Falling still farther behind, if the goal is to do 30 stories in 30 days. In fact I think I’ll need tomorrow, too, to finish up the first four. I didn’t even start a new story today or yesterday.
Is that so bad? Sort of, yes. I had intended to get a lot more done over the last couple of days than I’ve been able to. On the bright side, our internet connection is back up. With another apology from AT&T employees, and we ended up semi-accidentally saving $20 on our bill. A low hourly rate, given how much time we (mostly my wife) put into getting that straightened out, but it’s something. (I spent time on the issue too, but it was a less-productive though sideways-satisfying effort to make our internet access work in spite of AT&T’s screwups. I mean, yeah, it all worked and I could get to the internet yesterday and this morning after all, well before it got officially fixed–but I could have written a story in the time it took me to figure that stuff out.)
Truth? What do I really want to talk to you guys about? This: I’m seriously bummed about some aspects of foster parenting. It’s not the kids…it’s the people who are supposed to be looking out for them. I don’t want to be specific–okay, that’s a lie. I do want to be specific, but I won’t do it because it wouldn’t help anyone. I want to be more effective at helping the kids. But I get the sense that folks around me would be happier if I’d just shut up and stop pushing them. Well, not everybody–but several people. I keep opening my mouth. It may not be useful. It certainly causes trouble. Useful trouble? No sign of it so far. I’m not happy about that. Maybe I’m just not good enough at this. Maybe I need to learn something. But what is it? I’d like to know.
Maybe it really is just me? I don’t think so. But maybe.
Maybe I should quietly accept that people aren’t helping the kids when they could be, or at least not doing as much as they could so easily do. Maybe just being here for the kids in the midst of a screwed-up system (but there are many wonderful people who are also trying to help, and it’s been a privilege to meet them!) is all I can effectively manage.
Possibly I should accept that adults often seem to blame children for what I often see as completely understandable reactions to the failures of those who say they’re there to help? I mean, I do accept that…it’s plain-vanilla human nature…but I’m not quiet about it. It seems to irritate people. Of course I don’t care at all about that, because I’m the way I am. But I want to be around for the kids, so maybe I have to pretend to care that I upset people. At least a little?
Here’s a question that’s been bothering me of late: if I see something is wrong–I mean something is really, really wrong–and I don’t believe that either “we have to file a report” or “there’s nothing I can do with that” is actually a solution…then what do I do about it? Anything? What? Because that happened recently. I mean, who reads the reports that are filed? Anyone? And what happens next? I can’t tell. Does “there’s nothing I can do” mean nothing happens at all, or nothing happens yet but someone’s now actively working to help? I really, really can’t tell.
I’m hoping for the best. But the hope has no real basis. Was it a good idea to make noise about the situation at all? I can’t see what else I could have done. I can’t see how it helped, either. If I’d kept my mouth shut instead of upsetting people, could I have found out more before it was too late, maybe even found out enough that there would be a clear way to help those kids? I don’t know. But what if raising the issue had been sufficient to get people to act? How would I know in advance, for next time? I don’t know.
So now what? Just do it all again, I guess, and hope for the best some more. I don’t have any other answer. But it bothers me, and I wish I did have an answer. Not just for the next kids–but for the ones I didn’t help when they were here. Guys, this is failure on a scale I’ve never even attempted before.
Another thing. I’ve gotta say, sometimes I find the kids’ “behavior problems” to be more admirable than the behavior of the authority figures the kids are rebelling against. Often the kids make bad decisions, even dangerously bad decisions–but understandable decisions for all that, and it seems to me that looking into the reasons they’re upset, and talking a bit about useful approaches to solving problems, might be more productive than telling them they’re wrong to be upset. Or expecting them to be respectful when they’re treated so disrespectfully. More truth: the system really does suck. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, exactly. We’re all just in the middle of it. In the end, though, it’s pretty horrible.
Yet another thing: In this fantastic story I’ll make up for you guys, just sort of daydreaming here, I know several kids who, if I were to ask them to help me do some work around the house, would just…sort of stand up and help. I know kids who would volunteer to help even if I didn’t ask. Not all the time, no, but sometimes. And boy would that feel good.
In this fantasy of mine, I wouldn’t be promising them a reward, or threatening them with a punishment. I’d just let them know that I’d appreciate the help. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they just plain thought I deserved the help? Also in this wild daydream, the kids who have behavioral problems will sometimes turn out not to be all that difficult–over time, once we figure them out a bit. One might need to go for a walk, with company or without (usually with, in my crazy guess). One might even admit to being calmed by washing dishes. Some will say they like listening to music, but if we paid attention we might notice that suggesting the music might sound like abandonment to a kid–after all, it means telling them to go away, right? Or maybe an angry/destructive child might calm down pretty easily if an adult will just sit next to him, maybe on a lower level or even on the floor, for a while. And listen when he’s ready to talk. Anger might turn into a hug, in a little bit, with some patience. And then a conversation could happen, and trust could build in more than one direction. And then you could do it again, see, only it might be a little easier the next time. Mostly. With ups and downs all around.
Here’s the thing: I’m not actually fantasizing. I know this works, because it’s happened. Things start out kind of rough, and then they smooth out, with some bumps along the way but never (so far) as many as I fear. But there are adults who seem to think I need to be more free with both the carrot and the stick. Figuratively, I mean. Sometimes I don’t, for instance, insta-punish a kid (I mean “assign a consequence”) when the kid does something dumb. Sometimes, instead, I wait until the kid’s in a mood where discussion might be fruitful. And then I might tell the kid a story about something dumb I did once, and what happened. Ideally we’ll laugh a bit. And then we might converse about options that are available, and figure out how to fix whatever’s broken. It, you know, works–if the goal is teaching the kid and leading by example. It’s not clear-cut enough for certain personality types to feel comfortable…but it’s the only way I know to deal with kids that I can actually do. Being me, and all.
OTOH our house is largely peaceful. We have fun here, and as groups of kids settle in (before leaving, to futures we can affect only a little bit and even that only sometimes) that’s historically become more true over time. To hear some folks, this means I’m “letting them do whatever they want” and failing to teach them right from wrong. Do I agree? Yes and no.
I say “yes and no” because it’s funny how often what kids want to do is live (fairly) peacefully and generally help out, if given the chance. If treated with respect. If someone will listen to them, and offer to help, instead of–for instance–using an officially-approved method that strikes me as a combination of confrontation and manipulation.
Kids know when you’re blowing them off and not listening to them. They can tell. If one of them learns not to object…some people apparently see this as success in parenting…but I think it means the kid’s giving up on you. I think it means the kid has lost respect for you, and no longer thinks you’re worth talking to. Because it’s pointless, right? And I don’t actually have that as one of my goals this week.
Kids are people, and deserve respect for the mighty efforts they make to grapple with the sometimes heartless world around them. I can be patient with them. In fact I almost always am, and they seem to appreciate that. My patience with adults is more limited. Especially when kids are involved. But maybe that’s a problem I should be working on? Really: I’m not sure. With kids, I get the sense that I can only expect so much from them in a given situation, and that’s okay with me. I figure it’ll get better over time. With adults, I’m not as likely to think it’ll get better. Am I wrong? Maybe. Is my attitude helpful? Maybe. Maybe not.
None of the above means I shouldn’t be able to write a bunch of stories, though. It’s just the latest thing to take over my brain, if I’m talking to you from a productivity-only standpoint, and my tendency to obsess over perceived injustice is probably a good part of the reason that early-morning writing works better for me than anything else.
So I’ll try that again tomorrow morning, and then get back to editing. Yay?
Have fun out there!