Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mostly about my father (updated)

Stuff I wrote on vacation:

Wednesday, June 22

It is odd being so far away from any connection to the ‘nets. Here I sit with my laptop, but there is no signal to catch, no Ethernet cord to pull into the computer. There is a phone line, but there is no service to call. The caretaker, who lives in the other cottage, does have internet via dish and I know I could go over to the other cottage and use her computer, but I don’t think I should. The temptation to stay would be too great.

I will be spending some time there teaching my father how to use a Kindle. He is, some of you may recall, teaching in China next year. Before I got here he had never heard of a Kindle. He decided very immediately that he had to have one, particularly since he was going to China. He knew it was going to be difficult for him to learn how to use one, since all the only thing he knows how to do with a computer is check his email, but, well, this is just one of those must learn situations. It wasn’t a must-learn situation yet though. I offered to show him how the Kindle worked. He said he wouldn’t be able to remember. He’d figure it out when he got one.

So we will go to the use the caretaker’s computer later. I will happily buy a book, download it to the computer and then transfer it to the Kindle via USB cord. Here, as in China, it is the only way to get the Kindle to work. At least I hope it will work in China. He doesn’t know anything about what sort of internet access he will have. Not that he would understand if anyone told him. He claims never to have heard of

I’m very curious as to whether he will be able to remember anything about how to use it. My father is of course a very intelligent man. If it is literature, he knows it. Other things though are a challenge. Every time he visits me he has been impressed by the closed captions on the TV. I turn them on whenever I watch because it is so difficult to catch all the words if the kids are talking. My father though is losing his hearing and has no hearing aids. (No good reason for that. He hasn’t tried them. Says he’s too lazy.) I’ve told him any number of times that they can just be turned on in any new TV.

Andrew and I are watching Battle Star Galatica with Alice. She’s never seen it. So we have been Netflixing the disks. We brought three with us. My father sat down and watched with us.

“This comes with that writing? What did you call it?”

“Closed captions”

“It comes with the DVD?”

“Well, yes, but closed captions are on almost all DVD’s.”

“No shit. So if I go to rent a DVD I can just tell them to give me one with the closed captions?”

“You don’t have to tell them Dad. It’s already there. You just have to turn them on.”

“None of the DVD’s I’ve seen so far have them. How do you find the ones that do?”

“Dad, they all do. You just have to use the DVD remote and select the option to turn them on.”

“So the next time I go to rent a movie I can just ask the people who work there to turn them on for me?”

“No, Dad. You have to turn them on every time you put the DVD in.”

“And it’s there. On all of them?”

“Just about.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Then the next night we put the DVD in to watch the next episode and my father says, “Now tell me again. When I rent a DVD what do I tell them at the store so that they will give me one that has captions?”

So sometime soon I will try to teach him how to shop at Amazon, how to download and transfer files to a Kindle. If he was staying in the US it would be so much easier. I could just give him the customer service number. He could call them and say. “I have this Kindle thing. My daughter says I can read anything on it. How do I do it?”

“Well, sir, when you are at the Kindle Store on the Amazon site…”

“How do I find Amazon on my computer?”

Actually, who am I kidding? He would give me his password and ask me to go on-line and send him the book. I could do it too, if he were in the states. Maybe he will have an assistant in China who will know how to do these things.

He’s very good at getting other people to figure out and do for him. Yesterday two graduate students who will be staying at the cottages for a while after we leave drove the 2.5 hours to come up here to teach Dad and Roland how to use the new boat. Afterwards they sat, ate sandwiches and one told Dad how far he got on the paper work so that Dad would continue to receive his pension check when he was in China. “I’ll have it all filled out soon and then I will bring it to you to sign.” The graduate assistant does not work for my father. Heck, my father is retired from the university. He is however coming up here to stay in the cottages. And he just likes Dad. As my father has said multiple times, “That’s one of the advantages of being a great professor.”

Dad just asked me what I am doing. I told him I was writing a letter and would email it when I got home.

“You can’t email it from that machine?”

“Well, not without internet service.”

“How will you get it from that machine to one with internet service?”

“I don’t have to. When I get home I will just plug in the internet cord.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Yep, teaching him how to use a Kindle will be a breeze.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My father did not bring enough books. There isn’t a lot he likes to do, other than read. He wants to see us enjoy the games, the boat, the lake, whatever, but he doesn’t want to join in. He doesn’t cook and he certainly doesn’t do dishes or clean up. He reads. When he can’t read he watches TV. As he is losing his hearing, can’t be bothered to get hearing aids, and the TV here is old and does not have a closed caption option, he watches TV very loudly.

This interferes with our ability to enjoy all the wonderful things he has provided. So today I bought him a book on my Kindle. It feels very like buying a kid a new toy because it is worth $10 to keep him occupied for a day.

The caretaker has internet service, but it is satellite and not very good. There are no cell phone towers here, so we had to down load the book from Amazon to her computer. In the end we needed to put the book on a thumb drive, transfer it to my computer, and then on to the Kindle. It turns out that books are very small files. The download took 10 second. Really. That’s what it said. 10 seconds. The transfers were almost instantaneous. Getting the caretaker’s computer rebooted every time it froze was a different matter. In any case, my father is now sitting in the uncomfortable sofa by the window, reading a book, false teeth conveniently placed in his pocket should he need them. (Hey, it is a heck of a lot better than sitting on the side table like they did yesterday.)

I’m not sure quite what will happen next. My father can read a novel in a day, assuming he doesn’t fall asleep much. We have another five days up here. I suppose I could keep buying him books, although I may go into withdrawal. By the way, about the fact that my father regularly falls asleep while watching TV and reading books? You should know that he never takes naps. “Never could take naps. Don’t know how other people sleep during the day.” I have decided that it is not wise to remind him of the times when he visited and told us that he needed to take a nap. He would deny it. Suddenly it occurs to me that “taking a nap” was probably code

He wants his own Kindle, of course. I think it is the hearing issue, but it is so difficult to know when he has understood you. I gave the basic explanation of it. I told him that you can only buy it from Amazon and only in the US. When we were getting his book and he saw the Kindle on the computer screen with $299 on it, he said, “I bet you I can get that for half as much in China!” I tried to explain that he couldn’t get them at all in China, but I don’t know that it sunk in. He can USE it in China. He will just have to download books to a computer and transfer them via the USB cable.


Having the Shih Tzu up here has been something like a nightmare this year. I did not have him clipped right before we left. This means that he was sending off more dander during trip. After two days in a minivan with him I was in pretty bad shape, asthma-wise. I used my little breathe-o-meter and it indicated that I was just above the point where I should go to the ER. I spent the evening using my rescue inhaler and sitting quietly while everyone unpacked the car, put away the groceries, all that jazz. I was significantly better by the morning. Everyone knows that anxiety can make symptoms worse, so they all kindly waited until I was better before telling me how awful I looked.

Anyway, the second problem with not having got the Shih Tzu clipped is that this is a very bad place for a dog with any hair at all. When he goes off the deck to explore the trees he comes back with burrs and other sticky things. We have had to cut a lot of them out. As long as I was doing it I cut off a lot of hair on his legs. That is helping with removing the burrs. And yes, doing that grooming did irritate my breathing again.


But I seem to be only complaining, don’t I?

My father bought a used power boat (the kind you use for water skiing). We went out on the lake yesterday. We dropped anchor in a cove and swam. It was idyllic. When we got back I popped into the little store. They had a frozen confectionary that I had not seen since I was in high school. I was so excited the man at the counter laughed. All the kids had one, and agreed they were really good. Of course like so many childhood favorites, it now tastes rather too sweet to me, but I don’t really mind.

The kids have been really good about playing games with me. Andrew, Alice, and sometimes Gary have played scrabble with me. Andrew or I win that game. Sometimes we play Rummy, at which Alice has tremendous luck. For a while last night Brian wanted to play too, so we played a double-deck, five-hand game of Crazy Eights.

After the cards Brian said he was tired and we all decided to open The Game of Life. Once you get going it is not a difficult game, but the initial instructions were really complicated. We were all laughing, and nobody could stop laughing long enough to read out loud the final part: “Winning: At the end of the game the Lifepod will use a random formula to calculate a point total for each player.” Random? So, like, it just decides who wins? In the end we learned that the all-powerful Lifepod randomly decides how many life points you get for how much money.

In any case, everything was so silly. In the first game Andrew got a card right off saying that he had just lost $500,000. That put him in debt and the interest per turn was so high he couldn’t get out. So he got reckless. Somehow none of this seems funny now, but really, we were laughing ourselves silly last night.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So, about that boat? Well, yesterday Roland and the boys went to go fishing early. The boat had water in it. Now, I can tell you today that the boat is going to get fixed. It has been towed down to where my father lives. However my father was very upset. He got that boat so that we would all have a wonderful vacation and now it was ruined. Not to worry, the boys said they would take the old boat. Well, the old boat was having trouble too. Probably the outboard motor needed oil.

My father lost it. He stayed fairly calm while there was anyone in the house but me, but as soon as they left, he got up and started pacing. “G-d D*MN IT! The whole F*CKING vacation ruined. It’s f*cking runined. I try to build something so that I can be with my family one time and year and …” It went on for a while. I did try to tell him that we were having a good time, that the boat wasn’t that important. Of course he couldn’t be reassured. He was angry. I stopped trying, just let him deal. The caretaker went to the dump and I decided that I really needed to know where that was.

We all ended up swimming off the dock. We had a good time. Later in the evening the caretaker and Roland went to meet someone about the boat. Dad realized after a bit that they hadn’t taken his truck, which would be necessary to get the boat out of the water. He drove off to save the day and came back in a better mood. Still, he has been trying to figure out how to fix the “ruined vacation.” We haven’t played horse shoes yet, we should do that. He has net for volley ball and badmitten that is better than the droopy one that is out. If Roland helps he will string that up for us and we can play. We tell him we are fine. Everyone is having a good time.

You know, except when he is carrying on about how the vacation is f*cking ruined.

He seems to be bored with the book for now, which means that he is turning on the television really loud again. It is like 100 degrees outside, so it isn’t easy to escape. Right now I am at the caretaker’s house, with Andrew and Alice. Gary has gone swimming with the caretaker. I think Brian went to hang out with Grandpa. Brian doesn’t like it when we all complain about Grandpa. Of course, Brian seems to have been spared all of Grandpa’s bad moods.

Dad was talking the other day about my sister. I forget exactly what he said. He went on about their church, how he had no idea about how terrible that church was. Somewhere along the line I said something about it being good that BIL is leaving soon. Dad said, “What do you mean? He’s been a great husband to her.” Without thinking about what Sis wants him to know and not know (kicking self here) I blurted out, “Aside from running up debt and beating the kids.” Dad said, “Let me tell you about their debt” (in my head I heard the omitted “young lady”), “x amount of that is her student load, and y amount is from when she shattered her ankle and they didn’t have health insurance.” This started a rant about the need for health insurance in our country. I have no quarrel with that. Fortunately I stopped myself before informing him that the debt he knew about was maybe half of the total.

This morning he asked me if Sis had told me, in so many words, that BIL hit the kids. I nodded and said that he church taught that kids needed to be hit. Dad started pacing angrily, saying he never knew that. Then he said that his father was abusive. He knew what it was like to have an abusive father. He looked at me and it seemed like I was supposed to say something sympathetic. Since the only thing I could think of was, “So do I” I just nodded. So I got to hear about his rage towards his parents, the effect it still has on him, and how he has come to realize that the reason he can’t have a relationship with a woman is that he hates his own mother.

It was all a rather bizarre conversation.

There is part of me that wants to tell him that the only down side of this whole vacation is him, but I have better sense than that. And I do appreciate that this is a wonderful place and he is responsible for our having it to go to. It would just be a lot easier if he could relax a little.

Anyway, I feel compelled to tell you that mostly I have having a fantastic time here. I know this writing must make it seem like all I am thinking about is my father. It isn’t like that. My father is just the one thing I feel compelled to write about.

Oh…he was talking to his doctor on the phone in the kitchen. In order to have some privacy(?) he turned his back to us. He asked the doctor about Flomax, “You know, some men when they get to be forty or so need it so they can pee? Yeah, would that increase pleasure at all? Oh, well, never mind then.”

My children are never going to be able to get that out of their minds.

It suddenly occurs to me that I am tired. I’m ready for this vacation to be over. We swam in the lake. Brian has shot, gutted, skinned, and eaten two squirrels. We’ve been on the boat. I’m even beginning to feel satisfied with the number of games of rummy and Scrabble I’ve been able to play.

My father is having a difficult time believing that my BIL has hurt Nephew. He thinks that BIL is a great guy. Surely we are confused. I’m wishing I had never said anything. Of course it turns out that Roland had said something independently, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. Still, when we are alone he often brings it up. Am I sure? Isn’t it just so hard to believe? BIL is such a great guy. He has always liked him so much. It is so hard to believe. The nieces are both great girls. They don’t have any problems. They are doing just fine. If their father was abusive wouldn’t they show some effect? (Um, let’s see… they hate their father. One simply doesn’t react when her brother hits her. The other spends all her time hiding in books. Neither is able to have a conversation with anyone outside the family or church.) Dad asked me if BIL was being mean to Nephew now. I said according to my sister, she was preventing it. She never left the alone and if BIL starts to say anything, she interrupts. Dad responded, “but you said BIL was acting like the fire was no big deal.” “That’s what Sis said.” “Well, then what does he have to yell at him about?”

It is so disorienting to have these conversations with my father. I want to ask him what he found to yell at us about. All our lives he was yelling. I don’t though.

When my father shifts the conversation his abuse, well, it all gets to be too much.


Update (July 31):

Someone in China decided that 70, my father's age, is too old. It now appears that he won't be going. He's pretty devastated. He does not do well when he has nothing that he has to do, and without a job he can't make up stuff for himself to do. When we left he was talking about teaching orphans in Ukraine. Given that he admits that he is a lecturer, he does not do discussion or one on one instruction well, I'm a little unclear how effective he will be teaching English at an orphanage. I wonder if he is imagining a bunch of kids obediently listening to a lecture on Hamlet.

Playing in Town

While we were in the mountains I had no internet or even cell phone access. I did have a computer with a word processing program though. I wrote six pages over the 8 days we were there. Mostly what drove me to the computer was my father, although not all of it was bad. I need to go back though and decide what, if anything, to publish.

It was pleasant. Gary and Brian went out hunting varmits every day. Since Nephew wasn't there and the caretaker taught them how to use the guns, I took a deep breath and coped. Brian shot two grey squirrels. He gutted, skinned, and ate both of them. The first he cooked over the fire. The second the caretaker breaded (floured) and fried for him. He also got a jack rabbit, which isn't apparently good to eat. He wanted the pelt though.

I got kids to play cards or scrabble with me every day. It was fun.

We played in the lake a lot. It was good.

Now we are back in civilization. We went to the touristy shops. I got my sister a necklace and earring set that are not as nice as the one from which I lost an earring during my June visit, but I think she will like it. I took the kids to my childhood home. It is not nearly so pretty as when my mother planted flowers and mowed the grass. Now it is quite wild, but it was good. I took them down the street (well, two miles down) to the park where we played and hung out. They were very impressed with the area where I lived. Someday I will stop being so secretive about my identity and I will tell you. You too will be impressed, I promise.

Tonight we are going to eat at a local landmark. Sigh. This extreme anonymity thing can make for some boring posts.

The Shih Tzu had a good time in the mountains, but then Shih Tzu's are pretty much always least if you are with them. He however got covered, more than once, with burrs. His fur was just over an inch long, but we still could not get them out without scissors. He looked quite ridiculous. We got him a grooming appointment though. The groomer was excessively cheerful, but the dog looks good.

We are happy, but very tired. Tomorrow I might post some stuff up from my writing while we were gone.

I'm back

The trip was mostly wonderful, except when it really stunk. Let's just say that my father decided to do the whole trip clean and sober and there were two afternoons where, if I could have bought him a joint, I really might have considered it. After a lifetime of chemical assistance, he is not good at managing his emotions.

But it was mostly wonderful. I will write more later.

It got excessively hot and I just don't do hot well. I grew up in a place where cool was the norm. I live where summer heat is often above 100 and don't want more of the same on vacation. Yesterday I woke up and asked everyone if they minded leaving a day early. Everyone was okay with it. We cleaned and packed and organized and left.

Fortuantely the caretaker works in a town near my father's, as she is today bringing down all the things we forgot in our hurried departure.

Today we have a full day in the area in which I grew up. First on the agenda is getting the dog to a groomer. We should have got him a close clip before we left. Instead he had a month's growth which left him with just over an inch of fur. That is not good when you are in the mountains surrounded by burs and other stickery things. We had to cut alot of stuff off. He looks horrible -- you know, like someone who knows nothing about cutting hair cut off chunks with a pair of kitchen shears.

I will be back later with many fun updates.

Oh, I haven't had much on-line time, and I haven't been able to make myself open Google Reader. The thought it just too overwhelming. If anyone had any major life event I should know about, please tell me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

In Hotel

Well, the first leg of the journey is over. We left the house at 6am and pulled into the hotel almost 12 hours later. That's about what I expected, given that Google maps said 10 hours travel time.

Roland, Brian, Gary and I went to get dinner. We are in a tiny town; Roland didn't want to eat anywhere local and unpredictable. We ended up at Denny's. Ugg. Alice and Andrew stayed with the puppy while we ate and in exchange get to eat by themselves. Pretty good deal.

I really need to accept the fact that I have asthma. I don't just have asthma in the winter or when I exercise vigorously. I just have it. I need not to stop using my daily inhaler because it is summer. You know, because I could end up on a trip with the Shih Tzu on my lap and an air conditioner vent blowing right over it.

Tomorrow we drive fourish hours (not counting stops, and there is a mighty tempting place to stop) to the city where my father lives. There we will eat lumch and shop. After that it is 2ish hours of curly mountain roads. I'm thinking about take motion sickness meds and sleeping.

Gary is still a blast to take on vacation. Though he came out last year, Still, going on a trip for fun is still new and exciting for him. He appreciates views.

Well, I'm going to sign off. I don't anticipate having internet access again for a while.

I've decided to turn off comment moderation. Be good, y'all.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sister Falling Apart

Well, she'll pull it back together, but I happened to call her when she finally had some time alone so she could, you know?

The smallest problem is that they are going to have to stay in hotel rooms for 2 or 3 months. There was a small house they could rent, but it turned out they would have to pay thousands in deposits and hook-up fees and they just can't do that. They did find a hotel room with a full kitchenette, where "full" means 2 burners. That hotel does have suites with bedrooms, but none that are available for 2-3 months. The only room they can stay in the whole time is a one-room suite. She is nervous that the she and the kids will go crazy in there.

She is not hearing from anybody regarding Nephew. Right now she feels like the fire marshal promised intervention services only to get a full confession so she could close the case. She did find out that Nephew can see the therapist he previously established a relationship with, but she's setting that up all on her own. She wants Nephew to get help, but also thinks that having some contact with juvenile justice would be good for him. She doesn't want him to go to detention, but she needs for him to understand that this is serious.

I don't know if she thought about it in quite this way, but she was hoping that the fire would be a transforming event for her husband. She expected that having his son burning his things in the basement, nearly burning down the house and killing the family would make him reconsider his parenting approaches. Nope. Oh, he isn't hitting the kids because Sis won't leave him alone with the kids. He isn't even insulting the kids, much, because Sis yells at him every time he starts.

She's really unhappy and can't imagine being married to him forever. Of course, she is currently a full-time student and I don't think she is making very much money from cleaning.

My brother in law has a regular leave in August but she says she is going to tell him not to bother coming home. She will use the cramped hotel room as an excuse. I don't know what he will do. He might stay away if it wasn't that there were so many decisions to be made on the house.

Because of the blessed internet, and the willingnes of some of you to reveal your locations, I was able to reach out to someone who lives not in her town, but at least in her state. So I have someone who will be calling her and talking to her about a support group, which Sis says she is now interested in going to. I thank the internet peep from the bottom of my heart. You know who you are.

I feel so very grateful for the internet today. Thank you all.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Getting Ready to Go

Yesterday I was making people crazy, acting like my mother in law. "Do you have something to read in the car? You know we could spend 40 hours total driving." "Did you get your prescriptions filled?" "Does everyone know where their mp3 players/Gameboys/cell phones are? Well, are you going to be able to travel without complaining if you don't find them?" I resisted the urge to ask them to predict exactly where on the trip they would want to stop for lunch so that I could do internet research and find somewhere interesting to eat.

I'm a bit nervous because on Monday we are committed to 10 hours driving time. I don't think Roland fully realizes that that does not mean 10 hours travel time. I'm planning on getting everyone into the van by no later than 6am. We have hotel reservations for Monday evening. Tuesday it is 3-4 hours to the town where my father lives. We will get lunch, shop, and drive the next 2+ hours to the cottages.

Plans for who will sleep where keep getting shifted around. Now that my sister and her kids aren't coming at all, we have more options. Right now it looks like Alice and I will share a bedroom, Roland and Andrew will share, and Brian and Gary will be in blow-up mattresses in the living room. We did buy Gary the tent and thin air mattress he wanted. He insists that he is going to sleep outside. I have my doubts about that. He said once that he knew just where he could put the tent -- he just would need to "dig down to get rid of the rocks." I did try to explain that it is a mountain and it is rocks all the way down, but I don't think he believes me. He also was under the impression that he was going to be able to have a camp fire burning all night to keep away the wild animals, but that isn't going to happen. Last year he closed the window over his bed because he heard some sort of critter outside and it made him nervous. He insists that it won't make him nervous when he is in a tent. Right. In any case, he has it.

I am, by the way, just hip enough to think it is sort of silly that I am bunking with Alice and Roland is bunking with Andrew, but not nearly hip enough to suggest Alice and Andrew share a bedroom. Actually, I'm pretty sure Andrew and Alice are not prepared for me to be that hip either. Still, it does seem silly.

The weather forecast is for temps in the 90's every afternoon. That is definitely hotter than last year, but it is also a month later in the summer. I'm guessing we will be spending most afternoons at the lake.

I bought the Shih Tzu a life jacket. He loved the water last year, but is a terrible swimmer. He was wading on boat ramp one day. He walked off the edge and dropped into water over his head. He was in a bit of panic until he found the concrete ramp. It was sort of pitiful. So this year I bought a life jacket. Brian just got home, saw the life jacket and reminded me about how he wanted to buy one last year (with his own money!) and I talked him out of it. "You said it was a bad decision and now you bought one, so I was right and you were wrong! Ha!"

"That feel good?"


"I'm glad."

I took Gary to a huge used bookstore this morning and told him that I would spend about $10 on books for him. That could have got him at least 3 paper backs. Instead he picked out one large hardback fiction book. I don't censor the kids' reading materials, but I did roll my eyes as I paid out good money for a book from the "Left Behind" series. I think he picked it out to see if I would really buy it, but he insists he has read others and they are really, really good.

Anyway, we still need to
  • write a menu and grocery list for the days at the cottage
  • print out maps and information for the hotels where we have reservations (Roland might have done that),
  • buy a few more things for the housesitter
  • get cash for the trip and to pay the housesitter
  • buy food for eating in the car
  • pick up our refilled prescriptions
Let's see...something else.

Oh yeah, I have to pack.

Discussion & Comments

I am going to be monitoring comments for a while, but I want to talk about why. There have been some harsh comments left here. They have not been directed at me, but rather at someone for whom I have been sympathetic.

Well, one comment directed to me was perhaps harsh, but also entirely fair. I expressed sympathy for foster parents who had to let a child go and did not express any sympathy for the child who was about to lose yet another family. That commenter was correct, and I offer no defense. I wish I had given expression to my feelings and thought for not only the foster parents but the also for the child, whose welfare is the point of what we do, and for the child's parent who, from what I have read, loves his son and is struggling to be the parent again.

Comments left here regarding the other foster parents I think have been too harsh, and I am sorry that I brought negative attention to them.

I think that as foster parents we have to be able to take that sort of negative attention. We are the only members of this system who chose to play a part. The children and their parents certainly did not chose this. Parents were told that they were not good enough to take care of their kids, that those kids would go somewhere safe, to someone who could and would take care of them. That someone who was supposed to do a better job was us.

When parents are told that we are better caretakers for their children than they are, and then we disrupt a placement for whatever reasons, those children's parents are not unreasonable in their fury. How was this better than being with them?

Of course, I cannot say that it is.

There are so many cases, and it is easy for all of us, natural parents, foster parents, and adoptive parents to see all cases as similar to ours. I have given care to boys whose parents were in jail, dead, or, in Gary's case, have refused to take them home. I have no doubt that they love their children fiercely, but providing them with care is not something they could do, at least not at the time. It is fairly easy for me to see the complexity of the decisions that the parents of my children have had to make. I have sympathy for them. I know their emotions towards me are complex. The children we both love have it the hardest.

I think I understand Gary's father's pain, and the pain of the foster parents who have asked for removal, because I too have been in the position of concluding that the only way to keep one child safe was for another child to move.

Gary's biological, real, natural father had to make that decision. He and his wife decided that the safety of her daughters required Gary's removal. I believe that Gary could now safely live with his siblings, but it is not my call to make. His father, who has also sent his biological daughter away to live with extended family, has chosen his wife, her daughters and the younger kids they have together. I understand that at the same time I know it hurts Gary.

I asked for both Ann and Frankie to be moved. Both of them had wanted to leave. Ann wanted to go back to her previous foster home (where she had lived for 7 years) and Frankie knew the only way to get out of the school he hated was to move. Neither of them knew at the time that one of the reasons they were getting what they told the social worker they wanted was that I was concerned about the effect they were having on the other children. Even so, those failures on my part, my inability to give those kids what they needed, are still the most painful periods of my history of doing care.

And yeah, poor, pitiful me. Though I know other foster parents who have gone through that will understand and sympathize with me, I don't expect foster alumni or parents who have had their children remove by protective services to have any sympathy for me at all. Why would they? I chose this. I was supposed to be able to do it. Children and their parents were told that they would be placed with me, and people like me, because we were better able to care for those children than their natural parents. I feel bad because I could not live up to my ideal of myself as a rescuer of children? Well, boo hoo.

Of all the people caught up in this system who hurt, my pain is the least.

Of course that is why we foster parents offer support to each other. We should not expect the world to view our pain as the most important. When it does, when the tragedy or our lives is portrayed as more important than the pain of the children we care for, something is out of whack.

So all of this is to say that I understand the comments that have been left here. I disagree that the foster parents for whom I have sympathy are bad people. I think think they are good people, and I think they have tried hard to keep all the children in their home safe. I believe them when they say that are doing what they must. I know their pain is real, and I want to offer them comfort.

And at the same time, I do not expect that parents of children in foster care or children in foster care will have sympathy for that pain.

Anyway, I am going to be leaving in a few days and I am nervous that the blog could be hijacked by people on both sides. For the next few days, feel free to discuss the issue here. Feel free to express your feelings. As long as you show respect for others, your comment will be published. Starting Monday no comments will be published for about two weeks.

I have more I want to say about all this, but it will have to wait.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sometimes the Red Cross is too fast

You know, like when they hear that a soldier's house burned so they get that soldier on a plane right away, before anyone was able to talk to the soldier first to say, "Hey, um ... your son set the fire. Maybe you want to take a couple of deep breaths before you go home."

So shortly after talking to me on Sunday, after telling me that BIL would be delayed for some unspecified amount of time, she was informed that she needed to go pick him up at the airport. Nephew got permission to spend a couple of days, or weeks, whatever, with some neighbors and Sis and the nieces went to pick up BIL. The nieces told sis that they were getting stomach cramps from being anxious.

So, they got BIL and drove back to a buffet and when the girls had filled their plates Sis held BIL back and told him that Nephew set the fire, and that the fire department, children's services, and EVERYone knew EVERYthing. She told him that Nephew was at a neighbor's because he was afraid. Apparently he coped with it fairly well, although that maybe partly shock.

Sis didn't give me a lot of information about how BIL took it all. BIL however did call Nephew and told him it was okay and asked if he wanted to swim with him at the hotel. Sadly, BIL did not have swimming trunks. By the time he bought some and got Nephew it really was too late to swim. Nephew feels like it was just a trick to get him to come back.

BIL had one conversation alone with Nephew. After that Nephew went to walk the dog with Sis and, In Sis's words, "It was Dad this, and Dad that, the whole time." When she got back she took a walk with BIL and told him that he cannot be alone with Nephew. She said it was partly for his (BIL) protection. Things were too tense right now and Nephew could report anything. She also said that she loved him, but couldn't tell him why. She said she wanted to stay married, but not like this. Things would have to change and he would have to go to therapy.

Her voice was shaking with fury whenever she talked about BIL. All of her anger about the fire, about everything, is going to him. She says that it was her fault that they stayed in the church. He had wanted to leave years ago and she didn't. Other than that though, everything is his fault. I'm afraid I did tell her that legally she was responsible for failure to protect her kids if she knew he was hurting them (which she did) and she did nothing about it. She accepted that.

This is the first phone call I've had with her in which she sounded angry. Before she was sad, or competent, or overwhelmed, but this time she was pissed. She says she feels like she found herself again. "I'm not this meek person who gets pushed around. I'm the dominant one who takes charge!" She is feeling fiercely protective of the kids. She told Nephew that she would keep him safe. Nephew was afraid that that meant he might have to leave his mom. Sis said that if he wasn't safe with his dad that either Dad would leave or she and he would leave. She promised that he never had to be alone with his dad.

Nephew is not happy that he can't see the same therapist he saw before. He has to see someone, a man, who is a specialist in kids who set fires. Sis says she told Nephew that she knows he is angry and he has every right to be angry, but he needs help in dealing with the anger. This was serious. They could have all died.

Anyway, Sis hasn't heard from anyone. She says tomorrow she is going down to the therapists office and just sit there and refuse to leave until she can talk to him and get an appointment. She's frustrated that she hasn't heard from anyone this week. She doesn't know if child protection or juvenile justice will be involved. She's prepared for that, but no one has called.

On the up side, the insurance company found a three bedroom house for them to rent. Niece2 will be able to walk to school. (Yes, the terrible church/school where kids like Nephew are paddled for their sins ... like not doing their homework.) BIL is handling all the insurance paperwork and spending his day doing the inventory at the house. Sis is very relieved he is handling that. He is here for 2 weeks and then will probably still be back for his leave in August. At that time they will make as many decisions about the house as they can. They will have to be picking out cabinets, everything. Sis is torn between not wanting to deal with BIL and glad to have help with all the decisions.

Sis is shocked at how deep the damage is. The duct work for the heating system is ruined. The wiring is destroyed. They have said that in some places even the house's frame will need to be repaired.

Anyway, we can't talk until the weekend. BIL doesn't want to change the cell phone plan to one with more minutes. Seems fairly stupid to me. Sis has needed to be on the phone and has surely gone over, but well, there it is. I will be able to talk to her on Saturday when she has free minutes.

Endings Hurt.

The Mamas at Mama Drama Times Two could use some support. Those of you who know the pain of having to let one child go to protect the others, and even those who don't, please give them a virtual hug.

Monday, July 13, 2009

but maybe...

It is ultimately a good thing that BIL is in town right now.

I mean the fire marshal from the juvenile program interviewed Nephew on Friday. By law she has to report what she learned to CPS within 48 hours. Having the abusive a-hole in town might mean that more is done in response to the report.

One can hope.

Conversation with Nephew

I called my sister's cell phone. Nephew answered it. I woke him up, cause he is a teenager and sleeps all day. Sis is at the house doing inventory and may be there all day..

...and my brother in law is with her. He will be home for 2 weeks.

I was hoping for something different, but there it is.

I asked Nephew how stressful it was to have his Dad back. He said a lot. He seemed sort of wary, wondering if I was going to lecture him. He asked if we were going to the cottages and then said that maybe he would still get to fly out on his own. "Probably not though, but I want to." I didn't respond to that because I don't think the authorities would allow him to and I we don't want to be responsible for him here.

So I asked him if he could keep himself safe ("yeah") and if he was seeing his therapist soon ("I don't know"). I said I hoped it was soon because I thought he probably needed someone to talk to ("Yeah").

Then I told him that I hoped he knew that we all believed in the man he could grow up to be. "I have confidence in you, Nephew. You can do this."

"Yeah, I know" he said, sounding in that teenager tone that sounds like "yeah, whatever" but is cover for "thank you." (BTW, "Yeah, I guess so" is often teenager for "would you really? that would be SO GREAT. Sadly it is not cool for me to appreciate you, but yes, I would like you to do that.")

I finished off say, "Okay, well, work hard, climb mountains, be great!"

He laughed and said, "Bye Aunt Yondalla."

"Bye Nephew."


Meanwhile, I am hoping that my BIL is able to cope with this in a non-abusive manner. I have my doubts. I don't think he is capable of forgiving, even if he combines that with being stern. I'm afraid that the best he may be able to accomplish will be ignoring Nephew, shunning him. I'm afraid that that will not be much better, if it is better at all. I don't know what will happen, but I am nervous.

Thinking about the fire & Nephew

My thoughts keep drifting back to the fire that my nephew set. I get burning his dad's things. Makes perfect sense. Setting fire to some of his things, going to bed and pretending to sleep while waiting for the fire alarm to go off is much more difficult to understand. Did he have a rescue fantasy? Did he, I don't know, just want to get caught?

I suddenly remembered that Sis said BIL was due to come home for a couple of weeks sometime soon. That Nephew would escalate now makes perfect sense. At some level it is a scream for help. "MY DAD IS COMING BACK. SOMEONE HELP ME." I get that. I want to believe that if he had continued with his counseling this would not have happened. He might have been able to tell his therapist that he was afraid of his dad coming back and that he was burning his dad's stuff and thinking about setting a bigger fire.

Anyway, I read a long handbook (well, skimmed some parts of it) about Juvenile Firesetter Intervention. I also looked at the web pages for his state and town. It is giving me a better idea of what the process is.

They have had an initial interview with a fire marshal which has determined that a juvenile is responsible for the fire. So a fire marshal from the Juvenile Intervention program has conducted longer interviews with Nephew and Sis. They have learned that he has set many fires in the past, has experimented with accelerants, has done so in order to destroy his father's property (i.e. he hasn't just been curious and experimenting). One reason this particular fire is troubling is that he made no attempt to put it out or get help, or even supervise it to ensure it did not get out of control. He went to bed and pretended to be asleep. It is not clear what he imagined was going to happen. Did he have a fantasy about rescuing them? Did he intend to kill them all? There is no evidence of this, at least not so far. Or did he just imagine that this time people would see without having a clear thought about what exactly would happen? Though I am curious about his intent because I want to understand it, the fire marshal will be interested in intent because it makes a difference in how they respond. If he had "criminal intent" then it is arson.

It is clear that this is related to the expectation that his father was going to be home in a month or so to spend a couple of weeks with the family. Nephew's fire definitely falls into the "cry for help" category, which doesn't eliminate the possibility that he also had the intent to cause damage to person or property (beyond the couple of items of his dad's that he initially burned).

Anyway, the interviews with the juvenile program person was on Friday. They learned about Nephew's abuse. My sister has been doing her own version of "crying for help" by being totally honest with every physician, therapist, and now fire official about both Nephew's past behaviors and BIL's abuse. It seems to me that she is begging them to tell her that she can't let her husband come home. They also learned about the abuse from the church/school because Sis would not sign the release for them to interview the pastor. Today the fire marshal will probably start attempting to interview other people in Nephew's life. There are not a lot of them, but they will certainly include people from the public school he has attended.

The fire marshal should also file a report with child protection. Given that the abuser is not currently living in the home, I don't know how much they will do. I know my sister would be relieved if they showed up and told her that he can't come back. I doubt that will happen though. I think it is more likely that they will either decide that there is no need for immediate action on their part but that they should keep an eye out for when/if the father comes back. I'm guessing there. I am HOPING that this prompts an investigation of the church/school.

Though Nephew will have to take a fire safety class, no one thinks that will address the issue. The fire marshal has already said that he will have mandated counseling and that Nephew will have to go a full year with no negative reports before he is "in the clear." To me that sounds like there will be involvement from juvenile justice. That could mean a whole range of things. I am hoping we will have a clearer idea sometime this week. I don't expect detention, but I would guess there would be someone who has the role of a probation officer. I know my sister said that there was no way she could go on the vacation to the cottages even if she wanted to. She has to be taking her son to a lot of appointments.

I have been trying to understand this. I don't know how compulsive fire setters are. Is it like cutting? I know that kids who cut don't just stop. When they are under stress they feel the need to cut and cutting makes them feel better. Is my nephew's relationship with fire like that? Will learning in this dramatic way that the fires he set can be dangerous make him back away, or will it make fire-setting more compelling? Does he present a continuing threat to the safety of others? How successful are these intervention programs for kids this old and who have set fires this damaging?

And will anyone tell my sister, or my brother-in-law that he shouldn't come home, or will they just sit back and watch to see what they do?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

More on Nephew and the fire

**Note: I published this first on the private blog but decided to bring it over here.**

Well, Sis was pretty upset. Nephew has been setting fires for a while. He has been playing around with various substances including fertilizer. The whole NPR story on making homemade fireworks was really a bad idea for him. I'm not blaming NPR, by the way. Nephew has access to information and was accessing it from before the story.

Anyway, Sis of course is worried that her son is a terrible person, will grow up to be a terrible person. She was in something of a shock. Her son set fire to their house. The fire was right below the hall outside her door. The wicker shelf outside her door caught on fire after they got out. If she had not woke up in time she and the girls might not have been able to get out. Nephew's room was on the other side. He would have made it.

I calmed her some, I hope.

What Nephew had set fire to was actually some of his dad's things. He has been burning up his father's stuff, a bit at a time, for a while now. It is certainly serious and it needs to be responded to, but the house fire was a terrible and unintended consequence of his actions. He did not intend to set fire to the house and he did not intend to hurt anyone. One of the things he needs to learn is that his actions can have consequences far beyond what he intends, but I encouraged Sis to remember that he wasn't trying to burn up the house.

Fortunately, the authorities now know all about his father and the church. They know about his father because they know why he set the fire. They know about the church because the fire marshall made them sign a form allowing them to release information to other people for their own protection. They wanted the pastor to know, and my sister had to explain why that might not be safe for Nephew. I don't know if they will do anything, but at least they know.

I was a bit tough on my sister. I told her that her kids grew up believing that God thinks they should be beaten. That can mess you up pretty bad. All things considered, I think her kids are pretty healthy. Nephew has a chance to become a good man. He is going to need a lot of help, but he can get there.

I've come to think that is one of the most important things we can do for our kids: show them that we know what they have done and we still think they are worthy. They are not defined by the things they have done.

I am hoping so very much that "they" don't let my BIL have unsupervised access to Nephew.

I guess we will see what happens.

Nephew is going to go back to his previous therapist. The fire marshall will be going along for the first visit. When Nephew went before his father had already left for Iraq so there wasn't any reason to believe that he was in continued danger. I am really hoping that this time around there are enough people who know that he will be kept safe. Certainly they know that he is terrified of what his dad will do when he comes home.

Sis lacks confidence in his previous therapist because she thought he didn't need more counseling when Sis thought he did & because Nephew lied about some of the things he had done and she believed him. I suggested that she keep an open mind. Someone who has been lied to may be better. She knows how convincing he can be.

More on the fire

Nephew set the fire. It was not an accident.

A fire marshall that deals with children spent an hour talking to him, and Nephew finally confessed.

Now, to be fair, he intended to burn a couple of things in the basement. The fire marshalls found evidence that he had done so in the past. Nephew did NOT intend to set fire to the house.

Of course, he is in serious trouble with the authorities. Sis said he will have to go one full year with no trouble before he will be in the "all clear." I'm not certain if he will be charged with anything in juvenile court. I would imagine so. He has mandated counseling and more.

His father is being kept in Iraq, talking with a specialist there until they believe he has processed it. They won't let him come home until they are confident that he is under control.

And on a happier note my sister said she told the insurance agent that she had no idea how to find furnished apartment for three months. They told her that they would have someone look next week for her. When they have something that fits her stated needs, they'll take her to look at it.

Oh, and I was able to relieve her of one worry. She said her cell phone bill was going to be outrageous. I told her to go the office and tell them that she has been needing her phone more than usual and ask them to change her plan. I know Veriz*n would back-date it and I am guessing Spr*nt will too.

I also talked to her for quite a while about how I thought that Nephew had every chance to grow up to be a good man. He was a kid with a good heart who was struggling with a lot of pain. He needs people around him to take seriously what he did. He is going to have to deal with the consequences of his actions, but at the same time he needs people to believe that he is not an evil person.

Friday, July 10, 2009

House A'Fire (small update)

Namely, my sister's. Every one's fine.

So NPR had a story about how to make your own fireworks. I didn't hear it, did you? Sis and Nephew tried some of them in the back yard but it did not work as expected. Nephew, without Sis knowing, took one of the duds into the basement to ponder. It sat there, on the seat of a vinyl chair while the family watched a DVD. No one noticed any smell or heat. They went to bed.

Sometime later the smoke alarm went off. Sis woke up first. She woke up Niece1. They woke up Niece2 & Nephew. Sis had the dog. One of the nieces stood at the door and called for the cat who dashed out and has yet to be found. Sis doesn't know if the fire department contacted the Red Cross or if they just saw the report on the news. In any case, BIL is on his way back from Iraq. Sis doesn't know how long he will be there.

Nephew has asked to stay with his favorite aunt and uncle who live about 2 hours away. Sis is going to let him.

Anyway, the fire was mostly contained to the basement, however intense heat and smoke filled the house. Everything in the house that had any vinyl or plastic is melted. That includes the finish on the cupboards and the entire TV, but not their cell phones and lap tops. Oh, and their shoes. The kids sneakers melted, but Sis still has some dress shoes.

The good news is that they have good insurance. It will pay for somewhere for them to live for 2-3 months, and for the replacement of everything destroyed, all they have to do is save the receipts. They handed her a check for $3000, told her to get a hotel and buy what they needed right away. They will work out the rest as they go.


She's not going to the cottages this summer. I'm told her I would call our parents. She particularly wants me to contact Dad and tell him they are not going to make it to the cottages.

And on the news report she quoted a Bible verse. She even showed up at the evening service in singed clothes. She is TOTALLY back on the Pastor's "good" list. They are getting quite a bit of support and assistance.

And that's the news from Lake Woebegone.

Added: though the news is reporting that the cause of the fire is still under investigation, that isn't quite true. The fire marshall asked the kids what happened. When they didn't say anything she said, "Who's not telling me something? Were you smoking dope?"

The kids asked her what "dope" was. She got stern and told them not to try to pull anything over on her. Sis pulled her aside and explained how sheltered they were and said they really didn't know what "dope" was. They talked to the kids separately and Nephew confessed, crying, afraid he was going to go to jail. The fire marshall was then very kind to him and said that she was going to record it as an accidental fire, but he had to take a fire safety class.

I know this is all terrible and traumatic, but part of me is a little jealous. She is going to end up with a complete home renovation. The house has to be gutted. She gets new cupboards, floors, walls, furniture, electronics.

Of course right now they are staying in a hotel with two changes of clothes.

Niece 2 was very relieved when they were let back in to take out a few things to find that her library books were fine. The girls' rooms are on the second floor and their things suffered the least damage.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Recommended Reading

Read this, or suffer the consequences.

Update Blog Notification Box

I stopped trying to keep a blog roll a long time ago. There are just so many foster care blogs, and sometimes people just stop writing. So maybe they should be taken off, except then sometimes they start back up again.

So I switched to this notification box feature a while back. (On the side bar...scroll down a bit). Many of you have it on your blogs. The way it works is that it gives a link to the 10 most recent posts from my list of foster care blogs. In order to get it to say "Yondalla" and not "MyRealName" I had to set up a separate Google Reader under the name "Yondalla."* That means that I have two readers, the one where I do my reading, and the one where I list all the blogs for the notification box. Sometimes this means that I will be reading a blog for a long time and THINK I have copied it into the notification system when I haven't.

Anyway, I've updated it. I found several blogs that I thought were there that weren't. Sorry.

I no longer go searching for foster care blogs. I generally find new ones because the author commented here. If you write a foster care blog and you aren't set up for notification leave a comment and I will check you out and probably add you. I rarely remove anyone so if you take a hiatus and then start writing again, your new post will show up here.

Oh, the easiest way to figure out if you are on the list is to check out the box an hour or so after you have published. Well, maybe give it a couple of hours. Sometimes Google is really weird about taking time to get things on the reader.

*You only see "Yondalla" if you click at the bottom to read more.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

No detention!

For Gary that is.

See one of the conditions of his probation is getting at least C's in all his classes. He got two D's this past semester.

Now technically, that's a probation violation and violations are felonies for which he may be sentenced 180 days in detention. So the PO could have reported him for one OR TWO violations and then required him to spend as many days as she thought was necessary. No one thought she would do that, although we weren't sure that she wouldn't make him spend 10-30 days in lock-up.

She sent me a letter and I, as requested, called her back. I told her that Gary hadn't, technically, been lying to her when he told her his grades were fine. He remembers what grades he received on the work he has done and it has always been good. The problem is that some large assignments overwhelmed him and he didn't do them at all. When he reported on his grade he underestimated the effect that has.

That made her feel better about it all. She decided that she didn't need to come out right now to sit down and talk to him. She will come out the week before school and warn him that if his grades don't come back up she will make him go back to the regular high school. I told her I hoped it didn't come to that because he the big high school was so emotionally stressful for him. She says she doesn't want that to happen either.

So, I reported to Gary what she said. He wanted to know how angry she was; he doesn't like it when she is angry. He felt better after, although he did protest that there was nothing anyone could do to make him work harder than he wanted to work. Even if she had sent him to detention it wouldn't bother him. His social worker had said that it might be good for him to spend two weeks in detention while we were on vacation. He said, "Two weeks? And then I get to COME HOME AFTER? Ha! That's NOTHING."

I asked him though if she really could make him switch schools. He said she can make him do anything she wants, because if he doesn't, she can send him to detention. He wasn't laughing then.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Young Love, and Stupidity

So I talked with Andrew again about being willing to buy him more plane tickets home. I wanted to know how many he needed. He responded with reasonable confusion and asked me how many I was thinking about buying.

I explained that I knew he was young and in love and consequently stupid. I was afraid that he might be thinking of leaving the college where he is and come back here. I was willing to buy plane tickets in order to counteract that stupidity and keep him where he belonged. He laughed, but just a little. He said he was glad that I told him, otherwise he would be thinking that seeing Alice more AND saving me money on plane tickets would both be reasons for coming back. He wanted to know if it was really such a bad idea to come back. I told him that if he wanted to major in science, business, or fine arts it would be fine. He however is interested in areas that overlap with mine. He would be taking courses from people I work with very closely. I didn't think he would be happy there. He nodded.

So I asked him again how often he wanted to come back. I assured him that I was willing to buy him tickets to come home twice during the quarter. I was afterall getting off pretty light with his education. He had a full scholarship for tuition and his grandfather-funded college fund was paying for his room and board. All I had to buy were books and plane tickets, and the tickets weren't that bad -- just one discount airline plane ride away.

He said he would like two flights home per quarter. That would mean they would see each other every 3 or 4 weeks.

I know that is still an eternity for those who are young and in love, but hopefully it is enough to keep him where he is.

Update: I did tell him that I would be willing to buy Alice tickets to spend the weekend there. He likes the idea, but has to come up with a plausible plan for where she can spend the night. I understand that she may end up spending the night in Andrew's room, especially if he can predict when he roommate will be out of town, but she can't announce that intention to her mother.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Commenting on Blogs

I've been thinking about how I comment on blogs, about what sort of comments are helpful. I've tried thinking about the comments that I get that are helpful to me. (First, let me say that I have like 100 blogs in my Google Reader. I read all the posts. I click through and comment maybe four to six times a day. That means I don't comment nearly as much as I probably should.)

I think we all appreciate comments telling us that a post we wrote was good in some way. I know I like hearing that a post made someone laugh, or think about something in a different way, or just that they have found something I wrote helpful in some way. I assume I am not all that different from other people.

Comments of encouragement are great too. I've been exceptionally lucky in the past few months in that my children aren't putting me through the emotional wringer. Partly that is because they are making good decisions and partly it is because I am not letting myself get too worried about their less-than-good decisions. Still, when I have gone through tough times just hearing that someone is pulling for me, or has confidence that I am going to get through this, or something can be helpful.

BTDT (been there done that) comments are also often great. Sometimes just knowing that someone has lived through the same experience and come out the other side gives me hope. I leave those sometimes. I have absolutely nothing "helpful" to say to someone who is struggling, with a situation, but I remember being there. I got a response the other day to someone who said that my description of a similar situation made her laugh out loud. I don't think it was particularly funny, or wouldn't have been to anyone who hadn't lived through it. She was though, and my description made her laugh. I hope it helped her keep going, even if it didn't give her any idea of how precisely to do that.

I also appreciate, and sometimes leave, comments that I classify as "ideas, not advice." I TRY not to give people advice, particularly that advice that given with the tone that says, "this is what you SHOULD do." We only ever reveal part of ourselves on blogs. It is the nature of the beast. We certainly never give a complete picture in any one post, that would be impossible. I am a firm believer that the "right" approach is the one that works for this caretaker and this kid. Sometimes though what we are doing isn't working and getting a bunch of ideas can be very helpful. If someone tells me that I should absolutely do X, and if I don't do X I am a bad parent, i feel annoyed (or worse). I never feel annoyed when someone says that x worked for them and maybe it will work for me. Even when I think "nope, tried that, didn't work" I don't feel judged. So I try to leave those sorts of comments sometimes. I leave them more often with people who know me, or at least internet-me, fairly well.

Sometimes I have got, and sometimes I have given, comments that say, "I really think you are on the wrong track here." That is different from just offering up a suggestion. It is more direct. None of us LIKE those comments, but when they come from someone whom we really trust they are important. I try to take them seriously, though my insta-reaction is almost always, "well, she doesn't understand..." My second reaction is sometimes different. I don't think I leave those comments very often.

And there is one more sort of comment I appreciate, even need, sometimes. It is the "no, you are not a bad person" or "I understand this is what you need to do" comment. I needed those when I was writing about not being the parent Frankie needed. The only comment I ever got from Cindy was on a post like that. (The post title was "I'm not Cindy" which might have helped attract her attention.) During that time I got a lot of comments that helped me to forgive myself. I did get some comments expressing negative thoughts, but I don't remember any of them being mean. It probably helped that I had an established audience, had already parented a couple of kids from care. That I had met my limit in this kid, and knew that some other blogging parents would have been able to handle, was something that people accepted.

I've given the same sort of support to other people who have made the decision that they can't continue to parent a child. I think a lot of blogs end when people get there. Many bloggers have not been treated as well by their readers as I have been. (Most of the really negative comments I get are from people who clearly haven't been reading the blog. Those I can generally shake off. Fortunately I have never been targeted by the kind of troll that just keeps coming back.)

Though I am pretty free with the "here's an idea that might work" comment, I am very hesitant to tell people that I really think they are doing it wrong. Generally I figure there is more to the story than I am reading, or that they aren't likely to be receptive to comments that are based upon that premise. If they reject all my "just an idea" comments, they aren't likely to respond well to comments that are out and out critical. I've left them occasionally though. I've never been sure it was a good idea.

I'm thinking about this recently because I have been debating about what kinds of comments I should leave on blogs.

Generally if I think a blogger is making major parenting mistakes, I say nothing, but I am not sure where the limits are.

What sort of comments do you find helpful?

Do you ever feel like you SHOULD leave a comment on a blog even though you don't think the writer will be receptive?

I'm actually asking here.

Oh, and if you ever wanted to tell me that some comment or other that I left you was not helpful, now would be an appropriate time to say so.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Social Worker Visit & Update on Frankie

We had our monthly drop-in from the social worker. She likes us because we never need her. Of course I reminded her that in the past I have sometimes had a lot of needs. I didn't specifically point out that at the end with Frankie I was calling her quite a bit.

We had a nice visit. I told her when we were leaving for vacation. She asked if we had told the state worker. I responded that we hadn't and she said she would take care of that for us. I gave her a copy of Gary's grades and she gave him a gentle lecture about the D's. She told me that she doubted that the PO would violate his probation over it, although agreed that his chances of getting off supervised probation* were certainly less.

We talked about whether he was up to date on all his medical stuff, and we told her stories about what was going on. We talked about his girlfriend and her very protective mother. I told her that I was tempted to tell the mother not to worry, that Gary was very responsible and that we made sure he had access to condoms. She thought that was hilarious and told her own story that begins, "I always had a drawer where I kept condoms. I told my girls that they could always take them for themselves or for friends..." It was an interesting story.

I remembered to ask her about Frankie. I told her that I knew there was a limit, but what could she tell me? She said he was doing really well. He was living in a emancipation home. It is a staffed facility that is helps boys to develop the skills to live independently. He is studying for his GED and has a summer job. She says he is doing really well. She will send me the facility's phone number so I can call if I like.

When she left she asked if we were driving or flying on our vacation. I said that we were driving and that I needed to so that I could drive away if necessary -- there is a certain amount of anxiety when I am with my father.

"Your father will be there?"

"Well. They are his cottages, so yeah."

"Ugg. Family vacations."

"It's okay. He's mellowed in his old age."

"Well the pot helps," says Gary.

"What?" asks the worker.

"He said that the pot helps keep my dad mellow."

"Your father smokes pot?"

"Yes. But it's [state] and it's medical so it is legal."

"Uh huh."

"No. Really. I'm sure he has a card."

"It's okay. I grew up in California. Have a good trip!"

And then she was gone.

I can't remember if it is his county or his judge, but Gary has been informed that he will not just let out of probation. At some point he will go to unsupervised probation. That means all the conditions of the probation, including regular contact with his PO, go away. The only one that stays is the requirement that he not violate any laws. If he gets so much as a traffic ticket he will have violated his probation, which is a felony, and can get him 180 days in detention. He would only be released from unsupervised probation when he turns 21.

Another thing I am not doing (updated)

I am not worrying about the fact that Gary hasn't called his PO in weeks, perhaps months. He is supposed to call every Tuesday. She has been wanting to get him off supervised probation for a year, but it is only recently that it has seemed possible. She sent him a message through his social worker saying that he needed to send in his court fees so she could process him. He did some weeding for us to earn the $20. Roland wrote the check, gave him an envelop and stamp, and we think he probably mailed it in.

He's nervous though because he got two D's. That is a probation violation. That means that he PO could make him spend time in the detention center. She probably won't.


She would certainly have a conversation with him about it, and she absolutely wouldn't request that he be released from supervised probation when he is not currently in compliance with his probation conditions.

Now I am not worried about this is the sense that I have any anxiety about it. I am however very curious about it. Periodically I can't resist asking him if he has called. I really want to know what is going to happen. When he tells me he hasn't called I feel a disappointment similar to finding out that the sequel to the book I just read hasn't come out yet.

Does that sound heartless? I don't mean for it to. I hope for his sake that he doesn't have to spend a few days in detention. I know he would hate it. I would hate it for him. If he went I would be very sad for him. I won't be sad if he stays on probation. Though I don't think he needs or deserves to still be on probation, I do find it convenient. This whole, he has to be home by 8:00pm thing is really convenient for me.

It is one of the ways my parenting has changed over the years. When we started this 9 years ago I would have thought that making sure he called and informed the PO of everything was my job. Now I know it is his, and I am just curious as to how it is all going to turn out.

I'll let you know when I do, of course.

Update: He overheard me asking Roland about it, and asked for help. He had never addressed an envelop before. Now he has and his check and a copy of his grades are on their way to his PO.

He says that if the PO reports his grades to the judge, the judge could sentence him to 180 days in detention, although he would hope he would only get 30 days. Of course he really hopes the PO doesn't violate his probation.