Calm and Bright

Few things in life are as satisfying to me as a luxuriously soft pair of fuzzy slippers. Knowing this, Luke got me a brand new pair for Christmas. My parents also got me a robe, strawberry vanilla scented bubble bath supplies and pink slippers. It seems as though the people around me know how much I need to relax. Luke, bless the man, got me a professional massage as well.

Today I can sip caramel flavored hot coffee and enjoy the soft sensations of my comfiest clothes in peace. It’s the day after Christmas. We all survived. We all enjoyed things merry and bright for a day. There were no tantrums. There was no meltdown by Mary OR by me. This is a huge win.

Today my mother has taken the pressure off. She’s picked up Mary for a Nana day. I could burst from gratitude for my mom right now. How could I ever do this without her? Thank you, mom.

Marcus and his current girlfriend, L, are sleeping in. Carl will eventually wake and play his new games in the basement lair. Luke is also still fast asleep.

I’ve had the luxury of a steamy shower. I’ve got no place to go today so I’m dressed in freshly laundered pajamas. The fireplace is blazing cheerfully amidst the Christmas lights. All is calm. All is bright.

Here I will stay, reading my new novel with my piping hot mug of caramel java. This is absolute bliss.

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

adoption, family

Christmas Crisis

Christmas is upon us. This is one of my favorite times of year but also the most stressful time of year for Mary. We don’t really know why. It is some history of trauma and all we know is that this time of year is HARD for her. Therefore, one of my favorite holidays has become hard for all of us.

Unsurprisingly, Mary has been having tantrums. For the most part she only destroys the things in her room. She isn’t violent towards us right now and I am grateful for that. However, it is still a struggle to maintain a cheerful outlook amid all the screaming.

A lot of Mary’s anger is directed at Carl. She can be incredibly cruel to him. That normal sibling stuff turns into something darker here. For the most part, Marcus and Carl spend lots of time in the teen basement lair, avoiding her. Since she is terrified of the basement it works out. Unfortunately, this has the unintended side effect of separating Luke and I from our boys.

A large part of parenting Mary involves therapy. We have an in-home program now for 8 hours per week of in-home support. There is a therapeutic mentor who takes Mary into the community. They work on social skills, independence, and regulation. This component of the program is worth it’s weight in gold. Therapeutic Mentor is a young intern working on her Master’s degree. She has great ideas and insight when it comes to complex trauma.

Then there is In-Home Therapist. She comes out once a week for individual session with Mary and once for family session. She is quiet, unobtrusive and about as effective as old dishwater. Through a series of long pauses, meandering half-finished metaphors and general silence we usually complete some kind of art project.

None of us is particularly clear on what we are working on or how it pertains to family life. We never EVER discuss how we can all function or work better together as a family. We never bring up any unpleasantness that has happened. In-Home Therapist cuts that talk off immediately with phrases like, “Mary, no one is mad at you. We are here to support you.”

In short, In-Home Therapist is useless. Luke and I are struggling with the idea of remaining in this program. Should we try to ask for a different family therapist? Is there one available at all? That’s actually unlikely as the program is spread thin around the state. If we leave this program we could get in-home services from a smaller program with fewer hours and no in-community mentoring. Should we?

The other night Mary screamed in her room for close to an hour. We called the on-call emergency line for her therapy program. Oddly enough, that turned out to be just an answering machine. It took close to an hour for them to call us back. By that point Mary had screamed herself to sleep. The on-call provider gave us the sage advice to let her sleep.

I am questioning if this program is even helping. At one time I thought intensive in-home services could divert Mary out of residential. Now I realize they never would have been able to help with Mary in an unstable psychological state. At least I know we did the right thing at the time.

Now, I have no idea what to do. They are here for a few more months. In-Home Therapist isn’t the worst clinician we ever encountered. She isn’t doing any harm. She also isn’t helping. I’m not sure how we will handle things.

All I really want is a cup of hot cocoa and some time with my boys. I may just venture into the basement today.

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


Snow Day Chaos

How many EMTs can fit in my bedroom? Ten. The number is 10. Counting first responders took on an urgent importance in the way that benign distractions sometimes do in the face of a crisis. A day that began with the promise of a fresh start turned out to be a very bad day for Luke. Our snow day was lost to the chaos.

As a type 1 diabetic, Luke’s been managing his condition for decades. I’ve never seen his blood sugar drop so low that he didn’t recognize any of us.  This was bad.

Our peaceful snow day turned into a frantic 9-1-1 call and a trip to the ER. I couldn’t wake Luke up. Marcus eventually did only to find Luke confused, disoriented and combative. He didn’t know who he was or where he was. I’ve never been more terrified.

After the ambulance arrived, so did my parents. They took Mary with them while I went to the hospital with Luke. Thankfully, he was alright. A follow-up trip to the endocrinologist got us an emergency kit with a shot to administer if his sugar levels drop dangerously again. Poor Luke has been experiencing the domino effect of medical problems lately.

This week, I got my test scores back from the boards. I passed. I am now officially a board certified behavior analyst. You’d think that would be my most important test result, but it’s not.

The most important test results were the ones that told us I am a match for Luke. He needs a new kidney and he can have mine. As it turns out, we both have a rare blood type. We are both type O. A perfect match.

In the words of Marcus, “That’s some soul-mate level sh*t. You all match on the inside!”

10 EMTs in the bedroom were a real wake-up call for me. We need to focus on Luke’s health. We also need to appreciate our family. They all came together on that day. Marcus got me whatever I needed while Carl comforted a crying Mary. My parents arrived within 10 minutes. In all the drama and stress, my family came together during a crisis.

The worst kind of snow day is a day full of flashing lights and an ambulance. The best kind of snow day is the one where my family all works together to help Dad.

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

adoption, family

New Beginnings

Sparkling white snow blankets our yard like the heaviest of down comforters. Close to 10 inches of fluffy white has the effect of muffling all sound outside. For once, the forest is silent and still. I could scream and shout but my noise would be swallowed up in winter’s thick insulation. I have always believed that snowflakes start the world anew.

In typical New England fashion the pristine powder will eventually turn brown and grey from cars traveling by. What was once beautiful will become a dirty, muddied slush from use. However, none of that is visible now. I cannot see mud or dirt underneath the powdery blanket. For now, all I can see is the sparkle of a pure white expanse. All is beautiful. All is calm.

Inside my house the fireplace crackles and Christmas lights twinkle. I wrap both of my hands tightly around a steaming cup of peppermint mocha coffee. Meanwhile, Marcus struggles into his uniform shirt for school. I am inexplicably moved to tears. School! My oldest son has started college. Could I have even imagined this six years ago?

I hastily blink away the moisture while he is busy determining how to get his cast through the right sleeve. Marcus broke his wrist punching his bag that we keep in the basement. He was mad. This is behavior I’ve become accustomed to from Marcus. He damages himself to deal with feelings.

Enrolling in a technical school to pursue his goal of becoming an electrician? This is something I wasn’t sure if he would ever do. After the incident where he was terminated from Job Corps due to an anger outburst, he seemed resigned to failure. Somehow he has managed to pick himself up and start over at a technical college. I am overwhelmed with pride that he is actually doing this.

The sound of Marcus driving off is absorbed by all of the snow. The rest of us are off on a snow day today. Alone in the quiet once more I busy myself in preparation. In the kitchen I gather up ingredients to make slime. I’ve selected an art project and a science project to do with Mary today.

This is the day we will have fun together. For the time being I will let her sleep-in while I relish the silence. Today feels full of possibility.

Staring out at the pure white expanse that has become my world, I exhale.

Today is a day for new beginnings.

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

adoption, family

Harder Than I Thought

It’s hard not to feel like I’m failing at this. Each day I wake determined that today is the day I will have a positive experience with my daughter. Today I will spend time with her and let her know she’s special. I’ll be the type of mom who makes her feel loved. I’ll be the type of mom I used to be.

“Today is the day.,” is the line I repeat to my reflection in the mirror.

Except it’s not. It never is.

Most of Mary’s behaviors are designed to get my attention. They stem from a place of deep trauma and fear. Terrified of abandonment, Mary latches onto me in a death grip. She’s too loud, too close, too rough, too forceful. It’s all based on fear.

Logically I know this. It’s my job to soothe those fears and calm her storm. My presence should regulate her. Time together should reassure her that I love her. I will never abandon her.

Except that’s not what happens. It never is.

These days I think she sees how I avoid her. I reflexively flinch away sometimes when she surprise-hugs me. I’m critical and snappy. I’m always in a state of frustration or exhaustion.

Long ago I had endless amounts of empathy and patience. Somewhere along the way it seems to have dried up. I’m too tired deep in my bones. Therapeutic parenting seems out of reach. Parenting in any form seems out of reach. Between the kicked-in doors and smashed Christmas lights, I’m worn out before family time even begins.

I stumble through each day gritting my teeth and trying not to snap at Mary. She argues with Carl nonstop. She’ll bully him when she thinks she won’t be heard. She’s attempted to pretend he pushed her or took something of hers. She yells and stomps and slams things. She’s Mary. She’s just living her trauma.

Most of all, she never wants me to interact with him. I feel so isolated. So tired.

Mary yells random Christmas facts directly into my face if I start speaking to someone else. Mary will aggressively shove herself between me and any cashier/bank teller/barista I start talking to. In a desperate attempt to be heard she’ll begin rapid-fire speaking without breathing. Her body will jump up and down and her volume will increase until she’s shouting and grabbing at me. People stare in the grocery store. I should be used to it by now.

“Is your daughter alright?” They’ll ask me.

The in-home family therapist has been doing weekly sessions with us since September. We haven’t once addressed any of this in a session. I recently requested we work on coping skills to help with sharing mom. At least something to keep Mary and Carl from killing each other. It seems like the transition home from residential should include therapy around how to work together in a family setting again. Why 4 months have to go by before this occurs to the therapist is beyond me.

In-Home Therapist thought about it and agreed. She was very proud of herself for an idea she researched. We were all going to (finally) address family interaction. It was something about a river as a metaphor for family life. Every member drew a tributary and we all connected them together in a large art project.

The session was a bust. In-Home Therapist was quiet and timid. She let Mary yak over her completely with an incessant monologue about school adventures. The therapist quietly let us “lead” session and then asked a few questions about beavers and fishing. She never fully explained the metaphor or related any of it to family life.

Later I asked Carl what we learned in session. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “It was something about agriculture.”

I know that Mary deserves better. She carries deep shame with her. She fears being unloved. I know I need to be mom enough to give her unconditional love.

I do love my daughter.

I’m not showing it well. I have to do a better job.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

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


Butcher Block

I smoothe on a generous layer of potent citrus Orange Glow wood before working it into the wood with a soft cotten rag. The thick butcher block top on my kitchen island was made for me. Carl and Papa got the wood and sanded it down to perfection before attaching it to the base. This butcher block has graced my kitchen island for years now.

I love it. The blonde-toned wood is thick and strong and perfect for chopping veggies. I cut things on it all the time although it’s not technically a cutting board. I figure if butchers can use it with their enourmous cleavers, why shouldn’t I slice homemade bread on this surface?

In the heart of the kicthen it holds many things. The bar stools hold my children while I’m cooking. The center holds a basket with daily medications. When Luke is pressed for time it holds the mail he’s grabbed. When Carl is distracted it holds the iPad he sets down and then spends twenty minutes searching for.

After my father died, it briefly held a postal box marked, “Human Remains” while I loaded up my bags. That butcher block has been the hub for laborious homework, copious bowls of cereal, and the car key that Marcus stole that night he wanted to leave and get high.

This butcher block has seen adoption, death, fights, triumphs, and poorly thought-out cookie experiments. It’s seen the tears I shed when I finally saw my own name on the birth certificates of my children.

Over the years the surface of the wood has been scratched and scuffed. The base is looser than it should be. There are faint red stains from years of spilled juice and wayword manicures. I can see the tiny burn mark from an overturned candle. Still, though, it’s my favorite piece of mmfurniture.

Polishing this surface restores a faint glow to the wood. The whole island looks fresh and ready to start anew. I must remember to appreciate what I have.

It can be so easy to overlook what is always there.

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

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.