Time With "Elaine"
I had to take "Pixie" to town to an appointment and "Elaine" decided to tag along. I didn't mind...I like both of these kids a lot and it was a good chance to spend some time being the dad.
We dropped off "Pixie", and along the same block were several shops. A thrift shop, a couple of antique places and so forth. It's a tourist town. So we decided to just browse some.
Let me first of all say that I strongly resent finding a Kiss album in an "antique" shop. Okay, so it was vinyl. But "Love Gun", while it may be a classic, is certainly not antique. Ditto for Bon Jovi's "Slippery When Wet". For cripe's sake, people! These guys are still doing concerts! Though, it wouldn't surprise me if one or two of the Kiss guys take geritol...
Anyway, after taking "Elaine's" jokes at my expense and having a generally good time poking fun at some of the old stuff together, and after her being a good sport and going into a book shop with me, I let her drag me into a teen fashion place. We tried on glasses...I don't think I would make a good-looking teen girl, by the look of me in those glasses. She had a fit over some "Boyfriend Watches" that were labeled "Trend Alert!" Personally, I don't think I have a use for a watch that has a "jelly band", whatever THAT means. As we left, the only other male in the place was leaving too, with what looked like his wife and little girl. He looked at me and muttered "was that as much fun for you as it was for me?"
While I'm guessing that I felt about the place about like he did, in my case it was totally worth it. It's important, if you want to develop a good relationship with a kid, to sometimes do things that the kid wants to do, and to at least ACT like you're having a good time. They know well enough that you're not going to have as good a time as them, but they tend to appreciate the effort, and it ties you together. It also makes it easier for them to feel like they really should do things with you that they DON'T want so much to do if they know that maybe next time there will be something in it for them.
Give and take. Sharing things. Building relationships. Those are, after all, the things that we wanted to get out of fostering, yes?
The latest addition to our family is a 13-year-old girl. She just got here yesterday so we really haven't had much to judge her by yet, but so far all seems pleasant. Tonight she spent a bit of time with The Wife watching TV, and even took my usual role of getting a snack for The Wife in bed. Hmmpf.
"Pixie" and "Elaine" seem to get along very well together, watching the same kinds of movies and liking the same kinds of music. They even look a bit alike, in a way. Tonight they came to ask if they could bring the portable DVD player into their room to watch so they wouldn't have to lay around in the next room (their own private living room with a 50" plasma-screen TV). Apparently they're equally lazy as well. The answer, of course, was "are you kidding me? Get out of here."
I haven't yet read "Pixie's" file, but I'm told she has quite the depressing history. She doesn't show it at first blush...but I hope we're able to gain her confidence enough to help her out with the things she needs to work on. She is only slated to be with us for a month, but that could change. In any case, The Wife is known for working well with teen girls. From my own observations from being in the trenches with her for a few years now, I'd be more likely to say she works miracles with them. I definitely married above my level.
I should have introduced "Elaine" before now...she's been with us for months. However, she has been very smooth to have around and frankly doesn't provide juicy material very often. Still, she's come to be an important part of the house and deserves recognition.
"Elaine" came to us from a girls' home, and is currently destined to go live with her grandmother. She is very much a typical teen, who likes softball, guitar hero, boys and shopping. We haven't had any major issues with her, and don't anticipate any in whatever amount of time she remains with us.
Ebb and Flow
The Wife, as I have said before, is the heartbeat of our household. We'd be completely lost without the energy and effort she puts out each and every day...especially days like today and yesterday, when I've been fighting a splitting headache and am not much help. But Panda and the various kids that come and go make up the rest of the body of the place, and we've had a fairly interesting group this past week. One 16-year-old girl who I have not introduced--but who has been with us for several months (she is about to leave us, it looks like)--is here, along with another 16-year-old girl who was here for the last week for respite from one of our colleagues' house. They are both good kids and have had a lot of fun together and with Panda. We also have "Marcus", of course, plus his two PCAs have been in and out, one of which is a virtual member of our household already being the son of a close friend of the family and the other of which is new to us but seems very compatible with us.
All these people along with the usual pets have combined into a very nice unit for a week, issues with "Marcus" notwithstanding. It works out that way sometimes. You get a glimpse of why you wanted to do this, and a peek at the sort of fine people the teens could grow up to be if only they listen to at least part of what you're trying to teach them.
Plus, there was spaghetti. No week is a total loss if there was spaghetti.
Tomorrow we are supposed to be receiving a new 13-year-old girl, who is scheduled to be staying with us for a month or so, until school starts. Should be interesting to see what she's about. I know her age, gender and first name, and that is all. Life is nothing if not dynamic.
What if You Don't Like the Kid?
People get into fostering because they honestly love kids and enjoy having them around. They want to help them. Foster parents who get into it for another reason (money, a sense of "civic responsibility", or whatever) invariably flame out inside of a year or two. You have to love the kids, period. Nothing else will do.
However, we are human, and humans run into other humans that they simply don't like. Other times, you can like another human, but then that human does something that causes you to not like them anymore. This can even happen when there are good reasons for the thing that person did to make you change your mind. It can be a disease (alcoholism, autism, retardation, tourette's, or what have you) that you fully understand and that the person has little or no control over...but still you just can't work around it for whatever reason.
We have experienced this a couple of times since we started fostering, and it is brought to my mind by the "potty issues" we're having with "Marcus". These issues are something he can't help and we're working with him on them, but they are causing us to honestly not like him, and in some cases dread even dealing with him. After all, how many times can you slap a kid's hand away from digging between his legs while he's on the toilet before you start to get squeamish about taking his hand, hugging him, and being intimate in a parent-child kind of situation? The sanitary aspect of it alone is enough to make you want to avoid having him spend time with your own child.
You can start out with the best of intentions and have a fair bit of experience and still begin to resent having to clean up human feces time and time again...not only from his pants and clothes which is pretty natural, but from the bedclothes, bed, floor, dresser, window, walls, and everywhere else he can reach. Not to mention his face, hair, ears, nose, mouth and every other part of his own body. Something inside me is beginning to revolt at the idea of keeping on with this if we don't see some sort of improvement soon. We may have reached the outer limit of our expertise.
I'd be interested in hearing from anybody who has had to deal with this kind of problem on a protracted basis. We've had kids spread feces (and even in one case blood) on the bathroom wall and of course we've had kids mess in their pants, but I've never, EVER, in my life as a foster parent or my earlier 11-year stint as a full-time foster brother, had to deal with an issue of this kind quite so severe. And The Wife and I are starting to get tapped out for ideas. I'd love to just zip the kid into a ziplock when we put him to bed, but something tells me The Powers That Be would frown on such a course of action.
As regular readers know, I was studying to be a special educator last fall. I continued that until this last spring, when I had to withdraw from school to be...a trucker. Yes, I got my commercial (class A) license, and went over the road. This was necessitated by a combination of the facts that I had lost my contract in software, there are not many other opportunities in that vein in rural MN, I didn't want them anymore even if they were there because I'M SICK TO DEATH OF WRITING SOFTWARE, and I needed a job that had health insurance. Trucking seemed like a good idea at the time, at least until I could figure something else out.
I started in early April and went until late June, at which time I had Two Very Bad Days. Accidents on two back-to-back days, mostly due to a faulty trailer. Of course, that's my fault too, because I should have caught the problem(s) and refused to pull the trailer. Needless to say, I lost the job, and am now back into the routine of life at home, looking for something different.
I've applied for things as disparate as "research associate", shipping/receiving, and terminal operator for a fertilizer company, but just today I mailed a resume for secretary/special education for the day treatment school down the road. That's the only job I've applied for that I have a real interest in, and I'm REALLY hoping I get an interview. I'm now scheduled to finish school at the end of fall semester 2011 (I restart where I left off in November) and I would LOVE to have an "in" in the local district. It has health insurance, even if it doesn't pay that much. I'll take it if I can get it.
"Marcus" came to us some time ago, but I've only gotten to know him in the last few weeks since I've been home again (more on that later). He is nearly 4 and, by the best guess of those who know, autistic. He doesn't talk. Or rather, he doesn't speak. He does make certain things known very well, like for instance when he's unhappy about something. Specific communication is challenging, but the broad strokes of how "Marcus" is feeling at any given point isn't very hard to decipher.
"Marcus" has "potty issues", especially at night. In fact, without trying to get too graphic about it, he is also something of a sculptor. He also enjoys some...uh...UNIQUE facials. Yes, it's that bad sometimes. Enough so that we have done away with the carpeting in his room in favor of washable stick-down tiles. Only one incident since then, and it was a LOT easier this time, if not any easier on our stomachs.
Still, this little boy is often fun to be around. We're likely to burn out over the long run given his many, many, MANY special needs (including at least one appointment in distant towns every single day) but we'll see how long we can last. People like him used to be immediately referred to institutions I suspect, but with budget cuts and so forth I guess they put the B team on the field. That's us.
From the perspective of a person who is studying special education, "Marcus" is a fascinating case study. I would guess he is about at the developmental age of 18 months or less in most ways. Absolutely no toilet training, no words, and very into immediate gratification. His parents clearly love him dearly, but have great difficulty meeting his needs. I can't say I blame them.
As I currently understand it, we are to have him for at least another month or more.