adoption, family, fostercare

“But They Don’t Look Like You”: Adventures in Explaining our Mulitcolored Family

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I am a white mamma. I am blindingly, florescently, practically translucent in my white skin. I have to wear SPF all year round, and I apply 70 in the summer. There, I have told the truth. So now you know. But let’s face facts; I have a mirror. Therefore, I also happen to know that I am white.

I also happen to have eyes. Therefore, I can see my Hispanic husband and my Hispanic children. I can see them brown up and tan in the sun. This is something I have never been able to pull off, myself. I am either white, off white, or bright red and miserable. My sun-kissed family, however? They are blessed with the obvious favor of the sun. Lucky little chickens!

Being the only white member of the family comes with its fair share of oddities. For instance, if we eat at an outdoor restaurant they all scramble to get me under the shade of a table-umbrella. When I enjoy my iced coffee and listen to NPR, my teens tell me “that’s because you’re a white woman.” Once I lost my daughter, Mary, for about 15 minutes in a park. I panicked completely and squeezed her so tightly when I found her. She just shook her head at my “nervous white mama ways.” Sometimes they attribute my personal oddities with being white. They don’t always understand.

My kids aren’t the only ones who misunderstand. A surprising number of strangers don’t understand and they expect an explanation!

At grocery stores, the nail salon, doctor’s offices and even the pet store I am questioned. “Are they all yours?” ( not surprising given the sheer number of children.) “They don’t look like you.” And, of course, “What country did they all come from?” Ummm…yours. This country. One where presumably, you should have at least some manners.

Sometimes a stranger will ask, “Which ones are your real children?” I found a great response online once and I always use it. I simply say, “oh no. They’re not all real. One of them is imaginary. Guess which one???” Then I laugh.

The thing is, my kids don’t need to hear your ignorance. They are real actual human people standing in front of you. Ok, I’ll concede that they are all really my “chickens” but still.

I get it that we don’t look alike. But we like the same TV shows. We have the same corny jokes. We all believe in the power of love and the fun of Hibachi. We all give “Nana points” to each other for good vocabulary. We give “finger wiggles” in the car so everyone feels loved instead of ignored. We all have the same “boss walk” that Marcus taught us to use when we are feeling cool. Or slick. Or something like that.

I have this to say to the strangers out in public; it’s ok to be curious about adoption. In fact, I want you to think about it. I’d like for more people to know about it. But please be polite. Don’t gawk. Don’t comment in front of the children. Simply say, “You have a beautiful family.” Ask me in private if you have questions such as how did we get started? Where did our adoptions start (ie foster care, an agency etc) asking anything that involves the word, “real” is not OK.

In other words, we are all a family. A real family. If we look odd to you or if you don’t feel like you can understand our group then don’t worry about it. You probably couldn’t boss walk anyway.

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

*If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption I encourage you to get started on your adventure today!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Why I Wish We Hadn’t Adopted Our Children

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I wish we hadn’t adopted them. There, I’ve finally said it. I wish they’d never been adopted. It’s something adoptive parents think about often, but never say. The outside world expects us to be the happy smiling picture of family perfection. The outside world cannot understand that our greatest joy was their greatest grief. I wish we had never adopted our children because I wish they had never experienced that first loss. That primal wound. I wish they never had to experience the trauma that they carry to this day.

Creating our family has been the biggest joy in my life. It’s the most fulfilling and wonderful endeavor I’ve ever undertaken. It’s also the hardest. It’s hard to watch them suffer through their grief. Our greatest joy comes from their greatest pain.

No matter the level of abuse or neglect a child experiences, they are hard-wired to love and depend on their birth parents. Losing that relationship, regardless of how toxic it was, is the most painful loss a child can experience. I believe that all children love their birth parents. I believe that all birth parents love their children to the best of their abilities. Don’t we all love our children and do for them whatever we are able?

Unfortunately, for my kids, their birth parents truly were not able. It wasn’t a question of love it was a question of substance abuse and mental health concerns. It was physical abuse and neglect. It’s easy to look at all of the missed birthdays and visits and think their birth mother didn’t try. I think often she couldn’t try because she had too many problems of her own.

If I could wave a magic wand I would give them everything they have ever wanted. They would have never come into the foster care system. They would never have had to split up and move from place to place. They wouldn’t have experienced trauma and loss. They would have remained in a home that was stable with a stable birth mom that met their needs. Even if it meant I would never get to be “mom” to the best kids on earth, I would do it if I could.

Why? Because it isn’t about me. I’m a mom. It’s about my kids.

I would do it if I could, but I can’t. That is not something that I can give to them. I can give them a loving home. I can give them safety, permanancy, and love. Maybe it will never make up for what should have been or could have been in their lives.

However, it will make me whole and happy and fulfilled. They are everything I could have ever wanted. Therefore, I’m the lucky one. My husband and I got the best part of this deal.

We are the “lucky” ones.

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adoption, family, parenting

Adoption Disruption: An Open Letter to My Teenage Son

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Although he may never read it…..

Dear Marcus,

Being adopted must have been the hardest struggle for you. Harder than I can imagine. How could you know how to handle that at age 17? After having been in the system for 4 years, in and out of placements, “forever” must have seemed like a foreign concept. I want you to know that it is ok that you were scared.

We got to know you over the last year and a half through visits on the weekends or vacation. You told us so many times that you didn’t need anyone, you didn’t need to be adopted. Sometimes you wanted to be with us and sometimes you didn’t. It must have been hurtful that your 3 siblings were placed with us before you were. I’m glad that you decided to try to live with us even if it only lasted for 2 months.

I want you to know the things I loved about having you here. I will always remember the way you played Legos with your younger siblings. Every time I look out the window I can see the landscaping you completed in the back yard. I loved to spend time with you at your horseback riding lessons. I loved to see you show affection and care with that donkey named “Mr. Pickles.” I will always remember you starting to open up around the horses. That was when I saw you genuinely happy.

I was so excited to watch you playing football. I couldn’t wait to cheer you on at games. I was looking forward to your junior prom and your graduation. I never realized how much pressure this must have put on you to have a “normal” high school experience.

It must have been scary to have family dinners instead meetings with your parole officer. It must have been weird to be hiking around in the woods instead of walking the streets with your friends.

I want you to know that as angry as you are right now, you are probably more frightened than anything. Fear is what causes your intense rages. Fear of getting close to us. Fear of being looked up to by your younger siblings. Fear of hurting one of the family during your violent cycles. Fear of getting close to yet another mom.

I know that you are mad at me for trying to take your birth mom’s place. It must have felt so disloyal to her to let me in. We were so different she and I. She gave you alcohol and taught you to fist fight. She left you alone to jump off of buildings and stay out all night. Sometimes when you are mad at me, you are really mad at her. I gave you hugs and you hated it. I’d have dinner ready for you every night and I expected you to be there. You don’t understand why I wanted to see you every day. You didn’t understand why I didn’t want you out all night or jumping from buildings.

You flinch from hugs and snarl at compliments. You think it’s deranged that our family says things like “I love you.” It’s scary because you haven’t had that. It must feel like we are all so close it hurts. I’m deeply sorry if I pushed you too much with kindness. I realize now that you didn’t know how to handle it. Your most intense rages were always after a fun family trip or a compliment or hug.

The day you left it felt like I was having a limb ripped off. I uttered the 3 words that sealed our fate when I said, “Sweetheart, come upstairs.” The social worker was there about the adoption agreement. Sometimes I think that you sabotaged that day because deep down you don’t believe you can ever really be a part of a family. You don’t believe in love. That day I remained calm while you shouted, swore at me, kicked me and threw things. You slammed doors around and showed your anger. Maybe you wanted the social worker to see your anger and stop the process.

I never reacted negatively to your rages. I always reassured you that I still cared. I offered you comfort when all you were feeling was pain and fear. It angered you that I wasn’t mad and yelling. You must have felt like the only one in the family with unresolved issues. Although that isn’t true, it must have hurt you to believe it. I’m sorry that I let you believe this about yourself.

I want you to know that it’s ok for you to hate me right now. It’s ok for you to choose to live elsewhere. It’s ok that sometimes you broke things or threatened your younger siblings. I don’t blame you. I blame your past. I wish you could have hung in there and worked through it with the family.

I also want you to know that it wasn’t safe for us when you had rages. It wasn’t even safe for you. I realize this but I just didn’t want to give you up. In a way I’m glad you were the one to walk away because, as a mother, I’m not sure I could have ever given up. The cost to our family was great but the cost to you was far greater.

I want you to know that I will never give up on you. I still hope that one day you will change your mind and try to have contact with us, or at least with your siblings. I am grieving you. I am also relieved that it is over. I’m sick with guilt about it but the truth is this family was hurting you. We were hurting, too. I am relieved the drama and hatred I felt from you is gone. I am not and will never be relieved that we don’t have you.

Please try and accept help in the future. Listen to your therapist. Just try and let them in a little bit. Please take your medication. Please finish high school. Please try not to get arrested again.

No matter what happens my heart and my front door will always be open to you. Please take care of my boy. I know you tried. I tried, too.

Love Always,

Mom

mglasses

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

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adoption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, fostercare, parenting

Will Our Teen Bury Me in the Backyard?: Adventures in Attachment Challenges

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We often hear how charming our newest teenager is. How sweet and hard-working he is. “He is SUCH a good kid” or “I wish my teen would behave that way.” And it’s true…in public.

Attachment challenges are the hardest type of challenges to explain to anyone outside the home. Attachment-challenged children can’t handle the intensity of love. They depend only on themselves and push others away out of fear and discomfort. Our kids often show a very different face to the outside world. Lying, stealing, manipulation, and aggression towards caregivers are just a few common characteristics in the home.  Our little chickens went through stages of physical aggression with us as well. With Marcus we see mostly manipulation, threats and control issues.

Here’s the tough part; these behaviors are only revealed to primary caregivers. Outside of our home Marcus can engage strangers in lovely conversations and generally charm anyone. He is funny and lighthearted. He laughs easily and cracks jokes. He can then display his utter disdain for his caregivers.

Well to be fair, mostly to me. He loves Luke and wishes to have my husband all to himself. Marcus claims that if only he didn’t have me, he and Luke could run the house together. He fantasizes about one day getting to fight with Luke, or going to a bar with Luke. He talks about all of the trouble they could get in together. He doesn’t have a concept of what a father’s role is. The idea that Luke would never do any of these things is beyond comprehension for Marcus. Why wouldn’t a father-figure drink with him and leave the rest of the family?  He cannot understand what my husband sees in having a wife or why he doesn’t leave me.

He will “parent shop” often. Marcus has only been home since June but he already has plans to try to live with his riding instructor. Or one of his old teachers. He spends most days telling me that they can cook better or that they would love to have him live with them. Unfortunately, Marcus doesn’t understand relationship boundaries. He either loves or hates with equal ferocity. He doesn’t understand that teaching horseback riding and adopting a teenager are two very different things. He is checking out his options.

He will hug ex-foster parents, old PO officers, social workers. Basically all people who he proclaimed to hate a few months ago. He used to tell us these people were out to get him. They purposefully wanted to see him fail. Now he passes out hugs like party favors.  For me he flinches away and threatens to hit me if I touch him.

Marcus has a big problem right now with his younger siblings. He cannot take the emotional intensity of our loving relationships with them. He hates watching hugs and compliments. He can’t stand it when we won’t hit them and often threatens to do so himself.

Violence is the only intimate act he knows. He uses it to intimidate them and trigger their fears of being physically abused. He mocks their emotions, laughs at their fear and shuts out their love. Violence is all he is familiar with in the family. When our daughter kisses my head he stomps into the basement and slams the door.

Where is the boy who once called me “mom?” Where is the kid who cried over the phone and asked me to move “home” with us because he wanted to “Have a mom and dad who cared?” Where is the boy who fixed Carl’s bike and played dress-up in footy-pajamas with Mary?

He is gone. His fear of love shows itself as anger. Rage, aggression and control are his survival skills. He cannot let his family get too close. After all, close connections can hurt if they are broken. Now that Marcus is here he fills outsiders with tales of our evil ways (dinner as a family?! The horror!!) and petitions for a better option somewhere else.

Some of the things he says or does to hurt me are beyond cruel. And why? Because of my audacity to love him. I love him in spite of the horrible things he says to me or says about me. I cannot change my unconditional love for him. I cannot change the way I show love to my husband and my other chickens. And I cannot change his mind.

Marcus will turn 18 in October. Although we see some minor improvements, I think it is very likely that he will leave. Are we hurting him more than helping him by forcing him to watch his younger siblings enjoy a childhood so different from the one he experienced? If he leaves, will he stay in contact? Will he visit? Will he have everything he needs? I cannot predict this. I cannot see our future right now. I cannot reach him. Not yet.

All I can do is hope for the chance of “someday.”

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

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