Friendship and Sentimentalism
Often on this blog, I get an urge to share ideas I have that only border on fostering, or have little to do with it at all. This is one such time.
Yesterday and today were rainy days, and I had occasion today to drive for a good hour and a half alone, listening to music and thinking about things long past. Rain does that to me, and driving in the rain does it twice as much.
When I was growing up and all the time since, one thing Mom has been big on is nurturing my memories of growing up. My earliest memory is when I was about 1 1/2...I have clearer and more numerous memories starting when I was about 4, and they rapidly become uncountable when I got old enough for school. Mom sees value, as do I, in hanging on to those. My sister doesn't seem to remember much further back than last week, but I'll get into that some other time.
I've been accused once or twice of being overly sentimental. Of being too idealistic, too nostalgic, and generally just too soft. Some of this has been true of me in the past; I don't think it's true of me now. The difference is that there was a time when this sentimentality, nostalgia and so on were, in some areas and to some degree, acting as a crutch and crippling my life. That's when you know you have a problem. It's the same test as for drug or alcohol addiction...does it make your life more difficult?
But in the last few years, I've gotten over most of the hangups I've had about the past and I think I've managed to keep the related good bits about myself mostly intact. The biggest of those good bits is my ability to be a great friend.
While driving today, Bon Jovi's "Blood on Blood" came on. It's a song about how people can become friends when they're kids, and how that friendship can stick with them for life:
Through the years and miles between us
It's been a long and lonely ride
But if I got a call in the dead of the night
I'd be right by your side
As I listened to that song, I did a rough count of the friends I've had throughout my life that could call me in the middle of the night tonight and ask me to come with no questions and I'd be out the door before I could get my pants zipped. Excluding my immediate family, The Wife and any kids living with us, there are 7.
How unbelievable is that? 7 people who I love and who love me, excluding family
. Many people never have a single one, which is a fact I've only gradually come to fully appreciate as I've gotten older. When I was young, I thought everybody had best friends, nobody lacked friends that would do anything for them, the tooth fairy lived in a fantastic enamel castle on an island in the ocean and Santa Claus was real. Turns out there are a lot of people hurting out there and don't have anyone they even trust to share their problems with, much less who will help them.
Not only do I believe that any of these seven would come running if I called, but two of them have
when I had a couple of crises in my life.
These are not ordinary, run-of-the-mill friends. While every friend has value and I would never describe friends as a dime a dozen, friends can--and sometimes do--come and go. These are people whose lives I've shared a long time, through difficult times as well as some of the best times of my life. We have shared history. They pretty much all touched my life during some portion of my formative years, they all made me feel like I was a really great person when I spent time with them, and I wish I could see them all these days more than I get to.
When people play that game about "if you could invite any X number of people who ever lived to a dinner party, who would they be?" my first seven slots would be taken by these people, because while several of them know each other, not all of them do and I'd love to host a party like that. The other people I'd invite would be Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Albert Einstein and Leonard Nimoy, but that's a whole other post.
When people call a certain piece of music or art "sentimental crap", it bothers me, especially when the same person professes to be "idealistic" in political or other arenas. How can you disdain sentimentalism and yet be idealistic? The two go hand in hand.
So the bottom line is that I'm a saphead...but there are certain advantages to that, and I wouldn't trade them for a million bucks.
Wisdom About Love
Oh, but Beth is so wise
. Love does
need to be fed to children in bite-sized, believable
pieces when a child has been treated badly. That's one of the problems I've probably had with "Josie".
I wanted to love her so badly...but she wasn't buying what I had to sell. She just couldn't believe that here was a guy who was of an age to be her father and who wanted to be
a sort of father to her. He claims he loves her, and he even acts
a little like he loves her...but it's never been that easy in her world. The guy must be full of shit. Either that or he's a pervert to be stayed clear of.
I keep wondering when it will smack her upside the head that I'm not that way, or any other way except that I just love her. Maybe never now, given how the County has taken away any feeling of stability here for her, unless my suspicions are correct and she ends up back here in the next few years.
"Angel" is a whole different story. I can tell she already loves us, and I know we already love her like a daughter. She's young enough, and of the type of personality that she hasn't been too damaged by her previous young life to affect her ability to love and be loved. We are showering
her with love, and she mostly just spews it back at us in equal measure and in some very amusing ways that will get blog coverage for sure. Some of her bedtime screaming and other acting out may be a type of "vomiting" (to use Beth's charming analogy) but the nausea has been getting less frequent and less violent (to advance the same analogy).
But overall in some ways I'm still too eager to help these kids. I've known this particular lesson for a long, long time and I always forget. As Beth says in her piece:
Sometimes all we get to do is to help them accept very small meals in very small bites. Hopefully when they leave us they are better nourished and more able to accept love than when they came.
Yes. That seems about right to me.
Fearless Adventurer IV
Tonight was my last declared night on duty (countless undeclared nights lie ahead, of course, since I've proven I can do the job well). It was a little different this time. When I got home, The Wife informed me that "Angel" had finally "lived up to her blog-name". It seems like it was a breakthrough of sorts, and in the nick of time. The Wife was beginning to attenuate a little, and it seems like today helped her buck up a little.
HOWEVER...part of that involved a two-hour nap. Oh goody, says the guy who gets to put her to bed. The Wife then went shopping and left me to my own devices. "Josie" is at her dad's for the weekend, and "Angel" seemed inclined to chase the dogs in an endless circle through the hall, kitchen and dining room. I was inclined to let her run off as much steam as possible, so I didn't hold it against her.
Then Jafar. AGAIN. I hate Jafar like some parents hate a certain purple dinosaur. And then bedtime.
One new thing was that she
almost told me
it was time for bed, though she wasn't really acting tired. I've taken to calling it "story time", since "bed time" seems to have bad connotations to it. I made it a point to go in there earlier when I got her nighty and prepared her bed and the lighting ahead of time, as well as place the Animaniacs book where it wouldn't be noticed. She in turn made it a point to hunt down the Animaniacs book and make me watch her point out the different things she could find. Sigh.
After a shorter-than-usual story time, I told her it was "sleepy time", grabbed the book and set it aside, shut off the light and lay down. Then began the battle, though it was a much different battle because it felt like we were on the same side in this one. It was like she wanted to sleep, but couldn't. She wanted me to lay next to her, but that was too hot and she really wanted me on the floor next to the bed. No, she wanted me to sit on the floor and lean on the bed.
Ah, screw it, she wants her stuffed dog. No, the dolly. Toss. Turn. Then me up on the bed again. I didn't have the guts yet to just walk out and see if she screamed...plenty of time for that later. Finally she asked for a hug and kiss, and wouldn't let me up from the hug, so I just sort of settled leaning over her. She played with my 2-day-whiskers for a minute, rubbed her cheek against them a bit, and then dropped over the cliff and into the abyss finally, in a matter of about 2 minutes once we hit the right combination.
I've got to get better at that, but I'm doing all right, I guess.
Her fascination with my whiskers triggers a similar memory for me. When I was about "Angel's" age, I had uncle Don. Don was a wonderful uncle, and always had a delightfully rough face...I loved to rub my face against his. It made him seem strong and manly to me, which in turn made me feel safe. It was much the same with my dad...but dad wasn't a raging alcoholic like Don was. When I got just a year or so older than "Angel", uncle Don went "away", a term you use with kids when you just can't tell them that he's going to a drunk tank.
Don hung around the area for a couple of years doing odd jobs and such, but eventually his alcoholism drove him away from his family. I don't know if it was the booze making him stupid or if he just felt such shame that he needed a new start with people who didn't know him. I don't suppose it matters, either...the end result was that he broke a 4-year-old boy's heart. To this day I remember the day he left.
Don drifted around the country for many years. I don't think even my folks are sure where all he ended up, and we had no word from him that I ever knew about for many years. We knew he was in Colorado for awhile, and I think Oklahoma and a couple other places. Somewhere in there he married. I think Mom and Dad tried to track him down several times through the social security administration or something, with not much luck. I don't think he wanted to be found, though. He was working things through on his own and in his own time, and if he was anything like me, it's probably just as well. If he was like me, you wouldn't be able to tell him anything while he was drinking anyway. Drunks are like that sometimes.
A few years ago, Don came home. he was dying. Lung cancer. I remember using his cigarette packs and cartons as building blocks when he took care of me in the early 70s.
There was still a little of the Don I remembered, but let's face it, you grow apart from a man you haven't seen on a regular basis since you were four. He mostly seemed to me like a shell of a man. Very thin, he didn't say much, and nothing at all beyond "hello" to me directly...but I caught him looking me over and sizing me up. He had kicked the bottle three years before he died. I was glad he died a free man.
I don't remember if I've mentioned it in this space, but I'm an alcoholic myself. Hot 100 was my game (100-proof schnapps, to all you non-soaks out there) and I played it well up until the night of July 3, 1999 when a cop stopped it with a DUI (thank you, officer Rain...I remember your nametag 7 years later, though I was in no condition to remember anything that night). July 4 was spent in detox. I celebrate that date with more than average pleasure, and more than average introspection.
I know about drunks. I've had them in my family, I've had them for friends, and I've been one. That kind of experience is hard to have, but I think it will serve me well in fostering. "Josie's" mom is a good example. I know exactly
the kinds of problems she's having and how it has affected her daughter. I know. I've been on both sides of that equation. There but for the grace of God go I. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and so on. Lots of other tired cliches.
It's strange to sit here on a Friday night, exactly midnight by my computer clock as I type this sentence, and compare it to how I was a decade ago. A decade and a half ago I would just be getting started partying around now. Desperately seeking a woman, clinging to my friends, and searching out good times in a bottle. If the woman and the friends didn't materialize, the bottle was always there waiting.
Now I look at my life and how fulfilling it is. I put a little girl to bed tonight. She asked me for a hug and kiss, called me daddy, and had trouble sleeping without me right there beside her. I look forward with the sweetest anticipation to tomorrow, when my folks will bring some flowers which my dad and I will plant in the yard together, and maybe work on the deck a little if the weather allows it. We'll change the oil in the van or my cycle or just visit around the kitchen table if it doesn't. It doesn't really matter either way, because it'll be a great day.
I love my life. Wouldn't trade it for anything.
Fearless Adventurer III
Um. The kid went to bed. I read to her. She fell asleep in about 5 minutes. The end.
I'm sorry, but this is getting almost mundane. Funny how you can get bored with something or take it for granted so quickly once it starts to go well.
In other news, tonight we had a "sharing and support" meeting, which is where several foster parents from our local area get together and share
tips and tricks,
laugh at each other
buck each other up, and generally just socialize. It was fun.
However, "Angel" only has so long of an attention span, so before long I was out in the van supervising her first driving lesson while The Wife got some adult social interaction. It worked out well for all concerned.
And that's about all I'm good for tonight. In spite of the success with "Angel", for some reason I've been suffering insomnia and I think I'm about to crash out tonight. Take care, and I'll try to be more interesting tomorrow night in my final installment.
Fearless Adventurer II
Our hero steps quietly through the door, quickly shifting his gaze around the room to evaluate the state of things as Mitch contentedly slurps his offered fingers in greeting. "Josie" and The Wife are in the kitchen killing time and "Angel" in the living room engrossed in the 1,327,897th run of "Aladdin and the Prince of Thieves". Good. An opportunity to get the lay of the battlefield from The Wife before engaging the enemy.
The Wife is bailing tonight and fleeing to Bible Study. The day didn't go too bad, but she hasn't really left the yard since Sunday. Time for a break. "Josie", in a rare night home with no friends over, looks to be a problem. Yeek. Our hero will be outnumbered two to one, with youth and vitality on their side. It doesn't look promising.
But almost immediately the enemy turns on each other, when "Josie" suddenly becomes helpful and nice, and watches "Angel" for awhile after The Wife leaves...leaving our hero to munch his supper in relative peace as he ponders what they're planning in the other room. "Josie" already ate and "Angel" seems to be boycotting food for the moment, so he's alone with his thoughts, unable to contemplate trying to force "Angel" to eat. She'll know when she's hungry.
And she did become hungry, though not for spaghetti, like I was eating. This is how I know she's not my genetic child. Nobody who shares my DNA would ever turn their nose away from spaghetti. Instead, she expressed a preference for a meat-and-cheese sandwich. Coming right up. Bread, mayo, cheese, meat, there you are, ma'am.
She scarfed it.
"Would you like some applesauce?" he inquired, biding his time as he tries to process how well the evening was going. Why, yes, she would like some applesauce.
She scarfed that too.
Into the living room, where our intrepid hero manages to sidestep a 1,327,898th showing of "Aladdin and the King of Thieves" in favor of Jimmy Neutron...then back out to the kitchen where he valiantly cleans up the dishes. Coming back into the living room, he discovers "Josie's" evil plan. She has allowed the child to climb under her blanket with her on the couch and fall asleep. Hard. He could have lit a firecracker in front of her face and she would have just rolled over. This can't be allowed. After 5 minutes of shaking, pushing, rocking, pleading and finally groveling, she wakes up, looks at him, and gives him a big hug and kiss.
But our hero won't be fooled that easily. The night isn't over yet.
About a half hour before bedtime, our hero mentions bedtime for the first time to test the water, to no detectable resistance. It really gets old when you keep expecting resistance and not receiving it, you know? Anyway, he figures, we should be getting her used to the idea. She's responded poorly to bedtime as a surprise before. Learn from our mistakes.
Observing "Angel", our hero notices her eyelids drooping. No doubt a clever ploy to bring his guard down. It won't work, you little vixen, but keep trying.
Then, 5 minutes early, our hero makes a bold move: "honey, do you want to read a story?" A big yawn. "Yes, daddy." She unbelievably gets up and starts walking back to her room. In a daze, he follows. She grabs her favorite book and climbs into bed, scooting over to make a spot for daddy. Daddy takes his designated position, pausing only long enough to pick up his jaw and reattach it to his face.
15 minutes of looking at books, and our hero goes for the jugular: "time for nighty-night, sweetheart".
"Okay, daddy. Nighty-night."
Daddy turns out the light and lays down on the floor. He begins to tremble, considering the possibility that the world as he has known it for over a week is imploding. The laws of physics have been overturned by executive order and new ones installed. Up is down. Back is sideways. Screaming is sleeping peacefully.
Belatedly, he realizes he forgot to have "Angel" brush her teeth, then realizes further that he doesn't care, because there is light at the end of the tunnel, optimism is rising, and there is a distinct possiblity that it is, after all, A Wonderful Life.
Ruminating on these thoughts, our hero sits up to go and is suddenly transfixed by two little points of reflected light. He got careless. He didn't pay attention to the breathing to make sure she was asleep. Rookie mistake. Show no fear; they can smell it.
He makes a fairly graceful recovery by pretending that he was repositioning himself and lays down again. Then, 5 minutes later he hears the rhythmic breathing that signals the time to make a break for freedom.
As he makes his escape, he ponders his fears of as recently as 24 hours ago. Perhaps his quest won't always be so difficult? Maybe it'll even be fun sometimes?
Could be. But when you start to think like that is when they get the element of surprise back. Best to be cautious.
Tune in tomorrow night to find out if our hero is on a roll or if he just got lucky a couple times.
But then, of course he's lucky. He got a goodnight hug and kiss from the most beautiful little girl in the entire galaxy. There isn't enough money in the world to buy that.
Let me tell you a story. I'm publishing it in serial form, since I was dumb enough to offer to put "Angel" down for bed for the rest of the week. Because it's so much fun. Here is the first installment:
Our fearless adventurer looks down at "Angel". He looks at the clock. 2 hours to bedtime. The long, slow, excruciatingly suspenseful game begins. Will he best the beast, or will she rip his eardrums out? He takes on the challenge.
They go for a walk outside together. He notes she tires quickly. She's had a pretty mellow day with not a lot of screaming, so he thought perhaps she was saving her A-game for tonight's bedtime joust, but this is a good sign.
He and The Wife introduce "Angel" to the neighbors while on the walk, and she's mostly charming, with just a hint of crankiness. Nothing to see here, folks, move along before she goes off.
Around the bend in the road and down by the lake. "Angel" walks most of it, and fear creeps back in that maybe she's just toying with him. Time will tell. Back along the lake, and then home.
"Angel" remembers what fun was had last night digging in the garden when she sees the shovel leaning against the deck. He curses his laziness, but it's too late. Off to the garden to dig up some more dirt. On the other hand, if she really is laying for me tonight, he thinks, some good exercise may take the edge off.
More digging and a few made-up-on-the-spot games later, and The Wife calls them in for "Angel's" bath. Good. A bath tends to calm her down and put her in a good frame of mind. It's almost like she's a miniature woman or something.
Then the snack. Applesauce. Didn't he read somewhere that applesauce calms people down? Or was that just wishful thinking? He muses about this as The Wife prepares her for The Moment We've All Been Waiting For. She had artfully slipped her into her nighty straight out of the tub, and applesauce is always a draw, as is the resultant teeth-brushing (yummy bubblegum-flavored toothpaste doesn't hurt). Time to pass the baton to the guy with the deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.
Our fearless adventurer steps into the hall as The Wife leads her charge out of the bathrooom. Sizing up the situation, he follows them into the bedroom. "Angel" jumps up on her bed after grabbing a book. A surprise. This is new. We didn't even have to deposit her in bed by force of arms (literally). Some relatively minor disagreement about which book we're going to read as The Wife sneakily uses the distraction to abandon her husband to his fate and closes the door behind her.
Suddenly, we're engrossed in a tale that involves a cucumber, a tomato, some French peas, an asparagus, and assorted other garden escapees. Remarkable. This is followed by a generic book about friends that appears as though somebody really, really, really
likes to draw teddy bears. Finally, the piece de resistance, a jaunty tale about the puppyhood adventures of a dog named Clifford.
It's gone well beyond all reason to this point, and our fearless adventurer is certain that the demon child has saved her most venomous wiles for this moment, and sure enough, as we near the end of the book, she makes her move and tries to page back to the beginning of the book. She looks in his eyes, to see if she can detect the fear that must surely lurk there. He looks back at her with an otherworldly cool, pauses a single beat, closes the book and stands. He turns to put the book on the table near the bed, steeling himself for the ear-splitting wail that is certain to begin.
He turns back to the bed, and "Angel" is laying there, gazing at him and living up to her name. He wonders if perhaps she is planning to chomp his nose off during the goodnight kiss.
Banishing such uncomfortable suspicions from his mind, he leans down and hugs her and kisses her neck, which always makes her laugh. She giggles "g'night, daddy" and rolls over. He flips off the light and lies down next to the bed in his customary position to finish off this effort. He wonders if perhaps she's just been saving her energy for this moment, and would soon come flying off the bed to deliver a flying elbow smash to his crotch.
Our fearless adventurer lay still for about 10 minutes, nervously listening as "Angel's" breathing steadily evened out into a regular sleep rhythm. He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears...but this was no time to ponder the idea that perhaps there is
a God after all. He wasn't out of the woods yet.
He got up as silently as he could, and nonchalantly padded to the door, opened it, walked through and turned around. "Angel" was sleeping like an angel.
He closed the door.
And moonwalked down the hall, did a pirouette, shadowboxed like Rocky getting ready for the big fight, performed the Crane Maneuver (a la Karate Kid), pretended to be David Lee Roth in the video for "Jump" and bowed low to The Wife, who was coming out of the kitchen at that very moment. "Am I good or what?" he demanded of his beloved. "I've seen better...but not bad."
Our fearless adventurer lives to confront another bedtime...and there are several more yet to go before the end of his self-imposed sentence. Will our hero once again conquer the screaming banshee in little-girl form, or will he fall prey to her unearthly siren call? Tune in tomorrow night for the continuation of this breathtaking saga.
The information just keeps on coming. The newest? "Angel" has issues with changes of environment. That's not remarkable for a kid, especially one like her who's probably been through so much. The main surprise to me is that her lung capacity is probably bigger than some industrial fuel tanks.
I have never seen/heard a kid scream so loud, so long, and so frequently as she has since we got back from our trip. Time to nap? One giant hour-long scream. Time for bed? One giant two-hour-long ANGRY scream, and a half-hour of hitches and hiccups in her sleep. That's right. The girl fell asleep mid-scream.
Today, screaming when she got up. Screaming at nap time. Screaming when she didn't get her way. Screaming at bedtime. The wife estimated she spent about 4 hours in all today screaming. I've GOT to get the olympic people on the phone and see what I need to do to train her.
The Wife was a victim of abuse as a child, so she has direct personal knowledge of the kinds of things that are running through this girl's head right now, and she sees the main one as being control. She never had it before, and she sees a chance now to exercise some, and she's pushing the limits in all directions to find out exactly how much she can get.
I agree with that analysis, and I sympathize with her. I truly do. However, if she's ever going to be my daughter, she's going to learn very well that there are certain areas where she will not have any control at all
. She will never
be allowed to hurt animals or people. She will never
be allowed to hurt herself. She will never
be the one to determine bedtime. She will be able to use cuteness, good behavior, etc. to squeeze an extra 15 minutes or half-hour, but screaming will get her sent to bed early
. She will receive her share of attention, but she'll need to yield attention to others when there are people visiting or whatever. She has issues with that, too.
To provide her opportunities to exercise control, we allow her to pick what movie she wants to watch. We give her toys that encourage make-believe, and never discourage using her imagination. When she makes up games, I play them. By her rules. Or at least as close as I can figure them out. Her games are fun, because nobody wins, and everybody has fun.
This beautiful little person is so fascinating to me. It is so very much fun to try to figure out what she's thinking. Her face and voice are so expressive that the speech problem is less noticeable because you already have a pretty good idea what's on her mind. She's bold, yet fragile. Outgoing, yet vulnerable. Strong-willed, yet very much a daddy's girl, and that's just fine by me.
One last thing. There are marks on her arms that look suspiciously like old cigarette burns. If they are, I hope whoever put them there roasts in hell. Slowly. On a white-hot spit. And maybe that
explains some of the issues we're trying to help her through.
Last November, in the early-to-middle part of the month, The Wife and I went to a marriage seminar. It was a Christian-based tutorial on how not to tick each other off too bad, as I looked at it, and it was a wonderful weekend. We saw old friends, listened to some wonderful speakers, ate out the entire weekend and basically had a good time.
We have not, as far as we can remember, been out of town overnight since then. That changed this weekend.
We went to see Mom and Dad, and this was probably even better than the last trip out of town. I got to go to the lake cabin for a few hours, talk with my folks on their turf, consult with Dad on how he should do this or that small change to the landscape, stole some lilac shoots for our yard (already transplanted, watered and prayed over), ate cookies, had a picnic on the three-season porch, and in general allowed "Angel" to get to know her new grandma and grandpa a little better.
"Josie" must like us at least a little, because she switched home weekends so she could come along. I even got to take her and Dad on in pool, since Dad has a table in his basement, over which much life has been discussed, and we carried on the tradition this weekend. "Josie" was actually on pretty good behavior, and even helped with some vacuuming in the cabin. I was impressed.
The highlights of the weekend both involved "Angel". First, when I wasn't there, she apparently launched into a long sermon, regaling the group with many statements, not much of which anyone could understand because she's not talking clearly yet...but she put feeling into it, and feeling is enough. Mom held out as long as she could before a snort of laughter slipped out. "Angel" apparently wheeled on her and gave her a piece of her mind, at the end of which the whole room was rolling on the floor. I wish I could have been there for that one.
The second happened this morning, when "Angel" suddenly decided it was time for a little Daddy time. We held hands and spun in circles in the kitchen until I couldn't take any more (38 apparently can't take as much spinning as 3-going-on-4), and then she demanded to be picked up. When I was steady enough, I complied. She turned to me and put her hands on my cheeks, scrunching my lips into a proper pucker, at which point she laid one on me, and then threw her arms around my neck.
She then spent some time exploring my facial features and rubbing my whiskers (which are only a little
out of hand at the moment), at which point she looked down and her eyes got big. She was looking at my chest, and holy buckets but didn't my chest have a lot of hair on it. She observed "hair, daddy!"
Then a light bulb visibly turned on in her head, and she reached up, pulled out the top of her own shirt and looked down it to see if maybe she wasn't growing a little hair there.
While at the lake, one of the neighbors offered me a free boat lift and utility trailer. I'm obligated to accept, of course, since I do have a place to put a boat lift (if not yet a need, since I don't yet have a boat) and I was already thinking I needed a trailer. This one needs the panels replaced (treated plywood looks to be just the ticket) and the tongue needs to be rebuilt, but the frame is great and the tires might even be usable.
At the end of the weekend, my mother, veteran of nearly 30 years of steady fostering, offered up the opinion that "Angel" is a perfectly normal little girl in almost all respects, and the fears we had based on our preliminary information are mostly unfounded. I think she feels as I do, that when all is said and done, this girl will be our forever-daughter. There's a lot to do and a long way to go before we can say that WILL happen, but the omens look right and we're not seeing any roadblocks as of yet. Pray for us on that, please.
All in all, it was a very successful visit. I have an old friend whose family always seems to need to go on a trip together or something in order to have a great time as a family. Call me a dud, but I would prefer a plain old weekend trip to a small Minnesota town (pop. 450) one hour away from home, and plenty of conversation, food and a little constructive work with the people I love most in the world: The Wife, my folks, and a couple Other People's Kids.
Midgets or Escaped Foster Kids?
You be the judge
"Angel" is at the beginning of her fourth night with us, and we're beginning to get a handle on the issues. It also helps that The Wife had a chance to talk to her old social worker and got a little more background info.
This little girl has been literally treated more like an animal than anything else. She has mostly raised herself to this point...her mother basically showed her the VCR and set food in front of her a couple times a day. Other than that, it sounds like she was basically on her own since she came out of infancy.
Her previous foster home, who had her for two months or more, were astonished at her progress. We are astonished at her progress just in the four days she's been here. It's visible in how she plays with her Animaniacs book, how she relates to our dogs, how she deals with bedtime (her least favorite time of day) and how she already seems to be picking up on the fact that tantrums will not get any results she likes.
Another child came to visit the other day and made the mistake of holding a ball she wanted, and got a scratched face for his trouble. Socialization and things like sharing are definitely NOT in her arsenal yet...but they will be. I guarantee you they will be if they'll just give us some TIME with this one...and it looks like they will.
"Josie" seems to absolutely adore "Angel". She loves doing her hair and it's one of the few chores around here she'll do without even being asked. Ironically, she's also full of advice on things we should do to better parent "Angel", making it very hard to keep a straight face, avoid mocking her, and generally not be the ass that I can really be sometimes. Thus far, I've just been taking pleasure in the fact that "Josie" seems to actually want to go home and is on her best behavior, because if she was still acting up while we were trying to
accustom "Angel" to her new surroundings, life would Definitely Not Be Fun.
I really have nothing truly insightful or amusing to share with you tonight. I'm not sure if that's because there really is nothing in my life at the moment worth trotting out or if it's because I just don't have the mental sharpness for it after several very concentrated days of work and parenting, but I thought I should update you.
You see, I blog for fun, but I also blog out of self-defense. I'm quite sure that one of these days I'll take one too many days off from blogging, and my sister is going to drive up here and beat the crap out of me for not sufficiently entertaining her.
And nobody wants that.
A Full Day
Two developments today.
First is that "Josie" had court. It's a mixed bag result...she's with us for another 45 days...but we'll not be allowed to be effective for any of it in any way whatsoever. She'll be at her mom's Tuesday nights overnight, Thursday nights until 9, and it sounds like basically every other weekend. She'll be at her dad's most other weekends, by the sound of it. So we're almost officially downgraded to the status of a hotel, only she's not as polite to the help these days as most hotel patrons. On the bright side, they're still paying us. Do you see part of the reason we're not interested in fostering for this county ever again?
The second is the significant increase in our knowledge about "Angel". Some commenters have expressed a cautious outlook based on what I wrote last night, and they're right, I probably need to be very cautious. This little girl has problems, and I don't want to downplay those...but I absolutely refuse to love her less because I might get hurt because of those problems, either.
Some aspects of "Angel's" repertoire are coming clear now. The key points uncovered or clarified today are that she's a huge flirt with me, her weapon of choice is the good old fashioned go-limp-and-scream-bloody-murder tantrum, she has a marked fear of people leaving her at bedtime, and she seemingly can vomit on queue.
Yeah, that last one caught me off guard too, but I swear that's how it looked to me. You see, she gave The Wife fits today when she tried to go anywhere outside the house, because she'd just go limp and The Wife isn't strong enough to carry a little-girl-shaped 60-pound dead weight.
I, on the other hand, am neither intimidated by screaming nor deterred by her weight. You wanna go limp when I'm trying to put you in bed little girl, that's fine, but it won't stop me. It won't even slow me down to speak of.
She absorbed this quickly. Blindingly quickly. Whoever said this girl is "delayed" absolutely HAD to be talking EXCLUSIVELY about her social skills and maybe her speech skills, because The Girl Is Quick. Before her head hit the pillow, she was screaming bloody murder, with a growing hitch in her breathing. Before I could reach high enough to pat myself on the back, her bedtime snack was all over the front of her shirt. Twice.
At this point, I'm fighting for the future. She needs to learn these first few nights no only who's boss, but how it WILL be. Gently but firmly. So I countered her move by lifting her out of bed without missing a beat and bringing her into the bathroom. I hollered for The Wife (we're developing into an impressive tag team) and as I finished stripping off her nightgown and wiping her down with a towel plus letting her rinse her mouth out, The Wife hit the scene with a new nightgown and back into bed I bundled her before there could be too much argument.
She was winding up to blow chow again (I think) when The Wife stepped in and masterfully distracted her. It's weird, because last night I was the golden one who had to be there when she went to bed. The Wife wasn't even in the routine last night. Tonight, she could take me or leave me, but by God mama was going to be with her as she fell asleep or there would be hell to pay.
I've agreed to come home at lunch every day the rest of the week, just until The Wife has a chance to develop her defenses a little further. She'll need them. As I've said, this little girl is smart, dextrous, and never rests except when she's sleeping. She knows how to lock herself into a bedroom or bathroom, she really wants to go outside and into the unfinished basement a lot, and she's trouble looking for opportunity.
My favorite moment of the day? When I walked into the kitchen and was confronted with the spectacle of Mitch basically French-kissing "Angel", and "Angel" kissing him back. With great gusto.
Hey, it could be worse. He could be gnawing her face off of her skull.
"Angel" comes to us as an almost-four-year-old little black girl. She's adorable, with big brown eyes, kinky hair and a wonderful, in-your-face attitude. She knows what she wants and she will get it or let the entire neighborhood know that she didn't.
Her mother is a junkie who was suspected of prenatal drug use while carrying "Angel"...the man that they think is her father is in prison. She's originally from the Chicago area and has been in a couple of foster homes now. She's got physical problems, but none that seem like they'll be serious long-term liabilities.
She has a thing for brushing her teeth, which is good, and to judge by dinner our first night, when she's done eating, if there is food still on her plate she will pass out pieces of it to whoever is eating with her until it is gone. I got a share of her fries our first meal together. She most definitely does not
like the word "no". There will be battle royals about that in the future, I think.
"Angel" has a ready smile, a much sharper wit than you would expect, and gets along famously with our dogs, who seem to feel she is the finest thing to happen to our family in a spell. I think they're right about that, and I think "Angel" is adoption material, if we're lucky enough.
Love At First Sight
They can have this girl back when they pry her fingers from my cold dead ones. I opened the van door to get in when The Wife picked me up from work to go meet Mom and Dad for dinner...she took one look at me, a huge grin split her head in two, and she blurted out "Daddy!"
I felt like the Grinch when his heart grows three sizes and bursts the tape-measure thingy.
"Angel" knows what side of things she should be on, too. "Josie", when she found out she was expected to go with us for dinner and shopping for clothes for "Angel", suddenly came down with a bad case of Malaria, or Polio, or something, which as we all know can only be fixed by staying home. After some discussion about it in front of "Angel", suddenly the 3-year-old girl steps up next to The Wife, looks "Josie" straight in the eye and says "go bye-bye NOW." I swear this kid is destined for great things when she can size things up that quickly, pick the exact right thing to say (even if her style is a bit childish) and then have the courage to say it. Meanwhile, "Josie" went to her Mom's, having worn the Wife down to the point where it seemed more attractive to just let her go. She promptly got over her malaria/polio and went fishing.
"Angel" is not anywhere near as obese as I had her pictured...in fact, she's just HUGE boned, with a little extra tummy that she's almost certain to grow out of. She is
a package to carry any distance, but much in the same way as a normal 6-year-old kid, rather than a giant pumpkin or something. In fact, the only three things I can see in her so far that differ from any other kid her age are her size/muscle tone (which I believe will go away with proper nutrition and exercise), her delayed language skills (which we've been told have improved by leaps and bounds just over the last two months and really aren't that bad) and her right eye, which seems to have the pupil placed off-center in the iris and is lazy. That last is the one that concerns me the most, and I suspect someday she'll want corrective surgery on it...but it's something we can wait to see what the docs say.
All those things don't amount to a caterpillar's fart in Carlsbad Caverns, though. She's perfect.
We almost didn't get her...her old foster parents were torn, and almost called it off this weekend, but they already have six foster placements. Sheesh. If I had six others, I don't think it would be a difficult decision, but maybe that's just me.
Anyway, we went out to eat and celebrate, and then went home where I had to sit with her and look at the Animaniacs Find-It book she brought with her. This reminded me of nothing so much as a cross between Where's Waldo and Mad Magazine....but I guess that's neither here nor there. The important thing is that she cried when I told her it was time to sleep, but quieted right down when I laid next to her. She kissed my cheek, told me she loved me, and was asleep in approximately 120 seconds.
I may be jumping the gun, but I can tell you now that I already love this little girl, and I'm already hoping they terminate parental rights soon, and I'm hoping they'll give us first shot at adopting her. I want to be her forever-daddy...I want to be there to pick her up when she falls, and kiss it to make it better. I want to show her how men should treat women by showing her every day how I treat her mother, so she'll know how really high her standards in men should be. I want to help with her math homework, change the oil in her car for her, and walk her down the aisle, and listen as The Wife shares wisdom with her when she is frustrated with her children. I want to take pride in her for as long as she and I both are lucky enough to live.
THIS is why I wanted to do this. THIS is why I was so heartbroken when I found out I couldn't have biological children. THIS is what one of my major purposes in life is. THIS is the kind of thing that will give me the greatest joy for the remainder of my life. There is nothing in the world like this feeling that I'm having right now, right here, as I type this and a tear runs down my cheek.
I used to wonder why people would want to put up with all that parenting entails. Now I know.
The day is here, though I guess I'll believe it when I see it. We're supposed to get our new child, whom I'll refer to in this space as "Angel", today.
The Wife is fairly keyed up about it, and I have to admit I am as well. This one is different in that she will require a lot more care (being less than a month shy of 4 years old), she's long-term, and we could legitimately have a shot at adopting her later if it works out well.
We spent the weekend having Mom and Dad and my nephew over for Easter, doing some final preps on the house (adding gates to the stairways on the decks, hanging a mirror, etc) and I was pretty well either busy or exhausted all weekend, as I am now, hence the lack of posting the last few days. I'll post first impressions of the new member of the gang tonight.
I can't wait.
Tonight just before I was done with work I got a call from "Josie" asking if we could go fishing together when I got home. Sounds good to me.
We went, all three of us, and it was really fun. We picked up licenses about a block from the marina where we were going to fish. We stopped at the Dairy Queen across from the marina, and then joined "Josie's" grandma, who I was meeting face-to-face for the first time.
She's a no-nonsense lady, and there must have been something else badly awry in that family, because it didn't seem to be her.
I caught one small sunfish. "Josie" caught two biggish bass. I doubt I've heard the last of that.
The other interesting thing is that we got into a conversation with the older couple on the next dock. After about an hour of conversation during which I found that they lived very near a house in the cities where I used to live, we discovered that they are our next-door neighbors. They own the house next door to ours, and they lived there for 18 years before moving to the cities.
Two sets of lives, gone in opposite directions. Interesting.
G'night. I'm all in. Happy Good Friday. Sorry about not posting yesterday. More tomorrow.
I'm having a VERY rough week at work. It's not that I'm not getting anything done...on the contrary, a WHOLE LOT is getting done the last couple of months, and I'm pretty pleased with the results.
A largish percentage of this year's domestic wine in the U.S. will be grown this year under the partial or full auspices of software that I wrote personally. Also a fair proportion of the country's green beans, peas, potatoes and assorted other goodies. Today I completed my last major update to our database, fixed two more serious bugs in the software and handheld some users to successful conclusions of their issues. I rawk.
But rawking comes at a price, and I'm starting to wear out. Time to beg The Boss for just a minor regrouping period...and time to beg you for forgiveness for such a lame post tonight, but mai brane hertz end i nede a brake.
Before I sign off, here's a pretty practical suggestion
for foster parents. It's been in our arsenal from the get-go thanks to wisdom passed on to me from Mom in preparation for fostering, but we haven't used it yet. My philosophy on raising a stink is that if you're going to do it, do it over something that's important enough that you're willing to sit in the stink when you're done. Some things are worth the possible blowback, but I don't think we've hit one of those yet.
In response to that last sentence, I envision Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back when Luke is running off to help his friends before finishing his training: "You will. You will."
Why I Am What I Am
There are many things that make a person who they are. Who they associate with, what they like, what they dislike, what kind of car they drive, what they do for a living and on and on. I happen to believe that there is one thing that is particularly revealing of who a person really is.
What scared the crap out of them when they were children.
I once knew a kid who was terrified of caterpillars. Another kid was afraid of afros. Neither of them would admit it to any but their best friends, probably even to this day. But I swear it's true. I, of course, was only afraid of the stuff that was really
Well, okay...really scary if you were a kid with a lot of imagination growing up in the 70s. Here, then, is a partial list of the stuff that made me want to throw my Scooby Doo lunch box into the air and run screaming like a girl home to my mommy at various times between the ages of 4 and 12...some of them still scare me a little:
. Are you kidding me? Forget about Grumpy or Alice or any of the other assorted vicious creatures that Marshall, Will and Holly had to deal with. Pointy-headed lizard-men who shot arrows at you and walked like my grandpa freaked me right the hell out.
2) Dyna-Girl (of ElectraWoman and DynaGirl
fame) in the episode where one of the arch-villains turned her into her own evil twin. The evil laughter as she contemplated betraying her former mentor chilled me to my very soul.
3) My aunt. She was crass, loud, and would take no crap from me or anybody else. She's a dear lady to everyone now, but a scary one to me then. Mom, Dad, stop laughing.
4) The fishing house that used to sit down at the beach near my folks' lake cabin. I was pretty sure it was haunted (a la Scooby Doo), and even if it wasn't there were a LOT of spiders. I was pretty sure they were black widows, too. Spiders never really bothered me much except for the ones in that little shack. They were hungry
5) "The Old Man In The Wall". My mom never found out about this one until years after the fact, and to this day she insists on bringing it up. You see, my room in the house where I grew up had had a stove in it at some point in the past. There was a hole in the wall to accomodate the flue. When the stove was removed, they had patched over the hole and painted. Over time, the patching had slightly wrinkled with age. My 4-year-old eyes looked at that and handed the image to my 4-year-old mind, which interpreted it as an old man trying to push his face through the wall. Think it's funny? Remember in Nightmare On Elm Street when Freddy pushed his head up out through the bed? Same thing.
6) My third grade teacher. I have no idea what it was about that woman, but third grade was where I picked up the habit of always being in motion to try to bleed off any extra stress in my life. Rocking, jumping on a tramp, pacing...to this day I rock in my seat at work a lot of the time. She took 5 years off my life before I was 10.
7) Bullheads. Did you know if they sting you with your stickers, your ear holes will melt shut and your hair will fall out?
8) Motorcycles. Talk about conflicted...I ride one every year and take great pleasure in riding, but they scare the hell out of me too. My cousin died in a motorcycle crash when I was
[interruption while The Wife lectures me about closing the toilet lid so Mitch doesn't sneak a drink]
ten, and ever since they've given me the creeps at odd moments. A little like Christine gave anyone who ever saw the movie the creeps in a big way. A motorcycle just sits there and looks
at you when you're not watching, sizing you up, licking it's radiator grille and wondering if you might be tasty.
9) The Six Million Dollar Man
. There was just something creepy about that sound effect they would use when he was using his bionic stuff that set me on edge...plus, I mean, the guy's EYE was fake. He was a fercripesake CYBORG, people. The bionic woman didn't bother me as much, but that's probably because I had a bodacious crush on Lindsay Wagner. I used to have dreams of her and what's-her-name who played Wonder Woman.
10) A movie I barely remember called "Night Cries"
. Gave me nightmares for months.
11) Anything to do with any Planet of the Apes
12) Ditto for Godzilla
. King Kong was a chump next to him.
13) Where The Wild Things Are
. Don't laugh. It wasn't funny.
. They frightened me as a little kid and delighted me as a big kid. They still do. But that tongue thing and the makeup was a little much for an 8-year-old to take.
15) Any episode of Star Trek you would care to name (except maybe the tribble one), but most especially that one with the flying attack raviolis that would batten onto your back and suck your juices out. Dude, that was just not good in any way. Leiutenant Uhura was hot, though.
There are probably hundreds of others, but those were the ones that sprang easily to mind. I lived a rich mind-life as a kid.
UPDATE: Okay, fine, I did forget ONE very important one...Sigmund the Sea Monster. Or rather, not necessarily Sigmund himself so much as his family. They were always so...sinister. And they could squinch their faces up in the most gawdawful contortions. Sure, they were nothing so much as a family of weedy aquatic weebles who did
fall down and who couldn't hurt a fly if they wanted to, but the thing is they did
want to. And they were sea monsters. And let's not forget I was like 8 or so.
A Smoke, and Further Thoughts
The other day when "Josie" got word that she was likely to be sent to a residential facility, she was understandably very uptight. She paced around, and muttered, and I was pretty sure at one point she was considering the pros and cons of running.
I made sure I knew where my car keys were.
But eventually, she got up and walked out. That's unlike her...she normally always asks before she goes for a walk or a bike ride. It's not that we're likely to deny her permission, it's just that we like to know when The Beast is Going Abroad. Do you know where YOUR kids are?
Anyway, she walked out, and I went to go tell The Wife that her dumb PO had dumbly told her dumb mom, and her dumb mom had dumbly gone and told her dumb daughter. Buncha dummies we're dealing with.
It happens that our bedroom overlooks our driveway, and as I related events to The Wife, I watched "Josie" walk her bike out of the garage, jump on, and pedal hard to get up the fairly steep slope of our driveway. She turned left and started rolling down the road toward the lake.
About 100 yards or so from the driveway, suddenly she slowed and rolled to a stop, dropping her legs and standing astride her bike. As I watched, she paused a bit, and suddenly a white plume burst from her head, looking for a moment like a halo in the sun, then like a conversation balloon like the ones you see in the comics, and finally just a thin white jetstream that rapidly thinned and disappeared, to be followed shortly by its twin, born a few seconds later.
She started the bike rolling again, a burst of white issuing from her head every few seconds, until she rolled out of sight behind the trees. I know how she feels. Despite the fact that I have cystic fibrosis, I started smoking when I was 16. I wasn't diagnosed until I was 29.
I didn't quit until I was 32 (having decided by that age that I'd like to try to live another 32--at least). When you're a smoker, there's nothing like a 5-minute tryst with a cigarette to help you think. I'm not defending the habit...it's destructive and expensive and not something anybody should take up. But I do understand it, and if they ever did come out with a cigarette where you could smoke all you want and not kill yourself (and if I was in the mood for another divorce), I'd probably start up again.
It hurts my heart to see a 15-year-old smoke so expertly, though. She started, according to her, when she was 9. I don't necessarily doubt that, either. She told me a story once of a time when she was 13 and her brothers let her get so drunk she threw up all over. It was a "reward" for not bugging them. A reward.
I think of that story often...every time I get mad at her. I consider what sorts of standards and "norms" her family has provided her with. I consider how her brothers have mistreated her, and how her mother has so often turned her back on her.
How lonely that must be. She's just so damaged
. How can we help pick up the pieces? I know we're not really in a position to now, but how do we get
into that position? There has to be a way. And maybe it just involves putting in the time.
I hope this girl doesn't think she will have seen the last of us when she leaves our house. She won't get off that
easy. No freakin' way.
9:00 AM (while getting ready for 10AM church): Suprise! Home visit to go to church with family! I doubt she went, but whatever.
[go to church, she gets home after lunch]
4:00 PM Suprise! Mom's here, she's going with her for supper, be back around 9.
8:30 PM Suprise! "Can I bring [a friend] home to stay overnight?" "No freakin' way, kid. See you at 9." "[grumble snort sulk] Bye."
Whoever said children are the future envision a bleak future indeed, at least in some cases.
The sky is blue. The sun is shining...the crocuses I planted last fall FINALLY made an appearance, although weak, and I can't seem to keep my head indoors. As I look at the thermometer it's cracked 50 and will rise a little more before waning. Spring is definitely here, and I'm going to bug out and start the installation of the invisible fence for the dogs.
But before I do that, I should notify anyone who's interested that "Josie" called her mom this morning and discovered that the PO told her mom that he will be recommending she go to a residential treatment center at her twice-delayed court appearance next week.
That's right. We find out from the kid, who is the last person who should know about something like this.
According to the county we live in, we are not a method of helping fix the problem, but instead basically a kid-drop, where they can put problem teenagers until they figure out what to do with them. They don't ask for our thoughts or feelings on the matter because they're not interested in the whinings and pulings of people who actually know
the kid. After all, they know best, don't they?
They've had a trained social worker living in the same house with the kid for several months...but who cares what her professional opinion might be? After all, there are stuffed suits to make those kinds of decisions, why on earth would they want to talk to someone with social work training and experience plus real life experience living with the child in question?
No, no, no, no. That would be far too logical. Send the kid to one of those tanks where they hold kids good and tight. What? The kid isn't dangerous? She's been doing well when she's at her current foster home except during home visits? Who cares about those things? That would be ridiculous.
After all, cutting off home visits for an extended period would be far too simple and logical. Better to just send her out of sight so we don't have to think about the ungodly bills it will generate for the taxpayers.
Talk about swatting a fly with a '69 Buick.
Final note on that unpleasantness: As I think I've mentioned before, in our particular county, the voice of the PO is usually considered 50.1% of the voting stock in the future of children who's cases are assigned to him/her. We have almost everyone who knows "Josie" personally on our side, from her teachers and counsellors and psychologists to social workers and her lawyer. No matter. The PO's word is God's word when the case is juvenile rather than child protection.
And my regular readers will have seen that there is just as much reason to treat this case as child protection versus criminal. She hit a cop. I wanted to do that once. The only difference between her case and mine is my greater maturity and understanding of how far hitting a cop will get you in life. No matter how
much of a prick he is.
So anyway, I'm going to put all this out of my head and go out and try to begin the process of making our yard far more fun for the dogs. Turn the radio to my favorite local 80s station (very little real music has been written since about '91 or '92 in my not-so-humble opinion), grab a jug of juice, grab my spade, and work in the sun.
Very little in the world could be finer than that on a sunny April Saturday afternoon in Minnesota. The only thing that would improve it would be if I didn't know that my mind will be turning over how often we'll feel compelled to drive the 60 or 80 or however many miles to visit "Josie" and help her keep her chin up, and try to help her finally understand that there are people who love her. I don't think she's really gotten that yet.
"Josie", Thy Name is "Stupid"
Maybe The Brat will be around a bit longer after all. I never saw such a tightrope walker in my life. She was all set to go home. All she had to do was not screw up...
So today we find out that on her last home visit she went out booze cruising with her friends. The driver on that particular expedition was Snotface. She will no longer have contact of any kind with him while she's here. At least not with our permission, I should say.
Now I think the PO has decided he'll probably recommend that she stay here after all...and I can't say I'm happy about it. The girl needs to hit bottom or something, and she has to do it hard. It has to make an impression
on her, to somehow make her understand that this isn't a joke. We're just cushioning the blows for her. Maybe she needs
to be smacked upside the head and needs it to hurt.
She looked us straight in the eye, swore up and down with tears in her eyes that she was home watching the Disney channel that night. The fercripesake Disney
channel. When we pointed out what a lame load of crap that was and where was she really, she got all indignant about how for once in her life
she tells the truth
and then nobody believes her. Aren't you just welling up with pity for this poor, misunderstood girl?
I wanted to point out that if it was only once in her life, maybe she should try two, or three or four times or even more
telling the truth, and then people might consider wondering whether she was beginning to tell the truth sometimes.
My current judgement on the matter is that the best thing for her would be:
1) Never, EVER be allowed to go back to live with her mother or brothers again.
2) Never, EVER be allowed to spend a single minute with any but one or two of the friends she runs with (one of which a little bird told me may be a future guest with us, and I can't say I'm too displeased about it, as the kid shows promise when he visits).
3) Be sent to a foster home at least two counties away for a minimum of 6 months, with no contact with ANY of her current friends by phone or otherwise.
4) She should be made to get a job at the earliest possible time, and should be forced to join at least one extracurricular activity at school. We've already been told we don't have that power, and it sucks. I should admit, she has
tried to get a job, but that's tough when you're 15.
So much for my judgement. The county is showing admirable tenacity in their singleminded drive to force her as quickly as possible back into the situation that created her mess, while showing equally impressive innovation in finding ways to studiously ignore their own order that there be family counseling. They also continue their tradition of ignoring the inconvenient little fact that the mother still hits the bars most nights and still shows far more affection for her boyfriend than her daughter.
This after ignoring the unfortunate refusal on the mother's part to receive a chemical dependency evaluation at the last court hearing. No matter the circumstances, children MUST be with their "natural" families AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AT ALL COSTS. Because that way the county's costs are lower. Until they have to pay for her to live in a group home when she kills a family of four after stealing a car and going for a joyride with Snotface.
You Might Be a Foster Parent
1) If you/your wife never gave birth, but you have three huge boxes of toys...you might be a foster parent.
2) If you are unable to hold a grudge for longer than it takes a child to smile and say they're sorry...you might be a foster parent.
3) If you hear about a child being abused and it makes you want to jam a two-by-four up the abuser's nose on the one hand but thank them on the other hand for providing you an opportunity to love their child...you might be a foster parent.
4) If you know most of the local cops by their first name and you've never done time...you might be a foster parent.
5) If you sit up late to watch specials about things like meth labs and pediatric psychology on PBS or the Learning Channel...you might be a foster parent.
6) If your friends and family collect coins or baseball cards or wine and you only want to collect kids...you might be a foster parent.
7) If your income would allow you to drive a big, new truck or a Corvette if you wanted and you voluntarily make due with a 10 year old beater so you can keep the house fixed up to code and add another bedroom with an egress window in the basement to increase your capacity...you might be a foster parent.
8) If your phone rings in the middle of the night and it doesn't terrify you that it's bad news because it's probably just the cops or social workers looking for an emergency placement...you might be a foster parent.
9) If you have no idea how many people will be sleeping in your house tonight and don't much care...you might be a foster parent.
10) If you/your wife have never given birth and you have at least one pediatric medical diagnosis page bookmarked in your web browser...you might be a foster parent.
11) If you can't help telling someone you love them even if you've only known them for two weeks...you might be a foster parent.
12) If your heart outweighs your brain...you might be a foster parent.
13) If you can tell when someone's been using pot, booze, coke, meth, acid or rush with one glance in someone's eyes...you might be a foster parent.
14) If you've ever found a bong in your house that you never saw before and you're comfortable that if a cop knew about it he wouldn't blame you for it...you might be a foster parent.
15) If you know where all the bathrooms are in the courthouse...you might be a foster parent.
16) If you know what social workers really do with their day...you might be a foster parent.
17) If you had family pictures from each of the last five years and no two of them have the same people in them...you might be a foster parent.
18) If the Schwann's man looks at you as a primary means to send his kids to college...you might be a foster parent.
19) If you trust the children in your house approximately as far as a mouse can shot-put a cat...you might be a foster parent.
20) If you buy new Christmas stockings every year...you might be a foster parent.
I'd throw more of these out there, I'm short on time and I think you get the point. Please feel free to enliven my life with more of them in comments if any strike you. Together we will build wisdom.
Or at least have fun.
And Just Like That
So I guess we'll be having a new arrival tentatively scheduled for the 14th. Those who have fostered will know what I mean when I say "tentatively", because nothing is firm in this business until it is in the past. Witness the fact that "Josie's" court appearance for tomorrow has been postponed until the 18th.
Yes, that's right, not only do we have to put up with The Brat (who I'm already going soft on again by the way) but we'll have a weekend where we'll have both of them together. To make it more fun, due to furniture considerations we're going to have to move "Josie" into the second room for that last weekend and the new little girl (whose false name I'll come up with when I know more about her) will have "Josie's" room, since the beds are smaller.
This is actually one of the fun parts of fostering, when you get a little notice. We have this little girl coming, and we know some things about her...but who is she? What things make her a special, unique person? How are we going to be able to help her? What things are going to drive us batshit (pardon my French) about her?
Is she really as badly damaged as they make her out to be, or will she be fine given a little good care and patience and love? They told us bad things about "Josie" too, and we would easily be able to turn her into an actual human given the time they refuse to give us. She's a good girl at heart, and much smarter than they told us she would be.
I guess that's the crux of it. No matter how
much they tell you about a referral, you can throw it all in the trash most of the time. They never
get it right. The only thing you can do is open your door and your heart and let the child step in and make themselves at home. What happens then is what happens.
But I'll tell you a little secret. I've got a good feeling about this one.
A Word on Blogging and an Administrative Note
My previous blogging life was in that nastiest of nasty genres: politics. I have my own very strongly and honestly held political beliefs...and I've made it a point to make a sincere effort to keep them to myself within this space.
This space is for content about fostering activities with intermixed inanities about my personal life, not about flaming people of other political persuasions. One of the big things about political blogging is an activity known to political bloggers (and others) as "link-whoring". That is, to do whatever you can to get links to your blog.
It's a fine thing to get your blog linked in a post by one of the biggies in that world...the holy grail in my circles being to get an "instalanche", the term for what happens to your server when you get a link from Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit
, the so-called blogfather. I never got one, but I wanted one.
The finer thing was to get a permanent link to your blog in the sidebar in one of the bigger/more respected blogs. I did manage one of those, and my now-dormant-for-months pol blog STILL gets hits from that link.
This blog was a purposefully taken new direction for me. I'm done with the nastiness and crassness (of which I'm not innocent myself by any stretch), preferring now to focus on things more real, if not always nicer. Hyperbole will be used here, but it will be clearly meant and hopefully understood as such.
Now finally to the point: I meant at the beginning to make this blog a mostly self-referential device. It was going to be an instrospective piece of myself...and it has been. I've been completely open here. Not much of my life is kept out of this account of it, and I plan on continuing that spirit going forward.
I have, however, taken some notice of a few other people out there that do what we do. They are fighting the good fight, keeping the faith, and a bunch of other bad cliches. They deserve some notice, so I've given in and begun a small blogroll on the right under "Fellow Travellers".
I'm only including blogs about fostering (though there are other fine blogs, a few of whom have noticed my humble efforts and kindly linked), and it's not a comprehensive list of all the blogs I've looked at on the subject...but the ones included seem to me to truly be fellow travellers.
These people love kids, they have the same types of struggles and triumphs as we do, and I feel a kinship with them. Give them a look and see if you don't see what I mean. Keep checking the list, as there are a couple more I plan on adding in coming days.
Our PATH social worker ran a new referral by us that's very interesting to us. It's a little black girl who has some very serious problems...most or all of which could have been prevented with even the most basic of parenting.
She's three years old...but looks six or seven due to massive obesity. Our information is sketchy so far, so it's unclear if that obesity is natural, a result of neglect or abuse, a result of the suspected prenatal drug use of the mother or a result of a car accident she was in two years ago (probably without a car seat, for all we know).
She's "developmentally delayed". I'm familiar enough with this business now to know that that phrase probably has a very specific meaning, but I'm not good enough yet to know precisely what it means, and people seem reluctant to tell me, which can't be good, right? Anybody who has a good idea of a specific meaning of that phrase as it applies to official psychological diagnoses of children, please share in comments...I'd like a definition from someone knowledgeable about this. Is it a code phrase for "retarded", for "not bright", or simply what it really seems to mean, which is her development just lags a year or however much behind her peers?
Anyway, there was no followup after the accident, so they're busy trying to make any appropriate diagnoses right now. From her current foster home. Where she's one of seven foster kids. Holy crap.
She's got vision problems, problems walking, a speech impediment and God knows what else.
The mother was incarcerated and shows no interest in her daughter. No father is known. Parental rights are being terminated, probably to the relief of all involved except the little girl.
So. Mom was understandably guarded about us taking this one, fearing that it could bankrupt us if we softheadedly fall in love with her--as we almost certainly would--and ended up adopting her. To tell the truth, I'm neutral on this one until we get more information. It may be over our head.
But of course you realize better than I do as a reader of this blog that we'll probably take her. You have the perspective we lack except in rare moments of clarity like I'm experiencing right now as I write this. We're people who knowingly go through the most gawdawful frustrations, things that would make "normal" people beg for mercy, and then after a quick smile and a hug from the source of the trouble, turn around and beg for more. Maybe we're "developmentally delayed". Or as Bill Cosby would put it, "brain damaged people".
In short, we're foster parents. This is what we do, and while we might not do it as well as some, we're willing to beat our heads against the wall some more. We're the best for this job by virtue of the fact that our insticts for self-preservation are insufficently vigorous.
What ya got for us, "Vicki
Bring. It. On.
A Slice o' Life
Tonight after work, I picked up dog crap out of the yard. Then I went in and ate two giant plates of spaghetti with jalapenos. That was an unfortunate juxtaposition, but I can handle it.
The Wife had The Brat out shopping and I enjoyed the first half of the evening home alone with my dog crap and tomato sauce. "Josie" went to bed shortly after getting home, I got our email working again (damn ISP switched us over to a new system that doesn't work as well as the old system) and now I must wash spaghetti pots before going to bed.
It could be worse. I could have to wash dog crap pots. A good attitude is all about how you choose to look at things.
Explosion and Aftermath
Yesterday I had finally had had enough of "Josie's" BS. I had spoken sharply (and privately) with her earlier in the week
, and it didn't seem to register much, if at all...so I tried firing another round across her bow.
It was precipitated by her badgering The Wife again and again and AGAIN about letting her visit home. I guess us driving her around every single day to home, her brother's, her friends', letting her friends come here and stay overnight repeatedly, et al wasn't enough. And the Wife, after showing more forebearance than she even does with me, finally had had enough and said "I'm not going to argue about it anymore." I piped up and said "I will. Let me know if you need to argue more."
Mistake 1: saying it at all.
Mistake 2: saying such a thing when I actually meant it.
She took me up on it. Shifting into whine mode, she made some offensive comment or other, after which I said "what are you worried about going home for anyway? Your PO already told you you'll most likely be going home this week. Then you won't have to worry about nasty old Dan and Karla getting in your way when you want to do whatever you want."
Then SHE made the mistake: "Shut up."
Both the words and the tone in which they were said as I was walking out of the room reached into my spine like a fishhook and yanked me back into the room, spun me around, and pulled me right up to a position across the counter from her. I looked her directly in the eye, put my fisted hands down on the counter, and continued the string of utterances I had begun as soon as the fishhook in my spine had been set.
Everything I said was on the mark, it was all true, and it all needed desperately to be said. The only exception was at the end, when I said that if she hated it so much here and really wanted to disrespect us, I'd gladly call the cops and have them take her out of here right now. The truth is, I wouldn't
be glad to do it, and I wouldn't do it anyway
because it would be ridiculous. If I can't handle a kid telling me to shut up without calling the cops, I'm most certainly in the wrong business.
I also should never have let my volume out of control. That was probably the biggest mistake, and I tried to apologize for it...I truly did. "Josie" locked herself in her room over it, however, and refused to come to supper because she'd have to be in the same room with me. So much for my high estimation of her maturity. Here we had a 15-year-old acting like she was 8.
So now we gladly switched her overnight home visit tomorrow night for tonight. "Charlie" and "George" have been handed back to their mother, "Josie" has gone home for the evening, and it's just The Wife and I home alone for the first time in what seems like forever.
You'd think this would be the time for a romantic night together...but The Wife is exhausted (I don't blame her) and I'm pretty deeply involved in reevaluating my skill level at fostering. I came into this with maybe too high an opinion of myself. Time to get real with myself.
I guess you can't just re-enter this stuff after not doing it actively for over a decade and be great at it out the gate. Also, being the foster parent
is a much different thing from being a foster sibling
. Oh, it helps having watched a master at work (Mom), but it turns out watching
a master and being
a master aren't quite the same thing. I suppose I should have intuited that before now, but there's nothing like getting your nose busted once or twice to bring it home to you a little. Helping a blackbelt beat a guy up 12 or 13 years ago is a whole different thing from standing in front of the same guy now, up close and alone.
Oh, I'm not re-evaluating whether we should be doing this. We should be. It's the only way I can imagine to live at this point, pain in the ass or not. But I suspect my personal attitude is going to be a little less cocky going forward.
Mom told me there would be times when we'd be glad to see the back side of the kids leaving the house. I can tell you now, dearest readers, that she wasn't just whistling Dixie. I've had it with "Josie". The county won't let us do it right, and because of that, "Josie" won't let us into her space at all. So goodbye, honey, good luck, and I really, really, REALLY hope the PO follows through and sends you home. I'm truly sorry, but we can't seem to help you now.
Mom said one other thing that's a little frightening. They stopped in yesterday for a visit, and after evaluating everything that's happened, her judgement is that probably twice more before "Josie" is 18, we will get a call asking us to take her back...the first probably coming after she screws up again and goes to a group home (which the voice in my head tells me will happen inside of a few months).
Of course, we'll discuss it carefully when the time comes. And of course we'll take her back. We do, after all, love her. And we'll miss her horribly once we're done being so damned glad she's gone.