Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Country Bear Jamboree

We are now 7 weeks in. We are getting to the point where we are ironing out ALL the logistics. And I never knew how many things there were to schedule. When and where doctors, counselor, mother and social worker visits occur. What time we need to get up to be on time to school. Who picks London up from school on which days. Who is going to be at which soccer game. Who is going to bring the camera and dinner to the soccer game. Even defining the words we use around the house. When I say “your hoodie is in your laundry basket,” I mean the clean laundry basket, not the dirty clothes basket. I never realized it but there is a distinction in my mind between the two baskets. Something doesn’t become “laundry” until it is clean. Until then it is “dirty clothes.”
We are realizing the differences in our cultures. We didn’t realize that public school in TN was so vastly different from the private schools we attended just down the street. Did you know at the beginning of a basket ball season they have a Jamboree. That’s a gathering of several teams to play several games at one time to kick off the season. I thought only Boy Scouts and bears had jamborees. Who knew? Did you know that middle school has a homecoming dance? Did you know that Doritos are their own food group? Me neither.  Did you realize that there are gangs? In middle school? Apparently so.
She is realizing that not all cookies come from a Pillsbury tube and not all waffles come from a box in the freezer. She is learning that sodas have LOTS of sugar and Scott and Kelly don’t really eat a lot of kid food, like macaroni and cheese or beef jerky or even PopTarts. 
We are trying to figure out how to shelter her from all the pressures and bad influences coming at her. Unhealthy food, movies, music, TV, magazines, kids at her school, her mom’s opinion all support her doubts about herself. We are trying to introduce her to good music and media. We are trying to reiterate everyday that she is enough, just the way she is. 
Sometimes she tells us we are “so mean,” but we just grin and know that someday she will appreciate the boundaries.  Other times she can’t sit close enough to me on the sofa and she asks me to play with her hair.  You can tell she just needs love and attention.
We’ve gotten little feedback from her except the occasional “I love you too” or sheepish grin.  But we have gotten feedback from both our agency and DCS (Department of Children’s Services) that we are doing a good job. They seem pleasantly surprised that we have gone so long without a blowup of some kind. We are hoping it doesn’t happen, but won’t be surprised if there is some kind of event. We don’t know what  or when it will be, but we have a plan for when it happens, if it happens.
We are realizing that the occasional emotional outbursts are not really about the situation at hand. They are many times symptoms of deeper issues. She is sometimes reminded by current events that we don’t witness of memories or bad experiences that we were not part of. It takes time and some tears to get to the root of an issue. We can’t imagine the pain and hurt she has seen, so sometimes it takes us by surprise when she is extra sensitive to seeing a homeless person or seeing a fight at school. It beautiful to know she is still sensitive and caring. But it is scary and intimidating to think she worries it may be her turn next.
Our goals are to, first, make her feel as secure and safe as possible, second, to help her live up to her potential, and third, EAT MORE VEGETABLES.  I think we are off to a good start!

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Myth of the Fixer-Upper

In high school and college, I was equally amused and frustrated by girl who dated known "bad boys" with the hope that their love would be so strong that the "bad boy" would change his ways.  I was not a "bad boy" by any stretch of the imagination, often living (against in my will) in the Friend Zone.  I would tell them, I would try to warn them, "they're not going to change."

No-one would listen to me and a few months later, they could concede I was right -- the must frustrating instance being also including the explanation, "he's just the kind of boy you have to date.  You're the kind of guy a girl marries.  He's the kind of guy a girl dates."  It is the single most memorable back-handed compliment I have ever received.  I will cherish/loathe it forever.

I bring all this up because there's a boy that London likes.  For the sake of anonymity, we'll call him Zitty McPimple.  Apparently, Zitty McPimple is ever-so dreamy and a known player.  He's had an on-again, off-again relationship with a different girl at school.  They're currently in their off-again relationship status (as of Tuesday, methinks).  Yesterday, he told London "I love you."  Today he said, "I think you and I should go together."  London's conflicted.  Zitty is super dreamy and the entire eighth grade class thinks they should be together.  But, as previously stated, he's a known player.  London knows this and doesn't really like but, she reasons, "maybe I can change him."

The sentence that used to frustrate and amuse me now terrifies me.  I've seen too many girls and women return to abusive relationships thinking their man had changed or that they could change them and I just don't want London to be one of those statistics.  London knows, from her own life story, that a person can't change if they don't want to.  She knows she can't change him.  But yet there's that look in her eye that says, "but maybe . . ."  I've thrown this question out to the world for fifteen years and no-one has ever been able to answer it, but here I go again:

Why do girls think they can change boys?  Why do women think they can change men?

And, because of this new special place I find myself in:

How do I communicate to her that his boy has no desire to change?  Why would he want to?  He's bouncing from cute girl to cute girl.  He has no reason to change.

I know.  I know.  This is one of those things she's going to have to learn for herself.  I'm a big believer in learning lessons for one's self.  But what is it about having two X chromosomes that makes a person think they can change or fix anything that has a Y chromosome?  And why, if you have a certain standard or idea of what the perfect man would be, wouldn't you pursue that?

A frustrated father wants to know.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Kelly called it.  The first week -- maybe the first full day -- that London was with us, Kelly said "six weeks in, we're going to have trouble.  It will be her way of testing us.  She's going to want to see if we'll still love her even if she gets in trouble."

She was alerted to this phenomenon by the very excellent Foster Parenting Podcast.  It's a podcast we can't recommend enough.  It's put on by a couple who, like us, have decided to share their experiences as they foster and adopt children needing a home.  We discovered them fairly early in our adoption process and they have served as inspiration and an encouragement throughout this entire process for us.    Their trials, tribulations, and guarded transparency have emboldened us to be equally transparent with our own trials and tribulations -- in hopes that we might encourage others going through the same things we're going through.  It's been a comfort to us to know we're not alone and we want to make sure that you, too, know that you're not alone.

Sorry.  That was a bit of a tangent.  But it was because of that podcast, as well as other outside reading, that we were completely unsurprised when London called and said she was being sent to detention.  London was super-worried and stressed out.  She was supposed to serve her detention at the same time she was supposed to be playing her first soccer game (did we mention she made the soccer team?  She made the soccer team!).

I called the school to find out what had happened.  Her teacher, a cantankerous woman who sounded like she was in sixties, made no effort to hide the fact that she has given up on London's particular section of science.  To quote her verbatim, "I'm done with them.  They think because this is the last period of the day they can goof off."*  I asked what London, specifically, had done to warrant detention.  "She's been turning in incomplete work and she wasn't paying attention when I showed them the video they were supposed to be watching and the handbook -- and the Vice Principal -- says I can use detention to get a student's attention to help improve their behavior."

Two very important things needed to happen:  (1)  We needed to let London know that even she had gotten in trouble, we still loved her.  (2)  We needed to not undermine the authority of the teacher.

I drove down to the school a little early that day so I could catch London in between school and soccer practice.  I brought her a sweet tea from Sonic, which immediately seemed to ease her foul mood.  We talked things over a bit.  I told her I had found out we could reschedule her detention, so she wouldn't have to miss her game -- and that I had already begun that process.  "Could you get me out of detention?" she asked hopefully.  I shook my head.  "I talked to your teacher.  It sounds like you've earned it."  She grumbled a bit under her breath but didn't disagree.  After soccer, Kelly asked her what she was going to do to make sure this didn't happen again.  And together, led by London, we formulated a plan to overcome the tired and cantankerous science teacher, improve her grade in science, and generally stay out of detention in the future.

I doubt this cry for help was pre-meditated.  But I don't believe the timing of it was coincidental.  It was exactly at the six week mark.  She's had such a history of bouncing from house to house, it only makes sense that she would test the length and breadth of our patience and love.  But hopefully now she realizes that while she may frustrate or worry or even anger us, none of those will actually displace or replace our love for her or our determination to make her a success.

* It's important to note that this is the same science teacher who elected to show her class Short Circuit to teach them about robots and The Little Mermaid to teach them about . . . life under the sea?