Sunday, August 23, 2009

Doing It Anyway

This weekend was salve on a wound. Last week was so utterly frustrating and dispiriting, but a weekend with T. put the focus back where it should be and made us feel like however the bureaucracy decides to make things difficult we have a bond now that overruns any official channels.

This was our first weekend overnight. On Saturday, I did the pick up from the foster home, and the 75 minute drive back home with T. On the way, I distracted him from any frustration we both might feel over the recent procedural delays with a discussion of the driving permit I'm arranging for him - which of course thrilled him completely. After we got back to LA, Tim took T. boxing. Then we went to the copy store and printed out the driver's ed manual. Although he was moody on Saturday, he greeted the driver's ed manual with a smile that looked as if I'd just handed him his own heart back. He picked it up off the printer in the copy shop and beamed at me from all the way across the room for a long, long minute.

Later, we went to a UCLA football scrimmage, and afterward attended an autograph session with the entire team. Then we hung around home late at night watching television together. We also let him fool around with our digital music libraries (where he immediately uncovered all sorts of music I'm quite sure has been forbidden in his foster homes) and text message his friends and family via our computer. Though the latter gave me heart palpitations, we have a much better sense of who he keeps in touch with and how as a result. I even saw a text message in which he told a friend that he was with the people who are trying to adopt him - those are more or less his words.

All day Saturday he was a bit moody. He may have been hungover - he's already told us that he spends his nights at the foster home hanging around the park with older guys and playing dominos. I'm sure there's at least some drinking involved, but it's not high on my list of concerns. I figure if we keep him busy all weekend, he can only get into so much trouble Monday through Friday for the next few months. He did tell me that he dropped woodshop and changed to "all college prep" classes - which was a gentle bit of advice we offered just a week ago. I'll take that over investigating his weekday sobriety.

On Saturday when he arrived at our house, we also hit him with an "about us" document we prepared that lays out everything from our full names and contact info to a map of our neighborhood, and a few photos of our friends and family. He stared for a long time at a photo of my dad with a message saying he looks forward to meeting T. We wanted T. to get the message that we come with friends and family of our own, and understand that he does too, and that our life together will involve a merging of the two. I'm sure it may have raised some grief and uncertainly about his own people. But I figure you cannot prevent grief and confusion from surfacing, you can only provide manageable opportunities for those feelings to arise and address them with compassion. (Also, we tucked a photo of him from last weekend into our living room mirror, and he noticed within 30 seconds of entering the house and smiled to himself.)

The document also laid out our "rules" (keep in touch; stay safe; make smart decisions). After reading several books, we decided to go with deliberately ambiguous rules - ones that require the use of judgement and negotiation, and leave most things open to discussion. Rather than talk bedtimes and curfews, we wanted to turn the matter of discipline over to him for joint consideration.

The document also spelled out express permission to use the television and the computer and watch video games when he wants. During our previous two visits at our house, he's been excessively polite and reserved, sitting quietly on the sofa awaiting instructions. After reading the rules, without a word, he beelined it for the video games. It was nice to see him at home, acting like a teenager. I am sure our decision to leave all forms of digital entertainment more or less unregulated is controversial, but our feeling is that given his disposition and his history, the focus should be on freedom tempered by lots and lots and lots of attention.

Saturday night when he finally started to fall asleep watching tv at 1 am we sent him to bed with a hug. He slept for ten-and-a-half hours, and woke up groggy. He declined our offer of Trader Joe's breakfast cereal but later eagerly accepted a suggestion that we stop by Starbucks where he ordered the largest, sugariest drink on the menu. (Food is clearly an ongoing game of "getting to know you.") We decorated his room together - I gave him my limited-edition Obama "CHANGE" poster as a gift, and he had his autographed UCLA team poster. He picked out a spot on the wall and then held the posters while I taped them up .

Later we went hiking in Griffith Park and then on to see the new Harry Potter movie. He was a total ham all day on Sunday - singing, dancing, showing off his new boxing moves, chatting unguardedly. We're not sure if it was the sugar, his relief at having survived his first night in our house, or just time getting comfortable with us that set him off, but he was hilariously at ease all day. I think his social worker would not have recognized him (they always describe him as serious and shutdown.) He talked about:
- his mom - she's very clean, and he thinks that's where he got his tendency toward cleanliness from (he's meticulous bordering on obsessive)
- his cousins (we have no idea how many there are, but they are numerous and he used to live with some of them)
- his siblings (his mother has five kids that he's told us about, whom he refers to as his sisters and brothers, and he's in the middle - he's not the eldest of two as his DCFS profile suggests)
- his former teacher who tried unsuccessfully to recruit him into Future Farmers of America (he resisted, and he thinks he'd like to try debate instead)
- an impromptu fanciful story he made up about himself as a superhero, slaying animals of all sorts using his new boxing moves
- Michael Vick's dogs - I said "Some got rehabilitated!" and he said "I need to be rehabilitated!"
- his general awesomeness, which he assures us is formiddable, as in "I'm awesome." (nod of the head) "Everybody say so. Don't they?"
- my housekeeping skills (As we were talking about his generally obsessive cleanliness, I said "I'm not so good at keeping the shower clean" and he said cheerfully, "That's okay! I don't mind!")

In our house rules we described a "prayer" we say every Sunday where we ask each other "What do you hope will happen this week?" and then after each person answers, we say "Amen." When we sat down to lunch, he asked "Don't we have to talk about what we hope will happen this week?" We did the prayer (his hope is that he won't get a lot of homework), and after Tim said he hoped our elderly cat would remain healthy, T. exclaimed "Amen to that!"

He's such a quick learner. Last weekend while bike riding, we had to make a decision about which way to go, and I suggested that each person vote silently in their mind, then on cue, reveal their decision with a hand gesture. Today, on our hike, we came to a similar situation where we had to decide whether to take a shortcut back to the car or stay on the main route. T. exclaimed merrily that it would be decided using the method set up last weekend. Apparently democracy makes a big impression.

The best part was last: on the way home he said "I can't wait to move in!" Followed by "That bed is so soft! My pillow is soft too!" Then when we got nearer to his foster home he tried Tim with "Fontana is a bad influence on me!" Crafty last resort of a kid in foster care, as they are always being told what is and is not a "good influence."

I wanted so badly to tell him how angry we are that he can't move in with us right now - I think he thinks the delay is all about us filling out paperwork, maybe too slowly. But I don't think it's ultimately very helpful to play an us-again-them game with him. I think it's better just not to promise him anything until we're totally 100% sure we can deliver what we promise.

So that's it 'til next weekend, when we'll do it all over again. From what I can tell, T. fully intends to spend every weekend with us until he moves in. Which is more than fine with us. In fact, we miss him tonight now that we're home and he's back in Fontana. The apartment is a little quiet and I went into his room just to look at his football poster.

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