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.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Birthday Recap and MIL Visit

We recently celebrated Danielle's 16th birthday.  We paid to take Danielle, her friend "Maxine" and her mother, my mother, my father and my stepmother out to dinner.  We gave Danielle an expensive electronic gift, and my mother bought her an accessory to go with it.

Danielle didn't really thank anybody at the party for her gifts, even though it was clear she was pleased with at least some of them.  She was not, however, pleased with the gift we bought, because she was hoping for the much more expensive version of what we'd selected.  She was disappointed even though we'd already explained (for reasons of expense, care of personal property, and trust) that she wasn't going to get the coveted model.

Danielle didn't thank us for buying everyone dinner, either.

She complained about the gift we selected three times, once during the party in front of everyone, once in the car on the drive home, and once again after we got home.

It worked out that Danielle's therapy appointment fell between her birthday and the following weekend, which we had scheduled to go camping with FosterEema's mother, who was in town for her brief, once-a-year visit.  During that session, we shared how it hurt our feelings that we'd gone to the expense of buying an pricey electronic gift, and paid for dinner, only to be rewarded by complaints that we'd done the wrong thing.

Danielle's therapist told her that her behavior was really "not cool."

The following weekend, while we were camping, Danielle complained in front of my mother that she didn't like the accessory she'd bought.  My mother had come up for the day to visit with us, and when I suggested Danielle use her accessory, she griped, "but I don't like it!"

My mother was understandably hurt.

Danielle later said that she thought we had bought the accessory, not my mother.

We explained that we had ordered it at Grandma's request, but that she had paid for it.  "Does it matter who paid for it?" FosterEema asked, "What you said is still hurtful, either way."

* * *

Although Danielle's behavior wasn't as horrible as the last time my mother-in-law visited, she still spent quite a bit of time playing to an audience.  Fortunately, my MIL has grown somewhat wise to Danielle's antics, and she didn't fall for it as much as she could have.

The last night that MIL was in town, Danielle was in rare form.  We were in a restaurant, and she was chewing noisily with her mouth open, spraying bits of food out of her mouth.  I was sitting directly across from her, and the view was positively disgusting.  At one point she smeared her lips with ranch dressing, and made a big show of asking everyone to look at her lipstick.

Danielle is 16 years old, way too old for this kind of behavior.

I didn't make a big deal about her behavior in the restaurant, because I knew that my MIL would likely come to her defense.  The following afternoon, after my MIL had flown out, I did have a sit-down talk with Danielle about her behavior, and I explained that 16 years old is far too old to be behaving like that in a nice restaurant.

"If you do that again," I promised calmly, "I will ask our server for a box and you will not be allowed to finish your meal."

"You're mean!"

"That may be true, but you are far too old to be acting this way in public," I replied.

* * *

Although this birthday and visit from MIL was substantially better than ones we've had in years past, as it was meltdown-free, I can't help but feel frustrated and disappointed at my child's complete lack of gratitude and her disgusting table manners.  We tried to do something nice that was within our budget, but since it wasn't the grandiose affair she'd wanted with hundreds of guests*, she couldn't choke out the words "thank you" without a rash of complaining and ugly manners.

* Danielle had asked to have a huge, quinceaƱera-style party for her 16th birthday.  We had already discussed the fact that we weren't prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a birthday party, especially when we don't have that many friends to invite.  Although Danielle has a fantasy of inviting hundreds of her best friends to such a party, the reality is that she's only got two friends we know personally, and perhaps a handful more at school that we haven't met.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Thoughts on Giving Up

Kari has been having a really tough time with her youngest daughter.  As a result of an explosion that happened this morning, she expects to be investigated again by the child welfare authorities.  In her post, she wrote:

I went downstairs and told StarBUCK that I did not want to be in a room with her without a witness or a camera because of the way she was acting. If she goes to school and tells her teachers that I threw her off her bed this morning, they will understandably call CPS.

Now Kari did not throw her daughter off the bed this morning. Her daughter threw herself to the floor, but it won't matter if she tells a different story at school this morning.

After this incident, Kari thought about giving up.

I know how she feels.

Prior to our adoption, we spent a year fighting with, and being investigated by, child welfare professionals.  We had slew of social workers, therapists, and supervisors traipsing through our lives, trying to prove that we were unfit to adopt Danielle.  The motivation for this was anti-GLBT bias, and at the very end, the judge made it clear that he felt it was the Department's motivation.  After the adoption, we were investigated for child abuse four more times.

Although we were cleared of any wrongdoing each and every time, the experiences left a bad taste in my mouth.  All of the investigations were triggered by Danielle complaining (and sometimes flat-out lying) about her life with us, and the resulting anxiety, lost productivity at work, and overall bad feelings triggered by the investigations really sucked.

Like Kari, we have been to the point of being absolutely tired of living this way.  After being investigated, multiple times, for absolute bullpucky, I have had the same thought cross my mind more than once:

Maybe I should just let them take her.

It's not that I don't care about my kid.  I do care.  It's just that there's no defense against repeated false allegations.  If my kid makes 1, 5, 10 or even 1,000 false reports, each and every one of them has to be investigated.

There comes a point, after working with therapist after therapist, social worker after social worker, and professional after professional, where one just gets tired.

The last time we were investigated, we basically told the worker that if she wanted to invite every one of the investigators to our house for a BBQ, so they could satisfy themselves that there really isn't a problem, she was welcome to do so.  We also casually mentioned that if she really wanted Danielle back, we were tired enough of repeated investigations that we'd accommodate her request.  Surprisingly, the worker seemed a lot less interested in her investigation after that.  After wasting three hours in her office, she sent us home.

I often feel as if I have very little fight left in me.  It's clear that even Danielle's new therapist, who seems like the most insightful of the bunch that we've seen, still doesn't fully "get it."  Just like the professionals in Kari's life, she fails to understand the complexities of my child, and she doesn't recognize that my child's chronological age is far greater than her emotional maturity.

Although I can certainly say that medication has made a big difference in Danielle's mood, it hasn't fixed her maturity or her decision-making skills.  It won't magically fix her educational delays, or motivate her to work hard to achieve educational, material and financial goals.

So there are days when I feel like all we have done is futile.  We can't fix any of this, and there are days when I think maybe it's time to give up, and to surrender to what feels like the inevitable bad end to this story.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why We Don't Leave Danielle Alone

Yesterday afternoon, I caught the scent of bleach.  Danielle had come home earlier, and I expressed my concerns to FosterEema.

"She's probably just cleaning her bathroom," FosterEema replied.

I was working, and I was in the middle of a task and didn't have time to check.  FosterEema was busy, too, and I didn't want to get into a squabble over who should check on what the kid was doing, so I just let it be.

We probably should have checked.

This morning, Danielle showed us a formerly-grey zippered sweatshirt that was now a sickly, mottled pink color.  Apparently, she had wanted to wash it so she could wear it to school this morning.  Instead of tossing a load into the washer, she decided to hand wash it in her sink.

Unfortunately for the sweatshirt, instead of using laundry soap, she grabbed the bottle of bleach.

When we asked her about it, she said she hadn't bothered to read the label.  She "wasn't paying attention," and just dumped the bottle into the sink without bothering to check what she had in her hand.

She was absolutely mystified when the color started coming out of the garment, so she rinsed it out and put it in the dryer, not understanding what had just happened.

This is exactly why I'm afraid to leave Danielle alone for any length of time.  Although this mistake was relatively harmless, in that it was her clothing that she ruined, she operates in a state of oblivion that really concerns me.  In our house, there's no mistaking a bottle of bleach for a bottle of laundry detergent, because the brands we buy are in completely different containers.  I can readily identify the difference between detergent and bleach, just by the shape and heft of the packaging, even if I don't have my glasses on.  Even if I were totally blind, I would still be able tell the difference by the smell, as we use unscented detergent, and regular household bleach.

The only way Danielle could have made this mistake was that she was completely oblivious to what she was doing.

In the past, she's put food in the microwave, mistakenly set it for 20 minutes instead of 2, and then walked away, nearly starting a fire.  When I detected the resulting smoke and yelled at her to open the windows so our pet parrots wouldn't suffocate, she stood there dumbly, trying to argue over the necessity of doing so.

For whatever reason, Danielle can't or won't think things through.  Every day she will say and do little dumb things, and when we point out her error, she'll agree that she was being dumb.  "Oh yeah...duh!" she'll often exclaim.

We try to be as kind and gentle as we can when we point out her mistakes, but they really worry me.  Her lack of attention frequently has her walking into closed doors, bumping into people, or even walking straight into the side of our RV.

She can see.  Her pediatrician and the school have checked her vision.  She just doesn't pay attention.

Perhaps this one little incident will seem "normal" to those of you who have neurotypical kids.  The problem for us is that this is just a tiny sample of a pattern of conduct that doesn't seem to get any better.  Sure, Danielle might say, "I've learned my lesson, I'll never make that mistake again," but the truth is that she will.  She doesn't seem to really learn from her goofs in a lasting way, and we both worry that if we leave her home alone, she'll end up making a mistake that could cause her or our pets permanent injury or worse.

We are afraid she might accidentally set fire to the house, because it seems like she still hasn't developed any common sense.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Late to School

This morning, Danielle was late to school.

It could have been entirely avoided, but for her lack of cooperation.

We had gone camping this weekend (and managed to meet up with an Internet buddy I've been corresponding with for a couple of years) at a campground almost two hours from home.  In order to facilitate meeting with our friends, we opted to stay an extra night and head for home early this morning.

We had an excellent time with our friends, and the day went by far too quickly.  Our friends are also adoptive parents, so it was nice to spend some time with people who really understood what we go through on a daily basis.

Last night, after our friends left, we loaded everything we could into the truck, so that we'd have less to do in the morning.  Danielle knew we'd be getting up early and would need to hurry in order to get her to school on time.

She did everything she could to slow us down.

FosterEema and I both scurried about, but when we asked Danielle to do something, she went out of her way to do it wrong.  I asked her to put some things inside the truck; she put them on the picnic table instead.  Since we were packing up before dawn, we needed a flashlight.  She'd use it for one task, and then "misplace" it so we had to spend time looking for it.

By the time we were hitched up and ready to go, I really wanted to give Danielle a swift kick to the backside.

We ended up leaving 30 minutes later than our planned departure time.

I did my best to make up time on the drive home, but there was only so much I could do.  It was extremely dark and foggy, and the road conditions for a significant portion of our trip demanded safety over speed.  Although I did my best, we ended up rolling up (with the trailer still with us) on Danielle's school just a few moments before the bell rang.

"If you run, you might make it to class on time," I encouraged.

My last sight of Danielle, as I pulled away from the curb, was of her dragging her feet to class, walking as slowly as possible.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Problem Appears Again

Since we were told Danielle was failing her elective class, and then later discovered she had a passing grade, we've kept a pretty close eye on the school's online attendance and grading system.  After the big hassle, the grading system reported that she was still missing three assignments, despite Danielle's protestations that she'd turned them in,  Her grade at that point was a good, solid C, even without the missing assignments.

Thursday night, we checked the system again, and now she's missing seven assignments.  Her grade has dropped to a C-, and if she loses any more points, she'll fall into the passing, but unsatisfactory, range.

When we informed Danielle of what we had discovered, her response was unacceptable.

"I don't care," she replied.

Since it happened that we had a meeting with her therapist that night, we addressed the issue there.  Danielle just doesn't give a crap about anything right now, and it seemed to worry the therapist.  At one point, Danielle stepped out of our session to use the restroom, and the therapist commented worriedly, "Something has changed."

From my perspective, it seems as if little has changed.  Danielle cycles through her moods, especially whenever a therapist is present.  There have been some days where she's completely disengaged and barely says a word.  There have been others where she won't stop talking.  On this particular day, Danielle seemed tired and sullen.

The therapist was worried, and tried to impress upon us her concerns.

It's hard for me to get overly excited, because this is the kid we see all the time.  From our perspective, there is no dramatic change.  Yes, respite and starting medication gave us a honeymoon period of unusually sunny disposition for a while, but now the honeymoon is wearing off, and Danielle is returning to her more typical self.

The therapist didn't seem to much like it when I said I wasn't going to jump all over the school because of the missing assignments.

My problem is this: Danielle has lied to us so many times in the past that I'm just not going to get fired up over things she says.  We ended up with egg all over our faces once before when we jumped on a lie she told us with regards to things that were going on at school.  We aren't going to go there again.  It's a lousy place to be, but we can't trust much of what she says, so everything she claims must be verified.  The school grading system says she hasn't turned in the assignments; she says she has.  Maybe she has turned the work in, but unless she can give us some proof, we are going to side with the teacher.

It's a pretty crappy place to be when you can't trust what your kid says.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Sleeping the Arguments Away

In response to If Only It Were That Simple, Paula wrote:

Why worry about her sleeping so much? It's time when there is no arguing, no complaining and peace all around. My kids with neurological damage typically need much more sleep than my neurotypical children and even at age 10-12 sleep from 12 up to 14 hours a day, just as a toddler would! Realistically, that's where their brain function is and the sleep probably does them a world of good.

Paula has an extremely valid point, and has given us a new way of looking at things.  She's absolutely right.  If Danielle is asleep, it is absolutely impossible for her to argue, complain or fight with us.

So maybe we shouldn't see this as a problem at all, but as simply a peaceful form of respite.  Maybe it's really not all that bad.

Several people suggested that we might try switching Danielle's medication dosage to the evenings, so that she'll sleep at night, instead of being tired during the day.  We'd actually considered doing that, but it seems that right after she takes her medication, she becomes hyper and energetic, which I think would interfere with her sleep even more.  It seems that she's the most tired in the afternoon, after she comes home from school.

Perhaps we shouldn't see this as a problem, because a sleeping child is one who cannot argue.

Although a lot of comments have been focused on Danielle's sleepiness, what I really wanted to draw attention to was the fact that the pediatrician seems to have pat answers for almost every problem we've encountered with Danielle.  If only we would withhold her allowance, she'd stop hitting.  (We did, and she didn't.)  If only we would play board games as a family, she wouldn't sleep all of the time.

I guess our experience with the pediatrician isn't really unique, as so many of the so-called "helping professionals" have given us simple suggestions that, if only we would follow them, would solve all our child's ills.

It's just not that simple.

I wish it were.  If withholding Danielle's allowance had only worked, we would have saved ourselves the expense of sending her to boot camp, and our relationship would be much better.  We adults wouldn't feel bruised, battered and traumatized.  Perhaps we might have even gotten that happy ending that so many adoption professionals try to sell to prospective parents.

If it were a simple matter of doing x, so that a child would behave, do well in school, and end her violent behavior, I'm sure a lot of parents would willing to whatever x is.  Unfortunately, for many foster and adopted children, there is no magic x, y or z that will cure all that ails them.  Even a combination of approaches rarely solves every problem, and if a child has been damaged by prenatal drug or alcohol exposure, the odds are that they will one day end up in jail no matter what interventions they received.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

If Only It Were That Simple

Since Danielle has been with us, we've had to interface with a long list of professionals.  We've met with teachers, therapists, social workers, and each one has been different.  Some have been helpful, some not.  Some have been easy to work with, others frustrating.  A few have been downright destructive.

But the one professional who wins the prize, in terms of our absolute frustration level, is Danielle's pediatrician.

Danielle went in for a check-up yesterday.  The point of the visit was a medication follow-up, since she started an anti-depressant two months ago.  Although we've seen an improvement in her mood and behavior, one of the things we've noticed is that she she sleeps excessively, and she's always tired.  This was a problem before she started medication, but now it's much, much worse.

The doctor's response?

She seemed to think that Danielle was sleeping so much because she was bored.  She told us that we should sit down as a family and play board games one night a week.

This is, by the way, the same professional who suggested we withhold Danielle's allowance as a way to put a stop to her endless temper tantrums and rages.

If only it were that simple.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Generational Problems

In response to The Ball is Being Dropped Somewhere, Cyndi wrote:

I have been reading this blog for a long time and I am pretty sure your daughter will not learn to manage her life, period. I can also guess given her issues and abilities she will become a mom of a kid that she will not be able to parent and then this entire story will play itself out for yet another generation. I am an adoptive mom and have been a foster mom and I see this all to often. It is a really sad state of affairs.

My fear is that Cyndi may very well be right.  What's worse is that there is absolutely nothing that we can do about it.

The problem boils down to the fact that Danielle has problems, but the system doesn't see her problems as being bad enough to see her as being truly disabled.  She has at least two other older biological half-siblings who are classified as developmentally disabled.  One lives in a supervised adult guardianship arrangement, the other receives Social Security Disability Income, lives independently, but has a caseworker who does things like pay bills and help arrange housing.

Danielle isn't impaired enough to qualify for those services.  Worse, she thinks she knows everything she needs to know, and views our opinions and help as nothing but unwanted intrusions.  She doesn't want to follow our rules, she doesn't want to live in our house, but it's becoming increasingly clear that she's probably not going to do so well on her own.

I'd like to think that maybe we'll be surprised.  Sometimes, a few ugly lessons from the school of hard knocks is enough to kick some sense into errant young people.  I'm just not sure if Danielle is truly capable of learning those lessons.

I hope we'll be pleasantly surprised.  I fear we will be disappointed in the way that we expect.

In response to the same post, Batgirl wrote:

I work as a sub teacher, mostly in special ed (a lot of kids like yours). I heard a SPED teacher once refer to this cycle as job security. Sad but's amazing how many IEP's start with "Student was born to a mother who admits drinking and using drugs and having no prenatal care..." It sucks.

The generational aspect of this is not lost on me.  Danielle's maternal grandmother was an illegal immigrant.  She was disabled, uneducated, and never learned to read or write.  Danielle's mother, also illegal, was uneducated, a drug user, and we suspect that she may have worked as a prostitute in front of her children.  We've never met her but, by all accounts from reports and social workers who knew her, she suffers from developmental disabilities as well.  All the reports that mentioned her noted that she seemed, "slow."

Danielle's grandmother was clearly a victim of poverty, poor parenting, and a lack of education.  Those problems have plagued her children and her grandchildren.  There's no doubt that this generational legacy has left its unfortunate mark on Danielle, too.

In the end, I think that sad reality is that as much as foster and adoptive parents want to make a difference and want to break the generational cycles of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty and ignorance, we simply can't do it.  I suspect that the only way to stop the cycle is to prevent children like Danielle from breeding, but that treads dangerously close to the eugenics movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The idea that only those who are worthy to breed should be allowed to breed has a very chilling effect, doesn't it?

But if we can't stop birth parents from breeding, and we can't stop them from their substance-abusing ways, how do we stop them from inflicting so much damage upon their children?

The truth is, we can't.

All we can do is the best that we can do.  We can love our foster and adopted children.  We can care about them.  We can try to do the right thing for them.  But in the end, we have to let them go, because they all turn 18, and have the legal right to be treated as adults in the free world.  Only the most profoundly disabled and impaired qualify for further supervision and financial support into adulthood.

Batgirl is right, it does suck, but there's not a damn thing any of us can do about it.  The damage has already been done.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Ball is Being Dropped Somewhere

In response to A Failure in Communication, schnitzelbank wrote:

I don't disagree that having family time is important, and a very healing time for this family. But pulling your kid out of school early in the school year for a vacation might not be good timing (thanks for clarifying the school days. You had said in an earlier post, that you were gone for 10).

But obviously this IS important to y'all, as witnessed by all the posts about Danielle's school work.

To be honest, Danielle's schoolwork is only of moderate importance to me at this point. It's clear from her state-mandated testing that she's functioning far below proficiency in mathematics and English.  Until this trip, we've always been very diligent of making sure that Danielle had as close to perfect attendance as possible.  Unless she was really sick, we sent her to school.

At this point, though, it's absolutely clear that she isn't going to college.  I have serious doubt in my mind as to whether or not she would even be able to manage some type of trade school. She has no fire, no ambition, and no interests, so I really have no desire to spend my time fighting over her schoolwork. I hope that she will put out a minimum effort, turn in her assignments, and try, but I can't force her to do those things, and I honestly don't expect her to do really well, even if she puts forth the effort.

It's clear from her test scores that she simply can't.

Another question: what did Danielle do then, during the time you (and the other kids) were working?

Danielle did what she usually does when she doesn't have anything to do. She poked at the birds, sat in a camp chair and stared off into space, and complained (only a little) that she was bored.  At one point she did borrow our friends' battery-powered kiddie car, and she drove around in it.  The car is designed for pre-schoolers, but she's so small, she can actually sit in it and drive around.

Moving forward...

1) I would question the teachers immediately, if they fail to send home a packet for a pre-arranged absence. Clearly, there isn't "nothing" happening during those four days, those should be accounted for somehow.

This is one of the most frustrating aspects to Danielle's program. I often feel like we are dropping our kid into a black hole. Communication goes in (messages from us to the teachers) but nothing comes back out. It's very irritating. Worse, it puts Danielle in a position of being able to triangulate and manipulate the adults, which she has done repeatedly.  We've had several meetings with the school about this, but nothing changes.  Short of hiring a lawyer (which we cannot afford to do) I don't think much will change.

2) Is it possible Danielle completed the work (as witnessed by the aides) and failed to turn it in? I have students do this all the time. It's all part of that self-fulfilled prophecy of failure. Failure is easier than success for kids that seem to thrive on chaos and have not experienced much academic success (for a whole myriad of reasons)

It's certainly possible. At this point, Danielle's grade is still a solid C, and we can see a number of assignments that haven't been turned in that have come due this past week. Danielle claims she's done all the work, but the school's grading system says that the assignments haven't been turned in. I'm not going to harass the teachers or the classroom aides about it. This is Danielle's problem to own. She has to learn to manage her own life.

3) Could you get an extra set of textbooks for home? This would bypass the whole "forgot my book" excuse. Books are here and there. I don't see this strategy as helicopter parenting, rather, putting the scaffolding in place that many teenagers need. Clearly Danielle is not ready to be on her own at 18. Heck, most adolescents aren't ready to be on their own at 18. She needs some extra supports in place.

In the end, I'm sure you want to give her every opportunity to be successful. It sounds like you are so very frustrated. I'm sorry for your troubles.

Students aren't allowed to take textbooks home as a general rule, and we aren't in the position of being able to buy Danielle her own set. This is a problem that she is simply going to have to learn to manage on her own, or she won't get passing marks.

Anyway, it's clear from the fact that Danielle hasn't turned in all her assignments that the ball is being dropped somewhere between her special homeroom class and her elective class. Whether Danielle isn't turning in the assignments, the teacher is "losing" them, or the work simply was never done and we aren't being told the truth, it doesn't matter. Danielle is nearly 16 years old, and she's got to learn to manage this stuff on her own.

I can't help her with it. I'm not going to helicopter my ass down to the school and make sure she takes notes in class, or that she writes down all her assignments. I'm not going to jump up and down on her case and nag her into submission. Either she'll do the work or she won't. If her grade drops below a passing score, we'll start meting out consequences, but beyond that there isn't going to be a lot of discussion.

We just aren't prepared for the level of discord that would have to happen in order for us to nag Danielle into doing everything she is required to do. And, really, there's no guarantee that she'll do everything that is expected of her anyway.

Although it may be clear to everyone that Danielle won't be ready to live on her own when she turns 18, that's probably what is going to happen.  She's made it clear that she will move out when she becomes of age so that she doesn't have to follow what she perceives as our dreadful, stinkin', unreasonable rules.  Frankly, we are okay with that plan, because we are pretty tired of some of the behaviors we see at home.  Although things are much better post-medication, Danielle makes a lot of really poor choices and does a lot of things that we would rather not be in our home.  If she chooses to move out on her 18th birthday, we won't try to stop her.  In fact, we'd likely encourage that move.

I do want my kid to succeed, but there comes a point where she has to start doing the things that will make her successful.  I can show her the school's grading system and the assignments she's missed, but beyond that, I can't force her to complete them.  I can't help her with her schoolwork, because when I do, she expects me to hand her all the answers.  I don't know if it's laziness or just complete lack of ability, but she just has to find a way to muddle through all of this on her own.

This isn't what I had expected, or hoped for, but it is what it is.  Somehow, someday, Danielle's got to learn how to manage on her own.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Failure in Communication

Earlier this week, I reported that we'd been told that Danielle was failing her elective course.  We were told she was eight assignments behind, that there was no possible way she could catch up at school, and she'd need to bring work home.  Danielle's homeroom teacher asked us if we "could help her get caught up so she can have a passing grade."

All very well and good, but Danielle didn't bring her book home that night.  It's kind of hard to help her get caught up if she doesn't bring the materials home needed to do the work.

The next night, Danielle brought the book home, but reported that all of her assignments were completed.  We sent a note back to the elective teacher asking if this were true, and he replied that she was still missing three assignments, but that the work turned in was enough to give her a passing grade.

Good enough.  I really don't care what kind of grades Danielle brings home, just as long as she passes.  Although I think good grades are hugely important for college-bound kids who are fighting their way into prestigious universities, it matters a lot less for everybody else.  Since Danielle is clearly not college-bound material, as long as she makes an effort, and does her best, that's good enough.

Frankly, I'd rather her come home with lousy grades and see that she really tried, than to see her get excellent grades in programs that aren't challenging her.

As for the crisis in her elective class, the failing grade was a direct result of her lack of motivation, and her refusals to do what was expected of her in a timely basis.

One of my readers, seemed to think that we were responsible for Danielle's failure, but it's obvious from his/her remarks that I haven't communicated everything that has transpired.  This reader had several important points incorrect, so I think I need to clarify a few things.

Schnitzelbank wrote:

So it's one thing to battle over homework, but when you pull your kid out of school for two weeks, that's two weeks worth of instruction she missed. So of course there's going to be some extra catching up to do. This isn't just homework - it's 8 or 10 days (or whatever) worth of seat time, instruction, discussion, focused practice, remediation, assessment AND homework she missed out on. She came back with nothing done, and the class didn't stop, because you were on vacation. If she didn't have step 1, 2, and 3 completed, there was no way she could start rolling with step 4 on her first day back.

First off, I think it's hugely important to point out that Danielle wasn't out of school for two weeks. Although we were gone as a family for ten days, she only missed a total of four school days.  It's probably also worth pointing out that the class in question is one of those nearly impossible-to-fail elective classes.  This is a class, like art or physical education, where you are guaranteed to get a passing grade if you do the work, have a decent attitude, and turn in your assignments.  This isn't a heavy-duty academic class where one has to listen to an important lecture, retain the information, and later recall it for tests or quizzes.

She was completely over her head. And you do bear some responsibility in this, voluntarily pulling her out of school for two weeks to go on vacation, without setting up time and space to do her work, without being informed about what needed to be done, without playing the role of teacher a bit, as the rest of her class is continuing on without her, and she needs to keep up.

While we were on vacation, Danielle did have the time and space to do her work, if she chose to do it.  Although this trip was supposed to be a vacation, it was planned in advance to be a working vacation.  The four days Danielle was absent from school coincided with the days that I had to work.  Since my job requires a certain amount of concentration, I had my laptop and work materials set up in an quiet area so that I could accomplish the tasks that were expected. Danielle had every opportunity to avail herself of that time and space, but she refused to do so. 

Danielle was certainly not the only child present who was expected to spend part of our vacation on academics.  Our friends, who were camping with us, expected their kids to do some schoolwork while we vacationed.  Their preschoolers worked on letter-recognition skills, while their kindergartener worked on a packet sent home by his teachers.

There was plenty of time and opportunity for Danielle to get work done if she'd agreed to sit down and do it.

As much as Danielle's homeroom teacher might like to insist that her absence is what caused the deficiency in the elective class, I'm not convinced that is truly the case.  We'd made sure to give the school plenty of notice, in advance of our departure, so that they could put together a packet of work.  Mr. S., the elective class teacher, sent nothing home, other than a directive asking Danielle to take a few photographs of things related to the class subject.  No assignment sheets or textbooks were sent home.

Although I agree that we are certainly responsible for setting up an environment to succeed, we can't be held accountable if a teacher doesn't send something home when they've been warned in advance that our child will be absent for four days.  We also can't be held responsible for things Danielle "forgot on purpose," such as her reading book.  We even made an attempt to retrieve it while we were gone, but the day we selected turned out to be a minimum day we didn't know about, and the classroom was locked.

At some point in this process, Danielle has to own the responsibility for getting her school work done. 

I feel like if a parent isn't willing to play a supportive role during school-time vacation, then maybe you shouldn't take your kids on vacation during the school year. Or if you're going to pull her out, and refuse to do structured, guided, school-related activities during those missing school days, then you're going to have to accept that she is going to fall behind and fail, and not heap a bunch of consequences on top of it.

This wasn't a case of us refusing to give her the opportunity to do her work, or give her help when she asked for it.  This was a case of Danielle simply not doing the work, even when reminded.  And as I've said before, I'm not going to get into a knock-down, drag-out fight with my kid over schoolwork.  She was told, before we left, what the expectations were, her teachers were given an opportunity to send home assignments, and Danielle had plenty of time to sit down and do her work while the adults and other children were also working.  She opted not to do so.

I understand that your daughter has special needs and is combative with you. I get that. So that's why it's all the more puzzling why you'd pull her out of school in the beginning of the school year, when she needs the consistency of routine, the structure, and the format of the school day.

I have to take some exception to the the idea of "consistency of routine, the structure and the format of the school day."  I take issue with this because Danielle is not enrolled in a regular school program, and other than the fact that she gets on a bus at certain times of the day to travel to and from school, I think her day has very little structure.  At present, she spends the the majority of her day sitting in a classroom working on self-paced, independent study.  In all honesty, there's not a lot of difference between her current school program, and when she was attending the supervised home-school program, other than the location and the faces of the people who are helping her.

Given that Danielle spent nearly four years in a supervised home-study program, we all thought that she could manage to get her work done for a total of four measly days.  Obviously, we were wrong on that score.

As for the timing of our trip, it had everything to do with my work schedule and where the Labor Day holiday fell.  Unfortunately, I work at a very demanding job, and my ability to take time off doesn't always coincide with times that Danielle is not in school.  I've learned from many years of self-employment that if there is an opportunity to take time off, I need to grab it while I can. More often than I'd like, even time off I've scheduled in advance with my clients has been interrupted, and I've been called back to work.  This seems to be especially true during the summer, Thanksgiving weekend, and the December holidays.

Now in this case we knew in advance it was supposed to be a working vacation, though it ended up being more work and less vacation because one of our clients ended up having a crisis.  Unfortunately for us, by the time the problems appeared, we'd already made non-refundable reservations, so we went anyway, figuring that working remotely from a nice place would be better than not going at all.

It sounds like you had a great vacation - you blogged that she had a great time and didn't have any meltdowns. School wasn't mentioned at all in your blog. Did you read through her extended absence packet of work and were you familiar with what needed to be done? Did you set up a consistent time and place for her to do her work? Did you provide some instruction or guided practice for the skills that were being presently taught back at home?

Danielle's homeroom and elective teachers did not send home any sort of packet.  The homeroom teacher told Danielle to continue working through her books as she had been at school, and the elective teacher directed her to take some photographs.  Danielle didn't do much of her core curriculum because she "forgot" her reading book, and she was very unwilling to sit down and to the rest.  The photographs got taken, only because FosterEema practically dragged her outside with the camera.

So did I read through her packet?  No, because none was sent.  Did she have a consistent time and place to work?  Yes, absolutely. Did I provide instruction or guidance for skills that are taught at home?  No, because Danielle's materials are self-paced, and there is no formal instruction.  She is expected to read the material, to do the work, and ask someone if she has questions.

You set her up for failure here. And I do think you have a responsibility here to help her at this point. Especially because she has special needs, she doesn't know where to begin. This isn't the same as a homework battle, she missed two weeks of school. You need to provide the instruction, discussion, guided practice and remediation she missed. Then she'll be able to do her homework on her own, and you can back off to your usual hands-off approach. Then it's her chance to make the right decisions. But you have to start with teaching her what she missed. That's what the teacher meant by "getting her back up to speed."

I absolutely disagree with this assessment.  This is yet another case where we gave Danielle plenty of opportunities to succeed, to do the things she was supposed to do, but she opted not to do them.  Sure, I could have spent a significant portion of our vacation nagging Danielle to do her work, but it would have made the trip much less enjoyable for everyone.  And again, she didn't miss ten days of school; she missed four.  A nasty cold or a bout of the flu could have taken her out longer than that.

As for the eight missing assignments from her elective class, it's not at all clear that they were assigned during the four days Danielle was absent, given that her instructor didn't send any work home.  I am skeptical that an instructor would assign that much work over four days, but even if he did, why would he withhold it when told in advance that she would be gone?

Now it's certainly possible that Danielle lied about her assignments, but her elective teacher didn't give me any indication that he'd sent work home with her.  When we asked her about the missing assignments, she claimed that she "didn't know" the work was supposed to be done and handed in. 

I have no way to know if Danielle is telling the truth or making up a convenient story in the hopes that she'll escape doing work she doesn't want to do, but she is the one who must hold ownership over getting her work done.

What I found so frustrating in all of this is that clearly Danielle was capable of getting the work done.  She did get it done, at school, even though her homeroom teacher sent us a frantic note saying it simply wasn't possible to catch her up to the point of having a passing grade.

Clearly, there's been a huge failure in communication.  We should have been told about the missing assignments long before we were (we didn't hear until weeks later) and clearly there should be better communication between Danielle's special classroom and her elective teacher.  I'm still confused as to why the classroom aides told us work was finished that the elective teacher claimed not to have.

Whether this is a communication problem, or Danielle concealing the truth, I can't be responsible for her school work.  I can't go to school with her every day to find out what assignments her teachers have given, and I can't force her to do the work anyway.  At some point in life, Danielle is going to have to learn to be responsible for things, and it's not my job to helicopter in and make sure she does everything.  She has to own that.

In just a bit more than two years, she will be 18 years old, and she will want to live as an independent adult.  If I keep swooping in, trying to manage her affairs for her, then she's not going to learn how to be responsible for herself.  This time, the problem was of relatively low consequence.  If she had gotten a failing grade on her mid-term report, the earth wouldn't go spinning out of orbit and crashing into the sun.  She would have gotten an F on her report card, she'd have to make up the work later in the term, and that would be the end of it.  If she didn't make it up and was still failing, then she'd receive the logical consequence of not passing the course and losing out on those graduation credits.

In two years, she'll be faced with problems like showing up to work on time, managing her finances, and juggling her own personal schedule.  She is going to have to manage her life, because she's not impaired enough that she needs to be placed under adult guardianship or would qualify for disability.  She's in the unfortunate grey area of being too smart to qualify for any real help, but being challenged enough that her life is guaranteed to be difficult.

And there comes a point where I have to stand back and let her start taking responsibility for her own life.  If we keep helicoptering in, nagging her in a futile attempt to avoid problems, or rescuing her when she fails, we won't be doing her any favors.

What we have here is really two separate problems: 1) Danielle's failure to do her core work while we were on vacation, and 2) her failure to turn in assignments for her elective class after we returned.

At the end of the day, I think we did make the right choice in taking a relatively hands-off approach to this problem.  Danielle did manage to get enough work done so that she has a passing grade, and that's good enough.

What I've learned in life is that nobody really gives a shit about grades much past graduation.  Even the fact that I graduated high school and have a Bachelor of Science degree matters less than what I can do.  When it comes to success in life and the job market, what matters most are the skills, experience and knowledge you bring to the table.  Nobody gives a rip what your grade in your high school biology class was.