adoption, family

When Your Parents are Falling Apart

All I can say about this week is, “OOPS!!” Yup, that’s right. It’s one big “oops” for the parents over here in the Herding Chickens household. Let’s start with Monday. For whatever reason reason I forgot it was Veteran’s day. This is really disrespectful and wrong. I also forgot there was no school and tried to wake Carl up before my physical therapy appointment. Oops.

Early Tuesday morning my mother took Luke in for his next eye surgery. Somehow we got our wires crossed and I thought they were making sure Carl was up for the bus. At 8:00 AM Carl knocked on my door and asked if he was going to school. It starts at 7:15 and I still can’t drive. Luckily my mom came back at 9:00 to trade a bandaged-up Luke for a frantic Carl. He made it to school for an extremely short day. Oops.

The next day brought parent-teacher conferences. I totally forgot to respond about this. I’ve never ever missed these for my kids unless we recently had a 504 and didn’t need the rerun version. Oops.

I was rather tardy sending out the email saying, “Hey neither of us can physically make it to conferences this term. We are always available by phone. We’ve been in contact a lot lately so I hope to keep the lines of communication open.” Oops.

After that it was my scheduled FaceTime with Mary. We do this three times a week. However, I couldn’t answer at all. I got stuck in the shower with muscle spasms. It doesn’t make it any better that the previous day I had removed my shower seat with the brazen, “I can stand on my own two feet” attitude. I wound up hunched on the floor frozen in a stiff fetal position. I was rendered useless while my spinal muscles performed their own macabre version of the Rumba. Oops.

I have handle bars in the shower but I still had to use my phone to call Luke.  My SOS went out for a muscle relaxer RIGHT NOW. However, Luke couldn’t see to read the medication labels. Carl had to read through the bottles and find my drugs. When you make your son a drug dealer it is an awesome mom-move. Yeah, I’m crushing it in the responsibility arena! Oops.

This morning Luke got up with Carl to make sure the “Go-to-school” part of the day happened. However, he really can’t see well in the morning light. That is how, on the first New England day of 21 degree weather, our son went to school in basketball shorts. And a t-shirt. We are knee-deep in our annual warm clothes and mitten-feud with Carl. Score 1 for the drug-dealing kid. Oops.

Some weeks are just like this. I made the fixes that I could. I emailed Carl’s teachers. I called Mary back but by that time it could only be a voice call. Then I visited with my mom on my bed while my back calmed down. Let’s not discuss how I may or may not have still smelled after that ill-fated shower! Oops.

I checked with my physical therapist and discovered I was only supposed to be doing 3 sets of strengthening exercises a day. I had misinterpreted that to be 3 sets done 3 times per day. This explained my body’s rebellion via Megladon-sized muscle spasms. Oops.

The last fix I made was to take all of Carl’s shorts upstairs into storage. In case he decided to hide some and out-fox the broken-mom/blind-dad combo, I made a backup plan. I called his school counselor and amazon-primed a warm pair of winter pants to the school. If he manages to somehow pull off a shorts heist his teachers will send him to change. I will win against this winter if it’s the last thing I do!!!! (Insert evil laugh here.)

There is some good news, though. In the past all of these things would have been huge triggers for our kids. Carl and Mary would fell abandoned or unsafe. If they felt we couldn’t care for them it might bring up memories of bad times from their first home.

It takes a long time for kids with as much trauma as ours to trust another set of parents. We are nearing our 5th Christmas together. They took this week in stride. I’ll take it as progress.

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

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adoption, family

Explaining PTSD in the Classroom

I really cannot explain why my kids do some of the things they do. Raising children who experienced developmental trauma in their biological homes is like navigating a corn maze while blind-folded. As parents, Luke and I just do our best to help the kids manage their stress responses.

I got an email from Carl’s math teacher this week. She’s lovely and has been concerned about him.  He’s been presenting as sad and agitated in class lately.  He will ace a pretest study guide and flunk the test on the following day. When I give him the exact problems at home one by one, he can easily explain them to me. He completes them perfectly.  Luckily, this teacher offers to stay after school and provide extra help. Then she lets him retake the test immediately for credit.

Look, our kids all have anxiety about things. I think the start they had in life manifests itself in different ways. Anxiety is sometimes a term people toss around as synonymous with “being nervous.” Wrong! It’s not something an individual can just “get over” by “calming down.” I explained Carl’s anxiety to the teacher like this:

“Carl looks at a paper and gets overwhelmed by the amount of work and “remembering” how to do it. Even when I see him easily do each problem. We’ve been taking his heart rate at different times of day to teach him about his body’s stress responses. It is part of teaching him to recognize and manage his anxiety.

Carl’s normal resting rate is 82 BPM. A panic attack puts him between 130-140 BPM. Math work registers around 110. Basically, he’s stressed that he doesn’t “know” the concept even when he clearly does.  

The anxiety could be coming out for lots of reasons. We don’t always know why Carl has certain responses. His reaction may have nothing to do with Math. He struggled to engage with a very helpful para earlier this year just because she has dark hair. If someone uses a new soap or cologne, he can react. On the outside it looks like anger, defiance and even sadness.

I just had back surgery and my husband has some more upcoming eye surgeries. Maybe that’s a source of anxiety. I don’t really know. The good news is that Carl is using his strategies in school. When he gets upset, he is taking his work down to the guidance office.

Also, his anxiety is not at a critical level because he’s been sleeping in his own bed rather than on the floor. When Carl and his siblings first came to us from foster care, none of them would sleep in a bed. They were terrified. They also stole food and hid it in their mattresses or buried it outside. These kids were scared of the entire world. After 5 years, Carl only sleeps on the floor if he feels scared or threatened. This week, I’m happy he’s been sleeping with his therapy dog on the bed!

The truth is that he will always have some unknown triggers. He may outwardly appear like every other student, but he’s overcome a lot. We just do our best to support him and teach him to handle his PTSD. It comes out in different, unpredictable, ways.

Much like a duck, you don’t see him paddling furiously beneath the surface. 

We cannot protect Carl from the world. What we try to do is help him gain the skills to navigate it. Teachers like you go the extra mile to help him. It may not seem like it but you’re helping him with more than Math. You are helping him learn to trust adults. Thank you!”

 

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

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adoption, family

The Prodigal Son Makes a Decision

Marcus is here in the house, fast asleep. Just writing those words is like a having a weight lifted from my chest. Last night my living room was full and so was my heart. When Mary FaceTimed she got to see all of us.

At the wise old age of 21, he’s made a decision about his future. Marcus came home without the GF, her baby, and her extra friend. I’m not sure where they are staying exactly. I did manage to ship a package of warm winter baby clothes to GF at a reliable address.

Now it’s just my son. He’s back in his room among a pile of suitcases, boxes, and trash bags full of clothes. I wonder what happened to the other luggage he had. Where are all of the plastic bins he previously used?

Trash bags are the currency of packing in foster care. Just seeing them full of clothes sets my teeth on edge. I can assume his luggage went the way of his electronic keyboard and Beatz headphones we got him. Marcus must have bartered or sold them to get by on the streets.

He isn’t he here to stay. He’s here to do all of his laundry and store some of his things. Then it’s off to Job Corps! Marcus starts on Tuesday at 12, for the Electrical program. Victory! He can come home for holidays and some weekends.

Job Corps is a lot like the the regular college experience except they also teach basic life skills and schedule medical appointments. This is great because our son is behind on everything. Luke and I tried to cram a lifetime’s worth of “life skills” into a boy we met when he was already 16. It didn’t exactly stick. Needless to say, he still requires guidance.

I have no idea how Marcus finally, FINALLY, came to this decision. Like most things, he’s had to make the choice on his own by learning through a multitude of mistakes. Experiences, usually bad and had on his own, are Marcus’ only teachers. If you tell him the stove-top is hot, he’ll have to reach out and burn his hand before he believes you.

I don’t know what’s really going on with GF. He told us she said “hi” but that he doesn’t care what she thinks of his decision to do this. Marcus says “no one can hold him back” from his future. I’m pretty sure this is the same kid that told us “no one could make him” decide things about his future.

I want to say, “Honey sometimes you hold yourself back.” But I don’t.

I want to say, “When did you realize you need to consider a future?”

I want to say, “Hey, by the way, how come you ripped the doors off of the closet last time you packed your stuff?”

I don’t say these things because he’ll never even be able to explain. He probably doesn’t know why. I don’t even really need to know the “why.”

Here is what I do know:

1. My son is safely home in (approximately) one piece. He’s still a bit bruised and broken from the beat-down he got on the streets.

2. In 48 hours Marcus will be living on-campus in a program teaching him skills to be a licensed electrician.

3. He had to pass a clean drug test to get into this program.

4. I will love my oldest son forever, no matter what. Someday he may actually trust me on this one. He’s certainly tested it a few times.

 

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

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family

My Escape

It’s nighttime when I escape. This day has been a hard day. Bad news, back pain, and an oppressing sense of defeat have followed me through the house today.

After tucking Carl into bed I creep out of the back door. Luke is working on splitting each of my pain pills in half. I’d like to try a lower dose if I can. They always make me feel so sick.

Now I seek freedom. Once outside, the darkness is complete, blotting out all else. My footsteps are amplified by the tapping of my hot pink cane

The back door clicks softly shut behind me and I’m enveloped in blackness. On our porch, deep in the New England forrest, there is nothing but the night. It embraces me.

Slowly, so painfully slowly, I hobble down the back steps. The cane clicks along with my weary feet. Thump-clip-thump-clip one step at a time.

I ease onto the graveled driveway and marvel at the smells of pine and maple. I double check the stability of my sneakers on uneven ground. I’ve affixed a flashlight to the cane only to show my feet the way. It does nothing to detract from the sanctity of my night.

I love this time of year. My cheeks are rosy, chilled and crisp. The silence is complete save for the rustling of tree leaves

The air here is cold Enough to see my breathe. Everything is so fresh. In the darkness, even my scars are hidden.

After what seems like an hour I reach the end of my driveway. Here is where I can turn and look back upon the house Luke and I have made a home. The soft yellow light seeping from our windows barely makes an impact on the night.

I’m finally alone. In the quiet. In the dark. Here I can raise my head as high as my spine will allow. Here is where I can see all the glory of the stars above. They twinkle and dazzle against an expansive canvass of black.

No streetlights exist out here in the woods to steal their glory. Headlights do not appear to marr the brilliance of my stars. This New England night-scape belongs only to me and to my stars.

Out here I find the peace in my world. Out here it is quiet enough that I can listen to my own thoughts.

“Keep going,” they tell me. “There is beauty in everything, even in the dark.”

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

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adoption, family

My Kids Sleep on the Floor

My kids hate to sleep in their beds. It’s just one of the vestiges of the trauma they grew up with. If you’ve seen my posts about trauma triggers around food or the bathroom, you might be familiar with this concept.  PTSD remains with them from early childhood trauma they experienced. All of them have dealt with this differently, but the triggers are pretty universal.

When Sean lived here he would panic at bedtime and we’d find him sleeping on the floor in our bedroom. He also began to sleep on the couch in the living room. He tried moving his bedroom things in there a little at a time. It was a struggle to explain why that couldn’t be his room.

Marcus spent many a night in his car when he lived here. If he wasn’t able to sleep in the car (like when the first car had a leaking roof and it was raining) he’d just stay up. Marcus wouldn’t fall asleep until the dark was gone and the sun was out. He was, however, the only child that ever slept or showered with the door completely shut.

Many of Mary’s tantrums occurred at bedtime. Eventually we moved her to a mattress in the wide hallway outside our bedroom door. It took years to get her back into her own bedroom. Even then, she’d sometimes end up sleeping on the floor in our doorway near the door. It was a sign of distress.

Carl sleeps on his bed for the most part these days. Like all of the other children, he sleeps on the floor when he is under anxiety. Sleeping with the therapy dog helps him but his night panics come and go.

He’ll never sleep with the fan on because the noise it makes blocks the sound of potential danger. He’ll never open the windows for fear of what might come through. He doesn’t want air-conditioning in his room because he’s terrified it will let bugs in.

Starting the second year of middle school was much better for Carl. Since he’s so athletic he’s managed to make a lot of friends from the teams. I think it’s a protective factor for him when it comes to keeping him from being bullied again.

After the first month of school he started sleeping on the floor. I also noticed the increased food insecurity. There was more arguing. He was irritable. He begged for one of us to remain on the same floor of the house with him while he showered. Something was definitely up. My spidey-sense was tingling.

The first week of school I usually send a letter out to the teachers explaining a bit about Carl. I also ask that they let us know ahead of time if they are going to do any potentially triggering activities like genealogy papers, baby pictures in those “All About Me” books, and reviewing material relating to domestic violence, adoption, or loss of parents.

Basically it just gives us a chance to pre-set him and walk with him through the projects. We won’t remove the trauma triggers in this world, but we sure do our best to let Carl know he isn’t facing them alone. We are here for support.

I got a disconcerting email from his Reading teacher that he was running out of every class for the entire period without using his “break card.” He was going to the guidance office and refusing to return to class. Since this is better than throwing things and punching lockers, I thought “it’s progress.” Still, why refuse to go to this one class?

Apparently it was a book club activity where groups of kids each read the same book and discussed it every day. The book Carl was assigned? City of Orphans!

Don’t get me wrong. I love Avi as an author. The historical fiction aspect of this book has some insightful facts. The adoption narrative with getting rid of the “bad” parent to live “happily ever after” with the adoptive parent makes me want to vomit. Trauma isn’t magically “all better” after adoption!

Of course I addressed the matter with the teacher right away. There wasn’t anything we could do to get my kid to sit with his peers and discuss orphans. Not happening. If she wanted him back in class we would need to work together. At first she tried to protest that in middle school the books would begin to have more adult content.

I may have been a little tough on the teacher. I had to revisit the issue later when I was calm. I explained that it’s not like we wish to shield our son from more adult content or any possible triggers. Heck, he’s probably been exposed to more “adult content” in his first 5 years of life than many of us have ever seen!

We just want to prepare him ahead of time. We also don’t think he should have to be the group representative explaining adoption to the other 5 kids in his club. All I’m asking for is a little sensitivity around this issue. Don’t exempt him, just include us.

What I want is for my boy to be able to sleep in his bed again.

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

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adoption, family

Bruised Not Broken

My oldest child’s decisions are the equivalent of a Rubik’s cube to me. I find this ironic because Marcus can actually solve all types of physical Rubik’s cubes. He used to have me line up five of them in a row. He’s do the traditional cube, pyramid, star shape, 7X7 and circle. Then he’d try to beat his best time of solving them all in one minute.

He’s smart. He just doesn’t make smart decisions. We finally saw him two days ago. His new phone came in (thank you, insurance!) For some unknown reason Marcus’ car has been recovered from the robbery, is running, and appears fine??

Anyway, he showed up to the house to get his new phone. I’d also collected his mail and had a box of baby food for Mystery Baby. I didn’t know what to expect when he walked in. Marcus is able to be much more open and physical with Luke. He’ll give Dad a hug right away. With me, it’s always a little more cautious. Moms are a thing he has learned not to trust.

He let me approach him slowly and examine the bruising on his face, the cuts, and his broken nose. I carefully moved his hair and touched the swelling on his purple left cheekbone. He let me gently hug him (after I warned him first) because I just really needed to hold my son. I need to feel that he was solid, that he was really there, and that he was home in my kitchen.

After he sat down with Luke to call in and get the new phone set up, I asked about New Girlfriend. Apparently she was in the car with the baby in 30 degrees, just waiting. I had Marcus bring them in so I could meet them both. I made no mention of the mystery extra person still sitting in the car because I honestly thought it was Bad Associate drug dealer I wouldn’t allow into the house. He could freeze to death for all I cared.

Meeting New Girlfriend was not at all what I expected. I liked her. She was honest with me, answering questions directly about the night Marcus was hurt. Apparently it was a dispute with her ex-boyfriend, the baby’s father. Mystery solved! This is not Marcus’ baby.

At 37 I am NOT yet a grandmother! Whew!

I was sort of surprised that New Girlfriend had a restraining order against her ex. Going to the police is rather uncommon in that area. She seemed polite and intelligent. She appeared to be trying her best to be a good mom and to keep Marcus out of this ex-drama.

His last few girlfriends would have relished these fights. She told me about future plans to apprentice as a tattoo artist and how she’d like to get an apartment of their own. She assured me she does not want any more children for at least four years.

Luke and I also saw that they had nothing. Absolutely nothing.  We fed the baby right away. She was a happy little thing who chugged around playing with books and petting the cats. The baby is only 11 months old so I was rather surprised when she picked her books off of the floor and placed them onto the coffee table when she was finished “reading.”

New Girlfriend wore a sleeveless top with no coat. She didn’t own one. I gave her one of mine to keep and she immediately put it on. After an hour of pleasant socializing Marcus mentioned the friend still in the car. At this point it was getting to be somewhere in the twenties temperature-wise. They mentioned it was not Bad Associate but the girl that had been travelling with them for an unknown length of time.

I invited her in and she wasn’t what I expected, either. She looked to be around 18, also with no coat. She was polite and grateful to be inside with the heat. Both girls looked so young, scared, and alone. While my stepdaughter, Catlyn, sat on the floor studying for science, these two passed around a baby and shivered in the October chill. They were all basically the same age.

Although adults, these girls were still teenagers who needed their families. Where were their mothers? The stories they told were heartbreaking in the lack of support and care they received from their own parents.

When I asked Marcus if his little family had everything they needed, New Girlfriend automatically said yes. She just wanted to meet us and wasn’t asking for anything else. Clearly they did not have much, so I turned to Extra Tag-Along Friend and demanded the truth. I used my calmest, firmest, most authoritative teacher voice. She admitted to me that they didn’t have clothes or groceries. She told me they baby needed food.

Luke and Marcus “took a ride” at this point. Marcus had no idea he was going to the local Big Y. I was home with Marcus’ little family, Catlyn  and Carl. We all chatted as a group and I gathered some supplies like Advil and medical tape for or Marcus’ injuries. I added in some medicated patches that can be applied like stickers over hurting muscles. Marcus had nothing and three broken ribs take time to heal.

During the outing Luke took our son to the grocery store. He filled a shopping cart with food and baby supplies like wipes, diapers, and Gerber food. All Marcus could do was begin to cry quietly and say thank you. He hadn’t expected this. After looking at him, though, how could we have done otherwise?

During this time Luke spoke to Marcus about his situation. It won’t get better unless Marcus makes changes. He didn’t deny that he was dealing but he did admit he wanted out of that job and out of that city. He’d prefer to come home to us but he knows we won’t take the whole family.

I think Marcus talked a good game about wanted to save up for an apartment here in town where they’d all be safe and they could be close to us. Is this an unexpected turn or just a repeat of Marcus’ typical cycle? I wish I knew. He’d be better off. He just feels strongly that after about a month of dating, New Girlfriend is “the one.” He can’t leave her.

Mostly Marcus just cried and thanked us. He let me tend his wounds and have two additional hugs. There was an awkward moment when we all stood in the kitchen clearly knowing the visit was over. I think they may have been expecting us to take them all in for the night. It was incredibly hard to remind everyone of the late hour and to get home so the baby could go to bed.

I teared up as Marcus was leaving. I told him we loved him and would always take care of him. Imagine my surprise when he caught me up in a big bear hug. Our relationship is certainly bruised but it is far from broken. I promised not to squeeze his ribs too hard as long as he didn’t dislodge my new robot-spine. We both laughed, wiped some tears away and said, “Goodbye.” Again.

I am forever saying goodbye to Marcus. Our mother-son dynamic is perpetually overshadowed by the relationship he had with his biological mother. We are tainted with the vestiges of that trauma. Sometimes it’s hard for me to know if he really believes I am a constant safe place for him.

As the girls were walking out the door I heard them say to each other, “Look at that. I wish I had a mom.”

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

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adoption, family

Am I Tough Enough For Tough Love?

I cannot say that I am surprised at the events of the last few days. Since Marcus moved back to the city where his biological family raised him, he’s been in a bad situation. We got a phone call  I’d been dreading since the day he left home. Marcus had been to the hospital with a broken nose and three broken ribs.

His car was stolen and found totaled. His phone appears to have been destroyed. The inexplicably large amount of cash he is carrying was taken.

According to Marcus he was simply minding his own business, delivering pizzas for work.  Then he was pulled from his car, beaten, and robbed by twenty guys. I happen to know more about this situation than he thinks I do. He’s associating with some very bad and dangerous people. He’s been up to some dangerous activities.

Marcus’ frequent companion is a semi-big time drug dealer in that city. This guy doesn’t just sell pot, he deals some of the harder stuff. Recently he has been breaking into the houses of friends and stealing items. As a convicted felon with already one drug charge, it’s only a matter of time before this man goes back to prison. I just hope he doesn’t take my son with him.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not oblivious. I know my son has chosen this career path before. Through social media I found that he is once again on this path. I don’t know how deep he’s in. I don’t know if he’s just selling or of he’s dealing too. What I do know is that Marcus’ best friend acts like a father figure while using Marcus as a runner. This man plays on Marcus’ secret desire to have his original father’s approval.

I would conjecture that the true events were somewhat different. Marcus was inexplicably flush with cash from some recent “deliveries.” I don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that a turf war broke out. Possibly some rivals sent a message by violently attacking a competitor and confiscating his things.

I was glad my son made a few good choices. Marcus did go to the police and report the incident. At least we have insurance on his phone. Originally we got it based on the number of phones Marcus has smashed or thrown when mad. Now the insurance is coming in handy.

Beyond calling in the phone insurance account, we are at an impasse. We’ve let Marcus know that he is welcome to come home and start over. He can save up for a new car. He get a fresh start away from this dangerous city where he is unfortunately notorious.

It doesn’t matter. He won’t leave.

What Marcus really wants is for us to pay to have his car fixed or replaced so he can continue the exact things that are getting him hurt now. We won’t do it. We can’t. I fought back tears in a phone call where I had him repeat to me that he knew he could always come home.

Apparently he’s been completely financially supporting New Girlfriend and Mystery Baby. We aren’t taking them so he’d have to leave them behind in another state. I empathized with what a difficult choice that would be. I can’t tell him what to do about New Girlfriend. I just affirmed that he loved her very much and this situation was hard.

I was able to validate his feelings with understanding. What I couldn’t do was agree to support this lifestyle by replacing the car. After some discussion he was able to hear me when I explained that he’s in a dangerous place doing dangerous things. He knows the path he is currently on won’t take him anywhere good.

Still, for now he chooses the girlfriend. They are staying with her cousin. He chooses employment with this “friend” who I will no longer allow onto my property or into my home.

Marcus has to decide on his own. Luke and I have already decided we will only take Marcus (not New Girlfriend and Mystery Baby) home. We will not finance his car problem. We will not support this new family he’s picked up.

Marcus is  not a baby, he’s a week away from 21. No matter what though, he’s my baby. All I want to do is rush to his side and care for him. I hope he eventually makes a good choice. He probably won’t. I know him too well.

Instead he chooses to stay at New Girlfriend’s cousin’s house. I’m not sure how long that will last if he can’t bankroll that family without his means of transportation. Regardless, he waits for a miracle to provide his car. We won’t be the ones to provide it for him. Giving this kind of tough love kills me.

I would do anything for my son. The question is: can I do this?

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

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