morning.

So Roland can handle this issue more as a fellow-sufferer. Roland is considering trying giving Brian a dose on antihistamine to put him to sleep extra early. Whatever. I got up and went to work in my office this morning. I adore both my kids, but I have no problem confessing that sometimes Brian's Dad is better at parenting Brian that I am. (I am quite often just as good, but I am rarely better.)

Thank you all for your suggestions and I apologize for not even trying them.

Mosquito Tone

We had some friends over for dinner last night, people that we don't see as often as they should. During the evening one told us that his new office is close to a high school and sometimes the teenagers hang out in their parking lot at lunch. He laughed and said that he might get one of the noise-makers for chasing off teens. Roland and I did not know what he was talking about and he said that there was a high-pitch tone that people over 35 can't hear. You can buy a device that makes that tone and it gets on the teens' nerves and they leave.

Brian and Gary snickered. Then they told us that that tone is a very popular ring tone, call the "mosquito" tone. See, almost all the teachers are too old to hear it. When the teachers seem on the young side they will take the phone up and say they think it is broken and ask, "Can you hear anything?" And almost all the teachers say no.

Also most of the teachers, like us, have no idea that this ring tone exists. Someone's phone goes off in class, all the kids look around and the teacher has no idea what is going on.

I just thought you would like to know.

"How much do you get paid to be a foster parent?"

Update[2]: 7/29/08

That question is the single most common query that brings new people to this site. So, if that is why you got here, I'm going to try to answer that question, but I do hope you stick around to check out the rest of the blog.

The phrase you wanted was "foster care reimbursement rates." My assumption is that you, dear searcher, are trying to figure out whether you can afford to do care. There are people who think that foster parents do it for the money, but that really is a myth. The money that is paid to foster parents is for reimbursement for expenses. There is no profit in it.

I recommend this article from the National Foster Parent Association. [update: this article has been removed. You still might want to visit the NFPA though.] They have a good chart for the base rates. It is a little misleading though because there are usually higher rates for children who are more difficult to care for in one way or another. In extreme cases, the money is high enough to compensate for the inability to work outside the home while caring for children. You will probably find that it is difficult to learn in advance what the higher levels of reimbursement are.

An excellent study on foster care reimbursement rates around the country is here: [link updated 8/29/08]

One thing that it is important to know is that you will typically not get any reimbursement until after a child has been with you for four to six weeks. There is also generally no reimbursement for "start up" costs, which can be considerable. Depending upon what age child you are planning on taking, you may have to purchase cribs, high chairs, beds, car seats, and more. Do not expect to have any of those expenses reimbursed.

Most states have a voucher system for clothing. Where I live that means that every month you get a voucher for $50 which can be used only at the large discount stores (W*lmart, etc.). You can maintain a child's wardrobe with that amount of money, but many kids will come to you with inadquate clothing; some come with nothing but what they are wearing. There is a good chance that you will find yourself having to spend hundreds of dollars up front to get children the very basics and that will not be reimbursed.

I work for a private agency that is considerably more generous. They will reimburse when you mail in receipts which allows me to take advantage of sales anywhere. Their yearly clothing allowance is $600, but I have had social workers approve exceptions when necessary. That is not a typical situation.

Reimbursment is a awkward topic, and I have written about it before, but it was part of "Ann's Story" which is now on the private blog. Here is the relevant portion of that post:


My husband and I are teachers. Our students are about as far apart as it possible to get, but we are both teachers. We love what we do. We put time and energy into it. We also "do it for the money." If I could not get paid to do it, I would have to do something else.

I hate it when I hear people talk about foster parents "doing it for the money." Most foster parents get less in reimbursement than it costs to take care of the kids. Most get less than the average child support payment. So first it bothers me because it is false. It bothers me secondly because I think it ought to be possible for people to be professional foster parents and be respected for doing it. Doctors, teachers, and hair dressers all get paid to do what they do. Getting paid does not meanthat they do not care or that they treat those they care for poorly.

In my area there is a local private program with which the state contracts. They do have a group home, but they also have foster homes. All their homes have one room with a keyed lock in which every sharp object and household chemical is kept. They require that at least one adult be home full-time. I don't know what the reimbursements are, but I know that they are higher to compensate for that requirement. The women I know that work with this agency have had previous careers in retail and filing. They report that the reimbursement levels did allow them to leave those jobs. They are pleased to be able to help support their family by doing something which they know few other people can do as well.

On 8/28/08 I received this:
I happened to come across your blog post about foster care reimbursement rates and wanted to drop a quick line of thanks for referencing our "Hitting the MARC" report on the topic -- and also to let you know that the link has changed. We just launched a whole new website, which we hope will be an even better resource for people interested in foster care and child welfare issues, and though your link will get people to the site, it won't get them to the correct page. The new link is
As part of the new site, we've also just launched a blog of our own, and while there's not much there yet, there will be soon enough.
All the best,

Chris Iseli
Director of Communications
Children's Rights

Comments to this post are no longer being published. I am glad that people still read the post, but it is in my mind outdated. I do not have the time to keep it updated and accurate.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hillary Clinton and Sara Palin

***Political Post Warning***

Okay, so I told you before that when the Democratic Party was down to three (Clinton, Edwards, Obama) I was happy. I could get behind any of them. I'm not a PUMA (Party Unity My Ass). In fact I think I am the exact opposite. I was ready to back Hillary right up to the moment when I decided she willing to tear apart the party rather than loose the nomination.

And yet there is part of me that go to the Hillary-place and see the story of the Democratic primary as one in which an experienced woman who worked hard and deserved the promotion was pushed aside by the inexperienced golden boy. I've lived it. So many women have. I've gone to meetings where all the women are over-prepared and the men are just barely there -- and they are asked to be chair. I've seen men glide into positions that women don't get because the hard work that was required to get them where they are makes them unfeminine.

I can sympathize with the anger that of boomer women who see one of their own whom they admire get passed aside for a untried boy. I'm not one of those women, but I think I understand them.

And I am trying to find that place this morning. I wonder how they are reacting to McCain's announcement and Sara Palin's speech. Are they more attracted to McCain now that his vice president nominee is an untried girl? Is that all that better? Oh yeah, and she pro-life too! She governs with a baby on her hip. All those boomer women who wanted Hillary to be president, they didn't really care about reproductive rights, or education, or healthcare, or foreign policy.

Right, we justed wanted a girl.

I know there are conservative, pro-life women who were not enthusiastic about McCain who now will be. Fine.

But will the ardent Hillary supports like McCain for this? Or do they feel like I do? I know I am in a pissy mood right now. I've had a hard summer and a difficult morning, but I really want to say, "Congratulations Sara Palin. I'm sure you a wonderful person who has worked hard. I wish good things for you."

And to McCain? "F*ck you."

Like I said, really pissy mood.

So angry

I yelled at Brian this morning. More than once.

He starts school on Tuesday and he is not getting up in the morning. I don't think it should be my job to get a fourteen year old boy out of bed in the morning, and I also find that I am not willing to let him deal with the natural consequences of not resetting his time clock. (Falling asleep on the public bus and end up back in Our Small Town, nodding off in class and missing assignments.) So I have been waking him up.

At first I got angry because he would say he would get up and then just fall right back to sleep. So I kept going into his room and waking him up again, getting more angry each time. This, you may have guessed has been going on for more than a week. The past three days I have followed his dad's advice and not left the room until he is sitting up with his feet on the floor. That seems to work, until I find him 30 minutes later asleep on my bed or the sofa in the rec room.

Today I got really angry. I yelled, loudly. I used bad words.

After I found him asleep the third time I stood over him while he put on his shoes and socks and then took him outside. I made him walk around the block quickly, which involved pulling him at one point. And I lectured. I told him that this wasn't my job, that it was his job. That he should understand the importance of being able to be awake in the morning and he should be forcing himself to stay awake. I forcefully expressed my concern about falling asleep on the bus or in class.

He responded with the "I'm not doing this on purpose" excuse, which just made me angry again.

I told him that the next three days either his father or I would be getting him up early and making him take walks and stay awake. While I said this I thought about how much Roland likes to sleep in in the morning on the weekends and how he will probably SAY he will help, but he WON'T wake up and help. That might not be true, but right now it feels like it will be. I also thought about the work that I should be getting done and wasn't getting done because I was busy doing other people's jobs for them.

When got back I went into Brian's room and found the bleeping trombone that Roland bleeping told me he would return last Saturday and clearly didn't. So I put the fricative thing in the car, along with my penitent son, and drove the bleeping music store and tried to listen to the young woman with a tiny, soft voice while loud music was blaring from a huge set of bleeping speakers right behind me. I told her that I had touble hearing her and then did that thing that people who can't hear do where they speak really loudly, which is not because we can't hear but because we are trying to MODEL WHAT WE NEED. She smiled at me patronizingly and said something I couldn't hear. Anyway, I told her that they bill us automatically and could she please check to see if we had already been billed this month. She looked through their records while I stood in front of the fricative speakers wondering if she would think I had given up if I walked out of the store while she did it. She found out that they had billed us and went to talk to the manager, came back and said that they would give me a partial refund. Anyway, I'm pretty sure that is what she said, cause she gave me money.

I don't like the way that I behaved with Brian this morning, but I am totally out of other ideas.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

"How was your summer?"

So I am heading back to school and facing that question. I'm having a difficult time answering it.

I need to remind myself that when people ask they don't really want details. They're just being polite. It is not really more than a greeting. So I am reminding myself that I should just say, "Fine, how was yours?"

Of course, "fine" is a big fat lie. We sold the property in Maine. I learned that my husband ran up debt behind my back which is producing continual ripples of tension in our relationship. My mother was diagnosed with early Parkinsons. We are waiting for her to a couple of biopsies, although the doctors don't seem worried, and I wasn't able to visit her like I said I would (see debt issues above).

The thing is that I can't really tell people the whole truth without getting upset, and these are my colleagues. There are couple of them with whom I can be truly miserable, but mostly we keep our relationship on another level.

I did tell a couple of people that it was not great and then just followed up with the information that we sold the property in Maine and went for the last time. Most people know how attached we are to it and accept that as sufficient reason for my report of a "not great" summer.

I do a medium job of healthy compartmentalization, by which I mean leaving home issues at home and work issues at work. Sometimes it is an effort for me. It is more difficult though when someone in one world asks about the other world. I'll manage.

The thing with Roland continues to be complicated. He is helping by drastically changing his spending habits (he really has), and letting me take over the finances. A continuing issue is my need for him to do particular things or find particular pieces of information. There is a monthly subscription he needs to cancel. I need for him to find out how much we pay every year on taxes for the cars. Stuff like that. He is genuinely and truly busy with the start of his new job. I've politely asked every day. My plan now is to give him a list of things I need from him and ask him to commit to a time in the very near future when he will do them. Like Saturday.

But there is this quiet irritation between us. We got our "allowances" which we are calling "discretionary" or "petty" cash. Now there is some tension about what we are supposed to be spending it one. Roland asked me the other day what category to put something he was going to buy for his classroom and I said, "Didn't we agree that work expenses like that were part of discretionary cash?" Just a minute ago he called and said, "Well, it turns out I was wrong about what time Brian's school's open house is. We have an hour, do you mind if I buy us some dinner?"

And I responded, "Of course not. You can spend your discretionary cash any way you want to."

I said that without even thinking about it, given his emphatic nodding when I gave buying Brian and Gary lunch in The City when one had an appointment at 11:00am and the other at 2:30pm as a time when I might have used discretionary cash. I mean, there weren't a lot of options then, and it wasn't because I didn't read a notice right and end up in somewhere an hour early.

See what I mean? Tension. Little things. Fairly constant.

I keep thinking that things will get better after we have our next visit with the financial planner, of course we can't schedule that until after I finish filling out the paperwork, which I can't do until he finds the frickin information I asked for!

So how was my summer? Kinda crappy, yours?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh yeah...Gary is here too

Gary starts school tomorrow. He is the normal combination of excited and anxious. He wants to get there early so he can find all his classes in advance. We did that with his first schedule, but there have been changes.

Gary has difficulty staying committed to one thing. He admits this. He wants to do everything, or at least he thinks he does. He wanted to do football until he experienced the coach yelling at them. I really think that was the part he couldn't take. He has been yelled at enough in his life, he said. Now he wants to study some form of martial arts. He has a friend who takes classes at this one place on the bus route. So he wants to go there three times a week, maybe right after school. He will visit his friends after, and concentrate on his homework the other nights.

Of course first he has to find out what the class schedule is.

I want him to watch a lesson. If the teachers are the sort that require, what is called, discipline? I don't know. I just want him to understand whatever the atmosphere is before he starts, because I want him to stick with the next thing he does.

He gave up on the idea of going to his grandfather's memorial. Since his father lied and told him that there wasn't going to be one, he figures he really isn't welcome. It was his decision. I know he wanted to be there initially, but the thought of experiencing any rejection was too much. His dad doesn't talk to him as much on the phone these days. I hope it is a coincidence, but it seems like he stopped calling as soon as he was told that the state worker said he could visit Gary here under our supervision.

The agency worker has agreed to take me out of that loop. She has tried to call him again to set up a dinner or whatever else would work for him. She may also tell him that it has been decided that I won't be supervising visits and making judgments/recommendations. If she does, and he starts feeling like he has to jump through a hoop before he can see Gary, he might call more.

That is unkind of me. What has also happened is that he has finally got work locally. It does not pay as well and is not as interesting as what he did out of state, but it is local. It also means that when he gets off work he comes home to his family, not to an empty apartment. He is trying to do what his wife wanted him to do -- spend more time with the kids. So he doesn't have as much time to talk to Gary. Gary might also need to figure out what is the new best time to call him.

Gary told me that he is trying to readjust his sleeping schedule so that he can make it to school. He says he has been up late. I asked what he was doing, and reminded him that he did need to stay in his room, not wander around the house. He said that he lay in bed reading our child rearing advice books.

You know, my first impulse was to feel worried, like he would learn all our secrets and they wouldn't work any more, or that he would feel more entitled to evaluate me as a parent. That impulse did not last very long though. I think reading them is helping him process his own childhood. Maybe. Anyway, he says he finds them really interesting.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cattle Dog

So this is what happened...Andrew and I were in the kitchen he was cutting up raw chicken and I was unloading the dishwasher. The dogs were underfoot, well the Cattle Dog was. I almost tripped over her and so I ordered her out of the kitchen. The Shih Tzu was mostly under the table and not in the way, so it didn't even occur to me to send him out -- not that it would have worked. He is barely trained and "out of the kitchen" isn't a command he knows. Partly because he has the sense, and the size, to stay under the table.

Anyway, I figure Cattle Dog was pretty annoyed about being sent out, far away from the chicken and any hope at all of getting a piece of something that got dropped on the floor. The spastic cat (whom I started calling "Ed," as in "special ed" until Brian made me stop) crossed her path and CD snarled, grabbed the cat in her mouth and held him down like she does to the Shih Tzu when she wants to assert that she is the boss. Andrew and I both yelled "NO." The Cattle Dog let go and Andrew was there holding CD's head to the ground right away. He forced her to stay laying down, head on the floor, for maybe fifteen seconds. A few minutes later she came up to make friends with Andrew again and he gave her some attention.

I don't think that CD would have hurt the cat physically, at least not intentionally, but when she is feeling the need to assert dominance on the Shih Tzu she has been known to hold him down, mouthing and snarling for quite a bit. We sometimes tell her "enough" and she stops, but the Shih Tzu doesn't mind. In fact he will often go back to harassing her.

The cat though doesn't understand this language. He also doesn't have the power in his limbs to do anything about it. If his claws happen to be near skin, he can certainly sink them, but the swiping and kicking other cats do? Yeah. Not so much. Poor wobbly thing. If the Cattle Dog tried that with any other cat ... well, she wouldn't do it twice.

When the Cattle Dog seemed more snarly a while back we before we took her to the vet. There isn't anything wrong with her that can be discovered with a normal exam, and I can't afford to go looking for trouble. I'm really inclined to think that she is just a middle-aged, grumpy lady who is tired of all these other animals. She is also irritated that there are so many human legs to be avoided.

I hope she stops. Though I don't think she would hurt "Ed", she could certainly terrorize him. She is a difficult pet. She won't tolerate other female dogs, has a constant need to display dominance with small male dogs. She does seem to relax with large, confident male dogs though. She is fine with kids. Roland has taken her to school a few times and she is very patient while being swarmed and patted, not a typical behavior for cattle dogs. She is not the least bit cuddly, though she will follow you around all day and sleep at your feet. She is fairly well trained (come, sit, down, stay, off, go to bed, "out of the kitchen!") She is just such an anxious dog. She really needs to be exercised, but when you take her for a walk she gets so upset at every barking dog and passing vehicle that it is a miserable experience. Until today I would say she was fine with cats she knows. She chases strange cats out of the yard, but our cats she is good with. Until today.

She used to gently hold down the spastic cat when he was a kitten so that the my fat, slow lap cat (who died a while back) could get away. She also "herds" the Shih Tzu away from the spastic cat when he is getting too rough. You know, typical big sister stuff. No one is allowed to pick on anyone except her.

She would be happier living in the country with someone who had a really large yard and no other dogs, except maybe a big, confident alpha male. Oh, and no birds. She loves hunting them birds. She's snatched a crow out of the air once. I just don't trust that I could find such a home where she would stay. I'm nervous that they would get another dog and start having all the troubles we are and then she would just end up at the shelter.

The truth probably is that I am the one who is not happy with having two dogs. Either one of them is fine, but them in combination is getting tiresome.

By the way, here is a video of another spastic cat, whose condition is more severe than than my "Ed." Just in case you were confused about what it is. My cat's walk is less wobbly. If the cat in the video appears to be "falling down drunk" my cat has that deliberate, unsteady, "I'm not drunk" look to it. He's more wobbly in the yard (because the ground is not flat?). He has got better at jumping, but prefers to scale his way up the furniture. He loves climbing our lilac bush. He can't run any distance without falling, prefers to steady himself against something when he sits, and falls over if you pet him when he doesn't have support. He doesn't lie down so much as aims and falls, preferably against a sofa cushion or human. We have a very high-sided litter box which he is able to use well. Unlike many spastic cats, he has excellent control and always uses the box. He is a sweet kitty, and doesn't seem to mind being wobbly.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Blogging for choice

okay, so it is not Blogging for Choice Day, but that seemed the best title. I recommend this blog to you:

What to Expect When You're Aborting

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Updates on Search for Frugality

Roland took the kids shopping for school supplies. He came back miserable that he had spent $100. The kids wanted these fancy binders, and mechanical pencils, and Gary wanted a little white board to write his assignments on. Then he just bought erasers and notebooks and stuff. He had no idea that it would end up that much and he knows he has to figure out a way to shop better.

It was a learning experience. At least he was paying attention, and that really is a significant step forward. I can't tell him that because as some of you understand so well, being told, "Well at least you noticed you were screwing up, dear" isn't something that will make him feel better. I really am glad that he is feeling bad about it instead of defensive. I knew that it was going to be difficult for him. I expected things like this. It doesn't mean I am thrilled about it, just not surprised or furious. It is so hard for him to say no. After the shopping he called me on the cell phone and said that the kids wanted to get milk shakes. I told him to tell them I said no.

On other topics, I bought one of their favorite name-brand cereals and the knock-off version in the bag and made them all take a blind taste test. Every single one of them prefered the cheap version! They were convinced it was name-brand and united as one they could convince me to continue buying it. That will make up for the $100 in school supplies, right?

I also heard from one of the car pool moms. She said that she had convinced her son to give it a try but would I reconsider car pooling if it didn't work out? I told Brian this and he said, "Mom, just tell her this is what we are going to do and if they want to do it too, fine." He really has grown up. Anyway, I did tell the other mom that if the bus turns out to be unreliable I would want to reconsider the car pool. Brian thought that was fair.

Thank you all for your ideas and support.

We are definitely going to go with cash allowance for both of us. On the list of things it would cover are things like buying kids milkshakes when you take them shopping. We have theoretically had allowances for some time, but Roland was "keeping track" in his head which meant that he wasn't really keeping track at all. Cash will make it easier and I will definitely take mine.

I did sit down with him today to talk about his lunches. At first he said that he just had to buy them in the cafeteria. Nothing else was possible. Sadly, lunch in the cafeteria is $3.75 for adults. I showed him our current spending pattern and asked what he wanted to cut down on in order to pay for the lunches. He didn't get defensive and agreed that maybe he could keep food in the refigerator in his classroom. He doesn't want to PACK a lunch, but if he has yogurt and frozen burritoes he could eat those.

Baby steps. It is all about baby steps.

And we do have to tell Brian that we are trying to pay off some debts. I told Andrew. For some reason that was easy. I could just mention it to him. I didn't tell him that we were just shy of being in serious trouble, just that we had decided that being in debt was ridiculous and we were determined to get out. We need to say the same thing to Brian. He has been so mature about the bus, I know that he can and will be about things like expensive binders. I don't want him to be nervous, but he has to know that we are trying to live differently.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Can't Write

I have three draft posts from the last three days that won't take shape. I can't seem to write and there isn't anything "going on" to just report. I hope that makes sense.

Well, I guess I do have something...our finances issue. There might be something in here that can be applied to foster care. I will see if I can make it relate. No promises though.

We saw the financial advisor yesterday. That went well. I've been going through our last four months of spending, figuring out patterns, making decisions. Roland is trying, but the whole thing is emotionally complicated. He feels rotten for getting us into this mess, and relieved that I am willing to charge of our finances and fix it. But stuff like this happens: I'm trying to get all of our spending from the last four months into Quicken so that I can see where the money went. We need to spend less money, and I need to know if that means making radical changes to things like what I buy at the grocery store. So I'm going through the records and I have to ask him something like, "I can't read your writing on this check. Can you tell me who it is to and what it was for?"

His emotional response, which is controls fairly well, is to feel miserable. He already confessed that he was spending too much money. He knows. He understands now that big mistakes in budgets can happen one small expenditure at a time. Do I really have to make him reflect on each of them? Can't he just forget about it and move on?

Sadly the answer is no, he can't. I need to know what expenditures are necessary so that I know which ones I can just cut out. If it turns out that a lot of the spending that got us into trouble was just irresponsible, that is actually a good thing. That is easy to fix. Like when I discovered that he had subscribed to a music service he doesn't use. Sure, it was bad that we paid $15/month for half a year for something we didn't need, but as soon as we cancel that we have $15/month freed up! Easy choice. The more easy choices we have the fewer hard choices we have to giving up bath wash or Twinings tea.

So I ask about everything. He feels miserable when he tells me that it was something stupid, and I am relieved. Sometimes he interprets my relief as gloating at having caught him AGAIN.

So then I feel like I have to make him feel better, which is a feeling I tend to squash pretty quickly because, well, he did get us into this mess and I've been pretty darn good about it. I am doing all this work to fix it and the least he can do is give me the information I need when I need it without requiring his fragile ego to be soothed every time.

So we are having different experiences. I found $60/month in recurring, automatic charges that we found it easy to give up. Combine that with Brian switching from the rented trombone to the trumpet, that we own, and we've saved $100 month with no pain! I want to clap my hands! He however does not feel the joy. When I tell him about it, I'm telling him that he was wasting money without even noticing.

I'm not writing this to rag on him, really. I don't think about it that way, well, not very much. I'm writing this to remind myself how this feels to him. I'm actually more frustrated with him sucking the joy out of being frugal than I am with him running up the debt.

Putting aside guilt for the past, the whole being frugal thing is different in itself too. I feel like it is a game, not a competition, but a game. If I find a way to save money I feel like I scored a point. The more money I save, the more points I am scoring. Brian is going to ride the bus and we are dropping out of car pool. Let's see ... that means $18/month for the bus pass instead of 15+ car pool trips. Each car pool trip had to take at least a gallon of gas, probably more. Gas is a little under $4. That means Brian taking the bus will save us at least $40/month. Woo hoo!

I am realizing though that for Roland all of this is what being on a diet is for me. It is a constant feeling of denying himself and wondering how long all of this is going to go on. That diets and budgets go forever does not make him happy. I've realized he really needs discretionary cash. He needs to have a certain amount of money that he can spend without guilt and without reporting it to me. He needs it to be cash because he experiences writing down everything he spends the same way I experience keeping a Weight Watcher's journal. I asked him to figure out what sort of things he needs to spend it on so that I can figure out how much to give him. It took a while for me to figure out that was not the point.

I need money for things. When I don't need things, I don't need money. He needs to be able to spend money without feeling guilty.

And of course it all goes back to our parents and our childhoods, and I am sure there are connections to be made to foster care -- how different childhood experiences color contemporary experiences so that that they are completely different for different people. Something like that, but you will have to do that part for yourself. I just don't have it in me right now.

Maybe it will make him feel better when things get harder, and they will be getting harder. This month was a "challenge" month. We made minimum payments on the debt and challenged ourselves to spend as little as possible. I wanted to find out what the "base line" was. How much money does it take to support our current lifestyle without major sacrifices. I am pleased that the base line is lower than I feared, but in order to get out of debt we are going to have to make much more than minimum payments. We are going to have to be very careful for quite some time.

But telling him that will make him feel just as bad as telling him that we are currently doing well.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Riding the Bus

We took the bus to school today for registration. As I expected, going out there is easy. The bus stops a block from our house between 6-10 minutes after the hour and then stops half an hour later three one block from his school. He should get there 10-15 minutes before first bell. No problem.

Coming home is going to be tight. Fortunately for him, his very last class is right next to the back door. If he leaves promptly and walks at a fairly normal pace, he should get to the stop at the earliest moment the bus should arrive. Most days he will have to wait five or ten minutes. He is going to try it on foot at first. I'm not sure how much time a bicycle would save. He could do the 6 blocks in less than 6 or 7 minutes, but he would have to go around to the front of the school, run into friends, and mess with a bike lock. All in all, I'm not sure he would gain time.

I'm nervous because the window between school and bus is so close. As long as he is not late and the bus is not early (and how often is the bus early?) it will be okay. We have options, of course. I can ask his drama teacher (last class) if he can leave school just a few minutes early. We can see if he can save time riding his bike. I plan on giving him a ride if there is ice or if it is raining heavily. Roland and I figure that it will take about one gallon of gas to drive out and get him, so if he just misses the bus and doesn't want to wait for the next one, we will charge him whatever the going rate is on a gallon of gas.

If all fails I can also eat humble pie and ask to get back into the car pool. I've been having some conversations with another car pool mom about the bus. She wrote me this morning that she was "not opposed in principle but had reservations." She then told me what her reservations were. I wrote to her again after we did our experiment, addressed some of her concerns, and told her we decided to use the bus and she should let me know if she wanted to put her kid on the bus too. I'm pretty sure she thought I was going to do what I did last year: try to convince the car pool group to use the bus. This year we are just dropping out of the car pool.

I just can't tell you how much I want this to work out. It should. I am concerned about that tight afternoon window. It could be though that the schedule is perfect. If he had time to chat with friends and then stroll to the stop he would be more likely to get distracted and be late. Since he knows he has to book it, he will just go.

And having a bus pass will mean that he can sometimes go home with the new friends that he is making. All he needs is for their parents to agree to take him to the main drag to catch one of the buses home. The last bus gets close to our house at 7:45pm.

Have I mentioned recently that I really, really want this to work?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Parent's Job

I do love Bart's blog, and I really love his most recent post. He struggles to express what I think of as loving detachment.

Most of us think of parenting as an activity in which we direct or change a child's character. I said to my own kids when they were small that I my responsibility was not to their happiness, but to their character. My goals as a parent were to help my children to grow up to be strong and caring, to love justice and do kindness. My parenting often fell short of my ideals, but those where my ideals. I wanted them to be truthful, empathetic, and courageous.

When I first started doing foster care my bioboys were five and ten. I was still engaged in that project with them. I still thought that that was my job, and I still think it was. At least to an extend it was. When they were small parenting with the goal of shaping their characters made a certain amount of sense. It was less realistic than I once imagined, but it was not completely inappropriate. When Carl moved in he was 16. My feeling was that I had lost so much time. If I was going to help him to become a better, more responsible person I had to get cracking.

In parenting Carl and David I was frustrated by my inability to help them become the people I knew they could be. I saw so many opportunities for them that they missed. I fought against the choices they made. I argued, cajoled, pleaded, persuaded. And they did what they did. I don't have any doubt that their lives were different because we were in them, but their lives were not different in ways that I had control over. I really don't know how my presence in their lives changed their paths. I don't know what their path would have been had I not been there. I do know that that I had very little success in trying to control or direct their journeys. My presence may have affected change, even positive change, but it was not the generally change I was trying to affect.

Because of Evan I went back to Alanon and that is where I learned how to parent, especially how to parent teens and young adults, most especially how to parent teens and young adults with complex and traumatic histories. It was there that I learned that my job was not to mold them or even guide them. It was not for me to choose their paths, or decide for them who they should be. My job is almost entirely to love them and provide them with safety while they grow up to be the people they are supposed to be. Instead of trying to force them into a mold, I get to watch with wonder and surprise as they grow in ways I had never imagined.

Of course, this is all easier to say and believe when my children's lives approximate what I want for them. The further away from that they are, the more I worry and the more I wish I could direct them, lead them, transform them. I want to direct the show, but that is not my job.

And I want to end the post there, except that I imagine people with younger children wondering if I think they should not insist their children do their homework, or apologize after hurting someone. I don't. The younger a child is the more appropriate it is to parent with the goal of influencing character. Even in the youngest children though I think that has to be tempered with a respect for who the child is, as opposed to who you imagined she would be. And as children get older, that sort of parenting becomes less and less appropriate. I have no guidelines to tell you when and how to shift, I do know though that when a young man of fifteen or sixteen moves into your home, it is not your job to set about trying to make him be the sort of young man you want him to be.

The job is simpler, though not less difficult. It is to love him and support him while he becomes the person he is meant to be, even if that person is someone who makes choices that break your heart.

Bike Equipment Picked

I went over the options with Brian for carrying both his trumpet and his books on his bike. I told him that there were cool gig bags that wouldn't offer as much protection to the trumpet, but that he could wear on his back. That would mean carrying his books on the bike rack though. I told him that there were also fancy bags that hang off the bike rack that would work for books and look pretty cool.

And then I told him that we could just get those collapsible baskets that go on the back of your bike. Like these:

He said, "Well, if I had those I could use them to take all my stuff when I wanted to go to a friend's house too, right?"
It really is wonderful to have a kid who is not concerned about being cool. This really is the least expensive and most versatile option. He can dump his book bag in one basket and his trumpet in the other. We may need to get one or two of the cargo nets they sell to go with them.
So thank you to Sarsmile for the suggestion.
Tomorrow we are going to take the bus together to the school to get him registered. We will see how we do just walking. It is a little risky because I really don't know how long it will take us to get registered, but I think we will be okay.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Trumpet Found!!!

It was in the band room.

Where Andrew left it last December.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm an idiot

When you computer apparently dies, the very first thing you should do is crawl back among all the cords and check to see if someone unplugged it.


If you don't do it right away, at least do it before you irritably tell everyone that you blasted computer died again, and...

You get the idea.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Getting Registered for School

I am in the slow process of getting Gary registered for school. Tuesday we filled out forms. Today he had an appointment with a counselor to get a schedule of classes. Next week in the afternoon he will have to go again, although this time without me, to get his ID, agenda, lunch tickets, etc.

He decided after a couple of real practices with the football team that it wasn't for him. I tried to encourage him to continue, although I have never been a fan of football. I don't mean that I am opposed to other people enjoying it. I am not ethically opposed. It has just never interested me. But I don't like for kids to quit things they have said they were going to do. When I left the high school he was to go back to the team, get his helmet and finish practice. He showed up a bit later, having bicycled home, and said that he just couldn't make himself go back.

The coach is into the old fashioned hard-sell approach. Two kids who missed a practice were wearing a different color jersey because they had "let the team down." When someone complained that they were tired, the entire team had to run another lap. He said he had been yelled at enough in his life and wasn't interested in doing it any more.

So he isn't in football anymore.

While we were in the counselors office he did got out his phone and started texting the couple of kids he knows who go to this school. He then asked questions like, "Can I take Creative Writing as an elective?" and "Can I get into English in first period with Mrs. Smith?" The counselor was not fooled, but neither of us minded if he arranged to have classes with people he knew.

He is a good influence on Brian, I've decided. Gary has no problem riding the public bus. He does not feel entitled to taxi service from me, although he appreciates rides when I give them. To him the public bus is freedom. He was nervous about riding it the first time, now he takes it all the time.

I was getting myself pretty worked up about making Brian use the public bus for school. Mornings should work out fine, but the afternoons are close. He has just barely enough time to get from the school to the bus stop and if he misses it there won't be another bus coming down that road for an hour. Today Roland and I debated staying in afternoon carpool, or asking the bus company if he could ride any one of the busses all the way back to their parking lot, which is half a mile from where Roland is now working. We mentioned these options to Brian and he said in his new, teenage, independent voice, "I can get the public bus, Mom. You know it has a bike rack. I can get from the school to the stop in like a minute."

So we are going to drop out of the car pool. I am hoping the other families will put their kids on the public bus too. If they do then we can have a cooperative arrangement for nasty days in the winters.

I do hope it works out for him.

I'm not sold on the bike-riding though. I'm not sure how he can ride a bike with a trumpet and a school bag.


I've been thinking about what, if anything, I should do about setting boundaries with Gary's dad, whom I'm calling "Grant" here. Want to help me think through it?

What I am afraid or nervous about:
I don't think that Grant will physically hurt anyone. I don't think he will maliciously threaten us. I don't think he will try to kidnap Gary, even though he once threatened to do that in court.

I do think that if he believes that I have the power to decide whether he gets unsupervised visits with his son he will attempt to intimidate me. Some of it would be just being large, threatening-looking, and tell me what a bitch I am if I don't do what is right. He may sincerely believe that if I don't recommend him than I am unfit as a foster parent, and therefore report me for anything he doesn't approve of. He may do that anyway, of course. I expect that he will complain any time he disagrees with decisions that we make with respect to Gary.

What I sortof want to do:
I want to have the state worker tell him that he is not permitted to come into my house. I want him to decide that there is no reason why Grant can't be trusted to have unsupervised day visits and just give permission for them already. I wrote a note to the state worker recommending that instead of starting with supervised visits we start with short unuspervised visists. I mean, really, Grant has no history of abusing his kid and all he wants is to take him out to grab lunch.
If the worker is not willing to do that, then I want him to tell Grant that unsupervised visitation will happen only on the recommendation of the social worker and that Grant should plan on having visits with Gary with a worker before taking him out by himself.

Evan's family visited here, and I felt really good about it. I would like to get to the place where Grant was permitted and felt comfortable here. If we do move towards that, for now I definitely want to have the rule that he may only come to the house if Roland is here.

What I am doing now:
Nothing much. I think that telling Grant he can't do a bunch of things will only make him angry and want to fight us all. He seems very happy with the amount of contact he has with Gary via the phone. I plan on making sure he knows when Gary's football games are so that he can go to those. If he does call to make a visit here, as Gary already told him the state worker said he could, Roland plans on responding with something like, "Cool. Where should Gary and I meet you?" In other words, we plan on avoiding having him in the house without telling him he isn't allowed in the house.

This is all new and sort of strange for me. As a foster parent I have felt anxiety about the antagonism I anticipate from my kids' parents. This isn't new. The only thing that is new is that the parent in question is actually involved in Gary's life. It is all complicated by the fact that he is not a danger to Gary, but he has behaved like an ass with social workers and judges.

He also has just failed to come through.

I really had expected him to carry through on visitation here because he did visit once a month or so when Gary was at the group home. I am beginning to figure out though that that was different. Gary was lonely there and he almost certainly asked with every call, "When are you coming to see me?" I know he still misses his dad and wishes for an in-person visit, but his phone calls are longer, coming more often, and filled more with reports about what he is doing than with complaints about how sad and lonely he is.

Combine that with the fact that his dad really does work extremely long hours, is trying to reconcile with his wife and care for the other children, including a teenage daughter who is acting out, in-person visits with Gary have fallen in priority for him.

All of this falls so far short of my ideal for this relationship. I want us to be partners, but I am a little afraid of him and he does not trust me. Not a great foundation to build on.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Opinions Sought

So I reviewed the county bus schedule. Brian can use it to get to school. It would look like this:

Walk just over one block to bus stop to catch bus at 7:08
Ride bus for 30 minutes
Walk three blocks to school in 20 minutes.

Walk .4 miles/6 blocks to bus stop in less than 10 minutes*
Ride bus for 30 minutes
Walk 3 blocks from stop to the house

A bus pass will cost $20/month. The school is 10 miles from the house and since I live right next to work, driving him myself would mean 20 miles per trip. The car pool route, if we continue with it, is 14 miles one-way. Clearly even if I drive the little car which gets great gas mileage, the bus pass is better for my wallet and schedule, not to mention the planet.

So we are doing it. I don't know if the other car pool families are planning on it, but I am.

Now here is what I want advice on. I told Brian would be willing to drive him when the weather was really bad, and that we had to have objective criteria for "really bad." So what do you think? What sort of weather makes it unreasonable to expect a 14-year-old boy to walk 3 blocks in the morning with plenty of time, or 6 blocks in the afternoon within 10 minutes?

There are no shelters at the bus stops, just signs.
*I can do the distance in less than 7 minutes. He tends to be slow walker and he will have an instrument (hopefully a trumpet and not a trombone) and a backpack. If he can't make this stop the other options are:

#1- 3 blocks almost an hour after school gets out

#2 - 11 blocks 45 minutes after school gets out -- this involves walking on an overpass. The sidewalk is safe, but the wind and cold can be bad.

#3 - the same stop 7 blocks from school, an hour and 10 minutes after school gets out

#4 - participating in afternoon carpool, but not morning

Fighting the Blues

We're pretty sad around here, especially me and Brian. Part of me wants to figure out what is really wrong, you know? What is underlying, the real cause of the malaise, and what is symptomatic.

I'm pretty sure that the way I feel about going back to school in a few weeks -- like I don't want to, more than I have ever not want to -- is symptomatic. School isn't the real issue. I think the same thing for Brian. He had a little melt down last night. He said that he was reconsidering going back to the big high school instead of the charter arts school. He felt badly because I had already bought him uniforms (and the more expensive nice ones from Lands' End, not the cheap scratchy polos the school sells), but the charter school wasn't as great as he thought it would be. He was really interested in drama and the big high school really does have a better drama department. Ironic that, but true. And it was hard having his friends all live in another town. If he went to school here, with Gary, he might make friends here...

...and that might make it easier when Andrew leaves for college.

In the end we all agreed that he would go to the charter school for at least one more year.

But it has been a difficult summer. Andrew is leavng; the cottages sold; my mother is doing poorly. Anyone of those would make me sad, of course my mother being sick and my not being able to go is the hardest. The boys just found out that my mother has early Parkinsons, but it is unclear to me how much that affects them. They have only seen her a few times. They like her. She is their grandmother, but she is not an integral part of their lives. I think that they are probably more worried about whether I am going to fall apart over it.

They know that their father and I have made a commitment to be frugal and get out of debt, but they don't know how bad it is. I know that we caught it "in time." It is not really the debt or the need for frugality that is the problem, at least for me. It is the way these things are affecting me and Roland, or our relationship. We don't fight, but there is tension. This isn't the place to write much about that. We've come through worse and we know we will get through this.

Still I often feel stretched thin, unable to handle anything else. Brian announced a week ago that he wanted to switch from the trombone (which we rent at $40/month) to the trumpet. We actually own a pretty good trumpet. I was happy about that, but it isn't where it should be. Brian shrugs, says he doesn't mind playing the trombone. Andrew says he thinks we took it out to the garage when Evan moved back. Roland says he is sure it isn't in the garage, but he will look. Not today though. Today he has to do something else.

To me it feels overwhelming. How can we loose a trumpet? It is in an oversized case. It is not a small thing, not the sort of thing that could have be in the sofa cushions or even been accidentally thrown away. I know this is not something worth falling apart over, but I do. I get angry. I growse and complain.

Brian left the crock pot for two day to soak because it was "impossible to get that stuff off, Mom." I finally got angry at him, told him to get his butt into the kitchen and wash it. He did, and chipped it slightly. He did not tell me and I found it when I went to put it away. I lost it. Not for very long, but I did yell. Gary made a swift retreat to his room, which is what Brian had advised him to do in such cases.

Someone asked me why I am not writing as much, and that is why. I'm feeling overwhelmed and I am not coping well with even small things going wrong. I don't want this blog to be all about everything that is upsetting me. It is supposed to be a foster care blog, and I want it to stay focused.

Last night, after talking about the schools I saw Brian on his bed crying. I went and sat next to him and he said, "I don't want Andrew to go away." I held him and said I didn't either.

There was one good thing though. My father called the other day to offer his frequent flyer miles to Andrew to buy his ticket to go to college. We told him we had already bought that ticket, but then I told him about Mom. It isn't easy for me to ask my father for things, but I did tell him that if he had miles he wanted to get rid of, I would happily take them to buy a ticket to see her. He agreed.

Now I can call Mom and pick a date. I just have to save money for the rental car.

If I could just find that damn trumpet.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Foster Care Isn't Open Adoption

But sometimes that is what I want it to be.

I want to be in a cooperative relationship with my children's parents. I want us to be friends. I want them to trust me, and to know that I respect their relationship with their child. I want us to get along. When Evan's mom hugged and thanked me for taking care of her son when she couldn't I almost cried. I still get choked up when I think about it. I know her feelings towards me were a whole lot more complicated than gratitude, but gratitude was part of the mix.

I know there is a whole continuum of open adoptions. In my romanticized ideal, the first parents and the adoptive parents are all involved in the child's life. They cooperate in doing what is best for the child. Two families work together. I am an outsider to that world, but I imagine that a cornerstone of it is that the first parent, usually the mother, chose the adoptive parents. The mother may not have experienced a great deal of freedom or autonomy in her life. The choice to relinquish her parental rights might have been coerced, but she still had a choice about who would parent her child.

And I know I am idealizing this. I know that potential adoptive parents often mis-represent themselves. I know that even when they are honest they are representing what they believe about themselves, which is not necessarily how others would describe them. I know that even if they are honest and accurate, the adoptive families may change. So I know reality falls far short of this. Still, in the ideal, the first mother and hopefully father, have a general idea of the values and lifestyle in which their child will be raised.

Though we did not meet that ideal, I was within sight of it with Evan's family. I'm sure their feelings towards me were complicated, but among those feelings was an acceptance that they could not provide him with a home and gratitude to me for providing it. I was grateful to his extended family for supporting and including him, and grateful to his mom for not sending him the message that attaching to us was being disloyal to her. They did not chose me, but they seemed to think I was a good choice. As complicated as things were, at some basic level the endorsed me as the day-to-day parent.

I have wanted to have that with Gary's father. (He needs a blog name, don't you think? I think I will call him "Grant." Another "g" name will help me keep it clear.) I want him to know that I view his relationship with Gary as precious and irreplacable. Gary needs Grant in his life. I want them to have a relationship.

And I want Grant to view me as, if not the best, at least a good option for his son. Grant himself has stated that he cannot provide a home for Gary. He knows that no other family member can or will do so. He did not want for Gary to end up in foster care, but I want him to be relieved that his son ended up in one of the best private programs in the country. I want him to be relieved that he ended up with us. I want for him to have the thought, "If he has to be in foster care, at least he ended up with people as cool as Yondalla and Roland."

But I don't think he is there. I think the fundamental reality for Grant is that he did NOT CHOOSE THIS. He did not choose us. He was not consulted. He was not part of the committee that decided which foster families to approach to care for his son. Grant lives in a fundamentally impossible space. He wants to be the parent in every sense of the word, and he can't.

He wants to have visits with his son, and is deeply frustrated that people are getting in the way of that. No one has ever accused him of abusing Gary. Other people in the extended family did, but there is no evidence that he did. He is a law-abiding citizen, working full-time, providing for his family. He believes, and I agree, that he should be able to pick up his son and take him to the gym to shoot hoops. He also believes that anyone who doesn't trust him to do that must have their head up their ass and deserves to lose their job, and he has no problem telling people that to their faces.

He wants to have a say in how his son is raised. He does not hold the vision of a cooperative relationship as an ideal. He wants to make sure we are parenting his kid the way he wants his kid to be parented. He doesn't really trust anyone else to take care of his kid. I get that too. I can't imagine feeling good about strangers raising Brian. Just the though of it makes me nauseous. I would want to know everything: what sort of foods did they feed him; did they know how to deal with his anxiety; did they have crazy up-tight rules or no rules at all? I have very clear ideas about how Brian should be raised, and I know that Grant has his own values and ideas about how Gary should be raised.

He wants to be the dad. He wants to meet Gary's friends and those friends' parents. He wants to decide if Gary can be trusted to ride the bus to their houses. He wants to be in charge of how much soda he is permitted to drink and how many chores he is required to do. He has beliefs about how much time Gary should be allowed on the internet and what sort of movies he should be able to watch. He wants to be the father. He is the father.

A part of me wants to tell him he will just have to get over it. By his own admission he is not able to provide a home for Gary. Gary's being in foster care is not what he wanted, but it is the most reasonable option they can find for him. Only a part of me though. That does not recognize the complexity of the truth. Telling Gary's dad that he just has to accept reality and deal sounds to me an awful lot like telling foster parents, "Well, you knew it was going to be hard, didn't you? What are you complaining about?"

The emotional reality is more complex.

The point of writing this, by the way, was to remind myself that it isn't about me. When Grant complains to the social worker that I do not provide adequate supervision it is not based upon any assessment of me as a parent. Grant is thinking like a parent -- he is not comfortable with Gary going to friends' houses when he, Grant, knows nothing about these friends. He does not accept my judgement as a substitute for his own. He barely knows me and he certainly did not choose me.

So I don't think that there is anything I can do that will make Grant trust us, or feel good about Gary being with us. That is important for me to remember so I don't make myself crazy trying. He will not feel comfortable with decisions we made just because we made them and he didn't.


I just overheard Gary talking to his dad on the phone. I wasn't trying to eavesdrop. He is just talking in a normal voice in the next room. Gary said, "but guess what? [State worker] says if you just come over here to visit two times Yondalla can call him and tell him that everything is okay and then we can have regular visits."

That is EXACTLY what I didn't want his dad to be told. I don't want him visiting in the house. I don't want him believing that I have the power to decide whether he has visits.

I'm not sure exactly what I am going to do. I told Roland that if he does end up dropping by for a visit I will call the agency worker and say, "Gary's dad was here. X, Y, and Z happened. I am informing you that I think it is okay for them to have visits and if anyone asks me what I said I will report that I said that." The agency worker will understand.

D*mn, d*mn, d*mn.

I am determined not to fly into a panic. There is every reason to think he won't follow through on the suggestion anyway. He hasn't done anything else. Unless he does.


So this morning both social workers made it at the same time. That state worker can talk. They, of course, asked Gary about what he was doing. Gary talked about football practice. The state worker then gave Gary a 15 minute lecture on the sorts of foods to eat, the possibilities of wrestling, his own experience in wrestling, finishing up (finally) with how caffiene, carbonation, sugar and alcohol would interfere with his performance.


We needed him to sign some papers. He did, but he spent some time talking about whether Gary's dad couldn't do it. It was better for him to do it. He had parental rights. Could we get him to do it? I said gently that we had been having difficulty getting a meeting set up with Gary's dad and the papers did need to be sign. He finally did.

We had a conversation about how everyone wanted for Gary and his dad to be able to have visits. I asked the state worker that to tell me what he needed to approve unsupervised visits. The worker went on and on about this too. All I really got was that he would accept my judgment if we spent some time with Gary and his dad. Gary's dad could even just hang out at my house with Gary. Just so long as I had enough contact to get a feel for it.

After he finally left, and Gary left to go to the Y, the agency worker reminded me that she did not recommend that I invite Gary's dad into the house. He can be ... um ... verbally confrontational. He also threatens to take action if he doesn't get what he wants. Things like kidnapping Gary, or calling supervisors and judges to get workers fired. He doesn't carry through on the threats and no one takes him seriously, but still.

She also told me that in the one conversation she did have with him, he said he wanted to talk with her and the state worker about the level of supervision that Gary was not getting. He was concerned that Gary was allowed to ride the bus to friends' houses all the time. He could be doing anything and I wouldn't know.

We agreed that Gary's dad is frustrated at not being the parent, at not having control. The worker assured me that people knew that Gary's dad made outrageous charges about everyone and no one would take him seriously. Still, it would be wise of me to maintain clear boundaries.


I did appreciate the heads up. I know and she knows that there are buttons his dad could push very easily that could result in varying levels of trouble for us. It could be very ugly, but I think the most likely scenario would be simply that Gary would be moved. Dad's past behavior indicates that he is most likely to make complaints that we are incompetent -- the inadequate supervision thing is typical. Of course he could make allegations that would require investigation. That hasn't happened to us yet.

So we will not invite him into the house. I am also asking the agency worker to back me up in telling TJ that "we" all agreed that it isn't appropriate for a decision about unsupervised visitation to be based upon my experience. They should expect to have a visit with a social worker before they have unsupervised visitation.

I actually am completley in favor of unsupervised visitation. All they want is to be able to grab some lunch, shoot hoops at the Y, or maybe go fishing. I think it would be appropriate and safe for them to have those sorts of visits.

Given his behavior with social workers and judges however, I don't feel safe with the idea of Gary's dad believing that I am the thing between him and these visits with his son. I would like to think that would make him play nice in my company, but based upon his past behavior, it is more likely to result in him telling me that if I don't tell the social workers what he wants me to tell them he will call someone and get my license revoked.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Gary had his first counseling appointment since he moved in. It was set up entirely at his initative. He came out and pronounced that this guy is the best counselor in the whole world. That is a good sign. He has seen this counselor before, in case you are insterested.

We bought school clothes today. Gary got three pairs of pants, three new t-shirts, underwear, socks, and PJ pants. It is so much fun taking them school shopping for the first time. Gary doesn't remember ever buying that many clothes all at once -- not new anyway.

My mother isn't doing very well. Her TIA (very small stroke) might have been one of those odd blessings, getting her into the physician's and getting diagnosed, although it is difficult to feel that way. She had a CT to see if there was a blockage that would explain the TIA. There wasn't, but there were nodules on her thyroid. So she went to an endocrinologist who said that her osteoporosis was severe and recommended a change in her meds. Somehow this led to another scan which showed something on her lung. So now she has to have some of the nodules on the thyroid and lung biopsied. I am refusing to get worked up about that until we have a least that is the plan.

Oh...and she has early Parkinson's.

I wish I lived closer, that visiting her wasn't so damn expensive and that I could do it more often.
She and my sister don't get along as well. She wants me to call her and tell her. I did. We are both planning on sending her regular letters and photos instead of calling, although we will do that too. She is depressed and I figure she can keep re-reading a letter but a phone call is just over when it is over.

She doesn't know about the blog, but doesn't have a computer or really understand much about this whole internet thing anyway. She and John McCain went to kindergarten together. Well, not together as in the same place, but at the same time.

Do I sound flip or glib? I know I tend to when I am trying not to be depressed or worried.

I really do wish she didn't live so very far away.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Waiting for the Social Worker

The state worker is coming in two hours. Gary is rolling his eyes. He thinks he liked it better when he had a neglegent worker who never showed up. I confess I am surprised. Usually when the social workers get a kid in this private program they sigh deeply and only show up for permanency hearings. Maybe they deal with the agency workers, but I almost never see them.

The agency worker is required to visit him in the home once a month. I don't know if that is a new rule, or just newly-enforced. In years past I believe they were just required to make contact with the family every month. Home visits were every three to six months. Not that I disagree with the requirement, but when you have a state worker, agency worker, and PO officer all wanting to drop by every month it does sometimes feel like a bit overwhelming.

Maybe I won't publish this until after the actual visit. Who knows, maybe there will be something worth writing about.

Is telling you that the social worker never showed worth writing about? After one hour we told Gary it was okay for him to just go to the Y. One hour was long enough to wait for anyone. Five hours after he was supposed to be here the social worker emailed and said that he was asked to do a training at the last minute, his cell phone battery was dead, and he couldn't find the charger.

Did I mention that this social worker is very young?

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

How To Read 600 Posts

No really...when I got back from vacation and opened Google Reader there were 587 posts waiting for me. Fortunately I have my various blogs sorted into categories.

1. Click on folder marked "news" and then click "mark all as read." That is cheating, of course, but the only way to do this is by cheating. Besides, I have been planning on unsubscribing to several of those pesky news blogs anyway. Posts Remaining: 387

2. Click on "Dawn's Shared Items" and notice that half of them are from blogs you read anyway and so will have to deal with. Decide that though you love Dawn and find most of what she shares to be fascinating, you will simply refuse to be pulled in. Click "mark all as read." Remaining: 382

3. Go to Claudia's blog and though you adore her right down to her toes, decide that you really can't read the 70 posts she has written in the last 12 days. Click "mark all as read" while promising yourself that you really, really will go back and read through her blog to catch up later. Remaining: 312

4. Start looking at particular blogs, read every single title and read at least two posts per blog before clicking "mark all as read." Stop for lunch. Remaining: 199

5. After review another half dozen blogs, reading and clicking about 20 posts. Write blog post on your own life. Refresh reader. Remaining: 199

6. Seriously consider writing a post begging all bloggers to STOP PUBLISHING until you can catch up.

Okay Jo, it isn't Friday, but you have my permission to use this when it is. If you want, of course.

I'm not helping (updated)

Yep. Gary lost his wallet. It is either somewhere in the house or else it was lost or stolen while traveling. He has called the airports for lost and found. He is taking it fairly well, not pouting or expecting us to fix the situation for him. He lost $30, his summer bus pass (good until the end of August), his medical card, and his social security card. And yes, I have told him not to carry around his social security card. He normally keeps it in his lock box in his room, but he decided he might need it on vacation (don't ask me why), and put it in his wallet. I'm not sure what to do about that. A social security card is not a good thing to have lost or stolen. We have the numbers from both of the cards in our records.

I think he is most bummed out about the bus pass. He needs that pass to see his girlfriend. The bus is 65 cents if the driver believes he is under 18 and $1.00 if he doesn't. He rides out to see her every other day. I'll buy him a new one in September, but for the next three weeks he is in trouble. Maybe I will think of some cleaning job that I want done that I am wiling to pay him a little money for. Or maybe he will find his wallet under his bed. That would be nice.

He also lost or had confiscated all of his toiletries that he insisted he had to take on vacation. When I pointed out that there would be shampoo and soap in the hotels and the cottages he was appalled. Other People would be using those too! He got everything past security on the way out, which shocked me, but what he did not leave in the last hotel was trashed by security on the way back. Maybe I should just give him cash to replace them and see if he doesn't decide that the cheap stuff is okay. Or he could just use the same products that other people are using. I mean, I understand not wanting to use the same deodorant, but shampoo and body wash?

This is one of those times when what I want to do is totally at odds with what I believe I should do.

I am a firm believer in parenting by natural consequences. I rarely punish. I don't even impose logical consequences all that often. I never use "consequence" as a verb -- but that is a pet peeve and a different topic entirely. I think that kids learn and grow the best by dealing with the consequences of their own actions. Intellectually I think the lost/stolen wallet situation is an opportunity for growth that I could never give him. He can and will figure out how to get a new social security card, medical card, and how to earn just enough money to ride the bus all on his own. When he does, he will feel proud. What he needs from me is neither to be rescued or to be scolded. I do not help by berating him, by saying things like, "it is your own fault that you can't ride the bus. Next time be more careful." He also will not profit in any way if I rescue him. If I run out and buy him a new bus pass, or give him money, or go through the steps to get a new social security and medical card for him, I will have taken away from him an opportunity to grow.

My impulse is to do BOTH. I want to buy him a new bus pass while scolding him for losing the old one. I want to go buy him cheap shampoo and deodorant and tell him that this is a natural consequence of not following my good advice about not taking all those things on the plane and next time I give him advice he should just listen to me, shouldn't he?

But I am holding myself back. I am being sympathetic and unhelpful. I am saying things like, "Oh no! How will you get to see your girlfriend? Oh, you found change in your room? That's great!" I am even managing to sound sincere and not sarcastic, at least I think I am.

One of my favorite childrearing books gives the advice: don't do something; just stand there!

It is a LOT more difficult than it sounds.

update: He found the wallet. It was on his bed the whole time.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Mysteries of the Universe

Another post from Yondalla:

There are many of course. Is the life on other planets? Do moral claims have objective reality? Why is there poison ivy? Why were Wonderfalls and Fireflyget canceled after only a few episodes while Full House went on for a gazillion years?

Today I want to know why hotel managers don't know where their rooms are. Don't they have a map? Shouldn't the man or woman at the desk know that rooms 110 and 112 are NOT in fact RIGHT next to each other or IMMEDIATELY across the hall from each other?

Perhaps the correct question is really why rooms 111 and 112 AREN'T next to each other. I mean really, who would think that room 211 would be across from 218 while 212 is down the hall and around the corner.

I admit it is not one of the most important questions in the world, but still it puzzles me.

Especially since this is the third hotel in 10 days at which it has happened. Of course I don't really mind that the boys are down the hall and around the corner.

Thanks for Lunch

FosterAbba here. I just received the following post from Yondalla. Since I'm not blogging from a cell phone, I was able to add the link she mentioned.

Since we were in the neighborhood, and because we were kindly invited, we just had lunch with Innocent Observer and family. (Now I can't make links when blogging from my phone so I told Innocent she had to leave a comment!)

We all had a lovely time. Brian in particular likes the baby Molly. Gary said as we drove off, "I really like them! All the kids were soo well behaved." I would have to second that, everyone was very nice.

It really is fun to meet people IRL that you've gotten to know on-line. Innocent was just like I imagined.

Thanks for lunch!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Moving On

FosterAbba here, posting for Yondalla:

I am currently reclining in a hotel room. Roland, Andrew and Brian are out watching a movie. Gary is napping in the boys' room. Last night was the in-laws' 60th anniversary party. It was a quiet dinner, fewer than 30 people. I was one of two adults at the "kids'" table, which suited me fine. I liked kids, and the other adult was my favorite brother-in-law.

It is good to have the visit to the cottage behind us. I will miss it, but saying goodbye is more difficult than just being away.

It has been a difficult time for Gary too. Just before we left he learned that his grandfather had entered the hospital. Thursday he got a call telling him that they had decided to take grandfather off life support. Friday he died. He has been very sad, wishing he could have been there. Gary will also miss the services which even he says is in some ways a good thing. Family dynamics are complicated and painful. There a family members who have not forgiven him and others he has not forgiven.

I hope when we get back I will be able to take him to visit his grandmother at least. Some times he is enormously sad. At others it does not seem real.

I won't make it home for a few days.

Friday, August 01, 2008

An Absurd Problem

Yondalla writes:

Someone said in a comment (sorry, getting back into comments to find out who means hauling my behind out onto those rocks and that ain't happening this foggy morning) that maybe we can come back to Maine again just not stay here.

It is complicated. One issue is just the debt. Though my FIL has bought us plane tickets, we still pay for a great deal of the trip. Until we make headway on the debt we are not traveling far from home.

But it is also true that there is no way we could afford, under the best of circumstances, to rent something as well situated as this. It makes leaving it harder and the reasons for it clearer. The in-laws bought this piece of ocean front property 40 years ago. It is in the northern coast and near nothing. The bad grocery store is 20 minutes away. The closest pharmacy is 45. The point is that 40 years ago this was not highly-prized land. It was cheap. The house they built is small and sturdy. The plans came from a book of simple vacation homes. It is as close to the water as was permitted 40 years ago, which is much closer than today. I sit here in this 40 year old chair, tapping keys on my cell phone and glancing up to watch the waves. It would cost as much to rent this house for a week as it did to buy the land. It is out of our price range.

(Some probably wonder why we didn't choose to rent it. I don't want to go through all the discussions the family had about pros and cons. There were many, and they are finished. The buyer takes possession in September.)

There are other properties we might be able to rent someday, particularly a little house owned by a bunch of cousins. There is no electricity, an old-fashioned outhouse with a box that has to be buried at the end of the trip, no shower or bath, and no view of the water, but it is NEAR the water.

Even if the options were more attractive it would not be the same. It is this house, this spot that we love so. It is on the list of things to do when we get out from under some of this debt. No one thinks it will be the same though.

I realized the other day what a privileged problem this is. We have had a piece of paradise for years. Now it must go. I am grateful for the vacations I have had here. It is far more than I ever dreamed I would have as a child.

Another problem of privilege we face is the proceeds of the sale. It can be quite uncomfortable to be the poor relations, or merely the relations-of-modest-means. The property is owned by a trust of which Roland and his brothers are beneficiaries. The current plan is to maintain the trust after the sale. The details are complicated and under negotiation, and I don't plan on sharing them here. What it all means is that we will be getting little or no immediate help with debt, will have an added and not-insignificant tax burden to deal with as the money is invested and presumably earns dividends. We should however have a (more) comfortable retirement and Brian will have some funds for college.

Roland and I are faced with the issue of how to afford our good fortune. We must find a way to pay off our debt and pay taxes on money we cannot access without the permission of financially comfortable older brothers who do not really understand why we might find it difficult to pay our taxes.

The problem is so absurd it is almost funny. We are going to see a financial adviser to get some advice on making a plan. I know that there are problems so much worse than ours. Still I feel overwhelmed.

We are selling the place in part because we cannot afford the taxes.

It just strikes me as such an absurd problem to have.