Tuesday, January 31, 2006

After-Action Report

One of two things happened last night. Either the phone cutoff worked even better than we had hoped, disrupting enemy communications and ultimately scuttling their plans, or else the enemy never really had a plan, we're paranoid and we're jumping at shadows. I choose to believe the former. You may believe whatever you like...it's a free country.

I sat in the living room ready to pounce. I felt like a little kid waiting up for Santa. Every sound was transmogrified in my mind to a step in the hall. I was rehearsing my grounding speech to myself, coming up with witty little ways to rub in that we would have her under our thumb for two more weeks. I was having fun. And then the little shit doesn't even have the decency and integrity to come through for me. Of all the nerve. I finally went to bed at about 2, having used up my entire allotment of enthusiam for the enterprise.

Anyway, security measures will be tightening up around here, that's for sure. Because even though nothing ended up happening last night, that's not the only night I'll be setting traps and sitting up waiting for my chance to grandstand.

Keystroke recorder is on the computer and functional, soon to be joined by its friend Mr. Family Friendly Content Filter. Motion-activated cameras are under investigation and will likely be purchased when funds allow. Two would be nice, three would be better. Preferably aimed at the outsides of all the entrances to the house to record the time and manner of all nocturnal departures and arrivals.

I would have made a great third-world marxist dictator.

Anyway, the girl is safe for now. I have supreme confidence in my prospects to make a bust sooner or later. All in good time, my dear.

UPDATE: I am exhibiting worrisome behaviors today because of this situation. It will start by a little chuckling to myself, then progress to out-loud chortling. Once or twice today, and again just now, it went on to out-loud laughing to (and at) myself, and I finally had to share this with you when, not 5 minutes ago, I thought of "Josie" walking Willy (our Chow-mix mutt) and cackled out loud "I'll get you, my little pretty, and your little dog, too!"

I know my coworkers sometimes worry about me. I wish I could explain to them that it's simply a case of an overactive imagination and I'll really be okay, but when I open my mouth something else completely ridiculous comes flying out. There are people like me who make a very good living writing and saying ridiculous things. I need to figure out how to harness this. It could be a gold mine.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Tactical Bulletin

Sssshhhhh. Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. We'we gonna catch us a juveniwe dewinquent.

Okay, I've shaken off my earlier pseudo-depression, and The Wife has come through with a bit of fun. Her mother-radar has been twitching a lot tonight, and she thinks something is brewing. After reviewing various bits of evidence, I have to agree.

Exhibit 1: sure, teenage girls do their hair up pretty for no reason. They also do their hair if they plan on being seen by a boy...particularly one they like.

Exhibit 2: she's been sweet as pie tonight, and laid very, VERY low the whole evening. We haven't let on that we noticed, but oh, BOY have we noticed. She thinks we're dumb and unobservant. This is good. We're freakin' COUNTING on this.

Exhibit 3: she went to bed and The Wife shut her door. This would cause her to have to make more noise if she stirs. She does NOT shut the door all the way most nights, and I would have expected her to open it at some point. I just checked, and this has not happened. Could be she was planning on making a call tonight with the phone described in exhibit 6?

Exhibit 5: the snotnose called tonight. Twice. She went in her room and shut the door to talk to him. I'm pretty sure she thinks we didn't notice. Bwahahahahaha!

Exhibit 6: "Josie" kept the phone in her room after talking to the snotnose. Snotnose. I like that. So he shall be called from this point forward in this venue, until such time as he exits the scene or stops being one.

Countermeasures in place and deployed.

Countermeasure 1: phones are already in the bedroom with The Wife. She went to bed maybe 45 minutes ago, notifying me that the phone "Josie" has in her room will most assuredly NOT ring after 10. Nor will she be calling anybody to tell them the coast is clear (which is good, because it isn't.) I can only assume the plug to the base has already been pulled.

Countermeasure 2: I shall be playing around on the computer for perhaps another half-hour and then make a point of treading heavily on my way back to our room, right by her door. I will tread somewhat less heavily 5 minutes (or less) later when I sneak back out. I haven't decided yet if I'm going on that walk I spoke of earlier, but it would be fun to walk up as she's getting into the car and ask her to accompany me back to the house so I can tuck her in better, since she seems to have shaken loose. At the least, I can loudly greet her when she walks into the living room on her way to the door and announce her new grounding.

Countermeasure 3: failing the above, The Wife took the precaution of making sure all Josie's outdoor shoes are in our room except for a pair of very uncomfortable boots. If she gets out, at least it won't be comfortable.

Countermeasure 4: I am about to tape pieces of dental floss across the bases of the doors before I go to bed, to be checked in the morning first thing when we get up, if we haven't been successful before them. If I go outside to wait awhile, I shall be carefully retaping the one on the door I use.

This girl has no idea who she's fooling with. We are motivated, people. This is fun.

Tune in for the after-action debriefing tomorrow night.

Malaise Before Confrontation

I'm alternately poking listlessly through my favorite web sites and gazing out the window into the darkness tonight. A light breeze is shifting the tree skeletons in a discreet death-dance of sorts, a few flakes of snow are skirling along the yard, and the lightpost on the road stands watch over whatever might be moving out there. I may take a walk later to see if I can catch a glimpse of any rabbits or deer and share the night with them a bit.

"Josie's" lies have me down for the moment, and a little out of sorts as I try to pick up the thread of the right way to take care of it. It would be so much easier if I didn't care so much for this girl. I could just smile and look the other way while she goes out and ruts in the back seat of her pimple-faced, cheating little scummy boyfriend. If she gets "a little bit preggers" as my godmother used to say, well, wouldn't that be just too bad.

But I can't do that. She has so much potential, and all around her is a vacuum of potential. I need to find a way to hold a mirror up to her that actually makes her see the reflection properly. All the talents she has, and all the possible futures she could realize for herself. Instead, right now, she has drug addicts/dealers, drunks who sit in the bar all night and people who scratch out a living with neither the will nor the gifts to strive for better as her role models.

Our meeting with "Josie", social workers et al is set for 5 on Thursday...that night's blog entry should be as interesting to me as it might be to you. I plan on laying at least some small statement of our state of mind on the table. A declaration of war of sorts, I suppose. It will become known to "Josie", in front of her mother and those who are molding her future, that we know she's been lying, it will stop, and there will be further cutbacks on her contacts with her old life.

Oh, she won't like it. She'll most likely hate me in a deep and personal way...hopefully only at first. She's had a Minnesota-weather attitude lately, turning from sulking and muttering R-rated strings of cuss words under her breath one moment, and the next offering to help clean things up with a sunny smile on her face. I hope it'll be like that.

But if it isn't, then I guess that's just my tough luck. Because while this girl may very well fail herself in the end, I cannot and will not allow myself to fail her because it's uncomfortable to have her mad at me. I don't recall a single time I ever detected a hint of that kind of cowardice in my mother when she was fostering, and I won't allow that kind of cowardice to affect my performance in this job. It's too important.

Still, when I'm out walking among the deer and rabbits, doubts creep in. I suppose it's okay out there though, as long as I don't bring it back in the house with me.

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I knew it would happen. It's as predictable as the Vikings not winning the Superbowl. And yet, somehow, like the Vikings not winning the Superbowl, it hurts, frustrates, and even shocks a little.

It wouldn't even be that bad except that as you can probably tell, I've gotten pretty attached to "Josie" already, and I guess I was rooting for a grand slam on the first swing of our first at-bat. Alas, it's not to be. The extent of the untruths she's perpetrated on us is somewhat greater than we had originally thought.

We've had some feelers out the last couple of days to see what we could dig up, plus we did a little sleuthing of our own, and it turns out she's more sexually active than we'd hoped, plus she's basically just plain lying to us on occasions when we didn't realize it. Now comes the tough part. How to play it.

That all depends on how she feels about us, and that's a little tough to gauge at this point. If I knew she was getting attached to us, I would go with the straight-up, honest, I'm-hurt approach. That can be very effective at shaming a kid into compliance. But I don't know that she's there yet. If not, then we might just confront her with a "we're not hurt, but we know what you did and we're not going to take it" thing. Or, for dramatic effect, we could wait for her upcoming roundtable update and unveil some or all of our knowledge there in front of her, her mother and her social workers, and angle for an outright ban from her PO and the social workers on seeing her old friends at all. The shock value there would be incredible, and she would really be wondering what our sources were.

That last would be harsh, but on the other hand as The Wife commented when we were discussing it today, in some ways it may have been better for her not to be placed locally, just to get her out of the grip of her friends. Some of them are completely okay, and "Josie" is definitely okay on her own or with the right people, but she's VERY susceptible to peer pressure, and she seems to have a problem with the muscles that keep her legs together when she's within a certain radius of her boyfriend. Oh, did I mention he's going steady with someone else?

Can anybody tell me what punishment God would give to somebody that arranged for a girl to find out her boyfriend is cheating on her? Because while I know my place is to stay out of it, I have that option in my grasp right now, and oh BOY is it tempting. Do you think He'd damn me to hell for all eternity, or would that be more of a 10-years-in-purgatory sort of infraction?

You see, the little bas***d called our house at 3am this morning. That's what launched our little crusade, and my desire for his humiliating and final downfall. No more. "Josie" isn't yet aware that we're going to be collecting the cell phone and the one cordless handset onto our end tables when we go to bed, and the handset she's been sneaking, well, the base is by our bed and it just won't be plugged in. Funny how that works. Yep, Mr. boyfriend is going to be hearing a male voice the next time he calls in the middle of the night, and that voice is going to be saying "okay, who's calling in the middle of the night, please?". I love this stuff. But how far should I take it?

Better not to take a chance on direct involvement, I suppose...it could probably boomerang on me or "Josie" too easily. He'll get what's coming to him one way or another, as cheaters and scumbags always do. Best if it's not by my hand. At least directly.

Now if you'll excuse me, it's bedtime, and I must collect phones. Heh.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Foster Babysitting

We have this weekend off from volunteering at the Humane Society. However, a lady we know from church and her two teenage boys (yeesh) are the recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house, and this is move-in weekend. Last night we began helping them move their stuff to the new house while "Josie" was on a church youth group skiing trip. Today, "Josie" had an approved visit with her mother, and we went to help finish the move. The excitement started when we came home, a little tired but feeling great about helping this nice lady realize her dream for her kids.

The phone ring, and from the other room I heard one end of the conversation. It was quite clear to me from the get-go that "Josie" had had an epiphany of how she absolutely had to spend tonight. Of course, it was vastly different from what the approved plan had been.

As it turned out, a neighbor of her mother needed a babysitter for her 3-year-old tonight. "Josie" wanted to babysit. "Josie's" mother was very uneasy about the thing. The Wife and I didn't want to give her a ride home at midnight or later, and we're still uneasy about her spending a weekend night alone and unsupervised. Her decision-making skills are marginal (though I think improving) and we had all sorts of visions dancing in our heads with that boyfriend still lurking out there in the shadows.

There were several calls, much sulking, and the way it ends up is that there is now a 3-year-old sleeping in the trundle bed that usually is tucked under "Josie's" bed. Yes, that's right. We are currently foster-babysitting.

Oh, dear, how many questions this raises. Who is this mother? We never spoke with her. How can a mother let her 3-year-old spend the night in a house she's never visited that belongs to people she's never met? What is "Josie's" motivation in keeping on with the babysitting thing after it was clear she wouldn't get away with having friends over while doing it? What are our motivations for allowing it, and why are we enjoying it so much?

Doesn't matter much, I suppose. "Josie" is still under our thumb (good and tight), we have the pleasure of the company of a fascinating little girl for a night who looks absolutely dashing in a spaghetti-sauce facial, and it's more experience gained for all concerned...including a reminder to "Josie" about responsibility and the "joys" of motherhood. I do have to say the girl is really good with kids, though.

This is the life we've chosen for ourselves. Absolutely no regrets up to this point. Quite the opposite. These are the best days of our lives. Now I'm sure of it.

New Prospects

Yesterday, I went home at lunch to meet a family. Namely, a mother and her two beautiful children, a 3-year-old girl and a 5-month-old boy.

Apparently, the father is in prison for at least the next year and a half. I'm sure there's a whole saga behind that sentence, but that sentence is all I know about that facet of the situation at this point.

Nobody was here yet when I arrived from work. Shortly after, "Vicki" appeared, and we caught up on events relating to "Josie". In this conversation I heard things The Wife had forgotten to mention along the way, like the fact that word on the street--including among "Josie's" peers and school staff--is that she's doing really well since she started to live here. Talk about a warm feeling of accomplishment. Some other small talk, and then another car appeared, driven by a county social worker we hadn't met and bearing the woman and her two children.

It was love at first sight. Between The Wife and the new kids, between the kids and the dogs and cats, and between pretty much everyone and everyone else, come to that. It all went very well. We formed a circle in the living room and everybody took a turn telling their story. The Wife gave a tour of the house to the new social worker and the family while I pumped "Vickie" for additional information.

The long and the short of it is that this woman, no more than a girl, really, as we estimate she's between 18 and 20, needs respite care one weekend a month. Glorified babysitting, really. Pardon us for thinking there's more to it than that. See, we checked our network and found that this particular county social worker is actually a Child Protection Services (CPS) specialist. There are definitely issues here we're not being informed of, and we're not appreciating it too much at this point...but for now we're going to give them the befit of the doubt that they have their reasons for not mentioning the deeper issues here. We'll find out in time, I suppose, if we get the assignment.

Of course, this necessitated another google session on adoption last night. A hazard of being willing to foster little ones, I suppose. Anyway, if we do this, it will be a great introduction to actually fostering infants and toddlers. A sort of gut check if we can actually do it without being torn up inside too bad when we have to let go. If we can't do it for a weekend a month, no way will we be able to do it for months at a time.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Another Day

In some ways, I have an idyllic life. I live in a largish house a couple miles outside a small town on our very own acre in the woods. In summer you can hardly tell we have neighbors because of the incredible thatch of undergrowth in the trees. We have a large, busy, recreational lake about a quarter mile in one direction and a smaller, more laid-back lake about a quarter mile in the other (on which we have a share of a lot where we can put in a dock and boat if we so desire). There's great shopping 20 minutes away with everything you could ask for, there are resorts around all over the place and yet there's a slower, small-town kind of pace people follow that I find very familiar from my childhood and very comforting.

My drive from work leads me through a (very) small town and down a highway about 6 miles or so along the shore of aforesaid large lake until about a quarter-mile from my house where I turn off. I enjoy that drive immensely, especially in winter when I often work until after dark. The lights across the lake glitter like a crowd of distant angels, especially when I get closer to my turn and see another town up ahead, built up the side of the hill and shining lights every inch of the way.

Tonight, just when I was getting ready to go home, I got a call from The Wife inquiring if I would please pick up a friend of "Josie's", who lives in the little town where I work, and bring her out for a visit. Somebody else would come out and pick her up later, so I wouldn't have to drive her home. Why not?

I'll tell you why not. Because she turned out to be a very nice girl, but seemed really shy. As it happens, I'm not much of a conversationalist with people I don't know at all. My gambits were used up after I had asked her what grade she was in and what school she went to. She never even threw me a bone. I sweated all the way back home trying to think of something so that I could come off as this cool guy who's "Josie's" foster dad, and the best I could do is "boy, I really like your school". I am the lamest man I've ever known.

Still, it's small price to pay for the look on "Josie's" face when she saw her friend. What a smile that girl has. I doubt she'll ever know how much she's coming to mean to The Wife and I.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I Am One and I Want One

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

Take the Which Sports Car Are You? quiz.

Conflictedness, Spy Network, Etc.

I feel trouble coming in the situation with "Josie". The social workers want reunification with her family, basically meaning her mother. She does too. So do we.

On the flipside, her mother wants to sit at the bar and spend time there and elsewhere with her new boyfriend. The latest news is that she's planning on selling her house and shacking up with him, though I don't have that yet from a source I consider reliable. Further, "Josie" gets in trouble when she goes to visit mom. Every. Single. Time. Hence, we are currently under orders not to allow home visits unless approved by her PO.

Of course, this makes us the bad guy when we say no. "Josie" doesn't let us off easy, either, asking at least once every day or two for us to break or bend the rule in some fashion or other, and I bent it tonight by swinging by and letting her run in and visit for a couple minutes. I was actually nervous she'd catch them doing something they shouldn't be, but the idea actually pleased me in a way too since she needs to be reminded that that environment isn't going to help her straighten out at all.

On another note, our spy network is improving by leaps and bounds. We now have several kids insinuated into "Josie's" life that are likely to inform on her, and one has already passed on useful information. Oh, the intrigue! I'd better not say any more on that subject right now. I don't want to burn any good sources.

My mom's network amazed me. I wasn't supposed to cross the train tracks in my hometown when I was a kid. Once I did, for about 10 minutes, to stop at a friend's house. Then I went straight home, which took about 10 minutes. Mom was waiting in the kitchen for me with her boxing gloves on and fire in her eyes. Holy crap, but that woman was good. I never did find out who the rat was that time. Of course, now that I don't care if she knows where I am or what I'm doing, she doesn't seem to particularly care where I'm at or what I'm doing at any given time. Life's funny like that.

Finally, a personal to loredana: email me. You are apparently not loredana anymore, and I have something to send you.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Tiredliness and Fatiguehood

I feel deeply whipped tonight. Worked late, the office was cold all day, got a customers' project put to bed (finally), and I just want to sleep.

"Josie" is off grounding and went to a basketball game tonight. She screwed up, but only mildly. Enough to tick me off, but not enough to slap another grounding on. She's very, very adept at walking that line. It's like a sport with her. Sigh.

And now, if you'll excuse me after such a pitifully short and uninteresting effort, there's a dog looking at me. I think she wants her tummy rubbed, and in this house she's a full member of the family too.


Monday, January 23, 2006

Careful What You Ask For

Yesterday, The Wife and I took our Little Darling to church for moral, religious and cultural brainwashing instruction. There, we saw one of the church elders give the sermon instead of the regular pastor, who will be leaving the church in a few months.

I know this man, as I attended a Bible study with him. It did not surprise me that he gave the sermon in the form of a Power Point presentation. The man is chief operating officer at perhaps the most successful business in town, and the boy is all business.

Anyway, as part of his sermon he offered us an anecdote from his past. He had had his family settled in one town, and he had landed a job in another town. His solution was that he would commute, but he rapidly found (unsurprisingly) that that was a bad state of affairs. He finally took it to God and prayed that he could sell his house and move his family to live with him. The house sold the next day.

This morning, The Wife (unbeknownst to me) took our problems to that same impulsive God. We have decided that we need to have children, one way or another and the sooner the better. She went and shot her mouth off to Him that we would like them soon, please.


"Hi, this is 'Vicki' from PATH calling. How would you guys like to do respite care one weekend a month for a 6-month-old and a 3-year-old?"

We meet with their biological mother on Friday, presumably to see if she approves of us. I know nothing more of the matter, but it strikes me as a door opening. This is kind of like a test run, and if it turns out that PATH feels they can shuttle small children our way and it will work out well, we'll get more opportunities to find a child or two that have nowhere else to go.

If that happens often enough in the next couple of years, we may find ourselves with a real family of our own at long last.

Scary. And wonderful to think about.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Stephen King

About 5 minutes ago, I finished reading It, by Stephen King. I first read this book in about January 1990, right after reading The Stand, also by Stephen King. Since that time, It has been my favorite book and The Stand a close second. They're both very large books (my hardcover copy of It runs to 1138 pages and The Stand a similar number), but I've read each of them perhaps six or eight times since then.

The miniseries for each was done well enough to convey an accurate tone of the work, but neither came close to including enough detail to be really good, and they combined totally separate events enough to change the meaning and general flow of the story. I hate that. If you liked the video version of these stories, read the books, I beg you. You won't be sorry.

My fascination with Stephen King absolutely confounds my mother, whose only brush with his work ('Salem's Lot) has her imagining vampires floating outside the second-story window of her bedroom in our old house to this day. She's not alone. Many people may understand why I might want to read horror novels, but few can comprehend why I might be so enthusiastic about what are "only" horror stories.

That's the point. They're not "only" horror stories...horror is just the medium that Steve works in. There are great artists with exquisite minds that "only" do cartoons when they could be world-renowned painters. There are world-class atheletes that "only" run a marathon once a year and otherwise just train on their own when they have the ability to be a star in one major sport or another and be millionaires. There are world-class computer programmers that work for insurance companies or banks when they could make high six figures or better inventing the next Microsoft Word.

It is about a monster masquerading as a clown. But it's about so much more than that. It's about friendship, especially those you have when you're in childhood. It's about the attachment people have to their hometown. There are elements in there about childhood crushes and how sometimes they're not just childhood crushes. Small-town politics and history. New England culture. The 50s. Rock and roll. Schoolyard social dynamics. Philosophical statements about the circle of life. Examinations of racism. Power relationships between people and cops, kids and their parents, girls and the guys who love them, guys and the girls who love them, and bullies and the bullied.

Over the years, my mother has twisted the English language to the point where she has her own unique dialect. She has made-up words in there as well as made-up ways to use actual words. I always loved the way she talks in her own unique little patois. Steve does the same thing in parts of It . Just don't tell Mom I compared her to Stephen King, or she might make Dad cut me out of the will.

I've always had an afinity for stories about close-knit groups of friends...there's a lot of that in The Stand, too. I had a very tight group of friends when I was about the age of the kids in It. I had another group just after that through junior high and high school, and I had the very best friends of my life when I was in college. I haven't had many close friends since then...but I still get together fairly regularly with those college friends, and I host a yearly get-together at the lake cabin (except this last year, when the move sort of blew our lives out of the water for awhile). The Wife happens to be one of those friends. I'd obviously die for her if I had to...but if I had to make a snap judgement on the spur of the moment, it wouldn't surprise me if I'd choose to die to save any one of those other friends, either. True friendship is such a rare thing that when you have it, you don't let go. You just don't, if you have a brain.

This last reading of It hit me especially hard because I've so recently had a personal "awakening" and changed my life around so completely. As recently as 1999, I didn't feel like I had a lot to live for. Things have been getting steadily better since then (especially in the last 2 years or so), to the point where now I have a huge Desire for life. That Desire is a point Steve rams home again and again and again in It. Desire, love, and wanting to "come out of the black and into the blue". That's what I've done and am doing.

That's why some of my posts have a tone of optimism that's almost silly. Starting in about 1990 I went out of the blue and down into the black--deeply at times--and then almost a decade later reversed it. After you've been through a lot of bad things and then manage to pull yourself out of it and into a good, deeply satisfying life, I think you're entitled to a little goofy optimism. Great things can and sometimes do happen.

The question isn't why I would like an author who examines these types of things, but rather how could I possibly not love his work?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Time to Tighten the Ship?

So tonight we were scheduled to work a shift at the Humane Society. The usual thing...swabbing out kennels, feeding and walking the dogs, and so forth. As an aside, I'm pretty sure Hunter, a yellow lab who is close to the longest-running tenant of the local Humane Society, is getting a little warped and may be getting to the unadoptable point...but that's neither here nor there in the current discussion.

Anyway, just as we were starting to think about getting ready, "Josie" asks if her mother could pick her up and they could have dinner together, and then her mother could drop her off at the Humane Society when they were finished. Whatever.

It went as planned, and when we were done "Josie" showed me a free movie rental she had gotten someplace (her mom? Her mom's boyfriend? Who cares...free is free) and could we pleeeeeeeez use it tonight? Whatever.

However, my gut is acting up tonight, so I beg off going into the store, and send "Josie" and The Wife in to pick whatever they want. They come out a few minutes later and we go home. All is good, though I didn't get that Going Home feeling I got last night and wrote about earlier.

So they watched the movie while I dealt with my stomach issue.

I was on the computer when the movie finished and "Josie" came in all sparkly-eyed and apple-cheeked. "It was a reeeeeeely great movie! There was blood and gore everywhere! It was the scariest movie I've seen in a reeeeeeely long time!"

Mom would most definitely not be proud. The girl is fairly mature and she won't get nightmares or anything like that, but we probably should be trying to steer things in another direction, I think, and we're getting lazy. I suspect it's now time to tighten it up a little.

Date With My Ladies

(SPOILER ALERT for movie "The Ringer". You've been warned.)

I generally post in the evenings (on those days when I have the time and feel I have something postworthy, or when I just feel like bloviating a little) but last night I had a social engagement. Stop laughing. I do too have a social life.

Anyway, "Josie" and The Wife decided before I got home from work that I would be taking them to the movies. (Any single non-fathers should understand as soon as possible that once you say "I do", you are basically handing your new wife the keys to your social life, and she'll be driving from there on. Oh, she'll let you drive once in awhile, but she's the main chauffer.) We checked the listings and decided on "The Ringer", simply because fixing the special olympics sounded like a hilarious plot.

This was a well-done movie. Many of the atheletes really were retarded. I know the term "retarded" has fallen out of vogue, but it used to be okay until "mentally challenged" or "mentally impaired" took over, and I'm not a very PC person...besides which they're often referred to as the even less-PC "tards" in the movie itself, so there. Anyway, there were a lot of running jokes with certain characters focusing on a retarded person's often uncanny ability to remember things and often annoying inability to forget them. There were hilarious scenes, heart-warming scenes, and heartbreaking scenes. As "Jeffy" procedes through the special olympics, he grows attached to the atheletes and falls in love with one of the volunteers.

The upshot is that by the end, "Jeffy"/Steve has himself a whole new bunch of friends and a new career working with them. It would actually be a pretty good life, and not too far from the life The Wife enjoyed before I came along and wrecked everything.

You see, she worked with retarded people for a long, long time. She loved many of them and valued them as friends. She still does. She really seemed to like this movie, and thought (as I did) that the representation of retarded people was mostly fair, positive, and delightfully funny. ( One lady I overheard in the parking lot afterward was less impressive: "That whole movie had funnyness". No, a quick look made me believe she wasn't retarded.)

I was amused to note that "Josie" couldn't bring herself to sit next to me on our date, even though there was a seat there. It would have really been a treat for me to have The Wife on one side and "Josie" on the other...but alas, when you're 15, you have to at least give the appearance of some sort of indepedence. She sat a row ahead of me.

Of course, her illusion was spoiled a bit by the fact that she kept reaching back to us to get the popcorn...but I remember how it is at that age. I didn't want to be seen with my own parents when I didn't have to be, either. Oh, how my folks and their friends must have laughed. Just like I did to myself last night.

But then she asked to stop by McDonald's on our way home, and we did, and then headed home. It was a nice homecoming for me, and provided a perfect time to reflect on how new and different this life is than the one I was leading just a year ago. It's amazing. New job, new town, new house, new friends, new blog, new everything. And every single bit of it is delicious.

I feel like I finally started living when I married The Wife after living in a cocoon for a dozen years.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


Tonight, The Wife took the Little Darling to a women's thing. By that, I mean some kind of makeup or kitchenware or some other hideously feminine gathering where the atmospheric estrogen level is too high for a man whose name isn't Michael Jackson to want to get mixed up in it. As a result, I had a Boy's Night In.

Ahhhh. Played with my snowblower, listened to 80s music (Bon Jovi's "On the Edge of a Broken Heart" currently playing), computer strategy games, and soon a little reading. Then perhaps a little ice cream and an early bedtime.

Life is good. Also a lot different than a decade or so ago.

UPDATE: Sorry, it wasn't makeup or kitchenware, it was a stamping party. Eh, they're all basically femswarms. In my view, men who are wise will allow them to happen (like they could be stopped), but avoid them when possible.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

So You Want to Be a Foster Parent

Do you have what it takes? A good question, and everybody thinking about providing foster care will have to answer it in their own way, but there are some bare minimums that must be met and hard realities you must face before you even think of abusing yourself, your family and your house this way.

First, you'll want to read everything you can get your hands on, to find out as much as you can about how the system works and what some people have to say...this blog is one such resource, though it doesn't have a huge store of case studies or anything. Yet. The Wife and I got to mostly skip this step, given my lifelong experience in my parents' house and The Wife's license in social work. We had our eyes wide open coming into this, and in that we were a step ahead of a lot of would-be foster parents.

Can you handle it if a child kills themself in your bathroom? This has never happened to us or to my folks, but it very well could if we stick with it long enough. Could you live with that?

Could you live with it if a troubled foster child killed a family pet? How about if they had an "episode" and threw your TV through your picture window? These again are unlikely to happen, but there's no guaranteeing we'll be able to keep it from happening sometime.

Are you ready to "take the bull by the horns" and do whatever it takes for your kids to get the medical, mental, scholastic or whatever other help they need? Nobody will hold your hand. You'll have to make calls, then more calls, and then a couple more to get the right people on the phone and arrange whatever's necessary. It's a 10-mile-wide strip of bureaucratic red tape (double-side-sticky). You've never seen anything like it unless you've been in the military.

Can you keep accurate records? Without The Wife I'd be lost here. She's FANTASTIC at that. Me, not so much.

Are you ready to spend most of your compensation for fostering on the kids? You won't get rich doing this under any circumstances, and if you're doing it the right way you may even end up a little poorer.

Will you give 20 or more hours a week over to the effort, and be on call 24 hours, 7 days a week? Can you handle it if the phone rings in the night and a cop shows up with a kid on your doorstep with no clothes or possessions? That will certainly happen if you stick with it long enough.

Can you handle it if you work on a kid for 2, 3, 4 years or more only to see no improvement and have them hate you? That's maybe a little extreme, but it could happen.

Can you be hard-nosed? Can you drive a hard bargain? Can you say "no" (a lot)?

Can you love a kid that hates you?

My parents once fostered a girl whose ultimate dream in life was to become a hooker. How do you even approach something like that? Are you ready to approach it anyway, and give it your best shot?

So why, then do we and thousands of others like us do this to ourselves? Simple. We have to, because not doing it is just plain wrong. Our empathy makes us look at the situation, and won't let us look away from it until we do the right thing. Was it the way we were brought up? Probably, at least partly. Is it because we're better than other people? No. Just...wired differently.

We're not so much doing this to be good people, though some (including The Boss) have called us good people for doing it. We're doing it because we'd feel bad not doing it. It's selfish, really. Besides, what other parents get to have a fresh start over and over and over again? What other parents have the prospect of perhaps dozens of kids calling, coming and visiting, and inviting us for visits many years from now when we're old and grey?

And who else in the wide world but a foster parent can really, truly say that they didn't just protest "social injustice" like those morons with the peace symbols clogging up traffic in Saint Cloud last weekend, but jumped right in and did something about it with their own two hands? There are people that do that who aren't foster parents, sure. But fostering is the best way for us to do something really, truly helpful.

So whaddya think? Sounds like a blast, right? I think so. When time lends some perspective, I'm quite certain that the last few months will look like the best times of my life, and the best is just ahead!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


One thing that many kids in foster care need is "groundedness". No, not in the sense that they don't leave the house without supervision, although that is frequently necessary in some cases.

No, I'm talking about a way of living. A grounded person is one who thinks before they act. They don't often say things they don't mean, especially when they're angry or excited. They don't run off to a party at the drop of a hat, drive halfway across the state to visit a vague acquaintence on a momentary whim, or change their plans in midstream. Until recently, I was not very grounded. As far back as I can remember, my father has been one of the most grounded people I've ever known.

Call me a fuddy-duddy if you want--it seems I am getting more that way all the time--but kids need to be able to depend on things. When they come home from school, they need to know they'll be coming home to parents who are there, or will be there soon. Every single day.

An example of what I'm talking about is today. I missed much of it because I was at work until fairly late, but apparently The Wife had to pick up "Josie" from school because she got sick. I'll bow to The Wife's judgement in such matters as whether she was faking or not, and The Wife is comfortable that it wasn't a fake. The girl came home, changed into her pajamas and went to bed. Fair enough.

But then a call from her mother and a quick visit when she dropped by got her all riled up. Apparently some of her family were getting together for dinner to celebrate someone's birthday or somesuch, and "Josie" wanted to go. Never mind that she's still grounded and she was home sick from school today...she just wanted to go. Never mind any plans that have been made...she just wanted to go. Right now. If she was still living at home, she would have gone. And been tired the next morning in school, and then done it all over again the next night, and so on.

Incidents like this are an almost daily occurrence here, and The Wife has done a wonderful job of deflecting her in different directions. It's gotten to be an intellectual exercise for me to read the weather on her face when I get home from work, and from that try to piece together what may have happened today. Did she have a fight with The Wife? Maybe. Usually The Wife has said "no" to at least one thing that formerly she would have gotten her way with no resistance.

"Josie" recognized the crux of this problem in her life without really knowing that it was a problem. I think that's why it was her wish to be placed in foster care. It's probably why I see a ghost of a smile cavorting behind the pout when we say "no" to things that are too sudden, too expensive, too much for us to handle, or just plain seem wrong in one way or another.

She's getting the feeling now that someone besides her is piloting the ship, and I think she's feeling relief at that, because she's not a good pilot yet. It's not her fault; nobody's ever even tried to teach her how to live right. That's what we're doing now. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear her settling into this good life. It suits her. You can see it in the smile on her face every day.

I hope they don't yank her out too soon. This poor girl deserves some serenity, and some time to learn how to do this. And some time to just be a kid.

Besides, I'm hooked on her. She's already like a daughter to me. Sigh. I held out for most of a month, but I knew this was going to happen. It's going to hurt when she goes home.

Monday, January 16, 2006

A Nifty Solution

We were riding to the insurance agent's office to adjust our coverages and stuff. You know, boring old-people stuff that no teen in their right mind would go anywhere near...unless they're in foster care and grounded, that is.


It was delicious making her go with us. It was even more delicious when The Wife started badgering "Josie" about her aversion to reading. She tried to claim that she gets headaches from reading. The Wife jumps on that and badgers her about getting an eye exam, then. The art of fostering is, in large part, the art of badgering; digging and digging until you strike a vein and the good stuff starts to pour out. "Josie" then backtracks and says simply "IT'S BORING, OKAY?"

Well, why didn't you say so?

Then she takes a different tack...a craftier approach. "What will you give me if I read your book and write a report on it?"

A stunning bit of parentcraft sprang into my mind and rebounded out my lips before I could really examine its potential. "How about a day off your grounding?"

The Wife's eyes met mine with a smile. Good one. "Josie": "Okay! Deal!" And there was mirth all around as we pulled into the insurance office's parking lot. I like to think Mom would be proud.

Assuming she follows through, she learns something from the book. She gets practice at reading, if not for pleasure than at least for something she actively wants. She gets a reward for doing something constructive. And The Wife and I have one less day on high alert status.

If she doesn't follow through, then she'll try to get out of the grounding early, fail, and learn that we're dependable in all ways, and not just the comforting ones. Everybody wins, no matter what. How often do you work out a deal like that?

The girl has a lot to learn. She could have easily negotiated an extra day.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Crime and Punishment Ruminations

Kids like punishment, you know. It's true. I'm not saying their favorite thing to do on a Saturday night is sit home and stare at the wall, or spend a few hours weeding gardens or doing other chores...although there are (weird) kids that even enjoy those things in their own right. But kids like structure and predictability in their lives. There's something comforting about knowing that if you screw up, there will in fact be hell to pay. Otherwise, your future is entirely in your own hands and you're responsible for it. That's too much to ask of kids until at least age 18. In my case about age 24, if I remember correctly...but let's not dwell on that unfortunate bit of ancient history.

Exhibit A for my little theory is our current jailbird. We've worried and fretted all the background information available to us and matched it up with our firsthand observations. We've cross-referenced what we've learned about "Josie's" background and history with the vast storehouse of wisdom that is Mom's brain and memory. We've spoken with teachers, counsellors, social workers, a PO, her friends, family and others. After much conversation, we've come up with the theory that "Josie" is almost a completely normal kid...at least when she's on her meds. I've never known her when she wasn't, and I've been told she's a whole different person when she's not on them, but all we've known thus far is a child who has done an amazing job of mostly bringing herself up to the age of 15 in the absence of any meaningful adult supervision.

If I'd had to do that, I probably would have needed meds, too. Holy cripe.

But yesterday, she was with us on our monthly mass-grocery-shopping spree and we bumped into one of her school counsellors. It was another lovely look into this girl's soul. We shook hands with the counsellor and immediately got two impressions: this woman cared about our charge, and judging from how "Josie" sought her out as soon as she saw her, the feeling was completely and perfectly reciprocated. She immediately began peppering "Josie" about her foster care experience while we amusedly looked on:

"How do you like it there?"

"It's pretty nice. We've been busy."

"Have you gotten into any trouble?"

"I'm grounded for two weeks. It kind of sucks."

And I swear she said that last with a rueful little smile on her face. The counsellor, without missing a beat:

"Glad to hear it. Did you deserve it?"

Big grin. "Yeah. I guess so." More small talk.

I was impressed with this woman. No doubt we'll be catching up with her again, either on this case or another in the future. I liked her. She reminded me very much of a teacher I once had who was immensely important to me, both while I was learning theater (and life) from her and in the years since as I've remembered her lessons from time to time.

Today I was puttering in the kitchen making spaghetti (as I am frequently wont to do) and she was puttering beside me, making brownies for the church youth group meeting she is attending as I type this. The phone rings, and I beat her to it. It's "Josie's" mother, so I hand her the phone. As part of her grounding, she's limited to three 15-minute phone calls a day, but I don't limit her contact with her mother. If her mother can tear herself away from the bar long enough to call her daughter, who am I to stand in the way? After all, the county social worker made very clear that "reunification" is the main goal here. No time like the present to start, if the mother is game.

Amid the other small talk (she was too busy to stop by this afternoon and try the first brownies her daughter ever made) I heard the description she gave her mother of her grounding. I wasn't looking at her at the time, but I could hear in her voice that same bemused half-smile as she complained--very, very mildly--of how restricted she was.

This girl is liking this. And as long as we're fair about it, and follow through the way we've said we would and lift the grounding according to the announced timeline, I honestly believe she's going to understand the lesson. I think there's an excellent chance she'll also apply it the next time she's in a questionable situation.

I want so bad for her to stay here until she's 18, because I've decided we can save this one if we have the time to chip away at her enough. And today I heard her say to The Wife that if her mother doesn't change her ways, then she wants to stay here until she's 18. Could we get this lucky right out the chute? I sincerely hope so. We could make all the difference for the first one we drew. That's amazing...and it would do wonders for our own confidence, too.

You see, we've been scared spitless this entire time that we'd get in over our heads. Maybe we're able to swim in these waters, after all.

House Rules

We have a set of house rules. We sat "Josie" down her first night here, handed her a copy, allowed her to read them and then went through them point by point. It's going to be a family ritual, each time a new child comes into the playing field...first night will be rules night. That way they'll know all the precise reasons why they're spending half their time here grounded.

I'd like feedback on what anybody has to say about them. Too harsh? Too wimpy? Sound off and discuss amongst yourselves. Any good ideas will be incorporated into future versions.


I. Everyone in this house will show respect for everyone else.
A. Treat the house well. It's your home, but it's also ours.
B. You WILL be kind to the animals. They're family too.
C. No going into other people's rooms without being invited.
D. No closed doors with more than one person in a bedroom unless they are roommates.
E. No taking or using other people's belongings without permission.
F. Always speak well or not at all of others in the house.
G. No wearing each others' clothes.
II. [The Wife] and Dan must ALWAYS know where you are and with whom.
A. If plans change, you will call us and let us know.
B. No overnight visits with friends for the first month.
C. No getting picked up for an overnight visit at a friend's house. We drive you there.
D. Your friends' parents will be called to coordinate things.
III. Household
A. You will keep your room and belongings in reasonable order.
B. You will have some assigned chores on a daily and weekly basis.
C. You will pick up after yourself.
IV. Phone
A. Phone time will be limited on a case-by-case basis.
B. We do not have long-distance service. You will need a phone card to place long-distance calls.
V. Computer and TV use
A. No computers or televisions in bedrooms.
B. We reserve the right to dictate how and for what computers and TVs may be used.
C. Amount of TV/computer use will be limited on a case-by-case basis.
D. Internet access will be monitored and only available in the main living area with supervision.
E. Video games may be brought in if you have them, but time spent with them will be limited as needed.
VI. Friends
A. Unless you're grounded, friends are welcome in the house so long as they follow the rules.
B. No friends when Dan and [The Wife] are gone except with prior permission.
VII. Music/movies
A. We reserve the right to confiscate CDs and movies that we find obscene until you leave the house.
B. Music/TV volume will be kept reasonably low.
VIII. Community participation
A. You will attend a church. You may go to your own church if you have one, or you will come with us.
B. Everyone will participate in an extracurricular activity. We don't care if it's the school play, a sport, band or whatever, but there will be at least one.
C. We volunteer at the Pope County Humane Society. You may be asked to help, especially if we need to finish taking care of the animals quickly.
IX. Miscellaneous
A. We can accept you, but not your pets. No pets will be brought from home...we have enough already.
B. Homework always comes before playing.
C. Not everyone is an A student, but everyone will try their best.
D. There will be a curfew. It will vary with your age and how you show responsibility.
E. You will be provided good food. If you don't like what's served, complaints will not win you friends. Peanut butter sandwiches will always be available as an alternative.

What you can expect from us:
1) You will get our attention. We do foster care because we want to help you.
2) We will take your part in any confrontation with teachers, law, disputes with your parents, and so forth as long as we believe you are in the right.
3) You will always have adequate food, clothing, and a safe living environment.
4) You will have regular recreational time to use as you see fit.
5) We will provide a structured schedule and well-understood rules to live by.
6) You will receive all the moral support you let us give you. We will go to games, concerts, and so forth to see you participate.
7) We will help you with homework as needed to the best of our ability. Everything from basic reading to trigonometry.
8) You will never be mocked or made fun of with a mean spirit.
9) As long as you live here, you are our family. In addition to the responsibilities above, that may mean going with us on vacation, to the lake, and so forth.
10) We will keep any promises we make to you. We don't make them if we can't keep them.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


How do you extricate a Little Darling from her boyfriend's tenacious grip?

The signs tend to be good with this one. She's incredibly pretty and bright. She aims low career-wise--she wants to be a cosmotologist when she's smart enough to invent new products for cosmotologists to use--but we can work on that, and at least cosmetology is an honest living if it came to that. She's well-socialized, which is a welcome relief after having dealt with so many kids that do and say very awkward things at even more awkward times.

But that damned boyfriend.

This is not the post about him that I promised earlier. I need to know more about him before I really get down to cases and rip him a new one in this venue. What I do know is enough to convince me that she's way out of his league...but her self-image fits his actual personality perfectly. Therein lies the rub. She feels like they're matched perfectly.

Never mind that he's cheated on her, sleeping with other girls. Our intelligence-gathering capabilities have improved exponentially as the days pass, and we are in the way of knowing some very kinky details about his cheating. And the sheer quantity of girls.

This guy has eaten at our dinner table, so I got a good look at him. He's shifty and didn't say much, but what I saw utterly underwhelmed me. I don't get it. How does he get these girls salivating over him? One of them is about three years his senior. Eck. The Wife's comment: "I don't get it. What's the draw?" What indeed.

Anyway, we've really got to figure out how to make her understand that not only are there other, bigger fish in the sea, but she hasn't even reached fishing season? When the time comes she's got all the tackle she'll ever need, but for now she should be getting the garden ready for planting, or going to Easter services. She's just not quite to that season yet, and no way does she have a license.

Okay, enough with the dumb fishing metaphor. You get my drift. More on this later once I figure out some suitably nasty tactics that I want to brag about. But I guarantee: this is one show where the boy will most assuredly not get the girl...not while she's living in my house.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Disturbance in the Force

And so it begins. This morning I had the rare treat of being able to sleep in a bit, as I had to work late tonight. The Wife was going to attend a foster training session tonight, but that was scuttled by a call from "Josie's" school. She never showed up this morning.

She had asked for some money to pick up an "energy drink" (read: something to make her climb the walls) and The Wife complied. We're still a little soft-headed over our first Little Darling, I suppose, and she's been so good we made the mistake of trusting her prematurely.

Anyway, she somehow just wasn't able to make it to school, and we got wind that her boyfriend (a whole separate post on that snotty, pasty-faced little creep coming your way soon) also just coincidentally somehow couldn't make it to school. Several calls between social workers, school representatives and "Josie's" PO later, she was back in school and the first Nelson Family Council was scheduled for after dinner, with most of the outcomes predecided.

I got home a little after 7, and "Josie" was once again on her best behavior, having gone so far as to help out with dinner. She had obviously confused The Wife, as she was already going soft on our previously firm decision of a 2-week hard grounding.

Oh, my, but this one is smooth as a wet popsicle when the pressure is on. She had a ready story about how she wasn't feeling well at all this morning, having not slept well all night (that part is actually true) and she felt ill to the stomach (color me skeptical) and how she just went to her mother's house to lie down for awhile (coughbullshitcough). More of the usual (the teachers all hate her, the other students don't like her, blah blah blah), but it all came to naught. Grounded, sister. 2 weeks, with exceptions for school, walking the dogs and going with The Wife to the church youth group.

But you know, this is really the best thing that could have happened...because home visits are now off the table, and she didn't get sent up, though I'm thinking it was a very near thing in her PO's mind. It's exactly as I was hoping for a few posts ago.

We have her to ourselves until further notice, and you can bet we're going to use that little gift to start chipping away at her defenses in earnest. She's going to have structure in her life, she's going to be made to understand that we are HERE for her every single day, and we're going to do everything in our power to indoctrinate her into a much healthier way of living than she's ever known.

And you know something? I think that even now she knows that this is exactly what she needs to come out of this with a good life ahead of her. As The wife and I orchestrated our brilliant tag-team against her, she looked like she was more relieved than angry or upset. I could just see her thinking "finally, something I can count on". And then she dropped my jaw on the floor with the comment that she had never been grounded before.

15 years old and never been grounded. I was a veteran at being grounded by the time I was 10. Her mom is just too busy with her boyfriends and the bar to spend time on petty things like a daughter who's desperate for her love and for someone to fully recognize her existence.

This girl was made to understand (or at least hear) that we already care deeply about her, and we plan on drilling that into her head until she can feel it really and truly in her heart. I also told her straight-up that we are not just there for her now, but for the rest of her life...or at least ours. You see, we don't know how to do this fostering thing any differently. The only model we really have (at least that we care to follow) is Mom and Dad, and they still have their collection of Little Darlings dropping in and calling with their problems and news from time to time.

That's the only way you can make a mark on the world that's worth making. By scooping up every ounce of love you can find down to the deepest reaches of your soul, pulling it out and splattering it across the world. I know it won't stick everywhere we fling it, but I'm positive it will stick. Maybe it'll even be reflected back later when they can see how important love really is in life. That's the best we can hope for and even just the hope of that will be enough for me.

We're also not worried in the least about running out of love to give. There's lots more where this came from. Bring 'em on.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On Writing

I enjoy writing. I was really happy when the blog medium became available, and I've been taking advantage of it in one form or another for several years now. It's a great release, and hopefully there are those who have found my writing informative, entertaining or otherwise not nauseating.

But a blog is like a kiss with a stranger in a dark corner in a strange bar. It can be exciting and titillating, but rarely is it very satisfying in and of itself. I want romance. I want a serious relationship. Yes, that's right. One of my secret fantasies is to publish a novel.

I know, I know. Me and every other dork that ever found blogger, spent 20 minutes putting up a shingle and fancies himself a writer. But you know what? I am a writer, if not yet a novelist. I can't seem to help myself. Ever since I discovered the internet I've been posting to usenet, contributing to forums and bulletin boards, and blogging. I also have a habit of getting, uh, exercised and firing off a letter to the editor of various papers.

I once began what was supposed to be a quick-and-dirty comment to the editor of the Minneapolis Star/Tribune and it got a little out of hand length-wise. I sent it anyway because I couldn't bear to cut any of the fat...and they published it as a commentary. It was pretty fun to see my words on the editorial page next to pieces by Paul Krugman and Newt Gingrich. It was also sort of intimidating when I got home after work and there were three messages from anonymous callers, one complimenting my work, one offering to pay for psychoanalysis and the third simply wishing to inform me of my lack of anything resembling coherence or common sense and questioning my lineage. It was then that I decided that perhaps political writers have to deal with rather more hassles than I would be willing to put up with.

Mom always talked about how she was going to write a book about the many things she's observed in her life. The problem is, she has difficulty finding my blog to read it. Much as I love her and admire her intelligence, I have to face the fact that she's just technologically challenged and in this world you really have to be able to type well and communicate via the internet if you're going to have much of a chance to publish. Plus, I don't think she's really interested in publishing per se, just writing the book for herself. And lately I've realized that it's probably just a dream for her, not something she's likely to actually sit down and start.

I'm not my mother, at least not in this way. I'm an alcoholic, and I quit drinking as of July 4, 1999. My life has been gradually blossoming ever brighter and growing ever richer since that day, and so has this ambition of mine.

I think the time is near when I'll actually begin, and it's probably less than a year away. Maybe much less. It received a bit of a kick-start as well when my sister-in-law was kind enough to let me read a chapter or two of a book she was writing (didja ever finish that thing, J, and if so when do I get to read it?)

I now have three possible themes on which to build a plot framework, and I'm leaning heavily toward one in particular. It has to do with foster care, it's semi-autobiographical in nature and many of the items I've touched on in this blog would feature in any novel I would write on that theme. In fact, I sort of think of this as a training ground for what I might be doing soon.

Really, all it's going to take is a particular mood to strike me when I have the time. A mood that will allow me to actually sit down, put on my favorite music, put myself in the right frame of mind and actually, you know, start typing stuff.

It should actually be a lot like blogging, only fictional and with a particular long-term direction. It's just so hard to really, truly, actually decide to start. I can see why so many people want to write a book and so few people actually do it. I suspect I'm having the same thought as most who consider this endeavor: what if I give it everything I have, and it sucks like an electrolux?

Food for Thought

A poem "Josie" showed me tonight. She wrote it right after she got out of lock up. She claims it's the only poem she ever wrote.

So Alone

A prisoner in yourself trapped
Feelings and thoughts kept
Screaming for freedom
The mental beating night and day
Hold me face down forced to stay
Wanting to be left alone
Needing to be shown the way
Wish to be like the docks in the bay
So silent, so free
Do they not care what I feel
How could they be so cruel
So mean and intelligent, yes and so young
If they could be in my shoes just for one day
I'm running, running so far, so fast
Still within their clasps
So petrified, so afraid
Within myself I lay
Keeping my anger and feelings
Tucked away at bay
How could they possibly know what I feel
All the words they say
All I can do is pray
Pray for something better than this
When I was little people told me I would go far in life
Now standing here today, I question them: if so, when?
The little children run around me
In happiness and joy, now that I
See this sight I wish I could
Have those feelings
I feel so locked up
In a room a cold dark room.
I'm scared and screaming for help
Listening to the silence, it kills me
That I feel no one responding
To my cries of shame and fear.

The saying "people get what they deserve" means nothing to me.

"What did I do to deserve this punishment?"

I feel honored that she shared this with me. It's a pretty deep look into her soul, I think.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Me and my old pal Bo, in case you're interested. Posted by Picasa

Learning from a Mistake

"Josie" went home for an overnight visit, ostensibly to stay with her mother for the evening. This has been expressly permitted by the social workers and the court.

When she got back, she was VERY tired. Our spidey-sense tingled a bit, and we suspect there COULD have been horseplay. Her mother tends to spend A LOT of time at the bar...she has trouble resisting peer pressure, so her friends could have come and taken her out while her mother was at the bar or too drunk to pay attention and she could have been out partying it up.

This is all in the normal course of how these things play out, and not much would surprise me were someone to tell a whole truthful story about what really went on during that visit. We've got sort of a wait-and-see attitude at the moment, but we've almost got ourselves convinced that "Josie" will screw up badly enough on one of these home visits that it will force her probation officer to make a choice. That choice will be either to send her up the river to an out-of-town lockup or to leave her here with new-and-improved conditions, which will definitely include supervised-home-visits-only and a freer hand on our part.

Naturally, given how we've taken to her (when she's not tied in knots about her family or friends) we'd prefer the latter, but we're cognizant that the former probably has an equal or better chance, depending on the nature of the screw-up. But the thing is, we're sort of in limbo right now. We can't get her to ourselves enough to really put the screws to her, make her live 100% by good rules and straighten out...and we can't wash our hands of her. No way can we do that. That's not why we're here.

So the first truly useful thing we'll be able to do, then, is force the issue. Catch her in a screw-up and hope it's of a type that the PO and the court will see that we need to work on this girl without interference for awhile, and not send her to a residential treatment facility, which I think COULD be okay for her, but would more likely retard or arrest her development. It's a fine line.

So then the real question...a couple of days ago at our meeting, one of the social workers slipped us a Urinalysis test on the sly, with the go-ahead to use it whenever we suspect she may have been using. She came home REALLY tired, and almost sort of disoriented. Why did we not immediately administer the UA? It seemed the type of mild situation that would probably have given us the extra control over the situation if she HAD been using, without getting her sent up just yet.

If she hadn't been using, she at least would have been on notice that we're liable to pop one on her at any time, thereby discouraging her from trying to slip one by us. Why didn't we pull the trigger? It never even crossed our minds until well after alcohol would have been undetectable, and we agree she'd probably blow it with that before pot or another substance.

Doh! Rookie mistake. Won't happen again. It had better not. Miss too many opportunities like that to nip something in the bud, and next thing you know somebody gets hurt because we missed a trick. No, we probably couldn't really get in trouble for it, but we don't want a thing like that hanging over our heads.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Social Work Convergence and Subsequent Thoughts

Wow. We had a meeting today that was actually productive, and notable in that I believe it was the first time I've been in a meeting with three social workers (including The Wife). I feel emotionally healthier just for having taken part in such a conclave...and I wasn't even the point of the discussion.

That would be "Josie", and she was one nervous little kitten. heh. I never saw so many doodles on one sheet of paper. Did I mention "Josie" has a singular talent for drawing? That talent doesn't serve her quite as well when her art is serving her as a safety valve. But then, it was a pretty important meeting for her.

Many things were laid bare finally. We now have a much clearer picture of what "Josie's" mom wants, as well as what our PATH social worker thinks of her friends. We're more aware that her circle of friends are not bad kids, but they are on the margins and will bear watching. Careful watching, to judge by having them over for dinner.

I do believe that "Josie" is a great kid, and any wrong turns she makes are likely to be instigated by one or more of her friends. One of the best things we'll be able to do is keep her mostly away from the wrong types of people.

There is an old saying...I'm not sure who originated it, but it really rings true here: "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer". I'm not sure which of these kids are our "enemies", and probably none of them are. But we're going to keep them close, first and foremost because we have to in order to help "Josie"...but also because some of them are pretty neat kids in their own right, and some of them are in high-risk situations and we're now mandated reporters, and probably also because let's face it, we're dealing with a pool of potential future foster kids, and it wouldn't hurt to have an idea ahead of time of who's in trouble, who's doing what that they shouldn't be, and so forth. Plus, keeping all the relationships between all the kids straight is a lot like a real-life soap opera. Who needs TV?

I have spent too much of my life planning for future events. When I was in high school, I was planning for college. When I was in college, I was planning for a career. When I started my career, I was planning how I was going to get married, and how I was going to advance in my career, plus how I was going to afford a house. My time spent thinking about the future had increased, not decreased. Then I spent time thinking about parenthood, moving, getting a divorce, getting remarried, and on and on. Now, for the first time I can remember, I'm actually living the life I've wanted to live. Everybody on the planet should have this feeling at some point in their busy lives.

"Josie" isn't having the greatest time right now. Who can blame her? Nobody likes this much change, or to be under the microscope like she is right now. But I'm having a ball with this fostering thing (and a nice career on the side too, by the way). I'm beginning to understand why Mom loved this so much. It's the stuff of life, and there's nothing else like it. It matters to people. We're making a difference. Because of our efforts, people's lives will be better. Wow.

I want to do this until I can't do it anymore. I hope The Wife feels the same way, because while I love this, I couldn't keep it up indefinitely without her full buy-in to the mission.

UPDATE: After catching up on the blog, The Wife has informed me that the above should state something more to the effect that I simply couldn't keep this up AT ALL without her, PERIOD. Heh. She's right. Love you, lady.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Cast Adrift

That's how we feel, a little bit. Mom warned us about this, but it's still a bit of a shock. After being forced to prove to everybody and their brother that we're worthy to give our blood, sweat and tears to the effort of helping kids, we now have the care of a kid and absolutely no information or background on the child, outside of what we've been able to dig out of the kid and her mother, which, while highly entertaining at times, is usually contradictory and not very accurate or useful in any case.

I guess I suspected somebody would at least try to inform us as to things like friends of the child who have been problems in the past, whether the child has a history of violence, theft, or whatever, whether there are people the child is not to see, and so on.

We have zero information in this respect. Nada. I have a great deal of experience, so I know from my own observations so far that this child is actually quite a good girl and I know some of the things we'll be able to help with. I have no prayer, however, of diagnosing all the things that might be wrong with her, and we've received not so much as a single medical or psychological note on her except "she's bipolar". What the hell...? And that came from the child herself.

So...like I said, score one for Mom. She warned us we'd have to dig and dig hard. Get in people's faces. Chase the answers. Take her case like it was our own and run with it. She told me that was one of the best things we'll be able to do for this child, is to take her part in and against a system through which she could so easily slip unnoticed.

So there's a meeting tomorrow with all the assorted county & PATH social workers, teachers and whatnot, and it's right in my kitchen. I'm invited, but The Boss has other plans for me and it's doubtful I'll be able to break away for an hour of foster fun, so The Wife will have to fill me in when it's all said and done, I guess.

But I hope none of these people think they've escaped my clutches, because I'm going after each of them individually if I don't make tomorrow's meeting. I will know these people by name and face (something I'm not nearly good enough about, typically). I will know what this child needs to do to succeed in the eyes of the people who consider her a failure right now. I will know what sorts of things have been problems for her in the past, and I will not allow her to fail just because of a lack of attention. I will make these people see the simple fact that when they see me coming, they might as well just meet me at the door, give me what I'm after and get rid of me before I get a head of steam worked up.

Most of all, I will help "Josie", in any way I can. That's why I signed up to play this game, and while I may ultimately lose a game here and there, it will not be due to lack of initiative on The Wife's or my part.

These people have no idea who they're fooling with, if they think they get to win that easy. If they're not careful, I'll pull the Mom card. But I really need to keep that one in reserve, as it could turn out more or less to be the Samson option, and I think we can do this thing without nukes.