Sunday, August 30, 2009

Getting Along Again

So, the boys have had a great weekend. It seemed to. Friday evening we took them both two the pawn shop to look at musical instruments. We got Brian an electric bass. Gary looked at guitars. The made friendly comments to each other about instruments. Saturday Roland took Gary into The City where he picked out an acoustic guitar. It is sold as a student guitar, but seems to be a good student guitar. Later in the day Gary asked Brian to show him how to play some cords. They talked instruments. Today they went to the gaming store and combined their money to buy a new controller for one of the gaming systems. They have spent most of the day playing. I don't normally like for them to spend so much time gaming, but they are getting along.

So I think talking to them separately was helpful. I think they "got" that they were escalating, each not liking the other for not liking them. The just both seem to be trying to give the other a second chance. I told Roland how wonderful it is. He sees this as "situation normal" and the tensions that were building up between them as deviations. I hope he is right. I do remember that they got along really well for a quite a while. I hope this new period of detente lasts after they go back to school tomorrow.

We've made a change in the chore schedule. They used to share the cleaning of the kitchen and almost every evening there were be complaints about whether the other had really done their fair share. For some reason they always protested that they didn't want to move to switching off nights, but this time I insisted and based upon a couple of nights it appears to be going well. When they cook they seem to make the biggest messes, not cleaning anything as they go, not putting away any ingredients. So on those nights I will do the kitchen, although I may recruit help from Andrew or Roland if it is really bad.

The kitchen was pretty bad tonight, but Gary made Chicken Marsala, and it was very good, so it was worth it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Conversation with Sister

I had a nice phone call with my sister. She was more relaxed than she has been in months. She took my niece to college and had a stretch of time by herself in the hotel room. She was in heaven.

And she used the time to call me.

She's debating what to do about her marriage. She wants to give BIL a chance to change. She feels like if she doesn't, she will always wonder if he might have. She also is trying not to hope too much. Even Niece1 tells her not to get her hopes up. She asked me if I thought he would. I said that I had known people who had made major changes in their lives but that the one thing they all had in common was that they wanted to change. She said BIL doesn't think he has done anything wrong, but he is willing to go to counseling. I told her that in Alanon I often heard people tell other people, "Do what you have to do until you have to do something else."

"What does that mean?"

"That means you stay as long as you need to stay, and then you go when you know it's time to go."

She told me about my niece's college, the ups and downs of getting there, about how Niece1 seems to be adjusting better than she thought.

I asked her if she got the box I sent her a while back. She said she did and then told me about how that very morning she had told Niece1 that she knew she was going to regret wearing the outfit that she put on because she always where jewelry with it and she has none. None has come back from the company that is supposed to be restoring it. She wore it anyway, and then when she got the mail there was the jewelry! I know it is the sort of thing she likes: pendant and matching earrings significantly bigger than the stuff I wear. So she was pleased.

I told her what was going on with Gary. We talked about adopting the boys.

She told me that my father did get to go to China, which is good for several reasons, including that he instructed the person who is taking care of his finances to make major payments on her debt from her medical bills and student loan. That is going to be a big help to her.

We also talked about whether living in the apartment behind Dad's house would be terrible. She's thinking that it might be her best option. I think right now plan A is to "give BIL a chance" until Niece2 graduates from high school next June. That is actually only a few months because he will be in Iraq for another six months, I believe.

We talked about her church, about how she has cut down her activities to the absolute minimum required for her daughter to attend church, and about how the pastor is harassing her. BIL is being helpful there. He never liked the pastor and would have switched churches long ago. By mutual agreement he is emailing the pastor to say he knows Sis has fallen from the path and he will "handle it" when he gets back. He didn't actually SAY "leave my wife alone" but he says he thinks he successfully sent that message. He promised Sis that he would fulfil the weekly attendance obligation when he got back. He of course will be hoping that they work everything out and find a new church after Niece2 graduates. BIL is not all bad, especially when what you want is a big, strong man to fix things and keep other guys from bothering you.

Mostly though it was just good to hear her not-exhausted.

Anyone know anything about guitars?

Update: the got the one from The City. He got an electric tuner. I may delete this post in a bit.


Gary is taking guitar at school and the agency has approved us spending $225 for a guitar. The music stores in the area say that they do sell "student-quality" guitars for that amount.

Yesterday we went to a pawn shop. It isn't like I imagine them to be. It is big and really well organized. We've bought iPods there that were fine. They do have a one-month return policy. There is a separate alcove for jewelry that looks like a jewelry shop and a separate music room that is just full of instruments. The man who worked the music room sounded like he actually knew something about instruments, although we didn't ask him a lot of questions about which ones were good. There were about 30 acoustic guitars. One or two were over $500. There were two Yamaha's for about $300, and most were in the $200 range. There were a few that looked junky even to me that were under $100. One that was under $200 was a brand that had been recommended and it had an battery operated tuner built in. When it is on, little lights tell you if it is in tunes. Gary thought it sounded really good, but that may be because it was the one he got tuned just right.

Gary has some ability to judge a guitar after two weeks of class -- some. His instructor gave him some hints, and told him that it was really important that it feel right physically. She warned him that the "student" guitars might be too small for a 6 foot guy.

This morning Roland is taking Gary into The City to go to a store that just sells guitars, one of the ones that has $200 student guitars. He's going to see what they are like, but last night thought that he was probably going back to the pawn shop.

So...does anyone have any advice? Gary should be taking guitar all year and doesn't really expect it to be a life-long thing.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Talking to Brian

First, thanks everyone for all the comments on the previous post. Perhaps I should make a point of pleading for comments more. It really was all very interesting and helpful. I also talked with Roland about it all. Together we realized that degree to which Brian is upset has a whole lot to do with going back to school and being sleep deprived. He's been sleeping until noon and suddenly he has to get up at six. I've tried in years past to get him to re-set the week before school, but it doesn't work and I've stopped trying. In addition to all that, he also forgot to take his medication a couple of times and that alone can cause for an emotional dive. So that is part of the reason why he was so upset, although it doesn't change the basic of the situation.

And the basics are that they have had a relationship which was incredibly positive, in which Brian talked and shared with Gary like he had shared with few others. They have, and recently, had a good time doing things together. And they, like the rest of us, have character flaws which annoy the other. Something happened slowly, started last year, mostly took a break over the summer, and then came back. They went from being annoyed with each other (sometimes) to noticing that the other was annoyed with them and feeling hurt and angry about it. Then each boy felt something like outrage that the other boy was angry at him for being annoyed at the other boy's very obvious character flaws.

Each complained to at least a couple of friends at school, and since Gary's friends are almost all sophomores who were Brian's friends first (and still), that was bad.

The root behaviors on Gary's part would be bragging and having a surprisingly difficult time initiating friendships, particularly with boys. This has resulted in all of his friends being either girls who have approached him, or Brian's friends who have accepted him into their group. And of course there is the part about being handsome and charming to girls and adults and seeming to get by on that alone. I completely get how this can be frustrating to someone, but mostly they are not things that one can ask Gary to simply change. He isn't going to abandon the one strategy that has worked for him (being good looking and charming), and even if he acknowledges that it would have been easier for Brian if he, Gary, had made friends among his class instead of among Brian's friends, it isn't like we can reasonable expect him to just stop hanging out with people that he has now developed relationship with, or even to suddenly develop the skills to initiate friendships with other young men.

Brian's root include a low tolerance (or maybe a medium tolerance that gets over-loaded?) for things like bragging and a sad tendency to periodically make biting sarcastic remarks, or even to inform Gary that is really isn't as good at something as he thinks he is. He doesn't do that very often, I don't think, but Gary can remember pretty much every one. Gary really doesn't see how the bragging can be annoying and perceives the comments as completely unprovoked attacks. Brian also does not communicate well when he is angry. He doesn't talk. He just gets furious. He wants other people to comfort and figure things out for him. I want so much to emphasize how much better he has got over the years, but I admit it is still there and it comes back with a crash when he is exhausted and crashing from forgetting his meds.

So, we had a long talk with Brian yesterday. We did our very best to make him understand that we did understand how difficult it was having someone come in and invade all parts of your life, especially someone who gets on your nerves. But we wanted him to think about two things.

First, how things seemed to Gary.

Take the example of the girl he is now dating. She was and is a friend of Brian's. "You liked her. She flirted with Gary. Gary started dating her. We get that sucks and it makes sense that you feel angry, but Gary didn't do that to be mean to you. It makes sense to him that you would be a little upset about it, but not that you would stay mad. And Gary really didn't do anything wrong when that other girl drew a picture of him and put her phone numbers on it. When you get angry and don't talk to anyone over that, you just look bad."

Then we talked about the singing with the band thing. Brian wanted it, and Gary got it. Gary didn't do it to be mean to him. He just did it and was happy. We asked Brian to think about what it felt like for Gary to have something that he was excited about and for Brian to be so angry that he wouldn't even talk to him. From Gary's perspective Brian already has jazz band, drama, a choir, and Gary gets this ONE thing and Brian is angry. From Gary's side it must seem like Brian wants everything and wants Gary to have nothing.

Brian insisted that wasn't what he was thinking at all. He wasn't angry at Gary (he was, but we will let that pass), he was angry at the people in the band who said he could sing with them and then just gave it to Gary. We pointed out that Gary could hardly be expected to know that. We asked him to think about what it would have been like if he had been able to sincerely congratulate Gary, and tell him that he was angry at the band leader, but not at him.

I told Brian that when a relationship gets to this point, where two people are each upset at each other, the only thing that will change it is for one person to commit to a campaign of niceness. "It isn't enough to do it once and expect a change. If Gary were to decide to be nice to you, you would wonder what he wanted and you would probably blow him off. Then Gary would think, 'well, I tried.' If you want your relationship with him to be different, you will have to spend weeks behaving differently. No sarcastic remarks when he brags, even if it annoys you. Say good things when good things happen to him. Never complain about him to any of your friends. When you feel angry but not at him, tell him that he isn't the one you are angry at. It will take time."

Brian's response to this was, not surprisingly, that it wouldn't work because Gary this or Gary that. We listened and then told Brian that he had a choice. He could either commit to a long term campaign to make things better with Gary, or he could just accept that he had a lousy relationship with Gary and concentrate on his own life. He said that he guessed he would just have to accept that he had a horrible relationship because nothing else was possible.

And then later he came out to the living room where Gary was watching MMA. Brian sat down with his homework and said something to Gary about the fighters, Gary engaged a little in the conversation. It was sort of tense, but Brian was trying to make an effort. After a bit Gary turned off the television and left the room without saying anything. Brian just looked at me a minute and then worked on his homework.

That doesn't sound like much, but what I noticed was that Brian didn't say, "See Mom, I tried to be nice and he just walked off." Brian didn't even look like he wanted to say that.

I want to go on the record as saying that I predict there will be minor improvement in their relationship. Brian may might decide to make an effort. If he does, then at some point I will point out to Gary that Brian really has been trying to make things better and it would be nice if he would give him a chance. If it happens, the result would be that Gary would stop feeling like Brian is mean to him, jealous and resentful if he gets anything, and Brian might stop spending so much energy on feeling resentful. I'm not going to try to talk to Gary much before hand though. As much as I understand Brian's feelings, there isn't a whole lot that Gary can reasonably be expected to change.

So I don't know if there will improvement or not. I sort of expect that over the years there will be. Whether we will see anything over the course of mere weeks, I don't know.

On a related note, I'm not sure what is going to happen with Gary and school. His PO is going to insist that he switch schools if he gets a grade lower than a C, and he is finding that Choir and Guitar are both much more difficult than he expected. Choir isn't just singing and Guitar isn't just learning chords to play with popular music. Both classes have quizzes on musical notation, styles, terms. These were classes he thought were going to be the easy ones. At a regular high school they might be the "fun" electives. Here though they are part of the core and they are serious and difficult.

If hope he can make it through this year and then I think he may be able to finish up his high school degree with at home-classes, or something. He might be persuaded that half days at the big public school wouldn't be too bad. We'll see.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

Brian's Perspective: He left the public school for the Arts school where things were supposed to be better. He is genuinely talented and that was supposed to count for something. It took a little while, but he did find a place there. He wasn't the rock star that he dreamed of being where everyone realized what an incredible talent he was, but like the rest of us, he knows those are just fantasies. Still life was pretty good. The drama teacher asked him to join Drama 2 even though he was a freshman. He decided not to so that he could be with his friends. He had a real circle of friends in which he belonged, and that had never really happened before.

And then Gary came along. Tall, somewhat exotic-looking, certainly handsome, easy-going, charming and instantly likable by all. All of Brian's friends like him. All of the girls at the school jump on him like starved wolves on a fresh kill. He initially gets a better part in the play even though he didn't try out. He got it because he looks the part, not because he can act. He didn't even want it, but the teacher, who had never seen him act because he didn't try out, didn't know how bad he was. That situation resolved because Gary really didn't want the part and asked to be given sort of a background part. Still, he just stood there, looked gorgeous and made silly faces and the audience laughed. Brian was Scar. He sang and acted his heart out, and did a pretty good job, and people said nice things, but Gary got accolades for making funny faces.

A bunch of his friends preferred listening to Gary's stories about MMA. The prettiest girl in school, with whom he was friends and hoped to be more, was fascinated with Gary and when Gary was free he took her.

Gary is that guy. That golden boy in high school that doesn't have to actually DO anything in order to be popular. He came along and stole Brian's life. His parents recently are talking all about how wonderful Gary is and about how they are going to adopt him. The state just shows up one day and tells him he can have his own laptop. He signs up for guitar at school and the agency says they will buy him a new guitar. He however is not noticed. He has an older desk top computer. He owns instruments and gaming systems, but that's old news, old stuff.

Oh, and then some of the kids have been forming a band and Brian was going to get to sing with them. Then a couple of days ago while Brian was in rehearsal for a play, Gary hung out with them and they asked him to sing... and Gary can't even sing!

Gary just walked in and took everything that was his, stole his life, and made him miserable. Now Gary is telling people at school that he, Brian, is annoying, a liar and a doofus.

Gary's Position
Life has been really hard on him. He could have crumbled, but he survived. He tries to be nice to people, and, it does help that he is attractive. Girls really like him and that's cool but also sort of embarrassing. Mostly cool though. He has a harder time making friends with boys than people realize. They tend not to like him because the girls like him so much, and there is that whole thing where he is good at martial arts. A bunch of them seem to always want to take him on, and that is stressful. He really isn't all that much into sports, other than MMA.

And school is hard. A lot of people don't realize how poorly he does. He hides his quizzes. They don't see his report card. If he didn't have the looks and the ability to charm the girls, his life would be hell. He's going to an Arts school because he perceived that the boys at the big public school wanted to beat him up and he was tense and exhausted all day. The Arts school is a mixed bag. Everyone else there has been in band since they were ten. They read music. They're good at all sorts of things that people are expected to be good at here. He has no idea how to catch up. He doesn't sing very well. He hates to act. He can't draw. At least he was able to get a non-speaking part in that play where he could just make faces and get some laughs.

Brian's friends were prepared to like him, include him in their group, and that was cool, and new. They liked hearing about MMA, which was so foreign to their world. So socially school isn't so bad. Some of the kids are forming a band. He's heard that Brian wants to sing with them, but that isn't going to happen. Brian can sing really well, but he can't act or look like a rock star. He'll just stand in front of the band and sing prettily. One day the band asks him to try out for lead singer. He might not hit all the notes, but he can throw himself into it. They want him because he is popular, particularly with the girls, and can look the part.

The thorn in his side is Brian who for some reason hates him. He hasn't done a thing to Brian. He has always been nice to him, or tried to be. Brian however just wishes he didn't exist. Brian complained to some of the other students about the thing about the part in the play, telling people that he couldn't act. What's that about? He knows he can't act. He never said he could, and he doesn't walk around school telling everyone that Brian isn't good at martial arts. Now this year he is in choir and Brian tries to make sure everyone knows that when he is the one who is off-key.

It gets to him sometimes, and he tells his girlfriend about it. Brian is such a little turd. And yeah, he's mentioned it to some of the other boys, boys who were Brian's friends first. Some of them see his point and they hang out with him a little more. That helps. Other's still hang out with Brian more and he just knows Brian is telling them all the time that he can't act, can't sing, can't do anything artistic.


Last night Brian just lost it. He was in his room, venting his anger, stomping, growling, crying. He finally came to talk to me. I comforted him. I also assured him that Gary wasn't stealing his parents. Brian hadn't said that, but he did start crying harder and held on to me when I said it. It had to feel that way to him. He got some comfort from that. I told him that he was talented and that Gary wasn't always going to be there stealing the spotlight, but that there were always going to be people like around who seemed to get the glory without having to work as hard as the rest of us.

This morning I mentioned to Gary that Brian was having a tough time. He said he knew. Brian was in his room throwing a fit last night, and he couldn't sleep. Brian can be just so annoying it makes him want to scream.

We were all pretty tired but I gave them a ride to school. I told them that they were each hurting the other more than they thought. I wanted them to maybe consider not talking about each other at all today. They were both sullen but agreed.

Gary was texting the whole time, no doubt telling his girlfriend that not only did he have to put up with Brian being a turd to him, now I'm taking Brian's side and telling him just to put up with this stuff and not say anything.

And Brian got out of the car, slammed the door and walked away, no doubt furious that not only was Gary just taking everything, now his mother is taking Gary's side and wants him to just put up with it and not say anything.


I really don't know how to help each kid see the other person's side of it all. Sadly I actually think Brian has to do more changing. His resentment is making things worse for him. And it is not fair that there are people in every place that seem to get rewarded without trying, just because they are tall, attractive and charming. And it is not fair that pointing out the situation just makes things worse for you.

We are going to try to spend some more time one-on-one with Brian. He decided to quit MMA for a variety of reasons. That will give us two evenings a week to be with just him. It is easy for me to end up giving a whole lot more attention to Gary. Brian is more like his dad and both of them do things like quote Monty Ponty and Mel Brooks stuff as part of a converstation. That's funny for a while, but it is not something that I can participate in. And it has always been difficult for me to get Brian to TALK to me. It's just the way he is. We agreed we would come up with some television show we both liked and Netflix the whole thing and watch it together. Not all at once, of course. It will be a thing we can do over time that we can share.

Gary on the other hand likes to engage me in conversation, although he avoids Roland as he avoids most men. He loves that I listen to him when he talks. He is easy to be with, what with all that seemingly effortless charm. He also craves the positive attention, because though he looks like he is sailing through life, he isn't, not really.

I know that the adoption talk has escalated all this. Fortunately the hearing is over and nothing much will be happening for a while. It won't be the constant topic of conversation.

So, what sibling rivalry stuff had you had to deal with, and what did you do? Did it work?

Enquiring minds want to know.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Short Version

This judge you may recall has the more relaxed courtroom procedures ever. This is what happened.

We followed the state worker into the courtroom. I asked him if we were next. He said he didn't know but that if the judge didn't want us there, he would tell us to go. Everyone milled around and then the clerk came in and told us to stand up. The judge told us to sit down.

Now, this isn't a transcript, but it is pretty close.

The judge announced that they were reviewing case... blah, blah, blah. It wasn't ours. Some people talked about how far along the guardianship process was going in that case. The answer was sort of muddled. The judge said they really needed to get going on that. The woman agreed. Then the judge mumbled something else about what the court found and ordered and then said, "which case is next?"

The state worker whispered to the state lawyer if we could go next. I suspect that he wanted the people who were sitting next to us to have more privacy with their case. The lawyer nodded and gave the judge the file number.

The judge took a minute to look at the file and then said, "Is there anything anyone wants to add?"

The lawyer from the public defender's office asked for clarification, who exactly was his client? This is slightly less outrageous than it sounds because the public defender's office has just gone through some sort of reorganization and they are all confused. The judge looked at the file again and then said that his client was Will.

Then the state worker said that they would like to change the case plan from long-term foster care to termination and adoption, because the foster parents had expressed a desire to adopt Gary and Gary said that is what he wanted too. The agency worker and Roland shot me looks of surprise. I shrugged. I had suspected the worker would say something like that.

It isn't wrong, it is just a subtle and important difference. We do not want the parental rights to be terminated so that we can adopt.

The judge looked through the file, said something about how long he had been in care and that no parents had been present for hearings. He then said that the court ordered that the case plan be changed to "termination and adoption" and that termination should procede. He then asked if anyone wanted to say anything else. When everyone was quiet he asked what the next case was and we left.

It took like five minutes.

So what I think happens next is that the state will have to attempt to personally serve each parent with notification of intent to terminate. The state doesn't have good addresses for them, but I imagine that process servers are fairly good at finding people. If they don't find them, then the state will have to put notices in newspapers for a certain amount of time. Then there will be hearing and the judge will terminate their rights.

If the process servers do find them, then the social worker will attempt to make contact and ask them if they want to voluntarily relinquish their rights. The worker thinks that the mother probably will, but that is based upon one phone conversation a long time ago. In Will's case his past behavior indicates that there is a good chance that he will just refuse to respond. If that happens, then at the next hearing his rights will be terminating.

HOWEVER, if Will or Gary's mother upon receiving the notification of the intent to terminate call their lawyers and say they don't want this to happen, there is a very good chance that is just won't happen. Gary will be 18 in 13 months and there really isn't time to have a battle. Also no one really wants to fight them. If they want to get involved in Gary's life and this notification prompts them to do something, that would be a good outcome.

The state worker thinks that this process is exactly the right thing to do.

The agency worker thinks that it is mostly a waste of time since everyone intends for any adoption to happen after Gary is 18 anyway.

I've got a lot of different feelings and thoughts, but I think the dominant one is that I am glad Gary's parents are going to be notified. We told Gary that we would adopt him, and he said he wanted to be adopted after he is 18. I wouldn't want that to happen without his parents being warned so they could stop it if they want to.

I think I have more things to say about this process, about how I feel about being part of it. It isn't all positive. I'll write stuff soon.

But right now we're all going out for fast food.

A rocky start to my day (update)

So, last night the dog was in the back yard, barking himself silly. It was 12:30am. I got up, called him in, went back to bed, and realized I was now wide awake.

So I cleaned the kitchen, which I should have done before I went to bed, but was too tired. Set up three Lexulous games, taking my time with the first move and even planning out the best possible second move, given the current state of the board. Then it was 1:30am, and I was still awake. Of course staring at a lighted computer screen is a bad way to get sleepy, so I got my Kindle and read for a while and finally crawled back into bed after 2.

Then the dog went nuts at 6:00 when I intended to get up. Roland was in the shower, so I got up, called the dog in and decided to get just a little bit more sleep. That's the beauty of having teenagers who get themselves ready in the morning. They can do it while you sleep.

I woke up at 9:30.

Okay, so a late start, but at least I am rested, right? Of course there is no milk in the house. There WAS milk in the house before I went to bed, but that is the ugliness of living with three full-sized male persons.

I made tea, sat at my computer, played some Lexulous and told myself I must get ready.

And then I got an email from the supervisor of social workers (Gary's worker is on vacation) saying that she thought the agency should rent Gary a guitar, not buy one. I sighed thinking I am going to have to call every music rental place in two counties (fortunately there are only so many stores even if they have separate locations) so that I can demonstrate to her that no one rents guitars. This is one of the problems of having young(ish) social workers who have never had kids in band. She signs off saying, "I'll see you in court this afternoon."

WHAT??? COURT IS TOMORROW. I know it is tomorrow. I told Roland that it was tomorrow, like 3 times. Last night he got on the school computer system and requested a half day sub, for Thursday. I checked the calendar.


I seem to do this a lot.

At least I had several hours warning.

I texted Roland who texted back that he probably couldn't make it, but would see.

I dressed. I realized I wanted to say a little prayer of thanks for being prompted to wash my hair last night even though I thought,"I should wait until tomorrow so it will be clean on Thursday." My second thought though was that I don't believe that there is any supernatural being who prompts people to wash their hair, so that's silly.

I called the three main rental places. None of them rent guitars, but they sell student ones started about $200.

And since I was on a roll, I did a work thing that took about 15 minutes. It's not done, just not in my (figurative) court anymore.

And now I need to find something to eat.

And then wait until it is time to go to the permanency hearing, while trying not to dwell on it. Because, you know, I'm not the least bit nervous that Will is going to be there and get worked up when he hears that we have said that we are interested in adopting Gary if Gary should be in a position to need to be adopted. Everything that I know abut Will indicates that his reaction will be something like, "I want to relinquish my rights so I don't have to pay child support that I can't afford and shouldn't have to pay anyway, but I'll be damned if I will let someone else take MY KID."

And that, by the way, makes total psychological sense to me.

I just prefer that all that happens when I am not around, you know? If he decides that he wants to keep his son, child support payments and all, I'm cool. I am not in the business of taking kids away from their parents.

Ah, but there, you see, my brain is begin to spin with what might happen, and might not happen, and how I will feel and what I will want to do in every possible situation. I've been able to put that off because I thought court was on Thursday.

So maybe it is good that I thought that?

I just wish Roland knew the right day and got THIS afternoon off.

Update: court is (and was always) scheduled an hour later than I thought. Once again, it was on the calendar right, I just was too ...whatever... to read. Anyway, the hearing is supposed to start at the end of Roland's students' day, so he is going to see if he can leave just a bit early and get there. I hope so.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


One of my colleagues, a favorite one in fact, announced a little while ago that this will almost certainly be his last year teaching. I'm feeling deeply bummed. We are going through a major curriculum change and we all know there is no way to predict exactly what will happen. We don't know where the greatest needs are going to be. That means that he is unlikely to get replaced.

That means, as far as I can see, I will only be able to offer a minor.

And I will miss him, because he is about the best colleague ever. We really worked well together.

So now everything will be awful.

Well, maybe not awful, but worse.

Although he has a nice office. No bigger than mine, but on the cooler side of the building, and you can see a fountain from his window.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Fair Use of Resources

Both FosterIma and zunzun left comments in response to Gary saying that he was going to "suck the agency dry."

There is a serious and not so serious side to this.

The not-serious side is what Gary meant by "suck dry." Gary asks for less than any of the other kids. Even when he knows the agency will pay for something he doesn't always accept. The most recent example is the guitar. He's decided that he doesn't have time to make playing the guitar a hobby (read: classical guitar is more difficult and less fun than he expected and he doesn't want to practice). Some of the kids would perhaps not be so honest with themselves about practicing and they would take the guitar. Gary has no intention of seeing how much he can get. He was thinking about minimizing the expenses to us. He's much more relaxed than he used to be. He no longer orders the least expensive thing on the menu if we eat out or deny that he needs school supplies that he needs. Even so, he would be more comfortable if the agency was paying for his school uniforms and maybe even driver's education. (An update before I even publish: Gary just came home and said there is no way he is going to pass classical guitar unless he can practice at home. I just emailed asking if there were funds available. So please pretend I found a different example.)

The serious side has to do with the use of resources generally. This is a topic that can quickly get very murky. I'm about to turn into a philosophy professor here, okay.

Thinking carefully about maximizing the benefit of our resources is an important part of distributive justice, and it is a difficult topic to keep nailed down. The problem is that it necessarily involves talking about non-existent alternatives and the possibility of making those alternatives real. Now sometimes that is easy. Brian went along when I took Gary to the physician last week. I had forgot to eat before we left and when we left I was getting tremble-y. I looked in my wallet and saw I had just over $6. I took the boys to the golden arches drive through, said I was getting a small milkshake and they could each have something that cost under $2. Now I could have driven to Sonic and bought myself an expensive milk shake and let them suffer. That would have been wrong.

Now consider if we were running a health care plan. We might decide that we wanted to cover the maximum number of people. So we might say that we would make sure that everyone in our geographical area got basic care, but that we wouldn't pay for cosmetic surgery or some such thing.

What both of those examples have in common is that the person making the decision is able to re-direct the unused resources somewhere else. Often that is not the case.

I just emailed the social worker about the guitar that I had thought we weren't going to need. Since the agency worker is gone, I copied her supervisor. I wrote a note directly to her at the end saying, "Gary is taking classic guitar at school and is not able to bring the school instrument home to practice. I believe that a student-quality instrument is a legitimate expense if funds are available." I didn't tell her that if they don't approve it, I will take him to the pawn shop and buy him a used guitar. I don't know anything about them and won't know if I am buying junk, but I will make sure he has something.

Now I trust the agency workers to be good stewards of their resources. They know how much money they have to spend. They will know if buying Gary a guitar means that some other kid won't get orthodontic work. I think they are more likely than not to buy one since he is taking guitar in school, and going to an arts charter school where some such class is required. If he just wanted to take guitar lessons, they would probably tell him that he needed to come up with a certain amount of money and then they would pay the rest.

The next question: would adopting Gary allow the agency to use their resources on other kids.
Answer: yes. They have room for a certain number of kids and there is always a waiting list. Their case workers have lighter case loads than the state and they have money for things like guitars. If we took Gary out by adopting him, some other kid would get in.

The NEXT question: should we therefore adopt Gary as soon as we can?
Answer: not necessarily.

First, Gary is almost 17. For us to adopt him before his 18th birthday tax dollars would have to be spent on terminating his mother's parental rights. Lawyers would have to be paid. Court time would be used, and there is no reason to be confident that it would all get accomplished before his 18th birthday anyway. I can't even tell you how quickly we will do it after his birthday. It will depend upon what is best for him, us and the rest of the family. I won't be taking the agency's budget into consideration and I don't think they would expect me to.

Second, so far the agency has resisted that sort of thinking. They make decisions for the kids in their care the same way I make decisions for kids in mine: the kids we have come before the kids we don't. Peter Singer would no doubt argue against that, but that is the principle the agency and I both use, more or less. Over the years the agency has made decisions that allow it to serve more kids, and some of those decisions have meant that kids in the program don't get as much as they did in the past. Mostly though it has been about accepting state money in exchange for allowing the state to have a greater say in what kids they serve. Those decisions however are made at the level of the whole organization, not at the level of the particular child.

They are exploring ways in which they might be more supportive of legal guardianship and adoption because they think that might be better for the kids. They don't have anything organized however. I was hoping that they would. After my experience with Evan I want them to have policies about helping in extreme situations. If my kid is going to need very expensive care that my insurance won't cover, will they help? There is no indication that they want to provide that sort of insurance for an unlimited number of kids. Still, where their policy once was, "we take kids for whom adoption and ruinification reunification have already been ruled out, so it isn't up for discussion except in the most extraordinary circumstances" it now on its way to becoming something else. Whatever it becomes, I am sure that the decisions will be made based upon what is best for each child, not based upon getting some kids out so that they could get other kids in.

Now, here's an interesting question to which I do not know the answer: if the agency were to successfully encourage foster parents to take legal guardianship or adopt, would more kids have better outcomes? It would help the agency have an effect on more kids, but would it over-all be better? How many kids who end up not getting something they needed because they were adopted by the family that didn't have the resources. And again, I think of Evan and rehab here. Because he was 18 and gay, the agency sent him to a small, private, gay-friendly facility in LA. If they hadn't been around he would have had to go to a large adult unit which at the time was being investigated for a couple of patient suicides. (Had he been 18 and not gay, they would have found a different private facility which may or may not have cost less.)

Take into consideration that most people who adopt or take legal guardianship stop being foster parents. Wherever that line is for a particular family, it is out somewhere. If I am a foster parent getting full services, including someone to HELP when I don't know what to do, I am going to keep working with them longer than if I take full responsibility for the kids. I seem to remember reading a decade or so that when the federal government started giving more financial incentives to encourage adoption, one of the unintended consequences was a need to spend more money on recruiting and training foster parents. People left when they adopted.

Anyway, trying to make decisions to maximize positive results gets really complicated and difficult. there are just so many factors, not all predictable, that make a difference.

However, Foster Ima's question might have been intended to be much easier than the what I have been wandering around with. She might have been asking if I would allow Gary to try to get the maximum amount of stuff out of the agency, just so that he could. The answer to that is no, I wouldn't, and I wouldn't because it would not be fair to the other kids in the program.

(As I re-read this some of it seems to have a harsh tone that I did not intend. I'm too tired to try to re-write anything though. It is probably full of typos too.)

Adoption Posts a'coming

So... I finally just asked Gary what he wanted with respect to our family. Whenever the question of our adopting him came up in the discussion with the social worker he smiled, but he didn't say anything. Later we assured him that it was his choice, and told him that it had always been our intention to offer to adopt all the boys as adults. We would be willing to adopt him now or later or not at all if that is what he wanted. He smiled.

So I asked, "Do you know what you want with respect to our family?"

He grinned and said, "Yep. I want to stay in [the agency] until I am 18 and then I want to be adopted." He went on with his plans to "soak the agency dry" as long as he could.

I have lots of complicated thoughts and feelings about adoption and it is difficult for me to blog about any part of it without feeling like I need to write about the other part first, but mostly right now those emotions are drowned out by the feeling that I want to do the happy dance.

This kid I have come to love wants to be part of my family, and that makes me happy.

Of course I couldn't blog about it until I talked to Evan first. He reads the blog sometimes, and he always reads it if I say I would like to see him or talk to him. So I called and told him that we had been thinking about offering adoption to him, Carl and David for years. I told him that I wanted to talk to him NOW because we were being asked about adopting Gary and I didn't want him to hear about all this any way but from me directly. He asked really practical questions about what exactly it means to be adopted as an adult. I told him that it was our intention for Roland to adopt him and then I would be his step-mother. He talked about his relationship with his mom, indicating that maybe he would want to be adopted by both of us. I told him that I did not want to come between them, but that it was his decision. I also told him he had a year to think about it. He seemed glad to know that.

So, sometime in the near future, I will write about how I feel about adopting the boys. I have no to little cognitive dissonance with respect to adopting Carl and David. There is no parent who would even notice (in one case because she died 12 years ago). Though it happened in different ways, they are in fact severed from their original families. With Gary and Evan it is different. Each has a parent who will be affected. I have never wanted our relationship with the boys to interfere with their relationships with their parents. Ultimately, what will happen will depend upon what they want to happen. I'll still have complicated feelings about that though, and I will write about it. Some of that will about what open adoption means to me in the context of adult adoption.

I also want to write about what adult adoption means to me and what I think it would mean to the boys.

And I might feel that I have to once again write about how the foster care system functions like an emergency room in a society with almost no primary care facilities. It's messed up.

And I will write about whether adopting the boys means that we are getting out of foster care. It may be a long post that can be summed up with "I don't really know."

If there is anything you want to ask about, please do.

Anticipating some questions:
  • The boys will be allowed to decide whether to change their names and if so what to.
  • Andrew and Brian are happy about the whole idea and regard the whole "it means that you will get less stuff when we die" as irrelevant. Possibly they understand how little stuff there is likely to be.
  • We have not talked to our extended family and though no one will be critical, I don't know if they will consider themselves genuinely related to the boys, though I know they would feel related to someone we adopted as a child.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Hearing and GAL

The Guardian ad Litem (GAL) called today to talk to Gary. She waited for an hour when a teen might just possibly be out of bed in the summer. She was surprised to learn that he was already in school. I asked her if she had talked to anyone else yet. She said, "Oh, well we don't worry much about the kids in [agency], I know he is stable."

So I caught her up.

Over the past year, her involvement has been less critical than in other cases. This time it may be different. She is the one that will be responsible to represent what he wants. Actually, her job is to say what she thinks is in his best interests, but she also has to indicate what he wants. Some tell me their reports often say something like, "though X clearly expresses a desire to return home, I do not believe..." Gary understands that that is her job.

One lawyer there will be representing Will. If there has been communication between them and Will hasn't changed his mind, the lawyer will be obligated to state that his client would like to terminate his parental rights. I don't know if he is obligated to say why.

The social worker told me he is definitely putting in his report that they are recommending termination of parental rights, so their lawyer will be representing that position. The social worker is also going to state that we have expressed an interested in adopting him.

We may be asked for our assessment as to how things are going, and we will say that they are going well. We might be asked if we are interested in adopting him. Our answer is that if Gary needs and wants to be adopted we would do so without hesitation. That may impress the judge, since teen boys don't usually have people waving their hands saying they want to adopt them.

However, I don't think that Gary is interested in being adopted. If his parents' rights are terminated he may decide as an adult that having legal next of kin is a good thing. Right now though I think the idea of taking one new parents, even nice ones he likes fine, is an emotional burden he does not need to deal with. It will be very, very important for the Guardian ad Litem to have a clear statement about that.

You may remember that the judge who usually does Gary's permanency hearings is the most lax judge in two counties, at least with respect to court room procedure. From what people tell me, if the state is recommending termination, he will agree and instruct that the process get started. He may order the case plan goal to remain "emancipation" or he may order it changed to "adoption." Which he does may be influenced by what the GAL says. Either way, Gary gets adopted if and only if he wants to be.

I keep wondering what is likely to happen in court. Will everyone just agree on TPR and then move on? Will Will be there and sign voluntary release on the spot? Will the judge tell him he has to do it in 30 days after which they will start involuntary termination?

Perhaps Will will hear that part of the CPS recommendation includes the possibility of us adopting him. If he does, and he will if he shows for the hearing, will he change his mind? TPR in his mind was a legal move to get out of paying child support. Adoption is something else. That is someone taking away his kid, and he may not be happy about that. It would be consistent with his inconsistencies. I mean, this is the guy who said that he could not provide a home for Gary and that he would kidnap Gary if they put him in foster care.

I also don't know if the court will decide to do anything about his mother's parental rights. Gary hasn't seen her for a decade (or about). She has been no part of his life since he was two. Our state doesn't even have a current address for her.

In the long run I know what is going to happen. Gary is going to live here and be part of our family.

I don't however know what will happen in the hearing next week.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Just to get this part out of the way: life is a lot more peaceful with one dog. We had the Cattle Dog alone and now the Shih Tzu alone, and it turns out that A LOT of the barking they do when they were both here was competetive stuff. So now that we are once again at one dog we don't have half the barking, we have like one fourth, or less.

So that is good.

We had lunch yetersday with some lawyer friends who do family law (among other things). Though Gary has decided he's okay with TPR, the lawyers think that 1) it wouldn't be difficult for that state to prove that TPR was warranted if they wanted to and 2) the state won't be very motivated to do so, since as long as Will is the father they always have the chance to get more money of him. It would be possible that the state would accept a voluntary TPR if our adopting him really was in the cards, but it isn't. Gary isn't showing any interest in that (which I totally understand and support), and his mother's parental rights would have to be terminated anyway. Showing cause would be easy with her since he hasn't seen her except for one visit since he was two, there is still a process and Gary is almost seventeen, so there's not much time for it.

Briand and Gary are back in school. They seem to be doing okay. Gary is miffed because he and the girlfriend don't have any classes together and really only see each other for lunch. Her parents only want to let her come out either Saturday or Sunday, not both, because they get to see each other every day at school anyway. Personally I think it s good for Gary to have a girlfriend who can't take up much of his time, but he's less than happy with it.

Gary is taking guitar which he was sure was going to be really easy. It is turning out that it is difficult because it is classical guitar. He has to learn read music. Most of the other kids already can read music, at least some. It is afterall, an arts school. They may not be able to site read, but they have been in band and/or choir and they have some understanding of what the notation means. Gary doesn't.

His diet is interesting. He eats a bowl of peas or something for breakfast, continues through his day staying his low calorie plan and then he eats 3 or 4 dinners. I try not to tease him about it. He is just so hungry by the end of the day.

I've been reading this series of "fluff" books. The heroine is a telepathic barmaid named Sookie Stackhouse. She lives in the Lousianna and has involvement with vampires, who have all "come out" now that synthetic blood products can keep them alive. There semi-ridiculous books, but fun. The covers are sort of juvenile and the prospect of being teased would keep me from reading them much, except I have the kindle. No one can see. For a while I was struggling with the guilt of constantly reading slightly-trashy books. I kept trying to ration myself: read for an hour and then do something productive. It wasn't working. At one point though I just decided to commit to it. I was going to read them all and the faster I did it, the sooner I would be free. It was a lot more fun then, and I was relaxed enough that I didn't forget to eat lunch and start to feel absolutely yucky in the late afternoon. I did finally finish all nine of them. Yipee.

Now I really, really need to start writing syllabi for classes.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Update on stuff

Okay, I know some of you are wondering what is happening with respect the the TPR stuff. The answer is "nothing much." Gary decided that he is okay with that happening. I emailed the social workers. Neither of them has emailed me back. The permanency hearing is in a couple of weeks. I don't know if anything will happen there.

In theory, Will could have already talked to his lawyer who might have spoken with the state lawyer, and they could show up with Will and a signed form from Will for the judge to approve. Or Will could not show up, have not contacted his lawyer, and the lawyer for the state say that they think that there should be a TPR and the judge could order that Will be sent notification, which has to be served in person. Or ... oh who knows.

Gary hasn't said anything about adoption or guardianship. I'm not going to bring it up either. If he wants it, we will do it. If he doesn't, we won't. I imagine one of the social workers will bring it up again. Right now I think that he isn't interested, and that is fine. He wants the social worker to get back in touch about how we can go about buying his computer.

Oh, and he has put himself on this absurd diet of under 1000 calories a day (lots of fruits and veggies) so he can "cut weight" in the next six weeks for a big fight. We'll see how long that lasts.

In other news, we finally made the decision to put the Cattle Dog down. She hadn't actually bitten anyone yet but she was getting closer. I don't really want to go through it all, but Roland and I agreed that it was better to do it before she bit someone.

We are all sad, but even Brian who is the most sad doesn't think we were wrong to do it.

I think life is going to be more peaceful with just one dog. I went out and got the Shih Tzu some squeaky toys that he loves and the Cattle Dog would have destroyed in 10 seconds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

All the other stuff

Whenever I write about parenting stuff there is always the danger that the posts will give the impression that I think that the current topic is either the only thing that parenting is about or at least the most important thing. That's not true. Parenting is complex. It is a lot of things.

The posts I have been writing are what I think of as this extremes of parentings: what we cannot change and what we cannot accept.

But parenting isn't about just that. Sometimes when we are parenting really hard kids, or not-normally-really-hard kids who are going through a really hard time, we can't think past what we cannot change and what we cannot accept, but if that is all parenting is, well, that's not what I want out of it. I want, and I think they need, a relationship. Ideally, parenting includes having fun with your kids, enjoying them, letting them know that when you look at them you see an incredible human being who is worthy of love.

In my world, satisfying parenting includes communicating to the kids that if they need help, I will be there, and then it includes the satisfying feeling I get when they ask for help.

And in between "cannot change" and "cannot accept" there is a whole lot of behavior that we often would like to be different. You know what I mean: chores, saying "thank-you", putting their frickin dishes in the dishwasher, not squabbling, doing their best at school, developing interests that don't involve electronics, expressing themselves artistically, playing creatively, putting the cap back on the toothpaste.

This is where I think all those parenting advice books can be handy. Different techniques work well with different kids.

Evan used to tell me that when anyone else told him to do something he felt ordered around, but he never did with me. I just asked him in a way that didn't make him feel that way. What I did, by the way, was pull out my Faber and Mazlish books and remember how I dealt with toddlers (toddlers and teenagers have a lot in common). Instead of telling him to go clean the kitchen I would say, "Evan, I really need the kitchen clean. Would it be better for you to do it now, or right after your television show is over?"

After a while he got on and he would say something like, "You know, I know exactly what you are doing." I would acknowledge his perception and then ask when he was going to do the kitchen.

Some youth do really well with stars on behavior charts. For some reason *I* have never done well with behavior charts, but I hear they work really well for some people. In between "cannot change" and "cannot accept" is a whole lot of stuff that might ameniable to positive reinforcement. Some behaviors don't respond to change through positive reinforcement, are satisfying a need that, once we understand, we can help satisfy in other ways. Sometimes the behavior is the result of a frustration about a situation we can help them with. It is complicated and messy and there is not one technique that is going to be the best for everyone. There is a grab bag of stuff out there and you have to figure out what is best for you and your kid.

I have some general recommendations: if you are punishing (even if you are calling it "imposing a consequence") give some serious thought to whether there isn't a better way. I would like to suggest that you consider just accepting the behavior as a better way. Artificial consequences sometimes get in the way of kids learning from the natural consequences of their actions. Punishment will often result in kids just being pissed. If their behavior is satisfying a need (a way to deal wtih fear, for instance) then punishment may stop that behavior, but they will just find another way to address that need. Really, just stop punishing.

Don't try to work on everything all at once. I mean, really. Make a list of things that you would like to change about yourself. If you are a really self-accepting person (congratulations!) make a list of things that someone else would like to change about you. What set of good habits would it be nice if you developed? Should you exercise more? Keep your desk organized? Spend less time playing around on the computer and distracting people at their jobs with games of lexulous? Okay, so let's say someone decided to help you to make those changes. Would it make sense to try to change all of them at once? Really?

If you have been reading this blog a while you know that I am a lazy parent. I just don't have a lot of energy to make kids do a lot of chores. I have friends who signed their kids up for activities and lessons and all manner of stuff. When their kids decide they don't want to do them, they make them continue out of principle. I don't. I've signed them up for stuff they wanted to do and let them quit when they didn't want to do it anymore.

You know how lazy a parent I am? I didn't potty train my kids. Yep. I'm serious. At one point it hit me that all the kids end up using the toilet. All of them. That must mean that all the methods work eventually, and if all the methods work then negligence should work. So all I did was tell the kids that when they were big enough they could use the potty. I didn't say it very often, just sometimes. One day they started asking to use the potty. I said sure. Then I started asking them if they wanted diapers or underwear today. They picked. Off the top of my head, I can't recall any accidents.

I have to say, it's been working pretty well for me. The kids seem to be doing pretty well. Among my friends who worked really hard there are some really great kids who have developed marvelous skills and habits. There are some others who are neurotic messes. I don't know why.

But some of you are much less lazy than I am. Some of you want your kids to do all sorts of worthwhile stuff. Here's what I recommend:

1. Don't punish.
2. Model the behavior.
3. Do it together and make it as much fun as possible.
4. Reward and praise in whatever way works for you.
5. Work on as few things as possible at any one time.
6. Be willing to give up.

I mean it about the last one. You may not give up as quickly I do, but I think we can all agree that trying to force a child to be artistic when they really just aren't isn't a good idea.

And keep thinking about the categories. Is this something you can't change? Is this something upon which the safety of you and your dependents depends? Or is it one of those laudible goals in the middle?

Okay, one more thing: if you have a kid with depression, anxiety, FASD, autism, or WHATEVER, go talk to someone who knows how to deal with that and then decide whether any of the things I have to say are helpful at all.

Learning Boundaried Parenting

So with Carl I learned that I could not make him tell me the truth. Ann (and you can read Ann's Story in its entirety if you haven't yet) I learned that I couldn't make her do school work, among other things. By the time David moved in I had FINALLY come to the conclusion that there were certain things I could not change. I didn't think very clearly about it though.

I believe I started out deciding that behaviors that were part of what they needed to do to survive when they were young were too deeply ingrained for me to change. I continue to believe that it is possible for the kids eventually to make changes in themselves, but it wasn't something I was going to be able to change with behavior modification or anything like that. I also decided that school battles were ones I could not win with teens.

I've come to believe that parenting for character, trying to teach kids to be honest, compassionate, generous, courageous (add your virtue here) is an appropriate goal with all kids, as long as we understand that these are not things we can generally tackle directly. The more I parent, the more I teach philosophy, the more I think Aristotle was on to something. Virtues are habits of character. They take time and mentoring. Very young children (I can only speak of neuro-typical children with any authority here, what does and does not apply to children with special needs I must leave to those with experience) learn to be generous and honest simply by being raised by generous and honest parents. Okay, it isn't that easy, but that is more or less how it happens.

Traits of character develop in older children, teens and adults because these children, teens and adults are working at it. They may simply be trying to be like someone they admire, or they may have a more clear understanding of the sort of person they want to be. We can be part of that process, but we can't be in control of it. I firmly believe that it can only happen if we are modeling these habits of character.

I have a friend who believes that the change tends to come after they leave us. He's becoming a priest and he raised his nephews through their teen years. He thinks that Jesus had to leave the disciples because as long as he was there, they were depending on him to guide them. That meant they didn't have to think for themselves. They only had to internalize what Jesus taught them once the external Jesus got out of the way. (I over-simplify). He does not think we should be in a hurry to get kids to leave us, just that many of the things we hope we are teaching them won't really happen until they do.

Anyway, as one of the commenters said on the last post, all this sounds great, but it can lead you to the conclusion that you should just let kids run around and do whatever they want. Those who have read for a while know that isn't what I think.

Here is what I think: figure out what rules you and other people in the house need to be sane and safe. Be prepared for that list to be different then you thought it would be. Let's say that one of those rules is "no hitting."

Okay, so first, you communicate the rule.
Second, particularly when you are the parent, you figure out what you can do to prevent the occasions for the behavior. What tends to escalate kids to that point? If you are part of the escalation, what do you need to do to change your behavior? How can you help the child think of alternative?

Third, develop an action plan for when the boundary is violated. This will be different for different aged people of course. I have teenage boys. They are bigger and stronger than I am. NONE of them has ever physically threatened me (though Evan did a fair amount puffing up and trying to stare me down in a pretty intimidating way), but if they did, I have an action plan. My action plan is to speak quietly, move slowly, and get me and everyone else out of danger and call 911.

If I was working with a much younger child the action plan might be "if you hit you will have to go to your room until you can calm down."

My father's caretaker cannot tolerate my father swearing at her or criticizing her religion ("You know there is no god, or there is, he's an *sshole.") Her action plan is to stop what she is doing and say, "George, You know I don't like that language. I can't stay here/help you if you speak to me that way." Then she either leaves or just stands there until he gets himself under control and says he is sorry. What often happens, I am told, is that he storms off. She finishes whatever she was doing and then he apologizes to her later.

When Ann would start yelling at me, my action plan was to sit down and stare at the floor until she wore her self out. If that didn't work, I would stand up and say, "as soon as you are able to talk calmly, please find me."

These action plans are designed to protect us. They are not punishment. Please, by all that is good and holy, please do not put implement an action plan and then turn it into a punishment. If you have told someone that you will talk to her as soon as she is calm, do not refuse to do so so that she can "know what it feels like" to be treated like dirt. Talk to her.

My own humble opinion is that you should not extend the action plan into a "consequence" at all. If you have told the six year old that he must stay in his room until he can interact calmly, then as soon as he can interact calmly, I think he should get your attention. All the usual caveats, of course. I don't mean that you should jump out of the shower, or even end your conversation before you would have anyway. I just don't think it is helpful to say, "I'm not ready to talk to you." Well, unless that is TRUE. There have been a few occasions when I have been so aggravated that I know that I cannot interact calmly. I have told the kids, "I am too upset right now and I can't be calm. I'm going to go for a walk/do the dishes/whatever and then I will be able to talk to you." The kids really do seem to understand the difference between my doing something because I really need it and doing something as a punishment for them.

The ultimate action plan is of course removal. This is NOT something reserved for foster kids. If Brian were to become violent I would not be able to live with him. I would do first do everything I could to get him help. I would hope there was something treatable behind it. I would take him to counselors and physicians. I would also call 911 any time I was not safe.

Okay, so boundaries in this sense are all about keeping everyone safe and sane. What I have found is that having action plans, but not punishment works well. Punishment just sucks as a discipline tool. Anytime you are doing something intended to make a child unhappy and hoping that doing that will "teach them a lesson," I encourage you to think really hard about whether there isn't a better way to handle the situation. I freely confess that I have failed to follow my own guidelines here. In this post I am writing about my ideals, and my actual behavior falls far short of that.

I don't think that requiring some level of restitution is punishment. If one child breaks another's toy, making the child do some age-appropriate work to earn the money to replace it, makes sense. I think it should be done sympathetically. What I mean is that I think it works best to talk kindly to the child who broke the toy, point out that Sara is really sad that her best ball was ruined, and ask the child something like, "What do you think we should do about it?" Hopefully the kid will say something like, "Buy a new one?" Then you can respond, "That is a great idea. Let's make a list of chores you can do to earn the money to buy one!" If you are dealing with a kid who doesn't really get money, then it may be that scrubbing the bathtub is the "right" amount of work to pay for a basketball. If you are dealing with a child who knows what stuff costs and knows how much people get paid for on hour's work, then it is different.

Now, you know how I wrote all those posts about Carl's lying and how I could not change it? Honesty is actually something that I need to be safe and sane. What happened with Carl was that I was constantly implementing my action plan: getting information from other sources. I did not do that secretly. I just did it.

Now here is something really important: a boundary is working if it is keeping you and those who depend on you safe and sane. It can work even if it does not change the behavior.A lot of time though it will change the behavior. My father swears around his caretaker far less than he would otherwise. However, he still swears. A lot. Just not at or around her (as much). If she got it into her head that her boundary was that he was not allowed to swear at all and that she wouldn't interact with him if she learned that he swore at all that day, I predict it would be a total failure.

Again, we are talking about the neuro-typical (and some percentage of the non-neuro-typical) here. People understand the difference between a boundary you need and an attempt to control or change them. I like to ask myself what what I would be willing to tolerate if, as an adult, I had to live with my sister. I know that she is neurotic about dirt and clutter. She really is. So I would be much more careful to be tidy there than I am in my own home. I would also shut my bedroom door. If she tried to insist that I wasn't making my bed right ("See, if you take everything off every morning and start from scratch you can make it all perfectly flat and straight") I would tell her that she was insane and recommend that she not open my bedroom door.

Self-protective boundaries are things that we really and truly need.

Okay, to sum up.

1. I have found characters or deeply ingrained behavior patterns can't be changed with behavior modification.
2. Character can change, but it happens slowly, and it happens from within. THEY do it when and if they want to. We can be part of it, but we can't make it happen.
3. We can still have boundaries to keep ourselves and our dependents safe and sane.
4. Boundaries should be left to all those things we really do need to be safe and sane, not to just stuff we want.

Okay, the next post is about the stuff we want.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How it might have been, part 3

The title of this series was about what the blog might have been nine years ago. This post doesn't stick to that theme, but it is closely connected to the past two posts, so I want the "Part 3."

Accepting the lying was strange. It meant that we would go to the movies and he would say "I shouldn't go, I have a big paper to write." I would sigh because I was pretty sure that there wasn't a paper, and would wish that he could just tell me that he didn't want to go. I was confident there was no paper because if there had been that wouldn't have been "big" enough. He would have told me all about how he was supposed to have until the end of the week but the horrible teacher announced that the due date was changed, or something.

Sometimes I would just nod. Sometimes we had conversations like, "Well, have a good time."

"Good time? I have to write a paper!"

"Right. You know sweetie, it would be okay just to tell me that you don't want to see the movie." I would smile and give him a quick kiss on the cheek and leave. Sometimes he would protest, and sometimes he would smile. He did that often, I think it was because I was telling him that I knew he was lying and loved him.

Parenting without believing him became easier.

He asked for money for a school thing, and I wrote a check to the school. He would grin and say, "I don't suppose you'd just give me cash?"

"Do I have gullible written on my forehead today?"

Sometimes I just told him he was caught. "Carl, I want you to stop telling me that you are looking for a job every day when you are really hanging out with Kathy." Then as I watched him try to come up with a response I said, "Carl, the correct response here is just 'okay.'"

Now was this the right thing to do? I think so. I do know the good that came out of it. I was not always frustrated, angry, and preoccupied with how to fix Carl. I had more time and energy for the rest of the family. Though Carl did not get punished for lying, he also wasn't successful with it at home. It sort of amazed me how persistent he was (and is) in the lying even into adulthood.

I feel compelled to give an example. When he had his first apartment we took him out to dinner. The whole dinner he talked about how wonderful it was and laughed about how incredibly tidy it was what with three gay men living there. When we brought him home I jumped out and said I had to see this magnificent apartment. It looked like three 20-year men lived there. Yuck.

Anyway, he hasn't been able to trick me into giving him or assistance. In fact, he has received less help than I would otherwise be willing to give him. He has however received assistance. Once he called saying he was hungry. I sent him a gift card to a grocery store. Twice I have bought him bus tickets home because he wanted them and I decided I didn't care what the real reasons were, I wanted to see him. He will be 26 in a couple months and he is still part of the family.

What would have happened if I had kept trying to fix this? Well, I don't know, but there is a chance that he would have become increasingly secretive. Certainly I would have been worn out.

And I keep wanting to say, "And we wouldn't have learned to trust each other" except that is so strange because to this day I don't fully believe anything he tells me. And yet I trust him. Perhaps I have trust in him. He knows that he won't get help that he sometimes wants and maybe needs, but he knows that if he asks he will get an honest answer. There will be no lectures, no berating. I guess we both developed trust in our relationship.

In any case, it worked for us. If I could do it over again I would have given up on the lying thing much sooner. I certainly would not feel guilty about giving it up. It was, at least for us, the wise thing to do.

And I want to emphasize, I didn't generalize from that. My total failure to transform Carl into the person I thought he should be did not in any way persuade me that I might not want to try to fix Ann.

How it might have been, part 2

Okay, so that last post was actually prompted by thinking what this blog would have been like if it existed during those years. At one point I had a collection of emails I had written to a friend and the social worker (like the ones I had with Ann). There were lost in a tragic hard-drive failure.

Still, try to imagine him lying and me writing about it daily ... for over a year. Imagine posts in which I vented my frustrated. Admitted I was crying a lot. Imagine post and post about the consequence, that warning, this heart-to-heart conversation.

Let's see...there would be a post in which I:
  • wondered if this was just something I couldn't fix. Writing about how I had said during one of the pre-placement sessions that the one thing I could not accept was dishonesty. I had no idea how to have a relationship with someone who was dishonest.
  • mourned that I guess I didn't have a real relationship with him and maybe never would, posts in which I considered what his future was going to be like.
  • told a story about how he had got caught in a lie to a friend and how I hoped that would mean more to him, would have an effect on him.
  • marveled at how angry he was that someone had lied to him, how bizarre I thought that was.
  • wrote about how depressed I was that I clearly was a total failure as a parent to him.
  • expressed my sadness when he decided not to go on the field trip for which he needed $40 when I told him that I would make out a check to the school as soon as he brought me the field trip permission form.
  • talked about my odd feeling of pride that I had checked with someone else and got the truth before being convinced to do something.
  • wrote about my sense of feeling distanced from him as I sat and listened to a story and wondered if anything in it was true.
  • wrote about how necessary to his survival lying must have been.
  • guiltily confessed that life was easier, for me, now that I wasn't even trying anymore.
In the second year, there would be posts about how I was beginning to see how a parenting relationship was different from others. I could parent Carl even if he lied constantly. I required truth in a friendship, but parenting was supposed to be unconditional. He got certain things from me, no matter what. Of course he got love, but he also got birthday parties and laughter during family outings for ice cream. I stopped withholding anything I might have done because I had caught him in another lie.

And then there would be posts confessing that ignoring the problem wasn't helping either. I would obsess about even while I accepted that I couldn't fix the problem, maybe I was making it worse by doing nothing. Maybe I was teaching him that it was okay to lie. I was reinforcing his negative behavior patters. Maybe I should go back to trying to fix him, even if I didn't see results. Maybe if every single time he lied I made life uncomfortable for him it would slowly make a difference.

But I would keep coming back to the place where not doing anything about it was easier on the whole family. I had been Sisyphus, but I was done. The rock was staying at the bottom of the hill and we were having a picnic on it.

Even though I periodically felt very guilty about that.

How it might have been, Part 1

I was emailing (or tweeting? or was it comments on the blog) communicating with Thorn a while back. I mentioned that the blog is what it is partly because I started just before I learned that Evan was addicted to codeine. That sent me to Alanon and I started thinking long and hard about boundaries. Successfully parenting Evan turned out to hinge on my being able to deal with my past trauma. I had to figure out how to be a different sort of parent.

It was different in the beginning.

Let me say first that I was never big on punishment. When Andrew was a baby I read Liberated Parents, Liberated Children (I picked it up because I thought it might be about being liberated from gender roles. It wasn't, though there are probably applications) and then How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk, both by Faber and Mazlish. The techniques in that book were wonderful. I thought I was the best parent in town. I did not give orders, I casually mentioned problems. I did not solve problems he could solve, I expressed confidence. I did not suppress my emotions, I modeled healthy and respectful ways of expressing them. I did not give him time outs, although I did sometimes tell him we both needed a break. He could look at a book or something alone and I would do dishes (or something), then we would start over. It was great. It worked: Andrew did things I wanted him to do.

Then Brian was born. Brian would drop his coat on the floor and I would say, "Brian, coat" in my cheerful, confident voice and instead of responding with "oh!" and picking it up, he would look at me like, "what about the coat?" If I said, "It makes me frustrated that your coat is on the floor" his look said, "Um...thanks for the PSA?"

When I was cooking he would ask for two cookies. I smiled and said, "Yes, you can have two cookies after dinner."

He said, "Can I have two cookies, please?"

He would just keep asking and asking, each time changing the question ("Could I have one cookie and then one cookie?") until frustrated I said loudly, "No. You cannot have a cookie. If you ask me one more time you will be NOT able to have a cookie now or after dinner!"

Then he would start to cry saying, "You don't have to YELL at me!"

I rolled my eyes and said, "ROLAND! Would you please come get Brian while I try to cook?"

When Brian was six and Andrew eleven we became Carl's parents. Andrew and Brian each had one parent who totally "got" them, and one parent who loved them and had to struggle a bit to figure them out. I felt like I pretty much had a handle on the parenting thing. I had a good relationship with Carl. He had been in my Sunday school class for two years. I understood that being the cool Sunday school teacher who bought them coffee and sometimes made them laugh was a very different roll than that of parent.

Still, Carl was sixteen. He was 6 inches taller than I and outweighed me by 70 pounds. He was manipulative, although not in a mean way. He just wanted what he wanted and had learned a long time ago that saying casually in a conversation, "I'm going to John's party on Friday" often worked. He was a compulsive liar. It frustrated me so much. He lied to please, to get what he wanted, or just because. He lied without effort. He got caught because he couldn't keep all the lies straight, but he would never, ever admit to it even when he was totally busted.

And I punished. Oh man, did I punish. I wanted him to tell me where he was. He didn't. We had so much trouble with him lying about where he was going. In most of the cases we would have given him permission to go where he wanted, but it was a power struggle. He just didn't want to have to tell us where he was. I grounded, short and deep like the class said. I grounded for the weekend. The next time it was the weekend, but he couldn't have any of the things he enjoyed. The next time he had to keep his bedroom door open during the day. Then one day the father of his friend called to ask when the kids would be back from Brian's soccer game. I explained that Brian didn't play soccer and that I thought they were at their house watching movies. Neither of us had any idea where they were. I took his door off the hinges for the weekend. He came home, saw that and said, "What can you possibly do that is worse than this?

I said, "Next time I confiscate all personal care products for one week."

He lied about us too. The drama teacher called us one day. She had been debating breaking a confidence but she finally decided that she just had to tell us. We were Carl's parents and even though he felt he couldn't talk to us, we needed to know. "The reason that Carl has been having such a hard time recently is that he learned that one of his friends, Tom, has AIDS."

I responded, "Tom recently had an HIV test and is worried that it could be positive. Carl has talked to me about that, and I know it has upset him. It however is false that Tom has AIDS." She was stunned as she processed that, realizing how false was the picture he had painted of everything.

Most people who met us were surprised. Carl was very invested in the unloved-orphan story. We learned that we did not allow him to carry more than $50, when that was all the spending money he had. People were surprised when we showed up for events and meetings because they thought we didn't care.

I got wore out. I gave up on punishing because that wasn't working.

I started explaining to him why it was a problem. I told him how I felt. I talked about relationships and how they were built on trust. I tried to reward truthful behavior. I talked to the social worker. I talked to the therapist. I worried. I thought so hard about how I could get him to understand the value of being truthful.

I thought that it was MY JOB to help him to become a more honest person. Wasn't that what parents do? Help their children develop strong values? I kept thinking that there had to be a way I could do it. I just hadn't thought of the right approach.

And then I gave up. I accepted the fact that I had failed. I cried for a while and I just stopped believing him. If I had to make a decision I got the information somewhere else. When I listened to him I said to myself, "What he is feeling is true. Just respond to that."

And things got better. I wasn't angry and frustrated all the time. He talked to me more, and I stopped worrying about whether it was true. I didn't help him in situations where maybe I would have otherwise just because I wasn't sure he was telling me the truth. I would like to tell you that this new approach resulted in a change in his relationship to truth, but it didn't. He lied. I didn't believe him. We had fun making brownies.

That wasn't a major break-through for me. I did not come to have a new understanding of how to parent. I had just accepted failure and found to my surprise that that acceptance made for an easier life. I sometimes felt guilty when other people noticed that he lied and asked me, "What are you going to do about that? Nothing? Do you think that's wise?"

Now my answer would be that yes, I think that is wise. Then I didn't. I just thought I had failed and I forgave myself.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

More musings now that I got a good night's sleep

Though I have been thinking a lot about adoption, that really isn't Gary's issue. Gary is trying to decide how to respond to what his dad said about parental rights.

I asked him last night whether he thought his father would deny paternity. I mean, it seems to obvious to me. It is a relatively simple action and it would accomplish his goals. Gary doesn't think he will do that. He doesn't think Will CAN do that. Saying he is not and never was Gary's father would be a betrayal inconsistent with who he believes himself to be. In his mind he has stood beside Gary despite everything.

The TPR Will can rationalize differently. It is part of what he was trying to say to Gary the other day: it is just a legal thing that will get him out of having to pay bills he can't afford and shouldn't have to pay anyway. It has nothing to do with his relationship with Gary. That remains the same: he, Will, is the loving father who has stood by Gary through everything and will continue to do so. He isn't going to stop being Gary's father; he is just going to give up his legal parental rights. Those would go away when Gary was 18 anyway, right?

That is how Gary understands Will's perspective. It is the sort of warped narcissistic logic I would expect from my father.

On one hand, I have always believed that losing parental rights doesn't make someone not a parent. Parents who consent to adoption when their children are infants are always those children's first parents. The adoptive parents and the first parents are both "real." The law can say who has rights, but that is different. Carl, David and Evan are my sons in a way that is real to me and to them, though we have no biological or legal relationship.

So I think I can understand how someone could come to the conclusion that trying to terminate your own parental rights in order not to be financially responsible for a bill should not be understood as a betrayal.

Of course it is a betrayal.

And Gary has to decide how to respond. He seems to be leaning in the direction of termination because the only reasons he can come up with for NOT doing that is proving to Will who has the power in this situation, and making his dad pay, metaphorically and literally. Gary, like the rest of us, will fantasize about vengeance, but it is not part of his character to act on those fantasies. He will let his dad go.

From the state's perspective our willingness to adopt is important to the decision about termination. From Gary's it is a completely separate question. The answer to the adoption question I suspect is, "Listen, guys, I really like you and all, but I don't think I can cope with any more parents. Besides, being with the agency is really cool because I can pick out whatever shoes I want without worrying about how much they cost you."

Right now he does see some positives to adoption. Driver's ed would be nice, but then it is just one more year and his girlfriend's parents wouldn't let her get in a car with him anyway. The biggest positive to it is that he could change his name to anything he wants. As I've mentioned before, he hates his first name and if this termination of parental rights happens he may decide he is not so attached to his last name either. That though has to be weighed against things like having everyone expecting him to be thrilled to have us as family. He barely knows Andrew. Brian really gets on his nerves sometimes. I'm a pretty good listener and a cool parental-type that doesn't try to control him, but well, maybe that's all. Roland is an okay guy, but he's so Brian-like. Not in the annoying ways, well, sort of, you know how they both just make noise all the time, for no reason at all? They just tap their feet and clap their hands and make sound effects. Sometimes he skips breakfast because he can't deal with that in the morning.

He likes us. He will say that he is really glad that he wound up with us as a foster family. This is a good place to live, but does he want to be adopted? Does he want to have to deal with everyone in the whole world asking if him how thrilled he is? Everyone will go on about LOVE when he is just glad to pick out a really cool fighter's name and not to having to deal with social workers.

Anyway, this is surmise on my part. Roland agrees that this is very likely where he is.

Roland and I would adopt him without hesitation whenever he is ready for such a move. All else being equal, I still like the idea of offering adult adoption to all the boys at one time. It is how I have pictured ending our foster-care career. Things have a tendency to happen in ways other than how I have imagined them, but I think it is best for me to go back to imagining that while being open to the possibility that Gary will be ready for something else.