18 June 2010

Field Notes from the Group Home

I am grateful to Foster Mom for many things, but especially for this, a biography, as it were, of the last few months. With this missive I'd consider us all caught up, ready to move forward. Thanks, DF.

I used to be a sous-blogger, but I had to take a break from the unrelenting demands of that job. Now here I am, once again finding myself with some things to say.

I guess I should get that first week in February out of the way. It started so well on Sunday--the new job was a perfect fit and his debut was (the church version of) a triumph. But then Monday we spent a couple hours . . . hmm . . . discussing our ideas about emotional intelligence, affect regulation, and self-care. (Also timing just how long a person can sob before they have to stop to breathe. I guess I'm a scientist at heart.) Tuesday afternoon Phil moved huge armloads of mess out of our second bedroom, inflated an airbed, and made a little sleeping nest with nice cotton sheets and a pair of down comforters. Tuesday night Scott slept here. Wednesday Viggo was diagnosed with leukemia. Thursday Viggo died. It was so terrible. And so we began this experiment. 


What should we call it? Maybe we're a commune. Or is it more like foster care? Roommates? Or maybe it's assisted living, and we've just installed a PCA to help the old people stay out of a nursing home. Or maybe we're a group home, and our focus is independent living skills. In the first couple weeks we had several "visitors." They all came by with the veneer of a polite social agenda, but I could tell by their clipboards and their questions that we were in the middle of a suitability home study. Electricity? Running water? Pleasing display of accessories in the public spaces? Enough ice cream in the freezer? Wireless access to the cable modem plus expanded channel package? Date of last piano tuning?

The bar is higher when the vulnerable newcomer knows how to use the phone and could call child protection on his own behalf.


After a couple weeks we upgraded from the airbed to a real mattress. That meant moving lots and lots of stuff to make room for the bed. We were also watching the very inspirational "Hoarders" TV show at the time, and were completely motivated to get rid of stuff. We moved some furniture around and had a really full carload for Value Village. Mostly we got rid of books and clothes. We played several rounds of "Is This Cute?" and I tried to be ruthless about not hanging onto the Nos. I did have to do a little workshop for the foster child focused on specific features of black slacks, and how no two pairs meet exactly the same needs.

We learned very quickly that we're well-matched in our ideas about the importance of making your bed every day.


The group home has only one bathroom. Our morning schedules are quite different. However, a naked post-shower sprint from the bathroom to the bedroom is completely visible in the other bedroom. All residents call out "Eyes Closed Time" as they traverse the pass, and "Eyes Open Time" once they're in their spot. Everyone seems quite motivated to participate with the letter and the spirit of this plan, and we've had no breech in protocol.

We've comingled our various products, and I'm completely accustomed now to the enormous cobalt blue container of shaving goo on the rim of the sink. I think it might be a lifetime supply.


For the census, we were three, and discussed at length which category fit us best. I think we went with "unmarried adults living together."


Scott has been warned for several years that he needed to have his freakishly large tonsils taken out. We had a family meeting and agreed that it was time to commit and get it done, (because his life was in such a shambles, he'd barely notice one more crappy thing) so he found a very cute ENT guy and went under the knife on April 7. The tonsils were even worse than the surgeon had anticipated, which seemed to make Scott very proud. Phil and Jacob went along as his next of kin. The official record for April 2010 will be written by me, because he has very little actual memory of that month. The intensity and relentlessness and grip of post-op pain is at least as bad as you've heard. For two weeks he mostly laid in bed and dribbled cherry-flavored liquid opiods down his throat every two hours. Early on he learned to set the timer on his phone and wake himself up for a scheduled dose, because trying to catch up with the pain is nothing but preventable suffering.

The first couple days he could only tolerate broth and apple juice in tiny amounts. He slept a lot, and we had to nudge him to stay hydrated. He was very interested in advancing to ice cream, but learned the hard way that he'd over-estimated his tolerance. He had a visit from a nice friend scheduled, so I left him alone for a few minutes. Two minutes before MK arrived he disgorged Roxicet-tinged Dairy Queen shake in a wide distribution throughout the upstairs. In retrospect, we should have spent more time getting him oriented to our "Commit to the Green Bowl" approach that has served us so well. MK found what she needed and had everything cleaned up by the time I got home a half hour later. How great is that? And for the sake of telling the whole truth, the trail from this bed to the bathroom benefitted from two passes of the Big Green Cleaning Machine a few days later. For a couple weeks we didn't leave him alone. Pink sherbet and real fruit popsicles were his main meal most days.

There were some other effluvial details that are still classified. We will evaluate transcript and photo requests on a need-to-know basis. He did gradually advance to pureed cauliflower soup, but declined almost all baby food. He lost 17# in three weeks, because that's what happens when even water hurts. He turned a corner at about one month post-op, and is almost normal now, though he says singing is still not a sure thing. I think there is a very slight difference in his speaking voice.


He's away from home a lot, but quickly adapted to our ways. Coming home always means putting on soft clothes, and then we do How Was Your Day? We have sensible family dinners and have gotten him hooked on a couple favorite TV shows. We've instituted a rationing plan for Rustica bittersweet chocolate cookies, and some days we stick to it.

He's done quite a bit of gardening, and now it looks like someone lives here. We have a comprehensive anti-bunny program in place, because it didn't work for him to just sit on the front porch and give them the evil eye.

Scott is very attentive to letting us know when he's going to be returning home. At first I thought he just had nice roommate manners. But later I realized he believes that whenever he's gone, the foster parents jump into bed and have redhotmonkeylovesex. This is a source of permanent amusement, and indicates a significant deficit in his reality testing.


A couple weeks ago he went out with a new friend and got home at 11:50, full of stories. The next night he was headed out again and I said, "See you at midnight!" (because what could be funnier than a fake curfew for a 42-year-old?). He objected and said he'd been home 10 minutes early, so he should get 10 extra minutes the next night. Because at that point I was just making shit up, I said, "No carryover minutes in this plan." And he was home before midnight.


On several occasions we've had conversations that explore the differences in 
1.  feeling emotion and expressing it in a way that isn't harmful to self or others (good)
2.  denying or stuffing feelings, keeping secrets, telling lies (bad)
3.  wallowing (bad)

Though he may not exactly know that.

We've also been practicing neutral face. You could probably do very well playing poker against him, because he's got no poker face. None whatsoever.


An hour after he left for Chicago last weekend we had this text message exchange:

Scott:   Hope your week isn't too boring. Do NOT have sex on my bed just to "change it up."
Me: Uh oh.
Scott: Get out of my room!!!!!!!


More than anything, it's been like living in the dorm. Easy and fun. And now it's winding down. I told somebody yesterday that he's leaving before I need him to, and isn't that a good way to start the next chapter?


  1. Now I want to live in your group home! I hope the Sous-Blogger is going to be coming here for regular visits.

  2. Ah, beloved SB. I knew I liked you for a reason. Welcome back!

    After the laughter stopped, and assurances were made to my mother in the next room of the Kauai condo from which I send this missive that I was, indeed, remembering the breathing rule (much better to suffocate from laughter than sorrow), a careful literary dissection of today’s post revealed, through your use of repetition, an understanding of the omni-important “cute” rule.

    Perhaps Scott should consider it for a forthcoming mandate.

    For those among you who may be uninitiated: Cute Rules.

    Building a home and for budgeting reasons you must decide between more expensive but practical “H” rafters in the garage to create a lofted storage space (vs. cheaper “W” shaped rafters that preclude effective lofting) or solid cherry floors? Hmmm. What’s cuter? No brainer.

    Buying a new car? Gas mileage might creep in for a say, but the cuteness of interior color options ranks higher on the priority list. After all, you have to look at it ALL THE TIME. (Black leather with white stitching that matches your favorite shoes and purse would be super cute, by the way).

    Shopping, whilst on Hawaiian vacation, knowing that your suitcase space is limited, but you come across a store where MULTIPLE cute shoes are offered for sale? It may be helpful to consult rule #2: The time to buy it is when you find it. Or “them,” as the case may be.

    Thank goodness that once we decide to love someone, the cute rule is officially suspended. We love through ugly-puffy-crying-face, drooling, puking-on-the-floors, etc. SB and co-foster parent Phil, you are the masters. Thanks for showing us the way.

    FYI: Please note the “crap” correlative to the “cute” rule. As in, “Am I in a store full of crap, simply picking out the least crappy object (therefore disguising itself as “cute”)? Super important to know in a Hawaiian tourist shop (have I mentioned that I’m on vacation?), but the correlative also applies to catalogue shopping, cell phone selection, and dating.


As always, civility reigns, but cleverness trumps.

They shall be called my disciples.