adoption, family

While She is Gone

So many things happen while she is gone. There are birthdays, holidays, and family outings. There is so much lost time. And yet, I ask myself: what really happens while she is gone?

Mary has been at a psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF) for 5 months. People will ask me, “Do you get to see her?” Yes, of course we get to see her. She isn’t in jail. We have visits and day trips and we’ve even made it up to almost 8 hours at home on a handful of occasions. Ok, maybe just 2 occasions, but we are working on it. It’s just not enough.

Luke and I travel the hour drive one-way to see her about 3 times a week. Once is for a day-trip visit. once is for a family therapy session at the PRTF. The third is for an attachment-focused therapy session “off-grounds” with a psychologist. This last one is the ONLY therapy session in which she will participate. I’m almost certain the psychologist is part wizard.

In the PRTF session she mostly screams at the clinician, Mrs. T. Mary runs away, laughs uncontrollably and then smashes things during Mrs. T’s sessions. Afterwards she asks me to take her to lunch as if nothing has happened. Instead, I’ve begun to call in for the PRTF sessions because nothing beneficial is happening during that time.

Mrs. T has decided that whatever happens in therapy will be Mary’s choice but if she won’t go to session her “level” will drop. So Mary goes and sits in the room. She screams and slams things. Mrs. T assures her they will only talk about what Mary wants to talk about. They will only do what Mary wants to do. Not being a therapist herself, Mary makes some interesting choices. She chooses a lot of yelling and foul language at said clinician. Eventually she colors some pictures about why she hates therapy. Mrs. T praises Mary and sends her on her way.

I know they care about Mary at the PRTF. Mrs. T wants her to do well. Everyone wants Mary to improve. Everyone except Mary. Maybe she is too scared to try. So all of us keep trying while she is away. Mrs. T acquiesces and cajoles to no effect.

Not so with Dr. P, the off-grounds psychologist. He calls Mary out for her avoidance tactics. He lets her know that mom and dad will go to lunch and she will stay behind if she won’t participate. After all, it’s her session. She has to finish it but we do not. Oddly, she isn’t upset by this. Instead, she responds fully. He somehow magically draws her out of her shell. She would never scream at him. So Luke and I attend this weekly session together, every week. Dr. P has Mary sit in between us to “feel the love all around her.”

Dr. P has many insights into why it’s so hard for Mary to share Mom. He is very, very good. I still spend so much time wondering: what is really happening with her? How much progress is really taking place while she is there? While she is gone, we are all safe. Are we really accomplishing anything else?

Because life is happening while she is gone. Our family is healing while she is gone. The world continues while she is gone.

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

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adoption, family

My Son is Not Your “Mexican Taco”


My 12-year-old son is not a “mexican taco,” and he is not going to be “deported back over the wall.” Unfortunately, some of the children in his middle school would disagree. In particular, a group of 8th grade boys that enjoy teasing my 6th grader during morning breakfast. Carl is one of the few Puerto Rican children in our town.

And then there was the boy on his football team who called him “n—er” after Carl tackled him in practice. Our son is a great linebacker and he always makes his tackle. He keeps pushing long after others have quit. Carl is an absolute football star. So when someone is upset in practice? They say the one thing they (think they can) can say about him. Middle school kids will pick out that one difference and exploit it.

My son is left with nightmares, headaches, and developing school-avoidant behaviors. Additionally, he has been acting out in school. For a child with C-PTSD, feeling unsafe triggers a fight/flight response. Our son is a fighter. He fights with lockers. He tries to be the class clown. He runs out of class. In short, Carl tries to be known for anything other than his brownness.

How on earth do I handle something like this? I’m a white mom raising hispanic kids in a mostly white town. In all honesty I can never really understand. I will never really know what this feels like. But I can tell you what it feels like to pick up my sobbing son after practice. It fills me with a fiery rage at the ignorant parents of these ignorant kids.

My husband and I complained to the middle school. We requested a full investigation. The following is the vice principal’s response:

VP: Well when I asked Carl about this he said it doesn’t bother him. The other children say he told them it was OK to call him “taco.” They admitted to saying some things but he told them it was OK.

Me: ……?!?!

VP: You know, this is Carl’s responsibility. If he feels uncomfortable with these comments then we would expect him to tell the other children why this makes him uncomfortable. Especially at this age.

Me: Excuse me? It is not the job of one of the few hispanic children in the school to educate the white children how to behave. This would be the job of the educators such as yourself!!!!

VP: Well then we would expect him to tell a trusted adult. He could have come to me, especially if this has been going on for months.

Me: You and I may consider you to be a “trusted adult.” But why would a 12-year-old assume that a white man would understand this problem and take it seriously? In fact, I don’t think you are taking it seriously at all.

VP: Well Carl has been saying mean things as well. It’s not just the other children picking on him. When boy X called him a “taco” his reply was, “Well at least my parents aren’t cousins!”

Me: (Using every ounce of self-control not to retort, “Well ARE they cousins?!”) Did he use a racial slur?

VP: No

Me: OK then. This matter is about racism. It is about a pervasive racial bias in the school climate. What are you going to do to educate these students about racism and racial slurs? In what ways are you attempting to educate staff such as yourself?

VP: This isn’t about racism. It is about respect. It is about respect from all sides.

Me: No. It is about addressing racist remarks and educating kids about racism and racial slurs.

VP: Well one of the boys making comments actually has some ethnicity in his background.

Me: Umm….?!?@%?@??? Yes I am aware. The boys is half Mexican and he is terrified to come-out as such to the other students. It is a school climate problem when you have a secretly Mexican child who feels the need to hide.

VP: Well I have to worry about all the students. Respect is my concern. Racism is only a part of it.

Me: I need to hear you say you will address racism.

VP: As a part of it, yes, we will address racism.

We went around like this for about 45 minutes. He believes that Carl’s own behavior is bringing this on himself. I asked him if women who are raped are “asking for it” based on what they are wearing. He had no comment other than to reiterate Carl should be directly telling the older boys to stop. I asked if girls who were the victims of sexual harassment were expected to immediately stand up to the aggressor lest it be “their fault.” He said he absolutely expected them to do so.

I. Have. No. Words.

Oh wait–yes I do have some words. I have enough to write this blog post. Then I have some leftover to bring to a meeting we are having involving the entire school team. I requested the d**n meeting and invited the superintendent, principal, and VP. No way, no how is this going to fly. I have enough words to tell them in tomorrow’s meeting they are violating state laws regarding our son’s civil rights. And I WILL file a complaint with the state department of education if this matter is not resolved.

I will always fight for my son. Do NOT cross this mama-bear. I may never have experienced this, it’s true. Only my Puerto Rican husband can truly (sadly) relate to this treatment. I never will experience it first hand. But I will do my best to ensure that my son doesn’t experience it either. I may not be able to protect him from the whole world. But so help me I will protect him from ignorant administrators!

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

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adoption, family

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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Once, it was our “almost-adoption.” The son that was, then wasn’t, then was and then repeat again. Marcus was our Prodigal son. Each time he circled back to us I got more used to the push-pull of his affections. At first was a 16-year-old boy, desperate for a family while simultaneously terrified of family. He eventually turned into an 18-year-old with the same hopes and fears. Only then he was on his own, having aged-out of foster care.

Marcus has been back home since the end of September. He is 20-years-old now. A young man by all accounts, and yet he still needs his family. He’s asked us if we would still be able to finalize his adoption. Could he still take our last name? Could he still call us his “parents” in an official capacity?

Of course he can! And so we filed the paperwork for an adult adoption. He chose a name for his new birth certificate. He asked that we be listed as his parents. His new middle name will be based off of a favorite comic book character. It’s odd for a legal name but who am I to judge? He is an adult now. He can make his choices.

So now we wait. The fee has been paid and the clerk has signed off. Our court date will be sometime after Thanksgiving, either late November or early December. I should be overjoyed. I am overjoyed. It’s just that I’m also apprehensive.

Every time we got close to legalization in the past, he recoiled. It was as if he’d touched a hot stove and instinctively backed away. Then we would start over at square one to build a relationship with him.

It’s been so wonderful to have him home. It’s been great to hear, “Mom! Hey Ma! Ma!!” over and over (and over!) all day. Sometimes I think he is checking to make sure I’m still here. I am. I will always be here.

Eventually he may push us away again. He tends to follow a pattern in his relationships. But maybe, just maybe, it will be different if he has our name. Maybe then he will realize that no matter how hard he pushes, we will always be right here.

Marcus reminds me of Icarus from Greek mythology. He takes risks. He learns the hard way.  He wants so badly to love and to be loved. Like Icarus, he flies too close to the sun and burns. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this time he will keep flying.

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

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adoption, family

Home Again: the Prodigal Son Returns

He’s home. He’s finally home. If I peek into his room I can barely make out his sleeping form beneath the covers and beneath the dog. The huge sense of relief I feel overwhelms me even now. I am not even sure where to begin with this post.

 Marcus, our “prodigal” son will turn 20 next week. Some of you may remember when he disrupted from our home after a tumultuous few months prior to what would have been his adoption. (Thank you, by the way, for all of your kind emails and comments.)

This happened rather suddenly. He’d just been to see us for a visit on his brother Carl’s birthday. I think it reminded him what being in a family looks like. I believe that in this trip we somehow managed to show Marcus we were really there for him. Despite the fact that we never officially adopted him, we are here in all the ways that really count.

It happened during a workshop I attended. There was a panel of former foster youth speaking about what they wished foster/adoptive parents knew. I will never forget the one young man who had moved “home” at 25 after the death of his biological mother. He affectionately referred to the couple next to him as his parents. He had no hesitation about belonging to more than one family.

I’m embarrassed to say that I started tearing up as he told his story. I mean, how on earth did they convince him that it was OK to love two families? How was he so well-adjusted? Did it come with time? Would we ever get there with Marcus? Because honestly? Dropping him off and leaving was the hardest thing to do.

Right in the middle of the panel I got a message from him: “I need a place to stay. Can you please pick me up?” Life is full of strange coincidences. I know it wasn’t ideal for him to get kicked out of the place he was staying. I know he can only manage a few months of love and family at a time. I know this may not Work out well at all. I know he is on his way to Job Corps as soon as his medical clears.  I’m happy about it all the same. Because I am not perfect.  Because I am selfish. Because I missed my son.

 

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

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adoption, family

Making Room for Bio Family 


The game of bananagrams is like Scrabble in the way that you make words out of letter tiles. It is unlike Scrabble in the way that each player is going as fast as they can, at the same time. Players are rearranging words to fit the new letter tiles they grab every time someone calls “peel!”

You start with 12 tiles. When you’ve connected all of them into words you can call a “peel” and everyone must add one additional letter tile into a word. You often have to break apart words you’ve already made and create something new.

Adopting our siblings was much like the beginning part of the game. We started with a bunch of unconnected letters and put them all together into a pattern that became “family.” Things don’t stay the same, though. When the two oldest disrupted and left for greener pastures, we rearranged our words once more into a new pattern. When my parents moved from Missouri to Connecticut to be with us, we added to our pattern.

Carl turned 12 last week. He wanted a few things. He asked for the usual things: Pokémon cards, Star Wars action figures, a card game called Phase 10 etc. Then he asked for something else. He wanted his biological father to come to his football game. I’m not sure if it was because he was a starter this year or because Bio Dad’s birthday card reminded him. Either way, it was his choice, and I was determined to make it happen, if I could.

A few days prior I had messaged Bio Dad on Facebook to remind him about Carl’s 12th birthday. BD forgets the birthdays unless I remind him. I think it’s more indicative of not living with the children, or having difficulties with organization than anything else. As soon as I remind him he sends a beautiful card and some money for Carl. The card says, “I hope you enjoy this day with your family.” Every card he sends reminds the children that he will always love them.

When I ask if he and his wife would be willing to make the one-and-a-half hour drive to attend the game, he immediately agrees. I give him the address to come to our tiny town with historic brick walkways and towering green forests. I’m hoping it looks nice and not boring compared to the city BD’s family lives in. After all, our “downtown” consists of only one street, albeit one with historical New England charm.

The game itself goes better than I could have imagined. It’s a close game, and we are up by one point until the fourth quarter, when the other team gets a touchdown and wins. BD comes with his new wife and a son he has from a different relationship named E. Luke is the volunteer EMT, sitting inside the fence, directly on the field. Marcus sits with him because he cannot stand Mary and Carl’s BD.

This leaves me in the stands with BD, new wife, and Little E. Eventually my mom comes to watch the second half. We all sit together. We all cheer together. I explain some of the plays (poorly.) Every time Carl’s name is announced on the loudspeaker all 7 of us go wild. He has the biggest cheering squad of anyone here.

The day is remarkably pleasant. Some of the interaction is strained but not nearly as much as I had assumed. They love the game. They love the town. Marcus and BD do not interact and therefore no one is required to break up a fight. BD and family compliment our little town and tell us they took pictures everywhere. I point out where Carl goes to school so they can see this too.

At one point I actually hit BD in the arm. Well it’s more of a back handed smack on his arm. Ok more of a series of rapid back-handed smacks on his arm. It isn’t my fault! I was so excited about a tackle that Carl made! I was overexcited and cheering and it just happened. Luckily he just laughed it off. I mean, what is the worst thing I could do in this situation? Hitting is definitely in the top 5 of things you should NOT do to your child’s biological family.

After the game Carl is studious about hugging every person who came to see him. He glows with pride over our compliments. Even though the team lost, he played very well. I leave Luke to handle the visit, exchange of presents, and good-byes. It’s time to drive Marcus back to his girlfriend’s apartment. The one she loves in with her mother, who is also Little E’s mother. BD seems unaware that Little E and Marcus live together. He asked me if Marcus lives with us. To make matters worse, Marcus’ BD and this BD do not get along either and Marcus is back in contact with his BD. Throughout the game, Little E kept giving me details about Marcus like his age and favorite color. Awkward.

Needless to say, I hasten our exit. I know how aggressive Marcus can be when he is angry with someone. The next night my Facebook messenger is flooded with pictures. BD has sent me baby pictures of Mary and Carl. Some alone, some with him, and some with Bio Mom. This is a treasure trove of items we have never been able to give them. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. BD did not give his children up willingly. But BD is forging this new relationship willingly. I am beyond grateful.

I’m pretty sure this contact means Carl is rearranging the pattern of his family. He is adding new tiles and fitting them in where he can. I don’t know where things will go from here. Two successful visits make me feel optimistic.

 

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

 

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adoption, family

Rearview Mirror: My Prodigal Son

“It’s your brother’s birthday party this weekend. I wish you were coming. We all miss you.” I sent this Facebook message onto the cybersphere with little hope of a response. It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Marcus, our “prodigal son.” I went off of the assumption that he had just ghosted out again. He does this often. Eventually I figured he’d contact us if he needed something.

Imagine my surprise when the phone chirped back with, “I wud love to go.”

Just like that, our oldest was back in our orbit. He told me he had “big news.” Marcus insisted he could only tell me in person. My stomach dropped as I immediately tried not to think of the possibility that he was having a baby.  I’m pretty sure that I kept my fingers crossed the entire way to pick him up for the weekend.

Pulling up to a tiny, dingy, brick duplex, I spotted him hoisting an oversized zebra-print duffel bag onto his shoulder. It had pink writing on the pockets, and there was a pouch for a bottle on the side. Gulp. Marcus hopped into the car, stating the bag was his girlfriends. He is now living with this latest girlfriend-and-her-mother. Another girlfriend, another mother, another home, rinse, repeat. This is Marcus’ cycle. There are many people residing in the tiny apartment, including the younger brother (paternal) to Mary and Carl (Marcus has a different father.) Imagine trying to explain that our oldest son is living with his siblings’ younger sibling. Oh and he is also dating that sibling’s oldest sister. Sure….

Anyway, the visit went the same as usual. Marcus wanted to drive everywhere. He wanted to take out the trash, run the errands, help out around the house. We played Bananagrams (his favorite) and card games into the night. He gave Carl a ninja turtle Lego set and a red fidget spinner. He got me iced coffee from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. In other words, classic Marcus, or at least classic when he’s in his good place.

When he finally shared his big news, I could have cried with relief and happiness. Marcus signed up for the Job Corps’ electrician program. He’d have a guaranteed place to stay. He’d would have food, supervision, and training.  Did this mean he would be OK? Maybe I could stop wondering “what-if” with Marcus. Maybe he was doing alright despite never having been adopted. 

Driving home he recounted his weekend highlights. He loved visiting the farm where he had riding lessons when he lived with us. He loved Carl’s birthday party. His absolute favorite thing was going to the batting cage with Luke. It was one of those classic father-son moments where Luke taught him how to swing and how to watch for the ball. The difference being that most kids do this with their dad at a young age, not at age 19.

And then he played me Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s song “Trap House.”

“I used to have a trap house,” he commented nonchalantly. I could see him glance over at me to gauge my reaction. I froze in place, staring straight ahead at the road. A drug house. He used to sell drugs.

“After we knew you?” I asked quietly in a tightly-controlled voice.

“After I left.”

After you left which time??” I ground out each word with effort. It was when he was 18 and living with yet-another-girlfriend-and-her-mother. Rinse, repeat. I catch my breathe and sit in silence until I am sure I will not scream. Why did he choose this life over our family? Why?

It hurt to get the words out. “Do you know that I’ve never wanted anything from you except for you to be happy? I’ve only wanted for you to have a good life. I can’t make your decisions for you. No matter how you feel about me, I will always consider you to be my oldest. I will always care about you. I will never stop worrying. I will never stop asking myself why you couldn’t let us take care of you. ”

Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. When he got out of the car he caught me up in an enormous hug. Words of apology for his past choices washed over me. Reassurances that he was “staying away from that stuff” filtered through my ears like so much white noise. How many times over the years have we repeated this same conversation?

Driving away, I could see him standing in the road, adjusting his zebra-striped duffel bag  higher up on his shoulder. He looked so small. A part of me wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my days looking into the rearview mirror at Marcus.

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

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adoption, family

Dear Teacher…


I often struggle with how to explain my child’s trauma-related behavior to new teachers. Being a teacher myself, I know that we don’t have time to review much at the start of the school year. We are too busy reading your childrens’ IEPs and 504 plans while filling out mountains of paperwork. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I wrote to introduce Carl to his teachers. Please comment with anything YOU use at the beginning of the school year.

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

If you are reading this, you have the tremendous honor of teaching the death-defying, brave, and fearless (except for spiders) Carl! Congratulations! (Picture a crowd going wild.)

I’m his mom, and believe me, we got lucky too. I guess you’re in good company. We met Carl when he was 8-years-old and in the foster care system. We adopted him, and his younger sister, Mary.

Carl is an amazing kid. He hates spiders and vegetables despite what his mother tells him. He is sensitive to gooey materials, bugs, and the dark. When Carl first came home he couldn’t read that well. After a lot of practice, and the Wilson reading program, he is now an avid reader. When it’s time to pull him out of a Harry Potter book we generally employ the use of a fishing line or long cane to retrieve him.

In addition to being an avid reader, he loves history. Carl is a history buff with a strong interest in Betsy Ross and all things colonial America. Every season Carl plays a different sport. He’s a linebacker in football, a “middie” in lacrosse, and something-or-other I can’t remember in basketball. He’s very athletic and it’s a great way for him to manage his ADHD and blow off some steam. It’s also a great excuse for his dad to yell loudly at sporting events and wave his arms all around.

As a family we are active supporters of child labor. To this end Carl is now able to wash his own laundry, mow the lawn and vacuum like a boss. He can also brew me a mean cup of coffee on the Keurig machine! We pay him a small pittance for his efforts, of course, because…child labor.

Sometimes, due to his history of complex PTSD, Carl has trouble controlling his temper. His brain goes into fight/flight mode and it’s best to give him some space. If he feels cornered or pursued his body reacts as though he were in actual physical danger. If he needs a consequence or a reminder, it’s best to have him take a bit of space first. This way he can be calm enough to process what you’re saying. If he appears agitated or fidgety you may want to send him on an errand. I strongly suggest sending him to make you a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Or maybe to wash your car. Because…child labor.

In addition to athletic talents and the ability to work in harsh conditions, Carl is extremely empathetic. He loves animals, younger children and his grandparents. Papa is his best friend and they are always up to no good. Maybe if you ever meet Papa, you should preemptively give him a detention. Just trust me on this. Papa is naughty and has probably already pushed all the buttons on your school intercom.

Finally, Carl comes as part of a package deal. When you get him as your student (again, the crowd goes wild) you also get his family. He has Nana and Papa in town. He lives with Mom, Dad, and his younger sister Mary. He has 3 older teenaged siblings that come on weekend visits. We are all here to work with you in any way necessary. This is going to be a great year.  Trust me, I’m his mom!

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

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