adoption, family

Plot Twist

It is a strange thing, how this quarantine has affected the family. There was a time when large amounts of relatively unstructured time at home with us would have sent Mary over the edge. During school vacations or weekends she would tantrum and rage. Therapists would always remark that these school holidays were typically “slow times” for their agencies. They would marvel at how our children’s responses were completely upside down from the “normal” problems they encountered. Yeah, I know, major plot twist!

Inwardly I’d groan and roll my eyes because attachment difficulties present quite differently than other emotional problems for children. The agencies responding to our crisis calls or dealing with outpatient clinical services were unaware of this difference. Being home was harder for our kids. As in, they typically were worse around their attachment figures aka “parents.”

These days everything is different. Mary used to have a disorganized or “push/pull” interaction with Luke and I. She would rage at us yet seek to control us and keep us near. At times it seemed as though she were desperate to possess me while simultaneously despising me.

These days Mary trusts us more. She’s transitioned into a desire to be with her parents every second of every day. Her need for attention is still exponential but gone is the need to push us away. She is insecure about her ability to function or survive without us but she is much more comfortable with us around. Thanks to Covid19 we are ALWAYS around.

Friends with children like ours would often proclaim the benefits of homeschooling. To me it seemed that the opposite would be true. Why remain home with a child raging at you all the time? Wouldn’t that just trigger their attachment related panic responses? Who would benefit from this?

I suppose I was drastically wrong. Mary is absolutely flourishing right now. Although she checks on her parents every hour or so, she is much more calm and regulated. Anytime she wants to, she can reassure herself we are still here. She’s even happy that no one ever leaves the house. In fact, she’s dealing with this lockdown better than any of the rest of us.

I’ve been hesitant to write about our family’s quarantine experience. Mostly this is because I know it’s different than a lot of people’s. We are fortunate that I can work remotely so our finances haven’t changed much at all. The money we used to spend at restaurants or for sporting/social activities for the kids now goes to the increase in grocery prices. We are so lucky to have not been seriously financially impacted.

Luke and I had the last living donor kidney transplant in our area the morning of the day that a pandemic was declared. Many people are still waiting on this life saving procedure. We were able to recover in the safety and comfort of our home while others had to wait. How lucky is that?

At the time of the procedure, Luke and I were bracing for emotional fallout from the kids. Could they cope with our recovery? Would they worry during their school days? Would we see an increase in maladaptive behaviors? Well, we shouldn’t have worried so much. We should have known there’s always a plot twist.

Today, our children continued to function with relative ease. Marcus is continuing online classes. Carl misses his friends but he is managing as best he can. Luke and I get to spend a lot of time together. He has become more of “himself” now that his kidney function has returned. However, it’s not all rosy

My mother-in-law came to stay with us the week following surgery. She wanted to help out with the children for a week or two. At the time, I was concerned about two full weeks with her. I love her but we do not see eye-to-eye. Two weeks seemed like a LOT of time to be in the same house. That was before the lockdown.

We are going on 10 weeks now. She was unable to return to her previous living situation. It’s been stressful and frustrating. When I want to see my own parents I bring a lawn chair and sit outside their house. We yell to each other from across the lawn. I miss my own mother’s hugs and comfort. I’m doing my best to manage with that. Meanwhile, Mary is handling everything SO WELL.

Her mornings always start with a super-cheerful, “Good morning mommy and daddy!!” As she prepares to spend another entire day with us. There’s no need to go anywhere or do anything. Again.

It’s time I took a page from Mary’s book. You’d think by now I’d be used to the fact that nothing turns out how we think it will. I’m working on it.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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Keep a Lid On It

It’s been four weeks since surgery. Last night I was able to cook some red lentil pasta with vegetables. The pot of pasta boiled up a white foam dangerously close to the lid of the pot if Mary and I didn’t stir it constantly. I greased a glass pan and gathered three kinds of shredded cheese while Mary stirred the lentil ziti continuously. Each time she would lean over to stir the pot of sauce and chopped veggies, the lentil pasta would heartily foam up again and threaten to overflow. She’d jump back and stir furiously while we laughed uproariously. Such hubris, trying to escape the pot like that!

Mary and I strained the pasta together, laughingly avoiding the billows of steam coming out of the strainer. I layered the ziti and veggie sauce while she sprinkled a generous amount of cheese over the top. Our team work lead to an amazing baked ziti dish for dinner. My MIL (who is quarantined with us) was mildly perplexed. She’s had the kitchen to herself for the last month. It’s seen a borderline-illegal amount of garlic, and almost no vegetable products.

To my surprise our kitchen contains full heads of garlic, minced garlic, garlic powder, garlic salt and a garlic seasoning called “perfect pinch.” She proudly displays these and explains that she uses them ALL for each meal, along with some Goya seasonings. My MIL cooks a lot of traditional Puerto Rican dishes. My children love this. I suppose I am just as perplexed as she is when she looks at my food.

In this time of quarantine, it’s best that I do not share my feelings. We are all stuck here together and it is best if I don’t respond to her many, many opinions about cooking, child-rearing, housekeeping and marriage. The woman may have more opinions than forms of garlic in her cooking!

As I nod my head benignly, I let my MIL’s words wash over me like so much rain. I pay little attention and therefore I don’t have any idea what I am nodding along to. This is the time Marcus pops up and begins asking me (in a roundabout and rambling way) if he can go and visit a friend. What?! Full stop. Now I am listening.

Absolutely not. Luke and I have said no to his girlfriend coming over. We have said no to his friend coming over, even if they “stay in the basement.” He doesn’t understand. Marcus is straining at the confines of this house. He wants to go out and be in the world. Since he is twenty-two he must be absolutely immortal and impervious to infection. Additionally, he knows this friend and so, obviously, the friend couldn’t possibly be infected.

I clearly and firmly state that he cannot be in contact with others. Full stop. I briefly outline why some people can be asymptomatic and still spread the germs. I remind him about using Facetime, Facebook Watch Party and Google Hang. I state the facts without lots of words because once he is upset too much language just doesn’t get processed. I do this over my MIL’s mounting panicked protests. She has a lot of anxiety.

After he stomps downstairs, I agree quietly while MIL reminds me that Luke has Type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure and is now on immunosuppresent medication. I nod while she complains that Marcus refuses to wash his hair because his dreadlocks aren’t “mature enough” yet. Supposedly, only his girlfriend can wash them so they don’t unravel (?) Honestly, I have to pick my battles with Marcus. It is very difficult to keep him home. It is difficult to convince him to wear gloves and mask at the pharmacy and grocery store. It is even difficult to get him to shower when he gets home from the store.

Marcus bubbles up with frustration, he pushes to be free. I take a cleansing breathe and exhale slowly. I am straining against the constant string of advice from my MIL. Instead of engaging I go and find Mary. Together we take a perfect baked ziti out of the oven. She smiles at me and makes a “sqee!” sound of joy.

This period of social isolation has worked well for Mary. She is transforming into a happy, well-adjusted child. Rather than straining against circumstances, she’s adapted well. Perhaps I should follow her lead.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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family

Frankenbelly

“He says he never wants to be adopted.”

“He told the social worker he doesn’t want to live with the family. He is pursuing an independent living option.”

“Unfortunately, he is having difficulty with adapting to another mother-figure right now. Sometimes this is hard for older kids to accept.”

These are all things we heard time and again from social workers involved in Marcus’ case when he was a teenager. We would spend time together as a family. Things would seem to be going well. Then, out of nowhere, Marcus would pull back and everything would change. He act out against me. He’d rage against the idea of “mom.” The closer he got, the more fireworks would explode when he pulled away.

Looking back over our history as a family, I am amazed that Marcus is here now. Currently, we are all hunkered down together in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. The littles are home from school for the foreseeable future. I am supposed to be helping them with online learning. Instead, I am moaning and writhing in after-surgery pain. The kids seem to be doing alright with distance learning on their own.

My stomach is covered with incisions, bruising and purple surgeon’s marker. I lovingly call it “Frankenbelly.” I have an innate love of the macabre so I snap a discrete picture. It probably wouldn’t do to use this to scare the children on Halloween. In the midst of my tummy-musings, Carl runs upstairs with a fresh ice pack for me. I sigh in contentment as I hold the cold relief against my stitched-up skin. Heaven. Carl bounds down the stairs before I can thank him.

Luke is having a harder time. He feels constantly nauseous. His level of pain causes his blood-pressure to spike. This is very bad for his new kidney. His pain medication causes him to vomit. This is very bad for his stitches and probably…his new kidney. He’s already been back to the hospital once via ambulance. Marcus drove behind the “bus” and stayed with Luke. He was sent home with stronger anti-nausea medication.

Upon returning home, Luke vomits again. He winds up on the floor where I crawl down to meet him. We are like two raggedy-dolls patched up with stitches. Our movements are jerky and awkward but we are together. Once I get Luke situated I call the transplant coordinator again. She gives some advice to just continue what we are doing. The subplot is we can’t be at the hospital during a pandemic. It isn’t safe for my immunocompromised husband.

Mary comes in quietly and hands me another ice pack. Sweet relief! I haven’t been asking for these but they’ve been coming all day. Marcus keeps them in the drop freezer in the basement. He says this makes them colder.

“Thank you Little Chicken.” I say to Mary.

She pauses briefly to say, “You’re welcome, Mama. But it’s Marcus that keeps telling us when to bring them.” Then she’s off and running down the stairs to tackle an online math game.

As soon as I settle Luke back into bed I send Marcus a message, thanking him. He hasn’t even taken credit for all the helping out he’s been doing. I let him know he’s such a good son. I am so lucky to get to be his mother.

The message I get back is simple. It reads, “ Of course I’m helping. You’re my mom.”

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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Prometheus Sneezed

I feel empathy for Prometheus, the immortal Greek who angered Zeus. His punishment was such that an eagle came and ate his liver right out of his body every single night. When I woke up from donating my kidney the pain was similar to this. The worst was sneezing. Every time I sneezed, the pain was excruciating to the point where everything seemed doused in a haze of red. Amidst strange drug-induced hospital dreams of receiving Prometheus, I wondered what I’d done to anger Zeus.

Luke faired much better than I, as donor recipients often do. He was alert, his entire body was actually functioning. He was also on steroids, which made him feel invincible. They placed us in rooms down the hall from each other to recover. This way we’d have to get up and walk. That first night I got up and made my way to Luke’s room, hungry eagles be damned!

Inside the hospital, it was easy to feel the world shrinking into wound checks, medication titration, urine output and doctors’ notes. We watched educational videos for a kidney donation and donor recovery. We were educated on Luke’s new immunosuppressant medications. The entire transplant team came to visit us and cheered. Nurses said Luke and I were so “cute” laboriously making our way to each other’s rooms in order to sit and hold hands. Outside they flew a “Donate Life” flag for me. This is the hospital’s way of announcing, “donor in the house! Woot-woot!!”

Meanwhile, the rest of the world was changing. A pandemic was declared for the coronavirus. Grocery stores were ransacked of goods and sanitation supplies. Schools were closed. The first confirmed cases of the virus began to arrive at the hospital we were in. The transplant team threw themselves into a flurry of activity to discharge us home. We were glad to be gone, even if our pain was not yet controlled.

I returned home first to realize we didn’t have nearly enough bottled water. During our hospital stay we realized that Luke could no longer drink our well water. He would need bottled water or water boiled and then specially processed due to his compromised immune system. There wasn’t any left in stores. It was gone.

In our home, Marcus had made mead for Carl. He filed out medications and bedtimes. Mary stayed with friends while we were away. Carl tried his best to complete homework and straiten the house. Even when Mary got home they tried to work together. The children rotated coffee duty so that I didn’t go a morning without my fix.

If one household could come together this way why c one community? I went onto our town’s Facebook discussion page. I told our story and why we needed bottled water now. People came out in force to leave donated bottled water and sanitation supplies on our porch. Eventually, I had to stop the donations so as not to hoard supplies that others might need. Andi I also have to try not to sneeze.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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Transplant Day

It’s transplant day. This early in the morning I can see my breathe when I step outside. The blackened sky is absolute. Just Luke and I are awake in the house. It’s just the two of us, the way it was before we started this family.

Mary is staying with friends. Marcus and Carl are still sleeping. Luke and I feel like the only two people awake in the world. We are subdued in these early hours.

As the parent to children with developmental trauma, I’ve often felt so helpless. I can’t undo what my children have been through. I can’t undo their hurt, their fear, the overwhelming damage of their early experiences.

This is where I can do something. Today I give a piece of myself to Luke. We were always one flesh after the day we married. Today is just the day it becomes literal.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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The Push of Gravity

Maybe I’m not as cut out for this whole thing as I imagined. Years ago I felt like a kind of warrior, fighting against past traumas alongside my kids. These days I am battling my own trauma and trying to make it through as best as I can.

It isn’t as if things are terribly bad or difficult right now. They’re not. At least, not in the way they used to be. Violent meltdowns where I’d get punched, kicked, bitten and shoved down the stairs are long since over. It’s more that traces of those memories hang in the air like so much extra gravity pressing me into the ground. Still, I trudge through each day wondering when this job will get easier.

Luke has been sick. Very, very sick. Some of the awful effects of kidney disease include problems with short term memory. I thought it would be nice having one parent home full time. It seemed like certain things would easy to hand off to the other person. It’s not this way at all.

Prescriptions for Carl’s asthma are never picked up. I’m afraid doctor’s appointments will be missed. Dinner is a bewildering mystery every single night until I get home to solve it all. How do single parents manage this?

Everyone needs something. Carl’s principal calls me throughout the workday to discuss Carl’s bus behavior. I finally got a new in-home clinician for Mary. She’s pretty good. Unfortunately, we also had to swap out the therapeutic mentor. Both clinicians are good but the service contract expires in March. I push to have the kidney transplant take place while Mary still can access these services. I am begging the transplant center to move more quickly.

Because of medication, Mary also needs monthly blood work. Because of kidney disease, so does Luke. Despite a highlighted calendar at home, Luke always forgets until the last day. Then the doctor calls me at work to make sure it all gets done.

My job frowns on personal calls during work hours. You think there’d be a break at lunchtime or during prep period but this is always eaten up with an endless string of mandatory meetings. I love my students but classroom teaching is not my thing. State testing and random new initiatives amount to more work for us and zero gain for students. My last faculty meeting had our principal lecturing us about not leaving the class in the hands of a teacher’s aide to use the bathroom. Apparently only a certified teacher can cover bathroom breaks and there isn’t an extra one so….no bathroom breaks. The abundantly pregnant teacher next to me left that meeting in tears.

After work I rush home to use the bathroom. Before I can do that I have to help Marcus with some math from his course that’s confusing him. Then Carl has to prove he’s begun doing school work since his video games have been taken away. He wants to argue this point every day as I dodge his words and flee to my bathroom. Mary gets home in a flurry of frenetic speech, desperate to hold my attention. Even after I escape to the bathroom I’ve got to bolt downstairs as quickly as possible to meet the clinician for family session while simultaneously shoving something in the oven for dinner.

If I am lucky I can throw in a load of laundry to wash before heading out to Carl’s basketball practice. Luke is usually nodding off on the couch. He’s just…existing. Maybe he’s somewhere else. I really want my husband back.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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What We Take For Granted

The cheerful bubbling of my radiator on a cold New England morning. The warmth of my husband’s chest against my back in the middle of a wintery New England night. The lucidity of children grounded in this reality. The things we take for granted.

Luke was admitted back into the hospital this week. More complications of kidney failure are plaguing him. The latest complication was stomach pain. This is in addition to insomnia, short-term memory loss, always feeling frigid, persistent exhaustion and general aching pain. He’s so ill most of the time that it’s hard to know when to bring him in. His baseline is just…miserable.

The heat shut off again on a Saturday. The day after a company had been out to fix it. $300 later, we had heat and hot water back. We were able to continue with Mary’s thirteenth birthday. It’s hard to believe my youngest child is now a teen.

I’ve been putting in 12-14 hour days at work. I need to complete 2 additional months of lesson planning and report cards in order to take 8 weeks off for the kidney donation. I am thankful every day that my parents are nearby. My mother brings dinner. Nana and Papa care for Mary or bring Luke back to the hospital while I’m stuck at work.

My mother’s spaghetti is a much-needed life raft on these turbulent seas. A heartfelt apology from Marcus (one of the only ones he’s ever given) is a rare and unexpected boon. Mary’s continued presence in the here-and-now is a gift I cannot afford to overlook.

All of these things might go unnoticed in calmer times. The things so often overlooked and unacknowledged. Those buffers allowing forward motion in a turbulent time. The things that cannot be taken for granted.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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