Saturday, February 28, 2009

Well, I guess that showed me

Neither boy is permitted TV, video games or computer until they bring their grades back up. Gary is sanguine. He wouldn't give us the satisfaction of being upset over anything. He's too tough, you know.

Brian however is not speaking to us at the moment.

He wouldn't even tell us why he was putting on his shoes and storming out the back door.

Gary volunteered that they were going to ride their bikes together.

Yep, they're going to get some fresh air and exercise. That'll show us...taking away all their electronics.

Maybe they will get really angry and take further revenge by cleaning their rooms and reading books.

Kindle: not for textbooks

I think that etextbooks are going to happen. People who buy and use textbooks are not generally emotionally attached to the physical book. College students resell them when they can; they don't tend to want to line their walls with them. No one likes lugging the things around. You also know that I think that the college bookstore model has broken down. We will move to etextbooks.

But Amazon is not well-positioned to be the source of those books.

When you want to buy a novel you go to a bookstore, physical or on-line. When I want to pick out a textbook, I go to the publisher. I pull a catalogue out of my desk, go to their web site, or send an email to the representative who contacts me every now and then. Actually, if I regularly use textbooks (rather than novels or books published by academic presses), I don't even have to do that. The publishers all know that I teach logic and so they send me, unrequested, exam copies of new logic books. If I am thinking about changing I just need to look at the stack of books that have been sent to me recently.

Textbook publisers are catching on that this is a good business model. At least they are experiementing with it. They are now selling their most popular textbooks on their web sites. Students can pay for the right to read it there from any computer, or to download it to one computer and print it once.

And the students like it.

No one really wants to read a novel on a computer screen, but a calculus book? Sure. Why not? Even a sociology text book can be read on the computer. It's not like you would have taken the five pound book into the tub with you. Besides, the publishers charge significantly less for these electronic copies, often less than the student would pay for a used book.

The publishers are making all the profit on this model. If they sell the text books through Amazon they have to give Amazon a cut and Amazon simply has nothing to offer them that they need.

I do think, or rather I hope, that it will be possible to download these textbooks onto an ereader, but I think the business model will have to be one in which the seller of the ereader is not planning on getting a cut on the sale of the books. If the Kindle for textbooks that we hear rumors about will not allow me to download a book that I have purchased directly from the publisher, it isn't going to happen. (Right now you can down-load unprotected free books onto your Kindle, but nothing you have bought from another vendor).

As far as using the Kindle in the classroom with other sorts of books, there is another HUGE problem: no page numbers. If I ask my students to read Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, or Jane Austin's Emma, I am going to ask them to order the same edition. This is so we can all easily find the same passage. Now, if they all have the book on some electronic platform, people can search for a phrase and all get to the same place. However, if some have paper and some have electronic version, well, right now we are in trouble.

Kindle 102 -- DRM and Sharing Books

If you already know about Digital Rights Management (DRM) skip this post.

DRM is code that is put into an electronic file so that you can't copy it and share it with the world. If you are able to borrow audio books from Netlibrary you are familiar with it. The DRM that comes with the book allows you to listen to the book for a couple of weeks. After that it just doesn't work any more, unless you go to the web site and renew it. You also know, if you are a patron of Netlibrary that iPods and Zunes don't work with Netlibrary's DRM code.

The Amazon DRM for books is tight. When you buy the book, you are really only buying the right to read the book as long as you have a Kindle and Amazon continues to exist. The Kindle 2 does not accept external memory. You can back up as much as you want at Amazon, which is convenient, but it also means that Amazon has all your reading material. You cannot sell your ebook or even loan it without loaning out the Kindle. If Amazon thinks you have been trying to hack the books, they can wipe out your library at any time. If you sell your Kindle you have to deregister it and whoever buys it will not have any of the books you bought.

You can share books but only if you share an account.

So if you and your partner/spouse/child each have Kindles on one account you will have the same library of books. You will also have the same method of payment. As far as I know, if your kid grows up, moved out and gets a Kindle on their own account, they can't take the books you bought them without taking the entire account. Now maybe Amazon customer service will have a way of dividing a library of books, but so far as I know that is not currently possible.

This is, I think, the biggest downside of buying ebooks from Amazon.

As I professor who loans books to students this is one of those downsides that leaves me with an "aw shucks" sort of feeling.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Kindle 101

I took my Kindle to work today and showed it to a couple of people. They asked me some questions that made it clear they didn't really know much about it, so I thought I would explain how the thing works.

There have been ereaders around for a while. You can buy ebooks from several different sites on the web and there are places where you can get free ones. With most ereaders you get the book from the web, download it to your computer, and then transfer it to your ereader. Kindles work differently. buy a Kindle you have to go to the Amazon web site and order it. When you do you will, of course, give them a credit card number or some other payment method. Unless you go back to the web site later, that payment method is what Amazon is going to use to charge you for any books you buy. It is like any other purchase on Amazon, and some time later your Kindle shows up.

When you get the Kindle you turn it on it connects wirelessly to Amazon and registers itself. In the upper left hand corner it will say something like, "Yondalla's Kindle." Amazon calls the wireless service it uses the "whispernet" but it is really the Sprint cell phone system. You don't have to worry about that though. You don't have to own a cell phone and you certainly don't have to own a Sprint cell phone. You just need to live somewhere that gets the service. Check here. I think that if you live somewhere that does not have service you can download to your computer and transfer, but I'm not sure.

So now you have your Kindle and it is registered and Amazon has your credit card information. Now you need to get books. You can do that in two ways with Amazon.

Method 1: Go to Amazon, search for books, and click "buy it now with 1-Click." It will tell you that the book will be on your Kindle in about a minute. If you haven't turned off the wireless function to save battery life, that will be true. You will sit and stare at your Kindle while nothing at all happens for about a minute. Then the book will show up. If your wireless was turned off when you ordered the book you will have to turn it on, click "menu" and then select "sync and check for items" before it downloads.

Method 2: Click "menu" on the Kindle. If the wireless is turned off, turn it on. Select "Shop in Kindle Store." Watch the little circle thing spin for a minute. You will see a list of some books that are recommended for you and some links for browsing. If you know what book you want to read, just type. You don't have to select anything. Just type the title or author when the store front opens. Then click "search" and wait to find out if they have the book. If they do, click "buy" and in a minute, it will be on your Kindle.

If you use Method 2, you do not have to be near your computer. You do not have to be in a wifi hot spot. You do not have to own a cell phone or anything. You can be sitting in the car while your partner drives and decide you want something to read.

Here's another cool thing, if you aren't sure you want to buy it you can click "Send a Sample Now" and you will get the first chapter or so. You can read that. If you like it, you can buy it.

It is really easy. Really, super easy.

It's like the main purpose of the devise is to make buying books an impulse decision so that you will give them lots and lots of money.

Oh, if you live with people you don't trust, guard it. Cause it is WAY easy to buy books on it.

Did I mention that buying books might even be too easy?

Requiring a password wouldn't be a terrible idea, Amazon.

Amazon has about 7000 books that you can download free. There are other sites that have free books you can read on the Kindle, but those you will have to download to the computer and transfer to the Kindle with the provided cable. See Suesqueak's comment on the previous Kindle post.

You can have your own documents (e.g. word) sent to the Kindle. Amazon will format them for the Kindle free. You can either have them sent to an email address and then load them yourself or you can pay 10 cents to have them sent to your Kindle wirelessly.

Mother Bear

Last night the boys went off to their martial arts class together happy and companionable.

That's not how they came home.

Brian was very upset. His elbow was hurt. The class instructor said that it was "a severe hyperextension." (Roland heard that.) First you need to know that when you "grapple" with someone you are supposed to get him into a "submission." One of the ways you win is when the other person "taps out" meaning that they tap you. The rules in class, and perhaps in competition, are that painful submission should be done slowly so that people have an opportunity to tap out before they are injured. Also, of course, you can't pin them in such a way that they can't reach you to tap. According to Brian, Gary broke both of the rules, quickly hyper extending his elbow. Brian waved his hand but couldn't reach to tap and up "screaming in pain" before Gary stopped.

I'm sure it all happened pretty quickly.

I think it probably did happen something like that. Gary is very strong and Brian is just now developing any strength at all. It would be very easy for Gary to pull too hard on Brian's arm by using the same force that would have resulted in a "slow submission" on someone with greater arm strength. That Brian could not tap probably was equally a result of what Gary did and Brian's lack of skill at resisting holds.

Brian complained of a good deal of pain but he was clearly more angry than hurt. (Which doesn't mean he wasn't hurt, just that he was very, very angry.

Roland wanted to know if Gary had apologized. He was surprised that I didn't think it was important that he apologize. It doesn't seem appropriate when both people agree to engage this way. It occurs to me that Gary might even have done something that he considered an apology like saying, "Wow, I didn't mean to hurt you, man. You okay?" which wouldn't have felt like an apology to Brian.

I wanted to know if the teacher talked to Gary about control. The teacher does, I am told, regularly tell them that other people in the class are team mates, "not some thug trying to take your wallet," and so they should therefore be careful not to injure each other. Being able to tap out so that you don't get hurt is important. If Gary did a hold in which Brian couldn't do that, then that is a fairly big deal. I don't feel strongly that an apology is owed, but I would like to know that the instructor is correcting that behavior.

Anyway, the elbow did not appear swollen. He was given ice at the gym and we added some ibuprophen. If it is swollen after school today I will take him to the physician.

Anyway, the point...

The point is that I'm conflicted about how to handle this with Gary. There were a couple of times when Andrew got angry at Brian and ended up hurting him. I was very firm, even loud, with Andrew. I understood that Brian was doing something he shouldn't have done but he can NEVER, EVER HURT HIM. Before they started this class Gary had a conflict with Brian that resulted in Brian's arm being hyper-extended (or at least pulled back until it hurt). I talked with Gary quietly and told him that he and Brian were not allowed to use any martial arts moves at home. Period.

With the class though, I don't really know where the line is. I don't know if what Gary did was very unacceptable or just one of the things that happens sometimes if you engage in this activity. I want to trust the instructor to be setting and dealing with those boundaries.

When I think about Brian being held in a submission and not being able to tap, I feel very angry. I feel the anger of a mama whose baby is being hurt. I know that I would feel the same way about anyone who hurt Gary. In fact I met the guy who broke Gary's tooth. I know that Gary should have been wearing a mouth guard, but still I looked at this guy and felt a fairly strong revoltion. Definitely a "you and me are never going to be friends" sort of feeling.

The thing is that even though I know that I would feel just as angry if anyone hurt Gary, or if Andrew had hurt Brian, I know that my relationship with Gary isn't strong enough for that level of rage.

And yes, I feel rage. I also feel an equally strong desire to protect Gary from the rage. I feel this deep sympathy for a kid who has been rejected because he hurt someone. I know the anxiety that he has under neath all that. It was days later, that time. He had confessed and been moved to grandma's house. He expected to grow up there. One day his stepmother showed up, told him to get in the car, and dropped him off at the police station. It was out of the blue. No warning.

Gary spent what was left of the evening in his room, although he came up quietly later and did most of the kitchen clean-up. He left Brian with less work than is usual and, I noticed, they were all jobs you could do one-handed.

I didn't go to talk to Gary, which I might have done almost any other time. I avoided him this morning, which isn't difficult because he gets up at the last possible moment, showers, and runs for the bus.

I'm not sure exactly what to say to him. To be clear, what I WANTED to do and say last night is exactly what I did and said when Andrew once hurt Brian, and when one of Andrew's friends hurt Andrew. I was furious. I was a little frightening. I was able to move on and not hold it against them.

Though the image of Brian hurting and unable to tap out can still make me feel pretty angry, mostly the moment for fury has passed. I still don't know what I should do though.

I know some people who read this have participated in mixed martial arts. I could use some guidance here. Which of the following would be an appropriate response:

1. "You have to allow your opponent to be able to tap out. If you can't do that, you will have to take a break from these classes for a while."

2. "Listen, I know these things happen, but I don't respond well to any of my kids getting hurt. I really don't want you and Brian to grapple each other."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Answers re: Kindle 2 (updated)

I will update this post if/when there are more questions. Before I get to the questions there is something else I want to tell you. It isn't easy to tell when the Kindle is doing what you told it to do. For instance when you buy a book it supposed to be delivered in under a minute. It isn't like downloading something from the Internet. When you do that you see a little progress bar and can watch as it slowly download. With the Kindle it is more like nothing happens for almost a full minute and then the book is loaded in five seconds. Presumably the book has been bouncing off cell phone towers.

There are other times when I find myself wondering if the Kindle is doing what I asked it to do (like search for something) because nothing seems to be happening. I did finally notice the little circle in the upper left hand corner that whirls when it is working.

1. Are there illustrations: yes. They are of course black and white, but they are pretty good.

2. Is it worth the cost? Well, for me yes it was. Part of it was that I started giving myself an allowance and I did want to save up to do something with it. It's been a long time since I have been in that situation, having a certain amount of money every month for whatever and then picking out a goal for it. I might have just saved it, but I think I was also demonstrating to my family that it can be done.

I also need to buy more books impulsively, which I know sounds strange. I don't read as much as I should in my field because I talk myself out of paying for the books. I can order them for the library but that process takes so long that by the time they get here they just aren't as compelling. I am hoping that more and more of what I want to read is available. If I still have to buy many paper books I will be frustrated.

Will it be worth it for you? If you mean will you save money over buying paper books that obviously depends upon how many books you buy and whether/how often you replace or upgrade your Kindle. If you read classics it's a steal. You can get the collected works of Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Charles Dickens (and quite a few more) for under $5 each. Most new releases are $10. My main goal isn't saving money. It's instant gratification. Deciding you want to something and then having it in under a minute is pretty cool.

3. Will the price go down? I don't think it will by much. Your cell phone is cheap(er) because much of the price is rolled into the cost of service over the lifetime of the contract. Amazon has rolled the cost of wireless delivery via Sprint into the cost of the machine and books.

4. What's with the cat on the mat? Well, there was a spell in which it seemed that everyone who wanted to talk about meaning and reference or the correspondence theory of truth used "the cat is on the mat." It has become a sort of philosophical joke. My colleague has a section of wall in his office covered with photos and drawings of cats on mats. When I came here and saw it I laughed out loud. No one else sees why it is funny. To be fair, the most over-used sentence-as-example in philosphy is "a bachelor is an unmarried man."

We philosophers are a wild and crazy crowd.

5. Further notes: if you buy a Kindle book from Amazon and the wireless is turned off on your Kindle, you should select "synch and check for items" on your Kindle when you turn the wireless back on.

6. Do I think that paper books will be totally replaced? No, I don't, although it is possible we will come close. Children's books though I think will remain in paper for a very long time. Even when Ereader screens are bigger and in color, it won't be the same. Though I find I don't miss the feel of paper in my hands, I think children in particular need to be able to see and hold books.

Ereaders can't replace scholarly books until there is a standard method for citation. I don't imagine right now that I could get an article published using Kindle location numbers.

Theoretically, it could come close. I can imagine a world in which ebooks have replaced paper books the way email has replaced letters ... although I still see cards and children's books in that world.

Kindle 2 -- my first impressions

Okay, so for the record, I have had my Kindle for less than a day and it is the only Kindle I have ever seen in real life. I have read reviews of the Kindle 1, but never touched one. I will probably write more about it later, but here's for now.

Hardware: With the cover (the one Amazon sells) it weighs about one pound (I have a postage scale), which turns out to be a little heavier than I want to hold in one hand for any length of time. Clearly, I could stand to develop a bit more strength in my hands and wrists. However, if you scrunch down in the recliner and rest it on your chest, it works really well.

It looks like it should have a bigger screen. There is white plastic all around the screen and it seems like wasted space. I'm willing to assume that there is some reason having to do with the hardware inside the machine that dictates this, but it would be nice if the device were smaller or the screen bigger.

I know that people complained about accidentally pushing the buttons on the Kindle 1 and that is not a problem with the Kindle 2. I read for several hours straight last night and never accidentally turned a page. There is this five-way joystick thingy. It works okay, and it allows you to highlight/underline one word at a time which I hear you couldn't do before, but it I can't help but think there should have been a better way. Don't ask me what; I'm a user not a designer. There is a keyboard on the bottom which you need for searching and writing any notes you want. It feels a lot like a cell phone keyboard but the Kindle is just wide enough that it is a bit uncomfortable for my little hands.

Does all this sound like I don't like it? I do like it. It does exactly what it should do. It lets me read books.

The screen is light grey and the words are black. It is not back lit, which means that your eyes don't get tired like when you stare at the computer screen all day. It does mean you can't read in the dark, but you can read ouside in the sun (for those of you who do that sort of thing). When you turn the page the screen flicks to black and then back to grey with black letters. It is a bit jarring. Hopefully they will develop something gentler on the eyes. However, I spent 2 hours reading Coraline (all of it). I got engrossed in the book and the world went away like it does when you are engrossed in the book. I didn't notice the words-black screen-words flicker any more than I would have noticed my hands turning pages. I fell asleep re-reading Locked Rooms in bed last night. The flickering thing wasn't annoying enough to prevent me from nodding off.

You can switch the type face from very small to very large very quickly.

Making notes in the book doesn't work exactly like I thought it would, but it is pretty cool. Basically you can add endnotes to the text. You move the cursor to where you want to the note to appear, click, type in the box below, enter. In the text there is a number (just like for an end note). When you cursor is over it, the box on the bottom shows up and you can read your note. You can also go to one page and read all your notes for the entire book. However, it works backwards. Let's say I was reading a text and I want to quickly find certain passages. I expected my notes page to look like this:

1. Conclusion of first passage here.
2. Example of cat on the mat.
3. Did he really say this?

I then thought that if my cursor was over the number or the note, the pop up text box would quote the original text. However, it is the other way around. What I see are passages from the text:

1. Therefore we can see that all people are silly.
2. The "cat is on the mat" is an over-used example in contemporary philosophy, however
3. Plato is an over-rated philosopher.

I see my notes in the pop up box. Not a big deal, but I had imagined being able to outline a book and then seeing the outline on the notes page. In any case, when you click on something in the notes page, you return to that part of the text.

I had read that the organization for books was poor and I am here to tell you that it IS REALLY FREAKING AWFUL. I mean, WOW HOW COULD IT BE THIS STUPID? On the home page you can see ten titles at a time. You can organize them by title, author, or most recent (with newly purchased books and anything you have recently read on the top). If you have twenty books you will have two pages to flick through. If you have 1,500 (which they say you could) then you would have to flick through 150 pages. Of course you can search for a book, but you better remember everything you own. There are no folders, no tags, nothing. You can archive things to the Amazon web site which takes them off your Kindle. There on the site you should be able to search and browse more quickly, but there are no good organization tools there either so far as I can tell. This would be an incentive for buying "collected works" as much as possible because the collection would work like a folder.

I've been intrigued by ebook readers for quite a while. I haven't bought one for the simple reason that the books that I need most to read were not available. I don't want an ereader primarily so that I can have something/anything to read when I have dead time. I want it to read the things I want to read. That includes novels, but it also includes books from academic presses. Many of these are coming out on the Kindle for reasonable prices, and there is no other reader for which that is true. So last evening I read Coraline. Now I am reading Experiments in Ethics by Kwame Anthony Appiah. Well, I am reading the sample chapter. I may buy the rest of it later today.

One more thing. When it is turned off, you get a portrait of some famous author on the screen. It is black and white, of course, but now that there are sixteen shades of grey, it looks pretty good.

If you have questions, ask away.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lost it with Brian

I really did just lose it with Brian last night...and with Roland.

Roland has agreed to check the school web site every week. He even tells me that he is going to do, or that he has done it. He gets annoyed with me if I ask about it. Well, yesterday he did log in and looked at Brian's grades. It wasn't good. Brian hasn't turned in a practice sheet for Band all semester. He is getting friggin D in band because he hasn't turned in practice sheets. He has 100% for the in-class stuff, but you know, a zero averaged with 100 isn't a good grade.

It is a similar in all his classes. He is smart. He is good at everything he does. He is just horribly disorganized and forgets to do things, or forgets to turn in things he does. We've tried everything we know of to help him get organized.

Anyway, I got really angry at Brian. Really angry. He lies. He missed days when he was sick and insisted that he did talk to the teachers, but he didn't. Once again he has 100% on some of the work and zeros on the rest. It is so frustrating. I got very, very mad.

In the end I told Brian that he could not have ANY computer/video game/TV time until all of his grades are at least C's. Last night that seemed like a big deal. Today it seems like something that he can pull off pretty quickly -- if he can get teachers to accept work he didn't turn in quite a while ago when he was sick.

When I was calm again Gary showed up in the kitchen where I was doing dishes. I said I was sorry that I lost my temper even if it wasn't at him. He said it was okay. He was used to it.

Then I said, "Sometimes I think I'm a better parent to you, David, Carl, and Evan than I am to Brian and Andrew."

"Well, yeah, 'cause you can like separate from us."

Ain't it the truth.

Finally I played the "what's the worst that could happen" game. I eventually made myself feel better.

It would be easier if his plans for himself were something that didn't require college. Of cousre he is fourteen and doesn't really have any plans for himself. Still, he has, we have, always assumed he would go to college. When he does poorly in school like this I feel like such a horrible parent. I feel angry at myself for not checking the school's web page. I feel angry at Roland for not doing it when he said he would.

I've come to the conclusion that when I am parenting boys that I have not raised, it isn't a good idea to get too worked up about school. It generally works better if they know that I am there to help them whenever they want, but school is their job, not mine. I have over the years tried to make them do school work, and it is always a disaster.

Maybe I just don't do it right. I don't think this is the right approach with younger children, by the way.

I can't make up my mind to treat Brian the same way though.

I don't know if that means that I am a better or worse parent to him, or if it is just different.

Update: Brian came home at the usual time because all the teachers have meetings on Wednesday and he couldn't talk to them anyway. Gary called me from the bus to say that he had been at school working with his teachers to figure out all he needed to to after missing two days of school. He said he was going to be crazy busy.

I mentioned it to Brian. He realized Gary is right -- teacher meetings are on Tuesday.

I don't want to be a mother right now.

David Sighting

Remember how David's phone number didn't work?

So today I was talking with one of my students in my office and he saw a photo of four of the boys and said, "Hey, is [David] one of your kids?"

"Yes, have you seen him recently?"

"Yeah. We were at the same club yesterday. I IM him all the time!"

So I told him that when I tried to call last his phone didn't work. I fished for some info (shameless!) and told the student to tell David to call his mom.

The student thought that was funny, but promised that the next time he saw David on IM he would tell him.


It is good to know that he is alive, of course.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Not quite malingering

Gary is enjoying being home sick.

Yesterday wasn't the first day he was home. He stayed home once with a migraine, and I think he stayed home one time last semester but he was really sick there isn't any fun in that.

Yesterday he stayed home because he had a terrible cold and a really awful cough. He sounded just horrible. Roland said to him Sunday night, "You really should stay home so you don't infect all your classmates." So he did.

He stayed home and played the heavy metal music channel on cable and surfed the Internet. Last night he said, coughing for emphasis, "I think I might need to stay home one more day."

When you do foster care for older kids you may think that you will miss all the firsts, but there are firsts you never anticipate; ones which are fun because the kids are aware of them as firsts. You get to see that enjoyment and appreciate it again. Seeing a kid walk for the first time is exciting, but it doesn't necessarily make you appreciate the joys of walking (although if it did for you, wonderful).

Seeing a teenager feeling free to stay home and pamper himself because he really shouldn't infect his peers is a great deal of fun.

Remember staying home on those days? When you were just sick enough that your parents told you to do it, but not so sick that you had to spend all day sleeping? Having the house to yourself, watching TV all day, eating whatever you wanted? It is one of the joys of having two parents who work outside the home.

All day by yourself, doing just about anything you want.


Monday, February 23, 2009

In which I rant about the credit card company again

So we all remember my ranting about the credit card company, right?

Shortly after that I got an email from them telling me that they had exciting new opportunities for me. I ignored it.

Then we got checks to use to transfer other balances onto that card. Roland called and said, "That account is cancelled right?" They said yes, it was. There would be one more statement issued to us that would have a zero balance and then it would be all gone.

Then we got a letter in the mail saying that our new interest rate was 29.9% and if we did not want to accept their terms we could cancel the account.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Meaning of Illness

Gary, "Man! I'm so sick. I haven't ever been this sick!"

Me, "You know, there is a theory that if kids don't feel safe they just can't let themselves get sick. So if they move into your house and get sick, it means they are safe."

Gary, "Well that makes sense. I mean, even from my perspective it makes sense."

Of course, moving in with an elementary school teacher who brings home every virus out there may play a role, but I prefer the feeling safe theory.

Sarsmile asks:

You are a college professor and Roland is a teacher, so I am assuming you
believe strongly in the value of education. How has that worked out with foster
kids who may not share that value?What about kids who just aren't destined to go
to college, whether it's lack of ability or interest or preparation? Is that
hard for you to accept? Do they worry about living up to expectations, real or
not? About not fitting in with your family? What if they are interested in
college but at a lower caliber school than the ones you teach at/went to?

Honey, if any of them went to any school at all I would be pleased as punch.

The short version is that none of the boys grew up expecting to go to college or with the self-discipline to do well. All have performed below their ability, which has caused me some frustration. David never finished high school. Carl finished but never did what he needed to go to apply to college. Evan applied, but failed most or all of his classes the one semester he was there. Gary has a hard time making himself do what he doesn't want to do and at this point I don't have strong expectations for college for him.

We always try to talk to kids about their grades individually. I found myself telling Andrew that there was no reason at all for getting a B in band, and then telling David that I knew he could get a C in this course if he applied himself. We continue to try to talk to each kid about their own goals for themselves and whether what they are doing will get them there. I try to keep on that path, encouraging each of them to pursue their own goals.

And I know that I treat the bioboys differently, and I don't know which group of kids I am the better parent to. I am invested in Andrew and Brian achieving success as I understand it. If either of them made the decisions that Carl or David have I would not be able to accept it. I don't know what I could do about it, but it would upset me. I would not be able to sigh and think, "if only they had had the encouragement they needed from the time they were young." No. I would be thinking, "what did I do wrong?"

There don't seem to be major tensions between the boys regarding academics. Brian a year ahead in math and doing well; Gary is a year behind and struggling. That doesn't seem to be interesting or important to either of them. I don't know if there will be new tensions now that Andrew is in college. If there is I think it will have more to do with the fact that we continue to support him financially when we haven't the other boys.

Now one reason for the difference is that the foster boys are part of a very well-funded agency which is prepared to spend at least as much money on them as I have been spending on Andrew. In order to get that money they have been asked to do things that I did not ask Andrew to do.

It is difficult to know what the right call is. When Evan stayed here for a couple of months last year he did not pay rent or even help with the groceries like he said he would. He got free room and board and I did not give him any grief about it. I knew he was saving every penny he could to pay his own bills when he moved out and I was happy to help him do that. On the other hand, I have refused to help David and Carl when I thought that helping them wasn't really helping. I have done very little for David, and he has not asked for anything. Carl I have helped a few times, sending money, buying bus and once a plane ticket, and offering to pay an optometrist if he goes to get new glasses. (He didn't. I don't know if he didn't get around to it or if the request was really a failed attempt to get me to send him a lot of cash.) These acts have been occasional.

Andrew on the other hand is still very much my dependent. If he needs something, I pay for it. When summer comes I will not ask him for rent. Currently he is off at college, where his only job is college, and I send him an allowance of $50/month. When Evan was at a college he was expect by the agency to work 20 hours a week. He kept taking more hours and ended up failing his courses. $50/month would not have been enough to let Evan not work. He was caught up in that circle where you have to have a car to go to work and need to go to work to afford to have your car. He made pretty decent money, and $50/month would not have gone far, but maybe I should have sent it anyway.

When Evan went off to school my perception was that he didn't need money from me, though he did need someone to talk to about the challenges of school and a place to go for holidays. So I gave him that.

So, I seem to be wandering off the track of the original question, but maybe that is an answer to the question. My perception is that whether they go to college is not an issue. I suspect their perceptions of the degree to which I have been fair to them might.

New shape to the blog

So I've decided I need to expand the topic of the blog. I still have philosophical things to say abou foster care, but I don't have as many daily things to say. I am committed to writing posts about the daily stuff, including the good stuff. It is just that I find myself wanting to write more about teaching stuff...all sorts of stuff.

I thought about starting a blog based upon the teaching stuff but that is way too much pressure. I don't want to write a blog that people think is going to be academic or scholarly. I think I want to give my inner grumpy professor a place to vent too.

Dawn pulls it off...having a blog that is about writing, working, and parenting.

So given that I can write about whatever I want given that it is my own durn blog, what's this post about?

Well, I think I need to change the title and description. I'd prefer "foster care" or "foster family" to be in it because that brings people to the blog, and because I expect to keep writing about it. I also want to write a post on why I would love a Kindle for textbooks but don't think it will happen in the forseeable future, and I don't want that to be "off topic."

So...anybody got any ideas?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Money Post

Back in the summer I wrote a couple of posts about our problems with debt. A couple of people wrote and thanked me for sharing it. Things have changed significantly and I haven't written about it for a variety of reasons. But I do sort of feel like I left a bunch of people hanging in the middle of the story, so I thought I would write about it. I may delete this post after a while.

As long-time readers know that the family owned a piece of property in Maine and that this summer it sold. Years and years ago my FIL gave it to his three sons. Technically it was owned by a trust and the brothers were beneficiaries of it. When it sold my FIL convinced the brothers to roll the sale back into the trust along with new rules that would keep it in the trust until they retired. I had some strong and mixed feelings about it. Everyone knew that one of the reasons for the trust was that one of Roland's brothers may end up divorcing. The in-laws didn't want it to become community property. This of course means that the money in that trust is not mine in any sense of the word. Given that we had high debt for which I held Roland responsible*, it seemed so fundamentally unfair that he had caused us to be in debt AND had more enough money to cover it.

So September through December I handled the finances. We were able to make all the payments, have a nice if modest Christmas AND I put money into savings every month. We agreed on a cash allowance. I saved mine (I just spent it all on a Kindle 2), and he struggled with his. Still, the debt did not go down much. Anyway, there were a series of hoops we had to jump through, but on Jan. 1 we were given enough money from the trust to pay off all the unsecured debt. All of it. We still have a mortgage and a car loan, but nothing else.

I of course am greatly relieved. Previously 25% of our income previously went to pay unsecured debt. Now all that money goes into savings. A big chunk of that is going back out to pay the electricians, but even after I pay that we will have more money in the savings account than we have had since we got married. I feel a sort of guilt at being rescued. Though I have blamed him, I was there. I am responsible too. We were as irresponsible as millions of Americans and we got our own personal bailout. I am relieved, but I am not proud.

I am bothered that Roland is not at all bothered by it, that he seems to have absolutely no shame at all about being middle aged and needing (and getting) rescued.

I am also nervous that Roland won't be able to stay on what I regard as a very relaxed and generous budget. I am trying to keep him from knowing how much money we have in the savings. It could so easily happen all over again. I look at the savings account and I see a degree of security. He knows that I am beginning to feel relaxed about money, which means there must be a significant amoung in the savings, and he sees a big screen TV. He is committed to staying out of debt, but the fundamental reality that one stays out of debt by having savings to pay for unexpected expenses, is still foreign to him.

So that is where we are. Financially we are secure both in terms of our debt, savings, and in terms of our jobs. No one is entirely safe, of course, but we are as secure as one can be in this very scary economy.

I think money will continue to be a problem for us. Though in many ways he seems to have "got it" I don't know if he will have the discipline to do what we need to do.

Anyway, like I said I felt like I left you hanging without knowing the next part of the story. I may go back though and delete this post...and if I do I may delete the old posts about debt.

I want to be fair here. Many of the expenses that went onto the debt I knowingly put there with him. It isn't like the debt happened without my knowing. My frustration with him was more about there never being savings for things like new tires. Only a portion of the debt consisted of expenses that were hidden from me.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Back when you were young"

Gary is taking health at the charter school and it is making him crazy. He periodically has to rant.

It is abstinence only everything. Don't have sex until you are married, don't ever drink, don't use drugs, don't smoke. Here are some reasons why you should do none of these things. Got it? Okay, moving on. Gary gets frustrated because so many of the kids are sheltered to the point where they don't know anything. In class one of the kids asked how you could get HIV. The teacher refused to answer the question. So Gary did. Today Gary was angry because they weren't telling them anything about how to recognize addiction and how to find recovery programs.

So we listened as we drove.

And of course he got to the sexual abstinence part. He told us how ridiculous abstinence only education was. And then he said:

"Okay, maybe back when you guys were young, you know in that age, maybe then abstinence would work, but now...Why are you laughing?"

"Hun, we were born in the sixties and were teens in the seventies."

"Oh, yeah."

Then later, over dinner, "You know, we studied your time in school!"

Yep that's me...I hale from a distant age, knowledge of which can be found only in history books.

The state of the house

It's a mess.

The furniture are pressed up against each other in the middle of the room, seemingly terrified of the wires hanging from the walls. The wires hang from the walls because electrican #1 wants to let elctrician #2 out of the attic ASAP. So they tap and drill down through walls, use something called a "fish stick" and leave cold wires hanging out to be attached later.

The walls are lathe and plaster, so every time they cut for a new outlet there is dust, and insulation, and yet more dust. I went to the dentist for my cap and as I sat in their oh-so-clean environment I realized I was covered in dust. I had dust in my ears.

Before we began this project I had expected to have wire molding throughout the house. When I got the bid I was assured they would not need any. Everything can be done from that attic. This turns out to be almost true. Outside walls where the roof slopes down are impossible. I will therefore have wire molding for the light switch at the back entry, along the bottom of my bedroom walls, and around Gary's basement bedroom. Still, that is much better than what I had imagined.

They love my house. It was built in the mid-twenties and I have heard them tell each other how well built it is. Electrician #2 almost patted the walls when he said, "It was built with love and care." They admire the old light fixtures and seem quite pleased that I want to keep them.

My attic was insulated when the house was built. There is, I am told, cardboard, a "blanket style" insulation, more cardboard, and then two feet of blown-in insulation. The last is a grey fluffy stuff that travels out of the attic and through the house whenever ectrician #2 comes down, though I know he tries to be careful. He says it (the insulation) must be original because where they ran out of cardboard they used copies of The Saturday Evening Post. He brought them down for me. A couple are yellow, torn and damaged. Two are in remarkable shape and one, from October 1926, is in beautiful condition.

They tell me also that they have found some scary re-wiring buried in the insulation. We have been even less safe than we thought.

So it is good, all this work.

I am grateful that we have secure jobs and can afford to have it done. I feel almost patriotic in hiring someone to do part to save the economy. I love seeing the extension cords slowly disappearing from around the walls, and I look forward to having safe outlets everywhere I need them.

But the dust. Did I mention the dust?

It is everywhere.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Can we talk?

Just in case you don't know me already: I'm a privileged white woman. And I want to write about the process of recognizing privilege, racism, sexism, etc. I don't think we talk about it as much as we should. There's one bunch of us who think that the way to avoid being racist is to be unaware of racism (called being "color blind") and there are others of us who are committed to social justice who don't really want to talk about the experience of coming aware.

Or maybe I should just speak for myself.

I read, in the New York Times I believe, about a man with a sort of amnesia. He had a surgery in his twenties which destroyed his ability to make new memories. Never being able to remember more than a minute or so of the past meant that he lived always in the present. His journal showed the pain of that experience. It was filled with assertions that NOW he was awake, and denials of having been awake when he wrote the previous entries. You know that moment when you "come back" after getting lost in a day dream? When you find yourself suddenly aware of your surroundings and you have to say, " I'm sorry, can you repeat what you said?" Yeah, that was his life.

And I think about him and his journals when I have another moment of "awakening" to privilege and injustice.

'Cause I think I'm pretty cool. I don't say that I'm not a racist, I say that I am anti-racist. I officially get that being anti-racist/sexist/heterosexist/etc means being aware of my own attitudes, being ready to listen when it is pointed out to me that what I did or said was something that I shouldn't have done or said.

I don't like that though. Each time I become aware of another layer I want to say, "Okay, I wasn't awake before, but I am now. Now I am really and truly awake." I feel embarrassed that I didn't see it before, that it had to be pointed out to me, that for years I have said or done something I now regard as IDIOTIC. I don't like feeling ashamed, and I want to get back to feeling like a good person, committed to social justice, helping others to see their errors of their ways, making the world a better place. (Do you hear the superhero music?)

So it is difficult to talk about these experiences because I don't want to admit I still have them.

It is also difficult to talk about it because how I feel I should talk about it varies depending on whom I am talking to. For instance let's say I am talking to one of my sons who happens to be gay shortly after having said something stupidly heterosexist. The act of telling him that I feel ashamed and that I hate feeling ashamed and that the whole experience is just ICKY, would be itself an act for which I should be ashamed. Just the thought of doing that embarrasses me. I should ask him to make me feel better about feeling bad about still being hetersexist?

But maybe I should be talking to other people who share my privilege. I would like other privileged white folks to talk to me. I want to every now and then to go a support group for recovering bigots. I want to confess that I read a blog post about why some image was racist and when I first looked at it I thought "what's wrong with that?" I want to tell someone that I picked up a novel that used to be one of my favorites and this time when I got to the part where she says that the people who work for them (people who were not white) were "like members of the family and so loyal to us because we treated them so well" I wanted to vomit. I want to confess that I spent half an hour feeling irritated that I couldn't enjoy the novel, wondering if there were any blasted novels that I could read and just enjoy without having to think about the pervasiveness of bigotry, before I realized that maybe the biggest problem here wasn't that I didn't have guilt-free escapist literature ready-to-hand.

I want to confess these things for the same reason I want to confess that I ate half a pan of brownies at Weight Watchers. I want someone to know of the mistake, still acknowledge me as a decent human being, and encourage me to keep trying. I want to do it at a WW meeting because I do have the sense to know that complaining about overeating to someone who has trouble getting enough to eat would be narcissistic (actually worse, but I don't use those words on the blog).

I also want to confess it because I have this crazy hope that it will be helpful to the white folks who find themselves saying, "I'm not a racist!" Maybe it would help them to know that people like me, people who take pride in fighting against injustice find that digging out the racism in ourselves is a job of a lifetime, that we all have to work through those moments of shame.

I want to say "Listen, the other day I got mad at the dog and I said, 'you cottonpickin' animal' and then I realized what I had said and I was embarrassed. I don't think I had used that word since I was a kid, but I'm not sure. I never thought about what it meant, it was just one of the fake swear words we were allowed to say as children, right up there with 'fiddle sticks!' This racism stuff is deep in our culture and in our psyche and fighting it is on-going. It is hard. The next time someone tells you that what you said or did was racist just say, 'I'm sorry.' Okay? If you don't understand why it was racist then just remember to bring it up at the next meeting of 'Recovering Bigots Anonymous' and we will work it out together."

I don't want it to be this way. I don't want it to be a process. I want to say, "I was still asleep then, but NOW I am really awake."

But it doesn't work that way.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Becoming Brothers

It just hit me that Brian and Gary are acting like brothers. Not just two boys who happen to live here, not even like two boys who get along really well.

Like brothers.

Real brothers.

You know, the kind that can argue about anything, anytime.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Out of Service

We called David to ask him what night he wanted to get together to celebrate is birthday.

His cell phone is out of service.

That's not good.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Credit Company Woes

Remember the credit card account I had so much trouble closing?

Yeah, they are sending us checks to use to transfer balances or purchase anything we like. I am getting emails telling me about various exciting opportunities.

Let me be clear. These are not offers to open a new account. All the correspondence has written clearly across the top:

Regarding your account ending ####

It is the closed account.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Recommended Blog

A foster care alum contacted me about her new blog. I've just read the first two posts. It promises to be a moving and thoughtful blog. I recommend you add it to your list.

Growing Up Lost

The ectrician

Off topic, of course...

The electrician and buddy (he seemed more like a fellow electrician brought on to help with the job rather than an employee to be ordered about), came and did "discovery." This meant that they looked closely at stuff and climbed into my attic.

They like my attic. It seems I have 500 sq ft of usable space. I could put in a room. Putting in a stair case TO the attic would be an issue, but the buddy tells me that I could easily put in a metal spiral staircase on the landing in the back entry (where now the recycling piles up). It would be a really cool room. If I don't want to do that I should at least consider one of those pull down staircases in the hall and use it for storage.

He seemed quite excited.

I'm thinking they spend a lot of time crawling in tight attics.

I got excited when the electrician pointed at one of the dozen of wires Roland has running around door frames and along the floors and said, "If you want, I can run all these wires through the attic too."

I almost fainted with joy.

He did say that he might have to go a just a bit over the original bid. I told him that his bid had come in a bit under what I had budgeted for the job (although if I had had to buy light fixtures it would have be over in total), so that was okay.

Next week they work.

Because Dawn did it...answers vague based upon my need to preserve anonymity.

♥ What are your middle names?
Well, I'm not going to tell you...however we both now have two and my maiden name is the second one for each of us. It is Andrew and Brian's middle names.

♥ How long have you been together?
We met in October 1983 and were married in 1985.

♥ How long did you know each other before you started dating?
About a week. (Same answer as Dawn!)

♥ Who asked who out?
He asked me to a movie I didn't want to see and party I did not want to go to (I was proud that I had NEVER gone to a frat party). I said, "Yes. I would love to."

♥Who said I love you first?
Is it bad that I don't remember?

♥ How old are each of you?
45 and 46. Our birthdays are exactly 6 months apart. (Yes, you can now do the math and figure out how very young I was when I got married.)

♥ Whose siblings do/did you see the most?
We don't see any of them regularly as they all live so far away. In the past five years we have seen his siblings once, at his parent's wedding annersary. I have visited my sister twice without him and we both saw her at the cabins last summer.

♥ Do you have any children together?

♥ What about pets?
We have just about always had cats, though recently ventured out to dogs. Currently there are two dogs and two cats.

♥ Did you go to the same schools?
We met at college.

♥ Are you from the same hometown?
Not even close. Opposite sides of the country in fact. Our mothers grew up 50 miles apart and consequently we both grew up with some of the same family favorites. Really, how many people eat peanut butter sandwiches with tomatoes? (Think about it before you go "eww." It is a less syrupy version of peanut butter and jelly.)

♥ Who is the smartest?
Me. Oh, am I supposed to explain that and make it nicer sounding?

♥ Who is the most sensitive?
I think he is, although he is better at controlling it so most people know us only a little would think I am. I tend to think out every possible angle of a decision (hence the blog). He is much more likely to be hurt by something one of the kids say, though not as much as once did.

♥ Where do you eat out most as a couple?
Eat out as a couple? People do that? You mean, like without kids?
Actually sometimes we grab lunch together at the locally-owned Mexican place and I have a vague memory of eating Italian food with him with no kids around.

♥ Where is the furthest you two have traveled together as a couple?
To both coasts of the US.

♥ Who has the worst temper?
Me. Though I think I am mellowing, I am more likely to get angry quickly and get over it quickly. He has a very hard time expressing anger, which can be frustrating.

♥ Who does the cooking?
Me. Totally. If I am out of town and ask him to please save money and cook at home he will buy a pre-made pizza to put in the oven.

♥Who is the most social?
I have more one-on-one friends that I try to do things with regularly. He thinks that parties are FUN. Amazing.

♥ Who is the neat-freak?
He likes everything clean on the surface, but underneath that there is no organization. Really. He has old cords that go to nothing in his underwear drawer. I am the opposite. There is a place for everything, but it can take a while for things to get to that place.

♥ Who is the most stubborn?
He is...or at least it seems to me. It may be more though that when he is convinced of something no amount of logical and reasoned argument is persuasive, and that can make me crazy.

♥ Who wakes up earlier?
Often his job requires that he get up earlier, but when we can sleep as we like I get up earlier by far.

♥ Where was your first date?
The movie and party, remember? We got to the party before anything was happening and both were bored so we went for a walk which was wonderful.

♥Who has the bigger family?
He does. He two siblings and I have one, but his extended family is huge and his mother keeps everyone in touch.

♥Do you get flowers often?
No, but I do get chocolate which is better.

♥ Who do you spend the holidays with?
We rarely travel for holidays.

♥Who does/did the laundry?
He does, but slowly. I joke about the required two week quarantine for all clothes.

♥ Who’s better with the computer?
Me mostly, except I have this inexplicable aversion to PowerPoint and he uses it well.

♥ Who drives when you are together?
On road trips I do much more of the long highway driving because he gets sleepy. He does any and all driving in unfamiliar cities. When he drives I read maps at his request, give him directions, then he does what he thinks is right and I get mad at him. It's a whole thing. On car-sick-inducing roads I drive, Andrew sits in front and he and Brian sit in the back.

♥ Who picks where you go to dinner?
Either I do, or I give the kids choices and tell them to let me know when they have come to agreement.

♥ Who is the first one to admit when they’re wrong?
Admit being wrong? What a concept. Do we do that? I think mostly nobody admits they were wrong, we just find something we can agree on. Except of course when he is wrong. I sometimes Have to apologize for being bitchy, but I wasn't wrong while being bitchy.

♥ Who named your pet?
Most of our pets came pre-named and our children have found the idea of re-naming to be morally unacceptable. Brian has named the few pets who arrived nameless.

♥ Who wears the pants in the relationship?
The kids would say that I do because I am better taking the executive position. In confusion my instinct is to give orders and he is good about that. We make decisions together though. Generally though if one of us cares strongly about something they get it.

♥ Who has more tattoos?
Clearly I am far too old for these meme. No tats.

♥ Who eats more sweets?
Close call. I'd addicted to chocolate. He drinks several sodas every day, although he insists that it is for the caffeine, not the sugar.

♥ Who cries more?
Me. He rarely cries, although he did cry in the Stewart Little movie.
All three times.

♥ Are you still together?
Would I have done this meme if we weren't?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Visit from the social worker

I came home today about an hour before the boys should be here and Gary was in the living room. I asked him if he was okay. He said that he was feeling better but that he had had a migraine. This morning it hurt so bad he couldn't move.

I've known him long enough not to be deceived by that relaxed, "just reporting the news tone" as he said it. I got the phone and called the physician. He has an appointment for tomorrow morning. And let us all be happy that the private agency will pay for whatever medication the doctor prescribes.

Anyway, he was feeling better so we watched some stuff on the DVR. It was nice. Just sitting there, watching TV, pausing it to talk about MMA stuff (translation: listen while he talked), or to explain the TV show something to him ("No, Cole isn't Balthazar or the source or human, really anymore. He's just full of demon powers and going insane." Yes, I have sunk this low in my need for girl power. Blame Joss Wedon.) And while we were thus quietly engaged my cell phone beeped. It was a text from the social worker.

"I'm running late, but I should be there in about 45 minutes. Sorry."

Oh. Um. I guess the social worker is coming over.

So she came over.

And nothing happened.

Lordy, blogging when everything is going well is REALLY BORING.

Roland is taking Gary to the physician tomorrow.

Just Talkin' it out

Gary wanted to chat last evening. It sort of went in a circle and I think it stopped where it did because I had to go to bed, not because he had settled on anything.

He wanted to know if I had sent in the form saying he would be attending the charter school next year. "Yes, but it's not like they can do anything if you change your mind. Are you thinking of going back to Our Small Town High?"

"Well, maybe...." Reasons turn out to be:
1. Everything at the charter school is college prep level and he is having trouble keeping up with the work.
2. He wants to start a martial arts club and that would be more successful at Our Small Town High (OSTH).
3. OSTH offers more AP classes for which you can get concurrent credit (i.e. pay tuition to a local college, not mine, and receive high school credit for the course).
4. He really isn't "arty." In his art history class (required there), they are doing calligraphy. Everyone else is able to make this really cool letters, but he can't. They do art stuff in almost every single class!
5. He could take courses like sports medicine at OSTH.

I did not point out the contradiction between 1 & 3, although when he said "AP English" I did tell him remind him that English wasn't his best subject and he shouldn't count on being able to get into AP English. I reaffirmed that it was his choice but I wanted him to remember what his experience of being at OSTH was like.

I realize that I forgot to mention that at the art school kids are allowed to listen to their MP3 players while they do work. He likes that.

Then he said that he thought that he could get his martial arts club going at the OSTH, did I think so?

I said that I thought he could get it going at the charter school if he pitched it right. "What if you sold if at first as a club to learn stage fighting? It could grow into something else, but stage fighting is something that would fit the school."

He thought that might work. Then he talked about how it would be dangerous to teach martial arts at OSTH. There are some pretty rough kids and he would feel bad if anyone took what he taught them and used it to really hurt anyone. The kids at the arts school are not the sort that get into fights.

Then I pointed out that he could block/choreograph and direct a fight scene for his senior project. He thought that that was WAY cool. Then he said that some of the best fight scenes in movies were acted in slow motion and then sped up. I asked if there was any way that he could do his senior project with someone who did video work, or maybe he could do the video work too.

Anyway, that was where we left it. He was pretty excited about the idea.

But who knows where he will be this afternoon.

Lying is Pointless?!

I told Gary last night that I was very pleased that he told the truth when Roland asked him how he got home. (See previous post -- I'm not in a linking mood).

He responded, "Well, there wasn't any point in lying. Everyone already knew."

Insert contended sigh here.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Beware of Dad's Sick Days

Yes, my darling, beware. If Dad is home when you walk into the house a full ten minutes after your brother, he may be suspicious. Remember, it was MOM who suggested she wouldn't worry too much about how you got home, although even she might have thought that the ten minute gap was pushing credibility.

Dad though, well that is a whole 'nuther ball of wax. When DAD agreed that the parents wouldn't make great efforts to monitor you he meant that he wouldn't pay Verizon to track your phone, or wait by the bus stop to greet you when you got off. He did not even consider that he would look the other way when you tried to sneak in the back door ten minutes late.

I know this is not much of a comfort to you, but I want you to know that I am really very proud of you for telling the truth when he asked you how you got home, even though it means you are grounded for 48 hours again.

Blogging the Good Times

Blogging is a wonderful thing when you are stressed. It is therapeutic. Reading blogs written by people who are coping with the hard times is also helpful. It confirms our own experiences. It gives us hope that we can do it to. Sometimes it even gives us specific ideas about how to go about handling problems. And let's face it...problems are INTERESTING. They just are. Conflict is central, necessary to any story. If there is no conflict there is no story. So it should not be suprising that blogging when life is good has a tendency to be boring for everyone.

And yet I want this to be out there: sometimes parenting a kids from foster care who have suffered rejection and trauma is easy.

Sometimes it is everything that you imagined it would be back when you were naive and thought it was going to be easy.

Not always, maybe not even usually, but sometimes it is.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Don't Divorce Us

You've probably seen it, but if you haven't you should. (Warning: get tissues first).

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The meaning of second place

Gary is very proud of his second place medal and says we need a wall to display all the awards he is going to get, including this one.

He doesn't want us to think he is TOO proud of his medal though. He said, "You know what second place is? It is the first person who loses! Second place is just 'first loser.'"

Brian looked at him a bit confused, "No, all the losers lose at the same time."

Gary gave a foot race analogy, the winner crosses the finish line and the person who comes in second is the first person to lose.

"No" said Brian, "when the winner crosses the finish line everyone has loses RIGHT THEN. They all lose at the same time."

I'm not sure how that one ended up. They debated for a while.

MMA Tournament

It was yesterday. He wasn't sure what time it was, but it was yesterday.

And he wanted to go, which was good because we previously paid the fee for him to compete.

Oh, regarding the fee? At first he asked for an advance on his allowance. He said it was very important to him to pay for it himself and he didn't want us to pay for it. I said that it was the sort of thing we usually pay for for kids, and he said that he didn't want us to. I said that we would pay half and when his allowance came I would give him the rest. When it was time for the allowance his girlfriend had just asked him to go to the winter formal and he wanted to take her out to dinner. He asked me for ideas for restaurants where he could get her dinner and maybe still be able to buy a corsage for [insert total allowance amount here]. We didn't talk about the fee. It was okay. I gave him the full allowance.

Anyway, he wasn't sure of the time, so he spent all morning calling people. Of course he might have called days before, but what would be the fun in that?

At noon he found out that it started at 10:00am, so I drove him over. He didn't want to compete in any kick boxing matches, just grappling.

He went to the girlfriend's after, of course.

Then he came home. And now the part that you've all been waiting for!

"I came in second! I would have won, but on the last match I lost on points...just one point! See you get points for [insert explanation here]. And in the match he did [this] and I did [this] and then everyone was yelling 'mount! mount! mount!" because that is the only way I could win. Then I got him in a mount and I was just holding on and holding on and he couldn't shake me and I was going to win by one point. Except right at the end when they were calling time I relaxed like one second too soon and he threw me off and so he won by one point. But I am a good sport about it because I know that I was better than he was!

"The first match was SWEET. It was like five seconds long. I got the guy [insert explanation] and he tapped out! It was great, because I haven't had that much confidence since I got kicked in the head, but everything just went so perfect and I came out of there just glowing. I felt really good!

"And then there was the second match, and I won that too."

There was at one point a detailed description of the second match, but it was not, as the other two were, on automatic replay all evening long. Having heard that description only once, I can't even summarize it for you. He did win though.

He was on a high all evening, telling us about it over and over and over.

It was lovely to see him so happy.

He is going to go back to the private gym though. He is going to take the class that Brian is in instead of working out with the fighters. He thinks that is best. He will still go to the Y to work out though. He needs to go to the class so he can earn the belts. You don't need belts to compete in MMA, but someday he wants to open his own gym and probably people will only pay him to teach them if he does have a black belt, so he is going to get one.

He is happy.

And he still has all of his teeth.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Foster parent Training

"It has come to our attention that the monthly reporting form sucks. Do you have any suggestions?"

That was the topic of the monthly foster parent support group last night. I paraphrase, of course. There is always a topic and it counts as a training hour. I always intend to go, but I consistently forget.

I have to get 12 hours of training a year. Usually I end up with something between 25 and 50. So much of what I do (did) counted: PFLAG; meetings with the kids' thearpists; Alanon; and then there always seemed to be new required trainings. Suddenly though I am doing nothing. I don't get invited into Gary's therapy sessions (which is okay). Local PFLAG is not more and I don't attend Alanon, although I am not certain they should really count if I am not currently parenting a kid who is neither gay nor a recovering addict. Of course I would defend Alanon -- it is the best foster parent training I ever had.

Anyway, I get relicensed in June and I didn't have any hours at all. I called and got permission to write down a certain number of hours for a book I read, and last night I went to the foster parent support group.

So we talked about the reporting form. I've complained about it for years. The social workers have agreed that it is not meaningful. The basic problem seems to be that they are required to have some sort of form, but that they are all so good about staying in close contact with us that there really isn't anything for us to write on the form that they don't already know. It is never clear to anyone what exactly the form is for, other than to show to the person who shows up periodically who wants to make sure they are doing it.

Anway, we bounced around the same three or four ideas for half an hour and then chatted about our kids. No one had any serious issues.

It was not unpleasant. There was dinner, and that was okay.

And I have another training hour to write down on this month's reporting form.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

the tooth, again

So you all remember about when he got the front tooth broke in MMA, right?

Well, ever now and then he has mentioned that it is still sensitive. When I ask how much he generally says something like, "Pretty much."

Well, today we got the letter saying that Medicaid will pay for the crown. He asked me if having it would make his tooth not be sensitive anymore, because it was annoying him. I said that they might do a root canal too, but that yes, it wouldn't be sensitive after that.

Then, really casually, like it didn't really matter he said, "So, would I be asleep when they were doing that?"

I said that his dentist did use sedation for people who needed it, but that usually people were awake.

"But they use some sort of pain medication, right?" This time he is still acting casual, but I can see there is some effort involved.

"Oh yeah, it will be completely numb. You won't feel anything."

"Oh good. Well, I think I will probably have it done." He's back to totally nonchalant.

After a while I asked him about this sensitivity. He said that the tooth was sensitive to pressure and hot and cold. He kind of shrugged.

"So, when it hurts the worst, on a scale of one to ten, how bad is it?"

"Mmm...about seven."

"That's a lot."

He grinned, "Yeah, kind of wants to make you never drink anything cold ever again."

Just in case you ever have to deal with Gary, you should know that if something hurts enough for him to tell you about it, he is in pain.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

And now he has the part

I suspect the drama teacher talked to the Artistic Director about where her talent was. Today, without much fanfare, the girl who had been offered the part of Scar was asked if she would rather choreograph the dancing, which is where she is most talented, and Brian was asked if he wanted the part of Scar.

So all is well in my little world again.

Brian's evening

It was a tough evening for Brian, mostly.

When I came home he was really upset. Really. It turns out that he has good reason to be. Now, I am honest about my kids' weaknesses. I'm not one of those moms who carries on about how wonderful my kid is in everything. However, you must believe me when I tell you that Brian can act. There is a traveling children's theatre and when they come to town, Brian has consistently been one of the kids who have snagged one of the big parts -- even when he was several years younger and had to wear a costume that was far too big for him. I can't stop myself from telling everyone how wonderful he was in Harvey last year. He played Elwood and stayed in character even while feeding other actors their lines. He was genuinely fantastic. At the beginning of the year the drama teacher invited him to switch from Drama 1 to Drama 2 because she did not have any students in the advanced class who could handle a certain part. He declined because he would have to drop either Spanish or Jazz Band, and he has friends in Drama 1.

Okay, so he is good. He can also carry a tune. He isn't a great singer, but he can hit the right notes which in our house is pretty impressive.

So now the class is doing the Lion King. The regular drama teacher isn't directing because it is a musical. The school's "Artistic Director" (AD) is doing it. All the kids who wanted major parts had to sing one line. Brian reports that he did that okay, which I believe. He wanted to play Scar. Brian likes playing bad guys.

The AD came to class yesterday and announced that she was assigning parts based upon what she had seen of their work, not the auditions. She offered the part of Scar to Gary who didn't audition and doesn't want to act and has ever acted before. This is important. If the AD couldn't be assigning parts based upon her views of their previous work because Gary does not have any previous work. Gary wants to do lights. Gary turned it down and then the AD offered it to a girl who Gary says can't sing at all. I remember her from the last play. She didn't remember her lines and kept giggling.

Gary backs Brian up on the story that the casting does not make sense. We are assured that the motive of "giving every one a turn" does not explain the casting decisions, nor does actual talent.

Brian has been offered the part of an background animal who has no lines.

I understand him being upset.

So I sat with him while he raged. I asked him how close he was to having the whole play memorized. He said pretty close. I suggested that he ask his drama teacher to tell the AD that he really can step into any part, any day. Every day someone is absent, he should volunteer to read for whoever it is and do that part well. He can be the unofficial understudy of the whole frickin play. I told him, "Maybe you won't actually get to take over a part, but that so-called artistic director will see what a huge mistake she made!" My being vindictive and petty on his part seemed to really cheer him up.

We also agreed that since one of the things he imagines doing when he grows up is being a drama teacher, that he will use this play as a "lab." I assured him that being such a great actor he was never going to get a chance to be involved in a play and not have a part ever again. This time he could watch to see how the director did things. He could even practice teaching drama by coaching other students.

Anyway, by the end of the conversation he was imagining going in there with quiet dignity and doing everything perfectly. It does help that he knows the real teacher understands that a mistake has been made.

So on to brighter things right? Not so much.

Brian had finally agreed to try out the class at the Y. Gary likes it there more and more. They have got more equipment. There are a couple of other young people there at about his skill level. So Brian went.

He came back anxious and said that he really didn't want to go. The kids in that class were the same sort of kids he had trouble with at his old school (they might have even been some of the same kids). He would like to go back to the private gym, but he knows it costs more and we have to drive farther so if we don't want to he doesn't have to take a class at all.

Roland was first happy to just let him not take any class at all, but I think I convinced him to let Brian go back. The big issue isn't the money, it's the driving. Two boys will have to be collected at about the same time from two different locations twice a week. I had to promise I would do my share of the driving even though I don't like driving at night and usually manage to do things like forget and get into the bathtub just before it is time to go.

We haven't told Brian that it is okay for him to go back to the other class.


And one more thing. For his speech class he has to do a presentation on his "family and friends." Now, on one hand I need to talk to the speech teacher and make sure that the assignment was given in such a way that allows kids to protect their privacy. On the other hand, Brian is pretty excited about his. Roland showed him how to use power point and he set something up where one slide is just him and Andrew and then each of his other brothers comes "flying in" one at a time. He's excited about it.

It was an emotional evening for him.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I can only take so much

I've been watching The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

I know some people really like it, but for me it is more like watching a train wreck.

In most entertainment one stops being aware of it as entertainment. Usually it is a bad sign if you are noticing the music or special effects, instead of just being carries along by it. It is a really bad sign if you are thinking things like, "She's really one of the better actors. If they were all this good, it wouldn't seem so fake" or "Who writes this dialogue? Have they EVER listened to teenagers?"

You may know that the story revolves around a pregnant fifteen-year-old girl. The whole thing is filled with two dimensional characters: the sardonic sister, the over-the-top dad, the ever-helpful minister, the gay couple, the fifteen-going-on-thirty boyfriend (not the babydaddy), the well-meaning but bumbling guidance counselor, and more. And just to make sure they offend as many people as possible, the only hispanic kid is an incredibly slutty girl while the committed-to-virginity-Christian girl is very, very blonde.

The plot lines are totally unrealistic too. In one episode Amy, her boyfriend and just about the whole teenage cast get fake ID's and Amy and boyfriend get married. Of course they later find out that they aren't really married because of the fake ID's. The thirteen-year-old's fake ID comes in handy when she gets a job as a cocktail waitress for about ten minutes. Oh, she is the only one who still has hers; everyone else's was confiscated by the athletic young man who falsely confessed to making them out of some confused motivation about being a better person. Or something.

But get this: the teenage foster kid who knocked up Amy? He not only has a driver's license; he has his own car!

Right. Like THAT is going to happen.

(I started off planning on writing a serious post about teenagers, sex and pregnancy, but I guess that isn't happening this time around. Maybe later.)


Gary spent a good hour last night reading the bus schedules. He found a bus that does go back and forth from Schoolville to The City. It is possible for him to take buses from the school, to the mall, and eventually back home. It means a total of 3 hours on buses (or waiting for them) and 2 hours at the mall, but it can be done.

I am relieved.

And, to be clear, what I am relieved about is that he won't feel the need to lie to me if what he is doing is going to the mall.

Ah the wild and wacky world of foster care.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Texting the kid

Me to Gary: When are u coming home?
Gary: When do you need me home?
Me: Mostly I just need to know. Sooner is better, after 8 is too late.
Gary: Um...6...ish?
Me: k

five minutes later
Gary: Is something wrong?
Me: No. It is just that I cooked turkey thighs, mashed potatoes and peas*. Roland is running an errand, and Brian doesn't like potatoes or peas. No one is here to eat my food.
Gary: I am sorry. LOL.

He's a good kid and a blessing in my life.

*All Gary's favorites

Is he lying?

I'm having a grumpy afternoon.

I left work after an hour this morning because the heat was broken (and none of the profs who came in early called maintanence), and the cold was setting off my asthma. For a while I was going to try to stick it out but people kept expressing sympathy for that horrible cough I had. So I went home.

I never get as much work done at home.

Anyway, I got a text message from Gary when he got out of school.

Okay, first some geography. We live in Our Small Town. The boys' charter school is THAT way. (Can you see me pointing?) We will call that town Schoolville. The public bus goes back and forth from Our Small Town and Schoolville. If you keep traveling THAT way you get to The City. There is a public communter bus that goes in the morning and come back at 5:00pm, but that is all.

So...I get a text message and Gary wants to know if he and Girlfriend can go to the mall in The City.

Sigh. I told him yesterday that I would assume that he knew he had to ride the bus and not ask him about it, but that it was important to me to know where he was and who he was with. I texted back, "There is no bus to the mall in The City. You can go to the mall in Schoolville, crappy tho I know it is."

He texted back, "The mall in Schoolville will be fine."

So, is he lying? Did he go to the mall in Schoolville, or does he figure that I just don't want to be put in a position of knowing he is riding with Girlfriend and so is lying about where he is going?

It makes me tired...wondering whether he is telling me the truth.

Suddenly I am remembering all the times when dealing with the agency rules have given me headaches.

I wonder if it would have been easier if I had told him that he had to be home on the public bus every day at 3:30. If he stayed at school he would need a sign note from the teacher. Lay down the law. Follow all the rules. No exceptions. No trying to find a reasonable compromise. I don't know if he would sigh and accept that or if it would lead to more lying and sneaking around.

I'm not upset or angry, but I really am tired. If I find out that he has gone to the mall in The City (though I am not going to go crazy trying to track him), there will be a change in the rules. He doesn't understand that I really meant it about telling me the truth. He does not have permission to lie to me so as to avoid the state's driving rule.

And of course it is possible he really did tell me the truth and went to the mall in Schoolville.

I can dream.


Still obsessing. The thing is, I know that nothing is WRONG. He's a basically good kid who wants to do ordinary not-bad things. I want to let him do ordinary not-bad things. I'm just frustrated.