Friday, February 11, 2011

I love you I do this I'm sorry

I returned this week to Parenting the Hurt Child, an incredibly insightful book by Gregory Keck that I think every person should read regardless of who or whether they're parenting. His honesty and tolerance for complexity relax me.

Lately, it is more or less impossible to get T to go to all his classes, or to go to all of them without first stopping off to smoke marijuana. We do substance abuse counseling. We've tried escorting him to school. We talk to the administrators. We restrict privileges. We offer incentives. Nothing works.

Last night, we decided to take a night off. We made dinner, left it on the table (he was awol at dinnertime) with a note explaining our whereabouts, and went out. When we came home, he was asleep on the sofa in front of the front door. I tucked him in with our own quilt and went to bed.

This morning I heard footsteps. I opened my eyes and it was T. "Shhhh!" he said sternly. He bent over and kissed me on the forehead, patted the top of my head, and tiptoed out.

Sometimes his adorable gestures mean "Aren't I charming? Give me what I want!" (money, a ride, some slack). But in my half-awake state, it came to me immediately that this particular kiss on the forehead meant "I love you. I do this. I'm sorry."

That could be a tragic apology from a certain point of view, meaning something like: "I have a compulsive drug habit and no impulse control and I feel badly about it." Certainly we're up against one of those moments when you're just not sure the child is yet capable of changing old habits and destructive modes of thought. But from another point of view, he has made progress.

His responses to caring adults used to tend more toward silent statements like "I don't know you, who cares what you think?" From that point of view, "I love you, I do this, I'm sorry" is profound. In fact, it occurred to me that in this recent period of escalated misbehavior and delinquency, I've now received three gentle kisses--the first he's ever delivered.

He used to try occasionally to kiss me on the cheek - not at my request, but of his own volition (he arrived extremely physically reserved and we have always let him determine whether and how we share physical contact). When he began trying to show affection, he'd get close to my face and then he'd purse his lips and squint his eyes and say "Ew! Can't do it!" (I did find this totally hilarious.) But two weeks ago, I got a sudden peck on the cheek one day, out of the blue. About a week later, on a day when we were relaxed and had spent some time together, I got a tiny kiss on the tip of my nose. And this morning, a farewell peck on the cheek.

This is in marked and dramatic contrast to some of the other "feedback" we get from him, just in case it sounds like it's all sweetness and light at our house. Indeed, two nights ago, I asked him to work with me on his homework to get caught up in a class he's been cutting. He flatly refused to even try. I said, "what are you doing instead?" and he said, "I'm doing me. What the fuck does that have to do with you?" Obscene, yes.

I said as calmly as I could, "Wow I'm very sorry to hear that you feel that way," took his iPod, and closed the door. The next day I left a simple note on his door. It said, "The legal consequences for truancy are..(x,y,z). After 3 unexcused absences the court may place you on juvenile probation. You have more than 20 unexcused absences. This is your problem and you'll have to deal with it. We will withhold all privileges until you do. Love, Your Parents."

God bless Keck and others like him. Before bed, I re-read the sub-chapter "Children for Whom Nothing Works." I expected to see a description of our situation. T has none of the behaviors on that list, which begins with "injuring, mutating or killing animals on multiple occasions" (page 156, for anyone eager to check it themselves!). I rejoiced. We're not even there. T rocks our pet kitten in his arms and sings lullabies to her. Phew. His range of available behaviors is extremely broad, extending from frank delinquency to tender loving compassion for all the world's small creatures. That's the wonder and the challenge of him, the risk and the opportunity as he moves toward adulthood.


beauty obscure said...

Just curious... does he have to go to school? Can he do online courses, or work with a tutor?
(I only ask because homeschooling is legal where I live and the agency I work for sometimes recommends home school when our attachment challenged kiddos can't manage in the classroom...usually because they are just missing so many skills involved in going to school). I believe you said you both work though... so might not be possible even if you thought it was a good idea :)

Good luck with your young man! Thank you for caring about him.

Lulu McCabe said...

Such a good question. We seriously considered home schooling him this year and didn't only because of economic constraints (we both work and can't afford the tutors). There are good online schools, and that actually looked like a good solution for awhile but his drug habit makes it harder to focus him on independent work. And he is a junior, and the social aspect of school is important to him (personally and developmentally). But if he were younger I would definitely seek alternative schooling. I also feel we were at a disadvantage because he didn't have an IEP when he came to us last year, and his social workers lost track of the fact that he'd been in classes for behaviorally disturbed kids, and told us instead that he had been successful in mainstream school. Now that we've learned more about his needs the hard way we're looking into an IEP and considering a different school, but at the same time we have to try to make him successful in this one because the next thing that could happen is that he's forced out and put in continuation school. There are fairly stark daily reminders of how, as a society, the school system and the social services system (in our city at least) fails to meet the needs of the most challenging and needy kids.

Anonymous said...

Any chance you could link up to the book you referred to? I looked it up on amazon. I found Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Parenting the hurt child by Gregory Keck.

Lulu McCabe said...

Whoah! My bad. That's what I get for blogging too quickly - indeed, I meant Gregory Keck. I also find Foster Cline's Love and Logic very useful. But lately Parenting the Hurt Child by Keck really speaks to the aftermath of prolonged trauma that we're dealing with. Thanks for the correction, and I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for being honest and writing about the good and the not-so-great. It helps me form a better understanding of what foster parenting looks like in reality.

Letty said...

Thank you so much for writing about all this with so much honesty and compassion. We are foster parents to a teen girl. Our first six months together were fairly easy - she's a great student, eager to please, and really seemed to want to bond with us. She spent a lot of time wanting to pretend she was my baby, or a little kid- had me tuck her in, wash her face, sing her lullabies, etc. All the while, out of our home, she was super responsible, polite, and charming. A month ago, after we had to set some limits on her contact with her (manipulative ad destructive) bio-mom, her behavior completely flipped. She went from cuddling me every second to posting on-line about how she "hated me from the core of her being" Ouch.
I came here looking for insight, thank you. I think this is going to be much bumpier ride than we'd hoped, nice to know we're not alone. She is a great kid, and totally worth it, but I am feeling pretty battered and drained right now.

rechal said...

Your writing is amazing, full of compassion and insight. Looking forward to reading more.

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