adoption, family

Breathing in the Frost

Sharp, pointed prickles of cold gather in my throat as I lean out of my door and inhale in the early darkness. The mornings here are covered in a paper thin layer of icey white frost. New England Fall crackles with the cold white promise of winter to come. The world is dark and quiet at 4:00 am.

Startling from my nature induced revelry, I shut the door against the cold. What am I always telling the children? We aren’t paying to heat the front lawn.

I rise at this time every day to study for my Boards. I have a week left before the big test will tell me if I am certified in ABA or not. At this point all of the “solistic mand extensions” and “conditioned motivating operations” bleed together in my thoughts like a load of whites washed with one red sock. How am I going to remember all of this?

At 5:45 Carl gets up for school. Some days he screams and yells. Some days he quietly walks to the bus. I wake Mary at 6:00 so the children don’t come to blows over the bathroom. The more I glance at my note cards, the louder she becomes. The more I engage with Carl, the more desperate for my attention she becomes.

It feels as though Mary is a boa constrictor wrapped around me. When I try to make contact with anything or anyone beyond her she squeezes tighter and tighter. The more I am confined the more I must fight the panicked urge to run outside into the frost bitten morning. I imagine feeling the ice-stiffened blades of grass crackle beneath my bare feet. 6:00 am is too early for a jailbreak in New England.

Meanwhile, Marcus sleeps undisturbed by the noise, ensconced in the living room the couch. We’ve run out of places to put the children, you see. He’s boomeranged home after fighting with his bio sister and becoming homeless. Having him home means we celebrated his 22nd birthday together. How long will he stay this time?

We’ve done this routine before. Luke believes this time Marcus will stay. I think we will repeat this cycle many times until Marcus no longer feels the pressure of his own boa constrictor.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. This one has been fraught with difficulties. For now, I will reread my flash cards. I will continue to breathe in as I watch the winter descend.

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

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adoption, family

Capacity

Pinching a metal machine as hard as I can with my thumb and forefinger seems like an exercise in futility to me. We have been at this for about four hours. Fifteen of the last minutes have been filled with various types of pinching. The combinations include pinching with three fingers, pressing with just my thumb and also a full hand grasp. Then the evaluater checks my pulse and blood pressure and we repeat each exercise three more times in the exact same way. This poor man now has more information about my grabbing and pinching abilities than anyone could ever possibly want to know about.

Except they do want to know. This is a functional capacity evaluation, or FCE, to determine my physical capabilities. The insurance company has ordered it for unknown reasons. This is supposed to be useful information for my employer. They can now be satisfied I am fully capable of a great deal of sustained grabbing and pinching. Rest assured that as an elementary school teacher, these capabilities should not be used at my job!

This process exhaustingly long. In addition to pinching it also involves pushing, pulling, lifting, walking, screwing in a variety of round knobs and (rather mysteriously) climbing up and down a ladder. Typically these are done in work injury cases where the employer is trying to determine if an employee can return to work. Sometimes the FCE determines if more treatment is needed. Since I’ve been full time for many months, and I am not seeking further treatment, it just seems weird.

Will this snapshot from a few hours really give a picture of my complete physical capabilities? How do I stack up against, say, Betty White? What about someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger? Would he be a better thumb presser than I am? Who would rate higher in the random ladder climb?

I wonder what foster care training would be like if it included a functional capacity examination for parenting skills, For instance, what if a family was given a sibling group for about four hours and asked to address various needs and behaviors? And also probably their pinching skills because…priorities. Would that somehow help with placement determinations?

These weekend visits we are having with Mary are going well. I do wonder what they are telling Luke and I about our capacity to parent her at home. Obviously, they last for longer than four hours. Clearly, we haven’t tested out any newfangled pinching or ladder climbing techniques. Still, I wonder if these visits are proving our capacity to function as a safe family. There isn’t a test to determine it. Instead, we just have to have faith.

Last week Luke and I requested to start Mary’s transition home from residential school. She’ll still attend their specialized trauma-informed day school but she will be come home to us in the evenings.  The discharge will take about two or three months. We are filling out all of the paper work to jump back into the community-based service model. We are gearing up for a big change.

Are we up to this challenge? There isn’t really a way to know. I can say with certainty that we want to be capable of it. Mary wants to be capable of it.

I do know we are far more capable of taking care of Mary than anyone else (I’m looking at you Betty White and Arnold Schwarzenegger). We are her parents. I don’t need an evaluation to tell me that.

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

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family

Homecoming

The inky cobalt depths call to me with a siren’s song. Farther and farther I swim away. Each kick of my legs leaves me feeling powerful and strong. My family is shrinking away from me. The world is quiet this far from the sandy beach. The water laps at my skin like a lover’s caress. Farther and farther I swim.

Mary’s head is a tiny pinpoint beyond the deep deep blue. There is more than meets the eye in the depths of this lake. She watches me from afar. I am alone here, the master of this watery expanse. The beach-goers sit on chairs that look made for a Barbie. The shore appears as a tiny playhouse for dolls.

Like Robert Frost I am tempted by the lovely darkness here. As I reach the buoy signaling the edge of the swimming area I hesitate. I could continue. I have the endurance to reach the absolute center of the lake. A feeling of power settles over me like a favorite blanket. I could make it!

Instead I slide around and paddle towards the shore. Mary’s head begins to grow as the distance narrows between us. I can see her smile looking larger and larger like a beacon. Every stroke brings me closer to home.

Like Robert Frost, I also have promised to keep.

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

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adoption, family

New Beginnings

“What goes on first: the tomatoes or the Parmesan? Do we always toast the bread? Is this your favorite food, Mama?”

Mary’s earnest little face is staring intently at me. Although, I suppose I shouldn’t say “little” face anymore. She’s 12-years-old. She is almost my height and looks more like a teenager than a child.

We are sharing a bit of late-night tomato Bruschetta at the dining room table. I’m showing her how to spread it onto the slices of toasted Italian bread before sprinkling thin shavings of cheese on the top. Being an enthusiastic eater from day one, Mary is very intent and serious for this activity.

I couldn’t sleep tonight. So much is changing.  I feel as though I’m bursting with unanswered questions and possibilities. This is what caused me to venture into the kitchen after 11:00 PM.

Mary saw the dining room light on and padded out to join me. Her pineapple pajamas brighten the semi-darkness of our quiet house.

“What’s wrong, Mama? What are you thinking about?”

When I am lost in thought, Mary wants to know why. When my facial expression changes, Mary wants to know why. She sincerely asks me what foods I like, what my favorite music is, and who my favorite authors are. I feel like she’s re-learning me somehow. Maybe she’s trying to soak up as much as possible on this summer vacation. She’s memorizing the things that make me…me.

Mary is trying so hard to be my friend.

I’m grateful for the 16 days we have spent together here at home. She goes back to school tomorrow to start the summer class schedule. It’s really hard to take her back this time.

Mary is a lot of work and can be high-maintenance. She is desperate to have a lot of attention. It can be intense to constantly monitor her stress, moods and reactions. I won’t sugar coat it: that amount of attention can be a LOT to take over time.

However, she hasn’t been violent at all. She hasn’t been aggressive. She’s handled disappointments and frustrations with her coping skills. All of the attention-seeking is her way of handling love. Relationships are tough for her to navigate but oh my how she is trying!  Mary is making huge progress. She’s nothing short of amazing.

So I offer her some of my late night snacks and try to explain what I am thinking about. My job position is changing. I had a meeting about it last week. They let me know that due to my back injury I can no longer teach special education. Instead, I am now going to teach a fifth grade regular classroom. I haven’t been a classroom teacher in years. It’s sad for me. It’s also a relief. At least I have a job.

The unknown can be scary. Change can be unnerving. I try to explain these feelings to Mary while the rest of the house slumbers on. She nods wisely as though she completely understands.

New beginnings are not so new for Mary. She’s already experienced so much change in her young life. It can be easy to forget that such a young thing has had to be so brave.

I smile at my daughter over a mouthful of sweet tomato and cheese. Here’s to new beginnings.

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

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family

Strange Days

It’s strange to me how roles are reversed. Five years ago my job was a sanctuary from my home life. The children were new to us and trauma was new to us. I looked forward to my 30 minute lunch where I could nap uninterrupted in my car. It was blissfully quiet.

Now we have Mary home for summer vacation. It all seems strangely reversed. I look forward to walking through my front door. Family evenings are spent in “squishy clothes” (pajamas) playing cards or watching fireflies on the front lawn. It’s relaxing and nourishing for me to be here. I wonder if other people feel this way about coming home?

Ever since my work injury I’ve felt quite a bit of anxiety about work. I feel nervous that the hardware in my spine might get knocked loose. And dealing with my boss always makes my heart race and my palms sweaty. It’s because she didn’t want to get the safety equipment I requested in the first place. Then I got injured. Our working relationship has never been the same.

It is so strange to me that now I crave the calm of home and feel anxious about work. My boss has been frustrated with the multiple back surgeries and slow recovery. I have also been frustrated having to have multiple back surgeries and a long recovery. When I face her on the job my body feels as if it wants to flee home. To flee towards safety. This anxiety about work is strange and different for me.

This week I have been called in to a meeting. It’s summer vacation and the superintendent will meet with me in two days. The fiscal year ends in July so the end of June is a time when teachers are let go. In all likelihood they can no longer offer work within my physical accommodations. It seems that these strange days may be coming to an end.

The phone call to schedule shakes me to my very nerve endings. I find myself breathing shallowly and clutching my hands together. The room spins a little as my mind goes to health insurance, bills, future jobs. I’ve never been fired before. Yikes.

I’m all of this Mary offers me a cup of coffee and a cuddle. I lean into my little girl and find comfort. There isn’t any anxiety here. Things have really changed. Strange days, indeed.

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

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adoption, family

Second Chances

Paper stars flutter to and fro in time to the rhythm of the air conditioning. A wall of black plastic sits beneath reams of masking tape and fluorescent post-it notes. It’s masquerading as the New York City skyline. This is Pinterest’s creation come to life. This is the middle school’s eight grade dance.

I set it up and now I wait for the children to arrive. I chaperoned this event for Sean when he was in eighth grade. At the time I sort of signed up illegally because only seventh grade parents chaperone the eighth grade “graduation” dance. Since we didn’t have him when he was in the seventh grade I never got the opportunity.

Of course after Sean’s umpteenth “Hey! That’s my mom!!” shout-out to friends I got caught. The teacher in charge gently but firmly chastised me for breaking with tradition. Oops.

At the time, getting caught as an illegal chaperone was my biggest embarrassment. It wasn’t until months later that I began to hear all of the things Sean had said about us around town. For that one night I felt confident enough as Sean’s mother to take the risk and stick it out at the dance.

Tonight was my chance to do it all over again. It was my second chance to follow the correct order of things. Carl is adopted: I’m officially his mom. I don’t have to explain what a foster parent is to the head teacher. Carl is in seventh grade so I officially qualify for chaperoning.

I even got here early enough that I helped the eighth-grade parents decorate. It wasn’t exactly clear to me who was qualified to decorate. It’s hard to keep up with the very specific roles around here!

Right now I’m checking over the streamers and refreshments. I’m admiring all of my handiwork when the head teacher comes in. It’s the same one from 5 years ago. The teacher looks flustered and out-of-breathe. She remarks that the ceremony is wrapping up too quickly and the kids will be here before the chaperones arrive.

I don’t think she recognizes me from 2014.

“It’s ok,” I say. “I’ll be here.”

Immediately I sense the change in her demeanor. She shakes her head and clucks in time to the air conditioner. “Oh no,” she shakes her head, “The eighth grade parents only do decorations. You can’t stay to chaperone. The seventh grade parents are the chaperones.”

I vaguely wonder what happens when someone parks in her favorite spot. How does she react if someone orders at the grocery deli without first taking the little paper ticket? Even when there’s no line at the deli? Life must be very frustrating.

“I’m a seventh-grade mom,” is my smooth reply, “I just showed up early to help.

She looks mildly bewildered that I would show up before my scheduled time. A wayward streamer sticks to her hair sprayed helmet as she rocks back on her heels to ponder me.

“Yes, that’s right!” She exclaims, “You ARE a seventh-grade parent. You belong to Carl!”

Well now that we’ve cleared that up…

I nod solemnly because I do belong to Carl. I am eternally proud to belong to him. I belong here.

This is my chance to get it right.

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

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adoption, family

A Twist on the “Terrible” Teen Years

Sometimes I forget just how far we’ve come. It always happens on the Lacrosse field while I’m watching Carl play. I’ll find myself commiserating with the other Lacrosse parents about the difficulties of parenting a teenage boy. We roll our eyes as we recount mysteriously multiplying towers of dirty sports-socks. We cluck knowingly about the constant backtalk and the snide remarks we get. We nod to each other over the angst, the backne and the BO. “Oh yes,” our expressions say, “I feel your pain!”

I revel in these moments. I am one of them now. You know, the parents who worry over grades and manners instead of psychiatric hospitalizations. I embrace the times I can forget just how different we are as a family. I love that it slips my mind how Carl used to be so violent. I catch myself puzzling over patches in our drywall as I try to remember what happened there.

Every Spring since coming home has been difficult for Carl. He acted out, screamed for hours, destroyed property and generally seemed possessed by his trauma. The season used to bring intensive therapy, medication changes and calls to the crisis line. Heck, Springtime meant anti-anxiety medication for me, too. It was a LOT to get through for all of us.

This is the first year where I don’t have to explain why my child sleeps on the floor or eats until vomiting and then stuffs his face some more. I don’t have to explain the broken doors or the air conditioner that’s been thrown out of a window. This is the first year I don’t smile politely at other parents’ “problems” while my eyes well with tears behind over-sized sunglasses. This is the first Spring that we haven’t had a crisis worker in our home. I wonder if they think we’ve moved?

This year I am confident when I sympathize with the bleacher parents. I belong. We are now safely out of the woods of the Springtime drama. So what changed this year? We are still using the same therapeutic parenting techniques. Carl attends the same school. He plays the same sports.

We aren’t taking Carl to therapy anymore except for brief check-ins every few months. We honestly only do that because it’s a requirement for Carl to access the psychiatrist (which he continues to need.)

It’s Carl that is different. He’s grown. He’s matured. He believes in in this family. He believes in Carl. It doesn’t matter how much work as we have poured into our children’s healing. In the end they are the ones who fight their trauma. Truthfully, I am amazed by this shift. I was bracing for the worst.

Out here on the Lacrosse sidelines I join the other parents agonizing over the game. It’s gone into over-time. From the left side of the field, Carl shoots in out of nowhere. He swings his stick with a vengeance, sending the ball diagonally into the net. He’s just done it. Carl has just shot the winning goal from a seemingly-impossible side angle. We won the game in overtime. This team is going to the play-offs!

“Look at them!” another mom laughs amid the cheering, “They are all filthy! This is one mega-laundry load I have tonight!!”

I’m cheering, too, but I nod at her in sympathy. Now I can join the rest of the parents in moaning and groaning over the little things. Parenting a teen in our house is starting to look like…well, like everyone else parenting a teen! I’ve never been happier to complain.

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

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