adoption, family

Wherein I Suck

Here is where I suck. I want to be therapeutic as a mom. I want to help my children. Being a parent is a huge part of my identity.

But sometimes? I suck at it. I just want to have some fun and enjoy my family. Having kids with trauma, kids with teenage hormone changes, kids with psychiatric conditions or basically just human children prevents that. I can’t have the fun Mom experiences I feel like everyone else (but me) is having.

Marcus had been in a great mood since starting his new job. He is making friends, feeling good. So I’ve done what no sane mother would do here. I’ve avoided him. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until it occurred to me I hadn’t seen Marcus in three days. I skipped our nightly Phase 10 game with him. I took a bath, instead.

I think I’m scared that Marcus’ pattern will continue. I’m protecting myself when I should be connecting with him. He’s older and he needs more connection experiences to feel grounded and safe. And I, apparently, need another bubble bath.

Carl has been waking us up in the middle of every. Single. Night. He’s also been having meltdowns over nothing. If something goes wrong, like when he broke the third can opener, he yells at me. It’s clearly my fault. If he isn’t drinking enough water for his lacrosse practice it’s my fault. Did I mention he threw a plastic cup filled with water because of this? Also my fault. I’m not sure you can hydrate your body via carpet, but, whatever. His choice.

The next morning Carl yelled and snapped at me all morning. I refused to engage. He kept at it. I quit helping him. He kept at it. I stated that we would discuss his restitution later when we were both more calm. He did the eye-roll-snap-at-mom-for-being-stupid combo.

So I did what any sane mom getting sucked into a pre-pubescent argument would do. I yelled back.

“You’re grounded!”

“FINE!!” he screamed back as he got on the bus for school.

Those were the last words we said to each other as he walked out the door. Great. It’s been a theme this week. I’m fairly certain I need another bubble bath with my Eucalyptus aromatherapy suds.

Someone else, please take a peak around. Am I still a mother? Do I have to?? Because this week I really suck at it! This week I’d rather do something else, please. Are any positions open for a professional bubble bath aficionado?

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

adoption, family

Fragile Peace

There is a fragile peace that lies somewhere between contentment and heartbreak. Lately I’ve felt more at ease about Mary. She is in a top notch private residential school. They know all about complex, developmental trauma. They understand the deep attachment struggles. I think that if anyone can help her, maybe they can. This comforts me when missing her rips away at my insides and keeps me up at night.

In a fragile kind of truce, Marcus and I are existing. After having the outburst where he smashed a TV in the basement (it was his own, he was waiting to sell it) he went dark. First, he cleaned up the glass and the wreckage. Then Marcus holed up in his room and spoke to no one, only sending angry texts to me occasionally.

The drama was apparently related to a girl. He loves her. He loves her as much as I love Luke. He can’t stand to be away from her. I never even gave her a chance/believe him/acknowledge his feelings. He is trapped here like an animal. He is caged in. Or so he says…I refused to have the fight. I  let him know that I wasn’t arguing with him and that I loved him. I’ve had a lot of practice at not taking the bait.

On the fourth day I went into his room and sat down at the edge of his bed. The last text just said that I was the mom and he was supposed to be able to talk to his mom about his feelings. He was cloaked in darkness and speaking in the softest whisper. I wasn’t allowed to turn on the light. He told me all about the girl, his feelings, how deep his love was for her. I’m pretty sure he dumped her a year ago because he didn’t like her anymore. Marcus is always back and forth this way.

I did the thing that I do best. I held him while he cried. I told him that he must be very heartbroken. I acknowledged the love he claimed, the depression, the fate of star-crossed lovers everywhere. And then I faced the thing I did not want to face. His move-out pattern. I told him if he chose to move back to that other state, into the city with those old friends, then I would support his decision.

He isn’t trapped. He’s asked to be here. He’s a grown man. But I made it clear that he didn’t need to start a huge fight with me to do it. I wasn’t going to make it easy by participating in the, “I-hate-you-I’ll-never-speak-to-you-again.” ritual. If he wanted a fight he’d have to do it without me.

So now we wait. Everything seems quiet. Marcus started a new job. Since our non-argument, I haven’t heard about the girl. Maybe the storm has passed.

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

adoption, family

Kidnapping the Kid

Carl and I needed a day off. We needed a break from being at home, being around the Marcus-drama, and being swamped with responsibilities. Frankly, I also needed a parenting “win.” Out of all the children, Carl is the one I feel like I can really get through to. Connecting with me is somehow easier for him and, consequently, very rewarding for me.

He’s been having a hard time at home. Bursts of anger and tantrums we haven’t seen for a long time have come out. School is going well for Carl right now, and that’s a huge plus. However, he is showing fear about the bathroom and about bedtime again. Luke and I did the normal rounds with therapy and the psychiatrist.

Still, I felt like he could use a little one-on-one time to connect. Sunday was a perfect day, with low humidity (less back pain) and sunshine aplenty. So I surprised him with a trip to the zoo, just the two of us. Luke was working and Marcus was locked in his room, not speaking to anyone. It was time for some fun.

Carl absolutely loves animals so the trip was a hit. We saw zebras and elephants and giraffes. We learned about the zoo’s efforts to rescue animals that had been domesticated for unsavory purposes. Carl didn’t even mind my plentiful use of the benches. He just took off to see an exhibit, then reported back to me.

At 12, I feel his childhood slipping away. I try to grasp onto it while I still can. He’s almost my height now and he has a tiny mustache (which he completely denies!) On days like this I can still get him to begrudgingly let me kiss his cheeks or give him “squishes.”

It goes like this:

Me: Just let me kiss those adorable cheeks. Please please please please please!

Carl: (eye-roll) I don’t want to!

Me: But I’ll buy you that sweatshirt you want at the gift shop. Just two more kisses!!!

Bystanders: (lots of horrified stares)

By now I’m used to people staring at Carl and me when we are out. We certainly don’t look related. Out of our entire family I have the lightest skin and he has the darkest. It can lead to awkward exchanges explaining adoption. Sometimes people ask if I’m his tutor or his babysitter.

I sort of realized belatedly (read: when Carl told me) that the zoo patrons were under this very same impression. Only this time it seemed wildly inappropriate. They must have been thinking something along the lines of:

“What a pervy babysitter. Where are that boys parents?”

“Does he know the creepy lady that’s offering to buy him things if he lets her kiss his cheek?”

“Did that crazy white lady kidnap that poor Hispanic boy?!?!!”

Luckily we left before the police or park security showed up. Whew! I still got my parenting win.

I swear I didn’t kidnap him! No really, he’s my son!!

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

adoption, family

The Coming Storm

I’ve felt it coming. The oncoming of a storm settles itself deep into my lower back. The pelting rain and thunder is on its way. A real nor’easter is bearing down on us. The constant throbbing in my right hip repeats to me, “it’s coming, it’s coming.”

On these mornings I am frozen in bed, my muscles locked up and uncooperative. Attempting to move causes my bones to crack. My sacroiliac joints groan in protest. I am like the tin man without his oil. A half hour on the heating pad and some Tylenol help me to get to a functioning level of chronic back pain. Each groan and crack is whispering to me, “No matter what you try you will always end up back in this place. Always.”

We are seven months into Marcus’ latest return. The old wounds are still there, but just like anything else, we are learning to work around them. To be more accurate, I am learning to work around them. I am learning to stay so quiet. I am hoping not to rock the boat.

Over the last few weeks I can see him getting closer to me. Like a drowning man, he seeks the comfort of my life raft. Tighter and tighter he clings.

What he doesn’t realize is that each time he climbs into this raft, we all capsize. He mistakenly believes it will help him weather the storm inside of him. I want to believe it, too. Survival. This is what he knows.

But I know things, too. I am familiar with Marcus’ storm. Like the cracking of thunder he begins to smash things in the basement. The punching bag coping skill just isn’t working this time. Our house shakes in time to the thunder. Marcus is slamming doors and shouting loud guttural cries that have no words.

I’ve said no to taking my car out to “visit a friend” in the storm. It seems another storm has now moved in. A mere nor’easter is nothing compared to the Marcus storm. I felt it coming in my bones long before now. “He’s too close. He’s too comfortable,” they told me. “Soon he will be gone.”

Part of me wonders how we got here. Part of me knows how. We’ve been coming to this point ever since adoption finalization. Part of me wonders when it all began. Part of me knows it began long before I was ever in the picture.

All of me wonders if tonight is the night. Will he stay?

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

adoption, family

The Quietest Mother


I have to approach so slowly, so cautiously. Marcus is crying. It’s rare for him to ever cry out loud. Instead he will sit with silent tears streaming, unchecked, down his face. He is a statue of sorrow.

The well of hurt and loss inside him runs so deep. He isn’t like his other siblings. He hasn’t had the benefits of good therapy. He hasn’t had the benefit of a stable family, a place to stay longer than a few months. Foster care has trained him to be an island.

He’s crying. He needs his mom. He needs me. Marcus hates needing a mom. In the past, every time we have gotten close, he’s run. He will put as much distance between us as possible. He is a young man now but we’ve done this dance for years.

Eventually, he always returns. Then we continue the dance all over again. Perhaps, this time, he won’t notice me. I will be so quiet he won’t even notice a mother has crept up on him.

I try not to say “I love you,” too much. Even after the adoption I still tread lightly. I try not to show those deep feelings that so often spook him. I hug him sparingly and only if I warn him first. Keep things light, I tell myself. Don’t scare him off. Try to keep him this time.

In this moment I am so very quiet. I say in my softest whisper, “I’m going to hug you now.” Quietly, so quietly, I place my arms around him. And then suddenly he’s crushing his face into my shoulder. His embrace is fierce and tight. My sweater soaks up all his tears.

I stay like this, completely still, while he cries it all out. Later, he may resent having exposed this much emotion to me. Still, I stay. My legs go numb and my back is on fire. He is crushing me. I say nothing. I just stay here. I am the quietest mother.

Please stay, Marcus. I want you to stay.

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

adoption, family

Portrait of Pain

It hurts. Pain is a slippery thing to define. Like grains of sand, the words seem to slip through my fingers. At the doctor’s office there is a scale with emojis in various stages of frowning. This is how I am supposed to measure my pain. A scale from 1-10. How can a number convey what this feels like?

It hurts. I choose words like throbbing, stabbing, constant ache. I mention hot electric shocks running down the back of my right leg. The muscle spasms in my right side are grabbing, squeezing, deep and unbearable. My hips feel so sore that when it rains I walk the tin man without his oil.

It hurts. My daughter isn’t here. She doesn’t want to talk to me on the phone. We didn’t buy her a live white tiger cub for her birthday so she has found a new mom. Mary hasn’t called us since her birthday. When I call her she proudly proclaims her new “valentine” is who she will be with now. She calls her godmother every single day. It is always a woman she chooses.

It hurts. I am glad she has her godparents. I feel lucky they are understanding about attachment disorders. They don’t believe her when she says that we don’t provide for her, love her, or meet her needs. She still says it, though. Manipulation is her survival skill.

It hurts. The new Residential Center where she is now living understands. We are having a meeting with clinicians today to discuss her phone calls and how to set appropriate boundaries. One of the reasons she is there is to learn how to handle relational models. You cannot beat someone physically until they buy something you want. You cannot trade moms in for newer models.

It hurts. I am back at work full time. I sit in a chair. I walk down the halls. I always feel like my lower half is on fire. Every step I take is one step closer to convincing me I need the revision surgery my doctor is recommending. A constant, burning ache engulfs my lower back. It engulfs my heart. It hurts.

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

adoption, adoption disruption

A Dream or a Nightmare?

Facebook is telling me to look. “You have memories today,” it says. A notification keeps popping up on my phone, on my computer, on my mind. Look! But I don’t want to look.

I don’t want to remember. It’s too hard. It hurts. I do not want to have the memories today.

I dreamt of him last night. My dream was about Sean but it wasn’t the kind of dream I used to have about him. I used to dream of being his forever mom. I dreamt of giving him love, a home, a safe place to land.

Last night my dream was a nightmare. Sean was already in the house when I came home. He was there with Marcus and they were waiting for me.

“Hi, mom. I’m back,” he said in my dream. “I’m ready to get adopted. Whenever you want.”

He carried a duffle bag full of cash in my dream. I knew he had committed some crime and was charming his way into safety. My heart was racing and I was inexplicably concerned about his proximity to Marcus. Both boys were looking at me.

“Get out.” I said in the dream. “I’m not your mom. I was never your mother.”

I woke in a cold sweat, shaking and crying. My heart pounding in panic and dread. I couldn’t really say why.

I’ve been having these dreams for about a week. Sean has been on my mind one way or another. Sometimes I am remembering the times I thought we were getting close but I was really getting manipulated. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left behind on my body. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left on my heart.

He contacted me three times since Spring. They were just short Facebook messages but I read them over and over. I dissected each word  trying to see what he was after. Because Sean is always after something. In the end, I didn’t reply at all. But I couldn’t delete them. I couldn’t bring myself to block him on social media.

We adopted three out of the four children we started this journey with. Maybe having Marcus home, the “last one,” brings up Sean for me. Perhaps it’s been on my mind because Carl is now the age Sean was when we met the children. I can’t quite tell. Carl has developed some of the mannerisms Sean had at this stage. They are part teenage boys and part brother. It’s possible they are also part trauma.

I’ve been butting heads with Carl more than usual. Yesterday at dinner we had pizza. Sean used to drown his pizza in ranch sauce. This was a practice I found both disgusting and perplexing. He was morbidly obese at the time, which made it that much more dangerous when he was angry. Lately Carl has been gaining a lot of weight. His hormones must be making him hungry. His fuller cheeks make him look so much more like Sean.

We actually had an argument about it at dinner last night. He was sensitive to any form of food talk. I was sensitive to the mistakes I made with Sean. Whatever the reasons, it was a difficult night. As I sit and type now I can see where my triggers lie. In the moment I was completely lost to them.

As I sit here and type this the last fragments of the dream are drifting away from me. I hope I will not have this same nightmare tonight. I hope that someday the fragments of  of my feelings for Sean drift away, too.

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