Sunday, June 29, 2008

How to leave for vacation

1. Pack everything the night before.
2. Load car in the morning.
3. Say, "everyone ready?"
4. Go for gas.
5 . Go home so hubby can get sunglasses.
6. Be relieved you are back because back door is open.
7.Go in house for dog toys, and pencil.
8. Go back to car.
9. Go back to get bag of beverages.
12. Go back to car.
13. Ask, "Does everybody have everything, really??"
15. Go 10 miles.
16. Give Hubby dirty look when he says, "I forgot the dog crate."
17. Decide to buy a new beeping crate on the road since the one you
have is big and heavy and 10 freaking miles away.

16. Write blog post on phone to tell everyone about it.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Father Is Insane, and other updates

Dad sent Andrew a graduation card with a check that resulted in my saying, "Holy crap!" There was a hand-written note in it that said, "Sorry you can't come to the ranch. I bought a horse just for you." We agreed he HAD to be joking, right? Hard to tell given my father's long history of not being a joker weighed against the possibility that he had BOUGHT HORSES.

He just called to give us directions again. The directions ended, "You will know you are there because you will see the sign and the horses."

Holy crap.

Maybe he rented them. I said that to Roland who replied, "Well, that would be the sensible thing to do." Which probably means that he didn't.

I told Andrew that if he wanted to ask a friend to stay here in his place he could still come.

I guess I have only one other update. The whistle training for the Shih Tzu is a great success. We have been taking them to the school field. The Shih Tzu can be at the other end of the field and when we blow on the whistle he will turn on a dime and come running back. And this is a Shih Tzu: stubborn, difficult to train, unwilling to potty outside if it is raining exceptionally hard, which only happens once or twice a year, and frankly a bit stupid. I highly recommend whistle-training for recall. I took a short video on my phone, but I can't format get it loaded into Blogger. There is probably something simple I am missing, but there it is.

Today is the day for packing. I don't know if I will be updating.

While I am gone I may or may not be able to send in updates. If I have full service on my phone I can send in short updates. If I don't have email access but do have text messaging I will send things to FosterAbba who will have temporary permission to post on the blog.

Have a good week everyone.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me

Guess what I got?

Fondue pot, chocolate, and a big pile of strawberries.

Ethnic/Racial Identiiy and the Foster Teen

My experience has been that a significant number of teens in foster care are alienated from their their ethnic and or racial identity. I'm not sure how better to put that. Sometimes it happened when they were removed from their parents.

In the case of two of my boys, it was more like Barak Obama's story, sort of. I like that he is such a national figure. Putting all politics aside, I think it is a wonderful thing for my kids to have the opportunity to know the story of a non-white man raised entirely by his white parent. My boys stories are different in that the parent who raised them did not encourage or help them to explore their identity. Carl's mom did a little better, I think. It seems very clear that Gary was raised as a white boy who happened just happened to get really tan in the summer. He knows almost nothing about his American Indian heritage.

I find myself disappointed by his lack of interest. I want to be the pro-active parent who finds resources for him. It is difficult to contain myself because American Indian is one of the few ethnic/racial groups for which I have resources. Andrew had a high school class that required a certain number of community service hours so he just asked one of his best friends if he could help out with the pow wow his dad organizes every year. It's a huge, three day event with stories, food, dancing, competitions. I could sign him up for lessons in drums, dancing, language. Not the romanticized "diversity" classes taught by well-meaning white folks at the Y. Real classes that are taught be tribal members to almost exclusively tribal children. Classes that are intended to preserve traditions and build community.

If he were five, I would so be there. I wouldn't force him to take classes he didn't want, but I would be getting involved myself as much as possible. I would be doing what I did with respect to the gay community when the other boys were here. I'm ready.

But he isn't.

He says learning more about the tribe wouldn't change who he is. He's just him.

And I know I have to respect that. He is fifteen, almost sixteen. I make sure he knows about the resources that are available, but that is about it.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Stressed About Vacation

I had it under control, which is to say nicely suppressed, buried deep enough that I could pretend that I wasn't really stressed at all. So what happened? I called my sister. This isn't ragging on my sister. It just dug up stuff. When we realized a while back that Dad was doing well, i.e. staying sober, we agreed that my family would go directly to the cottages and she would trust Dad to pick her up and get her. It really is easier for us, and it has the added advantage of not antagonizing Dad. It is very stressful for Sis though, and thereby stressful for me.

I called her to ask her to print out the menu and grocery list I emailed her and give it to Dad. It took an hour to get around to that. She started right out telling me that she was getting stressed over packing, that she always gets stressed over packing, in fact usually her husband packs for everyone. See, whenever she packs she feels just like she did as a kid or a teenager packing her suitcase to visit Dad. This time it is much worse since she is actually packing her suitcase to visit Dad.

We talked for an hour. She told me about what she was feeling. We talked. It was good, but it brought all my stress to the surface. I don't know if it made her feel better or worse. I think better. I hope anyway.

My sister has been waking up in the past year. She has spent two decades buried in Christian fundamentalism, refusing to see complexity, making herself feel safe by making her world small. Now she is going back to school, reading Elizabeth Cady Stanton's The Woman's Bible, and asking questions about everything. It is good, but it is also hard. There is a lot coming out.

It makes me realize how slow healing is. My sister and I are in our forties and are still sorting it out. Some things we are just figuring out.

Evan's Apartment -- the Next Day

I did not help Evan moved as I had an doctor's appointment(routine), but the boys told me about it. It is 600 square feet. The bathroom is huge. He has a stacked washer and dryer in a closet IN HIS BEDROOM. He has a full kitchen with a counter that separates it from the living room. He is on the fifth floor and has an incredible view. There is underground parking, a 24-hour gym and really tight security. It is right down town in The City next to everything.

Did I mention that this is section 8 housing?

He called a bit ago to tell me he survived his first night. He went shopping this morning. He went to the discount grocery store. His boyfriend complained that he didn't buy anything easy. Everything he got was stuff you had to DO something with. Evan reports he replied, "It's called groceries." He said to me on the phone, "I spent $150! And when I got back I realized I forgot something and had to go back! Is that, like normal? Do you think I bought stuff that I shouldn't?"

I assured him that he didn't. That was normal, especially when you have nothing and have to get everything all at once.

"Then, like, I thought I had everything I needed already, like dishes and pots and stuff, but I realized I needed other things. So I went to another store and got a rug for the bathroom, and a shower curtain, and the draining thing for pasta, and like one other thing and it was another $50!"

So far for furniture he has a futon sofa, and entertainment center with electronics stuff, and ... that's all. To be fair, he has paid for a queen-size bed which will be delivered next week on his day off. He is going to go to thrift stores to look for side tables and maybe stools for the counter. "Those things are pretty cheap at thrift stores, right?"

He isn't going to buy sheets and stuff until he gets the bed. "Do sheets cost a lot?"

Welcome to adulthood, m'dear.

Smarter Than A Pile of Rocks... [update]

We are getting the Shih Tzu ready for travel. Two days ago I got him injected with a microchip and yesterday I got a dog whistle (the sort people can hear but is still very high pitched). The Shih Tzu is not the brightest dog on the block, but he has figured out that where the whistle blows there be chicken. He likes chicken and he has been jumping up from wherever he is and dashing. It is sort of fun. The whistle can be tuned and I set it by watching his reactions. I'm a little mystified by the Cattle Dog's lack of interest. I started by whistling and giving them both treats. Once we moved out of the room the Cattle Dog stopped playing. My guess is that she can't hear the whistle at this particular pitch, because I just can't see her not bothering to go where there is chicken.

It is better this way though. I know that we are training the Shih Tzu to respond to the whistle, not to follow the Cattle Dog when she responds. I also don't need the Cattle Dog whistle-trained. She comes when we call her name. Besides, she is not going on the trip.

Update: I took the Cattle Dog for a walk today and let her run loose at the fenced elementary school field. I have decided that when we call her name she understands that to mean, "you must come now." She does hear the dog whistle but she understands it to mean, "Would you care for a piece of chicken?"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

A Resolution, finally!

So, y'all remember about the stolen game system? I can't find a post about it so it might be pre-blog. Actually I think it was. We did respite for this fifteen year old boy and his older brother whom he had not seen for years had permission to visit. They didn't seem to know what to say to each other, and I left them alone in the rec room to play video games together. After they left we discovered that Andrew's Nintendo DS and half a dozen games had been stolen.

I filled out a police report and bought Andrew a used one and some used games. I kept the report and the receipt and asked the social worker if they had a fund to reimburse that, trying to be clear that I understood if the answer was no. I didn't hear anything.

Later I asked another worker who said she would check. I didn't hear anything.

Last year at our re-licensing visit I was asked if I had any complaints and I said that the only thing I was upset about was no one answering the question. I would be okay if the answer was no, but I didn't like not getting an answer. She never got back to me.

This past spring the supervisor of workers asked if the same boy could come for respite and I said no. Hearing the firmness in my voice she asked if I had any special reason why. I explained that he was the kid whose brother stole from us. She asked me if we were ever reimbursed for that. I said no. She said that wasn't right and she would look into it for me. Guess what happened? Right, nothing.

It annoyed me because I hadn't even brought it up this time.

So and my re-licensing visit this year when I was asked if I had any complaints. I again mentioned that no one had given me an answer. I think I showed a degree of frustration as I explained that it really was okay if the answer was no, but that I didn't like that people kept saying that they would check and then didn't answer. I told her that I expected the answer to be no now because I didn't have the police report number or any receipts. Off-handedly I said something about maybe just getting one for Gary and calling it even.

I just got an email from her. She said that she had been authorized to reimburse me for the replacement of the DS and games, but she had to have a receipt. "So if you were serious about being willing to buy Gary one, that would work."

So I just asked Gary if he wanted a Nintendo DS.

"Why?" He looked cautious, wondering what the catch was, but clearly interested.

I explained.

"Wow. Yeah. Wow!" He laughs. "Man, I am getting SO SPOILED here."

About the blog roll

It's gone. The complete version anyway. It got too long and too difficult to keep up with. I am keeping the box the notification box. If you are on my reader in the category of "foster care related" then your posts will show up there. If you have such a blog let me know and I will add you. Even you know I know you or you have notified me ten times already. Unless you don't really want to be in the notification box.

Claudia has recently been posting half a dozen times a day. Now, there is nothing wrong with that. However, she was sometimes half of the notification box and I decided that just wasn't fair to the rest of you. She is on my new, tiny, old-fashioned blog roll. I might add a couple of other blogs there too.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


In beginning of The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch, Edward gives a friend a psychedelic drug hidden in a sandwich because he thinks his friend will enjoy the experience. He takes nothing so that he can watch out for his friend. After some time the friend is relaxed and smiling. Edward gets a call from a woman and leaves for an hour. When he comes back his friend has apparently walked out of the window. He is dead.

The rest of the book is Edward's search for redemption. He wants to be forgiven, to pay for what he has done, to make up for it somehow.

In the end, as I read the book anyway, he realizes that none of that is possible. He killed his friend. Wallowing in guilt is self-indulgent, forgetting what happened in unacceptable. All he can do is live the best life he can, knowing that he has done what he has done.

I told that story to a friend of mine after she asked what Gary had done. I told her that as a way of explaining why I wasn't answering her question. I told her that Gary like Edward had to find his own path to peace. He has recently learned, or re-learned, that you can't share a secret with just one or two people. People talk. If you tell three people you trust, a week later someone who has not met you you will know. Secrecy is probably still an option for Gary, as he does not know many people in Our Small Town High. He could go and not tell. It might work.

Or he could tell. Lord knows there are dozens of kids there who have done worse and done it more recently. Perhaps that is the better thing to do. It would mean no fear of being found out.

I cannot help him with this. I can provide him a safe place, where he is loved and accepted, where people are not afraid of him and he feels like he is genuinely being given a fresh start, but I cannot help him negotiate social reality.

Though it is very different, it sometimes feels very like parenting gay kids. I cannot tell someone else whether or to what degree they should be out. I have no advice to give on who to tell, whether to tell. I do not know what is required for his sanity. I want for him to have the new beginning that he can really only have if no one knows, but that might not be the right choice.

So often parenting teenagers is a practice in restraint, in not doing, not speaking, allowing them to figure it out on their own.

Monday, June 23, 2008

It's All Good

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

It is difficult to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not really.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Parental Authority

When you have raised a child from infancy, or from whatever age it takes for them to regard you as (one of) their "real" parents, there is a sort of authority you have that you simply don't have with foster teens.

It is difficult to explain.

Frankie was a good example. He hated the school that we sent him to. That he had been part of that decision was not relevant to him. He did not like it there. He wanted to move. We explained that no other school in the area would accept him out of that program without their recommendation. He was stuck. As long as he lived anywhere close to here, he had to go to that school.

The solution? Move to a new family in a new town. For him it was as easy as a simple arithmetic problem.

Andrew and Brian may dislike rules that I have for them, but they would never even think, "Well, I can always get new parents." I would have been totally ignorant of the sort of power I have over my kids if I had never been a foster parent. If I told Brian that I was signing him up for a school he did not want to attend he might make my life miserable, but he would not run away. I am not saying it is wise to parent any teenager that way. I don't think it is. I am saying though that with most kids you have access to that sort of power. You can say, "You must" and your teenager will not even consider rejecting you as parents.

With the foster boys it is different. It may ultimately be a difference on a continuum, but it is important to note.

Did you ever watch The Emerald Forest? It is a story about a boy who is stolen from his parents and raised by "The Invisible People" who live in the Amazon. The boy's first father finds him at one point asks the chief to order the boy to go home. The chief responds with, "If I tell a man to do something he does not want to do, I will no longer be chief." (Quote from memory, probably not exact.) It is a funny line, but it is true. The chief's authority is based upon the people's recognition of his wisdom. Mostly they trust the chief to coordinate their actions so that they can all accomplish their communally held goals. If he starts ordering people to do things that they in no sense want to do, then he is no longer chief. That he could hold power as a dictator does not seem to occur to him, or perhaps he just not regard that as desirable.

Parental authority with teens, especially foster teens, is a lot like that. You can have dictatorial power up to a point, but for the most part teens will only follow your rules they trust you and believe that the rules you have are reasonable.

I'm finding as I write this that some other part of my brain is arguing with what I am saying. I have learned that I don't have to have my children's permission to parent. I remember a conversation with Evan and his therapist about my going into his room. I asserted that if he took things that belonged to the family and left them in his room I was going to go in and get them. His position was that it was his room and I should never, ever go in. My going in was a violation of his privacy so profound as to be unimaginable. The counselor and I came up with multiple options: I would go in only when he was there; I would stand in the hallway and have him hand me things out. Nothing was okay with him. We got to a point at which we both stopped talking. The argument was over. The counselor asked what just happened. I said, "I will go into the room when he is not home and get our things." She asked him if that was okay with him, he said no. She turned to me and I said, "I don't need his permission to be the parent or get things that shouldn't be in his room. If at sometime he wants to agree to any of the options we have given them he can tell me. " She asked him if he agreed with that. He shrugged. I said , "he doesn't have to agree before it is the rule."

And I believe that. Ultimately I don't have to convince the kids that the rules are good or reasonable. That actually saves me from a lot of arguments. I give a rule; the kids argue; I listen and re-assert the rule. I don't believe that their agreement is necessary. I don't need their permission to be the parent.

And though I believe that in particular cases, I don't believe it in the global sense. My ability to assert particular rules in a more-or-less dictatorial way is dependent upon their trust, and on their acceptance of me as a parent. And one important fact about parenting foster teens is that underneath it all, they know they can get new parents. Whatever authority I have is based upon trust and a confidence that following my directions will help them achieve their goals.

Graduation by 18

I would be very happy if Gary changes his mind, but right now he very much wants to graduate a year early. His birthday is in the fall and if he does he will, like Andrew, Carl, Evan and hundreds of other young people, spend most of his senior year being 18. That seems to him to be utterly unacceptable. Most of his friends are a year ahead of him and he wants to graduate at the same time.

For him it is not what it is for most kids in foster care: a belief, or reality, that they must be done before they are 18. In our state, as I believe most others, kids can stay in care until they are 19 if they are still in school. This is complicated by the fact that there may not be enough places for them. If a kid is in a stable foster home they may be welcome to stay. If they are in a group home or a treatment-level foster home rules may prevent them from staying past their birthday. So the state is on one hand obligated to support them and yet has no where appropriate for there to live.

What I have found is that the majority of state kids I have met believe they are required to leave by their birthday. I don't know if that belief is largely based upon not wanting to stay or if hte social workers really don't educate them.

At one point I really tried to educate the kids. I've seen though that that can backfire in some cases. That is largely what happened with David. He saw the sense of staying and finishing school. He just really, really didn't want to.

So if I was in charge of Gary's life I would definitely sign him up for three more years of high school. I think it would be good for him at so many levels, in so many ways. But he wants to graduate early and if we don't do what we need to help him do that, he may move out on his 18th birthday without a degree. I don't like it, but well, he may do it anyway. The biggest obstacle is completing 3 years of English in the remaining 2 years. The most obvious way of doing that is by taking one year of English on-line.

It is difficult to accept this. I want something different for him.

But I have learned at the very least that it does not work to push our plans onto kids.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I'm feeling a bit annoyed with Gary's father. When the marriage really looks like it is over his dad talks to Gary about how difficult it will be to find a job around here that will allow him to pay child support and find them a home. When it looks like his dad and stepmother might be reconciling his dad tells him how he would be willing to work $8/hour if it meant they could be together.


I get that he feels torn between his children, but I wish he would stop promising things to Gary that he can't or won't follow through on.

Evan is moving on Wednesday

...and I am so looking forward to it.

A few days he told me that he was excited about the move and I said that I was too. He protested saying that it was okay for HIM to say that, but not for me. I for like the 20th time since he moved in decided not to take the opportunity to complain about how he wasn't paying rent like last year, or buying the groceries he said he would, or doing anything around the house unless he was specifically asked and then only with a degree of protest. It irritates me. I know though that he has a car payment this year and he is trying to save money for everything he needs for his first apartment. The agency is paying all the deposits, and I am giving him a futon mattress, some old flatware, and a couple of battered pans. Still, he has to buy furniture and dishes and all the supplies a person needs to run a house.

So I don't mind that he doesn't pay rent. I do mind that Roland gave him money to buy pizza for the boys when we went out to celebrate our anniversary and he decided to spend it all, buying pizza, renting movies, and did not give Roland the small amount of change that he had left.

It was juvenile of him and it is petty of me.

I love him, but the house is crowded. I know that Andrew is counting the days until Evan's clothes won't be all over his bedroom floor. I will be pleased when I don't have to worry about the towels. Evan claims that he uses only his own green towels, but that is a big fat lie. He uses whatever clean towel is in the bathroom and then hangs it up on the rack where anyone can use them. This would not be a big deal, except for the MRSA.

I keep thinking that if he isn't going to contribute to the household financially he should at least being helping out without being prodded. Last weekend I spoke to him on the phone and asked him to unload and reload the dishwasher and the child laughed. He really didn't think I could possibly be serious.

It is just a series of petty annoyances. Really. I wish I had set clearer rules when he moved in.

I know though that my increasing annoyance is partly because he is about to leave. Getting irritated with someone seems to be part of my pattern for letting them go. It is not as bad this time as it has been before. Of course, maybe that is because my annoyance isn't really part of that pattern. I am genuinely disappointed and looking forward to having only five people instead of six in this house.

Personally, I don't think that is unreasonable.

I think it is great for Gary that Evan is around. I think that part of Gary's easy transition to the house has been seeing Evan here. He sees that Evan is loved and accepted even as he comes back and take advantage of us for two months, just like Andrew or Brian would be. I should probably regard all the time that he spends, not always voluntarily, with Gary as part of his contribution to the house. I really do wonder how much more difficult it would have been for Gary to relax here if he didn't have Evan's example. I do think he wouldn't have put on the healthy amount of weight he did. That "I don't eat much" attitude swiftly disappeared as Evan introduced him to the wonders of our kitchen.

The length of this rant is more about the excess build-up of annoyance that I have not been regularly dumping into the blog and about the fact that he has is about to leave than it is anything else. And I am not just saying that because he sometimes reads the blog.

But I am excited FOR him too. The apartment complex he is moving into is new and in a great location. It is small enough that he won't need to buy much furniture and is very affordable. It is a one bedroom and he won't have any roommates, although his boyfriend, to whom I still have not been introduced, will probably be a regular visitor. I would not be surprised if the boyfriend ended up moving in at some point, but for now it will just be Evan's private space.

It will be good for him.

It is something that I missed in my own life. I moved from the dorms to married student housing. I don't regret having my own place in the sense that I would make a different decision if I could go back. When I imagine my life at that time all the same considerations seem valid. It was the right thing to do. I don't regret it in the sense that I wish my life had taken a different course. I am very happy with the way things are now. I do feel though that it was an experience that should be part of a normal growing up and I missed it. So I'm a bit jealous of Evan too.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dull to write about, but not to live

I want to write you interesting and compelling stories about Gary, but it is difficult. Ordinary, kind, basically responsible kids are wonderful to live with but they don't make for good stories. But I want to keep you engaged in part because I want to counter-balance on the hard stories you read: stories like Frankie's. Many of the kids in foster care have major issues. They are angry, hurt, and that anger and hurt comes out in ways that can be difficult to deal with.

But not all of them. I mean, they all have been traumatized. If they are in foster care something bad happened to them, but not all those kids are difficult to parent, or not any more difficult than most teens.

You know what Andrew and Brian complain about with respect to Gary? He's too tidy. He prods them into cleaning the rec room and gets irritated if they leave empty soda cans lying around. He's always tidying up the bathroom and putting things into the cupboard. "Mom, some things belong on the shelf."

Cry me a river, darlings.

I did hear that teenager tone in his voice for the first time the other day. He asked if he could go to his friend's -- you know the boy from the football team. I said, "Will there be parents there?" He said, "Yes" with that exasperated-teen-talking-to-cognitively-challenged-adult tone in his voice. I laughed and said, "You know I am going to ask you that every time you go anywhere." He smiled, spoke in a less irritated tone and said, "And I am going to answer you every single time."

I know that part of the reason that he is easy to get along with is that I have got better at dealing with teens. I almost never speak in the imperative "Do this" or threaten consequences, "or else you will lose X privilege." It isn't that I don't expect them to do things, it is just that I don't order. Instead of telling someone to go wash dishes right now I will usually say something like, "Andrew, don't forget to figure out with Gary how to divide up the kitchen clean-up."

It isn't magic. Speaking like this doesn't turn teenagers into cooperative angels, but it helps. For kids like Gary and Evan not setting up a power struggle helps enormously.

But that is just a part of it. Mostly Gary is just, so far, a pretty easy kid to live with. I know he has been here just 2 1/2 weeks, and four weekends. We are still in "assessment and observation." Testing and boundary exploration are yet to come. Still I predict he is going to be a pretty easy kid.

Hopefully the blog won't be too boring.

Oh Yeah, He's Straight

After eight years of parenting gay boys I have got into certain habits.

Like not questioning whether a girl who is a friend is really just a friend. I mean what else would she be? He says she is a friend and I totally accept it. I noticed Roland does too.

Before Gary went into the group home he had a girl friend, you know, the romantic type. He, in the time-honored tradition of those sent away from those they love (and with no oportunity to meet someone new) expected that she would be there waiting for him when he got out. He wrote her a few letters, but his therapist only forwarded one. At least that is what she tells him. In any case, she did not wait and has a new boyfriend.

He coped with this fairly well, and directed his attention towards another friend whom I shall call "Carole." Carole seems to be nice and mature young woman. Her moms seem pretty cool. Carole is their oldest child and they are as protective as many of us were with our eldest. Gary is only allowed to visit when the parents are there. That's a good thing.

I want to be clear; I don't think that Gary is lying to me. This post isn't really about that. It is really just that I keep forgetting he's straight. He tells me he's going to a girl's house and I say, "okay, see you later!" Yesterday he said he wanted to go over to visit with a boy who he met at football practice and a little buzzer went off in my head, "A boy? He's going to go visit a BOY. Maybe I should call and double check that the parents are there."

I have to re-orient my internal alerts.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

PO Leaveth, and I am corrected

The probation officer is a very nice woman. Her job is primarily administrative now, but she still has four kids on parole that she keeps track of. She didn't want to have to transfer any of them.

It turns out that Gary has not been on probation an unusual length of time. The PO said that most kiddie criminals stay on probation until they are 21. If they are as good as Gary has been then can be released early (like when they are 18), but in my county that means "unsupervised probation" which in turn means only that getting arrested or getting a ticket would have more severe consequences than for the rest of us. This all seems excessive to me. I am inclined to think it is because I am in such a conservative state, but maybe this is typical of the nation. I don't know.

The probation restrictions are not things that will affect me. There are things he has to do -- like call her every week and maintain a certain GPA. The only thing that affects me is the curfew. If he wants to go to a movie with his friends, for instance, I have to pick him up from the theater if it is after 8:00pm. He can't ride his bike home or get a ride from a friend. He has to ask the PO for permission to be out after 8:00 for something that is neither school nor church related, but that is his job.

Anyway, I liked the PO, which is a good thing since she will be a regular visitor to our home.

Gary likes her too. He wanted to show her his room. She recently hurt her knee, but she promised to go down the stairs to see it next time.

The PO Officer Cometh

This is a totally new experience for me. I met her at the staffing at the group home.

We are cleaning the house because it desperately needs it and because we don't know her. I don't think it is really necessary though. She is hear to help us to understand the conditions of Gary's probation and to do her regular visit with him. I don't know how often she is supposed to visit. I don't know what, if anything, she will care about regarding the house. I imagine she visits homes of people in all sorts of income brackets and habits.

Ann had a probation officer while she was here. She had to do community service, attend some classes, and write a letter of apology. Of course her violation had been recent. Gary's violation was four years ago. He would have been released from probation already if he had a stable home. He will only be released after he has lived in one place for at least year and the PO is convinced he is staying indefinitely. Well, that or when he turns 21.

So we shall see. The kid might have an 8:00pm curfew for a while.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Don't Worry, It's Only MRSA

Warning: post may be objectionable to the squeamish.

So Evan it seems has a long relationship with MRSA. When he was little he had an infection in a toe that was so bad that they removed a piece of the toe to get rid of it.

Recently he has been getting boils. Well, he has had two of them. They seem to develop quite quickly. He doesn't notice them until they have burst and are draining pus and blood. (I warned you.) One of them burst a couple of months ago. Another just a few days ago. Technically we don't know absolutely and for certain that the second boil is a MRSA infection as only the first one was cultured, but everyone seems to think that is likely.

He kept telling me that it was no big deal, that there wasn't anything to do except keep it clean while it did what it needed to do. My reaction though was something along the lines of "IT'S MRSA! YOU COULD DIE! CALL THE DOCTOR!"

The doctor's response was that if the boil had not burst they would open it so the infection would drain out of his body, but as it has done that on its own, there isn't anything to do except keep it clean while it heals. So he needs to keep clean dressings on it and keep himself as clean as possible. The rest of us need to watch ourselves for any sign of skin infection and go to the doctor if we get one, and wash our hands regularly.

We are also buying more towels so that everyone can use an absolutely clean one each time they shower. We also have a disinfectant spray that Evan uses in the shower or tub after he gets out.

And that is about it.

Except that if he gets a fever he is supposed to go straight to the emergency room. Do not pass go. Do not call the doctor's office. Go straight to the emergency room. That might mean the infection has started to go INTO his body instead of OUT of his body as it currently is.

And that would be bad. Cause you know, it is MRSA and you can die.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

News of the Day

A very large evergreen tree next to our driveway decided that it was tired and is now leaning at a 45 degree angle. Just a bit more and it will fall on the house. Okay, the tree didn't so much get tired and come lose in water-logged soil. Roland called the only tree removal guy in town and said that he would like an estimate. I laughed out loud. Our alternative being what? Wait for it to fall on the house? They are coming in the morning.

Gary loves having a bus pass. All that freedom after eleven months in a very strict group home. He's fun to be around -- he is still having so much fun. Everything is exciting. He can open the refrigerator any time he wants! He can ride his bike around the neighborhood! Get any movie he wants from Netflix! Whoo Hoo! He makes me giggle.

I got the batting for Gary's quilt and decided to pre-shrink it. It is 100% cotton. I had a total brain dead moment and let the washing machine agitate and totally ruined the batting. I went back to the quilt store and bought another. The woman said, "You decided you need more batting?" I said, "I don't want to talk about it." She laughed. I also bought some spray adhesive for quilts. It is supposed to replace basting. A friend of mine whom I haven't seen in ages was at the store and she confirms that the stuff actually works. Now I have to clear out a big enough space in the house to lay all the pieces on the floor. Maybe I will even take pictures and do a fix-it Friday post for Jo. No promises though.

Formal Introductions

Brian has a friend over. It is the first time for this particular kid. He introduced us, "This is my mom, Yondalla, and my dad Roland. This is our new foster guy, Gary."

Foster guy.


Gary said he didn't mind.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Football Summer Training

Someone asked about the football schedule. I learned that the teams (Varsity and JV) are expected to go to the high school every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday all summer long. The coaches anticipate that each kid will likely miss a week or two for some other activity, but whenever they are in town, they are supposed to be there. During the bulk of the summer when they never have the full team they are doing conditioning -- lifting weights and such.

For those of you who want to know.

Poor Gary forgot which direction the school was in when he rode his bike there this morning. He went the wrong way, turned around and went the right way, but gave up too soon (the first landmark he was looking for was 13 blocks away), went back the wrong way, and then tried again the right way. Poor kid. He had a work out before he even got there.

Oh...Andrew had his interview for the grocery store. The interview person seemed impressed. Andrew told him that he was heading off to college in the middle of September and he didn't seem to think that would be a problem. He said he had to talk to the night manager and then he would call back in a couple of days.

Now I need to start on Andrew's quilt top.

Playing with my camera phone

It's all about light. The photo of quilt and this of the fountain were both taken with the enV2. It is only two megapixals and has no flash. Not a great camera, but if there is enough light it takes pretty good pictures.

Gary's Quilt (Top) Finished!

Photo available for limited time.
Sorry it is so dark. My phone does not have a flash.

Process comments, "I'd be really interested to know whether the cleaning thing is the result of institutional living or whether he came from a clean home to begin with. Also, I wonder if it will fade as he lives longer in your home (not because you're "slobs," as you put it, but because he may still be trying to make a good impression.)"

I'm curious about the same thing. I may ask him how tidy his stepmother and father are. I don't know what that home was like. Given his comment to his father I am assuming it was kept more tidy than our basement -- although our basement looks like it is the home of adolescent boys. When I was at the group home, which is a rennovated house, I was impressed with how clean it was. When I was there on Saturdays all the boys were busy cleaning and looking like they were managing to enjoy themselves while doing it: lots of joking and some degree of competition.

We made the downstairs bathroom his "weekly" chore. That is in quotes because how he schedules it is entirely his decision. As long as he is keeping it clean, he can keep that as his chore. He is not, by the way, expected to keep it as clean as he made it, and if he gets tired of that as his chore he can have another less onerous one. He insisted that he was happy to take it since he couldn't stand to use a filthy bathroom and would clean it anyway.

But either some of the cleanliness is about impressing us, or we are rubbing off on him. A few days ago I noticed a dirty bowl in his bedroom. I didn't say anything about it because I wanted to see how long it would stay. It is still there. There are also a few dirty clothes on the floor and not all the dresser drawers are tightly shut. Oh, he also never makes his bed.

So he isn't freakish or anything.

Getting to Know Him

Gary is still a cheerful guy. He is the cleanest of all my kids, and I don't just mean that thing where he insists on showering before going to football training* or SWIMMING for the love of all that is holy. By the way, he has very short hair. He really doesn't look different before and after the shower.

No, I mean that he CLEANS things. Kids either become oblivious to ground-in filth or else they decide that they like baths and bathe in the main bathroom. The one that I clean. There is another bathroom in the basement, but I won't go into it. Gary took the path chosen by no other: he cleaned the basement bathroom. I mean he really cleaned it. He spent an hour scrubbing. It looks new.

Someone spilled something in the frig and I offered him $5 to clean it. He took out everything, scrubbed the entire inside of the frig until it looked new. Then he sorted the things that were in the frig, threw out the old ones, cleaned the bottles of the things that were still good, and put them back. I paid him $10.

Andrew complained to me the other day that was having trouble finding things since Gary keeps cleaning and moving things.

The rec room is in a constant state of ickiness. Andrew has a crowd over every week. Brian and Evan carry down dishes of food. Nobody will acknowledge that any particular pop can or dirty dish is their responsibility. They will spend more time arguing over who left a dirty bowl on the floor than it would take to take the thing upstairs. I cope with this situation by not going down stairs unless absolutely necessary.

I heard Gary on the phone to his dad though. Mostly Gary was cheerful, but he did joke/complain about how the rec room always looked like someone threw a party in it -- mostly because pretty much there always was one. Now of course I am worried that he will complain to someone about the fifth in which we live. Sort of makes me glad that we had that surprise inspection last week. The family developer knows exactly how bad it really is.

But this post is supposed to be about Gary. Let's see, other than being really clean... he has several friends who are girls and does not seem to have friends who are boys. This may or may not change as he has a chance to know kids at school. He likes to cook, especially desserts, and is quite good at it. Aside from the fact that we are slobs (I exaggerate, but not much) he says he likes it here. He appreciates our lack of structure, more politely stated as our flexibility.

He doesn't watch TV much, unless Evan is. He enjoys video games, but really enjoys reading.

And that's pretty much it for now.

*He has training of some sort or other all summer.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spoiling Him

Since Gary moved in, less than two weeks ago, he has received:

  • A used iPod that happened to come with a lot of cool music already on it
  • A cell phone with unlimited texting
  • His very own set of toiletries that he doesn't have to share
  • Brand new misc. stuff for his room (laundry basket, lock box, etc)
  • A new bicycle, helmet, and lock
  • New shoes and cleats
  • Swim trunks
  • A summer youth bus pass
  • An old library fine paid off so that he can have a new library card
  • A plane ticket so that he can go on vacation to Maine

And he has been watching me make him a quilt that he picked out.

The agency is paying for most of this, but that isn't really the point. From Gary's perspective it doesn't necessarily matter who is paying. He just keeps getting stuff. He announces that he needs something, like new swim trunks, and the next time we are out we buy them. Sometimes he doesn't have to ask. Roland came home one day last week and gave him a newly-cut key to the house and garage.

And Gary is very appreciative. He is delighted. He shows off to his friends ("but not to Y, because she doesn't have much"). He is having FUN. He told me today that he figured out that if he plugs his phone into the charger every night before he goes to bed it never runs out of power. He can text all day if he wants! It is fun, "spoiling" a kid who isn't used to it and appreciates it so much. I snapped a picture of him the other day, sitting in the van, earphones in his ears, texting on his phone. He was the essence of an every day teenager.

Though it is fun, it is also uncomfortable. I feel like the White Witch giving him turkish delight. Seducing him with material goodies, trying to convince him to forget his home and stay here and be happy. Don't miss your father...don't let your heart break over him...have another piece of candy...

I am not treating him any differently than I have the other kids. I have made them all quilts. With the exception of the used iPod, which seemed to be a fairly modest "welcome to the family" present, everything is standard issue for kids in the agency or in our home. The intention is not to bribe him into wanting to be with us, but just to make him not feel like the "the foster child." We want him to feel normal. It is a huge change for him, after living in the group home where he was not allowed anything, and living with his aunt who threw out most of the possessions he had.

Still I cannot help but wonder how this affects his relationship with his father. I don't think that his new-found material wealth is significantly different than what he might have had if he had been able to stay at home. His father is neither wealthy nor impoverished. He would have had many of these things.

If he does go home he will take them with him (except the cell phone). He knows that.

And I know that even if had had to leave them all behind to be with his dad, he would. He would do it in a heartbeat, and that is as it should be.

But I still feel just a little bit like the White Witch...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A spattering of updates

Today we went to Pride. Gary spent most of the time with his friend and her moms, which was cool. We saw lots of people that we haven't seen for months, made a dinner date with some, and introduced Gary. A couple of people said, "Straight? He's straight? How did that happen?"

They were teasing us of course.

I spent the day at the agency's booth telling people who picked up the literature that the agency was really wonderful. Lots of people picked up brochures, but I think only about half of them understood what they were picking up, and most of them were just curious. Half a dozen people were genuinely surprised that they were there. This is, after all, a very red state.

We took the Shih Tzu with us and he really was quite good. So good in fact that we are contemplating taking him along with us on our vacation to the cottages-by-the-lake. I think it will be fun to have the dog along, and it will be easier for Andrew who is staying behind to work.

Speaking of which...Andrew, after several weeks of avoiding turning in job applications, got a call back from one grocery store the day after he turned one in. He has an interview on Monday. The store is open 24 hours and the job in question is night shift: 10pm to 6am. He's young, he can halndle it. Teenagers stay up all night anyway, right? The point though is to make money.

I've finished all 64 blocks of Gary's quilt. Tonight have have begun to sew them together. I will give you a photo when I am done.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Just a moment.

I went to pick him up at his friend's and when I got to the neighborhood I called him on his cell.

"Hi Yondalla."

"Hi Gary. I'm here, but I don't know which door to go to. What's the number?"

"I don't know."

"Well, could you put your someone on?"


Then in the background I hear him saying to someone, "My mom wants to talk to you."

No Coverage


I just checked. There is no cell phone coverage at the cottages-on-the-lake. So even though I can blog from my phone, I will not be able to. :(

First Bus Ride & Library Troubles [update]

I just put him on the public bus.

His friend, the one that lives 10 miles away a distance he was previously enthusiastic about bicycling to, also lives near the bus line. We are literally one block away.

It is not a great bus system. A bus comes by every half hour. They both go down the main strip from our town to the Next Town Over (where the friend lives). When it gets to the downtown area of the Next Town it either goes south to the hospital or north to the event center. If he catches the north-bound bus he will get within blocks of her house. If he takes the south-bound bus, as he did today, he has to get off at the library and walk maybe half a mile. He could have put his bike on the rack on the front of the bus, but didn't.

Anyway, it was funny. To me anyway.

Teenagers in general are all bravado. When we were making goals with the social worker one of the was to learn the bus system. His attitude then was "no problem." Today though he was nervous. I walked him to the stop because he was worried that the bus might not really stop. He got on worried about whether he would miss his stop. Would he be allowed to talk to the driver? Could he ask if this was the stop for the library? I assured him he could, really. He laughed and said it was like the first day of school all over again. [Update: I asked him to text me when he got there. He's there. He's fine. Once he was riding he wasn't even nervous.]

I also took him to our library to get him a library card. I told them that he had previously had a card at another library in the consortium when he lived "with his other aunt." The librarian explained nicely that there was a CD that had been checked out a year ago under his name. It hadn't been returned, and went to collections. Maybe we could contact his aunt and remind her to pay it? I said, "She's moved and she really isn't...that just won't work. Can we take care of it?"

We can, but we have to drive into The City because that is where the CD was from. Technically the library isn't supposed to let one person pay another person's fines, but they will probably make an exception in this case.

It was checked out shortly before he left his aunt's house, so I asked him if it was lost when his aunt tossed out his things. He said it was. So I told him not to worry about it, we would take care of it. I called the social worker to see if she can get the fees forgiven, at least for him. If not, I will see if we can mail in a check. Or maybe I should drive in and do it with cash. [Update: I called The City Library and gave them my debit card number over the phone. The fine is paid.]


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Hero Worship

Gary has a major case of it with respect to Evan. I mean, major. If Evan wants to watch TV, so does Gary. If Evan is cooking dinner, Gary offers to make the salad. If Evan wants to play video games, so does Gary. And Gary wants to play whatever Evan wants to play.

"He follows me around constantly! He's like a little puppy dog. Do you have any idea how exhausting that is?" Evan says to me.

"Yes. I do." I reply.



Wednesday, June 11, 2008

All is Well

Today was a day of little things -- like surprise licensing inspections.

And getting a plane ticket for Gary to go to Maine. I spent what seemed like an hour on the phone with someone from the airlines. First she checked to see if she could get him on the same flights that we had. She could, but it would be over $2000. The agency will pay for it, but that was just crazy. She kept searching and found him an itinerary for 1/3 of the price, and most of the same flights. On the way home we have all the same flight. On the way out we will all be on the same flight to the big hub airport. We will be able to drop him off at his gate where his plane will go straight to our destination. He will hang out at that airport for a couple of hours while we take two puddle jumpers to get there.

He's excited. He texted (what is the past tense of "text"? and when did "text" become a verb?) his friends, told the boys. He has not flown by himself before. At one point we thought that he was either going to have to have an escort (for which he is far too old) or he was going to have to find his own way through huge airports (which made him very nervous). This is just perfect. Just enough independence to be exciting without any real fear of getting lost.

We are all a little buzzed because it means that he really, really is going.

I also talked to my father about the other trip. He sounded good, by which I mean sober. Really it is quite a relief. He was very surprised that we were going to meet my sister at the airport. It is extra driving for us. He asked why a couple of times and I just said that Sis wanted me to and I said I would. 'Cause really, there is no polite way to say, "Well, Sis is afraid you will get drunk and not show up." He finally let it go. I think he might have guessed the reason and there is no point in having that conversation.

Still, I am hopeful that he will be sober, or at least something close to it, while we are there.

And on the good news front: my computer, like a Phoenix has arisen. I didn't even lose any of the recent files I did not have backed up. It turned out not to be the hard drive but the motherboard. There was another computer from "someone who doesn't work here anymore" and the IT woman took my hard drive out and put it in this computer. It feels all new and shiny. The keys still have texture on the top of them! And they have a degree of resistance that feels right. Hard to explain, but it doesn't feel old. It is also CLEAN.


The re-licensing visit is not tomorrow

which is, of course, when I thought it would be.

The family developer has known us a long time though, so I wasn't too embarrassed about the quilting mess all over the living room AND dining room. Fortunately the bathroom and kitchen were reasonably clean. All the boys coped with us going into their rooms and checking their smoke detectors while they pulled blankets over their heads.


We also spent some time talking about Frankie. She was as disappointed as I to hear he had been photo-listed. They are thinking about taking him back and placing him with a family that does intensive care. We told her what sort of care he needed. She will make sure the other family is fully informed. I hope that they are able and willing. We spoke also about the school problem. Ug. I don't want to think about it anymore.

In any case, we are relicensed for another year -- based upon the promise that we will put new batteries in the smoke detectors downstairs, add yet another upstairs, and Roland really will sign up for first aid and CPR.

We will, and she trusts us.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Gary & football

He really is better than a lot of kids about details. I mean he did
call the group home and his last medical provider toget his physical
faxed to the school.

Still, on Thursday when we were in the stores he said that he didn't
need anything, and I KNOW I mentioned shoes specifically. Sunday night
he said that he needed new shoes for practice. Sorry kid. Gotta wait.

Roland took him this afternoon and bought him athletic shoes and
cleats. This afternoon, after five, he gave us forms to sign. Some we
could ~ like the one excusing him from school when he has games.
Others though, like the medical release, we could not. Roland scanned
then and I sent them to the social worker (agnecy). She will contct
the state worker who will hopefully sign. Until then he cannot play.

Just one of those little reminders that as a foster parent you are the
legal equivalent of a babysitter.

I do hope they sign. He really wants to do this.

(blogged from my phone!)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Computer dead

Yes. My laptop has died, or at least gone into a coma. It is currently sitting at the IT woman's desk waiting for her to find time to see if she can fix it, reimage the harddrive, or will have to order me a new one. She says she will not be able to get to it this week, maybe next, and no she does not have a loaner right now.

Ugg...I am going into withdrawl as I type -- on my husband's computer. He is pacing around saying, "It's okay. Take your time. I can wait."

I have very limited web access on my phone. I can only go to those pages that have simplified versions. So I can read blogs on Google Reader, and I can read and respond to email. I cannot, however, visit blogs or comment on them. Sigh. I will try to get on Roland's computer periodically to stay in touch.

I guess I will have to concentrate on quilting.

Speaking of quilting, let me respond to the questions some of you asked. (Skip the rest of this post if you are not interested in making a quilt.) The book I am using is Log Cabin Quilts: The Ultimate Guide to the Most Popular and Versatile Pattern, by Patricia Cox and Maggi McCormick Gordon. I have not done a review of Log Cabin quilt books, but this is a good one. I would certainly recommend it to novice quilters, and to people who know how to threat a sewing machine and want to teach themselves. It will get you through making the top of the quilt, known as "piecing" to us quilters.

Log cabin quilts are also very forgiving. If your blocks come out wrong you can just trim them down a little and keep on going -- just trim all the blocks to the same size.

The second stage of quilting is when you put the the layers together. That can be done by hand or machine quilting or tying. If you want to quilt your quilt you really need, I think, a human teacher and a quilting frame of some sort. You can learn to tie your quilt from a book. I generally tie the quilts I make for the kids' beds. Some people tie with yarn, but I prefer pearl cotton. It is like embroidery floss, only the strands are not meant to be pulled apart. They sell it with the floss. Most people crochet with it.

Have fun, and share pictures if you make one!

Sunday, June 08, 2008


I'm working on Gary's quilt. I'm on a log cabin quilt spree, it seems. I showed him the book and he has picked out a design. It is 8 by 8 blocks, which means a total of 64. I am chain piecing it, which is rather like an assembly line. I'm doing all 64 blocks at once. It is a faster way to go, but, on the downside, if I make a mistake I will probably make it 64 times. I have decide therefore that there will be no mistakes.

By which I mean of course that anything I sew, I will insist was supposed to be that way.

I also finally faced up to the fact that I cannot do the mariner's quilt that I promised Andrew a couple of years ago. I should have started on it last summer. There are just too many curved seams that really need to be done by hand. So I told him to please pick out his second favorite quilt. He could have anything he wanted -- as long as there were no angles sharper than 60 degrees. He started out with the log cabin book and made his own design in three colors. I'm very excited about it.

And that is my exciting day -- Roland took the boys to a movie. I'm not sure but it sounded like it was about panda bears and some form of martial arts. I declined.

Some Reflections on Touch

I haven't hugged him. It seems odd to me that I haven't, although it is probably good and healthy. I think it is part of him being a normal 15-year-old boy who hasn't been bounced around in foster care. Also part of living the past year in a group home where touching was strictly regulated. He doesn't really invite hugs. He will talk about how he is feeling. He shares. I feel like I am getting closer to him, but he also maintains just enough physical distance that it feels inappropriate to hug.

I realize now that when he left the group home no one touched him at all. There was one woman in particular who was really attached to him. She told me how happy she was that we were taking him. She said she wanted me to take 50 more. I laughed, but she looked at me like she was wondering if maybe, just maybe, I would be a placement option for more of the boys who needed somewhere to go after here. She said such wonderful things about Gary. She stayed close to us when we were leaving, and leaned against a post looking sad and happy as I drove away.

She didn't even shake his hand though.

I told him that I was a hugger and asked him where he stood on hugs. He said he hugged, not a problem. This conversation was not as weird as it might have been, by the way, we were filling out the sexual safety plan. There's a part where it says, "The sorts of touch that will not confuse me or make me think that someone wants to have sex with me are: ____" Anyway, I got to write down "hugs."

Still haven't hugged him though. Not going to worry about it.

When I dropped him off at his friend's the other day she came running up the side walk and gave him a tight hug. He hugged her right back. That was good to see.

It seems sad to me that he has lived in a no-touch environment for eleven months.

I have started giving him shoulder pats and squeezes.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Football Camp

So the Kinship Care Support Worker called last night as she promised to give us the name of the head football coach, and the location of a meeting he was supposed to be at this morning. That meeting turned out to be the end of the school meeting for every friggin teacher, administrator and support person in the district (I know, 'cause Roland was there). HOWEVER, the football team was go to Roland school today, as they did yesterday, to help move everything from the classrooms into the auditorium so that the building could be renovated this summer.

So, Roland picked Gary up after the meeting and took him to his school. They chased asked one of the 80 some football players to point out the coach, and Gary made his pitch.

Gary is to go to football camp at the high school Monday morning at 8:00am.

Have I mentioned that I have never watched an entire football game in my whole life?

Now I know that each team is supposed to get the ball to the other end of the field, and that you can carry it across the line or kick it between those big posts, but not kick it over the line -- right? Is it worth more points to do it one way rather than another?

this is a test

This is a test to see if I can blog from my phone.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

The downer of the day

When we were in the agency social worker's office she told Gary that the state worker is insisting upon only supervised visits at the department for now. Gary was disappointed, really. He handled it well. I mean that he didn't try to pretend that he wasn't really sad, but he also understood that it wasn't our fault. We sat quietly for a minute or two and let him deal.

On the way home he told me that he really didn't think it was right for the state worker to do that. She and his father just didn't get along, "like fighting and yelling not getting along." He said that people were too hard on his dad. His dad was just doing the best that he could to take care of all his kids. Gary was sad because if the only sort of visits he could have were supervised ones then his dad wouldn't visit him at all.

Now, I don't know that that is true. His dad has been having supervised visits at the group home for a year. His dad said that he wouldn't accept supervised visits and may have reinforced that with Gary, but I think his dad says a lot of things that he thinks he means at the time.

Anyway, Gary said his dad would be really disappointed because he wanted to get to know us. I told Gary that maybe we could all meet his dad at a pizza place for dinner with the agency worker. The state worker might agree to that as a one-time thing and his father wouldn't feel like it was "supervised" because he would be getting to know all the new people in Gary's life. Gary thought that might work and we agreed he would be responsible for setting it up.

Gary also volunteered that his dad was trying to get custody of his younger children, and that he had asked his dad how he was going to support all those kids on his own. His dad confessed that he just didn't know.

Then Gary said, half sad, half cheerful, "You might be stuck with me a while."

Our Day & Why I LOVE My Agency

So...I got the boys up so that we could leave the house by 9:00. I know, I had been up for three hours, but we are talking about teenage boys here. Anyway, we got into the car and...

...went to a store for a laundry hamper, shampoo, body wash, a plastic basket to hold toiletries, and a lock box. Gary was very pleased that I said that he could have his OWN shampoo and stuff.

...went to the cell phone place so they could assign Gary a new phone number so that he won't get any more calls from Frankie's family. (He shouldn't have to deal with that and I'm not authorized to give them information anyway.)

Then we went to the agency. It is a really friendly place. All of the workers were in the conference room for the Thursday morning staff meeting. The office manager said we could wait in the lobby and I said, "Brian's been telling Gary about the sodas, can we go to the kitchen?" She laughed and said yes. We settled down there. Brian got a soda from the frig, and Gary poured himself a cup of coffee. I just had water. We read the paper at the big kitchen table.

Then was Gary's "interview." It is really just a chance to meet all the staff and for them to meet him. They asked him some questions. He told them that he thought he was going to turn down the summer landscaping job he had lined up because it was 30 miles from the house and the amount he would have to pay me for gas would pretty much eat up what he would make. The family developer said that she knew someone in Our Small Town that also ran a landscaping business and she would call to see if he needed any help. A while later he told them that he wanted to try out for the football team but wasn't sure how to do that since school was out. The woman who does the kinship care support said that her husband knew the coach at another high school and he could find out; she would get the information and give us a call. The guy who sets up activities told us about what was going on this summer. Tomorrow they are taking all the kids who are free to explore some caves. They asked him when he was moving in and we said last night.

Then we went back to the social worker's office. She got out the paper work he had to sign and explained that the agency is a high service program and they expect the kids to take advantage of it. She explained that she would meet with him every month and talk with him about how he was progressing on his goals, that she had to see him in the home and talk to him privately -- usually they would just go out for a shake or something. She explained some of the other program rules, including how to go about filing a complaint. He thought it was all fine, and signed the papers. Then he was officially in, and she gave him her office and cell phone numbers. If he has a problem on the evenings or weekends it is best to call the office and leave a message with the service. Whoever is on call will call him back. However, if he really wants to call her, he can.

They talked about what he needed right now. He said he wanted to get in shape for football. She told him that the Y gave memberships to foster youth, and then asked me if we wanted them to buy us a family membership so that we could go with him. (I'll let you guess what I said). At my prompting he showed her a scar on his arm. It is a gang sign he carved into his arm when he first went into detention, "Because I was little and I didn't want to get beat up." He said he would like it removed. She asked me to make an appointment for him with our physician (who doesn't normally take Medicaid, but will for my kids) and ask for a referral to someone who can do that and to let her know so she can set up payment. She also reminded him to talk to the doctor about his migraines because she knew there was a medicine that had been recommended that Medicaid didn't pay for and they would.

Then we went to the bike shop, and Gary got to pick out a brand new bike. His eyes popped with amazement when he was told the budget. It is not a place that sells cheap bikes though so there were only a few in that range to choose from. He actually picked one that was significantly under budget, so much so that I told Brian, who has outgrown his bike, that he could have one too. The bikes needed to have lights mounted so the social worker, who is coming to the house tomorrow morning to finish the paper work, said that she would pick them up for us and bring them out so that we don't have to make another trip to The City.

Then we got fast food lunch and headed back to home.

Gary sent someone a text message, told me that Andrew had promised to help him with the (used) ipod we had bought him and then said, "Man! I am like TOTALLY spoiled now."

But we went to Roland's classroom and spent a couple of hours moving furniture and boxes and that helped.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Settling In

We picked up a ipod for him at a pawn shop* the other day. It is an older 2-gig Nano, not exactly top of the market, but I wanted him to have something teenager-y. I also didn't want to make a big deal about it, so I gave it to Brian to give him. Brian reports that he said, "Holy cr*p! I've never had anything this expensive. It's so cool!" Given the price I paid he may be wrong about that, but that's okay.

Tomorrow I take him to his official "interview" at the agency where he will meet the staff and then sign the papers saying he really wants to be part of the program. Then I take him to the bike shop where the agency has an account for his bike. Probably tomorrow they will just figure out what size he should have. We will have to pick it up another day. We also have to buy a laundry basket, a lockbox, and paint for the trim in his room. The paint I think will have to wait for another day. He also got a call from someone looking for Frankie so we will have his cell number changed too.**

Yes, we are spoiling him rotten. I will have to make clear to him that these things (except the cell phone) are his to keep no matter what.

I went down to his room a bit ago just to check on him. He has been moving the furniture to suit him, making the space his own. The main objective was to create wall space across from his bed where he can tack up a decorative blanket his dad gave him. He is definitely nesting.

*It is a new, large, almost-attractive pawn shop. There is no denying that you can get incredible deals there and the electroncs come with a 30-day guarantee. Still, I find myself wondering if people were just getting rid of things they no longer want, or was did they sell in order to buy groceries. It is difficult not to feel just a bit like a vulture there.

**I don't have current information about Frankie to give the person who called and in any case Gary shouldn't have to deal with that.

Gary's Graduation

I went to the graduation ceremony. Andrew and Brian went along, but they were not allowed in because of issues of confidentiality. Deeply disappointed they took the car keys and went out for shakes or whatever they wanted.

They called it a graduation, but it like a normal graduation. It was only him, for one. There are about 12 boys in the house at any given time and not everyone who leaves "graduates." Some put in their time and go having not completed the program and others leave for more secure facilities having gotten into trouble. Every now and then though there is a kid like Gary who completes the program, and he gets a graduation.

It starts with the boys and staff sitting around in a big circle. Everyone shares their hopes and fears for Gary. It was very informative for me. I found out that the most common fear his peers had for him was that he would get upset about something and shut down, possibly making a small problem into a big one. Their hopes were more diverse: that he finish high school; become a famous chef; finish high school early; get to live in Hawaii with his dad (after finishing high school).

These young men are very focused on the importance of finishing high school.

The staff's fears were more along the lines of him trying to grow up to quickly, not taking time to enjoy being fifteen, and not asking for help when he had a problem. Then he got the a framed certificate, a brownie, and a chance to carve "his mark" on the large tree stump in the back yard.
And then I took him home.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Graduation, of a sorts

Gary called. "My graduation is at 3:00."

"Cool. You want us to be there?"

"Yeah. 'Cause right after I am leaving."

Alrighty then.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Case Plan -- sort of

The agency worker emailed me after talking with the state worker. This is where things stand:

In order to get custody Gary's dad would need to have the divorce finalized, have a job and a home, take parenting classes, and show stability which in her mind means 6 months of living in one place.

For the foreseeable future, she insists that all visits be supervised at the department. He is not to come to our home or call our house phone. He may call Gary on his cell phone. This is apparently not because he is a danger, but that he can be ornery, loud, and irritable when he doesn't get his way and she doesn't want for us to have to listen to it.

The next permanency hearing is at the end of summer, and the most that could happen then would be that the judge would approve a reunification plan. Whether he does would depend upon whether he had actually done anything, which she doubts he will.

I have so many different emotions, it is difficult to sort them out. Relief is certainly one of them, but so is sadness for Gary. No matter what happens he is not going to get to move in with his dad before school starts. He may not get it at all. The agency social worker says that everyone who knows his dad is skeptical that he will carry through on this plan.

Gary may get his heart broken and I get no pleasure from that.

I am also anxious about how his dad will respond to these restrictions. He said before that he would "not accept" supervised visitation. I'm not sure what that means. The state worker thinks that he might refuse to visit Gary under those circumstances and that if he does it would significantly lengthen the reunification process...if it happens at all. Part of me wonders if this isn't over-kill. Do they really think that it isn't safe for Gary to go to lunch with his dad? Do they think he will drive off with him? Really? They can't be too worried about what he might say to Gary, as they see no reason to restrict their cell phone conversations. I don't think there is any reason to be worried that his dad would physically hurt him. I am inclined to think that he is more likely to behave badly if he cannot take his son out to lunch unsupervised, but I don't really know the history of the case. The file I got was about Gary, not about his father.

Knowing that nothing is immanent helps me not to feel anxious for myself, which makes it easier to remember that this is so not about me. It is about Gary. My role is fairly minimal. I just get the privilege of taking care of him for as long as he needs me.

The rest is pretty much out of my hands.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

I don't really see him much

Gary that is. He is out of his room to enjoy the amount of time he is allowed to play on electronic games, and he shows for meals. He comes right up and does a chore whenever asked. When he is with one of us he is friendly and engaging. It is easy to get him talking about his life.

But if you don't put any energy into it he will drift off to his room to read, sleep, and drain the batteries on the cell phone. I checked our usage this morning and then again a bit ago, just to see. He has put 100 minutes on the phone this afternoon. Over the weekend he has sent or received almost 80 text/pix messages.

I almost told him, when he came to the kitchen to get a piece of pizza, that I would like for him to spend some more time out of his room -- other than meals and gaming time. I didn't though. He started talking first telling me how cool it was to be able to talk to his girlfriend for the first time in eleven months, laughingly complained that his thumbs were sore from texting. He said he had been up most of the night finishing Eragon and now he is trying to get through Antwoine Fisher. And "I'm leaving most of my stuff here. I'm just going to take my whites back because I won't have enough otherwise."

He was so happy.

Kids isolating themselves can be an indicator of depression or other problems, but I think he is just having a ball. He loves being able to go to his room (his own room!) in the middle of the afternoon. He loves being able to talk to his friend, having a cell phone.

This morning he told me that he called his dad last night ("because I can!") and that his dad was really sad, he might have even been crying. "All of this," meaning the divorce and separation from his kids is "so hard on him. I think he was crying. I haven't ever heard him cry before." Gary told me that it has always been hard on his dad to not be able to live with all his kids. "Most people are really critical of him for not living with me." I told him that I wasn't, that I had a lot of sympathy for his dad. Having to choose which of your kids to live with has to be the worst decision that a parent can make.

We talked about it a little. I think that Gary knows, or at least part of him knows, that if his father can make up with Gary's stepmother he will, and he will stay there. I think Gary has even begun to allow himself to imagine that his father won't move at all. When he spoke of when he was going to move in with his father he gave me an anxious look. It was just a second, but he seemed to be wondering if I was going to tell him that that might not happen. I didn't.