Saturday, January 31, 2009

My family

Brian went shopping with me today. We ran some errands. I bought him fast food lunch (shh...don't tell!). I was thinking about the comment that irritated me a few days ago. The substance of it was that it was not fair to the bioboys that we were doing care. I debate this with myself. I wonder in what ways the boys' lives are better or worse for having done it. I wonder what they would have been like had they grown up with just the two of them. It is difficult to imagine.

So in the car I said to Brian, "Do you ever think about what life would be like if we never did care?"

"No." (He's not much of a talker.)

"So do you think that it has mostly been good? Or...what are the bad parts?"

"I can't think of any bad parts."

"Not even Frankie?"

He gives a fake scream and then says, "I try to NEVER think about Frankie."

I smiled at him. We were quiet for a bit and at the next light I said, "So you don't mind sharing your family?"

He gave me that "how can you be such an idiot" look and said, "Mom, they ARE my family."

empy nest someday?

I am one of those people who thinks far ahead. I am now in my mid-forties, but even a decade ago I would think about where we would retire. When we go on a trip, I want map it all out. I want a plan. What comes as a suprise to some is that I am perfectly willing to change the plan as we go. If something happens that appears better than what is planned, then cool. The plan is the safety net. It exists to make my feel safer, not to dictate what I must do.

So now Brian is a freshman and Gary is a sophomore. I have said for years, when people asked, that I did not know whent we would stop doing care, but when Brian graduates and moves out, that will probably be a moment to consider it.

That would be twelve years and four permanent-placement boys. A good run.

I started thinking about this more often after Gary moved in. He will graduate a year before Brian. It is possible he would be the last. I think a lot depends upon whatever happens in that last year after Gary graduates and Brian is still at home. If they call us about a gay boy, we will probably not be able to say no. If they don't call us at all that year, we may very well let our license go.

And for a while it made me sad to think about it. I didn't want it to be the end, but I also debated how many kids I wanted as part of my permanent family. I consoled myself thinking that maybe I would volunteer with CASA.

Recently though I have been having other sorts of thoughts. More exciting ones.

Roland wanted to look at cell phones and really wants one that can also be PDA. I explained that he can't have one on our family voice plan. A crackberry would require a separate data plan. I thought, but did not say out loud, "Of course when we don't have kids we could both have one!"

Today I was grocery shopping and there was some wonderful somewhat expensive fish, and I thought, "If I was shopping for two, I could buy that." I started thinking about all the foods that I could buy if we didn't have teenage boys in the house. I could get the GOOD ice cream!

My heart beat a little bit faster.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Riding in Cars with Girl

So I had a chance to talk about the driving rule. It wasn't terribly satisfactory, although we all understand each other. It is the state rule. No one can say that we are not going to follow it. She doesn't seem to be particularly interested in my reporting violations to her, but also agrees that I don't have to put excessive effort into monitoring him.

So I told him that it was very important for me to know where he was and who he was with. I did not want him to lie to me about that. He said, "So if I call and say that Girlfriend and I are at the mall....?"

"I will assume you know that you are supposed to ride the bus and don't need to be reminded."

He nodded.

Then I said, "I can't make the rules be something other than what they are. If I see you in the car with Girlfriend...."

"You'll ground me."


"Got it."

No one likes this situation.

I could tell the social worker was tired when she called. She had emailed me before apologizing for not getting back earlier and said there had been some "blow outs." That could mean a couple of different things, but it certainly means that at least one of her kids is in crisis mode. My little problem just wasn't in the same league.

On the other hand, Girlfriend is a teenage girl in love. Being separated from her Romeo for two days was almost more than she could endure. She is going to be highly motivated to ... prevent him from getting caught.


Anonymous commenting & trolls

I've been allowing it because some of you who sign your comments seem to have trouble commenting when it was off. Can you let me know if you need annonymous comments, or if you just use it sometimes? I know a few of you can't comment at all. I have heard from one person that using Mozilla fixed that problem.

Anyway, I've picked up a troll. Now as trolls go, this one is fairly mild so far. I can take criticisms and welcome challenging questions. Some of my better posts have been written in response to these. But you know the other side: people who are critical without paying attention to any of the complexity, people who under the cover of anonymity say things they would not otherwise say.

Anyway, if you are a regular reader who needs the anonymous option, please let me know. I may turn it off again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Rules, rules, rules

Ruth commented on the previous post, "Why are you punishing him for a rule you think is stupid." That is of course an excellent question.

I would like to say that technically I am punishing him for lying to me. He said he was staying after school and would take the next bus home. In reality he did who knows what and got a ride home with his girlfriend. The whole situation is complicated because the reason he lied was that he didn't want to announce that he was breaking the state's rule.

I freely admit that the situation is absurd on mulitiple levels.

In one way being a foster parent is sort of what I imagine being a step-parent to be like. There are multiple adults involved with different levels of authority. If we are going to parent effectively we have to back each other up, agree on the basic rules, and give the kid some consistency. Sometimes that means finding yourself in a position in which you have to deal with stupid rules.

It is different of course because I could theoretically lose my license if I don't enforce the state's rules.

This is extreme, but imagine that I thought it was absurd that teenagers weren't allowed to drink, that there would be less teenage alcohol abuse if they were allowed to drink beer or wine with their family. Even if I really, really believed that, I could still be arrested for serving alcohol to a minor. If we were talking about foster kid and he was drinking after school every day, I would be expected to tell the social worker. If I didn't because I thought it was a stupid rule, I would lose my license.

Now I sincerely beieve that the driving rule is stupid and it isn't anything like the law against under-age drinking. I wrote an email to the social worker and gave her some suggestions about how she wants me to handle it.

The one I hope she picks is modeled after the way I am supposed to handle probation rules. I can't give him permission to break them, but I am also not expected to monitor him. I can use my judgement as to whether I report him if I do know he has violated them. So, for instance, he is supposed to give the name of everyone with whom he "associates" to his probation officer so that she can check to see if they are also on probation (in which case they may no longer "associate"). I would be surprised if he was 100% compliant on that rule, however I have never checked up on it, reminded him, or asked him if he did it. I would call the probation officer if I thought one of his associates was dangerous, but otherwise, I just don't think about it. If he gets caught with someone he shouldn't be with, that is between him and his PO.

On that model, I would insist that he tell me where he is and who he is with. I also would not question him about how he got home after school. If in the course of normal parenting I learn that he is breaking the driving rule, I will report it to the social worker (assuming she wants me to). However, whatever consequences there are for that are between them.

The other model Ioffered was the other extreme. I told her that I could pay Verizon to track his phone and check it every afternoon, meet the bus to make sure he got off on it, and even enlist Brian as a snitch.

She may suggest something in the middle.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

About driving

Someone asked what we were going to do about enforcing the stupid rule that he can't let his seventeen-year-old girlfriend give him a ride anywhere. The answer is that whenever we catch him we will inform the social worker and ground him for two days.

I don't, in case you are wondering, expect this to have any significant affect on his behavior. Those who have studied behavior mod know that punishment only works if it is severe and immediate. I don't think there is anything I am willing to do that would be severe to a kid who has been in detention facilities as much as he has. 48 hour grounding is nothing. My opinion is still that if human beings regret their actions they don't need to be punished and if they don't regret their actions, the threat of punishment is likely to just make them be more sneaky.

I learned today that the girlfriend minds him being grounded. She gets out of school a bit before he does and is at his school to greet him every single day. In the past she has either driven him to the bus stop five blocks away and waited for the bus with him, or he has texted to say he is staying after school. Then they spend an hour together and she drops him off around the time the next bus would get here.

Anyway, she is very upset about Gary being grounded. She showed up at the school today and, I am told by Gary and Brian, protested that she can hardly survive this separation. She said she wanted to come to me and beg to let him off being grounded, and presumably promise not to drive him ever again. The boys assured her that would not work.

So she drove him to the bus stop.

It's a good thing that I don't have "prevent Gary from getting rides from the girlfriend" as a goal.
Oh, in case you are wondering, she won't turn 18 until December. And Gary did volunteer the information about the daily ride to the bus stop. I think it was a test to see which mattered more to me: him telling me the truth or him getting into the car with the girlfriend. (Answer: telling me the truth).

After thinking over the problem I suggested to him that she leave her car at the bus stop and ride home with him. They can visit here and then she could take the bus back to her car. He doesn't like the idea of her riding the bus alone because of all the "creepy people" but he agrees it might be a solution that will work he will tell her about it.

Of course it is also possible that what they will do is drive to the bus stop on THIS end and CLAIM that they rode the bus together.

Stupid rule.

Questions about Teens and Sex

So you know I have been angsting over this for a bit. I have difficulties at multiple levels. So often I write here with confidence. "Here is something I'm doing and it is working!" and sometimes I complain about the kids, "I love him, but he is making me crazy." Sometimes I struggle with how to respond to different behaviors.

But this time I am having trouble figuring out exactly what the trouble is.

So here are my starting points:

1. I have all these thoughts about how I value sex, when I think that people are mature enough, etc. I'm not part of the wait-until-marriage crowd, but I think there are good reasons why most teens, at least most minors, are not ready. Those reasons are not reducible to risks of disease and pregnancy.

2. I think that kids who are having sex before they are ready are doing it out of coersion or because they have some other emotional need that is unmet. Okay, there may be exceptions to this, but I'm not particularly interested in them right now. I thinking about my kids.

3. I know how to educate a teen about the risks of sex and the use of condoms, contraceptives, etc. I don't just mean that I know the things they need to be taught, I mean I have got pretty good at actually doing it. I knew that I had reached a new level as an educator when I had a conversation with Evan about how to preserve the romance of a moment and use a condom.

4. For some reason I am more comfortable with gay boys having sex than with heteros. Part of this is probably my concern about becoming a grandmother before I am ready. Part of this may be that I believe (perhaps falsely) that even what looks like consensual sex may not be for the girls. I worry more that they will expect more emotional intimacy and be hurt. I think it is easier for me to believe that the gay boys are not risking the emotional selves in the same ways. At the same times, I have loved heart-broken young gay men and I know that they can be hurt deeply, so I am suspicious of my own attitudes.

So that is the background. Now here is the problem:

When I tell Andrew or Brian, "Don't have sex until you are older, but if you do, use a condom" they seem to hear, "Don't have sex until you are older, but if you do, use a condom."

When I say something like that to kids who are already sexually active they seem to hear something like, "Blah, blah, condom, blah, deny everything, blah, blah."

If I say something like, "It really is important that you use a condom. I will even buy them for you, and you really can talk to me about it." They hear, "I am totally comfortable with you having sex! I am one of the cool adults. Have sex in your bedroom anytime! I'll make you pancakes afterwards." If I try to add that I think they shouldn't be having sex now, if I mention that the agency has rules about this stuff they hear, "I want you to hide it from me, so I don't have to report you to the social worker."

If I say that sex should be reserved for truly intimate relationships between mature people they think...well you know what they think.


I think this is my problem: I want to have meaningful conversations with them about what they are doing, and why they are doing it. I want to be able to talk with them about the needs they are trying to meet and about whether there are other ways for them to be meeting them. I want to talk to them about if they are sure whether their partner is in thinking the same thing is going on, because it isn't good if this means different things to different people.

I don't just want to tell them that if they are having sex they need to use a condom.

I want them to be able to talk to me about the decisions they are making and how they feel about them.

And we both know that if we have those conversations I will probably have to report it to someone else.

I think I need to have a detailed conversation with the social worker about what sort of conversations I can have and how much I have to report to her.

Teens having less sex

Teenagers are having less sex. I believe it. I really do.

Monday, January 26, 2009

He's busted [updated]

So I suspected that he wasn't actually staying after school to get help on his homework. I didn't suspect much because, you know, he NEEDED help on his homework. As the expression goes, I may be slow but I'm not stupid. Even I will doubt that a sixteen-year-old boy will stay after school to get help with "math concepts" on the first day of the semester.

Roland called the school and asked the math teacher if he stayed after. Of course not.

So when he comes home he will lose his cell phone, computer, and girlfriend visiting privileges for two days. I know, I'm Miss No-Punishment, but well sometimes it just feel so right.


So he just came home. Roland and I met him at the door.

"You're busted."

He gave a guilty grin, "Yeah?"

"Yep. Text the girl tell her she will not hear from you for 48 hours. No cell phone, computer, etc."

"Yeah, okay." He nodded. Fair cop.

He took it all with good humor. Too good as a matter of a fact. I'm pretty sure he has been spending time with her after school several times a week for a while. He will accept the two-day grounding as more than reasonable, and then go right back to being sneaky.

I put in a call to the social worker. The underlying problem is that "The Rules" say that he can't be driven by anyone under 18. That is why he is lying to us. I want to know if I can give him permission to get rides with the girlfriend. I would prefer that he tell me the truth and I know where he is.

The social worker told me that the official rule is that he can't be with drivers under 18 at all and can only be with driver's older than 18 if I have a copy of the driver's license, insurance, and feel comfortable with them.

I swear I didn't know about the copy of the driver's license and insurance rule. I think I need a new rule book. And I think I am just getting tired of making kids follow other people's rules. Even if they are sensible rules, you know?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Apparently I'm Cold

You've googled yourself, right? Of course you have.

There are a bunch of names like mine but I did show. The first entry was for Rate My Pr*fess*r. It's terribly unreliable because only a few students show up, and those are the ones who have strong feelings. Lots of high and low scores, very few in the middle. After years I have less than a dozen ratings. You get rated on a 4 points scale. This is me:

Average Helpfulness: 3.6
Average Clarity: 3.6
Average Easiness: 2.6 (so not very easy)
Average Hotness: 0

I can live with that.

(I think that the students declined to rate me on "hotness" which I appreciate. If they did I don't think my score would be much higher.)

I will not discourage

Now he wants to get a job as a fitness instructor. They are hiring at the Rec center in the next town over. It is a drive, but the public bus does go there. So Monday-Friday he could do that.

Still, he reads these job descriptions to me, tells me how much they are going to pay an hour and gets so very excited. They want a certification in something or other, but he could do that. Most of the certification programs require that you be 18, but he has found one that doesn't. Besides, he could teach water aerobics even without it!

I didn't even roll my eyes.

They also need someone to supervise youth basketball. He can do that! [Um...terms of probation: may not be with youth more than two years younger than himself without being supervised. So either he would have to be supervised while supervising or else the place would have to be willing to hire him to supervise youth almost his own age.]

But he definitely wants to be a fitness instructor or a physical trainer. He's been looking at how much they pay and it is really good, and he knows all about fitness.

Okay, so he doesn't know all about it, but he could study and get one of these certifications.

He should definitely take a reduced schedule at school so that he would have time to study for the physical trainer/fitness instructor exams. He doesn't need all those classes anyway. He only wants to take classes at high school that are required for graduation or will benefit him. He doesn't want them to stick him into an art class or something just to fill up space so he will be there all day. (Okay, I understand that one.)

Still, I keep imagining if I went to take a fitness class and the instructor was a gangly sixteen year old boy whose main qualification was enthusiasm.

He tells me that he has been working hard with the guy from job services to find a job at places like fast food, but there just aren't any jobs. I think I am inclined to believe him, but I'm not sure. I really do hope he gets a normal teenage job. Someplace close would be nice.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In which I rant about the credit card company

"I want to pay off and cancel my cards please."

"Oh I am so sorry. Can I ask you why?"

"Because I went on line two weeks ago and paid off the ENTIRE balance and now I have a statement saying I owe you $100."

"Let me check on that for you. Oh, those charges are blah, blah, blah."

"I get that. I want to pay off the entire balance and close the account."

"You have been with us since 1998. blah blah blah. Excellent customer.. blah, blah, blah."

"Uh huh. I want to pay off the account and close it."

"I have numbers you can call for those charges, and if you want I can mark them as disputed. You are completely protected from all fraudulant uses of your card."

"If I do that I can't cancel the card, right?"

"Well you have been a valuable customer with us since...blah, blah, blah. I can wave the $10 charge for paying by phone."

"That would be wonderful."

"So do you just want to pay the finances charges of $80?"

"No. I want to pay the FULL balance. I want it at zero. I want to know that I do not owe you any more money and I want to know that there will be no more interest or finance charges or anything."

"You can pay off what you owe now but if the company that is charging you membership fees sends in another charge, there will be finances charges. Do you want the 800 numbers to call them."

"I have them on my statement. I would like to pay off the full balance."

"So just the finances charges and I will mark the other charges as under dispute?"


Finally he does it.

"Thank you. I would like to cancel the account."

"But I thought you were going to call the companies that are charging you the membership fee?" He sounds betrayed.

"I don't want to go through this with two more companies. I haven't the foggiest idea who or what they are. If they want my membership I'm sure they will contact me. I just want to cancel the account."

"You have been with us since 1998 and are a valued customer...blah, blah, blah."

I hand the phone to Roland. "Would you please tell this man that we want to cancel the d*mn account?"

He tells him. He assures him that we mean it. I hear Roland telling him that yes this is what I want. I take the phone back.

"I would like to cancel the account."

"Are you sure because, blah, blah, blah..."

"I want to cancel the account."

"You have been a customer with us since 1998. If you are concerned about the membership fees, you can call the 800 numbers. If they won't stop charging you call us back and we will not accept any further charges from them and you won't have any further finance charges from us."


"Yes. I can do that for you. I have to read you this full disclosure statement. Blah, blah, blah... The account is now closed."

He sounded so sad there at the end.

Maybe they are going to make him pay the $10 fee for paying by phone that he waved.

A rambling post in which I discuss lazy parenting

I think a lot about boundaries: mine and the kids'. I think about when it is appropriate for me to enforce a rule, to step in and try to persuade, and to stay quite unless I am asked for advice.

Compared to most parents, I enforce few rules and generally coerce very little behavior. It is the style of parenting that I feel comfortable with. Part of that is just replicating my childhood, as we all do. My mother didn't make me do stuff, although she supported and encouraged me when I wanted to. I had chores, of course. In fact, several of my friends were surprised that I had as many chores as I did. By the time I was in high school I cooked more than she did (although she planned the meals and had the ingredients ready which I now realize was more than half the job). I also did most of the dusting and bathroom cleaning, mostly because it bothered me more than it did anyone else. My sister never liked to cook and I remember she mowed our very large country-road lawn. I don't remember it being a big deal. I think Mom just asked us to do things. If it was an outside chore, Sis did it without complaint. If it was inside, I did it. I recall one time refusing to mow when Sis was gone, but offering to extra cleaning.

I was a pretty responsible young person. I know I must of got into trouble a lot when I was smaller, but by the time I was a teenager I don't recall Mom getting angry at me much. I got good grades, took ballet classes for a few years, got a job as soon as I was old enough, and participated in drama in high school. She never made me do any of those things, but she supported me.

Funny, I can remember going to Alateen regularly at an age when I couldn't drive. I remember driving myself to some meetings, but I know I went for a long stretch before. Other than the first meeting, I have no memory of my mother driving me to the meetings. I have no idea what she did while I was there, although it was far enough away that she couldn't have gone home. I just told her one day that my cousin told me about a group for teenagers with alcoholic parents. I found a group near us and I wanted to go. She said that that sounded like a good idea and she took me. When I stopped wanting to go for a while I just did.

I know at one point she tried to get me to lose weight. I don't remember much about the details, just that I didn't like it. I do remember years later overhearing my mother tell someone that yes, I had been putting on weight but that she wasn't going to do anything about it. "It doesn't work to push her. When she decides she wants to take some off she will. She did before."

Now, my sister's relationship with my mother was different. They fought. I don't even know about what. My mother was generally concerned about my sister's behavior, and tried to do something about it, but I don't recall that she had much success.

I want to be fair and honest here. These are memories based upon my life after about age 10 or maybe even 12. I remember "gettting into trouble" when I was younger, and I remember being punished but I simply don't remember what for. Anyway.

I parent the same way. We have rules here. We have four basic principles:
1. Everyone knows where everyone is.
2. Everyone contributes.
3. Everyone does their job.
4. Everyone is respectful of others, which includes their possessions.

Of course these principles turn into more specific rules. The boys each cook one night and clean the kitchen another night. They have a limited amount of electronic time, and we are more aggressive about enforcing that when they are struggling with their job (i.e. their grades are not good).

I had more rules and consequences when Andrew was little. He will tell you that I used to tell him, "My responsibility isn't to your happiness. My responsibility is to your character. Being happy is your job."

I never felt the need to punish kids when they clearly knew what they had done was wrong. I remember Andrew and Friend pulling off what was like a miniature man-hole cover. It covered a handle that closed off something that went to the house. Not gas, we didn't have gas... Anyway, they pulled it off and left it off. Another kid stepped in it and hurt his ankle. It wasn't a serious injury, but it was a little kid and Andrew and Friend knew they were at fault. I found them sitting in the backyard waiting for the punishment that would come. I sat down with them and said, "So, you know you shouldn't have done that right?"
"Yes!" they replied.
"You look pretty upset about it."
"We didn't want him to get hurt! We really didn't. We're sorry" said Andrew.
"I know."
"What are you going to do to us?" asked Friend.
"Well, are you going to ever do something like that again?"
"NO!" in unison.
"So...if I punish you will that make you less likely to do it again?"
They were confused, but they worked it out and said that no, it wouldn't because they already weren't going to do it.
"Okay. So I think you learned a lesson today. Don't forget it."

And I left.

[Digression: I must have said that a lot. When Andrew was about five he came running to show me something. I was lying on the sofa and had left my glasses on the floor. He almost stepped on them but I stopped him just in time. He said, "Oh Mama, you should not have left your glasses on the floor." "I know, Andrew." He looked at me sympathetically and said, "Well, at least you learned something today."]

The point of all this is that certain kinds of parenting practices seem foreign to me. I don't see the point of punishing kids (even when it is called "imposing a consequence") if they regret what they have done, and think it probably won't be effective if they don't. I'm not saying I haven't punished kids. I have. I just never had much confidence that they would learn anything from it.

I believe in natural and logical consequences. I've told a kid that if he can't count on his friends to get him home on time I will have to start showing up at the movie theatre (or wherever) an hour before curfew to bring him home, and of course he will only be able to go when I will be able to bring him home. I've been tested on that one before, and I've done it. Carl once went two weeks not being able to go anywhere unless he was in line of sight of a responsible adult since I clearly couldn't trust him to tell me where he was going to be.

I've told teens that I'm disappointed to learn that they haven't turned in work at school. They know we agreed they don't play video games until after homework is done. Since can't seem to balance homework and video games, we aren't going to let them play video games on school days for a while. When they ask for how long I tell them I don't know. Until I think they can keep them in balance. Maybe a week, maybe until they graduate from high school.

That sort of thing I have found to be generally more effective than something like grounding. It makes sense to the kids. If they can't be trusted they have to be watched. If they can't finish homework and do video games, then they can't do video games. If they can't be trusted to put the tools away, they can't borrow the tools.

I do use pressure to get kids to do things they don't want to. No hanging with friends until their Saturday chore is finished, that sort of thing.

But there are some things I really don't do. I don't make kids do stuff, like Gary and martial arts. He wants to switch classes. Fine with me. I have been telling him that I think it has been really good for him and I really want him to continue. If he wanted to quit I might tell him that I didn't think I got my money's worth out of the equipment and that I was going to deduct a certain amount from his allowance for a while. That would mostly be about making me feel better, though. The next time he said he wanted to sign up for something I might make him put down a deposit on the equipment, or just buy it himself.

If he quit suddenly I would be concerned about whether there was something else in his life that was going on that was causing him stress. I wouldn't make him continue though. I don't think I know how.

I know that is partly me.

Brian is getting a C in jazz band because he hasn't been bringing his trumpet home and so doesn't have signed practice sheets to turn in. The thing is, he is really good. Roland thinks it is important for him to continue and even though Brian said that maybe he would just quit, Roland said "no." So Brian is going to keep taking jazz band. Roland says he is going to not let Brian have electronics unless he brings home his trumpet and practices first.

I'm backing him up on this, but I part of me is just curious about how it will turn out. Will Brian develop good habits and eventually be grateful we pushed him? Will Roland really enforce the rule that he has laid down? I will enforce it, but only as long as Roland is doing it too. We agreed a long time ago that one parent was not allowed to create a rule like that and then expect the other parent to do all the work of making it happen.

Sometimes I do go crazy and decide that I am going to make the kids do things other parents make their kids do, or things some authority told me my kids should do. Like at the end of last summer when I decided that Brian should slowly reset his sleeping schedule so that he be awake when school started. It was a total disaster. I would wake him up and he would just end up falling asleep again. I got mad. I made him go for walks with me to make him wake up. He went, dragging his feet, came home and fell asleep wherever he sat. I worried about how he was going to cope in school. What if he fell asleep on the bus and missed the stop? It was a public bus, not like a school bus where everyone is made to get off. What if he fell asleep in class?

In the end I finally gave the problem to Roland. He has a hard time getting up in the morning too. He said he would take it. He and Brian agreed they would help each other get up early. Then they both slept in. When school started they managed.

That's the way things go when I try to control past a certain point. Badly.

Now the down side of this is that I don't have children who excel in sports, but we are not athletic so maybe it is genetic and we couldn't have changed it if we tried. I wonder if our children would more determination (or something) if we more often made them do or keep doing things they didn't want to do . Perhaps if we made them do more things they would have a greater sense of satisfaction of accomplishment.

Or maybe not.

I think I have an un-schooling approach to non-school things.

Maybe this is it. As a philosopher interested in ethics I tell students that ethical systems often divide actions into four categories: obligatory; laudable; permissible; and prohibited. Things that are obligatory or prohibited are areas in which I exert myself, although in as non-punitive a way as possible. Things I think of as laudable I mostly leave up to the kids. I'm willing to facilitate, encourage, and praise, but those things just are not obligatory and it is not my job to push it.

Some days I think I have been an extremely lazy and bad parent and my kids have suffered for it.

And most days I think my kids are pretty cool human beings whom I feel privileged to have in my life.

And the point of all this sharing?

Well, it seems to work really well with foster teens, at least the ones I am parenting. Of course there are some kids that I turned out not to be the right parent for, so maybe my exciting claim is just a tautology, "This method of parenting works really well with the kids it works really with!"

But here's the up side. In all this time when I am enforcing as few rules as I can, and enforcing them in a non-punitive manner, I am building up trust with the kids. We are forming a relationship. They slowly learn that they can tell me they made a mistake and I will help them figure out a solution and won't punish them. They slowly feel more and more comfortable talking to me about their problems. Sometimes they lie, but since I'm not big on solving problems for them they don't normally succeed in manipulating me.

My view with these kids is that in a couple of years they are going to have be responsible for themselves and right now they need mentoring from me while they practice. If I do too much for them, they will not learn to do it themselves -- and one of the things they need to learn to do for themselves is motivate.

Of course, I'm not dealing with kids who are all about rebelling against me. My boys come into the relationship warily, wondering what I am going to be about. I offer them mentoring rather than control, and most of them have taken me up on it. None of the kids I am successfully parenting came to me with major discipline problems. Well, not anything recent, anyway. I don't know if this sort of low-key parenting would be successful with kids who are seriously rebelling.

Carl, David and Evan have made their share of stupid decisions. They have messed up in big ways, but this did seem to be the best way to deal with things. Ann was determined to establish that she was the one in control and was bullying the boys. That was not something that my low-key, how-can-I-help parenting could handle. Brian's troubles in school did not go away until we got him treatment for an underlying condition. No amount of encouragement or logical consequences was going to help him concentrate in school.

On the other hand, I think it would be work with more kids that most people think.

And when it works, it really does seem to encourage the building of a relationship, and that is a very cool thing to have.

MMA at the Y

Gary has enjoyed the MMA classes during the week. He is being allowed to take a class with the adults and is learning technique. It is good because his actual training has been very hit-and-miss. There is a class that is mostly adults, although he is not the only minor. Because it is at the Y, the are some pretty strict rules about what level of fighting there can be between adults and minors. Basically, there isn't any fighting at all. He does get to spar with the other minors, and is once again in the position of being far better than the people he is up against. This morning he is going to another class that he was warned was "hard core." I'm not sure exactly what that mean, and neither is he. I guess we will find out when he comes home.

Roland and I are trying to convince Brian to switch to the Y also. The class there is SO much less expensive than the other. Brian really likes it out there though. Gary had been paying for his classes by cleaning to gym. So to make it fair, we gave Brian the job of deep cleaning the bathroom every week. I think I will start making sure he is doing a really good job.

I tend to lean heavily on letting kids make their own decisions, but I am not above applying a little pressure.

And we might get to the point where paying for and driving to this class is just too much for us, but for now it is okay.

Evan blogs

Evan started up the blog a bit ago and I didn't say anything. This morning though I woke up to read this.

It is worth reading, I promise.

Friday, January 23, 2009


Been reading all the posts on naming adoptive kids? No? Well you should. Start here: Paragraphein , Thorn, Torina, and Altasean. There are probably more, but that will get you going. Go ahead, read them. This post will be here when you get back.


I don't actually have a lot to add, except maybe emphasis. I think about this in the context of foster care adoption and children old enough to understand the question. No one that I know of is forcing a new name on an older child. Doing so would make me think they shouldn't be parents. Even in the where a new name is necessary for reasons of safety children should be renaming themselves. And as I said, that is only emphasis. Some foster/adoptive parents I know say things like, "I would change my child's name if they wanted." I would say "I would allow my child to change their name if they wanted."

A shift in emphasis, but perhaps an important one.

I wasn't going to write a post about this at all. I think lots of good things have been said and didn't have much to add.

And then a few nights ago Gary announced that one of his teachers insisted on calling him by his name instead of his initials and he HATED that. Without thinking about it I said, "Why do you dislike your name so much?"

"Because that is the name of [my abuser]. I was named after him."

[Insert very, very bad words here.]

I offered to tell the teacher if he wanted. I told him that David had the same issue and that he let me tell a few people for him. "If your teacher knows that is the name of your abuser, he won't forget again. I won't tell him anything else, not even that you are related, just that it is the same name."

He agreed.

Suddenly I want a moratorium on naming children after living relatives. Heck, no more naming kids after anybody, at least no one alive. I don't really believe that a different name would have protected Gary, but I do think that having the same name may have made it worse. Not just in the sense that he carries the reminder. I think it may have made it worse then.

The reason that naming children is a big deal is that it creates a claim. Women typically take the name of the men they marry. Sometimes men and women hyphenate. One couple I know made up a new name from the syllabals of there old ones. The name says "we belong to each other." That can be a bad sort of belonging, a type of property, or it can be a sign of commitment and love.

Still, whatever it means, it means something.

And I wonder if in the mind of the little boy that Gary was if it created a sense that this man was allowed to do what he did. How did Gary understand what being named after him meant?

I'm nauseous. My head huts. I want to scream.

It is probably a good thing that Gary is slowly willing to talk about that part of his life. He had been made to tell the stories of his life to many people in the years before we met him. We made it clear to him that we had read the summaries in his file and he did not have to tell us any more than he wanted to. He has said very little, though he occassionally hands over a piece of information.

I hate that his name is contaminated by this. I hate that he is reminded of his abuse whenever anyone says his name.

I really, really hate it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

MMA update

I am really worn out right now, and really disappointed that yesterday was a constant running from one thing to another and no time at all to watch any of the inauguration. There is of course the added irony that in my class we were discussing an article by a Buddhist recommending to us that we slow down and be mindful.

Buddhists have no appreciation for multi-tasking.

Anyway, I did want to keep you caught up on the MMA stuff.

Based on a series of conversations over the past few weeks this is what I think has happened at MMA. Gary would dispute this account, you should know that.

In the beginning I think they were going a little easy on him. Though it is mixed martial arts, they are mostly kick boxers, and I think they mostly spared him kicks and blows to the head. He was, and is, better than many of them are on the mat. If he can get them down, there is a good chance that he can pin them. He is not better in other areas. So mostly they learned to defend against his moves to get them down, and he has not been doing so well anymore. He is not longer the greatest.

Everyone else recently left for a tournament, and they were badly beaten. It is not good for Gary to see that the guys who are able to best him are losing at the tournament.

Well, Tuesday night the coach/teacher/whatever was pushing everyone really hard. Gary reports that he told them to go 110% and that if they got hurt they had to keep on going and if no one liked that they could take their gear and go home now. Gary hurt his ankle, didn't have a mouth guard, got kicked in the face and needed a new tooth.

So now Gary is thinking about taking a class at the Y.

I'm all for it. The Y is a heck of a lot closer to home.

I think Gary is beginning to reconsider going to the tournament in the summer. He hasn't found a job and though there are people who will help him, he knows that he has to earn a certain amount of the money. He also no longer has the "karate kid" image of himself. He no longer thinks he will walk in there, previously unknown to the world, and take down all comers.

This might sound like he is really down on himself, but I don't think he is. He doesn't seem to be worthless or even discouraged. I think that he just has a more realistic assessment of his own strengths and weaknesses.

In other words he is growing up.

And that is a good thing.

Besides, if he doesn't do really well on his English final this week he will be in summer school and if he is in summer school he just won't be able to leave for a week for the tournament.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What I'm doing this morning...[updated]

We're going to the dentist! Woo hoo! They got us in first thing. They do that when you are irresponsible and forget that your kid bit through his mouth guard and he is too "prideful" (his word) to remind you ... and stupid enough to kick box without one.

Isn't this a lovely smile?

(Photo taken with my cell phone, then cropped.)

[Update] After photo
His mouth was numb and he couldn't pull his lip up, but you can see it is fixed.

There may or may not be a crown later.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Does Your College Book Store Bite?

Seriously, I want to know.

Okay, I know that this is not an academic blog, but I don't have an academic blog. I also know that at least a couple of you work at or attend colleges. So I want to know, is this just a problem for our little school, or is it endemic? No, really, I want to know.

The college bookstore has one reason to exist: sell the required books to the students. That's it. We professors decide what books to assign in our classes. The bookstore orders them. The students buy them.

Now I understand the bookstore's problem. They are caught between students who increasingly attempt to buy their books at at discount via the Internet and distributors who will no longer graciously accept returns without penalties. I get why the students try to get their books via the Internet. It costs less, and besides, the bookstore always runs out of copies.

Always. Every freakin' semester.

And that friends, is the heart of the problem. Every semester, in every class 10-20% of my students don't have the right book for the first two weeks. Generally, there is at least one student limping along with an out-of-date edition asking me what she should do since she doesn't have all the readings on the syllabus.

I'm tired of it.

Maybe our problem is worse than other schools because we contract our bookstore out to B&N. If the college owned it we could just decide that the bookstore existed to serve the students (shocking!) and it did not matter if it did not turn a profit. We would stock enough books, period.

I have high hopes for something like the Kindle for textbooks. I really, really do.

Many of the textbook publishers now sell electronic versions of their texts from their own web sites. Students can read it on-line or print out one copy. That at least allows all the students to get the book they need when they need it, but everything on an e-reader would be more portable and generally much more cool.

I want it. The brick and mortar college bookstore is failing, at least here. It is time to move on.

And that is my non-foster care rant for the day.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dog Training

I am trying to work on door training again. It is tough in the winter because it requires making people stand out in the cold while you wait for the dogs to sit and stay. Then of course when you open the door the break and you have to make the poor human go back outside. Recently the dogs have realized that if there is mail or a package the door really won't open until they are good, but that that if there is someone waiting they can get away with being naughty.

So Gary asked if his girlfriend could come over (again). I said that she could, but she had to participate in dog training. The poor thing only made it in on the fourth try. I kept asking her to please leave for the porch. The fourth time though the doggies were very good. I gave them their treats with much "good doggie!"

Then I walked her into the kitchen and asked if she liked milk or dark chocolate. She said milk. I got her a piece and said, "good person! good person!" She laughed.

It appears she may be coming over regularly. I may be able to actually train these dogs to be polite at the door.

Wouldn't that be nice?

I just need plenty of doggie and people treats.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Loving too much"

Yesterday Raizenboys had a post on a topic near and dear to many of our ... bile ducts. You know, that comment where people tell you that THEY could never do foster care because THEY would love the children too much, or get too attached? Oh yeah, THAT topic. Raizenboys, are you listening? The sound you hear is the collective gnashing of teeth and general groaning of everyone who has given back the cold hard stare at the piece of silliness who has just suggested that we are somehow more shallow, less loving, than they are.

I want to hasten to add that this is not the same, at least from my perspective, as the person who has decided to wait to be matched with a child for adoption and does not want to do foster-to-adopt. People who have made this choice have usually thought about it more carefully and not thoughtlessly toss out the opinion that their love is deeper and stronger than those of mere foster parents.

I have no trouble when people tell me that they have decided that they want to spare their children the very real grief of losing a sibling, or say that they themselves just don't want to go through that particular experience if they can help it. It is an extremely unpleasant experience.

The problem of course is the assumption that it has anything to do with too much love.

There is no one way that we cope with pain of saying goodbye to kids. When we love them deeply and believe they are going where they should be, then it is easier. Some of us have found that that though we miss the child, we are surprised at how much our joy for the child compensates. When a child leaves and goes to a home that you don't feel is safe, well, that bites the big one. That hurts and hurts for a long, long time. Loving the child is of course part of that, but so is anger. Since I am in a program that rarely take kids who are going home, I have not had to deal with that one.

I have had to deal with accepting that I was not able to meet a particular child's need. A child has left not because they were going to their legal or "forever" parents, but because they were not making it here. That emotion, and I know it, is not the simple missing of a child. For me it is feeling inadequate, feeling guilty for the pain I have caused or added to.

This is too simple, but there is joy in seeing a child move to the family they love and where you know they will thrive, and there is pain in seeing a child go to a place where you think they will be unsafe, or leave because you could not give them what they needed. Those things hurt.

But the answer is not in loving them less, in caring about them less. A foster parent who can watch a child go back to a possibly abusive situation and feel no pain because they do not love the child much is ... I want to say a monster. Certainly a very, very bad foster parent.

It isn't easy. Not everyone can do it.

But being good at it does NOT mean loving less.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Twittering Again

Since the boys never did Twitter, I asked them to change their names to something non-identifying. I put a Twitter box back on the blog sidebar. I don't know know if I will use it, but it is there.

I was set for private before, but if any of you are twitterers, you can now find me and we can share meaningless tidbits of silliness.

Talked to the social worker

I told her that I wasn't sure where my girl-crazy boy was, figuratively speaking, couldn't be sure what he had done or might do but that I thought he was playing with fire and was thinking about buying the fire suits... to speak.

She agreed.

She also recommended conversations about how much trouble a woman scorned or pregnant could cause for a minor wanting OFF probation.


Oh, and just to keep life interesting? All this started with a conversation with Brian in which we were talking about his abstinence-only healthy class. I quizzed him to make sure he really did know the rest of the information and then told him that I wanted him to know that I didn't think he should be having sex any time soon. He responded. "Oh don't worry. I'm not. Not until I'm at least sixteen."

Probability Assessment

Which do you think is more likely:

a sixteen-year-old lying to his mother-figure saying that he hasn't had sex
a sixteen-year-old lying to his fourteen-year-old brother saying he has had sex?

And no, I don't think that the fourteen-year-old is lying, and I highly doubt that the fourteen-year-old is confused. There is also no confusion based upon the period of time or partner.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The electrician

Remember when I doubted the electrician's veracity because he was heard to say "two beers" as he answered the phone? Yeah. Well, his business's name sounds a heck of a lot like "two beers" so I was wrong. It's really sort of funny. I would like to tell you the business name, but it is against my bloggy rules.

Anyway, he was here. He saw all our electrical issues. He says that if our problems were going to cause a house fire they probably would have already. He can't make promises that something new won't happen, but his opinion is that a fire is not more likely now than it has been anytime over the past few decades. So we scheduled the work for about one month out when I have a break and can be home to say "put an outlet there" and command the doggies to shush.

He said he would work out a specific bid. I asked him if he could ball park it because I really had absolutely no idea what this sort of work cost. He did and we almost fainted with relief. It ain't cheap, but it is within the range I was hoping it would be.

Oh! he says that he can re-wire the ceiling fixtures that are original to the house! I had thought I would have to buy at least four new ones.

I'm a very happy homeowner.

Mandated Reporting

Did you know that in 18 US states and territories anyone who has reason to suspect abuse is required to report it? Find more here. If you want to look up info about one state at a time, or want information about the laws in your state regarding other child welfare issues, try here.

My survey of the document (first link above) shows that foster parents or "foster care workers" are mandated reporters in 21 places, 18 of which are NOT states that require everyone to report. So, to do the math, in 36 US states and territories, foster parents are required to report abuse either because they are foster parents or because they are human beings.

I don't know whether there are consequences for ordinary citizens who fail to report in those 18 places. Mandated reporters, of course, risk losing their licenses if they fail to report.

Just thought you might find that interesting.

Dance Recital

Ah yes, Gary had one.

See if you go to an arts charter school you don't have PE, you have dance. And if you have dance, you have a recital.

So I went. I sat for two hours and watched cute little kids do folk dances (did I mention this is a K-12 school?), fifth graders do something looking like spies sneaking around and stage fighting to a James Bond theme, middle schoolers dance with fake briefcases to "Taking Care of Business" and high school classes do hip hop numbers. In between there was dance after dance by the JV Dance Squad and the Premium Dancers. They were pretty good. I was pretty tired by the end.

Gary did okay in his dance. In terms of physical control and grace, his got it. He could be a great dancer. In terms of not getting stage fright and remembering which way to turn, well, he had a couple of moments. Still, with all his martial arts work it and general physical fitness, it is clear he has the ability to make his body do what he wants. He could be a great dancer. His MMA coach is encouraging him, telling him that as far as winning over women, it is hard to beat a fighter who can tango.

I thought there was a recession

Isn't there? Doesn't that mean that people are supposed to need work? And areas like construction have particularly been hurt, right?

So how come we can't get an electrician sufficiently interested to come to our house and give us an estimate on the re-wiring we need to do in our house? I mean, we really need to do it. There are four ceiling lights that blow out bulbs as soon as they are inserted, and a couple of plugs that tend to spark frighteningly. This is not good.

Well, we did have one guy who worked this other guy tell us that he could come and do the work and then bill us afterwards for time and materials, but he couldn't give us an estimate first. The boss would have to come back from vacation and do that. The boss though is apparently busy with other things.

And the independent guy who does good work but whom we were told does not work as promptly (but at this point, slow work is better than no work, right?) was supposed to come out tomorrow to look at the place. He forgot. Unless of course he was telling the truth when he told Hubby yesterday that he was on his way to fix an emergency situation somewhere else. The veracity of that claim is suspect since Roland is pretty sure he heard the electrician say "two beers!" just before saying, "hello."

Golly gee willikers. I'm getting frustrated.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Passing English

Gary is either staying after school every day working hard to pass his English so that he won't have to go to summer school and miss the big MMA tournament in July, or he is lying through his teeth. Given that he is in danger of failing and that failing would mean summer school which would almost certainly mean no MMA tournament, I suspect that he is being truthful. Whether he is working as hard as he thinks he is is another question.

Gary knows that you can graduate with 44 units. He therefore sees no point at all in taking 45. That most students graduate with 48 to 55 is meaningless. You only need 44, he tells me patiently. He can do that by the end of his junior year.

So he wants to finish early. This means taking senior courses early. This can mostly be done except for Senior English. Summer and night school spots are reserved for people who have failed the first time or are behind for some reason -- you know, like they left to go to rehab. So he is sort of interested in maybe taking an on-line class. I have suggested that if English is the course that he has trouble passing, the adults in his life are unlikely to support taking an on-line version in which he will have no teacher helping him and setting deadlines.

"But it isn't that English is hard for me, it is just that I hate to write papers. I just have a hard time making myself DO it."

And I say, "I know."

And we both look at each, each clearly believing that he or she has just won the argument.

I did eventually get him to understand that the crazy adults in his life believe that self-discipline was essential to completing on-line, self-paced classes.

So maybe he will just go to school part time and work full-time his senior year.

Fine with me.

There is this disconnect though. He wants to get an associates to be some sort of PT tech/assistant. Then he wants to get his bachelors and masters and be a real physical therapist, or maybe go into sports medicine, or something cool like that. Definitely college though. Really wants to go to college.

And he does a really good job of not rolling his eyes when I make totally irrelevant comments about the importance of getting good grades in English (not just passing ones) if you want to go to college. Or perhaps I am mis-interpreting the look. It probably means, "yeah, yeah, I know."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Trouble's Friend, Again

Recently on "the dating life of Gary" he had just broke up with Trouble.

He is now, officially (whatever that means) dating Trouble's Friend again.

So for those of you keeping track:

Dating Trouble
Dating Trouble's Friend
Dating neither, friends with both
Dating Trouble
Dating Trouble's Friend

Got it?

There won't be any problem at all though. See, Trouble isn't talking to either of them, so it's all great!

Friday, January 09, 2009


I am currently distracted by problems my sister is having. It doesn't belong on the blog. I have no intentions of writing about it, but it will probably keep my mind sufficiently occupied that I won't write for a bit. I don't know how long.

Just didn't want you to think I dropped off the planet.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

About that key finder

I had Roland drive us somewhere this evening. He had a good laugh at the unpredictable beeping of the gizmo. I think I can discard it without recriminations.

I've had a good day, but an exhausting one. I'll write something another day.

Hope you are having a good one.

Totally off topic

I lose my keys. A lot.

Like today I had to ask one of my colleagues for his master key (thank goodness a bunch of us on this floor have non-authorized master keys) in order to get into my office. My keys were on my desk.

Anyway, Roland gave me a key finder for Christmas. It makes this loud beeping noise in response to a whistle. I however cannot whistle. Also it seems to go off in response to lots of things. Stuff like the dog barking or my cell phone going off. Having it in my purse with my cell phone seemed like a bad idea.

But yesterday I couldn't find my car keys. Roland found them in the pocket of a coat I wore a few days ago and attached the key finder to them. So today I had them on my keys as I drove to work.

Apparently my brakes have an almost inaudible squeal, or maybe the steering wheel squeaks.

Something though makes a high pitched noise. I know because my key find started beeping loudly every few minutes. Particularly when I was braking and turning.

How long do you think I have to carry this thing around to show my appreication before I can get away with tossing it?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What a difference a judge makes

Today is the permanency hearing. I expect nothing to happen. The hearing I reported on last time is apparently typical of this judge.


That's what I wrote an hour before I left. I had a couple other boring sentences and decided not to write anything more until after the hearing. The judge assigned to Gary's case wasn't there and another was handling the hearing.

The last judge didn't ask for anyone to identify him or herself. I wasn't even sure if all the people in the courtroom were connected to this case. This judge asked everyone for their name and relationship. When we were done she thanked me for being there and then asked every single person if it was okay if I stayed because she could ask me to make a statement and wait outside. Then she asked Gary if he wanted to wait outside or if he wanted to stay.

She summarized what she read in the documents, noted that there was not a specific document included that should have been. No one was in trouble because Gary wasn't sixteen when we were there last, but he is now and was she correct in assuming they would be "motioning that up sometime soon?" There was nodding.

She noticed that Gary had expressed a desire to have a driver's license. So everyone talked about that. The state worker said that it is the department's position that if the parents have parental rights they have to sign. It is the DMV's position that young drivers must appear with their guardian/parent in order to get a permit. Gary's dad previously expressed an unwillingness to sign. Gary's mom lives in another state and for multiple reasons is unable to travel here. So unless things change, Gary will have to wait until he is 18.

She asked me if I wanted to say anything. Last time my presence hadn't been aknowledged so I hadn't thought about what I might say. I mumbled something but she kept looking so I said, "He is a very responsible young man, working hard at school. He is struggling in one class, but working hard to fix that. He's a joy to be around." She looked at Gary and said, "That is a very good report!"

All in all, I think this judge is on the opposite end of the spectrum from the other.

And the permanency hearing is over.

And as for the document that wasn't filed? It's a detailed independent living plan. The state worker says that she is the only judge in the county that requires that it be filed. This isn't her case, which is why no one did it. Now that she has said that it needs to be done, it will be. There will be another hearing, probably in the next couple of weeks, in front of the original judge who will be confused about why we are all there.

I can hardly wait.

Afterwards I asked the agency worker in so she could get her monthly visit over while she was here. She asked Gary if he would mind if she looked up his dad so she could send him periodic reports on how he was doing. Gary thinks it is pointless, but he doesn't mind. So, who knows what will happen next.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


Brian to Gary, "You know, if you put an alligator clip on a joint it really hurts."

Suddenly I am listening.

"If you put it on a finger it doesn't hurt, but it hurts on your joints."

Me: "What are you talking about?"

Brian, "This alligator clamp, you know, that holds the bag of chips shut. If you put it on your finger joint it hurts. What did you think I said?"

"Something else."

Teenagers and Sex, #3

I have really been enjoying your comment about how you talk to your kids about sex. If you read the latest post on teens and sex before the comments, you may want to go back. Part of me is also frustrated because everyone is giving variations on the really good answer, "I started when my kids were young."


I'm not the only one who takes teenagers in as teenagers, am I? Let's see...there's Bug, whom I think no longer has the teens she took as teens, and there's Lionmom who hasn't been writing. Dan did it for a while, but now he and his wife are in the process of adopting a baby.

Anyone out there parenting teens who came to you as teens? Anyone? Beuller?

I feel alone.

Really though it isn't all that different. Except for the fact that you haven't had time to build up trust, have no idea what information they have been given or values displayed, and they totally lie to you about everything personal.

Other than that though, it is exactly the same.

Rachel said she was hoping for "Five Easy Steps to Talking to Kids about Sex." I wonder if I could write such a post. Of course this is just what sort of works for me.

1. Avoid "the talk." Instead have many short talks. Take advantage of anything that might help initiate a conversation.

2. I find the car to be the best venue. Since I am driving and must look at the road, there is no eye contact which helps with the embarrassment factor. Though they can roll their eyes, they can't walk away. If they really don't want to talk I don't push it, but I have had more luck in the car than other places. (Putting aside being given unexpected revelations while driving at high speeds. "I am safe! Really! We only go to safe places. Like when we were at the water park, we went into the Women's restroom in instead." "And that is safer why?" "Women aren't going to beat us up!")

3. Don't let, "I'm not doing anything and I'm not going to" or "I already know all this" shut you up. Yeah, they already know a whole lot of information. If they have been in the system they may have actually gone to a class. That class probably focused on pregnancy prevention and consent, so even then there is ground left to be covered. If they are GLBT there is a lot left to be covered. I have not yet met a high school or even college student who already knew that orally-transmitted STD's are on the rise.

4. Speak bluntly. You can speak clinically rather than crudely, but it is the details they need. This means getting over being embarrassed. Read Dan Savage columns, although if that is too much you may want to start with Dr. Ruth. Actually, read both. Find others. There are things you don't know you don't know, and reading people writing about sex without embarrassment can help. Find other people who can talk to your kids. Take GLBT kids to a youth group for queer kids. Talk to the group leader and tell him/her that you are hoping that they do talk about sex. Tell your kids therapists that it is okay with you that they talk about it. Get your partner to open up.

5. Think a lot about why you think that people of a certain age shouldn't be having sex. That is what I was trying to get to before. Even if you answer is "sex belongs in marriage" still, think about why you think 14-year-olds having sex means something has gone wrong. Try to think about reasons that would make sense to a 14-year-0ld. There are two things that I think are less effective with teens who have moved into your home as teens.

  1. The wait-until-marriage: Kids who are sexually active will tend to think that you are too late, even if you think that it is possible to recommit to chastity and that will be good for him. They are likely just to disregard you as totally out of touch. If this is what you believe, I am not saying that you should not communicate it. I think you should. I just don't think that by itself it makes a good case. Other than not being married, why do you think that 14-year-olds shouldn't be having sex? Unless you are lucky enough to live in a couple of states with marriage equality, this answer is pretty much nonsensical to GLBT kids.
  2. The risks of sex answer. Again, kids need to know about pregnancy and STD's. A reasonable response to these risks is contraceptive/condom use. That is good, but there is more than that going on, and it is the more-than-that that kids need someone to talk to.

Okay, here's a for-instance. When young teens are having sex they are often trying get needs for love and comfort met, needs that are still appropriately met by parents. It isn't sex they need. It's hugs. Now, again, things are complicated with foster teens because they often don't feel safe with touch and adults. So there isn't some simple answer for particular kids, but think about your kid's need for physical, nonsexual touch. Is there anyway to help them meet that need?

Brian at fourteen still comes to me for some pretty serious cuddling. He is a big boy and a bit overwhelming, so I will tend to tell him after a few minutes of almost sitting on my lap that oxygen is becoming an issue. I shift him so he can get some cuddling without my feeling like I am going to be squashed. The last night Andrew was home we watched a TV show taking turns massaging each other's hands.

David and Carl initiated a fair amount of hugs and cuddling. Evan not so much. Gary is always pleased when I hug him, but I don't know any way to offer him more touch that feels safe and meets those healthy needs. I think martial arts does some of that for him. It isn't affection, but it is human-to-human respectful, nonsexual contact. It also makes him feel good to be able to throw or pin men who are larger than himself. I think at some level he is re-enacting something like his own abuse except he is successfully defending himself.

There are other reasons why kids start having sex before they are ready, and if we are going to convince them to wait until they are ready, we need to deal with the reasons they are having sex.

It is a whole lot easier if you can start when you kid is 5 or 10.

6. Listen. Once they have started talking to you SHUT UP. Even when you want to respond to what they have said, stay quiet until they stop to give you a turn. Don't feel that you have failed if they walk away before you have your turn. Sometimes telling you what they needed to tell you is all they can handle at the time.

7. Address the concerns that they express. If a kid tells you that the problem with adults who teach sex ed is that they don't understand romance, ask what they mean. If what they say is that using condoms is not romantic and talking about condoms will totally kill the mood, consider talking about that. It is tempting to say, "Well, if you aren't ready to talk about condoms then you are not ready to be having sex." That might be true, but that isn't what your kid needs to know. Your kid might not already be having sex. Don't assume otherwise. They may just be reacting to the class and letting you know that there is another piece of information they need to store away for the future. In case you are interested, my response to that one is, "You don't have to talk about it. You don't have to say anything other than, 'just a sec.' Just get the condom and put it on [your partner.] They will probably be relieved you took action."

Okay, so that wasn't 6 steps and it wasn't easy. Was it helpful Rachel?

Anyone have anything to add? You always have really good ideas.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Talking to teens about sex

I've been trying to write posts about talking to teens about sex, but I keep deleting them.

As a society we seem to agree that it is better if minors are not having sex. We don't seem to agree on why. And how we talk about sex is all tied up in the why's.

I'm going to ask you to consider a couple of different possible scenarios. Let yourself react to them and then try to figure out why you react the way you do.

Scenario One:
You learn that your 13-year-old is going to parties at which performing oral sex is regarded as a party game. Your offspring, girl or boy, regards it as "not really sex". Sub-Version A: You learn about this after taking your child to the pediatrician for a sore throat and are told that he or she has gonorrhea of the throat. Sub-version B: Your offspring tells you not to worry, he or she knows all about orally transmitted STD's and uses protection.

Scenario Two:
Your 16-year-old has been in a series of relationships all of which have become sexual quickly and none of which has lasted more than a month. He or she has been using protection. You find out when you have to take your offspring to the physician for crabs.

Scenario Three:
Your 16-year-old has been in a relationship for six months. He or she comes to you and awkwardly tells you that that they recently started having sex but didn't use anything and wants to go to the physician and get tested for STD's or pregnancy (or wants advice on getting his/her partner tested).

Scenario Four:
Your 18-year-old boy tells you while you are driving down the freeway that he sort of lied the other day. Well, not really, but kind of. He really did work out at the Y like he said, but he also had sex in locker room with his new boyfriend and he just thought you should know. (That one is PURELY fictional, of course.)

Now go ahead and make up some new scenarios of your own. Change the ages. Change whether you find out, whether your kid talks to you, whether there are STD's or pregnancy or arrests. Is your response something like, "That's pretty normal behavior. I'm glad I know about it so that I can help my kid make safe decisions?" or are you thinking, "OMG!!! How could this have happened? How did I fail as a parent?" You may, of course, have different reactions to different scenarios.

I ask you to think about this because when I was a new parent to teenagers I thought that talking about sex with them was a lot like talking about plumbing only a lot more embarrassing. It was important for young people to know how the parts worked, what could happen as a result of what choices, and how to be safe. If I could just get myself to explain how, when, where, and WHY using dental dams (or equivalent) was important and do it without blushing and stammering I would be fine. Talking about sex was all about getting information into their heads.

Well, that is not quite true. I did always have the goal of wanting them to be safe talking to me.

It was different because my first teens were foster teens. That generally makes parenting the way I believe I should just a little easier. I don't waste energy worrying about whether any problem or situation is somehow my fault. It just is. I have to respond to it. I know my bioboys would profit from getting more of that sort of guilt-free parenting from me.

What has changed over the years is that I have realized that I really need also to open up lines of conversation about values. Given my values, I need to be able to talk about boundaries, intimacies, what I think it means to be intimate with someone, why I think that something is lost when physical and emotional intimacy are not in the same place. I need to have that conversation in a non-judgmental way. I know that there are people who view sexuality differently, see it as something that doesn't have to be connected to emotional intimacy. I've learned to remind myself that other views make sense. The bonobos might have it right.

I think you need to decide which is more important to you: do you want your kids to share your values or do you want them to talk to you as they work out their values? In theory you can have both, but in practice you may find that it is better to prioritize one over the other. When kids come to you as teens, you have a much better chance of succeeding in the second goal.

It is terribly difficult though. So many kids in foster care have been molested. Any attempt by an adult to initiate conversations about sex and intimacy can be triggering. So I have no practical advice. It's difficult. You have to muddle through. I do think though that it helps if you are clear with yourself about what your values are and what goals you have in having conversations with your children.

And that is my post about talking to teens about sex. Helpful, huh?

How do you handle talking to your kids about sex?

Andrew's Gone Again

Now it is just me and the Wookiees.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Maerlowe's back

Not for the faint of heart, but really funny. You know, in a gross sort of way.

Want to See Something Gross?

Friday, January 02, 2009

not dating Trouble

Okay, everyone remember the basic history here? First he was dating Trouble. Then he and Trouble broke up and he started dating Trouble's Friend. Then he said that he wasn't going to date either one of them, and because he wasn't dating either one he could be friends with both. Then he started dating Trouble again.

Tonight he said, "Trouble broke up with me. So you can be happy. Are you happy?"

"Of course not, well, a little bit. What happenned?"

"She said I was creating drama! ME! I don't create drama. She said her dad is making her break up with me. Like she ever did anything her dad tells her! Right!"

"Did she say how you supposedly create drama?"

"Oh, it has to do with Trouble's Friend. Like tonight. I went to a movie with her [the friend]. I don't know why Trouble got all upset. I texted her and told her. It's not like I did it behind her back. I sent her a text message every time I did something with Trouble's Friend."

Right. No drama creation there. None. Nada.

"So are you going to consider actually being single for a while, or are you going to start scanning for the next girlfriend?"

"Oh, I don't need to scan. I already know who I would ask out. She would say yes, too. But I am thinking about maybe not dating anyone for a little bit."

Quiet Here

I said I wasn't going to do a New Year's post, but you know, this isn't a bad time to think a bit about Gary and how he has settled in over the past seven months.

He is a sweet kid. When he moved in he was very excited about the possibility of moving in with his dad, though he would say he knew that it wasn't likely to happen. He also had an obsessive need to clean. He still cares more about cleanliness than your average teenage boy, but it has died down somewhat. That doesn't mean that he remembers to tell me when he cleaning supplies are gone instead of just taking mine. He also still goes through supplies at an inexplicable rate. His cleaning is sporadic, mostly timed to the visits of girls.

He has never showed the level of anxiety that most kids go through. I have never felt like he was clingy or monitoring me. I never felt like he was rejecting me, although some things like the not eating with us would have made me feel that way in the past. He doesn't initiate any physical contact, but when I hug him he hugs back hard, which is not something that he did early on.

I do have worrying thoughts about him and girls. He is a codie, which I understand. There is also the whole sex thing, which I struggle with. There is probably a whole post or three to be written about how to talk to teenagers about sex.

For the most part he is so easy to live with that it is easy for me to start believing that I am a super-parent. Remembering Frankie helps with that though. I have some skills, and they are a better match for some kids than for others.

On the new year

I'm not doing it, in case you were curious.

I am in the last stage of a five-year peer review process. I have had to evaluate everything I have done for the last five years, write pages and pages about it, and had to write a five year plan filled with goals and plans for...well...the next five years.

I'm not taking time to reflect and write on the last twelve months and I am not making any New Year's resolutions.

So there. Take that world.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Recommended Blog

J is the bloggy name of a young woman who has been diagnosed with RAD. She has begun to blog. See Journey to Being a Normal Kid. She wants "stickers" which is what she calls the little pictures/avatars of followers. She has only written two posts so far.

Her mom is Lisa from Life in the Grateful House.