Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thinking about Helen

I do a lot of Tweeting and less blogging these days. That means that less shows up on the blog (unless you read the tweet box .... lower right hand corner) and the stories can feel, as one person wrote me, like they are missing chapters.

I still feel sad that Helen isn't here, but I do feel really good about what we were able to do for her. On Friday the plan was for her spend the weekend with us and would be taken to her as yet unidentified new home on Monday. I was to intervene and get a commitment that she would stay with us until her plan was worked out. I learned about the B's on Friday and was able to tell her a little bit about them. So she spent the weekend knowing that she could end up living with us or moving to a family that shares her religious tradition and is near her high school.

Tuesday evening she visited with them. They watched the home-town university team win a football game, something that never happens in this house. She met their various animals and painted the toe-nails of the little girls during half-time. Mrs. B had read many of the books she had and they had good conversations. On Wednesday she and her social worker talked and decided she was going to move in with the B's. They moved her immediately.

If she were 10, I would have thought that the transition was far too fast. She is nearly 17 though and she was the one making the decision. I am happy that we were able to give her that ... the security, space and time to have some control over her life. Once she had made up her mind, it was almost certainly easier on everyone for her to go quickly. It was certainly easier for me. Though I see all the advantages for her and support this decision, I still felt (and still do feel) sad about it. I did not want to be a cry baby in front of her, and with the rapid transition I was able to behave the way I wanted.

Yesterday she called to say that she left a large binder here. The binder was still in the back pack I loaned . We had emptied out and packed up the rest of it, so she didn't realize that it was not there until she needed it. I was thrilled to get to see her so soon, so I hopped into the care and drove to her new house. She seemed very happy. I showed her my new Kindle (did I mention that I got the Kindle 3?) and helped her figure out a few things with my Kindle 2 she is currently borrowing. We had a nice, if short, visit.

Next weekend Brian will be playing the bass in "Your a Good Man Charlie Brown." (He was Mitch in "Streetcar Named Desire" last week.) I think I will invite Helen to go to Charlie Brown with us. I still need to talk to her social worker about the possibility of a regular visitation schedule.

I keep thinking that this is as it should be. That I keep thinking that of course means that I am still feeling sad about it, but I really do believe that this is a good placement for her. And it is best for us. I mean, just imagine how impossible next summer would be with two vehicles and six licensed drivers in the house. Not that it is going to be that much easier with five drivers.

Gary want to be a firefighter

A wilderness firefighter, to be precise. He imagines this as his life-long job. He is very annoyed at people who are willing to be as committed to the idea as he is, because he has finally figured out what he wants to do! Okay, so he has changed his mind several times, but this is it!

To be fair, there are consistent themes in the things that he has been most excited about, and this fits. This one has the advantage of being realistic in terms of preparation. Gary always believes anything he wants to do will be easy. College will be easy. He knows this because Andrew has told him that the most difficult part is just making yourself do the work. Also he has looked at the amount of work I have said I give my students and has been amazed that that is all. Meanwhile, his work in high school is ... uneven. He does very well, demonstrates he is able, and then loses interest. His pattern seems to be that the hard work in the beginning of a term should be rewarded by blowing off at least one assignment later on.

What this has meant to me is his initial career direction needs to be something that does not require extensive education. He needs to be able to start quickly.

Ground crew for summer wild fires seems to fit the bill. There are a couple of short classes he can take which will give him an excellent chance of getting hired this summer. If he finds it is something he wants to keep doing, he can take more classes to get higher levels of certification.

So he came to us with a list of courses he could take this calendar year, and the discount the instructor would give him for paying for all of them at one time. I kept insisting on more information and I finally got it. It turns out that he needs only a couple of the courses to get an entry-level position. Of course, he wants all the certifications to do various tasks. He doesn't want to be a lowly member of the ground crew who can fell trees, or operate special equipment, or whatever. I will have to tell him this morning that Roland and I will only help him pay for the courses he needs for the entry-level.

I am preparing myself to deal with his disappointment and irritation. From his perspective he has finally figured out exactly what he wants to do. If he takes all the courses available he is likely to make much more money. If we only pay for the entry level courses, we are just preventing him from his best chances to get a job and make lots and lots of money this summer. That he keeps changing his mind about what he wants to do is totally irrelevant.

Also irrelevant is the fact that the course we just paid for was for was all day Friday and Saturday. His alarm failed to go off on Saturday and he had to call the instructor to reschedule and now will be forced to miss some high school class time.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Helen's moved to the B's

Today Helen was picked up from school to go to independent living class. She called from the transporter's cell phone to ask if I had heard from the SW. I said no, but as long as I had her, what would she like for dinner? She said tacos. So I swung by the store to get cilantro and other wonderful taco things, thinking happy thoughts about kids who actually answer that question instead of saying, "I don't know. Whatever you want to cook."

The SW called about 4:00 to say that he would be coming by with her after independent living so he could take her and her things to the B's. He spoke with Roland who was much less emotional than I would have been.

I spent about an hour crying. I was worried that I might not be able to pull it together before she got here. I see all the advantages of her going to the B's. I can and will support that move. That of course doesn't mean that I am not deeply disappointed and capable of being a big ole cry baby about it. (On the whiny, cry-baby note, why is it that I never get to keep the girls? I love my boys, but what the hell universe?)

After crying for a while I remembered that she was halfway through The Hunger Games on my Kindle. I decided that I would loan it to her. Then I decided that if she was taking it to the B's I should remove all the tawdry romance novels. Then I decided that I would go ahead and get the new Kindle I have been coveting for a while and let her keep the Kindle on loan indefinitely. So I sat down at the computer to remove a couple hundred books from the machine (not all of them tawdry). It kept me busy and by the time Helen and the SW showed up I was nearly done. It made saying goodbye easier since I was able to spend those few minutes telling her how to use it rather than how much I was going to miss her.

Now this isn't about me being incredibly generous. In fact, one could argue that it was a totally selfish act, since I am using it as an excuse to buy a new one. It also makes me feel better because I LOANED it to her, and that means she and I are agreeing that I will see her again soon.

And now she is gone, and the house is quiet. I won't have to drive an hour tomorrow to take her to school. She is going where she wants to be, having no doubt that she is loved and welcomed here.

And I am going to cry a little bit more while I eat the tacos she wanted for dinner.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Helen and Gary

Helen's biggest concern is Gary. She wants to be close to him again, and she is afraid that he doesn't really want her around.

I shared with her honestly, telling her that Gary felt obligated to entertain her (but he seems to have gotten over that), and that when I was explaining the positives of living with the B's (other family) he countered with the benefits of our home. She liked hearing that. We also talked about how normal teenage boys feel about little sisters. I told her that in my experience when a teenage boy says something like, "Yeah, I guess it will be okay" that is equivalent to an enthusiastic yes. Teenage boys don't "do" enthusiastic.

My guess is that Gary thinks living here is the best thing for her, and he is anxious that it will be hard for him. He is afraid that she will expect things from him, just when he is all about becoming his own person and not being responsible for anyone but himself. If he could trust, really believe, that Roland and I would be the parents, that would help.

To a certain extent this is perfectly normal sibling dynamics, which is what I have wanted to stress to Helen. Younger siblings want their cool older brothers to spend time with them. Older brothers want their annoying younger siblings to leave them alone. For various reasons it is exaggerated on both sides. So I will try to talk with Gary. I would like to help them talk to each other about what they think would be the good things and what would be the hard things about living together. I don't know though. I think I will just wait and see if any good moments announce themselves.

Tomorrow afternoon I take her to the B's (the other family). She will get to see their house and go with them to a football game. She is very excited about that. She very well may decide that living with them and spending some weekends with us is the best solution.

Helen's options

Technically, she just has two on the table: our house and the LDS family near her school. She can visit them if she likes before deciding.

However, her social worker wants her to know that a family from her ward (think congregation) called in to ask if they could get licensed and take her. Also a previous teacher called to get more information so he could talk to his wife about getting licensed and take her. And finally both her lawyer and another person who works at the department said that they never considered getting licensed but they would have for her.

Only two of the options are currently licensed and it is important to get her into the program as fast as possible, so she has to choose between those two. The social worker said that he favors placement with her sibling, but she does get the final choice.

Right now she is driving with him to get the rest of her things. He will answer any other questions she has on their trip.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Talking with Helen about anxiety

As we were eating breakfast this morning somehow or other Helen and I started talking about anxiety issues. She told me that she needed to get a refill on a prescription that is supposed to help with anxiety, although she says that it doesn't really work well. I commiserated saying that my doctor told me my medicine was "working" when my anxiety attacks turned into nausea.

"I asked him if he had a pill that could make me calm and confident, but he said no. The pills were fairly good at taking things away, but there wasn't a pill to add stuff."

That made sense to her and then she started talking about her anxiety had been inexplicably worse recently. I mentioned that it was a stressful time for her and she replied that she deal with her emotions by thinking things through, not feeling. She is doing that with the moving, so she isn't worrying about it.

I didn't point out the obvious connection. I did say, "You know, I was thinking about being a teenager and being told I was going to move in with a nice family I had never met before, and I nearly had an anxiety attack just imagining it."


"God, yes. New house, new rules, new foods, new people to learn how to get along with, not knowing if I had to share a room... Okay, I need stop now or I will lose it."

She laughed and told me that she had moved around enough her whole life that it did not bother her that much.

Then we talked about the pancakes.

Somtimes I am a bit slow

Ever get carried away? I did with Helen. Now, those of you who are excited about this don't worry. We are still committed to Helen and we still want her.

But I forgot that she has been rebuilding her relationship with her mother, which is a very good thing.

Helen and Gary's mother left (or was kicked out, it has never been clear to me) when they were very young. Helen was maybe a year old. Helen though has spent more time with her. Gary had visited once, but Helen lived with her for a short while. Recently they have been writing letters and the agency social worker is trying to find a time when they can travel together to visit. (You may know that six months ago no one could find her. Obviously she has been found and her story does not enter here.)

Anyway, I don't know what will happen between Helen and her mom, but I do think adoption talk is inappropriate. Even if being adopted into our family is eventually the right thing to do, thinking about being adopted by one family while reconnected with your mother is not helpful.

So I am glad that I have not mentioned adoption to Helen. Everything I have said is still true: she is a part of our extended family and she will always have a place. I have told her that I want to set up a regular visitation schedule, something like one weekend a month. I'm pretty sure she understands that if things don't work out in the family she is moving to, coming here is plan B.

But adoption is for people who don't have parents.

It is possible that we will end in a place in which becoming a legal part of our family is what she wants. If it is we will do it and we will be very happy about it.

However, my job is to support her while she reconnects and NOT to do anything to undermine the relationship she may have with her mom.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

I want to keep Helen

I told Roland that. He agreed.

When I got her on Friday and found out that I was supposed to drop her off at school so that she could be picked up by a social worker and be taken to some as yet unknown place, I started feeling mighty protective, even possessive. When I told Roland what was going on and he responded "she's family" and started trying to figure out how fix the basement so it would be comfortable for three young men, well, the train had left the station. I found myself thinking things like, "Damn it, she's part of our family, she shouldn't have to go live with some foster family she hasn't even met!"

So I am going to tell her agency worker, who is conveniently the same person who was Gary's worker, that we want her back. I will propose that she spend at least one weekend a month with us through the school year and then transition to us with the goal of being adopted.

I told Roland that it is not unreasonable for me to want one girl.

Of course it isn't just our decision. The social workers have some say in this, but it is her life and she gets to decide. Though I have told her things like, "we are your family and you will always have a place" I haven't said, "We are going to talk to your social worker about adopting you." Partly because I want to support her transition to this home, and because I figure her life is too chaotic right now for her to think objectively about what she wants.

I don't know what the social workers will want to do, but I can't imagine that they wouldn't ultimately agree that it is best if Gary and Helen end up in the same family.

Gary seems to have deeply ambivalent feelings. Before she came over, he was not as positive as everyone else about her new home. I told him that it was in her school district and he responded, "you've heard of CARS, right?" I said, "Remember, they are LDS and it would be really good for Helen to be able to actually live in an LDS family." He looked at me like I was exceptionally stupid, pointed out the kitchen window to the building on the other side of the alley, "That is an LDS stake, RIGHT NEXT to us."* I told him that living next to a stake was not the same thing as getting to practice your religion with your family. He started talking about why he dislikes organized religion, which I figured was his way of moving away from the topic.

Today his girlfriend came over and he didn't even let her know that Helen was here. He did not give me a happy look when I told her and then introduced her to Helen. Gary has a lot of complicated feelings surrounding his sister, and sometimes he needs to protect space.

Now just to be clear, I am not averse to Helen moving in here even immediately. I just know that I don't get to make the decisions.

I guess I'm protecting my heart too.

Roland, as I mentioned, has been brainstorming what to do about the rec room. He measured it and told me that he thought he would build a wall to separate it into a small TV room and a bedroom. I countered that we won't actually need that many bedrooms all the time and we should look at various room dividers so that one or more boys can have a degree of privacy when they are all home. At the moment we have agreed that he will design something study, but removable. I have made it clear that I get to give approval (or not) over plans he makes, but right now I am open to him putting hooks or some other anchoring system in the ceiling.

*I have avoided making mention of the number of LDS churches in the area because it is a pretty big geographical hint, but I've decided not to worry about that any more. You will probably guess what part of the country I am in, but you will likely get the state wrong. Oh, though I've said I don't mind you guessing, I won't leave up comments that speculate.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Talking to Roland and the social worker

I have two pieces of news, and I guess I will give them to you in the order I got them.

First Roland came home. I gave him a chance to settle down and then told him what was going on. His response was immediate and matter-of-fact. The school thing needs to be dealt with, but if she needs to come here, she will. "She's family. We just need to figure out how to stack all the bodies."  (Remember a while ago when all he would say was, "we don't have room"?) He went downstairs to figure out if there is a way to curtain off a section of the rec room for Andrew when he comes home.

However, the agency social worker says they have identified a home in or near her school district. The family has been with the private agency for years and they, like Helen, are members of the Latter Day Saints. I had thought the current family was LDS, but they aren't. So, the newly identified family is Plan A and all the social workers are glad that I am willing to keep her so that she can make the transition next week more smoothly. They are out of town this week. It is a little unclear to me whether they have been contacted. It is entirely possible that they were given information about Helen a week ago and said they could take her but only after their week-end trip.

We agreed that we are Plan B.

Update: I just told Helen what I know. She's pretty thrilled. LDS family with the agency near her school is more than she thought was possible. I also told her that we are Plan B. I almost didn't because I don't want her to go into a home without being committed. On the other hand, she is going to want this to work, and I decided it important for her to know she is safe.

And it just keeps getting more complicated

So, Helen, who was supposed to need a weekend away from her family, is currently between foster homes. I did not know that until I was getting things from the transporting social worker. After doing a little bit of checking I learned that the plan was that I take her to school on Monday and during the day her social worker, who can't work today because it is a mandatory furlough day for him (budget cuts), will find her a new place while she is at school. He will then pick her up after school and drive her to her new home.

I said, "Um, no."

Next week is my break. I will be grading and doing other desk work, but I can make the 30-minute drive (one way) to her school. I told them that I was going to keep her until they knew where she was going.

Of course it couldn't be simple. She is in the process of moving into the same private program that I have worked in. She can't be genuinely actually be admitted into it until she is living in a home licensed by the program. And ... wait for it  ... there are no program homes available in her school district. The state social worker's idea is to recruit one. This is fairly standard operating procedure. Once they told me that about half the kids come into the program with their family. Finding a home that fits the kid and getting that family into the program is often a better option than making a kid move to a different town and go to a different school. So, let's assume this works. The SW finds a home in the district; she gets placed with them; and they agree to join the program. That process will take at least 2 months.

She has been in an accelerated program and will graduate early in May. She is one of the kids in foster care who really are college material. She wants to go and the private program has excellent resources. They will get her through college without debt.

But she has to be in the program for one year before she qualifies.

Y'all doing the math?

Oh, and she turns 17 in a couple of months, which is also the deadline to get her in the program.

I told the program social worker that I would consider taking her (Roland knows NOTHING about this yet), but it really would be disastrous for her to have to change schools. They've paid people to transport kids to school before . I did it for a while as you may recall. So that is a possible option.

I just had lunch with her and told her that she was family and she wasn't going to be homeless, and we would not let anything bad happen to her. I also told her that right now the plan was to find her a home in her school district, and we were going to go forward on the assumption that that was going to work. I also told her that she would be staying with me for some or all of next week while they try to find the right home.

I think I am not going to ask Roland to consider taking her. I'm just going to let him get the pieces of the puzzle like I did and let him draw the conclusions.

And I would just like to note that I am having a very hard time concentrating on my work because I don't know what is going to happen. Helen however doesn't know where she is going to be living next week and she is cheerful and busily doing her on-line driver's education just down the hall from me.

Helen's coming to visit (UPDATE)

A social worker will be dropping Helen (Gary's sister) off at my workplace sometime today. Helen is taking an on-line driver's education course and she will work on that while I sit in my office trying to make a dent in the 20 hours of midterm grading I have to do.

When we were called I said I had to ask Roland. He was napping but I woke him. His response was, "Huh? oh, yeah. sure."

I told Gary that Helen was coming. His response was, "But I have plans for this weekend!"

"So. You always have plans. Do what you planned. She's not coming to visit you."

"But I TOLD YOU that I feel obligated to be with her if she's here."

"Sweetie, I mean this in the most loving way possible: get over it."

He pouted, but I ignored it.

Helen is coming over because "she and her foster parents need a little break from each other." That could mean exactly that, or it could mean that the placement is in trouble and they are contemplating a move. I woke up wondering what I would say if Helen asked if she could move in with us.So I asked myself, what would in a situation in which a member of my extended family was living with a member of her family and wanted to move.

If she asks, I'll tell her that she never has to worry about a place to go. We are family and she isn't going to be homeless, ever. I'll also tell her that one of the bad things about foster care is that it tends to teach kids that you solve family problems by changing families. She has been with this family for a year. She is able to go to the high school where her friends and the special program she is doing are.Family isn't easy. Sometimes we all want to run away, but that isn't how it works. She can come visit us for a break or just because whenever she wants, but I expect her to work things out with her current family.

I really think this is best, and that is the plan I am supporting. My job is to help her make it work, not offer her an escape route because she is quarreling with her family.

But if she needs a home? She is a part of our family too. We would do what we need to do.

Although I do want to tell you that when I think of that I don't have the excited feeling that I used to have when I contemplated previous kids. It is more, as Thorn said once, "I don't really feel up to it, but if that's what she needs, we will do it."

UPDATE: Helen is here, doing homework at the work study station. She has piles to do and will probably be busy at it all weekend.

And her placement is over, as in disrupted. She has things with her for the weekend, and her worker is trying to find her a new place now. We have not been officially asked. We may not be because it is understood that it would be better for her to stay in her school district, near her church, etc. There is of course the little issue of her not yet being in the program I am licensed in. (My file is closed, but until May I can be re-licensed by having it opened.) I did however tell the worker who brought her that Andrew's room is empty until Thanksgiving.

I have decided that I am not going to ask Roland if we should offer for her. I will just let him know what the situation is and let him do the math.

I expect that if they can't find a home in her school district, they will ask us.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another reason I like my husband

The thing about Roland that bothers me the most is his tendency to only remember whatever was immediately necessary for him. This means that I can be talking about something for any length of time, but if the information doesn't change his life or require a decision from him, he just doesn't remember.

Take for instance the issue of my hair. About 15 years ago my sister pointed out to me that my hair was thinning. She is also the person who noticed my first grey hair when I was 18, but that really isn't relevant. In any case, once I noticed, I was bothered. I went to the dermatologist who gave me a couple of options. After eliminating a couple of them it came down to two: hormones or spironolactone,  a diuretic that also somehow interferes with testosterone. It is taken by women with female-pattern baldness and male to female transsexuals. I chose it, and the results were not fantastic, but it was good enough.

Now, I am pretty sure that during this time I said things to Roland like, "this diuretic won't work as well, but if I never took hormones for birth control, it seems silly to take them for hair." I am sure that I did, because over the years I have debated whether I should use them. Last year when I went on hormone treatment for 3 months I was very interested in whether it would make  difference to my hair. (It didn't, but the dosage was very low). 

Anyway, now I am older and my natural estrogen levels are falling. I don't think I have hot flashes. (This is not simple because I have always been the sort of person who tended to sweat a lot when she gets hot. Now it is easy to attribute them to The Change.) I don't mood swings or anything like that. I am however, losing hair again. It's been getting worse for a while, and well, it is just got to be unacceptable. So I have been debating whether to take hormones. I float the idea past people who I know would normally be cautious or even opposed to hormone treatment. They glance at my head, look uncomfortable, and say something that sounds like, "This is your HAIR. Bald women look ridiculous. Of course you should take hormones!"  Of course the words they say are more like, "I learned a long time ago to never say never" but that isn't what I hear.

Of course, since I was fishing for an opinion, I can't be upset about it.

I guess I feel like if enough people tell me that taking hormones for what will certainly be for as long as I want to have hair (15 years?) doesn't mean that I am a vain woman willing to take unreasonable risks with my health, then I won't feel bad about doing it. There is however one other option: head coverings. I ran it by Roland 15 years ago and he vetoed it promptly. No, he did not think that it would be a good idea to wear scarves, bandannas, and hats all the time. Modern medicine existed for a reason. Take the pills. 

I have been talking about going back to the dermatologist, and about whether I would take the hormones, for some time. Yesterday I went to Roland and said I wanted his opinion: hormones or scarves?


"No. Scarvvves. For my head. I could cover my hair instead of taking hormones."

"HORMONES? What, you mean like testosterone? What would that do to you?"

"No, I mean like estrogen. It should make my hair grow. Since you have to look at me, I just thought I would ask you. Which do you prefer: hormones or scarves?"

Of course he denied that he had ever heard me even mention that I might take hormones. Of course I did not argue with him about that. After 25 years there are some arguments you can just not bother to have. He said he didn't know, would I have side-effects? I said I didn't know yet. He said that I should probably talk to the dermatologist before deciding. He assured me he would love me either way, which I told him I had already assumed.

Later he found me and asked if there weren't serious risks in hormone therapy. He knows he heard about that. I told him that the risk for individual women was really very low, but that it was a big issue a while back because so many women were on them and they weren't getting any benefit. He said okay.

He found me again later and looked agitated. He said, "If there is any risk at all, I mean ANY, if the hormones would make you uncomfortable, or even if they would make your breasts tender, it is not worth it. You can buy wigs, or lots of pretty scarves, whatever you want, just don't risk your health for hair."

And I realized that was the answer I wanted from him.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This is a fine mess

So, Gary had planned to change both his first and last name. Because of a lack of communication and the last minute scheduling only his first name was changed at the time of the adoption. Because I could show that I had emailed the lawyer about the change, he is trying to fix it without our having to go through the standard name change process. (He didn't get my email because he changed his email address, and did not inform me. He also didn't set up the old to send notification to him or people who emailed him. He didn't even just turn the blasted thing off so I would get a bounce-back message). Anyway, we are in the in between place where Gary has his new first name but his old last name.

We are hoping that in a matter of weeks both of Gary's names will be change.

But here is the complicated bit (yeah, the stuff above was simple). The adoption order does not have Gary's original name on it. It does for the older boys because they were adults. Gary however was 8 days shy of his 18th birthday. This means he was officially adopted as a minor and only his new name is used in the document. After all, the state has a vested interest in keeping adoptees' histories in the dark.

In short we don't have any way to demonstrate that he is the same person.

This would not all that significant if he were, say two. If he were two he wouldn't have got a driver's permit in his previous name. He passed his driver's test this week and he went to the DMV to get his license. They pointed out that the adoption order in no way indicated that he was the person who had been adopted. They have him a driver's license in his previous name.

Which would be a little less complicated if he hadn't got a part time job and started receiving pay checks in his current name. And of course soon we hope he will have a third name.

I'm going to try to talk to the lawyer on Monday, and see what we can do.