After Action Report
I don't think we'll be doing foster care for the foreseeable future. We have enough of our own problems right now...though I have hope that The Wife and I can work through them. "Pixie" was our last foster child for awhile, though. And I hope "Pixie" the best, and last heard she's doing better in her family environment. I've heard mixed results on the others we tried so hard and sunk our lives into so deeply. Some have been good. I hope we had a hand in that. Some have done not-so-good. I hope we didn't make their situation worse.
We might do foster care again...but I don't think it will be at least for another couple of years. So let's consider this a MAJOR hiatus. I'll continue this blog if such time comes as it makes sense. Until then, I'll be focusing on my own child. Panda. And The Wife. That's all that matters now.
Yeah, I haven't been posting in awhile. Nothing to post, at least foster-related. We're on a sabbatical from fostering. The good news is, I am currently in week 5 of my last 8-week course for special ed. I'll be taking a break after that from school to build up some more money to finish, but the only thing that will be left is a semester of student teaching. And then I'll be eligible to be a teacher. Special Ed, Emotional and Behavioral disorders. I fully expect that the first words out of my first student's mouth will be "physician, heal thyself". And I guess they'll probably be right, to a degree.
I did give the address for the blog to my current professor, and she claims to be suitably impressed with my archives here. I was inspired to give the address out to my class. I guess I'll see if any of them feel that the hours I've spent dumping my guts into this thing have been worth it...but I know that if I never wrote about another child, perusing the archives and remembering "Angel", "Pixie", and especially "Josie"...well, you can't buy those kinds of feelings with money. Not even in a Las Vegas hotel at 2 in the morning. I HELPED those kids. Whatever mistakes I've made before that or since...with those kids, I was the good guy.
And I think I will be again. I certainly can't promise anything, but within the next year or two perhaps, we may be in a position to reenter the foster wars. Right now our beautiful Panda will be three years old on September 2. We're focusing our energies on making sure that she has everything she needs. Right now, that may include a stick to fight off her grammy's incessant hugs and kisses. But once she's in school and we're moved to a new town (and county and possibly state) and we get a bit settled...well, things could get boring again. And we could get stupid again. And then, of course, the natural thing to do is start fostering again.
I'll never get the need to work with kids out of my blood. Never. Thanks, Mom.
Labels: Mom, Panda, The Wife
Big Change Completed (mostly)
Okay, so we now own and have moved into our new house. There are still some things at the old house, but we could probably get the rest out in one solid day's effort if we had to. I LOVE the new place, and all that remains is to get the old place sold before we go bankrupt making the payments (given our now-lower income). But once the old place is sold, our expenses go lower than my expenses have been since probably the beginning of my career.
I also should mention that "Pixie" is back with us, and has been for a couple of months now. Apparently going home didn't work out as well as hoped, and they placed her back with us to re-try the going home thing. She has been WONDERFUL. She treats Panda so well and Panda and the Puppies love her so much, it's like she really IS part of the family. I can't really detect any sign of any of the usual disorders (ADHD, ODD, etc) and she truly does seem to be a very normal, very likable teen. That's wonderful for us...though it does make for boring writing.
I suppose she does lose points for being a Packer fan while having grown up in Minnesota...but then, nobody's perfect, right? On the other hand, she plays basketball for the school team, so I get to give her coaching advice. I'm currently trying to get her to understand that anything the ref doesn't see isn't a foul, but she seems to be a little slow that way. My philosophy is that if both you and the person guarding you don't walk away with some bruises and maybe a little blood on you, then you didn't leave it all out on the court.
When I start teaching, I'm guessing they probably don't want me to coach basketball. Ah, well.
As planned, the house emptied out of kids at the end of August, and we have been reevaluating things. One thing we've wanted to do is downsize our mortgage...and in my case I'd like to get out completely from under it if we could. Well, turns out The Wife, who earlier was not ready to move, is now sufficiently recovered from our last move 5 years ago to do one more.
When I was looking through the local listings, I noticed two that seemed way too good to be true, at least on paper. I thought about them for a few days, reviewing the listings several times a day and forming my mind's-eye picture of them. I finally broke down and showed them to The Wife, asking her if she would go and see them with me. She's done this dance with me before, and she knows that if I can just get out and see them, she will be able to argue me out of wanting to move again. She agreed to go see them, and we had a showing of each of the two houses on Friday.
The first one turned out to be mostly a dog. One of the "2 bathrooms" was a toilet, sink, and shower in the corner of a basement that even I would have a tough time spending a lot of time in. The Wife probably couldn't even live in the house just knowing that that basement was under her. Sigh. I knew that at the asking price, it was just too good to be what I hoped it would be. On to the next house, which was only slightly more expensive with a smaller yard and very close to the center of our little town.
But a funny thing happened at that showing.
The worst impression I had of the place was the first instant I saw it. I suspect the same was true of The Wife. The more we looked at it, the more we liked it. Huge kitchen, HUGE basement that is unfinished but not at all musty or otherwise distasteful. HUGE 2.5 car garage. HUGE master bedroom, bigger even than the one we have now. Nice room for Panda. As an older (1913, I think) house, it had all kinds of nooks and crannies. Incredible number of windows to let in all sorts of light, just like The Wife likes. Roomy kitchen and dining room, and a living room that might be even a bit bigger than our current one, with an alcove on one wall surrounded by windows. Unkempt but very nice perennial flower beds. Officially 3 bedrooms, but we could pretty easily call it 5. Part of its life was spent as a top/bottom duplex, so there is a kitchenette upstairs complete with cupboards and so on.
It's right across the street from church, across the street from tanning & beauty salon, 2-3 blocks from the video store, Pizza Ranch, Subway and the grocery store. Walking distance from pretty much everything. Corner lot, and couples with small children for neighbors. A small yard, which may make it less ideal for the dogs, but mowing and snow removal will be much easier and there IS room for a run for the dogs as well as a place to set up a play set for Panda.
The price? Slightly less than what our equity would allow us to walk away with after selling our house, paying the realtor and closing costs, and so on.
By the end of the first showing, we were in love. Turned out Mom & Dad were paying us a surprise visit Friday night, so we called and had another showing with them. We fell more in love, and the folks liked it too. We stewed until this morning.
We found a way to get the cash fronted to us until our house sells, and at 11:30 this morning we put in an offer. There is already another offer on the place, and the bigwigs at the local bank (who owns the property) will be considering both offers tomorrow. The other one is contingent on financing and we're offering very close to the asking price (which is a little over 2/3 the assessed value of the property according to county records) so we're feeling pretty good about our chances. We should hear tomorrow afternoon what's going to happen.
We still plan to foster, but it may take a month or two to get the new place into shape for it, get inspections done, etc. It'll be nice that we'll be on city water and not have to worry any more about doing well tests, and it'll be nice for the kids to be living in town where they'll be closer to their friends. Of course, that also makes it easier for teens to sneak out and get into trouble with their friends at night. But all in all, I'm REALLY hoping this goes through. I've been dreaming for many years of living in a house without a mortgage. Looks like this just might be my shot at it.
I've learned a lot about "Marcus" over the last month or so since I've been home. He has absolutely no words, nor seemingly any desire to start using any. His only vocalizations come when he is "stimming" (self-stimulating, which in his case usually involves jumping up and down with his arms raised in mild cases, or loudly shouting "eh!" when he's really cranked up.) He is usually a sweet kid, very affectionate toward both The Wife and me (especially me...his father was his primary caregiver at home), he loves to feel whiskers and has no compunction about feeling the face of any man he happens to meet, he loves spaghetti as I do, he's very gentle with Panda and she loves him.
Nights are not as good as days though, and sometimes they are downright bad...sometimes he seems evil at night to a tired parent who is ready to get some sleep. As I type this, he is peacefully out, but last night we were not so lucky. My first clue that something might not be right was that after listening to the shouted "eh!" for a couple of hours, things were suddenly VERY quiet. TOO quiet. Uh oh. Walking back to his room, I hit a wall of what can only be described as shit-stink. Crud. I jumped over the safety gate that keeps him in his room, and sure enough, he had his hand down the back of his drawers. He looked quickly around guiltily, and equally quickly he pulled his hand out and put it in his mouth.
Nearly retching, I grabbed his hands and kept them both away from his face and his drawers. A look around assured me that there didn't seem to be any "stuff" around on the floor, the dresser, his bed, etc. I carried him into the bathroom. He's between 50 and 60 pounds and this is not a trivial thing, but I was...exercised. Very motivated to try my best to make this a teachable moment if I at all could. Plus I was revolted.
Much, much, MUCH scrubbing later plus a pull-up change, he was fit to try bed again. After an hour or two more of "eh!" he finally fell asleep. The Wife has been very grateful to have me home (she dealt with this stuff alone for a month or two before I lost my over-the-road job) and I don't blame her in the least. I even took care of the kids this morning while she slept in a bit. No, I'm not the Best Husband Ever...quite the opposite sometimes. But I do have my points at times.
Anyway...the episode I describe was one of the milder ones. Except for the eating part...that was a first. But the cleanup wasn't as bad as several of the others. But it had gotten better...and that's what's bothering me, and what has me thinking, and what has me drawing parallels with other kids we've had.
Foster kids generally come to our house, especially in the current climate of the social work pros, with the idea of eventual reunification with their biological family. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is best in almost all circumstances for the child to live with their biological parents. While I can see the impulse in that direction, I disagree...but the other thing is that budgets are under even more than the chronic strain they are used to and let's face it, we are expensive. It's not just the foster care "reimbursement"...there are all the appointments. My Lord. "Marcus" has appointments several days a week, and some of them are over a hundred miles away. Mileage adds up, too. And there are many people involved in his care. Us, his guardian ad litem, the PATH worker, several people from his county, his geneticist, his regular doctor, his dentist, and so on.
All that, I guess, to say this: he has recently begun the "final stretch" of home visits that, if they go well, will pave the way for this reunification. Now let me be clear: his parents clearly love him. They have not abused him, and I'm pretty sure they would do anything they could for this little guy. That's not a problem. What IS a problem is that I really don't know if they are ever going to have what it takes to give this child the care he needs. From what I've seen and heard, it's questionable whether they are the sharpest tools in the shed to begin with, and even a seasoned parent might have trouble with the issues we're faced with daily.
And we were making real headway with "Marcus" before these visits started. He had settled in very gradually but pretty nicely. He was learning new skills (eating by himself with a fork was a big one), going to sleep VERY nicely at the appropriate time, his "stimming" was gradually disappearing, and it was getting easy to love this little guy. Immediately after the home visits started, all the progress we had seen reversed itself. Not completely, but very noticeably so.
This isn't just "Marcus", either, and it's been a problem with nearly all the placements we've had where reunification was a realistic possibility. Long-time readers will recall the issues we had with "Josie" (still one of my favorite foster kids of all time)...those got a LOT worse when the county started to push constant home visits. Same with "Tammy". And the rest.
When I was a kid and it was my folks doing the foster parenting, it was much more usual that there would be a visit every month or two, for a day or two. Now for "Marcus" we (or a PCA) are expected to drive this child an hour one way, wait for 2+ hours and then drive home. As a reward, we get to be kept up for an hour or two while a child yells "eh!" and watch him eat his own poop.
I've been contacted by people who are considering the possibility of being foster parents, asking me what it takes. What it takes, is to read this post and still want to do it. If you think you can handle this stuff, knock yourselves out. We are. But then...some people think we're crazy, and they're probably right. People will think you're crazy too. Be ready for that.
The Great Smoke-Out
Last week, we had a fun incident. "Elaine" decided it would be a great idea to smoke in the bathroom in our basement. This is a bit of a surprise, because we didn't really know her to smoke. Furthermore, we haven't had this problem because when kids insist on smoking, we tend not to make a big deal out of it. We just provide a coffee can on the deck and tell them to keep it out of the house. The Wife has made a specialty of complaining very vocally about how their clothes and hair smell, but we don't forbid it.
It was a little more disturbing in this case in that she pulled "Pixie" into her shenanigans, and 13-year-olds are pretty impressionable, especially when a 16-year-old brings them into their confidence. We do NOT want "Pixie" learning to smoke on our watch.
Well, I've described in the archives many of the projects we have pursued on the way to completing the basement. There are only three left. We need to install a wood stove. I need to put up some shelving in the storage room. Oh my goodness that's right...I also need to finish venting the fan from the bathroom to the outside, instead of into the furnace room as it is now.
"Elaine" wasn't aware that the fan was not fully installed yet. It was not difficult to tell that someone had recently been smoking in the basement, but she steadfastly maintained her innocence to The Wife. Later I broke her by the expedient of warning her that if she had any other smokes she needed to turn them over, or I would be finding hard work for her to do if we found them later.
"Elaine" has pretty much given up on trying to make it work here, and is spending all her time trying to figure out ways she can spend as much of her remaining time as possible at her grandmother's, where it sounds like she can do mostly as she pleases. Recently her grandmother let her go to a concert, where she decided she needed to be in the mosh pit. She got head-butted in her eye, opening a large gash that bled all over her dress. She showed her masterful decision-making ability by staying for the rest of the concert because she didn't want to miss the last band, presumably bleeding all over herself and everybody else for an extended period of time before going to the hospital and getting three stitches.
That one will boomerang out of her grandma's and back to either residential or foster care again...I just hope nobody gets hurt in the process....especially "Elaine" herself. There's a lot of good stuff in that one...she just needs the structure that apparently the powers that be aren't willing to provide for her at this point. Seems like kids need to be at least 90% wrecked before someone notices that maybe they're not in the best situation and gets around to helping them for real.
Time With "Elaine"
I had to take "Pixie" to town to an appointment and "Elaine" decided to tag along. I didn't mind...I like both of these kids a lot and it was a good chance to spend some time being the dad.
We dropped off "Pixie", and along the same block were several shops. A thrift shop, a couple of antique places and so forth. It's a tourist town. So we decided to just browse some.
Let me first of all say that I strongly resent finding a Kiss album in an "antique" shop. Okay, so it was vinyl. But "Love Gun", while it may be a classic, is certainly not antique. Ditto for Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet". For cripe's sake, people! These guys are still doing concerts! Though, it wouldn't surprise me if one or two of the Kiss guys take geritol...
Anyway, after taking "Elaine's" jokes at my expense and having a generally good time poking fun at some of the old stuff together, and after her being a good sport and going into a book shop with me, I let her drag me into a teen fashion place. We tried on glasses...I don't think I would make a good-looking teen girl, by the look of me in those glasses. She had a fit over some "Boyfriend Watches" that were labeled "Trend Alert!" Personally, I don't think I have a use for a watch that has a "jelly band", whatever THAT means. As we left, the only other male in the place was leaving too, with what looked like his wife and little girl. He looked at me and muttered "was that as much fun for you as it was for me?"
While I'm guessing that I felt about the place about like he did, in my case it was totally worth it. It's important, if you want to develop a good relationship with a kid, to sometimes do things that the kid wants to do, and to at least ACT like you're having a good time. They know well enough that you're not going to have as good a time as them, but they tend to appreciate the effort, and it ties you together. It also makes it easier for them to feel like they really should do things with you that they DON'T want so much to do if they know that maybe next time there will be something in it for them.
Give and take. Sharing things. Building relationships. Those are, after all, the things that we wanted to get out of fostering, yes?