Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Day I Confronted My Troll

The following excerpts come from an article that appeared on the UK's The Guardian.  It is a story about someone who dropped off Twitter because he began to receive threatening messages online.

Eventually, it escalated to in-person harassment.

I received a parcel at my home address. Nothing unusual there – I get lots of post. I ripped it open and there was a Tupperware lunchbox inside full of ashes. There was a note included, saying, "Say hello to your relatives from Auschwitz". I was physically sick.

I was petrified. They had my address. I reported it to the authorities and hoped for the best.

Two days later I opened my front door and there was a bunch of dead flowers with my wife's old Twitter username on it. Then that night I received a DM. "You'll get home some day & ur bitches throat will be cut & ur son will be gone."

The author ultimately managed to track down his troll. He turned out to be his friend's 17-year old son.

I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him: "Why?"

The Troll sat there for a moment and said "I don't know. I don't know. I'm sorry. It was like a game thing."

A game thing.

So, that's what it was...

Read the article.  It's pretty disturbing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lunch Triangulation

Ah, the ongoing saga of school lunches.

Yesterday, Danielle's teacher e-mailed to tell me that Danielle had gone to school for the second day in a row with no lunch and no money to buy lunch.  Danielle had reported she was tired and dizzy.  The teacher sought my input.

I replied with the obvious: Please remind Danielle that it is her responsibility to pack a lunch.

This morning, the teacher e-mailed me to say that she had already done that, several times, and that Danielle had given her the same answers (she had a lunch or she wasn't hungry) that she'd given us.

And then?

The teacher admitted she had loaned Danielle the money to buy lunch, but that she couldn't make a practice of it.

I didn't say this, but I thought to myself, Honey, you have just been had!

I told the teacher that I thought Danielle was simply trying to manipulate everyone (teacher/us) into buying her lunch at the school cafeteria.  I explained that it's far less expensive for Danielle to make use of the food we have available here than to spend $5/day on school lunches.

There is no shortage of food here at the house.  At almost 17 years old, we can't force Danielle to make use of the food that's available.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sex and Lunch

This past weekend Danielle was involved in more drama.

I had been gone, spending the day with an old friend.  When I returned home, she met me out on the driveway to tell me that she had been "triggered" by something that had happened.

Here's the story as Danielle told it.  I'm not entirely sure of the tale's veracity, but here it is...

Danielle was spending the night with her friend.  On Saturday afternoon, Danielle, her friend, and her friend's boyfriend gathered in her friend's room.  Danielle decided to take a nap.  When she awoke, she opened her eyes to find her friend having intercourse with her boyfriend.

Now, to add a bit of context to this, Danielle's friend is two years younger.  She is also developmentally delayed.  The boyfriend is also a special education student.  There is also some question as to whether or not the kids used a condom.

Danielle could have put a stop to what was going on.  She could have told the girl's mother, as she knew her friend wasn't supposed to be having sex, especially given her age and cognitive disabilities.  The parents were home, but they have several other young children.  The house is noisy and chaotic enough that they could easily have missed the goings-on in the bedroom.

And of course, Danielle was in the room with the other two kids, so everyone would assume nothing untoward would happen, right?

Danielle sat on the news for 24 hours before telling us.

And, because the girl in question is two years under the magic age of 17, she must go to her doctor for a prescription for the morning after pill.

Danielle knew that what her friend was doing was unquestionably wrong.  I told her that by sitting by and doing nothing, it was the same as condoning the behavior.  I told her that I was angry, disappointed, and embarrassed that she didn't stop her friend and tell her mother immediately.  The girl's mother was in the next room when all this was happening.  She is, quite understandably, pretty distraught.

I suppose I shouldn't expect Danielle to make good decisions, so perhaps I shouldn't really be disappointed.  I just keep hoping, beyond hope, that she'll eventually get it and start making better choices.

* * * 

Today there was a little bit of drama coming from the school.  I received an e-mail from Danielle's teacher saying that today was the second day in a row that Danielle didn't bring a lunch or lunch money to school.  She said that Danielle was complaining of being dizzy and tired.

The teacher asked for our input.

I politely e-mailed back, explaining that Danielle is responsible for packing her own lunch.  I also mentioned that her lunch is frequently a control battle.  When we ask her about it, she usually tells us that either a) she already packed it, or b) she's not hungry and won't eat anyway.

I suggested that the teacher might want to remind Danielle that packing a lunch is her responsibility.  Given that lunch is such a control battle, I figured the reminder coming from her might be better received than it would be coming from us.

So that's what I said.

Here's what I thought:

Danielle is almost 17 years old.  She is perfectly capable of putting together her own lunch and I am just not going to engage in a control battle over this issue.  I suspect that the real truth is Danielle is trying to manipulate us into giving her a lunch card, which she's asked for several times.

I don't know if this is the case for all schools, but at Danielle's school the lunch card is essentially a credit card.  There are no spending limits.  A child can purchase as much as she likes, and at the end of the month, the parents get the bill.

Given that we have a kid who doesn't comply with doing her chores, who displays a bad attitude whenever possible, and who we can't trust to obey rules, I have only one answer when asked about a lunch card:

No, no, and hell no.

Pack a lunch, kid.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Tearful Apology

Yesterday afternoon, Danielle called my stepmother to apologize for her lie.  She sobbed out her tearful apology, saying that she had made a mistake and had "misunderstood" something that we said.

My stepmother seemed pretty gracious in accepting the apology, but she did ask Danielle if it was really a misunderstanding, or if it was just a lie.

What did we say that Danielle claimed to misunderstand?

During our family therapy appointment, when it came out that Danielle was off her meds, we said we needed to make sure that my stepmother (or father) actually watched Danielle take her pill, so that we could be sure she wasn't skipping her dose.

How that managed to get twisted into it is my stepmother's fault Danielle wasn't taking her pills is beyond me.

Despite Danielle being back on her medications since Thursday evening, things still aren't back to normal here.  When I tried to talk to Danielle about her lie, she called me a bunch of names, and walked off, shouting some elementary school version of I'm a mirror and everything you stay goes back to you!

Real mature.  This coming from an almost-17-year-old.

An hour later, Danielle came back and tearfully apologized to me as well.  I accepted her apology, but I also realize that her apologies are absolutely meaningless.

As I wrote about in my old blog, there are three components to an apology:

  1. The apology itself.
  2. Making amends for the wrongdoing.
  3. Not repeating the act again.
Danielle's an absolute pro at the first item on the list, but I can't think of a time where she's managed to complete the other two.

Sure, she might be extremely sorry in the moment, but all of the regret in the world doesn't seem to be sufficient to motivate her to change her behavior.

Nothing changes her behavior.

Maybe she's just not capable.  Certainly her doctors, therapist and teachers think she should be able to do better.

Me?  I don't know.  I worry about her future.  In 13 months, she'll turn 18, and she'll be out on her own.  FosterEema and I have had some long, hard talks lately, and we both agree we are going to ask Danielle to leave (if she doesn't go on her own accord) when she becomes a legal adult.

It's not a decision we like.  Danielle will turn 18 long before she graduates high school.  Although we did discuss the possibility of her staying until she graduates, the latest explosion makes it clear it's not a workable option.

Danielle is currently a minor, so we have no choice but to put up with her fits of temper, defiance, name-calling and episodes of violence.  Once she is 18, we are no longer obligated to put up with this sort of behavior in our home.

We know Danielle won't be ready to launch.

We are tired of being verbally abused and traumatized by our child's rages.

It's not a pretty choice.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Child-Induced Family Drama

Danielle spent all of Saturday and part of Sunday over at my at my father and stepmother's house.  When my stepmother dropped Danielle off, she immediately drove away, instead of coming in to say hello.

We thought it odd.  We especially thought it strange when Danielle said, "Grandma needed to go to the bathroom, so she was in a hurry to get home."

Grandma lives 30 minutes away.  Why wouldn't she just come in and use our bathroom?  I suppose we should have investigated further, but we just shrugged it off.

Later that evening, Grandma's speedy disappearance suddenly made sense.  My father called, asking to speak to FosterEema.  He said that my stepmother was extremely upset over something Danielle had said earlier in the day.

Apparently, Danielle had reported that we blamed my stepmother for Danielle's recent decision to stop taking her medication.

Not true.  FosterEema explained that she had never said that.  I got on the phone and said the same thing.  I asked to speak to my stepmother, but she was still feeling too raw to come to the phone.

Now we have some family drama.

And this morning?  Without prompting, Danielle admitted to having lied to Grandma.

Her justification?

She said she thought that it would be better for Grandma to hear the fictitious news from her, rather than having it come from us.


Friday, September 7, 2012

A Sober Realization

Yesterday evening, we made our regularly-scheduled trip to the family therapist.  One of the things we discussed at that meeting was Danielle's recent explosion.

Danielle admitted to the therapist that she had stopped taking her medication.


She doesn't like taking it, and wanted to see if she could get by without it.

I realize that medical non-compliance is very common among the mentally ill.  I also recognize that Danielle is not safe living in our home without it.

She is almost 17 years old.  We cannot make her take her pills.

At the last appointment, Danielle's psychiatrist instructed us to stop supervising her medication.  She told us that Danielle needs to learn how to manage her medications on her own.

It didn't work out so well.

We are just over a year away from her 18th birthday.  Now that we've witnessed how quickly she decompensates without medication, it is even more abundantly clear that she cannot continue to live here after she becomes an adult.

I hope that we can find some sort of alternative for her that doesn't involve driving her down to the homeless shelter on her 18th birthday.

I am not sure that we can.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Of Meltdowns, School Testing, and Cavities

In the past, the longest we've been able to go without some sort of violent outburst has been about six months.  This time around, we've made it about eight, but it looks like that streak of calm is coming to an end.

Yesterday, Danielle lost it in a big way.  She had a meltdown, complete with crying, screaming, ranting, raving, calling names, and throwing things around in her room.  Although she didn't get violent against people, it's behavior like this that usually indicates that a violent explosion is just around the corner.

The day before, she had started with some pretty amped-up, out-of-control rudeness, defiance, and disrespect.  This is also a harbinger of an impending explosion.

The triggers to both of these episodes?  It was the same old thing: we asked Danielle to help out around the house.  The first episode happened when we asked her to help out with some household chores.  The second episode started when we asked her to clean her room because something in there was starting to stink.

After crying, screaming, and carrying on to the nth degree, she finally discovered the source of the smell -- she had some wet, soggy papers stashed somewhere, and they were starting to mold.

In another recent development, we got Danielle's state mandated testing results back.  Not surprisingly, she still has not achieved proficiency in English/Language Arts or Math.  It's discouraging, because her failing scores on the state mandated tests mean she will likely not pass our state's high school exit examination.

And then, just to add more unfortunate news to the pile, Danielle had another four cavities when she went for her six-month dental checkup.  The dentist said she's not doing an adequate job of brushing and flossing.

She'll turn 18 in just a bit over a year.  When that birthday arrives, she'll most likely lose her state-sponsored health insurance.  Even if the current political climate changes that, she will definitely lose her dental coverage.  Our state system does not offer any dental coverage for those over 18, no matter how serious their problem.

I explained to Danielle that if she doesn't learn to brush soon, she's potentially facing a very painful toothache and a lot of costly dental bills.  With as many cavities as she's had, I'm worried she might not have any teeth left by the time she turns 35.

It's just a sad, sad situation.

As for my dearth of blogging lately, I've been gone for a number of reasons.  First off, there hasn't been much to write about on the Danielle front (positive or negative) so there hasn't been much to say.  I've been working on a number of other writing projects, which have somewhat diluted my enthusiasm for blogging.  Also, work's been crazy busy of late, so what little time I do have available, it's not really being spent here.

Still, I figured an update was warranted, especially because it sure looks like an explosion is nigh.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

If You Wouldn't Accept it from a Friend or Relative

More of Danielle's birth family has been trying to get in touch with us.

This time, it was an elder half-sibling who wanted us to come to a party.  This individual has moved to a nearby town and wanted to get reacquainted.

We didn't even return the phone call.

The other half-sibling, the one we had to make a hard call about, has left us a number of messages by way of voicemail, text and social media site.

We haven't returned any of those messages either.

After FosterEema and I talked it over between ourselves and with our therapist, we decided to cut these folks out of our lives.

Although we both recognize the importance of birth family contact, we also realize that there is an even greater need for family safety.  We've come to the sad conclusion that the majority of Danielle's birth family members have criminal records, use or sell drugs, and/or are involved in gangs.  We don't need this in our life, and Danielle doesn't either.

If she wants to contact these people after she's 18, that's her business and her right.  But now, when it's clear these people are not law-abiding citizens.  We don't want them around.

The basic premise is that we wouldn't allow these people around us if they were friends or our own blood relatives.  If we wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior from friends or family, why should Danielle's birth family receive special dispensation?

The truth is, they shouldn't.

So we did not tell Danielle this time around when her half-sibling tried to get in contact.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sometimes, You Have to Make the Hard Calls

I haven't been posting lately, largely because there hasn't been much to report.  The medication cocktail of an anti-depressant, combined with an atypical anti-psychotic, has brought Danielle's rages to an absolute halt.  She hasn't had any violent outbursts in several months.

The medications are a godsend.  I'm just sorry that we weren't able to get anyone to listen to us three years ago, when the severe problems started.  If someone had listened, I wonder how things might have been different.

I would be lying if I said things were perfect with respect to Danielle, but she's doing much, much better.  We still have our problems, and we are all looking forward to her 18th birthday, which is now less than 15 months away.  Her plans are to reunite with her birth family, just as soon as it is legally possible.  Still, day-to-day life around here is a lot more manageable and pleasant.

Our biggest struggle at this point is trying to balance contact with Danielle's birth family.  Our challenge, and it's really hard to call it that because things are so much better than they were, has to do with visitation.  At the end of May, we noticed a birth family member was selling prescription drugs on a social media site.

We were rather upset by the development, not only because the activity is blatantly illegal and just plain stupid, but because another family member indicated approval of the sales.  It has become an uncomfortable situation, because one of those family members happens to be geographically closest, and now wants to resume visits with Danielle.

Given that this individual doesn't own a car, until now we've been primarily responsible for providing this person transportation to and from visits.  Now that we've discovered the illicit activity, we have no desire to have this relative in our home, in our car, or around our family.  I don't want a drug dealer, no matter how small, in my life.  I figure I have enough troubles without finding myself having to worry about whether or not someone has a pocket full of drugs if we get pulled over for having a tail light out.

I'm not without sympathy for this individual.  This person has been calling, texting and sending us many messages through social media asking for a visit.  We've largely ignored the requests, not knowing exactly what to say.  When we finally decided upon our response, we texted back and explained our position.  It's clear this relative is very sad.

What I struggle with most is the justification we heard for the behavior.  Apparently, this person "didn't know" that selling someone's prescription medication was illegal.  Although I recognize that this person isn't the brightest bulb in the proverbial box, I don't see how anyone could be so unenlightened as to not know that drug dealing is against the law.

I am sympathetic, but I don't want this person in our life.  Sometimes, you have to make the hard calls.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sometimes, Your Gut is Right

Long time followers might remember a little girl that I named U.G. (Uninvited Guest) on my old blog.  This was a kid who came to the house several times without an invitation, and we had quite a few problems because her behavior stank and we couldn't communicate with her mother who didn't speak a word of English.

Danielle had begged to be allowed to spend the night at U.G.'s house, but we always felt uncomfortable with the idea.  U.G.'s behavior was an issue, as was the communication impasse, but we had a gut feeling that things weren't quite right over there.  Later, we learned that an aunt (who was living with the family) had deliberately burned one of her children after the child had been caught stealing.

We finally put a stop to the girls' visits when U.G. came along on an especially lousy outing.  She was openly defiant (and egged Danielle on) when we expected appropriate behavior in a bookstore and in a restaurant.  Since we'd had ongoing troubles with her, this was the straw that broke the camel's back.  We put an end to visits at our house.

The last time we visited with U.G. was back in January of 2007. 

At the time, I felt somewhat guilty for depriving Danielle of visits with her friend.  Still, we couldn't find a way around her behavior.  We thought about hiring an interpreter to speak with her mother, who seemed nice enough.  In the end, we decided it wasn't our responsibility to foster a friendship with a kid who wouldn't behave.  Besides, we had some valid questions about her mother's character, simply because her child behaved so terribly.

Still, it turns out that our instincts for keeping Danielle away from the girl (and her family) were correct.  We recently heard U.G.'s brother is now wanted for murdering his girlfriend in an extremely horrible and brutal way.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

First World Problems with Birth Family

Small issues with Danielle's birth family keep coming up, though I do have to admit that these are really first world problems more than anything else.

Still, they are annoying.

When we met with Danielle's birth family, they invited us to attend a milestone event for one of Danielle's cousins.  We weren't sure we wanted to attend for a number of reasons, though Danielle very much wanted to go.

In light of our discovery that one of Danielle's birth family members is offering prescription drugs for sale, and that this person would be at the festivities, we decided not to go.  Danielle was understandably disappointed, but as it turned out, we wouldn't have been able to attend anyway.  FosterEema has a conflicting appointment.

As this situation unfolded, we also observed that another family member voiced her approval of the aforementioned drug dealing.

In a nutshell, it has become clear that these are not people with whom we want to associate.

My current problem is that one of the above relatives has started to send me regular messages via a social media site.  Whenever she is online, it seems she wants to chat.  I'm trying to remain positive and believe that she's simply trying to be friendly, but in all honesty, it makes me very uncomfortable. 

The problem is made worse by the fact that she seems to only send me messages when I'm on the phone with a client or otherwise engaged in work.

I know, first world problems.

These problems put a sharp focus on the underlying flaw of the foster care system, and it reminds me very much of a story we were told about a girl who had been in care for most of her childhood.  She was about to turn 18, and the social workers were trying to put together some sort of plan for her.  In the end, our county bought her a bus ticket and sent her back to her birth family.

This was the birth family who had abused her sufficiently that she wasn't safe living with them.

If a family isn't safe when a child is 15, 16, or 17, how does the family suddenly become safe when the child turns 18?  I'm not sure I see much difference between an older teen and an 18-year-old, other than a difference in their legal status. It makes me ask, if these kids so desperately want to return home, should they have been taken from their families in the first place?

It's an uncomfortable question to ask.

Danielle continues to make it clear that she wants to go live with her birth family after her 18th birthday.  She's already told us that she wants to live with a relative who she claimed abused her.  When we asked Danielle about this plan, her remark was, "Well, I've already forgiven her."

The abuse Danielle described was not insignificant, yet she wants to return to that life.

I find it extremely confusing and sad.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Birth Family Contact Never Gets Any Easier

Contact with birth family members just seems to be fraught with problems.

Recently, we received word that some of Danielle's family members were in town.  Since she hadn't seen any of these people since before she was taken into foster care, we decided to allow a visit.

Everybody seemed very nice.  We felt like there was an enormous contrast between what social workers had told us about these people, what Danielle herself had said, and the way they behaved.  I spent several days afterward struggling to reconcile those differences in my mind.

In the end, I couldn't reconcile them.  How does one reconcile nice, polite, and smiling faces with the deeds these people were alleged to have perpetrated?

One can't.

And then, to make things even more complicated, we noticed that one of Danielle's family members was offering prescription drugs up for sale on a social media site.

Birth family contact just never gets any easier.

Friday, May 18, 2012

I Hope I Haven't Spoken too Soon

Yesterday afternoon we went to our weekly counseling session.   While we were in the waiting room, Danielle expressed that she was very, very, very angry.

We never did find out why she was so furious.  When we asked her, she wasn't even sure herself.  It was as if a large storm blew in, rumbled for a while, and then blew out.

To her credit, she didn't explode.  That's a plus.

Still, her anger leaves me worried.  This time it seemed as if she was furiously angry for absolutely no reason.  I just hope I haven't spoken too soon about the medication being helpful.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mother's Day Weekend

I'm happy to report that we had a mostly successful Mother's Day weekend.  It's clear that the combination of the anti-depressant and atypical anti-psychotic seem to be giving Danielle the ability to control herself.

Of course Mother's Day weekend has oddly never been a source of major blow-ups.

On Friday, we went and saw the much-anticipated movie (at least at our house) Dark Shadows.  I was a big fan of the original series when I was in high school, and managed to catch it on syndication.  FosterEema had never seen it, but she got turned on to it when we discovered Netflix offered the entire series.  For a while, we had a regular weekly Dark Shadows get-together with a friend.

When I heard the movie was coming out May 11, I could hardly wait.

I have to say that I absolutely loved the film, though it wasn't nearly as funny as the above movie trailer would suggest.  The critics have largely panned the movie, claiming that it doesn't do a good job of being a comedy or a horror film.  Although I agree with that assessment, in that it is both Gothic and funny, I don't think that makes it a bad film.  Now I will admit that there are a couple of changes in the story line that diverge from the original TV series' story line, but I don't think that takes away from the film.  Die-hard Dark Shadows fans need to come into the film with an open mind, remembering that this is a movie based on those original characters, not a loyal recreation.

I've actually paid to see it twice in the theaters, which is a huge endorsement.  We don't go to the movies all that often because of the expense.  I have a hard time buying three tickets to the cinema, when I can buy a DVD of the same film for the same price or less, and then I'm able to watch the film as many times as I like.

Danielle didn't like the film nearly as much as we did, I think largely because some of the humor went completely over her head.

On Saturday, we went out to dinner with friends, and this was probably the only unpleasantness of the entire weekend.  Danielle has a habit of suddenly "feeling sick" whenever we go out with our friends, and this was no exception.  She kept leaving the table, claiming she was throwing up in the bathroom.

We largely ignored the behavior, as this has been a long-time pattern of Danielle's. We don't see the behavior at home, only when we are out doing something she doesn't want to be doing. I find it frustrating, because in addition to the attention-seeking behaviors she creates as she makes a big show of running off to the bathroom, she generally will order a large meal that she will ultimately not eat.

On the drive home, I raised the issue of her behavior during dinner.  I didn't make a big deal of it, but I did say that we were tired of the drama, and didn't appreciate buying her food that she didn't eat.  She tried to argue a little, but I didn't bother to say anything more.  I'd said my piece, she knew how I felt, and that was all that needed to be said.

Sunday morning, she gave FosterEema a hand-made mother's day card.  Inside, she apologized for her behavior at dinner, though she did insist she really was sick.  "It would be nice if you would believe me!" she wrote, adding a couple of very unhappy-looking frowning faces.

There's no doubt in my mind that she probably works herself up to feeling sick during these episodes.  Still, I think she does it to attract attention, as it only happens when we are going somewhere with our friends, especially if she wasn't the one to pick the restaurant.

Sunday afternoon, we paid a brief visit to my mother, and then we headed home.  Danielle went to bed early, and FosterEema and I spent some time writing.  She's working her her second novel, and I'm working on the second draft of my first.

Although we didn't do anything terribly exciting (other than see Dark Shadows) it was a decent weekend.  It was nice to manage to escape some of the drama that many foster and adoptive parents experience on Mother's Day weekend.

For that, I am truly grateful.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Stepping Out of my Life

I feel like I have, for the past few weeks, pretty much stepped out of my regular life.  We've had a lot going on around here, most of which doesn't involve Danielle.

I spent almost a week caring for an extended family member after a surgery, actually spending less time there than I'd planned.  While there, when I wasn't working or performing care-giving duties, I spent my time plugging away on the novel I am writing.  In years past, I've thought about joining NaNoWriMo, but the thought of completing a first draft novel in 30 days seemed an impossible goal.

It turns out that writing a first draft in 30 days is not impossible.  I'm to the point in my story where the tale of the bad guy has reached its conclusion, and all that's left is the wrap-up for the two protagonists and the epilogue.  I should be able to easily finish this before Friday, which means I will have completed my first draft in less than 28 days.

Now I will say that getting this done in such a short amount of time has been pretty much all-consuming.  If I haven't been working or sleeping, I've been writing.  In a way, I almost feel like I've been having an affair on my life.  My story has become a mistress who jealously consumes all my free time.

It's been fun, though.

As for Danielle, it appears that the medications are making a positive difference.  She has been on the new anti-depressant for a couple of months now, and the new atypical anti-psychotic for a month.  Although it hasn't fixed all of her problems, it seems the combination of medications have really taken the wind out of her sails when it comes to her simmering, boiling, never-ceasing rage.

Although Danielle's rage has pretty much dissipated, what is left is a child who still has many concerning problems.  Her lack of motivation in life regarding her education and future employment will not serve her well. She also seems to be developing some very unhealthy eating habits (refusing nearly all food prepared at home) and her personal hygiene is sorely lacking.  Although she does shower regularly, she rarely launders her clothes or sheets and fails to brush her teeth and wash her hair.

On Friday, I discovered that she still doesn't use toilet paper, despite the abundance of it in the house.

Now that her anger is gone, she seems to be developing two new problems.  The first merely annoying problem is that she constantly complains about minor physical ailments, especially when she's away spending the night with friends or grandparents.  Almost every time she leaves the house, we will get a phone call from her begging us to take her to the ER or urgent care center.   Her response very much feels like she is demanding an amputation for treatment of a splinter, and we are constantly telling her she needs to do x for the treatment of minor ailment y, but she doesn't want to listen.

The second issue is puzzling.  She will often come home from school and exuberantly throw her arms around one of us and say, "I love you so much!" She'll squeal the way teens are prone to do over a cute stuffed animal or a baby; sometimes she will even try to kiss us.  Although Danielle might be expressing her genuine feelings of the moment, it doesn't feel authentic.  I constantly find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Being on the receiving end of this feels very confusing.  From our perspective, we haven't changed anything in terms of our relationship with her or how we parent.  This behavior has only come up over the last couple of weeks, and I'm having a hard time adjusting to being treated like the greatest thing since sliced bread, when for years I've been told I was the worst thing that had ever happened to Danielle.  Granted, this all may very well be attributed to her new medication regimen, but it's still hard to accept.

I guess neither of these issues are as bad as the rages we saw before, but they still make our house feel very abnormal.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Report Card

We received Danielle's most recent progress report in the mail yesterday.  Her grades are mostly better, but she has earned a D- and is in danger of failing one of her electives.  The class was supposed to be a course that might prepare her for a job in the future, but she's made it absolutely clear that she's not interested.

Her overall GPA for this report was 2.57.  Although it's certainly not stellar, other than the D-, it's good enough.

The best mark she earned was the A- she got in her Conflict Resolution class.  Given the amount of trouble we've had at home in the past, it strikes us as an enormous irony.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

High School Exit Exam

This afternoon, we received a copy of Danielle's state high school exit exam results.  This is a test that, at least in our state, all students must pass before they graduate.

As we predicted, Danielle failed.

In order to pass, a student has to score 77%.  Danielle scored 75% on the English/Language Arts portion of the test, and 73% on the Mathematics.

She failed, but not by much.  We are both quite surprised to see she came so close on her first try.

I have to say that I'm blown away.

FosterEema and I have both listened to her read, quizzed her on her comprehension, and read her writing.  When I compare samples of what she writes with things I wrote at a similar age, the difference is astounding.  It makes me scared, not only for Danielle's future, but for the future of this country.

I can't believe that our academic standards have fallen so low.  It's no wonder the United States is falling so far behind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

In-School Services On Line

I apologize for my unannounced, and rather long, blog absence.  Since the middle of February, I've had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life that has had nothing to do with Danielle's behavior.  It's left me with a huge lack of time, energy and motivation to write about the same.

Although most of the events that have taken me away fall into the category of good news, two are certainly not.  FosterEema has received news that one of her grandparents is expected to pass away, after battling Alzheimer's Disease for many years.  This news has had a profound effect on our family.

I have an extended family member who is facing surgery and a long recovery from a procedure designed to ameliorate some long-standing pain issues.  As the geographically-closest family member, the responsibilities of post-operative care and basic housekeeping will fall to me.  I expect that over the next few weeks or months, I may be posting even less.  I just don't see myself as having much in the way of free time as I try to juggle the responsibilities of running a business full time, managing my family duties and relationships, and caring for a recovering family member.  I will be back; it just may take some time.

So that's the bad news.  There are several pieces of good news which also have contributed to my absence.

I've launched a couple of other writing endeavors (a new blog and a novel) that have been sucking up almost all of my free time.  Neither of these projects have anything to do my family, foster/adoptive parenting, or the badly-broken child welfare system, and being able to focus on something intensely positive has been quite a relief.  Although the situation with Danielle hasn't changed, having something that makes it easier to ignore everything going wrong in our family is a welcome distraction.

We will be adding a new companion animal to our home.  After Sir Spudly's passing, we had planned to wait a while before adding another critter to the house.  Several lucky coincidences happened, enabling us to add a new friend.

I learned that I will receive an award for some volunteer work.

The camping season has officially started in our area, and we had the opportunity to take a short trip during Spring Break.  Danielle did not go with us on this trip, as she was staying with the grandparents, but it gave us a welcome and badly-needed break.

So, those are the reasons for my long absence.  Now, here's the update on Danielle, which I think is why most of you are reading my blog.

First off, it seems that we've managed to get the problem with Danielle's in-school counseling  straightened out.  A few brief e-mails and phone calls later, everybody on Danielle's team at school realized that someone had screwed up.  Within a day, a plan was created to fix the problem.  Within two days, we were at Danielle's school, signing authorization papers for her to begin individual counseling.

While we were at school, we again raised the issue of Danielle's desperate need to have some sort of transitional living plan.  The school agreed that Danielle's current plan, which is to examine the feasibility of moving out of state, working as a waitress, joining the military and going to medical school, isn't really an adequate educational goal.  We have a year and a half left, people, so we need to be working towards attainable goals, not examining the feasibility of those that are completely out of reach.

For some kids, moving out of state, saving money, joining the military and going to medical school are attainable goals.  For Danielle, these goals seem pretty lofty, especially since her size and psychological conditions will keep her out of the military, and her lack of interest in learning, especially when any sort of reading is required, will most certainly keep her from meeting the prerequisites for medical school.

Danielle regularly repeats a phrase that claims reading causes a terrible, difficult-to-treat, and often fatal, disease.

It makes me sad when I think of all the things she is missing because she simply hates to read.

Now that in-school counseling is coming on line, we are now at a point where we sit and wait.  Danielle's new therapist will have to establish some rapport with her, and we'll have to see where that goes.  We are also, of course, waiting to see if her new medications will create a permanent change in her behavior.  Her behavior has been better since she started the new anti-depressant during the second week of March, and the new anti-psychotic earlier this month, but it's hard to tell if the medication is truly working, or if this is simply a placebo effect.  When she first started her previous antidepressant, it seemed to work for a short while, but then her tantrums and explosions grew worse, not better.

So, we are back to waiting and seeing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Ball Gets Dropped, Again!

I suppose I ought to be emotionally fired up over this.  I suppose I should be outraged, angry and ready to go to war with the powers-that-be.

Instead, about all I can muster is a great big meh.  I am not at all surprised.

As I've mentioned before, Danielle is attending a special program for emotionally and behaviorally-challenged kids.  This program is supposed to be providing in-school counseling for these kids, but so far, it hasn't happened, at least for Danielle. Back in January, I spoke to a very nice lady from an outside agency that was supposed to be providing counseling to Danielle.  A couple weeks later, I had a brief phone call with the person who would be providing the counseling just as soon as they got their paperwork sorted out.  I was assured things would start right away.

Then, I heard nothing.

I had assumed that everything was going all right, because that's the way counseling seems to work in our area.  In our experience, therapists who work with Danielle are a tight-lipped bunch and they barely will acknowledge that they are working our kid, let alone share anything with us.  Danielle doesn't volunteer anything, either, so when she goes to counseling, it's very much like a great big black hole.  Plenty goes in, but nothing gets out.  We assumed, that since we hadn't heard anything from anyone that Danielle hadn't made any homicidal or suicidal threats, and therefore no news was good news.


On Friday, we got a phone call from the person who was supposed to be working with Danielle.  She claimed she never received the appropriate referral from the school; therefore, Danielle's case was being closed and she would not receive any in-school counseling services.

Of course this happens on a Friday afternoon, during Spring Break, so everybody is gone and there's nobody to call.

Last night we sent out an e-mail to all the people who were supposed to be involved in Danielle's case.  We got an e-mail back saying that staffing within the counseling agency had been changed, and our message had been forwarded to the new person.  A little while later, the school's special program psychologist called.  He told me he had personally sent out the referrals to the county mental health program, and had received an e-mail back from them acknowledging receipt of the paperwork.  It was their fault that the paperwork hadn't reached the outside counseling agency.

I just didn't have the energy to get angry about this.  I explained that we have a kid who, in 18 months, will be come a legal adult, and who won't be able to continue living here due to her abusive behavior.  I told him that I was very concerned about the fact that the ball keeps getting dropped in her case, because she will soon be an adult, without a high school diploma or some kind of transition plan, and that this was not okay.

In the past, I might have yelled at the psychologist and started making phone calls to complain to his boss, his boss' boss, and maybe even his boss' boss' boss.  This time, I just explained the problem, and left it at that.

I explained to the psychologist that I feel like I am trying to herd cats when it comes to getting services for my child.  "All these people are supposed to be helping a very sick kid," I explained, "but there's a whole lot of finger-pointing going on.  When I talk to one person or agency, they tell me to talk to someone else.  When I talk to them, they tell me to go back to the first person."

I think it is easier to get blood out of a rock than it is to get appropriate mental health services for a sick child.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Psychiatric Follow-Up

Recently, we paid a follow-up visit to Danielle's psychiatrist.  As planned, she made some adjustments to Danielle's medication regimen.  She left her at the same relatively low dose of the new anti-depressant she started last month, and added a new drug that will function as a mood stabilizer.  I think it will be interesting to see how this medication affects Danielle's behavior, as this drug is classified as an atypical anti-psychotic.  She has expressed some pretty delusional thinking at times, and I hope this will provide some relief in that area.

The psychiatrist seemed to think that the new drug will help Danielle solidify her identity.  I see this as a positive, as I have sometimes wondered if she even had one.  She has no interests, no hobbies, and nothing really motivates her.  She often reminds me of a chameleon, taking on the coloration and characteristics of the friend she happens to be with.  I've wondered, for a very long time, where is the authentic Danielle?

I have a hard time believing that her true self is limited to being The One Who Rages.  There has to be more to her than that, but it is invisible and unknowable, at least in her unmedicated state.

Here's to hoping the medication works.

The doctor also shared with us a rather discouraging factoid.  She said that kids Danielle's age, with the issues she has "almost never" experience successful adoptions when they are adopted. Although the county is always happy to see these kids find "forever" families, they are rarely happy and successful in their new homes.

Our unfortunate outcome, seems to be the rule and not the exception.

If that wasn't depressing enough, we got some more discouraging news.  The psychiatrist told us, after having time to look over Danielle's file in detail, that she felt that it was reasonable to confirm a diagnosis that we'd asked about at least five years ago.  Unfortunately, for all of us, Danielle didn't receive help for it when she was younger, and possibly more malleable.  Still the psychiatrist told us that even though there are supposed "experts" who specialize in treating kids with this particular disorder, there is no scientific evidence that the treatments actually work, and a growing body of evidence that at best they don't work, and at worst do more harm than good.

The doctor's remarks made us curious, so we started doing some research.  Some of the stuff we learned was pretty stomach-churning.  It turned out that the discipline program that our county teaches and encourages all foster parents to use was created by someone who has been highly criticized, and who later lost his license.  We spent quite a bit of time researching all of this, and even the program that has been claimed to be the most effective "evidence-based" treatment wasn't tested using true scientific method.

It turns out, if you talk to real scientists, there is no agreed-upon treatment for Danielle's disorder, and there is no consensus that anything really works.  Sure, there are anecdotal tales from families that claim that x treatment or y treatment helped their troubled child, but no scientific, double-blind studies that have proven that anything works.

When we met with our family therapist this week, we shared what the psychiatrist had said, and what we had found in our research.  She confirmed what we had discovered, and we all agreed that we have a child who cannot be fixed.  Danielle can be given training and coping skills to better deal with her problems, and we can always hold out hope for a better future, but she will likely not be "cured," at least in any traditional meaning of the word.

There are some physical injuries from which the majority of people do not recover.  Spinal cord injuries, for example, rarely heal to the point that a quadriplegic has completely recovered.  Someone who suffers a complete separation of the spinal cord will likely never walk again.  I think, in this case, that Danielle suffered permanent psychological injuries as a child that are so severe she will never recover.

Is there such a thing as a spinal cord injury to the soul?

Perhaps there is.

Both the psychiatrist and the family therapist understand why Danielle will not be able to live with us past her 18th birthday, and so the focus is beginning to change.  We are all acutely aware that she is a mere 18 months away from becoming emancipated, and we all see a certain amount of urgency in helping Danielle come up with a workable plan for independence.

The troubling thing, we all realize, is that Danielle may not be willing to put in the work required to execute that plan.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Off Leash Fail

We recognize, given Danielle's age, that she should be given more freedom to be in the world unsupervised.  This needs to happen so that she can be ready, or at least as ready as she can be, to launch when she turns 18.

Over the weekend we let her do something, unsupervised.

It turned out to be an epic fail.  Instead of doing what she was supposed to do, she did something else, which included hanging out with people she didn't have permission to see.

Not only did she lie to us about it, she lied to the person she visited, claiming we had said it was okay.  Fortunately, the person she visited became suspicious, especially after Danielle started to beg the person not to call us.

We got the call, and the gig was up.


How can we give our kid the freedom she needs to develop when, each and every time, she is caught doing stuff she isn't supposed to do?

We can't trust Danielle even the tiniest little bit.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Walking in Circles

In just a bit more than 18 months, Danielle will become a legal adult.

In a year and a half, she is going to need to have a job, money saved up, and be ready to move into her own place.

She isn't going to be ready.  We know that.  I think, perhaps, on some level she even knows that, though she doesn't want to face that reality.  In her mind, she's going to turn 18, and suddenly, magically, have a great job, all the money and skills that she needs, and she'll be able to move out and live a successful, middle-class lifestyle.

It ain't gonna happen.

Danielle isn't going to be ready to live life on her own, but it has become abundantly clear to all of us that she isn't going to be able to stay here, either. 

We don't want to simply drive her to the local homeless shelter on her 18th birthday and drop her off.  Sure, it is an option, but it's certainly not a desirable one.  It's not the outcome we would choose for our kid if some other workable solution exists.  There has to be some kind of social service safety net for mentally ill youth to fall back on.

I have been told by several people, both online and in real life, that there are supposed to be transitional services for mentally ill youth.  Over the past few weeks, I've been making phone calls, but I feel like I am a hamster running on a wheel.  I call Agency A, who tells me to call Agency B.  I speak to a nice someone at Agency B, who tells me to go talk to the people at Agency A.  When I explain that I've already done that, then I'm told to go back and talk to the nice people at the county, because Adoptions Assistance surely ought to pay for something.

We've already talked to them, too.  When we spoke to them, we were given the basic message,  you adopted her, now she's your problem.

I feel like I am walking in circles, and going absolutely nowhere.

Today I spoke to a helpful person at an agency who said, "you just need to know what your rights are."  He suggested that if I just spoke to the right person, the gates would be unlocked and our kid would receive a ton of help.

It's all very well and good to say this, but he couldn't give me the name of the person I should talk to.

"Just go talk to someone in Adoptions Assistance," he advised.

He didn't seem to understand that there isn't "someone in Adoptions Assistance" to call.  This person doesn't exist, and in the past when we've called our former adoptions worker, she's been no help.

"I'm sorry, I can't help you," we were told.  She had no suggestions of where to go next with our troubles, either.

I found several agencies who, at least according to their Web sites, are supposed to help provide services to mentally ill youth.  Yet I have found, when I call them, that they don't return calls promptly, and even when they do they have no help for me, other than instructions to call the next agency.


Another Helpful Person told me something discouraging.  "Even if you get all these services set up for your daughter," she explained, "being that she will be a legal adult she'll have the choice of opting out."

So does that mean I should stop trying to find my kid help?  I know that if she gets into a transitional program, she'll no doubt have a hard time following the rules.  Will she even be willing to try?

I don't know.

I just keep making phone calls, knowing that my child will turn 18 long before she'll be ready to receive her high school diploma.  I keep calling people, hoping that we'll find the right gatekeeper to get our kid into some sort of vocational and independent living skills program so she might have a chance at a job and a self-sufficient lifestyle.

I keep calling, but I keep getting nowhere.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Online Comment Sections ARE a Joke

This morning, I found the following article on CNN:
Have online comment sections become 'a joke'?

In the early days of the Internet, there was hope that the unprecedented tool for global communication would lead to thoughtful sharing and discussion on its most popular sites.

A decade and a half later, the very idea is laughable, says Gawker Media founder Nick Denton.

I can't argue with Denton's position one bit.  Over the years that I've blogged, I've been on the receiving end of many nasty remarks.  Here's a quote from the above-mentioned article, that I found especially interesting:

[Denton] said that commenting on his own sites (which he's seen make reporters cry) has gotten so bad that he doesn't engage.

"I don't like going into the comments. ... For every two comments that are interesting -- even if they're critical, you want to engage with them -- there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic," he said.

Toxic.  Yeah, I'll buy that. I've gotten plenty of toxic comments over the years.

Here are a few quotes from anonymous comments that I've opted not to publish:
  • I truly believe Danielle had a lot of potential, but you are the worst thing that has happened to her.
  • You are SUCH a liar!
  • You are a negative, horrible person. You know it. Deny it all you want, but you know, deep down, that it is true.
  • You make me sick.
  • I hope you do get charged. No one deserves it more.
When I first started blogging, I kept my comments wide open.  Anyone could comment, and they would be published immediately.  It wasn't too long after I started that I began to get comment spam, so I enabled a captcha, which made it a little harder for blatant garbage to end up on my blog.  Eventually, I picked up my first troll, and then another, so I opted to enable comment moderation.  I've switched back and forth between allowing and disallowing anonymous comments, but I haven't entirely decided which I prefer.  Allowing anonymous remarks seems to invite more people to comment in general, but it does tend to increase the number that are purely insulting.

I've also had comments (which I haven't posted) from people complaining of my excessive "censorship" of the remarks I allow to appear on my blog.  Sorry to those of you griping, but I'm not going to allow my blog to be your public space to bash me.

In case anyone has forgotten, not all blogs or online communities are intended to be an area for public discourse and debate.  In my case, my blog isn't an open invitation for people to call me names or criticize my decisions.  I don't expect everyone to agree with me, but if they are disrespectful or insulting, I likely won't publish their comments.

When it comes to my blog, it isn't a democracy.  It's a benign dictatorship.  Like it, or lump it.  If you are rude, disrespectful, insulting, harassing, or threatening, I'm not going to publish your remarks. In fact, I might not even read them.  Lots of anonymous comments I briefly skim and don't even bother to read in their entirety.

So if my blog isn't really open to public debate and discourse, then why am I blogging?

I am blogging for one reason and one reason only: I'm telling my family's story as a cautionary tale to others. 

Adoption professionals would like people to believe that every adoption ends with a "happily ever after."  They often don't tell families of the real truths involved.  Often, caseworkers have very sick children on their caseloads, and it is in the state's best interest to get those children into adoptive homes as quickly as possible.  Even if these kids go out with adoption assistance packages attached to them, the cost to the state is still far less than it would be if a child stayed in foster care.

The adoption of older kids is simply a cost-saving measure for the state.  They save money because they don't have to pay out so much for child's care, and they get delicious incentive dollars from the Federal government for making sure all these poor, homeless kids go to great families.

Oh, and let's not forget that the Feds also send money to the state for the kids who are in foster care, as well.

So there's a lot of money involved in the system.  There's money that provides incentives to take kids away from families, and there's more money that provides incentives for social services to give those removed kids to new families.  In order to keep this massive child-moving machine in business, there has to be both a supply of so-called "needy" children, and a ready supply of helping families willing to take them.

Social workers aren't necessarily going to be honest.  They might lie about the kids they place in your care, they might lie about their histories, their families, or even the financial, emotional, medical and dental help you will receive.  Sure, there are some honest people out there, but there are enough incentives (try "get these kids placed if you want to keep your job") in the system that make it difficult for honest, motivated and hard-working people to stay that way.

So why do I manage to get so much criticism?  Because I've probably been far too honest about how damaging and frustrating this experience has been for all of us.  As a result, I've given people plenty of reasons to hate me:
  • Adult adoptees and former foster kids hate me because I am critical of my child's behavior
  • Adoption professionals and social workers hate me because I am critical of their lies and a dysfunctional system that needlessly injures everyone that comes in contact with it
  • Do-gooders who believe that my story couldn't possibly be true, or that every child's ugly, out-of-control, or mentally-ill behavior can be fixed by the right family, parenting techniques, therapy or magic intervention
  • People with rose-colored glasses who believe that unconditional love conquers all.

I don't believe, for one second, that I'm the only foster/adoptive parent out here in the blogosphere who has received ugly comments from trolls.  I also don't believe that I'm the only blogger who has been harassed by stalkers from the Internet.  I do think I am one of the few who has continued to tell my story, despite criticism, name-calling and real-world harassment, because I believe the story is important.

People need to know what they could be in for if they decide to become foster or adoptive parents.  There are too many training classes and too many social workers who are willing to obfuscate the real truth.  I know even the scariest of our training classes was a complete soft-sell of what might happen.  We were never taught how to deal with a kid who routinely raged to the point where we needed to call police, nor we were we told that if we had to call the cops, that they would respond with indifference.

The truth about the foster care system needs to be out there.  People need to understand that kids are unnecessarily being removed from their families and shuffled around through a system that damages them further.  Yes, there are some children who really need to be in the system for their own protection, but I think that number is far smaller than the number of kids who actually end up in care.  People need to understand that the kids who are in care now are far sicker than they were even 20 years ago. 

So it doesn't matter if you, my dear reader, think I'm the devil incarnate, a saint, or somewhere in-between.  It doesn't matter if you think I'm the best or the worst parent in the world.  What matters is that the myth that adoption always equals "happily ever after" is finally busted.

Our family isn't the only post-adoptive family who is suffering. There our countless families, across this great nation of ours, who are suffering the indignities brought on by a combination of sick kids, and a lack of post-adoption support.  Most of these families suffer in silence, while a few end up on the national news because a disturbed child murdered someone, or a distraught and desperate couple ended up relinquishing their kid in a horrible and dramatic way.

Families adopt children because they want to do the right thing.  Sometimes, they find out too late that the adoption wasn't the right thing to do, but the system gives them no option, short of abandoning their child and facing charges, to undo those mistakes.  Well-meaning families who end up in over their heads shouldn't be judged as bad people, as they are now by the system.  They deserve support, respite and help.

Instead, they get only criticism and blame until their child does something really terrible, and everyone cries, "why didn't someone do something?"

I'd argue, in almost every single case that hits the national news, that someone did try to do something.  The problem is that the something done wasn't enough to get a very sick and dangerous child hospitalized before he could do something terrible.

Going back to my original theme for today's post, which is that online comment sections are a joke, the truth is that the Internet emboldens people to say really horrible, critical things that they would never dare say to your face.  It's easy to make an uncaring, ugly, or insulting remark, because it's unlikely you'll face any social consequences for doing so.  If you tell a friend, a neighbor, or a co-worker something hateful, something will happen.  If you leave a nasty remark on someone's blog, you might walk away hoping you hurt someone's feelings, but even if you do, it's not like they can strike back at you.  You are just a random person coming from a random IP address out there in the universe.  Not many people are going to spend the time and effort to trace your IP and contact your hosting provider to complain about your behavior.

So yes, Mr. Denton is right.  Most online comment sections ARE a joke.  I keep mine open because I still get a few comments that are supportive, interesting and sometimes thought-provoking.  It's those remarks I treasure.

All the rest, I just push into my spam folder.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Will Danielle Leave When She Turns 18?

In response to Is it Better to Disengage than to Argue?, ricecakesandredemption asked:

I'm just curious -- do you really think Danielle will leave when she [is] old enough?

The short answer to this question is yes.

There are several reasons why Danielle will leave when she's 18.

The first reason is very simple: Danielle doesn't want to live here.  She frequently talks about how she can't wait until she's 18, and she can move out.  She regularly fantasizes about a world in which she doesn't have to live with us and our "stupid rules."  She looks forward to the day where we (and everyone else, for that matter) won't be able to tell her what to do.

She wants to leave, and she has several escape plans in mind.  She consistently expresses a desire to leave the minute she is able.

In all honesty, I'm not sure how workable any of her plans are.  The main idea is that she will move in with other people.  Some variations involve her moving in with friends, while others involve living with members of her birth family.  I'm not sure how any of these plans will work out, as our friends have already told Danielle she's not welcome to move in, and her birth family isn't capable of providing her with a stable living arrangement, even if they were willing.

Even if she does manage to convince someone to allow her to move in, she's going to have a big surprise coming.  Nobody is going to be willing to allow her to live there for free.  She's going to have to get a job and support herself, and it's clear she has no idea of the difficulties that face her.

I'm not going to bother trying to argue the merits of her exit plans with her.  She'll find out how workable they are in a year and a half from now.  For her sake, I'd like to hope that things will work out.  Based on our past experience with her behavior, I fear they will not.  Danielle is handicapped by that magical thinking that gets in the way of her seeing the true reality of the world that faces her.

I believe that Danielle will leave, of her own volition, when she turns 18.

That, I think, would be the best possible outcome for all of us.

If it turns out that Danielle doesn't leave when the time comes, it won't be because she is freely choosing to stay here.  She will stay because she will have realized that life in the big, bad world is too difficult.  She won't choose to stay here because she wants to be here; instead, she'll be staying because her plans to move out and be independent have been foiled for one reason or another.  Living here will be her undesirable second choice, and I can only see that as being a breeding ground for conflict.  She will be angry that her plans haven't worked out, and I foresee her taking her disappointment out on us.

Given that, if Danielle doesn't move out under her own power, she will move out with our encouragement.

The sad reality is, even when things are going relatively well around here, it's not good enough.  Sure, making it through an hour, a day, or even a week or two without a major temper tantrum is a huge victory.  When things are calm, and Danielle is not breaking things, she's a lot nicer to live with.

But even that isn't really enough.  As I wrote about before, peace doesn't mean that things are perfect around here, or that they are even all that good.  Danielle is still difficult to live with, even when she's not exploding all over the place like the cement mixer featured in the show Mythbusters.  She is still uncooperative, argumentative, disrespectful and unpleasant, and I do not see these behaviors changing any time in the near future.

Even if Danielle was somehow able to magically transform herself into a cooperative, agreeable, respectful and pleasant young adult, we still have the more fundamental problem of her impulsiveness and poor decision-making skills.  She is grossly irresponsible, and even if all of her unpleasant characteristics were to suddenly disappear, we still have the problem of being completely unable to trust her.

At 16.5 years old, Danielle cannot be left alone in our home even for as long as it would take for us to go to the store.  I don't see this magically changing when she becomes an adult, so I find myself wondering how her continuing to live with us could be workable.  If she's 18, we can't very well force her to go with us everywhere we go, yet we can't trust her to stay home alone when we aren't there.

Even if Danielle's decision-making skills weren't called into question, we still have the problem of the kids with whom she chooses to associate.  With the exception of one friend, the kids she chooses are not the kind of people we want around our home.  These are kids who, at least in my day, would have been called "troublemakers."  I don't feel safe inviting them to our home when we are here, and I certainly wouldn't want them over when we were not.

For all of these reasons, all signs point towards the exit when Danielle turns 18.

I can't say I feel good about this reality.  I know that Danielle is unprepared for life as an independent young adult.  I also realize that, for all the reasons I've explained above and a few that I choose not to share publicly, her continuing to live here is unworkable.  She is on a collision course with a destiny we had hoped adoption would prevent.

When Danielle becomes an adult and we are no longer required to support her, the rules of the game change.  Right now, we tolerate living with a mentally ill, and physically and verbally aggressive person because the law says that we must.  Once we are relieved of that obligation, why should we continue to tolerate her unsafe behavior? 

Asking an abusive young adult to leave our home, if she doesn't choose to leave on her own, isn't about being mean.  It is about responsible self-care and being safe in our home.  If we don't feel safe with her staying here now, while she is still a technically a child, how is that going to change when she's an adult?

It isn't going to change.

Knowing that Danielle isn't and likely won't be ready doesn't make me feel very good about this decision.  It pains me greatly as I recognize she is likely going to repeat many of the same mistakes made by her birth mother.  It makes me sad to know that I can't help my kid.  I feel great anguish when I recognize she is the horse, dying of thirst, even though she is standing chest-deep in a fresh, clean river.

I can't make Danielle change.  I can't cure her mental illness, nor can I force her to become interested and motivated to learn.  I can't change her past.  I can't fix her.  We've done our best to help her, but clearly it hasn't been good enough, nor will it ever be.

This isn't about throwing our kid out in some form of vindictive punishment for her difficult behavior over the years since her adoption.  This isn't about retribution, or even about whether or not we care about the kid.  We do care.  This is about the fact that our current situation isn't safe, nor will it be safe after she becomes a legal adult.

How long should we have to live in a situation that is not only abusive, but isn't safe?

Our answer is that we won't live this way one day longer than we are legally required to do so.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is It Better to Disengage than to Argue?

For the past few days, I have been pondering the following anonymous comment left on Peace Doesn't Mean Perfect:

If a horse dies of thirst while standing belly-deep in potable water, whose fault is it?


This morning, Claudia over at Never a Dull Moment wrote a post entitled Watching in Silence and Self-Doubt.  In that post, she wrote the following:

And so I ended wondering if maybe the hardest thing about the transition to adulthood for my kids is just watching in silence as they make huge irreversible mistakes. Warning them does no good -- I've been trying to teach them and show them the way for years. Reasoning with them doesn't work either. Sometimes even their own bad experiences don't help them learn.

I'm not intending to be negative here, just trying to process my own thoughts. Which is better? To express myself and be ignored or to keep my mouth shut? The results are the same, but which is better for me?

Later in her post, she asks the following question:

Would love to hear your thoughts as to what you have found is best: Does it work best not to invest emotional energy in repeating yourself to someone who refuses to get it -- or to not invest emotional energy in keeping your mouth shut.

We've been pondering some of the same things and asking ourselves the same questions when it comes to our child, and the answers are not easy.

Although Danielle is still a minor, and the mistakes she is making now have less consequences to her than those made by Claudia's adult children, she is making decisions that will affect her future.  She doesn't engage in school, she refuses to even try to find a job, and she does her best to create an environment rife with conflict both at home and at school.

She needs to get an education, she needs to get a job to start saving for her adult life, and she needs to find a way to get along with people who are in positions of authority.

But she doesn't have the desire to do any of those things.  She is surrounded by resources and people who want to help, but she is like the horse standing belly-deep in potable water who is dying of thirst.  I feel like, at this point in her life, there is a crowd of people surrounding her, encouraging her to drink, but her lack of trust, her stubbornness and her mental illness are preventing her from taking even the tiniest sip.

We see an ugly, unpleasant future for Danielle.  She does not see it.  Her youth and mental illness combine to create this perfect form of magical thinking.  In her imagination, all the knowledge, skills and experience she needs to live a perfect life will be magically imparted to her on her 18th birthday.  She is absolutely convinced she will find a good job (doing what?) that will pay her a great salary (how?) and that she will be able to afford all the trappings of a middle-class life.  On her 18th birthday, she expects to move out to a fully-formed life that includes her own place to live, groceries, and a brand-new $50,000 SUV.

It's certainly nice that she can dream, but if she's not able to put any sort of action in place to work towards that dream, it will never happen.

At the most profound level, Danielle doesn't understand that action = achievement.

So my wife and I have found ourselves at the very heart of Claudia's dilemma.  Do we continue to invest ourselves and our emotional energy in trying to make Danielle understand the errors in her thinking, and why the world doesn't work the way she so desperately wants to believe,  or do we give up and just keep our mouths shut?

How do you teach someone who, for whatever reason, can't or won't get it?

I don't know.  What we have learned is that trying to teach Danielle all the skills she needs to learn brings forth too much conflict in our home.

An example of this is that Danielle needs to learn to cook. When she gets out on her own, she's going to need to have a basic understanding of cooking, shopping and household management skills.  We've tried to teach her, but our efforts have been met with nothing but resistance and arguing.

So we've given up.  We no longer make any effort to teach Danielle how to cook.  Instead, she'll take a home economics class at school next year.  Then, it will be up to her teacher to instruct her in those basic skills.  We hope she'll absorb the lessons she desperately needs at school, but we've realized that we can't teach her.  She prefers to argue and create conflict rather than learn from us.

The answer to Claudia's question, at least for us, is to disengage.  It is better, at least in terms of family peace, to keep our mouths shut than to try and teach lessons to someone who isn't willing to receive them.  That doesn't mean that we don't express (and enforce) our household rules.  It just means that we don't keep harping on Danielle about her future.  We've explained what the world is really like, and if she seems receptive, we'll repeat a lesson if asked, but we have pretty much stopped trying to convince Danielle that we are right.

She'll learn those lessons herself, when she turns 18 in just a bit more than a year and a half from now.

Of course there's one additional thing to ponder in all of this.  Exactly who benefits by this policy of disengagement?  Certainly we do, because it's our blood pressure and stress levels that are kept low by refusing to engage in a battle of wills.  Still, I wonder if it's the right thing for Danielle, because she still needs to learn certain lessons about life.

So, the larger question is, do we battle our way through the next 18 months, trying to force Danielle to learn certain life lessons, or do we give up to keep peace in the house?  Our fear is, given her extremely oppositional nature, that even if we did fight the battle, the lessons won't sink in.

At the end of the day, we are choosing peace in the house.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Birth Control for Teens

In response to The Psychiatrist Backs Me Up, an anonymous commenter wrote:

I wish every parent of teens would put them on birth control. The birth control shot (not naming names) is amazing. A teen might have a hard time remembering to take a pill everyday, or to take/remove/reinsert another form of birth control. The shot can be a scheduled, and has little side effects. I don't know what Danielle is on, but GOOD CHOICE! America has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the developed world. And the stats are that children born to teen parents are more likely to be raised in poverty (and remain in poverty), they are more likely to go to jail, etc.

Pregnancy is preventable!

Good job! Every parent should make sure their child is aware of their birth control choices, and has selected one that works for them!

I am going to admit that the decision to encourage Danielle to go on birth control was not an easy one. Although I don't really consider myself to be a religious person any more, I still believe that sex outside of a solidly-committed relationship should be discouraged, and that underage teen sex of any kind is inappropriate.

The truth is, I don't want my kid to be having sex.  I don't want to think about it.  I want to be able to say, "wait until you are married," or at least "wait until you turn 18," and have her obey me without question.  I want my kid to abide by my morals, follow our rules, and not make mistakes that will impact her entire future.

But of course I can't do that.  Danielle is oppositional to the extreme.  If I say the sky is blue, she'll try to argue that it's any other color besides blue.  That's just Danielle.

So for me to say, "don't have sex," and honestly expect that she'll abide by those rules is downright foolish.  Sure, I can make it as difficult as I can for her to have alone time with anyone of the opposite sex, but that doesn't mean that someday she won't find an opportunity to sneak off and do something we will all regret later.

My struggle was this: how could I reconcile the fact that I felt like putting Danielle on birth control condoned behavior of which I disapprove?  I didn't want to be sending my kid the message that underage sexual activity is permissible, because I feel strongly that it is not.  I didn't want to appear to be the parent who, while smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, says, "Don't smoke, it's bad for you."

In the end, I realized that I probably couldn't reconcile what I felt were two opposing ideas.  Instead, I looked at it from a totally different perspective.  I realized that it is more important for Danielle not to get pregnant, than for me to stand behind my ideals of underage chastity.  When I finally came to the understanding that Danielle is going to do what she's going to do, irrespective of my expectations, then deciding in favor of birth control became an easy decision.

I don't want to raise Danielle's children, especially while she is still a minor.  I don't want her to be saddled with the burden of a child she's ill-prepared to raise.  Since I can't control whether or not she becomes sexually active, the only thing I can do is make sure she's on a relatively fool-proof form of birth control.

Now that she's starting on psychotropic medication that can cause significant birth defects, contraception becomes even more important.

At the end of the day, we had to look at outcomes, over any particular moral stance we might have.  We are still doing everything we can to discourage Danielle from underage sexual relationships, but knowing that we might not be completely successful, this seemed to be the better, wiser plan.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Psychiatrist Backs Me Up

While we were in our meeting with the psychiatrist, I was very glad to see that she backed me up on something that has become a small point of contention in our house.

Last school year, Danielle came home and reported that she'd done something highly inappropriate with a boy.  We reported it to the school, who promptly investigated, and we never did find out for sure if this was a story Danielle had made up, or if it was something that actually happened.  During that same conversation, Danielle expressed a desire to do more private things with this particular boy that could result in pregnancy.

We had a family discussion, and we agreed that Danielle should go on some type of birth control.

Since that decision was made, Danielle has had a certain amount of buyer's remorse.  She's experiencing some annoying, but not serious, side effects from the birth control method she selected, and she wants to stop, now claiming that she's not sexually active.

Although we are sympathetic to Danielle's complaints, we have been unsupportive of her stopping birth control, since she has frequently demonstrated that she is untruthful.  Is she sexually active right now?  It's hard to know.  Although I'd like to think she doesn't have much opportunity to be sexual, since she's not allowed to date, and she's never left unsupervised, that doesn't mean that she couldn't sneak off and do something anyway.  We know of one girl who had a pregnancy scare because she and her beau had found relative privacy under the school's stadium bleachers.

Could Danielle do something like that?  Absolutely.

She needs to be on birth control for everybody's protection.  She's not ready to parent her own child at age 16, and we don't want to be grandparents responsible for raising our child's child.

But now, there's an even more important reason for Danielle to be on birth control. Apparently, the antidepressant and mood stabilizer she has been prescribed are both thought to cause birth defects.

During our meeting with the psychiatrist, I mentioned the type of birth control Danielle was using.  The doctor was obviously pleased, since she was planning to discuss the issue with us, and announced, "Oh, that's the best one!"

Danielle rolled her eyes and started to complain.  The psychiatrist looked puzzled.

I briefly explained that Danielle was on birth control because we thought she was sexually active, while Danielle interrupted and vehemently denied that she had been, contrary to statements she'd made to us previously.

At that point, the psychiatrist put a quick end to the debate.  She explained to Danielle that she requires all of her teen patients, whether they are sexually active or not, to be on some form of birth control.  Since Danielle is already using what the doctor feels is the best available, there is no room for further negotiation on the subject.

I am greatly relieved.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Psychiatrist Visit

After what has seemed like forever, we finally got Danielle in to see the psychiatrist.

We were there for a couple of hours.  We met with the doctor privately, and then Danielle met with her. At the end of all of this, we have a new diagnosis, as well as confirmation of other ones that have been bandied about.

The psychiatrist also agreed that a change in medication was warranted.  She suggested that we change anti-depressants, and add a mood stabilizer to Danielle's regimen.

I am both frustrated and relieved.  We have felt that Danielle would benefit from a mood stabilizer for a very long time.

I'm glad she finally got it, but I am also tremendously frustrated that it has taken this long.

Although I don't believe that this medication will cure all that ails Danielle, I am hopeful that it may be enough to take the edge off.

At least we can hope.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Peace Doesn't Mean Perfect

As I mentioned in my post last Thursday, we've been going through a relatively quiet period at our house.

It doesn't mean that Danielle is doing all that well.  She's still doing a lot that's less-than-desirable.  Although she's not arguing about doing her chores as much right now, she simply doesn't do them, or if she does do them, she doesn't do an adequate job.  Just about every day I find garbage she's thrown on the floor, or dirty dishes she's put back into the cabinet without washing them first.  If she does clean the kitchen, she'll only clean part of it, and leave visible dirt in easily seen areas.

It's frustrating.

And then, of course, there's the matter of her report card.  Although she has acceptable to good grades in her elective classes, the grades in her homeroom class stink.  On her most recent report card, she brought home a D- minus in one class, and she's failing another.

When I contacted her homeroom teacher to ask why Danielle is failing, I was told that the problem isn't because of Danielle's lack of ability.  Apparently, she comes to class, sits in her seat, and absolutely refuses to do any work, despite the staff doing everything they can to try to motivate her.

Danielle simply doesn't want to do the work, and nobody can make her do it.  She would rather refuse, just to win the control battle at school, even though this works to her detriment in the long run.  If she can't read, write and do basic mathematics, she will struggle in her adult life.

How is someone who is barely literate going to get by?

I don't know.  It's very, very sad.  Danielle's obstinate behavior only hurts herself in the long run.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Disappearing Shrink

For the last two weeks in a row, our therapist has cancelled.

Last week, it was because the therapist was sick.  This week, it's because she realized we've run out of authorized sessions, so she has to contact the powers-that-be to get authorization for more time.


Danielle has been disappointed that our sessions have been cancelled.  I've been a little concerned about the lack of sessions, but it's happened to work out that other things have popped up that would have conflicted, so it's probably just as well.

Fortunately for a all of us, Danielle has been going through a period of decent behavior.  It's nice to be able to catch my breath.  It's nice not to be moving from crisis to crisis to crisis.  Things have been so peaceful around these parts that I've actually had time to spend with my parrots, and to sit down and read.

Reading?  I never get to do that.  In fact, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you the last time I've been able to sit down and read a book that wasn't work-related before now.

I am thinking it might have been Girl's Guide to Homelessness, ages and ages ago.

So it's incredibly nice to have a break from the tantrums, rages, and defiance.  Of course as nice as it feels for us, it has to feel good to the kid, as well.  I can't imagine that toting all that rage and violence around feels very enjoyable.

Still, I find that I can't fully relax.  As good as things are, there's a part of me that feels like I have to keep my guard up.  I feel like I am walking on eggshells, because at some point I'm going to inadvertently say or do the wrong thing, and Danielle will explode all over us.  It would be nice to be able to think, "Hey, we are finally past all of this," and move on.

But it's not that easy or simple.

In the past, when we'd fall into these quiescent periods, we'd optimistically think, "Hooray! Things have finally started to turn the corner."  Unfortunately, it seemed as if the mere thought was enough to trigger the next explosion.  Every time we started to feel or act like we were a "normal" family, we would be paid back with explosions, temper tantrums and threats.

So we don't try to pretend we are normal, anymore.

Over the past few weeks, the realization that I can't fix my kid is becoming clearer and clearer. I can't change her, nor can I make her do what I want.  Instead, I've been focusing my attention on other things.  I've been pursuing hobbies, which I haven't done in years, and putting my energy into the things in my life that I can change.

All of these have nothing to do with my kid.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Psychiatrist Appointment

After what has seemed like an endless effort, we finally have a psychiatric appointment for Danielle coming up soon.

This is after countless phone calls, firing our pediatrician and hiring a new one, getting a prescription requesting psychiatric care, and writing several letters.

It's done.  We have an appointment.

Finally! (For any ASL students out there, this is the perfect moment for the sign PAH!)

Now I don't believe, for one second, that this will be any sort of miracle for us.  I don't think that a psychiatrist is going to be able to spend two hours visiting with Danielle, and find a cure for what ails her.

I wish it were true, but I know it doesn't work that way.

We are hoping we will find a doctor who will listen to our concerns and take them seriously.  We are hoping that the doctor will take a good hard look at Danielle's medication (currently a very low dosage of Fluoxetine) and investigate whether there is something else that might take the edge off her depression and her hair-trigger temper.

It's clear that the medication she's on now isn't really solving any of her problems. Although the frequency of her explosions has been somewhat reduced in the five months she's been medicated, the severity of them has been much, much worse.

This past week or so we've seen some pretty darn decent behavior for a change.  Unfortunately, things are back on the downhill trend again.  Danielle has been disrespectful and mildly verbally abusive for the past few days, and we got an e-mail this morning from her teacher, describing a whole new bunch of trouble she's gotten herself into at school.

Discouraging, but not entirely surprising.  It often seems that when something really dreadful happens around here, we see a few days of good behavior.  We got the double-whammy of some bad news coming from Danielle's birth family and had to deal with Sir Spudly's passing all within a few days of each other. Now that the shock has worn off, and things are starting to settle into their "new normal," Danielle is edging back into her usual modus operandi.

Of course the news isn't all bad.  We finally had a chance to "meet" (at least by telephone) the new school-provided therapist who will be working with Danielle.  We had a long talk about some of Danielle's issues, and this new person has had experience working with extremely troubled teens in a group home, so she understands the issues that we are facing.

Although I won't say that this new therapist will be immune to Danielle's skillful attempts at manipulation and triangulation, it seems she will at least be resistant to them.

At least one can hope.