Thursday, January 31, 2008

Committee Part 1: Amazing People

The conference, long committee meeting, whatever it wasa, was interesting and good and just a tiny bit upsetting.

First all the good stuff: the professionals at the organizations are really wonderful people. They are genuinely dedicated to kids, have a vision of how the world could be and are working hard to make a real difference. They are in the marvelous position of being able to fund their own research. The get to figure out what they want to know and then research that thing. They want to know what helps families: what keeps families together; what allows them to reunify safely and securely; what is best for kids when that isn't possible. Of course it did require some humility on my part as they said, "Parents first, family second" more than once. This has apparently become a slogan meaning that if they kids can't get be with their parents, the next best thing is kinship care. I will still have my roll to play, but in their vision of the world what I do has become almost a worst-case scenario, but more of that later.

There were four of us who had served on the committee last year. We started out with more than that, but the others just didn't participate. We four though were enthusiastic about the work. The other three women, we did have men, but they were among the ones who didn't make it, are all foster care alumni.* These three women are amazing. They all emancipated from care; they all struggled to find themselves places in this world. They are advocates, organizers, communitee leaders.

And they still struggle with deep insecurities. Not having parents in adulthood to ask for information has been a struggle for them. And they don't seem to know that the rest of us are asking for that sort of information -- that we didn't get launched into adulthood knowing how to handle every difficult parenting situation, how to cook a meal for a party, or what escrow was. It hit me when the four of us had a break-out session with the facilitator to talk about the year, what went well and what we would like to change. The other three women spoke over and over about being worried that what they had to say about the research was not interesting, or relevant, or helpful and how much the appreciated the conference calls because they felt validated when they realized that others had had the same thoughts.

It isn't that I never had that experience, but for me it was rare. I was surprised that it was such a dominant theme for them. When we got back to the big group and we were sharing with the newbies it came up again. They asked the researchers to tell us what things we had said made a difference in the final report. I thought it was a good idea because I wanted to be sure we were having an effect. One of the alumni though said, "And if anything we are saying is just totally off base, I would like to know that too."

I was startled. How could ANYthing these women wanted to say be off-base? This research was about them, about people like them. If something was important to them, it was important. That was so obvious to me. And all three of these so impressive women, were worried that it wasn't. I spoke up, "I want you all to know that in our calls I am often telling myself to be quiet because I think what YOU have to say is usually more important than what I have to say. You are the alumni. Your perspective is the most important one." They interrupt me with murmurs of protest. "No, I mean it. You see things that I don't even think of, important things. In every single phone call I am humbled by you insights." And there was this "aww" moment and we all fought back tears, because I meant it and they knew I did.

Sometimes I forget that being a college professor can intimidate others. I am so amazed by these women that I was startled that validation from me could be important to them.

The moment was good for the new people though. There were supposed to be four. Sadly one of them was ill and one had a conflict, so there were only two. One was a kinship provider and one a parent whose children who had been in care and now runs a "Parents Anonymous" group and works hard to help other parents understand and work their way through the system.

Like I said, AMAZING women all.

I mentioned last year that those of us in the college biz have started using "alum" as a gender neutral singular form and then "alumni" or even "alums" as the plural. I haven't heard anyone worry about "alumnus" or "alumna" in years. They however insist on the proper versions. Even though each of these women had "Foster Care Alumna" on their name tags, they struggled remembering it. At one point I just wanted to yell, "No one uses 'alumna' any more! Just call yourself a 'foster care alum'!" I know, pet peeve, get over it. I wouldn't have bothered me if it weren't so awkward for the alumni there.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Quiet Evening

So, I said I wouldn't write, but I guess I lied.

I am sitting in my pretty hotel room, with a view of the water, ordering room service, and typing on my lap top. I even took a taxi to the hotel. The agency is paying for everything. Sigh. And somehow it feels wrong, all this money that is being spent to bring me to this city for about 48 hours.

But it is all part of something very important. I'm helping to welcome new people to the research review committee, on which I will serve for at least one more year. I will continue to read questionaires before they are sent out and reports before they are published. I will continue to be a small part of a project aimed at better understanding all the complex factors of real life problems and trying to find real life solutions.

It's where the reunification care project comes from. That is part of it. The agency wants to figure out how to do a lot of things better. How to help families so that kids don't need to go into care, how to help them and their families to maximize the chance of successful, safe, and healthy reunification. Of while of course continuing to help youth who need them find new, parmanent families, and helping youth emancipating from care establish independence. They are working on understanding and responding to all the complexities that affect the welfare of children.

It is all very exciting, and I am glad to be a part of it.

And I am very glad to have this quiet evening alone in a hotel room.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gotta Go

I am about to leave town for a couple of days and even if I can get to the Internet and have time to read comments, I won't have time to write posts or respond. So...I'm not ignoring y'all.

I will say one thing...I think everyone who has commented on the recent posts is very dedicated to children. Most of the commenters have children. Our children have come to us by birth, adoption and foster care. And everything you all have written convinces me that you all love your children very much. If any one has felt judged or thought that I think they should feel guilty or view their family as less valuable, know that that was not intended.

More responding...

I keep trying to write new posts but the comments come in more quickly than I can deal with. The lastest and most challenging comments come from an "Anonymous" and I think I will try to respond to them. (Of course by the time I publish this there may be yet more, but I am not going to look before I publish.)

Why do I feel the need to weigh in so heavily on this?
--Well, it all started out as a post in which I refected on a conversation with a student. I didn't think I was weighing in heavily. We are covering it in class and I was trying to help my student understand that adoption was more complicated than she thought. It has all been on my mind since I read The Girls Who Went Away. Then I did some research on how adoption is handled in some other countries and have been more disturbed by our private adoption system.

Systematic and Personal Issues-
--They do get mixed up together don't they? What I want to talk about are the systematic issues. That is what we are doing in my class right now. In order to understand the systematic issues though my students have to see the personal issues, and need to see them from multiple perspectives. They are used to thinking about adoption from the perspective of adoptive parents, but not from the perspective of mothers who have placed. As they talk about the systematic issues I want them to remember that it is not just about people becoming parents, but also about people losing children. The world is complex and if we are going to talk about the issues we need to see the complexity.

--I have never, ever said that adoptive parents are selfish. I have argued against that claim. I have not argued that the motives of adoptive parents are suspect. I have said that adoption isn't about infertility, that if we could fix all the (systematic) problems that make adoption necessary it would be a good thing.

Distinguishing between my children
--Now this made me think. Why did I compare AnneMarie's relationship with her daughter to my relationship with my foster kids, and not with all of my kids? I think that is a good question, and I am not certain I have a good answer. It wasn't about distinguishing between my kids, or wasn't supposed to be. What I meant was that I don't think that adoptive parents should feel guilty. I used that example because I do believe that David, Carl and Evan would not be in my life if the world was more just. They came to be as the direct result of things that should never have happened, and yet that does not change the way I love them. If I don't feel the least bit guilty or ambiguous about loving children who have come to me by means of such tragedy, how can I be thought to be saying that anyone else should feel guilty?

Okay, the next thing I am going to quote, "Have you ever felt so in love with you children that you couldn't imagine your life without them? Have you every known that you were meant to be their mother and they were meant to be your children? How would you feel if someone told you that it was socially and politically wrong for you to feel like that?"
-I love all my children in such a way that it hurts to imagine what life would be like without them. I feel that I am privileged to have them in my life. Without them I would be less. I am grateful.
-Part of me wants to believe that I was meant to be David, Carl and Evan's mom, and they were meant to be mine. I can't say it though, because I can't say that they were meant to go through what they did on their journey here. I am SO happy that they are in my life. And yet if someone were to come to me and say that there was a way that I could choose that they would not have had to go through the hell they lived and the price of that would be that I would never meet them, I would choose that for them. It would hurt ME, and I would choose it for them.
-I really don't think I have ever said anything about how adoptive parents would feel, except that they should love their children without guilt or reservation.

You conclude by saying, "No one would argue that it's good or right or ok that our current reality is that we have thousands of children in foster care in this country, but that is the reality. This is a systemic issue and one that I actively work to change in my community. This is not inconsistent with the fact that I want to adopt again. I want that for myself and for my current and future children. That is a personal choice for me and my family and even though it means that we interact with a tragic system, I refuse to bear the burden of guilt or responsibilty."

I agree with every single word in that quote. Every. single. word.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Responding to AnnMarie

AnnMarie left a long comment on the previous post. You should go read it before you read this.

Okay? Everyone back?

All right. AnnMarie, I want to give you a thoughtful response. The first thing I want to say is that absolutely nothing in my argument suggests that only biologically related people should get married. To think that adoption is not in every way a wonderful thing is not to support incest. I gotta tell you, I'm not sure where that came from. I'm a little concerned about what I might have said that could be misconstrued that way.

Second I should also say, just to be clear, am not going to talk about abortion or contract pregnancy/surrogacy. They are different topics. Though I do have positions on at least one of those issues, I don't think that anything I have to say about adoption hinges on what either of us thinks about abortion or contract pregnancy.

Third, I am not opposed to adoption nor do I think that adoptive families are bad. I don't think that adoptees are necessarily scarred or doomed or any such thing. I too know adoptive families that are happy families and adoptees who are no more psychically damaged than the rest of us.

I certainly think it would be good if everyone who wanted to get pregnant could. Infertility can be, in your words, devastating. But here's the deal. Adoption is not a treatment for infertility. Adoption is about finding parents for children, not about finding children for parents. Your infertility and desire for a child does not mean that some other woman should have to bear a child she cannot parent, or far worse, be coerced into relinquishing a child she could parent.

Let's pretend that we came up with something that would make a HUGE difference in unplanned pregnancies over night. Someone invents this perfect contraceptive which has no side effects and is available to everyone, even men. No one gets pregnant unless both partners want to have a baby. Artificial insemination is still possible. We continue to debate the ethics of contract pregnancy. The point is that no one gets pregnant by accident. Of course sometimes terrible things happen to people after they are pregnant. Every now and then there is a baby born who needs new parents, but because of this fictional and marvelous contraceptive it is suddenly rare.

I think that would be a wonderful world.

And it would be a world in which many infertile people would have to find a way to deal with the devastation they experience.

I think Dawn used this example once, or a version of it. Imagine that there weren't enough hetero men for all the hetero women. Not all, but certainly many, of the women always imagined that they would grow up, fall in love, have a beautiful wedding and live happily ever after. When they grew up though it just didn't happen for all of them. A certain number of them are alone and some are devastated by that loneliness. They say that it is not fair. The women who got married aren't more deserving than they are. They too deserve to be happy.

What do we say to them? We offer them comfort perhaps, but what else? If I am married and (in this alternate universe) the sort of woman who can attract lots of men easily, I am not somehow selfish if I don't divorce my husband, or at least tolerate him having affairs, in order to ease the loneliness of other women. I may agree with the lonely women that the world is unfair and they did nothing to deserve to be lonely. And that is where it stops. There is nothing else for us to do to comfort them.

AnnMarie, I in no way want you to feel badly about loving your daughter. I expect that you love her and rejoice in her as I love and rejoice in the presence of Carl, David, and Evan in my life. Our lives are made richer by them.

Though the institutions of foster care and adoption have made our lives unimaginable better, it is not about us. Foster care and adoptions are necessary to find new parents for children who need them, and if by some miracle there are no children who need new parents that would be a good thing.

Even if it means that you and I do not get what we want.

Ethical Ambiguity

I had a student in my office this morning talking about her paper and then about the readings for next week. She said that she hadn't realized that international adoptions were such a political thing "you know, that the reason that the kids need to be adopted is because of political decisions." She was also shocked at how much money changed hands. Then we started talking about domestic adoption. I explained to her a little about how adoption practices varied in different countries. At one point I said, "We tend to forget in the US that adoption is a response to a tragedy that should never have happened."

She was totally confused. I occurs to me that she could be part of the adoption triad for all I know. I decide to be careful. "I think that adoptive families can and often are wonderful families. I just also think that in an ideal world no woman should have to go through the experience of bearing and giving birth to a child she cannot parent."

She is a bright student, and not all that long ago I could have been her. The mythology of adoption as an unambiguously good thing, a win-win-win solution to a rather inconvenient problem is so pervasive that trying to shake it off is initially disorienting. One feels like one has fallen down the rabbit hole. I try again.

"I adore my sons who came to me from foster care. I love them without reservation or guilt. They deserved that kind of love. I am very grateful that they are part of my life. I also believe that they are in my life because of a series of events which in a better world would not have happened. Foster care is a necessary thing and it has given me my family, but it is not simple or beautiful."

We talk for a little while. She ponders these strange ideas. Finally she says, "I think I understand what you are saying, but it so weird to think of adoption as bad."

"I don't think of it as bad. I think of it as being like organ transplants. If your sister was dying because she needed a heart and finally got one I would expect you to be over-joyed. You should be happy. At the same time though I think you would remember..."

She interrupts me, "...someone else had to die."

Officially Recuperated

I asked Brian yesterday if he was recuperated. You may remember that when I told him that we had said no to taking David's brother he responded with, "Good, because we are still recuperating." Or wait, I don't think I told you that. Anyway, he said it. Yesterday I asked him if he was done recuperating and he said, "Yeah. I guess so" which is a great deal of enthusiasm for a 13-year-0ld.

Then I told Roland that while I was not anxiously hoping they would find us a new kid, I did feel that I was ready if they called. He agreed and then let me rattle on for ten minutes about how I did wish I could just know when they would call, because if they were going to call soon then we should work on Andrew's bedroom so that he could share it with Evan, but if they weren't going to call for a while and if Evan goes to his uncle's this summer then we won't need it and we will be shaking our heads at how silly we were. When he finished obsessing he nodded and said, "I think I should go back to my classroom and look one more time for that paper I lost. I sure hope X has it."

Yep, I am surrounded by enthusiasm.

Positive Images

Stacy in a comment to my post Missing Carl asks about media with positive portrayals of GLBT individuals appropriate for a boy "reaching puberty." So folks, what have you got? A while back I asked for a list of recommendations for books for parents of gay/lesbian teens and you all gave up some good suggestions. (Always My Child is my favorite).

Here's my list to get us started. Some youth novels:
Rainbow High, and sequels
The Geography Club
Boy Meets Boy

Annie on My Mind
Dare, Truth or Promise
Girl Walking Backwards
Keeping You a Secret
Kissing Kate

What movies or television shows would you recommend?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Aging Out

I have a reading assignment for you all.

First an article: Preparing for Real Life

And a blogger I just found responding to the article: Some of My Thoughts on Kids Aging Out

But most important, the thoughts of a youth in care facing his 18th birthday: Bears in this Pig World

Turning 18 should not be a crisis.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Just like Carl

I've put "My So-Called Life" on my Netflix list. I saw a piece of an episode the one year it was on and I did like it, but that was the year that Brian was born and I didn't exactly see a lot of television. So it has come out on DVD and now I get to see it.

There is a gay character on it named Rickie. In the Christmas episode he has been kicked out of his home, presumably because he is gay. In fact, he has been beaten. I watched the episode the other night and it was hard. I really wanted to go out and get Rickie and bring him home. He touches my heart, you know?

Tonight I watched it with the commentary on. Wilson Cruz, the actor who plays Rickie, spoke with the writer of the episode. Cruz said that the episode was hard for him because less than a year before he came out to his parents and his father threw him out. He also said that it was when his father saw the episode that he had a change of heart and called.

The whole thing is very powerful.

Halfway through Brian came over and watched with me. When it was done he crawled into the chair next to me crying. "I miss Carl."

"Because of the show?"

"He's just like Carl."

And he is. He really is. Not exactly, you know. But enough.

And I miss Carl too.

Fun with Andrew

I announced this morning that I simply had to get out of the house. I just HAD to. I wanted to do something that approximated fun. Andrew agreed to go out with me. Now Andrew is 18 and a high school senior. If you are the mother of a teenager you know that any time they want to spend with you is going to be fun, or at least time well spent.

So I took him out to a fast food lunch and asked what he might want to "do." "Well, I know it isn't really fun, but I really do need a new pair of shoes."

Okay to the store we went. He tried on new shoes, eventually deciding on shoes that were the newest model of the same shoe that he got...when...was it a year and a half ago or two and a half years? Last summer we took them to the shoe guy to get the soles glued back on and they were certainly old then. It hits me as he puts them back in the box, "That could be the last pair of shoes I buy you." "Yeah, it probably is," he says smiling.

I sigh sadly, thinking that it is just four months until he graduates from high school, and Andrew, who is no body's fool, says, "I could really use some new jeans."

I feel compelled to come back and write that this is the sort of story telling that makes Andrew irritable with me. The truth is that I did get wistful over buying him the shoes, and he did tell me that he really could use new jeans, but those two moments were not connected to each other. He in no way was trying to take advantage of my weak moment. But, as I try to explain to him sometimes, the literal truth is not nearly as good a story. I mean, really how engaging would it be if I just told you that I bought him shoes, got all sentimental about it, and then also bought him three pairs of jeans?

Of course I could probably make a funny story about the dressing room lock. First, of course, we had to get someone to unlocked it. I warned him not to let the door shut when he came back out. Then when he did come out the door started to close, I jumped to get it and stepped on his toes. I explained that I had to get the door while he simultaneously protested that I had stepped on his toes. Five minutes later he came out of the dressing room again and walked away while the door swung shut. To my stunned face he said, "What?"
"The door! You let it shut!"
"So? It is locked! Now we have to go find someone to unlock it again."
"I didn't know."
"But I told you, and why did you think I was so hyper about grabbing it before?"
"I don't know. I was too busy thinking about how much you hurt my toes!"

No, it isn't really funny is it? But see, at the time it was. The whole situation was so ridiculous, that at the end of it all we were both laughing hard enough to attract the attention of the other shoppers, which of course resulted in him trying to shush me and me laughing harder.

I guess you had to be there.

But we did have a wonderful afternoon.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I am not good at waiting

I have hit the point where I am no longer hoping the agency won't call.

I've realized that no amount of time is going to allow me to get back all of my confidence. I didn't like that I could not give Frankie what he needed. I don't view it as a personal failure, but I am sad about it. I would prefer for it not to happen again. My family really doesn't want it to happen again. So I am nervous about being called. However, I don't think that is going to go away until I am actually providing care again.

I am also, for some reason, really struggling in my efforts to get all my work done. Part of me is bewildered. I wasn't this busy previous winter terms. I'm not teaching more than I was last year. Of course I have 24 students instead of 12 in my class, meaning I have twice as many papers to grade every week. I also have replaced journals with required participation in on-line forums, so instead of 12 or 24 journal entries I have 100 or more forum posts to grade each week. I am also on a major committee, have car pool responsibilities, and am chairing the department during a self-study year. And there are those two diligent students doing independent studies who each come in twice a week to talk about their work.

Okay, so maybe there is a good reason why I feel like I am running to stay in one place.

I know that if there was a new kid I would find the time and the energy. I always have and I would again, but I am not wanting a new kid and can't figure out at what point I would feel like I had time and energy to spare. But I also can't imagine that I am done. Being done has implications that I don't want to deal with. Am I making sense? I don't have any particularly strong desire to have another young person come into my life now, or even in the near future. However, I am feeling ready and willing, or almost ready and willing, if I am needed. I've moved from "oh I hope they don't call until after the holidays" to "well, if they call it would be okay."

And I want the impossible. I want to be told that they won't call until the summer, or that they are going to call next week. I want to know if it would be wise or silly to spend money and energy fixing Andrew's room so that he can share it with Evan. I want for them not to call until the middle summer and to know that they aren't going to call until then so that I can plan accordingly, or I want to know that they are going to call in a couple of months so that I can get busy and be ready.

Maybe it would be easier to be one of those houses that just takes the next kid who needs to be taken. The sort of place where an empty beds just don't stay empty, instead of being one of these strange homes with a weird commitment to a particular group of kids. Sometimes it feels wrong to be committed to a particular group of kids when there are so many other kids who need homes. I know that if a GLBTQ kid comes along I will be so very glad I waited, and the longer one doesn't need us the more I will question waiting. Roland won't by the way. It would take an event with the metaphorical impact of a hurricane to budge him. No mere sense of guilt and/or responsibility to children he does not know will budge him. A dozen kids needing homes is a reality that he does not like but accepts as just the way things are. One queer kid being quietly regarded as an abomination by the people who are supposed to care for him or her is intolerable.

Oh but back to me.

I'm a planner, an organizer. I want to have a basic idea of the shape of my life over the next few months. I don't have to have all the details but having or not having an extra teenager living with me is not a minor detail. I don't like not knowing. I don't like waiting.

Part of me thinks the solution is to put it all out of my mind, really. Just assume we are done until we are not. And then I wonder if I would have to put the blog on hiatus to do that.

I can...

AidelMaidel challenges me to do an "I can" exercise. goes. The rules are that you have to type as much as you can think of in 15 minutes.

  • I can make a good cup of tea
  • I can write better after I make it
  • I can explain difficult philosophical concepts like Kant's transcendental unity of apperception
  • I can explain Aristotle's concept of virtue so that a teenager will think it is relevant
  • I can grade like a demon when I need to
  • I can help students to write really good essays
  • I can set up a blog
  • I can set up a course site in Moodle
  • I can teach my colleagues the basics of Moodle in about an hour
  • I can answer most of their questions about Moodle.
  • I can hand piece a quilt top
  • I can hand quilt a quit, although I usually tie them
  • I can knit an afgan, scarf, or baby sweater
  • I can knit an adult sweater, though it is unlikely to fit the adult for whom it was intended
  • I can solve a difficult sudoku puzzle in 15 minutes, sometimes
  • I can do difficult logic problems
  • I can let a child deal with his own consequences
  • I can talk to a gay teen boy about sex
  • Even the embarrassing parts
  • I can talk to other teens about sex
  • I can deal with lying far better than I thought I could
  • I can parent with rarely imposing consequences
  • I can take a sick sort of fun out of creative consequences when I need to
  • I can teach children to do many things
  • I can cook a decent meal
  • I can (finally!) make clouds and snow
  • I can not escalate even when a kid is trying to make me
  • I can detach with love when I try
  • I can clean and light the pilot light in a gas oven
  • I can change the filter in the furnace
  • I can fix the innards of a toilet so that it will stop running non-stop for a while
  • I can clean a clogged drain
  • I can sew a simple outfit
  • I can admire other people's gardens
  • I can get angry
  • I can cry
  • I can be civil even when I don't want to be
  • I can sometimes write things other people want to read
  • I can type too fast for things like this meme
  • I can read an essay quickly and give students helpful feedback.
  • I can shut up and listen, when I remember to
  • I can often help people brainstorm solutions to problems
  • I can teach my sister how to do very basic things on the Internet over the phone
  • I can let things go and not let them make me crazy
  • I can worry like nobody's business
  • I can watch a movie or TV show and find symbolism that my kids will be certain I just made up
  • I can make a plan for a trip
  • I can read a novel in a day
  • I can use a jigsaw and an electric drill with confidence
  • I can shovel snow
  • I can ask for help
  • I can bake bread
  • I can comb out a ShihTzu
  • I can figure out problems
  • I can diagram an argument and tell you if it is valid, strong, or fallacious
  • I can do that with Venn Diagrams or truth tables, or deductions as appropriate
  • I can research
  • I can get very passionate about causes
  • I can lobby state senators, even though I hate it
  • I can mentor others
  • I can love people who make me crazy


Your turn.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another exciting asthma update

Spacer good. Yondalla breathe and talk. Yondalla happy.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blog for Choice

Today on the anniversary of Roe v Wade many bloggers are writing essays in support of choice.

And I find I cannot not write something. Only I don't have anything especially persuasive to say. I'm glad my sister had the choice, when she was seventeen. Had it been 20 years earlier I am sure she would have been one of the girls who went away. I am sure of it. But it wasn't 20 years earlier. It was after Roe v Wade, and my sister had options legal and safe.

And I have always been grateful for that.

My new spacer

Cathy: this is what my spacer looks like:On the right end there is a hole that the inhaler fits into. There is also a little air vent.The left side is the mouth piece. You stick it into your mouth. Got it? Okay, so you push down on the inhaler while you breath in slowly. The puff of medicine does not hit the back of your throat. Instead the mist hangs out in the spacer and you just breathe it in. More medicine is supposed to make it into your lungs and less irritates your voice.

Wen: I do rinse my mouth and even gargle after using both inhalers, especially the steroid one. It doesn't seem to be enough. Of course I am inclined to laryngitis anyway.

The high cost of plastic

Seeing as I am convinced you all are fascinated with my asthma...

Today I avoided cold air and use of the more irritating inhaler by sending Roland out to warm up the car and walking with my coat collar zipped and pulled up to cover half my face. I looked silly, but golly, people, it was 16 degrees outside when I went to work.

Anyway, I have a choice. I can drive to my physician's office for the cost of one gallon of gas, resultant damage to the environment, and 45 minutes of my time and pick up a free spacer, OR I can stop at the pharmacy on the way home with my prescription and buy one for 20 bucks. As you can see, plastic tubes are very, very expensive.

Driving to the physician's office would also provide an excuse for cancelling a department meeting at which we are all supposed to report to each other how much work we have each done on the department self-study document. I have a sneaky suspicion that no one really wants to 'fess up.

What to do, what to do...

Hey...anyone out there use a spacer and two different inhalers? You can use the same spacer with two different inhalers, can't you?

Extended Adolescence

I have been told that adolescence, that period of our lives in which we are separating from our parents but still significantly dependent upon them, typically ends somewhere in the mid-twenties. My college students, almost all of whom are under 22, initially want to reject that idea. I ask them to "answer in their heads" the following questions: I could afford to be here with absolutely no financial assistance from my parents; in the past year I have not had to ask my parents to pay for any unexpected expenses, including medical ones; if I got sick and had to leave school, I would not go to my parents to recuperate; when I am feeling deeply stressed and need some moral support, I rarely call my parents; if I had had a "full-ride" scholarship that paid for all tuition, room, board, fees and books, I would have survived my freshman year with no help of any kind from my parents. Then I ask if anyone answered yes to all the questions.

No one has ever said that they have.

Parenting is life-long, which is why part of me chuckles when someone says they don't want to foster or adopt teenagers as they will only get to parent them for a few years.

I think I am not an acting foster parent right now because I don't have any kids in the home, but that's not true. Evan calls for advice and moral support. Obviously he comes home for college breaks. David, whom I don't see very often, drops by unexpectedly and shows up for every major holiday. Even Carl, who needs me less, calls for comfort.

I emailed Carl a month ago to ask him if he could get time off to come to Andrew's high school graduation. If he could get the time off well in advance I would buy him a plane ticket. I did not hear from him for several weeks. I emailed again. Nothing. I emailed again laying on the guilt as only a mother can. He emailed me back to say that he did it. He talked to his boss and he got four days off! He can come!

I emailed again wishing that I could make him read the words in the slow, deliberate tone in which I was typing them, "Which days, exactly do you have off?" Sigh.

Evan is worried that his high-mileage, previously-wrecked-and-still-body-damaged car is going to die. We are entering negotiations regarding the terms under which we would co-sign on an auto loan. He will be able to meet our terms, although the other boys couldn't. I can only think about doing this because Evan is as anxious about money as I am.

It is why permanency matters so much. Even if I could not afford to co-sign a loan for a very responsible young man or buy a discount plane ticket for another, they would still need parenting.

This post isn't about soliciting comments about how wonderful I am. I'm not, or at least that is not the point.

The point is that childhood doesn't end at 18. Once I would have told you that the answer was to extend the amount of time that youth can stay in care, but I have learned that most youth don't want to stay. They need something else. They need an adult in their lives to turn to for advice, comfort, and maybe even a place to go when they are sick.

I look at the independent living curriculum and it makes me sad. Instructors attempt to pound everything the youth will need to know about money, health, and parenting into the kids' heads before they turn 18. Just dealing with the present is complicated enough. They shouldn't have to learn everything they will need to be an adult.

It makes me sad because it is necessary. Most of these kids will spend what should be the last stage of adolescence struggling to be adults. It shouldn't be that way. It really shouldn't.

Monday, January 21, 2008

I should not have to be at work anyway...

The furnace in my building isn't working. It wasn't working all weekend. So it was cold in the building.

So we called the kind physical plant people who brought space heaters and plugged them in. Then they called the furnace guy who turned off the electricity, and therefore the space heaters.

I'm working at home the rest of the day.

Oh...and I have laryngitis from my "rescue" asthma inhaler. This might be fixed by use of a plastic tube called a "spacer." It really is just a plastic tube. Okay, one side is designed so that the inhaler will snap into it, but other than that it is just a plastic tube. I called the pharmacy about it. My physician will have to call in a prescription in order for me to buy one.

Good thing, huh? You wouldn't want those things being sold on the streets.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

I must be feeling better...

...because I am feeling worse.

What I mean is that just in the past couple of days I have started feeling again like I don't really have anything to write about. The blog is in danger of becoming either all about my non-foster care life, or a series of essays about care. There is no personal day-to-day journey related to foster care to write about.

I am beginning to feel like I am on the verge of running out of things to write about, although I have felt like that before and not actually hit that point. I find myself thinking that it would be good to get another kid for the sake of the blog, which is such an absurd thought I don't even know what to do with it. And I am beginning to have that empty, impatient, slightly-guilty feeling. If there really aren't kids who need me, that is a good thing, right? Certainly I do not want for some sort of disruption or any other bad thing to happen to a youth so that I can have the satisfaction of providing care. I certainly don't want it to happen so that I will have something to write about!

But I have stopped having that other thought/feeling. The anxious one where I think, "If they called I would say yes, but I hope they don't call."

Of course part of it is that a significant amount of time has passed. It is also that we got through the holidays. I really think a big part of it is Evan considering going to see his uncle this summer. When he was definitely planning on being here, it was really good to have that bedroom for him. Now though...

...I'm beginning to wonder when they will call.

And Andrew is going away to college next year. Of all the ways I imagined my life being, I never really thought about what it would be like to have just ONE kid in the house.

Privacy..which to you prefer?

There are different ways to make blogs or posts private.

In Blogger you can make your blog open to all or open to invitations only. It affects the entire blog. The cool thing for readers is that their google password works for all the private blogs. There are no extra passwords to remember. If you read by surfing, this is convenient. You are logged into google, and the blogs let you in just like any other blog. However, surfing is the only way to get there. No notice shows up in readers. There is no way to know if someone has updated except by surfing (although there is a way to set it up so that posts can be emailed to readers).

In Wordpress you can password protect individual posts. Those posts show up in readers just like everything else, except that they say "protected" and you have to know the password to see the content. Each blog has its own password. Now once again, the computer seems to be able to recognize people and remember that you are a password holder. If it forgets, then you have to remember the password for each of the blogs that you read, or ask the writer to give it to you again.

I keep track of my blogs via a reader, so as a reader, I prefer the Wordpress option.

Which do you prefer?

Navigating the Maze

FosterAbba has decided to issue invitations to Navigating the Maze, which she took private some weeks ago.

You may request an invitation by emailing her at

fosterabba at gmail dot com

Be sure to give her information about who you are, and where to find your blog if you have one.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Car Pool and Schools

Warning: Ranting Ahead!

Well, one of the moms doesn't want Andrew to drive car pool. More precisely, she wants me to tell her when Andrew is driving so that she can have her kids sit in the front office for over an hour and wait for their father to get off work. That, by the way, is the same thing they do when I have told the kids to take the bus.

I know that I would feel nervous if someone told me that their 18-year-old was picking up my kids, especially if my oldest kid was 14 and I had not had as much experience with the range 18-year-olds fall into. And if I did not know him or his mother very well. I never see this woman. I mean literally.

The email in which she told me that she wanted to be warned was annoying. She said that her kids told her that Andrew was listening to the radio loudly and talking on his cell phone. Brian informs me that Andrew turned down the radio when Brian tried to turn it up, and that Andrew got two cell phone calls, used the bluetooth device to answer them and quickly told the callers that he was driving and would call them back later.

I understand her anxiety about a teen driver. I am annoyed by her painting an image of my son being irresponsible. (In my imagination she pumps her children "Did he have the radio on? Was it loud?") And I am irritable because the car pool is a major pain in my a$$ and want for Andrew to be able to drive.

So I told her that I would certainly warn her when he would be driving. I did not tell her that it would probably once or twice every week.

So I whined about car pool to Roland for a while. Then I checked up on the plans for the school to move to a new building. It is still all "in progress," and the location and timing are all unclear. I had thought there was a good chance that the public bus would be was going to be more convenient for Brian if he continues at the charter school, but now I am not certain. It looks like car pool duty will remain part of my life.

I HATE car pool. If I just take Brian and come back to work, the trip takes about 45-50 minutes. If I have to do go by the other houses (i.e. do car pool) it takes 70-75 minutes. In the afternoons it means that I have to leave work at 2:20, which is really just too early to be doing on a regular basis.

So I was moaning and groaning to Roland about it. How much I hate it. How it isn't fair that I have to do all of our family's portion because he HAS to be at work and I just need to be. You know, he has to do things like take personal time and get someone to watch his classroom, and I just have to tell my students and colleagues that I am not available for meetings or appointments during times when I should be available.

The charter school has been good for Brian. I feel safe with him there. He has been making friends. Roland, whose informants tell him about all the worst things that happen at the high school, things that Andrew doesn't even see, wants for Brian to continue going to the charter school. Of course, Roland can't do car pool, but that is irrelevant, at least to him. It is important for Brian and I can do it so no problem right?

Anyway, I am rambling. The point is that Brian over-heard all this.

Brian said that maybe he would want to go to Our Small Town High School anyway. Though this will sound surprising to us, the Arts Charter School isn't that great of a place to go if you are interested in drama or even music. See, everyone has to take drama and most of the kids in the class don't really want to be there. Their facilities are terrible and they don't have any money for costumes. Most kids don't even learn their lines. When you go to the plays you can even hear the prompters whispering the lines! And the band is really small. Our Small Town High School band is great! They have a really good sound. He wants to be part of all that.

So we talked about it. I pulled Andrew in on it. Andrew told him that it is almost impossible to be in drama and marching band. The only way it can be done is if you do "pit." This, for the uninitiated, means that you play the large percussion instruments and therefore don't march, which in turn means you can get excused from after-school marching practice when you have drama practice. And then you can do it, but it is exhausting.

Andrew gently reminded Brian that he did not do well at Our Small Town Middle School, and High School would be all those same kids that he didn't get along with before.

Roland was irritated, calm as always, but irritated. Just last week we turned in the letter saying we would come back next year. Brian said he wanted to go back. He made his choice. The charter school is a good place for Brian. Why are we even talking about this if we already turned in the letter?

And I tried very, very hard not to think about how I wouldn't have to drive car pool any more.

Evan Going Back to College and Other Updates

Now that the rest of us have been back in school for two weeks, Evan is off today to move back into the dorms.

He is also sick. He rarely if ever gets sick. I love him dearly, but the rest of us are not sick and just a little tiny part of me is relieved that he is taking his germs to the dorms. Of course is if he said he wanted to stay here another night I would say yes. I'm tempted even to offer. I don't think I will though. He was the first up; I was second. As I sit here in my robe, drinking my tea, wiping sleep from my eyes and writing to you, he is carrying suitcases up to the front door.

It is easy to let him to this time. No big deal at all. He is, after all, just going 25 miles. I'll give him some cold medicines to take with him.

I've been using my inhalers for a week, and am doing much better, although I do need both inhalers. Some sources say that full effectiveness of the daily "preventer" inhaler comes after seven days, others at two or three weeks. Whatever. I'm doing better tolerating the jitteriness and nausea the other "rescue" inhaler causes. Having a couple of crackers to eat when the nausea hits is nice. I need to use it before I, for instance, walk across campus when it is below freezing. Burying my face into my coat so that I only breath warm air can work, but that not if anyone falls into step with me and wants to talk. I need to get a second humidifier though. I took ours to the office, and it helps too. Now I need one at home.

So, in short, I am doing well.

Roland's Apnea:
Well, we are still waiting on the diagnosis. It has been almost two weeks. He has been doing a better job with pillows to keep him sleeping on his side, which helps. He does not feel guilty for being tired and is at the same time very frustrated at being tired. This lead to Brian sighing the other day when Dad was napping again, and saying, "When is he getting that breathing machine thing?" I showed him a picture of the mouth piece that some people use, but he is inclined towards the machine. One more week.

Andrew did the afternoon run yesterday! Yipee! The other parents did not seem to care. Andrew is the most cautious driver of the lot of us. It looks like he will be having a early schedule, meaning he will start at 7:00am and get off at 2:00pm. We are seriously considering letting him drive himself to school in return for doing all afternoon runs. He seems to like the idea, all that adult responsibility and all. Well, that and the fact that it would mean that the old mini-van would be in his possession a good bit of the time.

Yesterday's run went without a hitch. After they dropped off the other kids Andrew took his brother into a coffe shop and bought them hot chocolates and a brownie to share. Now that is high quality brotherly bonding time!

Friday, January 18, 2008

More on Reunification Care

Roland and I talked about it last night. Would we want to do it? Would it be good or bad for Brian? Given that one of our concerns about continuing to do permanent placement is how many adult children we feel we can attend the way we want, would doing reunification actually be a good thing?

Every question gets an "Um...I don't know. It could be like this or it could be like that..."

Then I asked him, "What if the agency called, said that there was a 15 year old gay boy who needed a safe place to stay while his parents did whatever they had to do." Without hesitation Roland said, "We would take him." His face said, "Duh. What'd you think I would say? What does that have to do with anything?" And I know it is the same for me. When I think about reunification care, I'm not sure I can do it. When I think about getting a phone call that starts, "There is a queer kid at the teen shelter and..." I'm just in a different place altogether.

But the family developer called me today. She had been out of town which is why she didn't respond earlier to my long letter about reunification care. It turns out that the local office has been told by HQ that they need to expand into this sort of work. HQ is on a mission to greatly reduce the number of kids in care, and so wants to put its resources to work on a variety of things, including reunification. They haven't started doing this work yet, and haven't figured for themselves just what it would look like.

The developer said that they hadn't had an open house meeting on the issue because they don't know what it would look like. They don't have an announcement to make. I told her that that is the point when I want to be brought into the discussion. I want to go to a meeting where they say, "We are exploring doing this sort of work. We don't know what it would look like yet, and we want your imput. What do you see yourself doing? What sort of training would you need to do it?" That way, I told her, whenever you did make your announcement I would know that you had taken our concerns into account. She seemed to genuinely think it was a good idea and said she would take it to the powers that be. She also said that there would be a continuing need for foster families who do permanency care.

Given the way this agency works, it wouldn't be just taking care of the kids while the parents do whatever they do. They would be providing services to the parents too. They would be trying to figure out what was needed for reunification to work and then they would do whatever they could to support them. Not "reunification at all costs" but it would mean a serious attempt to really help parents get their act together. I can imagine being part of that. I can see myself trying to reassure parents that I wanted their family to be together again. I can imagine being happy to be part of that effort.

I can also see me needing to get my butt back into Alanon meetings.

FosterAbba and FosterEema - Update

I know that many of you are aware that FosterAbba, FosterEema, and Danielle's hearing was postponed until this week. Remember when I told you a while ago that, in my humble opinion, the situation was complex and that outcomes were likely to be grey? Yeah, I wasn't wrong.

Here's what I am authorized to tell you: Danielle is still with FosterAbba and FosterEema. The next hearing is not until March. All in all it sounds like it was a good hearing and that things are going "their way." Various people, including the judge, are very impressed with how hard they have worked to do all that has been asked of them. However, the list of tasks to be completed has once again gotten longer. They have been asked to do more. This time, though, they were assured that this would be all. The list is finished.

After I spoke with FosterAbba I thought that she must feel rather like Charlie Brown listening while Lucy promises that this time she will not pull away the football. Really. Just run and kick the ball one more time.

I don't know what will happen next. I don't know if she will run and kick the football, or if she will tell them that she has done enough and will do no more. I don't know what will happen if she does or if she doesn't. I do know that today they are together, and they are exhausted.

She is still periodically updating her homeschooling blog: The Second Maze.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Blog Roll

Please check out the side bar. The box that shows new posts from people on the blog roll has been updated. There is also a new blog roll box. There are no sub-headings, just 60-some blogs. I am going to be deleting the old blog rolls. If your blog was listed, please make sure you got transfered to the new blog roll.

If you were not and want to be, now would be a good time to ask to be added. The blog roll is supposed to be restricted to blogs that are somehow related to foster care, so please don't take it personally if I don't add you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thinking About Reunification Care

I started a post on how doing permanency care gives me a different perspective on kinship care than some other people. I was going to try to be clear that I didn't think that my perspective was more likely to be RIGHT, just that I think I think about it differently.

But I got all side tracked with all the feelings I have been having about being told my agency is going to be doing some reunification work.

Did I tell you about that? It all started back when I was told on the day that Frankie was moving in that there was a TPR hearing scheduled in December. When I spoke to one of the social workers about it she said that there was every expectation that Frankie would remain in care, but it was the case that the agency had decided to do some reunification work. I spoke about it later with the family developer and she said that our conversation made her realize that the families might need more support for this change than they had anticipated. Actually, I don't think I wrote about it here. I haven't wanted to think about it.

I haven't got over being angry about it. I'm staying angry, I know, because I want someone from the agency to utter the words, "We're sorry" and no one has done so. I want them to say, "We are sorry that we didn't realize that this would be a big deal. We are sorry that we didn't realize how important permanency work was to you. We are sorry that we did not realize that we expecting you to change the fundamental nature of what you do and didn't even ask you how you felt about that before we did it. We are sorry we didn't have the common decently to tell you this in any careful way and that you just heard about it in a conversation with the social worker as a done deal. And we are sorry that we didn't apologize in a timely way when you first expressed your anger."

My needs are simple.

Part of me is still considering refusing to do reunification work. I imagine saying that it would be too hard on Brian and it is just not what I want to do. I've spoken to adults who were fostering children. They give me different answers when I ask what was the hardest, but every one that I have spoke to in person has struggled not to cry when he or she has told me about the kid they got attached to and then lost touch with. I have always thought we were protecting our kids from that loss by only doing permanency and respite.

But I don't know that I would refuse to do it; I just haven't given up imagining it. In any case, I need to think about what it will mean. There are certain questions I would like to have answers for, or at least to ponder with someone else. I need to talk to my family about it. And my problem is that whenever I think about doing it I get all caught up in being angry at the agency for not asking me about it before, making a point of telling me afterwards, or offering me any sort of training/processing time afterwards.

In short, my anger over being in this position is getting in the way of my thinking about being in this position.

And I haven't written about it very much, or at all, because I am so invested in thinking of myself as a permanent placement parent that I don't want to imagine doing any other work. The other work, the work that so many of you do, is important and good. It is just not what I do. There is a certain group of kids who need what I provide, and I am not talking about our commitment to queer kids here.

What we do is offer a permanent family to kids without requiring that they go through the emotional journey of adoption. I think that is such an important option for kids, particularly teenagers. For the most part there are two groups of kids in the program: kids whose parents can't take care of them because they are sick or more likely incarcerated; and kids who have been through a failed adoption placement and don't want to take that level of emotional risk again. There are more of the second group than the first. I can't tell you how strongly I feel committed to that, how important I think it is that there be homes like ours. Of course there should be all sorts of other homes, but this is what we do. Safety without emotional coersion. I've been clinging to it, unwilling to imagine the alternative. Today however, I will. I can't wait for them to offer an apology they probably don't realize I want. I need to be a grown up and think about this.

What would it be like? Would it be like it was with Olivia? She went to see her parents for a weekend and when she came back she slit her wrist. How much more pain would a youth be dealing with if they were in the process of reunification with parents who had somehow failed him or her? What would my relationship with them be like if they came in as neither respite nor permanent placements? Would they be more guarded with me? Or would they be more relaxed because there would be even less pressure to bond with me. We could both accept that. Probably they would bounce back and forth.

They would still be teenagers. The agency does not take kids younger than nine, and then only if they have older siblings in the program. Most kids are teens when they come in. But would that be different? Would they take younger kids? I know to most of you ten seems like an "older" child, but to me ten sounds very, very young. How would these kids be different? What sort of life do you live in you are in care with a reunification plan when you are 13? I really don't know. I know something about the kids who have been in the system for years. I know how tough they have become, but what about a kid who had lived that long with his or her parents? Would it mean that they had likely had a long period of reasonably healthy parenting and that one or both parents had only recently suffered a crisis? Or would it mean that I would be parenting a child who had spent years being abused?

If any of you have answers, please feel free to comment.

How does our commitment to GLBT kids fit in? Would we take a kid where that was one of the primary issues? I can imagine a situation in which a kid enters care because his or her parents are homophobic. I imagine us caring for and supporting that kid while social workers try to help the parents deal. I can see myself caring deeply about that work, just as deeply about what we do now, but I don't think it would be likely to happen. Teenagers for whom life becomes unbearable when they come out don't enter foster care. They couch surf with friends and become homeless. That of course doesn't mean that there would never be GLBT kids who would need temporary foster care, just that their parents' crises would likely be something other than or more than the inability to cope with their child's sexuality.


Would Brian not like it because he doesn't like it when people leave, or would it be easier because he would be able to establish stronger boundaries in the first place? I should probably talk to him, ask him to imagine it. How difficult would it be for him to say goodbye to someone if he or she was returning to a home he did not think was safe?

Maybe Roland would prefer it. Frankly, one of his concerns about our continuing to do care is the number of adult children we can be committed to. I regard that concern as quite legitimate. I share it.

I did write the family developer a long email talking to her about my concerns and what sort of training I feel like I would need to address them. I acknowledged that we may be different from most of their parents because we never worked for the state. We came directly to them and all we have known is permanency care.

Oh dear lord, we would have to work more closely with the state! ::shudder::

Monday, January 14, 2008


Question: What is worse than living with a guy who don't put the seat down after?


Answer: Living with a guy who doesn't put it up to begin with.

Altogether now: Eeeewww!

And it is not somehow my fault for not looking. There are some things in this world that one should be able to count on, and that the seat will, at the very least, be dry is one of them.

I have to take a bath and change my clothes.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Letter to Frankie

So I wrote him a letter. Mostly it is about the animals. I remember that Evan came back from rehab with letters from me that he never got around to opening, but it still seemed to mean a lot to him to get them.

So I will send letters, and deal with whatever comes of it.

Thanks everyone for listening.

Blog Roll

A blogger, "steph," left a comment on the last post...a good one. She's a foster parent and former CPS worker. An interesting combination.

I haven't read much of the blog, though she's been blogging for a couple of years. It looks like she just got licensed as a foster parent this past summer. I just found her. I considered not saying anything about her until I could read the and tell you how cool it is, but I have stuff to grade a letter to write. So I decided it was better just to make sure you all knew about her. The blog is The Princess Shine Pages.

If any of the rest of you are foster parents, adopters from foster care, social workers, foster care alumni and want to be on the blog roll, let me know. I'll update it soon. If any one knows of blogs kept by parents whose children were or have been in foster care, I would be very interested in adding them too. I haven't stumbled across any.

Update: if you leave a blog address, be sure to say something to let me know that the content is relevant. I get those spam comments from people I know nothing from. You know, they say either "It was great talking to you the other's the address I told you about" (this from people I've never heard from) or "I've been reading your blog and find it really interesting...Would you return the favor and look at mine?" Something like that. I delete those, without clicking the link, as soon as I see them. So if you are leaving an address for a blog that I might actually want to read, please be sure to tell me that it is a foster care blog, or whatever. Of course most of you do anyway. Thanks.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Failing Frankie

I'm having trouble writing to Frankie. I'm not certain that I should, or just what to say. Oh, I can write any particular letter. I can tell him some funny anecdote, put in a puzzle. That is fine. But Roland and Brian really don't want me to invite him back into our lives. They don't want him to come to the house at all. They might reluctantly agree to one visit, if I really thought it would be helpful to him and me, but that is all. And Brian says he wants to know in advance so that he can leave the house. Roland is afraid that if I stay too closely in contact he will show up here in young adulthood wanting more from us that we can provide.

They don't want to be his family.

And I don't think that I can get Frankie to understand. Frankie has a very difficult time understanding how things appear from other people's perspective. It was one of the reasons people wondered if he has Asperger's, although it wasn't just that.

I was told a month ago that he wanted to visit with us, and I explain that I would like to visit with him. I could spend a day in The City with him perhaps. I said that no, I couldn't bring him home for the whole weekend, and even if I did it wouldn't be a regular thing. I haven't heard anything back about that.

I spoke with Evan about it a while ago. I told him that I did not want to lead Frankie on, give him expectations that I could not satisfy, and I did not want to abandon him. Evan said, "You have to do one or the other." Then he wanted to take it back. He said that I should keep writing to him, that it was so difficult in foster care to keep loosing people. I could maintain a relationship with him even if he couldn't live here. Just keep writing to him.

I did with Anne. I just knew that I could with Anne, you know? I was careful not to make promises. At one point she suggested that she did really well here, and I thought she was hinting that maybe she might come back. I told her that she might not have realized how difficult things really were, that she and Andrew were too close in age, and that I thought the two of them were not really good for each other. I told her, simply, that I wanted her to know that I loved her and always wanted to be her aunt, but that she couldn't live here again.

And she was disappointed and she accepted it.

I don't think that Frankie would. Thinking back, I realize (and I have written about this before), that I think everything seemed different from Frankie's perspective. When he first visited he thought he was being offered the chance to come to the agency I work for and that we were part of the package. He thought it was all his choice. He did not understand that we were deciding whether we could take him. When he left it was the same. He had been announcing that he wanted out of that school and if leaving our home and moving far away was what it took, he would do it. When he left he was angry that we all pulled a fast one on him and sent him someplace he didn't want to go, but he still thought he was leaving because he didn't like the school and had demanded a change. And it is not as simple with him as telling him that that is not the case. What does not fit into his world-view does not stick in his head. He continues to believe what he believes.

And so I sit here, wondering whether to write to him. If I do, will I create the impression that he is welcome to come back?

I am, in short, worried about being able to have the relationship that I want, with the boundaries I want and my family demands, without hurting him. To disappear from his life feels so wrong. I have a commitment to not doing that. Writing to him is risky.

There is a very strong, clear voice in me that insists that writing to Frankie is the best thing. He has lost so many people, so many relationships. He gets moved, people drop out of his life. He is owed more than that. I don't need to protect him from the disappointment of being told that he can't come back here. He is very experienced with disappointment. If he does not want the limited relationship that I can offer, he will reject it. I do not need to protect him.

And there is a cowardly voice in me that just wants to close that painful chapter in my life and move on. I liked him SO much. I really did. He was exhausting to be around, and I think he needs something I can't give him, but being with him, getting letters from him hurts. It makes me happy, but it also makes me sad. I know it is not him that I want to protect, or even Brian, it is me. I don't want to keep breaking my heart. I want to let him go. Never write to him. Not know what happens.

Because I am afraid to watch what will happen to him. I cannot believe that he will accept help once he is 18. He seems so young, so childlike, but he has only two more years before he can walk away and no one will be there. Oh dear Lord, two years, just two more years and that child, that little boy, will walk into the world and try to take care of himself. I see him living his father's life: cycling between stability, homelessness, and involuntary commitment. I don't want to watch that happen. I don't want to get phone calls from him when he is going through that. I tell myself that I don't have to. He does, after all, have aunts whom he can call.

I'm just the a foster mother he spent 10 weeks with. Ten Weeks. I have no long-term obligation to him. Most foster parents don't work to stay in touch with kids who have moved on. Why should I have feel obligated to keep writing to him, keep inviting this pain? I don't want to watch what happens next. I want someone to tell me that it is best for Frankie if I don't write to him, that a clean break will be less painful for him. I want to believe that.

And the strong voice in me listens to this drivel and says, "Coward. Write the d*mn letter."

Asthma Report (update)

Well, I just got out of my appointment with my physician regarding my asthma, and I learned interesting things. I shall take this time to tell you all about them not because I really think that people who read this blog are likely to be fascinated, but because I need something to do while I sit in this wifi cafe waiting until it is time to go pick up the kids at school. There is just no point in driving 20 minutes to work or home so that I can turn around and come back in 90 minutes.

Of course I could grade my students forum posts ...but... you really do want to know all about my asthma, right? It is much more important than grading.

Apparently exercise- and cold-induced asthma are basically the same thing, except that one is caused by exercise and one by cold. Seriously though, either one can be your primary trigger, but whichever it is, the other will make it MUCH worse. Also neither of them are allergy-related, and they get treated the same. So sure, the doctor can lump them together; I don't care. It also turns out that I didn’t “grow out of” the asthma I had as an infant, just the symptoms. In other words, I have at least two triggers: whatever accumulates in down pillows and such over time (presumably some sort of mite); and cold weather. It is likely that these and perhaps other triggers have always been causing reactions in my bronchial tubes and whatnot, but the reason it was so bad when I was a baby was that the tubes were so SMALL. As I grew they got bigger and I could breathe fairly easily even when it was happening.

Got it?

As an adult, I have had one classic asthma attack, brought on by sleeping in an old feather bed, in which I was really afraid I wasn’t going to be able to get enough air and die. (I lived through it, in case you were worried.) I have also had many times in which any level of exertion in cold weather has produced coughing that can last for a hour or more. Thinking back, I can remember a lot of times when it happened, but it just wasn't severe enough to make me do anything about it. This year, however, just scraping the car and going to work was making me cough all morning. A couple of times this winter I have not been able to get enough breath to carry on a conversation.

So I went to my physician who told me that it has absolutely nothing to do with getting older. It is totally random and there is no explanation at all for why it has slowly been getting worse over the years. (I like my physician). I now have two inhalers. One I am to use every morning and night throughout winter, even if we are having a warm snap or I have no plans to go out. The other I am to use just prior to going out in the cold.

And I should not have any more symptoms.

Ta da! All better.

Well, if I do have symptoms, then I’m to call and get new medications or dosages or something.

Now, aren't you glad I took the time to tell you that instead of grading?

The every daily inhaler does not have any noticable side-effects. I was warned to rinse my mouth out after since the steriods in it can cause problems in your mouth over time, so I do. The inhaler I am to use before going out in the cold gives me a trembly feeling -- something like a cross between low blood sugar and too much caffeine. I don't like it. The tremblly feeling lasts for an hour or so and the inhaler is supposed to be effective for four to six hours. Still, I think I will experiment to see how much I really need it.

Today I used it, and then took the dog for a vigorous walk 20 minutes later. I came back and had coughed just a bit, but that was nothing compared to a week ago when I could not carry on a conversation for four hours after walking the dog. So I feel pretty confident that these meds will work, if I can tolerate that weird feeling. I took two puffs, as instructed. I think next I will see how well it works with just one.

Conversation with Brian

Brian, "If I get all A's next quarter, will you be happy?"

Me, "Well, yes, but you don't have to get all A's for me to be happy, you know. I was disappointed in some of your grades, but I am very pleased at how you are doing."

Brian, "It just seems like I work really hard at things and you don't appreciate them."

I pull him close. I decide he needs some praise and I tell him (again) how impressed I am that he has learned to play a simple tune on the trombone after just one week and proud that the band teacher asked him to join the high school band. "You know that there is another junior high kid who has been playing trombone all year, don't you?" I tell him that I did not know, and give him another squeeze. I tell him that I spoke to my mom on the phone today and how I had told her how well he was doing, about how he was maturing socially and making friends at school like I didn't think he had before. He was a really cool kid. I said, "You are my favorite 13-year-old in the whole world."

He giggled. Then he said, "It's hard growing up, because you want your parents' attention but then you don't want it at the same time."

"That is very self-aware. Most kids just get angry at their parents for not doing whatever they are doing. It is very insightful of you to realize that you want both things."

"Yeah. It must be the years of therapy."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Roland Waits, Exhausted and Frustrated

Roland has been excessively tired for months and months. It is hard to say when it really started, because it sort of crept up on us. Still, certainly all this school year he has come home from work and taken a nap every say. On weekends he will sleep to noon like a teenager, without the staying up late part the night before.

He has assumed it was stress from his job. He made the mistake at being good at handling tough kids. He enjoys his job -- but not with the number of kids he has right now. He and another special education teacher were joking (in that way where one laughs because it is the only alternative to crying) about how in a recent meeting Roland was assured that the new student they wanted to transfer from another school had a one-on-one aide. Roland, having been down this road before asked, "Yes, but will the aide be coming with him?" Response, "Um...we don't know for sure."

Anyway, he assumed that was the cause of the exhaustion and it wasn't going away any time soon. He considered applying to a school district closer to The City, debating whether the commute would be outweighed by the higher salary and smaller class size. I've been routing for that option, but he has felt to tired to do anything about it.

But about a month ago he fell asleep in the recliner and did that classic sleep-apnea, stop-breathing-for-five-seconds, startle and gasp thing. I told him he did it. Then I started paying attention to the exact nature of his snores. They are all loud, but there was a pattern that I hadn't noticed before: one regular snore noise, one breath that sounds like it is coming through a small tube, one breath that sounds like it is coming through an almost shut tube, a very subtle startle and deep breath, repeat.

So I started badgering him to go to the doctor. He talked about a pillow that is supposed to help with sleep apnea. I badgered him to go to the doctor. He adjusted his pillows so that he was sleeping more on his side. I kept badgering him. He went.

The technician told him that he could not diagnose, but that it looked to him like Roland had "anea-like sleep patterns."

And now Roland believes that that is the source of his exhuastion. I agree.

And the waiting for three weeks until he gets results just feels overwhelming. He doesn't know how he can continue that long being this tired all the time.

I completely understand -- I really do. Relief is in sight, but still out of reach.

When he thought this was just how life was, he coped. Now is so hard to cope when he knows he shouldn't have to feel like this.

It shouldn't have to be three weeks. I am beginning to wonder if it is an insurance thing -- maybe the insurance plan has a deal with someone in this far away city where his info is being sent. The City we live near is not tiny. There HAVE to be people there who do this sort of thing.

Poor guy.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Evan admitted how tired he is, told me what a bad day he is having, so I was right about that. Not only has he been getting up really, really early, not getting enough sleep, having to spend his days in a training that is ridiculous, BUT he also had to call a lock smith to get him into his car after he locked in the keys.

Poor kid.

Still, he did that "Why do you want to know?" a couple more times. It does get annoying.

Later, I was sitting at my computer, working on my class web site and he came up and asked me what I was doing. Curious, I worked up a pretend little hostility and said, "Why do you want to know?"

He said, "You sound just like my mother."

Grumpy Evan

Poor Evan, he is being made to go to work at a truly unholy hour.

He has been doing a good job making himself go to bed early, but he is still grumpy.

He has this thing where if you ask him a question he will tend to get defensive and ask you aggressively, "Why do you want to know?"

It is getting so that it is impossible to talk to him.

Today when he came home he got the mail there was a parcel in it.

Me: "Whose the parcel for?"

Evan: "Me. Why do you care?"

"Just wondering. What did you order?"

Evan, irrtated: "Why do you want to know?"

Me: "Just expressing an interested, Evan. Really."

Evan: "Oh. It is a t-shirt."

Brian: "What does it say on it?"

Evan: "Nothing! It doesn't say anything. Why do you even care?"

Brian: "I was just wondering."

After a few minutes Evan shows us the t-shirt. It has work on it by an original artist. It is cool. I speak to him about him getting defensive when people ask him questions. We talk about it very briefly. He says he is much better than he used to be, don't I think? I agree that he is a little better. I don't say that he has been worse lately.

He walks over to the table and says, "I wonder how many famous people write you back when you write to them. Do you know? Do famous people ever actually write you back?"

Me: "I don't know."

Brian: "What famous person did you write to?"

Evan, escalating again: "No one! Gawd! Why do you care who I write to?"

Brian: "If you didn't write to someone famous then why do you care if they write back?"

Evan: "Why do you have to be in my business? Huh? Why do have to keep asking me questions?"

Me: "Evan!"

Evan: "He knows what he is doing! He knows I don't like it and he is just trying to annoy me!"

Me: "I really think he is just trying to have a conversation with you."

Evan: "Whatever."

And he leaves.


He is going to be on this schedule for the rest of his vacation, which is to say the rest of the time he will be living here. We are either going to have to remember not to ask him any questions or any kind, or ... I don't know.

Poor guy. I know he is exhausted. And I know this automatic defensive response to all questions is deep-seated. I don't think though he knows how hard it is to be on the receiving end of that sort of aggression.

Update on the sleep test

So Roland had a very hard time actually sleeping while connecting to lots of little wires. The technician said that he did fall asleep enough to get enough data though.

That data is now in the process of being sent to an expert in another state, because nobody around here can interpret it. Within three weeks we should hear back.

It all seems sort of silly to me. I mean, if the man rolls on his back he will stop breathing for a few seconds and then sort of startle and gasp. When he sleeps on his side there are not pauses between breaths, but sometimes it sounds like he is trying to drag air in through a flattened tube, and after three or four breaths he will do a little mini startle thing and take a deep breath.

But that can't be diagnoses as sleep apnea without an expert in another state reading all the data from all the little electrodes.

Don't they just treat it having him use one of those ridiculous-looking masks (CPAP)?

Does anyone know if the information they get from the little electrodes is really important? I mean, given that you can SEE that he startles as gasps for air when he sleeps, is it necessary to know EXACTLY what is happening all over his body? I know it might be interesting, but will it make a difference to treatment decisions?

Seriously, does anyone know?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Alone Tonight

Roland is spending the night in a sleep lab. I think he has sleep apnea. The weather though is bad, very bad. I told him to call me when he gets safely inside the sleep clinic.

It is so strange not having him here. I leave for conferences sometimes, but he almost never does.

It's just quiet.

"Selfishness" and Parenting, Part I

There are topics or arguments that come up in my classes so often that I have to struggle to treat each conversation with the attention and patience it deserves. There are two claims or arguments that I hear that I think are just based on confusions. I simply cannot believe that people really mean what they are saying, except that they think they do.

The first is that claim that everyone is selfish.

Now the reason that the claim is compelling is that there is one interpretation under which it is true. The problem is that under that interpretation it is just not very interesting. It depends on how you define "selfish."

The definition of "selfish" that makes the claim obviously true is "doing what you want." In that case to say that every person or every action is selfish because the person is doing what he or she, in some sense, wants to do, may be true. Sadly, this is just equivalent to saying that every action has a motivation, which isn't all that interesting. Yes, people who throw themselves in front of bullets and people who use other people as shields from bullets are both doing what they wanted to do. To say that they are both selfish though doesn't make sense.

There are other ways of defining "selfish." You could mean "acting without regard to the needs and desires of others." Under that definition, many actions would be considered selfish, but not all of them. We could define it as "knowingly and callously sacrificing needs of others in order to realize your own desires." Now "selfish" means something that is clearly morally bad, and fortunately, not something that everyone is constantly doing. There is another way the word gets defined that makes it a morally good thing, but also not universal, as some sort of healthy self-regard.

I'm not going to tell you how to define the word. I am going to claim that any interesting definition will not cover all actions.

So...some of us, including me, have been wondering about motivations for foster care. What I want to do is get at that very personal sense of "I must" that some of us experience when we realize we can do care. This post is not about that, though. What has come up in the comments and in some other posts has to do with whether some or all parents start out with selfish motivations, and whether that is bad.

I think that most of us desire certain kinds of relationships. We want friends, and life partners, and good colleagues, and some of us want children. Aristotle thinks we should want them. He thinks our lives cannot be complete and we cannot be fully happy without them. We need people to share our joys, and comfort us in our sorrows. We want to have children for similar reasons.

And we want to have healthy children. Wanting a healthy baby when you are pregnant is so socially acceptable that we feel comfortable expressing the desire in response to the question, "Do you want a boy or a girl?" "I don't care -- I just want the baby to be healthy."

I was pregnant twice. During those pregnancies I did everything I could to have a healthy baby. The first time around I particularly worried about whether my baby was going to have one of the various illnesses in my family tree. I had asthma as an infant. Would my baby? I sure hoped not. On one hand I knew that if I did have a baby with asthma I would cope. On the other hand, if the doctor told me that there was something I could do to help prevent asthma in my baby, I would do it.

At some point the focus of the desire shifted. Instead of wanting a healthy baby, I started thinking about the baby that I was carrying and wanting for him (so it turned out to be) to be healthy. My concern at some point stopped being just about what I wanted to deal with, but what sort of life I wanted for his sake. In either case, doing what I could to have a healthy baby required sacrifice on my part. The second time around I developed diabetes (the kind that goes away after the baby is born), and keeping us both healthy required a LOT of sacrifices. Not wanting to take insulin, I maintained a demanding feeding and exercise schedule that I never would have maintained if I was diabetic and not pregnant. (Not that I wouldn't take care of myself, but if offered a choice between that sort of regimen and something more relaxed that included medication, I would take the second option.)

All that seems normal to me, and not selfish in any negative sense of the word. I did not really think about the possibility that my child might have a disability that greatly disrupt my life-plans. I didn't think about what I would do if my child had a medical condition that was not treatable, or required treatment I could not afford. I did not think about how I would finish graduate school or keep my job if my child's illness prevented me from sleeping or doing the work that I had to do. If it crossed my mind at all it would have just been to think I would deal with any issues when they came up.

So, what I want to suggest, is that what changes in adoption and foster care is not that the desire for healthy children is unethical, but that many of the means for realizing that desire are. The desire also becomes unrealistic. You can minimize some risks by adopting newborns, but the risks will probably still be higher and less predictable than if you got pregnant. Those of you who have researched or lived in this world would know far better than I. I do know that as you consider older children more of those risks will have manifested, so you are more likely to know what you are going to have to deal with.

And that is what agencies usually ask us to do: consider what we are able to deal with. I've argued before that you can't really know that until you've tried, but we can often have some idea. That question, and the honest answers to them, is not selfish in any sort of negative way, but it does demand careful self-regard. We have to think about ourselves in order to decide what we can do. The question is not selfish in that we are thinking about the needs of others.

So...I am detecting a temptation to want to ramble.

What I want to say is that the decision to parent is and should be partly about our own desires and needs. That is true for foster parents as much as anyone else. But there is something else...a perversion of this healthy attitude that is very troubling.

I think another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, can help us out here. Kant said many things, but one of the things he is famous for us saying that morality demands that we treat every person, including ourselves, as an "end" and not a "means only." (I paraphrase, of course). Kant said that we are all "ends in ourselves" because we can create our own ends or goals. I exist for myself and my goals, I don't exist for you.

Now of course we have to treat other people as means to our goals. We could not get anything done if we didn't. Sometimes I need to get my hair cut. I have to find someone who will act as a means to that goal. There is nothing wrong with that. If however I start treating the hairdresser as though all she is is a hairdresser -- someone who exists so that my goals my be reached and has no goals of her own, then I am treating her unethically. I'm treating myself unethically if I think of myself merely as a means to others. If I allow myself to be defined by my children's needs and goals, I am not treating myself with the respect I deserve.

And sometimes parents do this to their children. They start out with perfectly normal, healthy desires to be parents, for all the ordinary self-involved reasons. They want a baby. They want to be part of a child growing up. They forget though that the child will be person with his or her own set of desires and goals, that the child will not exist for the parent.

We can do that to our biological children. Lots of people do.

Do adoptive parents do it more often? Well, not the ones that I know.

Do foster parents do do it? Certainly, not the ones who keep doing care. These kids are so needy, so demanding, no one could maintain the illusion that the kids exist to satisfy our needs.

The attitude of some prospective adoptive parents, and I don't think it is most of them, is not, I think one of selfishness or a failure to remember that the child they parent will be a separate person from them. I think the issue is one of entitlement.

But that is another post.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

French Onion Soup

I just quarrelled with Evan. Not a big quarrel. Not a bad one... but it has been so long.

He volunteered to make french onion soup for dinner tonight. He volunteered a while ago. He asked me if I would buy the ingredients. I said yes.

Two days ago I said yes. Several times.

Yesterday I said yes. He started to explain to me that he wanted two kinds of onions, told me where the list was, asked me if I would be certain to buy enough of this and enough of that. I suggested that he go to the grocery store if it was that complicated. He laughed and said in a teasing tone that there was no way that HE could go to the store. He does not have the time in his busy schedule to do something like that.

Yesterday I began to feel really bad. He again reminded me about my need to go to the store. I suggested that he go. He again, in a teasing voice, insisted that he could not be expected to go to the store.

Just now he came into the living room, where I am sitting, feeling icky, not wanting to go anywhere or do anything.

"Are you feeling better?"

"Some. I still have stomach cramps though."

"So you are going to the store?"

I look at him dully. "I still don't see why you can't just go."

He laughs, points at himself, "I can't go to the store!" He goes on. I don't remember exactly waht he has to say.

I try to find the teasing tone to banter with him, but really, I just want to go back to bed. "No, really, you should go. You have to do X, anyway, and you can do that at the same time."

A bit offended and still trying to banter he says, "I have to do X? I can do that when I go to do Y."

"And you could go to the grocery store too. One trip. Everything accomplished."

"No you need to go. We need more bread, and ____, and ____." (Not an effective argument to a woman with stomach cramps and no appetite. I give him a dirty look. He says, "I'm trying to motivate you."

I'm feeling badgered. He has been pestering me about going to the store for three days. I KNOW that this is about a history of broken promises. I know that he can't just trust me to do what I said I would after one asking. I know that he has to ask me over and over. Still, I'm tired.

I should have just been honest. Changed the tone. Stopped trying to banter with him. I should have told him that I felt badly and would ask Roland or Andrew to go. If neither of them wanted to we would just have to do it another day. I didn't though. I tried to stay with the bantering tone.

"You can't guilt me into it."

"Heh, I am a LOT better at this game than you are."

"Well, I can't be manipulated into doing something I don't want to do."


"Fine." He walks out.

Sigh. Not one of my finer moments. I should talk to him.

I don't want to though. I'm tired. I'm stressed to the limit about reports that are only partly done (did I mention that I lost three hours of work yesterday because I forgot to save, which is very uncharacteristic of me?). My stomach is cramping and I can't face the idea of walking through the store and looking at all that food, although good soup for dinner does sound perfect.

I feel whiny. Why can't he go? He isn't going to do anything else except watch reality TV and play video games.

I don't want to be the grown up today.

Update: Andrew volunteered to go, but wasn't sure he would know exactly about what sort of onions Evan wanted. Evan said he would be happy to go with him.

So was his unwillingness to go before about being worried that he wouldn't get paid back, or did he not realized that I really didn't feel like going?

I suspect the former, which annoys me because I didn't ask him to pay rent for the month he is staying here. In the summer he insisted on paying rent and then that functioned as his excuse for not having to contribute, which was fine. I mean, he was paying rent. This time it is apparently even my job to talk to the agency about whether they will pay what they did during hte summer.

I really don't mind that he isn't paying rent. Really. I'm happy he is here. But I find that I do resent it when he doesn't pay rent AND complains when I run out of food that he wants more than anyone else does. Why can't he go to the store and pick up some d*mn lunch meat?

Lordy, I'm whiny today.