It’s been a pretty eventful summer for me, you might have heard. You would think that, after 3 months, I’d be settling in to my new circumstances. Unfortunately, there are individuals who insist on interfering, despite the fact that none of them have the sense God gave a domestic turkey. Dealing with the gray-matter challenged is always problematic – not to mention annoying as hell – but these people have to buy a clue before they’re even able to realize that they’re clueless.
Just to recap – I recently turned 46, and I made the conscious decision, many years ago, not to have children. DH has grown children, and there are 8 grandchildren between all of them. I have zero blood relation to any of his family. When I met DH, he was providing the supervision for his youngest son’s visitation with his son, who was 4 years old, at that time. He’s now 15. I have nicknamed him “Pint-size Casanova”, for reasons I’ll explain later. Anyway, he’s always been my favorite of the grandkids, and we have a special relationship that I don’t have with any of the others.
Back in July, Casanova’s mother was in deep legal trouble with both police, and Child Services, due to violent things she said and did to her own two sisters. Because she’s dumber than a bag of hair, while still under investigation, she lashed out with violence when Casanova told the truth about witnessing his half-sister being violent with a toddler. (The sister is 8 years old.) Police were called. They notified the social worker, already assigned to the case. Everyone agreed they needed to remove Casanova from the home, pending further investigation.
NOBODY else in the family has any kind of means or ability to take in Casanova, for more than a few days. No one has the space, or the money. DH woke me up in the middle of the day – which left me fuzzy and confused, naturally, because he was supposed to be at work – and said that if we didn’t take in Casanova, he’d have to go to a group home.
Oh, hell to the no!
Basically, DH woke me up to give me warning. He was right to assume I’d agree to emergency custody, rather than let the kid end up in a group home. I might act like children are demon-spawn, but I know it’s time to drop the act when we’re talking about a 15 year old kid ending up in a group home. I could handle watching over a kid for a few weeks, during the summer.
We embarked upon several weeks of what can only be called a hostile stand-off. We never hired an attorney, because we didn’t want custody, so much as we wanted what was best for Casanova. The judge appointed him a Guardian Ad Litem. She and the social worker are angels. I knew there were people out there like these two, and I’ve finally met them. His mom was granted frequent, supervised visitation, which she used to try to get under my skin, and to manipulate Casanova. I kept a journal, reported every transgression to the MSW (Masters in Social Work), and struggled to take the high road each time Mom tried to provoke me. FINALLY, DH and Casanova got through to her, that her behavior was helping me and harming her own case. By then, it was too late, though.
On top of my life being turned upside down by random visits from MSW and the Guardian, I found myself co-parenting a very intelligent, very charismatic, very attractive 15 year old boy who has ADHD (un-medicated), and abandonment issues. I suspect the only thing that saved us is the fact that DH is a very, very strong, positive male role model, and has actually been a constant in Casanova’s life. All of my theories about child-rearing were suddenly challenged in a trial-by-fire, but DAMN IT, I’ve gotten it right more times than not! It didn’t take Casanova long to realize that we weren’t going to be his friends. Staying with us (this time) was not a vacation. We’re parenting him, plain and simple. He challenged us a lot in the early weeks, but firm limits, clear boundaries, routine, consistency, and follow-through proved to be just what he needed. We’re both so very conscious of the fact that Casanova believes he’s been abandoned by two fathers (bio and step), and that his mother loves his sisters more than she does him (I’ve come to believe this is true), we go out of our ways to reinforce the fact that we both love him for who he is, even when we don’t approve of his behavior.
In just a few weeks, Casanova settled down and stopped giving us trouble. So did Mom. She agreed to attend parenting and anger-management classes (eyeroll), and started following the rules of her visitation. I allowed myself to believe the emergency had passed, everyone was getting along, and that the goal of family reunification would be achieved in time for school to start. Then, MSW and the Guardian thwarted me. It’s a conspiracy, I tell you! They’re all out to get me! All the reports submitted to the court contained a key phrase: “The minor child appears to be thriving in the current custodial arrangement”.
Thriving. They had to go and use the ‘T’ word. Fuck.
Luckily, he was already registered at his new high school. He really was all set to go, we just had to work out a routine for getting him to and from class, as well as football practice. To my infinite relief, his school is the one just a few blocks away – easy walking distance. Also, DH gets off work at the same time Casanova gets out of class, so I only have to worry about getting the kid out the door in the morning. Easy-peasy. I cook meals when they’re both in bed, asleep, so they’re able to heat something up for themselves for dinner, if I’m asleep.
So, that pretty much catches you up to where I was when I last posted. Now for the oh-so-entertaining update!
The thing that has had the most impact on me is homework. Not only does DH start to get tired and cranky pretty early in the evening, he’s the one who passed down the ADHD to his son, and eventually this grandson. Also, between the two of us, I’m the most highly educated. I can’t tell you how fucking happy I am that Casanova’s school isn’t monkeying about with this ‘new math’ bullshit!
Casanova is a very intelligent kid. His frustration is palpable, when he’s struggling with something that’s a simple matter of memorization; for me, anyway. My heart goes out to him when he comprehends a concept, but he can’t remember a key detail from an earlier lesson. It’s like he lives in a perpetual state of having a word on the tip of his tongue, and is never able to remember what the word is, which means he can’t spell it, which means he can’t finish a sentence. He still knows just what he wants to say, though. He works so hard, and gets so discouraged.
I’m a completely new experience for him, too. No one else in his family was very successful in school, nor did they put much effort into it. Because I learned how to actually learn, I’ve got skills and tricks for studying that I’m teaching to him. I’ve taught him things that I consider to be basic, such as studying for 60-90 minutes and taking a 10-15 minute break (it’s not reasonable to expect ANYONE to sit in a chair and not move again until all the homework is finished), and using pneumonics. No one ever took away his cell phone during study time, either. It’s amazing how much work he gets done when he’s not stopping to answer calls, texts, emails, and to check Facebook (cause we all know what a time-suck FB is!).
The source of my greatest amusement involves his English class, where they’re studying grammar. He’s always done poorly in these classes (so he told me). I insisted that he needed to focus on his writing skills, because it’s one way you make a good first impression. This becomes important when applying for jobs. His older cousins (also DH’s grandchildren) have told him that correct English isn’t important anymore, because we use text-speak, and because technology will very soon do all that work for us. Casanova’s mother actually concurred with this, rather than try to help him pass his classes. Then came the day his older cousin (just graduated high school) applied for a job that he really, really wanted. He had a connection in the company, and he was so sure he had the job in the bag. When the hiring manager called to tell him they had to give the job to someone else, she told him it was all because he had unacceptable language skills. Even though the job was in the Accounting department, it required the ability to speak and write clearly and effectively, when providing information to internal and external customers.
Why yes! Yes, I DID gloat and say “I told you so” (to DH, not the cousin). And yes, I made sure to visit the cousin on his first day working at the newly built McDonalds. I also found out that when he started at the college he’s enrolled at, they gave him basic skills placement tests. I guess his Advisor told him that he needed to take a couple of English skills classes, that don’t count toward his degree credits, before he could enroll in the lower division courses. I’ve overheard the two boys talking, and it sounds to me like this is a class they provide to non-native English speakers who still require help in mastering the basics of the language. Since then, Casanova has stopped avoiding his English class, and eagerly listens to anything I have to teach him.
Unfortunately, it’s all still a struggle for him, no matter how hard he works. We require him to maintain a certain level of performance in his classes, in order to retain all of his privileges. His phone, football, socializing on weekends, those are all contingent on him maintaining his grades, and doing his regular chores without needing to be nagged. I learned very, very early on that there are going to be times when he gives all that can be expected of him, and still gets a low grade on a test, or in a class. I found I had to modify my enforcement, because I can’t take away his privileges under those circumstances. We’re working it out as we go along.
I spent several weeks in a constant state of stress, because I couldn’t stop thinking about how big of a responsibility this all is. Taking care of this kid correctly is a big deal. He needs to know he’s being actively cared for, and looked after. I let myself get worked up into a state of constant anxiety because I was so afraid I’d drop the ball in some way. I didn’t get over it, so much as I came to realize that Casanova is no longer challenging our authority. He’s also really smart, and street savvy. It finally occurred to me that my usual level of awareness was all I needed. Hyper-vigilance wasn’t necessary.
Just about the time I believed we’d settled into a comfortable routine, and I could focus back on my writing, two things began to bubble just beneath the surface. First, Casanova’s bio-grandmother – who is DH’s ex-wife – began coming around all the time, spending hours and hours at my house. She would interrogate us both about how we were handling certain things, or how we planned to handle things, if they ever came up. She inserted herself into our conversations about Casanova, and finally, she began telling ME how I was supposed to be doing things. Yes, I got pissed, because she’s lazy and manipulative, and she was a very lousy mother. Right now, she’s avoided getting a job for the last 4 years, and is about an inch away from being homeless, because the family is sick of her mooching. DH can’t bring himself to resist her emotional blackmail, despite knowing that’s what she does. She and I were never friends, but for several years, we were able to be in the same room for several hours without shedding blood. That has all gone down the toilet, now.
It didn’t take me long to figure out that Casanova’s intelligence, charisma, and good looks made him popular with the girls. I watched closely until I determined that he doesn’t go looking for it. The girls chase him, and sometimes, he stops running. There’s one young lady in particular who he’s brought around. DH did the whole meet-and-greet with her father. Anyway, about the time his grandmother started playing her games, Casanova confessed to DH that he’s sexually active. He claimed to have been active for 6 months, which pre-dates the time we took custody. I had a couple of casual chats with him, trying to determine if he was being truthful, or if he was trying to impress his grandfather. It’s true. I have a sexually active 15 year old boy on my hands. Both DH and I have had talks with him, making sure he’s got the CORRECT info about how all the different parts work. I was surprised at how accurate his knowledge was, considering that his mother goes to church, and so refused to allow him to attend any and all classes on the subject. Now, that’s okay, I don’t have a problem with wanting to control what your child learns about sex, and how he learns it. The problem is that, because she attends church regularly, she subscribes to the mistaken belief that by denying Casanova access to information, and condoms, he can’t become sexually active.
Now comes the fun part. Grandmother somehow found out (DH’s big mouth, I’m sure) that we were providing condoms. She went screaming to his mother with this information, which sent her into hysterics. Next thing I know, there’s an emergency hearing scheduled. I got all dressed up, put on my makeup, even, and never set foot in the courtroom. The way the MSW and the Guardian tell the story, Mom and Grandmother joined forces to convince the judge that Casanova needed to be put in his bio-grandmother’s care. They tried to claim that being exposed to the books I write corrupted him, and giving him condoms gave him permission to have sex. Have I mentioned that neither of these women are very bright? The Guardian thinks neither of them was aware that the judge already knew about my books. Mom’s lawyer didn’t get all the way through his argument before the judge cut him off. He asked Mom if she was trying to say that taking away the condoms would stop Casanova from having sex. When she said yes, he told her the argument was irrelevant because she was WRONG. (No one is happy about it, but no laws are being broken.) Next, the judge said that if Casanova walks into our B&N, he could go to the romance section and find many books depicting men and women in love, having graphically described sex. By that standard, my books are acceptable. The judge then said something along the lines of, since we’re in California – a marriage equality state – you’re not attempting to assert that books containing heterosexual couples falling in love and having sex are acceptable for a 15 year old child, while books containing homosexual couples falling in love and having sex are detrimental to him, are you? According to the Guardian, Mom was stupid enough to take a breath and start to answer “yes”, before her attorney shut her up.
The judge admonished Mom and Grandmother for wasting the court’s time, and I was left all dressed up with nowhere to go. What none of us could figure out was, why Grandmother – unemployed and begging to stay in people’s spare rooms – thought she was in a position to get custody? If she knew she wasn’t able to take him when he was first removed from his home, why did she think she could take him now? Well, family members began to tell DH that his ex-wife was going around telling everyone that Casanova would be better off with his bio-grandmother, because she’s bio. She was telling people that once she got custody, she was going to get an apartment and a new car. DH and I could not figure out why she thought she could get custody, an apartment, and a car, all without having to get a job?
One day, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked DH if he’d been dumb enough (okay, I didn’t say it exactly that way) to tell his ex-wife that we received child support money from Casanova’s Mom and step-father (it’s a pittance! It barely keeps the kid in groceries! But just because his Mom lost custody, it didn’t absolve her of her responsibility to her child). Yes! DH opened his big mouth in front of his ex, mentioning that Mom’s check was late.
She refuses to admit it, but I’m positive that Grandmother convinced herself that having custody of Casanova meant she’d receive money. Somehow, she got the dumb idea that if she got custody of him, they could both live off of his child support money, and that way, she wouldn’t have to get a job. WHY she thought she’d be able to pay for an apartment, a new car, AND Casanova himself, we have no fucking idea. I warned DH not to tell her how much we receive – it’s not her business – when he informed her that there was barely enough money to match the kid’s voracious appetite, so she could just give up her pipe dream. She doesn’t appear to have believed him, though, since every time I turn around, she’s on her campaign to justify that the person who spends the most time with, and exerts the most influence on the thought process of, Casanova should be someone biologically related.
Knowing that a kid is watching my every move has me sticking to the high road, on this one.
The ultimate goal remains reunification, though. I started to think Casanova could go back to his Mom around the holiday break, but DH got an upset call from him, last night (he had wanted to stay over at his Mom’s house). He didn’t have to go pick the kid up, but the fact they can’t spend a single weeknight under the same roof, yet, tells me his Mom isn’t quite ready to have him back. At least she’s come to realize that we have no desire to in any way inhibit the repair of their relationship, or to block reunification. She just has absolutely no clue that she’s completely self-centered, and that her own actions piss people off. Everything has to be a conspiracy to deny her things she’s rightly entitled to, despite the fact that she feels entitled to some of the most unreasonable things.
Casanova gave me a lecture a couple of days ago. I mentioned that I had much less time to spend writing, and talking on FB. It wasn’t just a matter of time either, I was expending a lot of energy into looking after him, and had less to put into writing. I was demonstrating to him how important I felt he was, and how much I cared. I chose to sacrifice on his behalf, because he mattered. He took me to task for that. He informed me that – except for help with homework – I could relax my focus on him, and pay more attention to my writing, and he’d be just fine. He CAN take care of himself, and this conversation let him know that he’s important to me and is a priority, so he wasn’t going to start acting out when I start paying more attention to my computer. It’s an awesome thing, having a kid who is this smart, and this self-aware. It gives me an idea of what it was like for my parents, raising me. I wasn’t aware at the time, but my mother has since confessed at how out of their depth I made her and my father feel, from the time I was about 14.
So, here I am, with the release of Storming Love: Troy & Austin, I have also completed the first two chapters of Strength of the Warrior. So, it appears I’m back on track. I need to get caught up with Facebook, and then let’s see what kind of promo work I need to do.
Whew! I couldn’t have made up this kind of story.