Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Natural Consequences of Failing to Brush

Danielle went to the dentist today.  It was time for her six-month checkup, and she'd been complaining of some discomfort in the back of her mouth.  We figured the discomfort might be caused by her wisdom teeth.

Sure enough, the dentist had to make a referral.  Danielle may be in for a bit of a wait before the problem can be remedied, as there is only one oral surgeon in our area who accepts our state's medical insurance.

Her checkup, as usual, was lousy.  This time, she had three cavities.  (It's only been six months since her last check-up, so that's pretty bad.)  Unfortunately, this is the natural consequence of her failing to brush her teeth.

It's pretty frustrating, but she simply won't perform certain personal hygiene tasks without a huge fight.  Her breath is frequently atrocious, but we gave up on the twice-daily battle over tooth-brushing long ago.  More than once, our insistence that she brush has triggered rages or violence, and we finally decided that it wasn't worth it.

Once, Danielle became so enraged by being asked to go brush before bed, that she became violent and scratched FosterEema hard enough to draw blood.  We ended up calling police that night.

All this over a two-minute task?


The kid won.  It's just not worth having to call the cops over a toothbrush.  If Danielle wanted to have bad breath, gum disease and a mouthful of rotten teeth, that would be a decision kept between her and her dentist.

We stopped pestering, nagging and reminding, and things became a lot more tranquil around here.

Of course Danielle isn't happy about having cavities, either.  I guess she'll have to decide whether the cavities are worth the convenience of not brushing her teeth.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Chanukah

Wow, hat tip to Mombian for this little gem:

Overnights with Birth Family

One of Danielle's birth family members lives in town and wants Danielle to come over for an overnight visit.

On the surface, the answer seems easy.  Birth family contact is important.

But then there are complications.  The relative who is asking, from what we've gathered, seems to have some substance use/abuse issues, and has been observed hanging out with people who do. This person also doesn't have their own housing and rents a room from an adult, single, unrelated male.

Would you let your 16-year-old daughter spend the night with a birth family member who was renting a room from some guy?

I'm not really too keen about the idea of inviting Danielle's birth family, for the reasons I've described above, to spend the night at my house, either.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Holiday Gift-Giving Dilemma

Here it is the holiday season, and we haven't bought a single thing for our kid yet.

Buying gifts for the holidays has always been difficult.  More than once we have given things to Danielle that she didn't like, and she's pitched fits of epic proportions that made us wish we hadn't even bothered.  My mother once bought Danielle the entire set of Harry Potter books and her response was disappointing.  "I'm shocked that grandma would buy me books when she knows I hate books," she complained.

Each year, the gift-giving dilemma has only become harder.  She doesn't have any hobbies or interests, so it's very difficult to find things that she likes.

Her birthday turned out to be an exercise in frustration.  We bought her a portable music player, but rather than thank us, she complained about it openly in front of everyone attending her birthday party.  She was unhappy because we didn't buy her the exact model she wanted.  We'd had a talk before her birthday explaining that she wasn't going to get the device she coveted, so she shouldn't have been surprised.  Unfortunately for everyone, she was angry and disappointed, and didn't hesitate to share it with everyone.

Danielle has been hoping for a cell phone this Chanukah.  Although we were giving it some genuine thought, we decided against it for several reasons: 1) her behavior has been pretty dreadful, as witnessed by her recent rock-throwing episode; 2) we had substantial problems with her behavior with regards her old phone; and 3) we can't trust that she'll follow the rules, given that we've told her to stay off the social media web sites, and we caught her at it again.

So last week, when we sat down with our family therapist to discuss Danielle's latest behavioral problem at school, we decided that the cell phone was off the table.  The therapist agreed that Danielle had really violated our trust, and helped us explain our reasoning why the device wasn't going to appear this December.

Now our holiday gift-giving has become just that much tougher.  Even on a good day, she's almost impossible to please.  Knowing that her coveted holiday gift isn't coming will just make her all the more angry and disappointed.

I can't say that I entirely blame her.  I'd be disappointed, too, if I had my heart set on getting a cell phone and I knew that it wasn't going to happen.

Unfortunately Danielle is her own worst enemy, because she makes so many decisions that leave us in a position of being unable to trust.  As a parent, I don't feel that giving her a cell phone is a wise thing to do.  She's demonstrated that she won't follow our wishes with regards to the social media sites, she's made it clear by word and by deed that she's not going to follow the rules, and when she had a cell phone in the past, we were frequently confiscating it because she was using it to send text messages while she was at school, and insisted on contacting people we had asked her not to contact.

We had an interesting conversation in the car this past weekend.  She said she needed us to trust her.  We explained that it was almost impossible, considering that every time we did, she violated that trust.  She seemed to understand, but I'm not sure it will change much.  Trust is difficult to earn and easy to lose, and it's going to take a long time before we can trust her.

Our gift-giving dilemma isn't just limited to the question of what to buy.  Some of it is that it is just difficult to be motivated to go out there and shop.  It is hard to be filled the desire to buy gifts for someone who has done the things Danielle has done to us.  It's really difficult to want to buy tons of stuff for someone who regularly insults you, disobeys you, and then criticizes you when you do buy something.

FosterEema and I haven't been hugely elaborate with our gift-giving for each other this year.  We got FosterEema a single-serve coffee brewing machine with our credit card rewards points, and I got some exercise clothes and a couple of pairs of running shoes.  Since I really needed the shoes, we just went shopping and I brought the stuff home and started using it immediately.  FosterEema didn't want to wait for her coffee machine, so when it showed up she put it on the counter and started using it.

We will get Danielle something for the holidays, and we will try to make it nice.  What that will be, I don't know.  I am completely out of ideas.  We've talked about starting to purchase things she will need as a young adult, such as linens and dishware and small kitchen appliances, but I know she'll be disappointed with those items as well.

I think she'll be disappointed with anything we buy her, if it's not a cell phone.

When I was a kid, the holidays were something I always enjoyed.  Our family was upper-middle class, and there were always tons of gifts.  My mother enjoyed buying stuff for her family, and we always had the money to afford it.  We always had lots of things we were interested in, and I don't think my mother ever had to spend a great deal of time fretting over what to buy us.  I think she was just as excited to watch us open our gifts as we were to receive them.

It's really hard when I contrast the holidays my family celebrated when I was a child to those we observe with our own child.  For me, the holidays were a time of great celebration.  For Danielle, they are a time of anger, disappointment and loss.  Although I do understand where her feelings come from, it doesn't make them any easier to deal with.  Instead of this being a time of year that I anticipate, the end-of-the-year holidays have become a time of year that I dread.

For me, the third quarter of the year, which is dotted with birthdays, Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas, is a time of year I'd almost rather skip.  I find myself wishing that things were different.  I wish that I could give my kid the kind of holidays I had growing up.  I wish I could look forward to my child's eyes glistening with excitement and gratitude, instead of seeing them cloud over with rage and disappointment.  I wish this could be a happy time of year for all of us, instead of a sad reminder of what we all wish could have been. 

Oh, were there a fast-forward button on the VCR of life. 

I'd push it and hold it down hard until January 2nd.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Like Clicking Buttons

So there was an "incident" at school.  I'm not going to share the details because they aren't really important.  Suffice to say that Danielle was stick-poking her peers and it didn't work out so well for her.  Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but all the kids involved were called into the office.

As part of this, we discovered that Danielle had set up yet another fake social media account.  This is now the third one we've caught her with, even though she was told after the first and second that she's not allowed to participate in these sites for any reason.

I am sure that to my kid I'm sort sort of meanie, and maybe even a few parents think I'm a little too strict.  The problem is, my kid doesn't make good choices with respect to the social media sites.  The first two accounts she created, she lied about her age.  On this one, she was truthful, but she did some things that exposed her personal information, and she started getting dating profiles from adult men.

One was over the age of 40.

Not good.

How did Danielle get access to a computer to set up this account?  An adult, who should have known better, thought it would be "okay" for Danielle to get online.  Needless to say, the adult has been told that Danielle  is to have no computer access under any circumstances, and we've changed the password on the offending account.

When we asked Danielle why she signed up for the matchmaking service, she told us that she really didn't know what she was doing.  Apparently, when she's online, she will click on any random link or button that pops up, not knowing or caring if it's something she should be doing.

"I just like clicking buttons!" she said brightly.

Danielle has no business playing on the Internet.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

IEP Meeting

Yesterday, the school scheduled our annual delight known as the IEP meeting.

The news from the front: the school is as concerned as we are about Danielle's mental health, and the kid has some wildly unrealistic career goals.

Apparently, Danielle is now starting to exhibit mental health issues at school that are different from those she exhibits at home, and her behaviors are significantly interfering with her ability to get her work done.  The school's opinion is that she is often using these things as techniques to create distractions, or as tools for procrastination. 

The school  is very concerned.

Even when Danielle isn't having mental health moments at school that interfere with her work, they are noticing that she will often socialize in an attempt to delay or defer her work.

But the list of the school's concern's doesn't stop at her procrastination.  They have noticed that she is almost completely unable to complete her assignments independently.  She gets frustrated easily, doesn't understand what she is supposed to do, and can't seem to do the work unless someone sits with her and explains every little concept.  This doesn't bode well, obviously, for her career goals, which I'll get to in a minute.

At this point, the school is trying to refer Danielle for even more mental health services.  They completely hear and understand our concerns about her behavior at home, and they are trying to do something beyond what our adoptions assistance package will cover.  Hopefully, this will come on line very soon, as we've had many days lately where we've been hanging on by a thread.  Danielle has been very volatile of late, going from extremely sweet to extremely nasty in just a few minutes.

Last night, for example, she called me bad names because I needed to give a friend a ride home.  My friend, who had stopped by for a visit after work, doesn't drive.  We'd decided to continue our socializing until after the last bus, which stops running around dinner time, so we agreed to give our friend a ride home.  When Danielle learned we were all getting in the car to drive my friend home, she was extremely angry about it.

Sorry kid, we aren't going to leave you alone unsupervised, and we'd prefer not to leave you alone with only one adult home if we can avoid it.

We were home by 9:30 PM, so it wasn't as if we'd kept everybody up to some ungodly hour.

Going back to the IEP meeting, one of the items discussed was career planning and transitional services.  It seems that Danielle has some hugely unrealistic goals set aside for herself.  Apparently, when she turns 18, she plans to move out of state and get a job as a waitress.  There, she will save money to go to medical school to become a surgeon, and when she's completed that goal she'll join the military.

Ummm, yeah.

Now I know for most people, it's entirely possible to achieve pretty much any goal.  Unfortunately, Danielle isn't most people.  Her academic delays leave her incredibly far behind her peers, and she's especially weak in the math and hard sciences needed for admission into such a program.  Even if Danielle were to be accepted, she doesn't have the tenacity or independent study skills to be able to make her way through.

As for the military, I doubt they would take her.  She's at least an inch smaller than the minimum height requirements for service members, it is looking quite likely she won't be able to pass our state's high school exit examination to get her diploma, and her mental health diagnoses would also be a barrier to service.

So the school's career counselor is working to try to help Danielle settle on more reasonable goals.  They plan to meet with a military recruiter, and to aid Danielle in researching what would be required to be admitted to medical school.  They are hoping once she's turned down by the recruiter and sees how much time, study, and money medical school will cost, that she'll settle on something more within her grasp.

The school is also quite concerned about the fact that Danielle will turn 18 long before she finishes high school.  Unless she can find a way to accelerate her progress, she will come of age during her Junior (third) year of high school.  She'll have a year remaining, and at this point it's pretty clear she most likely will not be living here.  Although she'd be welcome to stay if she could get her behavior under control, it doesn't seem that will happen.  Even if she were able to get herself under control, she's continually expressing a desire not to be here.

I hope the kid will graduate, but she's so far behind it appears that it may not be possible.  She's 16 years old, and still cannot read your average newspaper with fluency.

More and more I feel like I'm watching this kid slowly collide with an ugly destiny we'd hoped she would avoid.  She's like the proverbial horse we have lead to the water, but for whatever reason, whether it be stubbornness, a lack of ability, or a lack of desire, she simply will not drink.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Change of Heart, or Manipulation?

As you can gather from my expression of frustration on Tuesday, and my post yesterday, things have been in the ditch for a while.  We've been riding some incredible waves of unpleasantness, to the point where FosterEema and I have both come to the point where we've just had more than enough.

It has been so difficult, we've been searching for a respite provider to take Danielle for the bulk of the December holidays.  We just don't see how we can make the vacation work, since she'll have time off, and we might not.  Idle hands are the devil's workshop.

But then, just like that, yesterday she decided to change things up.  It actually started the day before, when FosterEema went to the grocery store.  Danielle tagged along, and while they were there she asked if FosterEema would buy her a couple of deli sandwiches so she wouldn't have to make her own lunch.

FosterEema decided to use this as an opportunity for negotiation.  She agreed to buy Danielle the sandwiches in exchange for an equal dollar amount of chores.  They came to an accord, and Danielle agreed to a specific task.

When Danielle came home from school yesterday, I had an errand to run.  As soon as she came in the door, I headed out.  While I was gone, Danielle did every single one of her chores without hassle or prompting.  By the time I came home, everything was done, and she did some extra work, helping me with a small outside task after dark.

Danielle's behavior was amazingly good.  She was polite, obedient, and helpful.  She was attentive, she listened, and she paid attention.  She did what she was told, when she was told, without comment or argument.

I was impressed.  I found myself thinking that it was a real shame that we couldn't have this kid around more.

When dinner rolled around, instead of complaining about our dinner selection or boycotting the meal, she sat down and ate with us.

This was the kind of evening every family should enjoy once in a while.

But, it soon became clear why Danielle was behaving the way she was.  She wanted something.  Several somethings, in fact.  It turns out, she wanted to have a sit-down discussion to see if it would be possible for her to have the following things:

  1. A cell phone.
  2. Permission to set up an account on a popular social media site.
  3. Permission to date.
I'm not sure how effectively we communicated this, but Danielle is putting us in a very difficult position.  When she behaves as dreadfully as she has been, and then suddenly changes it up because she wants something, it's very frustrating.  Worse, we know we'll see the good behavior only until she gets the item she wants, and then we'll go right back to the status quo.


Do I want my kid to have a cell phone?  Not really.  The last time we gave her one, we ended up confiscating it more than she had it because of bad behavior on her part. In the end, it died a sad little electronic death because she dropped it on our concrete driveway one too many times.  Even though it's been quite some time since she's had a phone, there really hasn't been a need for her to have one.  She never goes anywhere by herself, and when she does go on an outing with friends, there's usually an adult or another teen with a phone available.

What she really wants is an Internet-enabled phone so she can surf the web and get on her favorite social media site.

I'm not exactly enthusiastic about letting her on the social media sites, either.  We've caught her several times setting up fake accounts where she lied about her age, and I'm not sure that it's really all that good of an idea.  Given that she did not follow our rules, boundaries and limitations when it came to her old cell phone, I'm not convinced that she'll obey with respect to social media sites, either.

As for dating, I'm not too keen on the idea. Given her impulsive nature, I think allowing her to date solo is a recipe for disaster.  Not only is there the possibility of unplanned pregnancy or an STD, there's also the real possibility for a guy to take emotional advantage of her as well.  Last summer, she carved the name of a boy she was crushing on into her skin, even though she wasn't allowed to date and didn't have a relationship with him outside of school.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that by the following Fall, he'd broken up with her, saying some incredibly cruel things in the process.

I think what Danielle said earlier this week is absolutely true.  She's not going to behave unless she wants to, and that will last only as long as it takes to get what she wants.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Law of Unintended Consequences

I guess our friends over at Mythbusters had a little accident.

If the video happens to go away, here's a link to similar coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle.

FosterEema and I love the show (Danielle hates it) and we watch it whenever we can. I think the show is hilarious, and we love watching them blow up stuff in new and different ways.  My favorite detonation is probably the cement truck explosion from a few years ago.

Now I'm quite glad that nobody was hurt in this mishap.  Although I am sure the affected property owners aren't so amused, I couldn't help but laugh.  Their accident sounded almost like a cartoon, with a cannonball missing its intended target, blasting through a wall, bashing in the front door of a house, rolling up a staircase, crashing through a bedroom and out the wall, flying across a street, bouncing off a neighboring roof, and finally smashing into a minivan.

It's hilarious.

Of course it wouldn't be if someone had been hurt.

Now I've watched enough episodes of Mythbusters to get the impression that these folks are a pretty careful group.  They really try to anticipate, and safely prepare for, the consequences of their detonations.  They try to the do the right thing, and I'm sure that the people whose houses and property were damaged will be fairly compensated for their trouble.

This is sadly a case where things went terribly, horribly wrong, and it brings to mind the law of unintended consequences.  The Mythbusters staff didn't plan to damage two houses and wreck a car, but they did.

Earlier this week, Danielle exploded, though her explosion wasn't nearly as funny as the Mythbusters-gone-wrong cannonball accident.  The "high point" of her explosion occurred after she'd been asked to step outside to cool off because she was being verbally abusive.  There, she threw rocks at the house, screamed and yelled, continually slapped the doormat onto the concrete,  repeatedly kicked our glass storm door (nearly breaking it), and scrawled profanity (which she misspelled) on the driveway with a white rock.

Danielle is 16 years old.

She is way too old to behave like this.

Afterward, when things were calm, she told FosterEema that she wasn't going to obey us or follow our rules, no matter what we did.  Here is a transcript of part of that conversation.  FosterEema recorded the conversation on her cell phone, which is why we know in such detail what was said.  The conversation has been slightly edited to remove identifying information.

FosterEema: So, what I heard you say, though, was basically that you're not going to behave the way we want you to.  You're not going to conform your behavior to our expectations, and so there's no point in even trying.  Is that right?

Danielle: Yeah.

FosterEema: That's how you feel?

Danielle: (inaudible)

FosterEema: So, so am I understanding correctly how you feel?  That you're just not going to do what we want and there's no point in trying?

Danielle: Well it's not that I'm not gonna do what you want, it's just I'm not going to change when you want me to. I'll change when I feel like it.

FosterEema: Okay...but how's that working for you?

Danielle: It doesnt...really matter to me if it's working or not.  It's just...

FosterEema: So...

Danielle: ...kind of  difficult.

FosterEema: I'm confused.  'Cause you're saying you are doing things that aren't working for you.

Danielle: No.

FosterEema: You just said, "It doesn't matter to me whether it's working or not."

Danielle: It doesn't matter if it's working for me or not.

FosterEema: So then you are doing it even if it's not working.

Danielle: Right, and I'm doing it even when it is working.

FosterEema: Okay, well it is working right now?

Danielle: Geeze, does it look like [it] to you?

FosterEema: Well, I'm asking you, 'cause you're the one that's doing it.

Later, the conversation covered the subject of apologizing. Danielle insisted that I should apologize to her for giving her a consequence for  mouthing off, but that even if I apologized, I wouldn't be forgiven.

FosterEema: What do you mean you are going to forgive her?  She's supposed to forgive you.  You're the one who did the thing that was wrong.

Danielle: Still, you should still apologize to the person who you [wronged].

FosterEema: Why? You haven't apologized for any of the things you've done for three years.

Danielle: Uh...Yes I have.

FosterEema: Not and meant it.  You said so in [therapist's] office.  You said you're not going to apologize because you know you are not going to change your behavior.

Danielle: Well then don't expect me to apologize.  I mean, really.  You've seen the pattern that maybe [Danielle's] apology doesn't mean anything.  You still want an apology, even if it doesn't mean it?

FosterEema: Mmm hmm.  But you need to mean it.

Danielle: Right, and that's the part I have a hard time with.  I don't mean it.

FosterEema: Why don't you mean it?

Danielle: I say sorry to make the person feel better, but that doesn't mean I mean it.

FosterEema: But does it make them feel better if you don't mean it and you do the same thing again?

Danielle: That's what I'm saying.  That's why I don't apologize.  I mean, you've got to understand, here.  Okay.  You're dealing with a stubborn, bratty child, okay?

FosterEema: Yeah, I've noticed.

Danielle: So...I'm always going to be stubborn and bratty, so I'm going to say sorry to make her feel better.  If she doesn't like it, tough shit.  No offense, it's a whole waste of my breath.

Now I suppose in the larger scheme of things, it's probably great that Danielle was so honest in explaining that she isn't going to obey and that her apologies are meaningless.  Although it's been clear for a long time, this just gives us another data point in understanding that, not only is Danielle unwilling to obey, she has no remorse about her behavior.  In fact, the tone of her voice even seemed to convey a certain amount of pride in her actions.

This unfortunate conversation will be the catalyst that triggers a whole raft of unintended consequences for Danielle, for us, and for our family.  For starters, FosterEema and I have realized that we need a break from Danielle and her behavior, so she will likely be going to a new respite home for the majority of her winter break.  This certainly wasn't in any of our original holiday plans, but the realization that Danielle is deliberately and consciously choosing to disobey has made us both realize just how tired we are.

I am sure when the Mythbusters crew set off that cannon, they had no idea what was about to happen.  They were out there, doing their jobs, and trying to do the right thing.  I think that Danielle's adoption has been very much like this accident.  We tried (and fought) very hard to do what we thought was the right thing, but instead of finding a happy result, we've triggered emotional wreckage that wasn't supposed to happen.

I never thought, when I signed my name to Danielle's adoption paper, that it would turn out to have so many unpleasant unintended consequences for everyone.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Feelin' Like Captain Kirk

The following video clip is from the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

Here's the transcript:
Kirk: Give me your hand!
Kruge: (growls and tries to pull Kirk over the cliff)
Kirk: (kicking Kruge in the face) I...have had...enough of...YOU!

This clip completely sums up how I am feeling today.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Today I'm Thinking About Corey

Long-time readers of the foster care and adoption blogosphere will probably be well-acquainted with Corey, the nice lady that has put together a retreat for Moms caring for traumatized kids that takes place in Orlando each year.

Today I'm thinking of her.

You see, last January, she invited everyone to participate in a 5K walk/run.  She promised everyone who participated (whether they attended the Orlando event or not) a cute little keychain with a foot on it.

I signed up for the run, even though I wasn't going to Orlando.  The run was scheduled during the March retreat, and I figured I'd be able to complete it pretty easily.  At the time I'd finished the Couch to 5K running program, and was part of the way through the Bridge to 10K program.

But then, I got sick with a very bad cold, and started having some health problems.  I had to stop running for a while, and by the time came to run Corey's 5K, I was in no shape to run the entire thing.

I did finish by walking and jogging, but it wasn't the glorious finish I had anticipated for myself.

Despite my lackluster finish, Corey kept her promise and sent me a keychain with not one foot attached, but an entire rainbow of them!  I was delighted, and the keychain has been hanging from a peg on my desk ever since.

I didn't run again for several months after that, as some health challenges kept me down, but eventually I got back to running.  I once again started the Couch to 5K program, and when I finished that, I moved on to Bridge to 10K.  This morning, I started my last week of the Bridge to 10K program.  Today's workout consisted of 5 minutes of walking, followed by 60 minutes of jogging, and concluding with another 5 minutes of walking.

So this morning, I jogged for an entire hour.

When I got back, I took a shower and eventually made my way back to my desk.  Corey's key chain was hanging in its usual place, and I couldn't help but thinking of her this morning.  I finally felt like I deserved the key chain, which I felt I hadn't truly earned before, because I hadn't run the entire 5K like I had planned.

Today's run was more than a 5K (though considerably less than 10K because I am old, fat and slow) but it felt like I had accomplished something.  I had finally reached a goal I tried (and failed) to reach earlier this year.

So Corey's feet made me smile this morning, but they also made me cry.  I wept out of gratitude, because they reminded that me that someone, who I didn't even really know in person, cared enough to let me know that I'm not alone.

Thanks, Corey.

And yes, I still miss your blog, though I completely understand and respect your reasons for quitting.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Funny, But Not

We shared the story that Danielle thought Margaritaville was a real place with our family therapist.

The therapist was absolutely delighted with the tale, and got a good laugh out of it.  She told Danielle that it was "simply adorable" that she was still so naive and innocent.

It was all I could do not to slap myself in forehead during our session.

Yes, we got a good laugh out of the story.  Yes, it was cute.

But there's also a darker, more frightening reality to this tale.  It's another example of how Danielle doesn't have much in the way of common sense, and it illustrates her inability to figure things out.  Sure, Danielle's expression of shock was quite funny, but it worries me greatly that she's not able to decipher the difference between truth and fiction.

Cyndi left the following comment on my post:

Exactly why your kid is not going to survive on her own.

I fear she may be right.

Now I think all parents, at some time or another, take quite a bit of pleasure in telling silly stories to their kids as a test of their gullibility.  Certainly my parents did that when I was younger, and the discovery of the truth was always worth a good laugh.  We played similar games with Danielle, and briefly had her convinced (at different times) that cars reproduced by laying eggs, and that they were made out of old, crushed beer cans.

I fondly the time that Danielle very seriously asked me if cars really did lay eggs while we were driving somewhere.  She was about 11 at the time, and we all laughed so hard when the truth was revealed that I almost ran off the road.

But stuff that's funny when a kid is a kid, doesn't always stay funny when they become a teen.

Maybe this is just another one of those things where it's better to laugh about something than it is to cry.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Wasting Away Again in Margaritaville

Yesterday, we all had a huge belly laugh at Danielle's expense.

First, there's a bit of back story to this tale.

My wife and I collect and enjoy wine. Although I don't claim to be much of a connoisseur, we do have quite a collection of inexpensive wines.  Most of my family and friends enjoy a tipple now and again, though we generally confine most of our drinking to camping trips so we won't have any reason to drive anywhere.

Being fans of Jimmy Buffet, his tunes, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere and Margaritaville, have been played many, many times at our house.

And of course, when we go camping, the phrase, "It's five o'clock somewhere," is frequently uttered when it comes time to pop open an adult beverage.

So yesterday afternoon, right after Danielle came home from school, she made a reference to five o'clock.  She was referring to the time of an appointment we had that afternoon.

"I bet you wish it was five o'clock," she said.

She was referring to our appointment, but I made a joke.  "It's always five o'clock somewhere," I teased.

"It's probably five o'clock in Margaritaville," she replied.

"It's always five o'clock in Margaritaville," I laughed.

Danielle's eyes flew open in surprise.  "The time doesn't change Margaritaville?" she asked, completely serious.

"Of course not," I answered. "The clocks never change there."

I didn't think Danielle's eyes could have gotten any wider, but then they seemed to pop out of her head just a little bit more.  "Really?" she questioned.

I started to snicker.  "Your realize that Margaritaville is an imaginary place, right?"

Danielle's expression of surprise was classic. "It is?"

"Yeah, it's a made-up place in a song," I laughed.  By this point I could hardly breathe.

Danielle started to laugh, too.  "Oh boy, now I feel stupid!" she exclaimed.

"Why's that?" I guffawed.

"Well I've been asking all my friends at school where Margaritaville is, because I want to go there for vacation, and they've all looked at me like I was crazy!"

FosterEema and I both burst into another round of uncontrollable laughter.

"It sounded like a really nice place," Danielle insisted.

"That it does," I laughed.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Should We Push for Early Emancipation?

These days, it seems that all we hear from Danielle are two things: 1) the myriad ways in which her birth family was superior to ours; and 2) how she can't wait until she turns 18 and is able to move out.


She rarely stops talking about it, even though my wife and I are completely tired of hearing about it.

I've been asking myself a lot lately if we should just start pushing for her to do the things she needs to do to emancipate early. If she really wants to get out of here so desperately, maybe we should start guiding her in the direction that might allow her to leave the house early.

Now I have to say, it's a pretty tough sell in our county.  The local court system doesn't like to emancipate minors early.  Even kids who are in foster care, who have graduated high school early or passed the GED, and have a job and a place to live lined up find it a very tough sell.  Only the best and the brightest are usually granted emancipated minor status, and even those "lucky" few are rarely approved much before they are 17 1/2.

But I've wondered, given Danielle's continual harping, if we'd all be better off if we started to guide her out the door.  In many ways, it doesn't feel like the right answer because we'd have to act as if we are pushing her away.  I know that won't improve her difficult attachments to us.

Now the truth is, no judge in his right mind would ever grant Danielle emancipated minor status based on her current emotional, educational, and behavioral development.  It's pretty clear to everyone (including us) that she won't be ready to launch early, and it wouldn't be in her best interest.

Still, it it is what Danielle really wants, so maybe we ought to dangle the carrot anyway.

If she was made to think that she has the opportunity to leave early, she might knuckle down and do the necessary work.  She might start pushing herself when it comes it academics, and it might motivate her to get a job, start saving money, and do all the things she would need to do to be successful.

Or, she might follow her regular pattern, which is to get very excited about an idea, but not actually complete any of the steps to achieve that goal.

Still, if it really is what she truly wants, maybe we ought to give it to her.

Of course the real answer to this is that it depends on Danielle.  If she wants to emancipate early, the onus is on her to prove to a judge that she's capable.  She would need to pass her GED, get a job, and have the means to obtain housing.  If she could do those things, then she might be on her way.

Even though the chances of Danielle being able to convince a judge she's ready to move out are basically nil, I wonder if dangling that carrot might put an end to the constant complaining. If we can reply, "You will be able to move out just as soon as you do x, y and z," maybe it would motivate her to work towards that goal.

And then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Job Hunt

As I mentioned Monday in my bullet point update, Danielle made a big deal Thankgiving weekend of how superior her birth family was to ours, and how she couldn't wait until she turned 18 so she could move out of the house.

I calmly reminded her that if she wanted to be successful at moving out on her 18th birthday, she'd better find a job, now, so that she has time to save up for all the things she will need to support herself in her own apartment.

We've been talking about Danielle getting a job for more than a year.  She's good at complaining that she doesn't have enough money, but she hasn't actually done anything to find work.  Even when offered temporary paying gigs, she's not particularly interested or motivated.

So I was somewhat surprised when we went out to get dessert one night and Danielle asked if the place we visited might be hiring.

"Go ask them for a job application," I told her.

She did, and was told they only accepted applications online.  The staff behind the counter handed her a business card that contained the URL.

We suggested that she take the card to school and have the staff there help her fill out the application.  The school is supposed to be setting up some sort of vocational program for Danielle, so we thought we'd let them handle it.

I have no idea if Danielle completed the application, since she didn't say either way, but she did come home excited.  She can't wait until she starts her new job.

She didn't much like it when I pointed out that there's no guarantee this one place will hire her.  "You need to put in quite a few applications before you will get hired," I explained, "especially in this economy."

But Danielle didn't want to hear what I had to say.  "There are no good jobs in [our hometown]," she complained, "so I don't want to work anywhere else."

She also didn't want to listen when FosterEema and I tried to explain that her first job probably isn't going to be all that great.  We both ended up with low-paying jobs in the fast food industry when we started out.

Danielle thinks she's too good to work at a job like that.

Our local economy is still very much struggling, and teen unemployment is at record highs.  I don't think she realizes that beggars can't really be choosers.  Because of her age, lack of education, and inexperience, she definitely is a beggar in our local job market.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Unfairness of Parrots

As I've mentioned before, we have several parrots.  One of our birds is definitely special-needs, and due to past past abuse, is completely blind.  This particular bird, Moonie, can be extremely difficult to handle, especially when she is scared.

But as difficult as she can be, and as profoundly as she has been abused, she's still managed to keep her absolutely huge loving heart.

She loves me, and she loves my wife.

But best of all, she adores our pet sitter.

I'm happy that Moonie loves our sitter, because we do have to leave the birds from time to time.  Since Moonie is so challenged, I would feel really bad if we had to leave her with someone she didn't care about or trust.  She's been betrayed by humans in the worst way, robbed of her sight, and yet she still manages to find some love and trust for certain people.

Our pet sitter is also our friend.  When she comes to visit, Moonie cries for her to come pick her up.  When our friend obliges, Moonie responds by purring happily, preening, and giving gentle beak kisses.  It's quite adorable to watch, and I love seeing that Moonie will do that to someone besides me.

I know that if anything terrible were to happen to me and FosterEema, Moonie would have a safe and loving home.

Recently, our friend/sitter dropped by the house for a social visit.  Like always, Moonie was quickly on her shoulder expressing her undying affection as only she can do.

Danielle, upon witnessing Moonie's avian exuberance, complained, "That's not fair! She never does that to me!"

And it's true, Moonie never cuddles and kisses with Danielle in the same way that she does with me or our sitter.  Moonie's relationship with Danielle could be best described as "difficult," and it's clear the bird mostly just tolerates her attention on good days, and fears and despises her on bad ones.  Moonie is capable of delivering some pretty ugly bites when scared, and Danielle has received more than her fare share of pinches, nips and even a few bites, because of the way she approaches the bird.

Parrots, unlike dogs and cats, aren't really pre-programmed to automatically like people.  Each bird has its own personality, and when cultivating a relationship with a parrot, one has to remember that one has to make themselves likeable to the avian brain.

Jumping up and down, throwing temper tantrums, and screaming are not ways to make friends with a parrot.  A dog or a cat might quickly forget that a kid had a rage, but parrots are a lot like elephants because they have a very long memory.  Even Chicken, who is absolutely our most forgiving bird, has at best an uneasy relationship with Danielle because she is so unpredictable.

It was hard trying to explain to Danielle just why the birds don't respond to her in the way that they respond to other people.  For Danielle to understand why the birds don't like her, she would have to recognize and take responsibility for some of her undesirable behaviors.  She needs to understand that with parrots, she can't be hyper one minute and calm the next, and expect that the birds are going to trust her.  She can't scream at them one minute and then want to make kissy faces the next, and have them respond positively.

It makes me sad that my kid can't enjoy the kind of relationship we have with our birds.

But then again, it makes me sad that she can't have the kind of relationship we'd like to have with her.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bullet Point Update

I know it's been quite a while since my last post.  I celebrated my birthday recently, and opted to spend a few days visiting with family.  Then, the Thanksgiving weekend rolled by, and I just didn't manage to get to my blog.

Since my last post:
  • Danielle had what could be described as some sort of emotional breakdown.  She has been having nightmares about bad things happening to her biological half-siblings and, after a particularly bad dream, she spent about a half an hour curled up on the floor in the fetal position screaming, "Make them stop!  Why won't they stop? Am I going crazy?"  FosterEema nearly called the mental health crisis line, but since Danielle wasn't actively dangerous to anyone and wasn't threatening self-harm, we waited it out.  Eventually, Danielle calmed down and went back to bed.

  • Concerned about her outburst, we called the mental health professionals at her school, and they too are "very concerned" about this development.  They are trying to accelerate the process of getting her a referral for additional mental health services, but they can't give us a timeline as to when that will happen.

  • We weren't able to reach our family therapist, as she has been out of town on an extended holiday.

  • We got word that another one of Danielle's half-siblings has been incarcerated.  Like the first, we have few details, and don't know how long this individual will be locked up.

  • We managed to get through my birthday and the Thanksgiving holiday without major incidents, though Danielle did choose to use Thanksgiving weekend to start harping about how living with her birth family was much better than living with us, and how she can't wait until she turns 18 and moves out.

  • She didn't much like it when I reminded her that if she wants to move out when she's 18, she really ought to start looking for a job now, so she'll have money saved up for things like deposits, move-in costs, and furniture.

  • Danielle played motion-based video games to excess and gave herself a bad case of sore muscles.  I resisted the temptation to say, "I told you so," when she complained about how much her arm hurt.

  • I actually lost weight over Thanksgiving weekend, which is just unheard of in my world.  I completed Couch to 5K earlier this year, and I have been working on Bridge to 10K.  By the end of this week, I'll be up to jogging for an hour.  I guess all the extra exercise managed to burn off the damage the turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and apple pie created.

How did your Thanksgiving holiday go?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

In Honor of the Recently-Passed Munchkin

If you read the news, you'll know that Karl Slover passed away last Tuesday

"Karl Slover?" you ask.

He was one of the last surviving munchkins from the film Wizard of Oz.

So in honor of Mr. Slover's passing, FosterEema was singing The Lollipop Guild to our parrots this morning.

FosterEema: (to Sir Spudly) We represent the Lollipop Guild...and in the name of the Lollipop Guild, we wish to welcome you to munchkin land!

Sir Spudly: Shut up!

FosterEeema: (to Chicken) We represent the Lullabye League...and in the name of the Lullaby League, we wish to welcome to you munchkin land!

Chicken: (brightly) Hi!

Goodbye Mr. Slover, you will be missed.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Yes, This Happens at Our House, Too

On Sunday Jen, over at Couldn't Make It Up If I Tried, blogged about a conversation she had with her daughter after an ugly explosion.  I have had this exact same conversation with our kid at least a million times. I'm going to quote a few lines because it so exactly matches what we see here at our house:
Mom: LT, we need to talk about what happened last night.

LT: Why? I'm over it. Why aren't you?

Mom: I'm not over it because your words hurt my feelings, your actions hurt our home, and I know you can't possibly feel good about what you did.

LT: That was yesterday. I moved on and you need to move on too. It's in the past. Now, I need my ipod. Did you charge it last night?

If you substitute me or my wife where the text reads "Mom," and "Danielle" where it reads "LT," you'll  have an exact duplicate of many of the discussions we've had after Danielle has had a meltdown.  The only difference is that Danielle would be asking for her MP3 player back (as we would have confiscated it) and not asking if we'd charged it for her.

It's conversations like these that make me want to beat my head on the edge of my desk.

I'm over it.  That was yesterday.  You need to move on.

Oh were it that easy to get over physical or emotional injuries.

I've lost count of the number of times that Danielle argued she should be off restriction for assaulting one or both of us while we still had visible injuries from her assault.

That was yesterday.  It never seemed to register with Danielle that, regardless of when the incident occurred, my wife and I were still suffering from the injuries she had inflicted.

Go read the entire text of Jen's conversation with her daughter.  If you are raising troubled kids, it will sound eerily familiar.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on All It Takes is an Accusation

I was talking to a long-time buddy of mine who told me something that made me so angry, I wanted to punch someone.

She told me a tale that is so disturbing, upsetting, sad, and ironic I couldn't believe it.

Here's the story:

About four years ago, my friend was a relative caregiver for several children.  As kids often do when they don't get their way, they made a false abuse allegation against her.  The child welfare authorities came in, and even though there was no evidence of abuse, they took the kids.

Although the kids quickly recanted their allegations, it was too late.  My friend was labeled a child abuser, and was told that she would only be allowed supervised visitation with the children, because she was obviously so dangerous.  For a variety of reasons, which I won't go into here to keep my friend's privacy, she decided not to fight.  The children were taken into foster care, and there they stayed.

My friend refused to participate in supervised visitation because she hadn't done anything wrong.

One of the kids has since turned 18.  The others are still minors, but well into their teen years.

Fairly recently, the social worker involved in the case decided that supervised visitation wasn't really necessary.  My friend was finally allowed visits with the kids.  Pretty soon, the foster parents were wanting to use her as respite, and the children were being allowed to stay longer and longer.

And now, the most stunning news of all.

A few days ago, the children's social worker called my friend and asked if she would be willing to take the children back.

Yes, that's right folks.  After all these years of being labeled a child abuser, social services had suddenly changed their mind.  Now, instead of being a child abuser, she is a preferred caregiver.

It seems that the kids had been placed in separate foster homes, and the worker was eager to reunite them.  Since none of the foster families involved were willing to take on more children, and the preference is to place kids with relative caregivers when possible, my friend's home suddenly became the logical choice.  The worker even unofficially apologized and admitted that they had made a mistake those four long years ago.

Removing the children from my friend's  home hadn't been necessary after all.

When my friend told me the news, I was so angry I found myself trembling in rage.  Although I am delighted my friend was vindicated, because she truly was innocent of wrongdoing, I am enraged at the damage this has caused to her, the kids involved, and her extended family.

The system in this case was so eager to take children away from the "evil abuser" that they didn't bother to stop and really check out the allegations.  There was no physical evidence that the kids had been abused, and all it took was the words of a few angry teenagers to put things in motion that couldn't be stopped when the children later recanted their stories.

The terrible thing about this is that my friend had cared for these kids, without complaint, for most of their lives because of an earlier tragedy.  She was trying to do the right thing for her kin, and the child welfare system punished her for it.  The kids went to foster care, she was drug through the emotional wringer, and her good name spoiled by an ugly mark in a computer database somewhere.

And now, because it's convenient, expedient and less expensive, they want to give the kids back?

I am outraged.

But I also have to think about the kids here.  I think about how they have spent the past few years in foster homes, separated, and not allowed to visit with some of their relatives.  I know that the kids, especially the instigator, are struggling with guilt.  They know that their lies have done unalterable damage to their relative caregiver, their family and each other.

And all because the system is so eager to remove kids from their homes without bothering to really investigate.

My friend's case is not the only case like this.  Back in September, SocialWrker24/7 wrote about a case where she thought a mistake had been made:

I feel deep down in my gut that a horrible mistake has been made with this family. That perhaps the doctors were mistaken. That a decision was made too quickly. That what we initially classified as resistance and manipulation was more likely confusion and desperation. I'm neither doctor nor investigator and I was not present during the investigation to see all the evidence.

But, I am convinced that these children should never have been taken from their parents.

Happily, the children were returned to their parents. Still their case isn't over:

They will be continually monitored - in fact, way more frequently than usual. We are still trying to get to the root of their medical condition, but making strides forward I hope. I will still hold my breath and hope that the other shoe doesn't drop. If this job has taught me anything, its that nothing is always as it seems. I expect that this case will be open for quite a while, but I do hope this is the beginning of the end.

Keep them in your prayers, won't you?

Keep them in our prayers?

Although I'm glad that SocialWrker24/7 had the guts to admit that a mistake was made in this case, I am disgusted that she seems to support the continued monitoring of this family.

How about social services get the fuck out of these people's lives?

Now there is something unusual about both of these cases. It's rare that individual social workers are willing to admit to mistakes. In our case, we've been accused of wrongdoing, spent a year in court and have been investigated four times, and not once has anyone ever apologized for the emotional and financial destruction the system has brought upon our family.  Even though we have been cleared of any wrongdoing and charges were unfounded, which means the allegations couldn't possibly have happened, no one has ever admitted they were wrong or apologized for the damage they've done.

I know there are some who believe that "protecting the children" should be a priority, and that the innocent families who end up destroyed as a result of overzealous investigations are simply collateral damage.  I know that there are some folks who believe that the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or even the one family that might be injured by this process.

But me, I believe that the child welfare system, in its current form, is simply evil.  It is in the business of destroying families, and reallocating resources and kids, all in the name of "the best interests" of the children involved.

Best interests?  My ass.

Going back to my friend's story, she has decided not to take the children back, at least for now.  Having been through the wringer once, having been falsely accused of wrongdoing and having no one listen to her, she quite reasonably believes that the same thing could happen again.  She was nearly destroyed the first time this happened, and she isn't prepared to go through this again, the next time she says no to one of the kids.

My friend quite wisely realizes that she can either be a parent or a loving relative to these kids, but not both.  For now, she wants to keep her role as the loving relative, and to be able to enjoy her time and visits with the kids.  She wants to be able to love and spoil them without having the daily responsibilities of parenting.

And I don't blame her one bit.

Now I realize that I've kept the details of my friend's story a bit vague.  I have her permission to share her story, anonymously, because what has happened here needs to be brought to the light of day.  My friend has decided not to go public herself, because some of the kids involved are still underage, and she wants to protect their privacy.  I understand and respect that.

But it's stories like these that need to be brought forward.  Unless and until the public becomes truly aware of the abuses that the child welfare system inflicts on innocent and undeserving families, the system will be allowed to run roughshod over anyone who has, or cares about, children.

Friday, November 4, 2011

All It Takes is an Accusation

Yesterday, Danielle accused me of abusing her while we were having a discussion with someone who is a mandated reporter.

The exchange was brief.  She made her accusation, I denied it, and then she called me a liar.  Her point was off-topic to the conversation, as she was in the hot seat at that particular moment.  It was clear she was trying to redirect everyone's attention away from the situation at hand.

So I'm not sure that her accusation, this time, will go anywhere.  This particular mandated reporter is well aware of Danielle's past history of making false allegations, and I believe has the wisdom to recognize that the allegation was simply an attempt at misdirection.

We'll see what happens, I guess. If a report is filed, the authorities have 30 days to investigate.

I'm finding myself frustrated that all it takes is an accusation to trigger an investigation that can disrupt a family for days, weeks, or even months.  It doesn't matter if the accuser is an angry teen who wants to get back at her parents, a ticked-off neighbor who doesn't like where you park your car, or even some random person you have never met from the Internet.  There doesn't even have to be any preliminary evidence that there's a problem.  All someone has to do is make an accusation, and that's enough to send child welfare authorities hurtling into your child's school and your home.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Internet Stalkers and Child Welfare Investigations

Long time readers will remember that I shut my first blog down twice.  I made it private while we were involved in the year-long battle to keep Danielle, and I shut it down for good the summer before last, because Internet stalkers banded together and made a false child welfare report against my wife and me.

And now, I read about a similar thing happening to someone else.

For quite some time, I've been following Michael Schofield over at Jani's Journey.  On his blog, he writes about his daughter Jani, who suffers from severe mental illness.

I was absolutely floored when I read his post from yesterday where he wrote the following:

Since our story became public over two years ago, DCFS has received two claims about us…. from people who have never met any of us. There only knowledge of us comes from what they have seen on TV and/or what they have read on my blog.

Nonetheless, DCFS is obligated under law to investigate any claim, regardless of whether the claimant actually has met the family or children.

In this case, as soon as we heard the claim, we knew exactly who it was. We know because the language of the claim came directly from a conversation with one of our regular critics on Facebook, a woman by the name of Jen B (I will refrain from using her full name because then I would be no better than her). Jen B is the same person who uses the handle “WarriorMom” on the Amazon discussion page about my book, who has posted somewhere in the vicinity of 400 posts accusing me of abusing Jani, doing everything from taking my blog posts out of context to outright lies.

He went on to say more:

DCFS is concerned because Jen WarriorMom is not your average critic. She is a full on internet stalker. She invaded my private Facebook page under a false identity (causing me to shut it down). But what really scares the shit out me is this woman is hell bent on destroying my family. That’s not hyperbole. She wants Jani and Bodhi removed from our care and placed in foster care. She even has a website set up to this effect, arranging a network to “follow” Jani and Bodhi once they are removed from our care (apparently forgetting that privacy laws would prevent her from doing so). This woman is so convinced that I am evil that she wants my kids taken away from me.

This woman hates me more than my ex-girlfriends.

I am...shocked.

What Michael describes in his post is eerily similar to what happened to us during the summer of 2010.  We learned that a private online community had been created for the express purpose of discussing us, our family, and any details people could scrape off the Internet about us.  The group elected a single representative to make contact with our local child welfare authorities for the express purpose of making a report.

Interestingly enough, not a single person from that community had ever met us.  They decided, based on what I'd written in my blog, that we were emotionally, physically and sexually abusing our child.

The solution to the problem suggested by our social worker is the same as what has been suggested to Michael Schofield.  We were told to stop writing about our family and our child on the Internet.  Of course the abuse allegations were ruled to be unfounded, as we weren't abusing our kid, but the whole experience was pretty scary.  I went on hiatus for several months, and came back with this blog, though I share a lot less than what I did on my original.

Now I should probably point out that I don't personally know Michael Schofield.  I have never met the man, nor do I have any kind of online relationship with him.  I just find it rather creepy that someone I don't know has had nearly the same experience that we did.

It disgusts me to realize that there are people out there in the world who think it is their job to make false reports to DCFS against people they don't even know.

What a sick, sick world we live in.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jealous of the Normal Folk

This morning, Cindy, over at Big Mama Hollers wrote:

I'm flat out jealous of all the happy families I observed yesterday at our church annual fall festival, those that don't get attacked, robbed, massively criticized, or emotionally destroyed on a routine basis. Those that don't get slung into walls and punched for trying to protect others, yeah, sometimes I wish I were more normal.

The other day, I was looking at Facebook, and I noticed that a friend of mine had posted a status update about his daughter. She's bright, beautiful, and has an amazingly good heart.

My friend's status update made me jealous.

I sent a text message to my friend's wife congratulating her on her child's brains, character and beauty.  She thanked me, and shot me back a comment regarding her other children, who were both adopted from the foster care system.  They aren't doing nearly as well as her one biological child.

"I wish I could transfer some [brains, character and beauty] to the other two," she replied.

I understand.

I have another friend who regularly posts about how much fun she has with her biological children.  She recently posted about her family's Halloween plans, and it sounds like there are times when she really enjoys her kids.

Again, I'm left feeling envious.  When I think of my kid, fun and enjoyment aren't usually words that come to mind.  I find myself thinking of all the times when we tried to have fun and the kid made us regret our decision.  I remember temper tantrums, name-calling, and even violence that was triggered by the anticipation, or aftermath, of fun. I recall times where we had to cancel planned events as a consequence for dreadful behavior, or because we knew it was going to trigger a massive explosion that would only serve to make everyone miserable.

I often find myself going through the motions of doing stuff that is supposed to create fun with my kid, but it is usually an epic fail.  We threw a birthday party for Danielle, and gave her a nice birthday gift, only to be repaid by criticism and complaining because she didn't get exactly what she wanted.  Even if we had the budget to throw the huge party she wanted, it wasn't really possible, as it's hard to throw an enormous party if you don't know enough people to invite.  Even if we had been willing to buy Danielle the technological toy she wanted, it would have been broken within days, so we bought her something close to what she wanted that would be more durable.

We tried to do something nice, and found ourselves on the receiving end of complaints and criticism.

Sometimes, I ask myself, "Why bother?  Why should we try to do something nice or something fun for our kid, when she won't enjoy it, and she'll complain about it later?"

I know that some advocate that parents should do these things anyway, so that children can look back on all the fun with adult eyes.  I don't know how that's possible, since my child will likely not remember that we threw her a party.  Instead, she'll remember it as yet another birthday where we failed to meet her impossible expectations.

I realize that birthdays and holidays are difficult.  Still, I am profoundly jealous of families who can celebrate a birthday, a family get-together, or a gift-giving holiday without all the misery.  I'm envious of families who actually enjoy their children.  I feel pangs of jealousy when I hear my friends' children say "I love you," because I know their kids really mean it, and aren't simply trying to wheedle something out of good old Mom and Dad.

And now the December holidays are just ahead.

I dread them.

I dread looking into my child's disappointed eyes knowing that, whatever gifts we give won't be enough to satisfy.  I dread the meltdowns, the name-calling and the criticism that makes us wish we could simply push the fast-forward button on the VCR of life to skip past this time of year.

But what I hate most is the feeling as if we haven't made a real difference in our child's life.

Yes, it's true that her life circumstances are much different than they would be if we hadn't taken her into our home, but I'm not sure that anything we've done will have a lasting impact.  Our child still suffers from all the problems that ail her, and most of those problems aren't really fixable.  We can't erase the years of abuse and neglect, nor can we fix the probable brain damage she's suffered as a result of her mother's substance abuse.

When I look at my friend's child, the bright, beautiful, responsible, achiever I mentioned above, I can see how good parenting, education and a middle class lifestyle have made this kid who she is.  I expect that she will do well in life, and that her parents have given her every opportunity to succeed.

I am jealous, because I can't fix my kid.  I can't wave a magic wand and turn her into a bright, beautiful, responsible, achiever.  I can't transform her into an intelligent young woman with character.  She is, for better or worse, the sum of the biological, emotional and physical legacy left her by her biological mother.

I have come into this game far too late to make much of a difference.  While most of my friends will be able to sit back and enjoy the successes of their biological children as they grow and mature, I will watch my own child struggle.  While my friends watch their kids create bright, happy children for the next generation, I know that mine will likely recreate the ugly circumstances of her birth family.

I am jealous of the "normal folk," not only because they can enjoy their children, but also because they know they made a positive difference in forming the next generation.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Whatever Happened to Responsible Teen Drivers?

When I was a kid, I was pretty darn responsible.  When it came time for me to get my driver's license, I viewed it as something hugely important, and something that had to be taken seriously.  Even though I was driving in the days before mandatory seat belt laws, my car didn't move until everyone was buckled in.  I was driving back in the days when it was permissible to load a pickup truck full of people in the back, and when I had a load of people back there, I drove with the understanding that everyone in the back had their lives resting in my hands.

My post today was prompted by Allison over at A Few Sprinkles Short of a Sundae.  She posted yesterday about a near-miss she had with a teen driver who blew a stop sign.

I really don't like the idea of graduated licenses.  I don't like the idea that teenagers can't be used to run their siblings around any more, and that kids can't pick their friends up with their father's car and go to the movies.  I don't like that kids aren't allowed to go on the cruise, which was something hugely important to my teenaged brain, though I didn't do it very often.

Of course times were a lot different when I was a teen driver.  There were fewer cars, fewer distractions (no cell phones, texting, and internet-enabled devices like iPads) and most kids knew that if they brought their father's car home with so much as a dent, they would be dead, Dead, DEAD.

Was it fear that made us responsible?  Or was it just that we actually cared that we did the right thing and pleased our parents?

As much as I hate the idea of graduated licenses and restricted driving rights for minors, I think they have become necessary.  There was a case a few years back where some star kids from the local high school were in a terrible wreck on one of our city streets.  Two kids died, another ended up with permanent, life-altering disabilities.

They were hot-rodding around town and ran into an immovable object.

Game over.

A while back, my kid and I were outside when she spotted a girl she knew from school.  The girl was texting and driving, barely stopped at the stop-sign at the corner by our house, and wasn't wearing her safety belt and was clearly speeding.  Then my kid told me the kicker, the girl didn't even  have her license.

Sure, dear daughter could have been fibbing about the girl's licensing status, but the fact that she was unbelted, texting, speeding and failing to stop at a marked intersection is troubling.  I wondered what her mother would say if she knew what her kid was doing.  Would she even care?

Whatever happened to responsible teen drivers?

I know my inexperience probably made me a less-good driver than someone with more experience, but I took driving very seriously.  I knew that my father's car could be damaged, and my friends could be hurt or killed if I messed up, and that responsibility was always on my mind.  Even when my friends encouraged me to drive like an ass, I'd ignore them.  I had a reputation as somewhat of an automotive killjoy, but I was never in an accident until a guy rear-ended me at a traffic light* when I was an adult.

I know that driving has historically been the teen right of passage, but I know that when it comes to my own kid, driving is going to be something she will learn after she is 18, with her own money and car.  Given her history, her lack of responsibility and her frequent defiance, I see driving as not a useful skill, but as a potential for someone to be seriously injured.

If my kid can't pay attention to the little things in her life, how can I trust her to pay attention behind the wheel?  If she gets angry and storms out of the house, what's to prevent her from jumping in a car and zooming away in an angry huff?

There was sad ending to a story like this a number of years ago.  An angry teen stormed out of the house and disappeared.  A frantic search ensued, and the car and teen's body were later discovered in a ghastly wreck.

I don't know what happened to responsible teen drivers, because even the kids I thought would be responsible have turned out not to be so.  A daughter of a friend (who is now in her mid-20s) got into accident after accident when she was first licensed.  Although she was a hugely responsible kid, and she did well in school, her responsibility ended when she got behind the wheel.  Of course it probably didn't help that her mother allowed her to have a fairly "hot" sports car as soon as she was licensed, and she didn't put her foot down and stop paying for accidents until after her daughter wrecked the car for the third time.

But as much as I hate the idea of spying on kids and restricting their ability to be fully licensed, I think Allison is right.  Parents who do allow their minor children to drive should be putting brat-cams in their cars and spying on what their kids do.  If they aren't driving responsibly, the keys should definitely go away.

* Fortunately the car only ended up with a scuff on the bumper as a result.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

DNA, Foster Care and the Potential for Lawsuits

The Adoption Counselor wrote an interesting post where she shared that researchers are starting to determine that early life experiences can alter a person's DNA.  She also reported that child protective services in her area ended up having to pay up a whopping $6 million (CDN) to a set of siblings who sued because they weren't removed soon enough from their birth families.

If DNA can be altered, and kids can successfully sue, will it be possible for the descendents of children who were not protected by the child welfare system be able to sue for damages?  She believes it may be so, and that adults who were failed by the system should step forward and demand compensation.

In her post she went on to write:

The point, which I am finally getting to, is that child protection services are going to have to start thinking ahead – not something they have traditionally done in any area – because there may be no limit on when they will be held accountable for whom they protect, or don’t protect, today. That will ultimately impact adoption because now – the impact of creating child protection policies based on fiscal restraint means that by the time any child is removed from parental care there is significant harm and, therefore, by the time the child reaches an adoptive home – his or her needs are huge and often overwhelming for the adoptive family.

"His or her needs are huge and often overwhelming for the adoptive family."

This is so damn true.  It's an unfortunate reality that many adoptive families find their children are so damaged by the time they taken into foster care and legally freed for adoption, that they require expensive treatment and interventions.  Worse, many of those treatments don't work, in that they can't really solve or fix anything.  Children injured by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, for example, will never be what they would have been if their mother's hadn't been drinking.

I agree with The Adoption Counselor, but I don't think she goes quite far enough in her call to action.  Not only should children damaged by the foster care system sue, birth, foster and adoptive parents should sue as well.  If enough people started litigating, the child welfare system would have to change.  If the cost of lawsuits started to outpace the "savings" created by the financial austerity measures so many states and counties employ, perhaps the system would change for the good.

Or perhaps it won't.

But at least those who have been damaged by such an inefficient, broken system might receive at least some compensation for how their lives should have been...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Soggy Shoes

This past weekend, we celebrated FosterEema's birthday by going camping.  This time around, we met our camping buddies at what could better be described as an RV resort, rather than a grubby old campground.  This particular place has lush, green grassy spaces between each site, so it is quite lovely as compared to our favorite, but somewhat undeveloped, campground.

In the office there are large signs explaining the campground's watering schedule.  They water each night, Sunday through Thursday, to keep their lawns looking lush and green.  Since we stayed for several days (driving Danielle to school each morning and working remotely) we made a nightly habit of picking up our camp chairs, gear, and shoes so they weren't wet by the sprinklers.

During the length of our trip, Danielle was pretty unhelpful.  Although she did take a few bags of garbage to the dumpster when asked, she made it a habit of disappearing when chores needed to be done.  On FosterEema's birthday, after I'd made a nice meal and baked a birthday cake, Danielle showed up offering help only after I'd washed, dried, and put everything away.

I let her sweep the floor, which was the only chore left.  She rolled her eyes and didn't bother to suppress her annoyance.

The area of linoleum she had to sweep, by the way, is probably less than 15 square feet.  The task can be done in a couple of minutes.

Numerous times I asked Danielle to put away clothing, shoes, and other personal items that she'd left heaped in the dirt outside, stuffed in a stinky mess in cabinets where they didn't belong, or littering the dinette area.  Each time I asked her to help, she would exclaim, "G-d!," as if I'd asked her to do the impossible.

So finally, I got tired of asking.  When I found her stinky sweatshirt jammed into a cabinet, instead of put into her bag, like I'd asked, I hung it on the outside of the trailer and left it there, so I didn't have to deal with the smell.  Last night, after Danielle went to bed early to avoid helping to pack up our campsite, I noticed that she'd left her tennis shoes and the nice pair of suede boots some friends had given her for her birthday, right in the middle of the lawn.

When I spotted this, I debated waking Danielle up to go pick up her crap.  I decided against it, because I knew it would simply trigger a rash of complaining and ugliness.  Since I didn't want the nice suede boots ruined, I quietly picked them up and put them in the back seat of my truck.  The sneakers I left where they were, figuring they could be an object lesson in natural consequences in the morning.

Predictably, Danielle's shoes were sopping wet and she was furious.  "Where are my boots?" she demanded.

"Where did you put them?" I asked.

Danielle swore up and down that she'd brought them into the RV the night before.  (She hadn't.)  She accused me of stealing them. 

FosterEema and I extended our sincere sympathies.  ("Gosh, I hate when I forget to put my things away like I am supposed to.") but we also asked the question, "Who is responsible for putting your shoes away?"

"Thanks for not doing me a favor," she surled. "Where are my boots?" she demanded.

FosterEema, who legitimately didn't know where I had put them, replied, "Maybe someone picked them up.  It's a shame you didn't put them away last night."

"Well I guess I'll go to school barefoot," Danielle threatened.

FosterEema and I ignored her threats, and eventually she went outside and stomped around in the wet grass.  She sulked on the picnic bench, and banged her soggy shoes on the ground in a futile attempt to dry them out.

"If you put your feet under the heater in the car," FosterEema suggested, "they'll dry out some on the way to school."

Eventually, Danielle got into the car (around the same time she'd be catching the bus) and FosterEema drove her to school.  During the 30 minute ride, Danielle made a big show of not speaking to FosterEema.  She also made it very conspicuous that she was not using the electronic device we'd given her for her birthday, and was instead using the older, less functional, one she'd previously been complaining about.

If Danielle thought that giving FosterEema the silent treatment and dissing her birthday gift would have an impact on us, she was grossly mistaken.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Getting Past the Past

On Friday, Jen over at Couldn't Make it Up If I Tried, wrote about how things have been going since her daughter came back from residential treatment.  If you have the time, you should read her entire post, as she writes about what's going on in a beautiful, metaphoric way.

I'm going to quote just a bit of what she wrote:

For the most part, she is doing well, except for the bouts of big attitude that have come and gone, particularly if I bring up the forbidden topic of SCHOOL.  I mean what kind of mother asks her child how school is going?!?!  But all things considered, she's doing well.  I thought I was settling in.  I thought I was forgiving her.  I thought we were working things out and moving forward, but somehow it doesn't feel that way at the moment.  I'm irritated with her.  I'd like to say I have a good reason, but I really don't know if I do.  Is it a gut feeling that something isn't right?  Is it my own faultiness and inability to move forward?  I don't know, but what I do know is that I don't think I'm as strong as I once thought I was or could be.  It's hard to let go of the past.  I'm forced to realize that

I have to admit to feeling much the same thing.  Since Danielle has started on medication, the violence and rages have disappeared.  Even so, I'm having a hard time getting past what she's done.  I am finding it impossible to start over again, fresh, as if nothing has happened.  Although she claims to "barely remember" the times she's physically attacked me or my wife, the police visits, the false allegations and the times she's raged and destroyed her room, those memories are still very fresh in my mind.

I've also discovered that although the medication has made things much better, it hasn't solved all of Danielle's problems.  As I've said before, the medication hasn't much helped her impulsiveness, or her inability to think things through, nor has it done anything to reduce some of her more unpleasant personality traits.  She still argues about chores, fails to tell the truth, and attempts to manipulate and triangulate people.

It's hard to put the past behind us when Danielle is still actively doing many hurtful things in the present.

This week we observed FosterEema's birthday.  Danielle knew it was coming, because FosterEema's birthday falls just a few days after her own.  I had been talking about our plans for celebration for quite some time, yet Danielle chose to completely ignore it.  The morning of FosterEema's birthday, I made sure to wish her a "happy birthday" while Danielle was in the room.  Danielle said nothing. It was especially surprising because it had worked out (ahead of time) that FosterEema was going to give Danielle a ride to school that day.  Danielle had plenty of opportunity to say something if she had desired.

Later that evening, we had a small party.  We had a few friends over, and I served a home-baked cake and ice cream. Our friends gave FosterEema a hilarious birthday card which contained a gift certificate.  I'd given FosterEema her gift that morning.  Danielle gave FosterEema nothing, not even a card.

"I feel bad," Danielle sighed during cake.  "I didn't get FosterEema anything."

FosterEema told her that it was okay.  I said nothing.

Now there were a million things I wanted to say.  I wanted to give her a lecture about planning ahead, other people's feelings, her attempts at trying to steal the spotlight, and gratitude.  I had plenty to say, but I said none of it. I just held my tongue.

* * *

Since Danielle started on medication, I've been reminded of peeling an onion.  As the medication kicked in, the outside, rough and crusty layer of violence and bad temper fell away.  I'd hoped that as we peeled that ugly layer away, we'd find a sweet onion beneath.  Instead, we are just finding more layers of the same troubled and difficult kid we had before, minus the violence.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What is it with Blogging These Days?

Two of my favorite bloggers have closed down.  One has decided to stop blogging, and the other has gone private.  I am going to miss both of them a great deal, and I feel sad that they won't be writing publicly anymore.

Although I understand their reasons for doing so, it also makes me sad.  It makes me sad because I think their opinions, their stories, their challenges and their solutions are valuable to everyone.  It is much harder for people to connect, when good bloggers go silent.

I can't say that I blame either one of them.  Sometimes, blogging isn't very fun.  I've been called names, I've been threatened, I've even had a group of stalkers hunt me down and turn me into child protection services falsely claiming that I was emotionally, physically and sexually abusing my kid.

It sucks to be on the receiving end of all of that.  It sucks a lot.

But I also think that it is hugely important for our stories to be told.  Prospective foster and adoptive parents really need to understand what they are getting into, which they don't really seem to understand when they attend PRIDE or MAPP classes.  People come into the system, optimistic and convinced that a stable home environment, proper discipline, and love will give these kids the chance they deserve in life.

It's true that those things certainly won't hurt a child, but when people think these tools will fix kids or make them whole, they are wrong.

Dead wrong.

I wish that when people quit blogging, they'd leave their blogs open.  Even if the author doesn't want to write any longer, their stories still have value to those that come later.

When I look at my feed reader, I find dozens of blogs that were closed, made private or abandoned.  I keep many of them in the hopes that their authors will come back at some point.  Once in a while, I'm pleased to see someone return who has been long-absent.  Most of the time, my old feeds remain ghosts.

So goodbye Corey and Kari.  I'm going to miss you both a great deal.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sometimes, Biology Wins

Today is Kari's 27th wedding anniversary.  If you haven't already, stop by her blog and give her your congratulations.  I'm impressed that anyone could be married so long.  Good job Kari!

This morning she wrote about something interesting her family's therapist had to say:

When we talked with the therapist yesterday about the differences we saw with this PANDAS episode (details I have not shared here), she said, "You will probably find that Java may have to be in several out of home placements in the coming years when your family has safety concerns and she needs help getting stabilized. I know that you are doing everything you can to keep her in your home and it won't be for lack of trying or lack of love or lack of skill. Sometimes biology will simply rule the day. You need to remember that."

Sometimes biology will simply rule the day. Now there's a t-shirt slogan.

In other words, sometimes biology wins.

I think that this is an important point for foster and adoptive parents to keep in mind.  No matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how good our intentions might be, sometimes biology is going to win out over every advantage, service, intervention, and bit of nurturing we might be able to give.  There are some kids out there who just aren't going to do as well as we would hope, wish, and pray.

All the love, nurturing and interventions in the world can't really overcome certain biological realities.  If a child's brain is damaged from prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol, abuse, neglect, or just bad genetics, there's nothing we can do to fix that damage.  Sure, interventions, love, nurturing and attachment certainly won't hurt, and might help to some degree, but a child suffering from biological damage will carry it with him for his entire life.

We haven't found a cure for spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries.  Although a person's condition can get better, we don't expect them to miraculously heal from a severed spinal cord or a severe head injury.  I think the same is true for many of our damaged children, and we need to keep that in mind.

Most parents want to keep their children home.  They don't want to place their children in out-of-home placements, and when if it comes to that, they feel like failures.

But the reality is, sometimes biology is going to win.  Sometimes these kids can't be safe at home, and no amount of intervention, love, medication, or anything else will change that.

If this happens, it's not the failing of the parents.  It just is.

If a child is born with a severe birth defect, people don't expect the parents to magically wave their hands and cure the child.  If the child has severe cerebral palsy or spina bifida, people don't blame the parents when the kid doesn't miraculously leap out of her wheelchair and go running down the street.  It should be no different for parents who are raising children with invisible emotional disabilities or brain damage.

We didn't cause it, we've done our best to help it, but we can't fix it.

And it ain't our fault, because sometimes biology wins.