adoption, family

“He Was Probably High”: Adventures in the Prodigal Adopted Son

There are probably a million and one ways to fall in love. But falling into motherhood is a unique situation. Falling out of motherhood is a fate I wish upon no one. I’m speaking from personal experience, of course.

It’s been about 7 months since Marcus disrupted out of our home. When he left he was clear about never wanting to see or hear from me again. He had made up his mind that he did not want to be adopted and he did not want to be in our home.

Since then I’ve heard from him in starts and stops. He is usually looking for money or material things.  Once, he asked how his younger siblings are doing. Once he contacted my husband, high as a kite, to talk about his new career as a rap artist. He offered to get us tickets to his next show. Of course we said we would go.

He’s 18 now. He’s making choices. We have to trust that he can make them for himself. He is still in high school and I am beyond proud of him for that. School is hard for him because he has never reacted well to rules and structure. We sent him money on his birthday. He and his girlfriend used it to get matching tattoos. He proudly sent us pictures.

I spend half my time wondering if I will ever stop missing him so terribly. He was my son. I was his mother. It isn’t supposed to be this way. I spend the other half wondering if I will ever stop being relieved that I’m not responsible for him anymore.

His story changes so often it’s hard to keep up.

The day he left:

“I hate you, you f**king b***h. I hope you die! I’ll bury you in a hole. Get back before I f**king kill you!”

Last week:

“Don’t ever think you’re a bad mom you’re not you’re a great mom don’t ever let anyone tell you you’re not”

7 months ago:

“You’re a f**king whore! I’m gonna break every bone you have!”

Almost 2 years ago:

“I don’t want you and dad to give up on me. I feel like you’re gonna give up on me”

2 years ago:

“Mom. Mom? White mama?”

7 months ago:




He asked to come back for family dinner. He claimed he’s been missing us. He wanted to thank me for helping him when he was sick. He wanted to thank me for helping his younger siblings.

He wanted to apologize. “I remember when we talked about taking responsibility,” he said, “I want to take responsibility. I want to apologize face-to-face.”

 He sent me a beautiful text message. He told me all of the things I longed to hear. He said he was sorry and that we had been good to him. He thanked us for giving a better life to his younger siblings. He let me know that he trusted me to take care of them.

Afterwards my husband and I talked. Luke brought me back to reality when he said, “I’m glad he was nice. He was probably high.” It’s true. these are the moments when Marcus most often makes contact. He needs something, something has gone wrong, or he is high. Who knows? All I can say is that I needed to hear his words. I did thank him. I reassured him that he is loved. I’m just not ready to start letting him back in. We all tried our best and it didn’t work. It’s too soon. It’s too hard on the Littles when he is back-and-forth. If I’m honest, it’s too hard on me.

I will still hold his words close. Maybe he wasn’t entirely sincere. Maybe he was high. I don’t know. What I do know is that I needed to hear those words. No matter the circumstances, I needed to hear it.

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

adoption, family

Friend or Foe?: Sibling Relationships After Adoption


She’d just as soon stab me in the back as smile in my face. Who could blame her? I’m the mom enjoying the kids she raised in their early years, despite being a child herself. Her relationship with us has been tumultuous at best and downright preditory at its worst. For the purpose of this blog, I will call her M.

She is one of their older biological sisters. She has a child of her own and is on an “independent living track” in DCF care. M was never adopted. She is 19 years old, with a 4-year old son. We have pictures of her, from her Facebook page, that we added to the children’s lifebooks. She has my children’s beautiful eyes.

When the biological mother lost parental rights to our kids, the older siblings lost by proxy. How could this possibly be fair to a sibling group of 7 children? The two adult sisters, who attempted to raise our little chickens through chaos and strife, have lost so much. To lose their siblings because of their mother’s mistakes as well? They already lost their own childhoods to that. It’s beyond imagining.

These waters are very murky for adoptive parents to navigate. How can we honor and maintain these connections? To complicate matters further, DCF had not been maintaining visits between the siblings in the group. At all. In fact, the older girls were not even aware that their siblings had been placed in a pre-adoptive home out of state. By the time my husband and I entered the picture, damage had been done.

Our kids were home for 6 months before we were even able to make contact. We asked the social workers for a visit. We asked them for a phone number. Our requests went unanswered. The department was hesitant about the oldest sister, K, for various safety reasons. We pointed out that M was a teenager. She was still in the care of DCF. She, at least, should have visits. The department maintained that visits were required for biological parents only. Since those visits were long gone, we were stuck.

I messaged both sisters on Facebook. I offered to provide pictures. I left a phone number. I heard nothing. During this time, the biological mother had her seventh baby. The child was born with drugs in her system. We stayed out of this case, as it was separate from that of our children. We hoped she was on the track to reunify with the infant. We kept a respectful distance.

We waited to hear from M or K. They were in contact with Marcus and Sean (we think) during this time, so I hoped they knew their siblings were safe and loved. Eventually, the reunification between the baby and the bio-mom failed. After about 6 weeks with the infant, her mother, for whatever reason, gave her to the previous foster home and left to Puerto Rico. She had been in contact with the older girls while she had the baby, so in essence, she left 3 daughters behind. That’s when we heard from M.

I was eager to re-establish the lost sibling connection. I felt guilty that it had been almost a year since the siblings had seen each other. I felt guilty that DCF had not maintained these important connections. By that time, the siblings had been estranged for nearly a year. I spoke to M on the phone and I was so encouraged by the conversation. Maybe I was too eager. Maybe I was naive. I scheduled a visit.

I loaded up the car with 6 kids and drove out of state. We met met M, her child, and her girlfriend, at a science center in her city. I bought everyone tickets and souvenirs. We looked at animals and played in fun exhibits. M spent most of her time talking to Sean and her girlfriend in a corner. I ran around and played in the toddler area with her son and my Littles.

At the end of the trip, she (jokingly?) told the Littles to get into her car. She motioned to the front seat, saying, “quick. Get in, no one’s looking!” They ran back to me, and Carl was laughing. Mary was not. Mary was hesitant to speak to M. She had massive tantrums on the way home, but we stopped frequently and helped her through the long drive home.

I honestly had no idea what was coming after that. I believe that M is a good person and is trying her best. She is grieving the loss of her siblings. While I was sending her pictures from the trip, and planning the next visit, she was talking to the social workers. Apparently she made claims that my husband and I locked the children in the basement for lengths of time. I have no idea why she would think or say this except that it did happen in their bio home. At any rate, no one took her seriously and we didn’t hear anything more about that.

Soon after this, communication with M became toxic. She encouraged Sean to run away. She talked about ways for Sean to get the Littles to her. She might have told him to hide Mary’s psychiatric medication because she didn’t believe that Mary was “crazy.” Poor M claimed that she had “heard voices” telling her to do things all through high school and that she was “just fine without all that therapy and medication.” Poor girl. It’s possible that Sean fabricated some of this, as he so often did. It’s equally possible that he fabricated stories about us to her. Who knows? My heart went out to her but I also felt the need to protect our family.

She tried to stop the adoption in any way she could. She sent me texts swearing at me and threatening me. Eventually I told her that I was willing to send pictures of the kids, but we should not communicate any further. The social worker asked us to stop attempting visits with her and we agreed.

The Littles didn’t notice her absence, but I did. I felt for this teenager who had never been adopted. Her mother had left her many times. Her siblings had left her. Even when she started speaking to them again they had been full of happy stories about their new “mommy” and “daddy.” That must have been awful for her.

After a time, she contacted me to apologize. I sent her pictures and videos right away.  We had a good conversation about boundaries. She gave us information and little stories about our children’s early childhoods. We will forever cherish these and share them with our children. M actually sent baby pictures to us so that the children could see themselves as babies. She also sent us her own baby pictures. I think she needed someone to tell her how cute and precious she had been. She wanted someone to cherish her baby pictures as well.

She was the only one who gave our kids this invaluable link to their past. For this, I am forever grateful.

I continued to send pictures and updates. I set up a few phone calls. I think the calls were awkward because Mary didn’t want to talk and Carl went on and on about all of the cool things he did with “his dad” and “his mom.” We started discussing another visit. And then things fell apart with Marcus and Sean.

We never heard from M again. The last update I sent was a picture of the Littles in front of the Christmas tree. She never responded. Since then, Sean ran away from his new foster home, presumably to follow the plans they had made.

I never could figure out how to allow her to be in the children’s lives in a way that was separate from her feelings about us as parents. I never could find a way to make her feel included. Friend or for? She was never truly a friend to the family. How could she be? She was never a foe, either, because how could we ever blame her? She was just a girl. A girl that got left behind in all the DCF shuffle.

I wish her well. We must proceed cautiously with her, should she ever contact us again. How do we keep that connection alive? How do we honor it? I don’t know but I am trying to learn.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

**If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure.



We Survived!: Adventures in the First Year of Adoption


Survival is the name of the game in that first year. I remember our first year quite well. My husband and I were exhilarated and overjoyed to bring our little chickens home. Parenting was a beautiful experience we got to share for the first time. We were also exhausted, overwhelmed, and alone.

What foster and adoptive parents are not told are how many supports they are apt to lose in the process of parenting a traumatized child. Especially in that first year home. It never stopped amazing me the lengths my children went to in order to scare people away from our home. And it worked. Our loyal and steadfast group of friends stopped coming over. In the beginning, the children weren’t safe enough in the car to go a lot of places. Staying close to home in a familiar and safe environment was the best thing for them. But for us? It was isolating. I just wanted to have a cup of coffee with my girlfriend while the children played, even 15 minutes would have been great!

Our traumatized children could not stand to share our attention. The thought that they might “lose” a parent to another person becomes a real threat to their very survival. At least, in their minds. Our son and daughter would fist fight, scream, and put holes in the walls when we took phone calls. Their rages were legendary and could last for hours. If families came to visit, they would threaten our friends’ children or steal their toys. When someone would pull into the driveway they would panic, “who is that?!” To our guests they would say, “When are you leaving?” Mary spent an hour and 45 minutes slamming her feet against a door and threatening to kill me once when a girlfriend stopped by to use our printer. Carl and Mary would crawl all over my lap and shout in my face while I tried to carry on a conversation. They would punch each other relentlessly. They were scared to lose my attention even for a second. After all, they were survivors. They finally had a mama and they didn’t want to lose her.

I tried to nurture my friendships with “built-in supports” after the children went to bed. The first year that they were home, I hoped to have a girlfriend come by and have wine with me at 8:00. Unbeknownst to me, my hyper-vigilant children had already heard me on the phone. They knew this was coming and were fearful about an interloper in our home. Bedtime came with a series of epic tantrums. They destroyed their bedrooms, screamed for hours, and refused to sleep. She left, of course.

Eventually, friends trickled away little by little. The first year that our children were home was just too intense and our friends had no idea what to do or say. My husband and I were consumed with keeping our little family afloat. Our ship had sprung too many holes. We were too busy bailing out water to remember what it meant to have friends.

Eventually, I had a friend who couldn’t be scared away. By the second month my kids were home, we were in full-on survival mode. Our lives were filled with mobile crisis services, trips to pediatric in-patient psychiatric hospitals and intensive outpatient therapy. I was home with our new family additions for the summer. My husband was working long hours and I was often alone.

She and I had met in foster parent training. Even though DCF had never trained us for anything close to what we were experiencing, she felt prepared. She was planning to adopt from foster care and was not scared away by the kids’ behavior. We presented it to the kids that she was coming to visit them. She met us at parks and played basketball with us. She braided my daughter’s hair in a French braid. She was always excited to see them and never visibly flinched at anything they did or said.

Some days, when I was absolutely sure I couldn’t make it through dinner on my own, I would call her in tears. “Can you please come after work?” I would beg, “I can’t do dinner with them alone.” She came every time. I think she saved me that summer. Some day I hope I can repay the favor.

In those early days, our chickens were so fiercely protective of finally having a mama, they’d do anything to hold onto me. Literally and figuratively. They only slept for 45 minutes at a time. They sobbed when I went to the bathroom. They growled at the mailman when he tried to say hello to me. I never slept. To put it simply, they were so starved for “mom” that they couldn’t bear to share me. That summer was so isolating. I missed my friends. I envied them their parenting “struggles” that amazingly left them without bruises all over their bodies.

Other than this one friend, people backed away. We had to scramble during hospitalizations, because our dearest friends didn’t feel safe enough to watch the other kids. My mother-in-law cut a visit short once because she was afraid that the children could hurt her. My husband and I were essentially trapped in a house that now had every single closet door broken from it’s hinges. All of the rooms had damaged drywall. Therapists came to our house because transporting the children together by vehicle wasn’t safe. And. We. Never. Slept.

When vacation bible school came I signed the Littles up with a desperation that probably scared the church. The first night I cautiously drove them right down the street to the church. I was praying we made it inside. Once they were engaged in an art project I stealthily slipped into the parking lot, sat in my car, and cried. I was so isolated and alone. That period of time just seems like my husband and I were down in a foxhole together weathering a storm.

Thankfully things changed. The kids got better and began to feel more secure. A combination of intense therapy, medication management and therapeutic parenting led us to a better place. It’s not perfect, but it’s better. My parents moved halfway across the country to live in our town. Now we have Nana and Papa as backup. We started to be able to take some time to ourselves. The children were OK if Mom and Dad went on a date. They began to believe that we would always come back. Finally, we weren’t surviving anymore. We were thriving as a family.

It took a solid year. Suddenly Luke and I are sort of on an isolated island looking around and wondering what happened to all of our friendships. All of the un-returned phone calls and the visits where our friends fled in terror have caught up to us. We have emerged from the trenches but now our friendships have vanished along with afternoon naps and disposable income.

I can look back now and feel absolute amazement at how far we’ve come. We survived the first year. Now, Luke and I are trying to rebuild our support system and nourish those other relationships that fell by the wayside. Not all of them can be repaired. In this year, friends lost jobs, had babies, moved away, and even divorced. We missed all of it. Even as we reach out now we acknowledge that not all of these relationships can be repaired. It’s OK. Not everyone even understands the type of parenting we are doing. It’s OK. We have our little family. We survived. Things will never be exactly the same but it was worth it.  I’m done looking back. I’m ready to look ahead.

We survived and you can, too! #AdoptionTalkLinkUp

No Bohns About It

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

*If you have ever thought about foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to start your own adventure.


adoption, family

Today Was a Failure: Adventures in Accepting My Limitations


Sometimes I have to make a really hard judgement call. Today I had to decide, “Are they safe to be in the car together?” I also had to ask, “Will they stop screaming and acting out during the service?” The unfortunate answer to both of these questions was, “no.” I had to make the judgement call not to go to church. 

I really love church. I love the calm, quiet prayer. I love being reminded that I am not alone on this journey. I love the fact that for 45 minutes, someone else takes my kids to Sunday school and I have a small break. I love the fact that someone else takes those 45 minutes to try and teach my children about love, kindness, and something bigger than themselves.

Today, I was devastated to lose this. Our kids’ trauma was running at full speed today. They screamed, smacked each other, kicked things, said the most hurtful things you can imagine, and spoke to my husband in a way that was beyond disrespectful. They were way to dis-regulated to attempt a public outing. The whole thing would have overwhelmed them and made their behaviors worse. Today their trauma was winning this battle. I know that we are fighting a war against trauma, but every lost battle just feels like such a loss. I know this. I know my kids. But I also know myself, and I know that I really needed my church today. 

I also have a friend visiting from the other side of the country. I want my friend. I want the carefree outings we used to take. I want the late night talks and margaritas and chocolate lava cake from restaurants. I want to watch and critique a movie with my friend and have zero meltdowns occurring in the same room. Of course, when my kids are having a hard day, none of this is possible. And having a friend over whom I’d like to pay attention to? That causes my kids to have a hard day. 

Sometimes being a Trauma Mama means making sacrifices. Sometimes it means giving up on the things I want in order to meet the needs of my children. Sometimes? It makes me mad and resentful. I have given up so much of myself to be their mom. It’s worth it a hundred times over but on days like it kills me. Today I feel resentful and angry. Today I feel tired beyond belief. Today I wonder how we have ever managed to make it this far.

I stayed at home with the children today. they cleaned some areas in the house where their things were. I listened to Chopin at full blast on my iPod while my daughter screamed for an hour that she “hated this family,” and wished she were with her “other family, even when they did drugs!” I sipped chamomile tea and considered spiking it with something stronger. Nah. I lit lavender scented candles instead. I practiced regulating my breathing while my daughter tore apart the office and then put it all back together again. I took a bubble bath.

My mother stopped by after church and talked to the kids about following rules during Papa’s birthday tomorrow. It helped, but the day was just plain hard. I’m pretty sure the only thing I achieved on this day was surviving. Tomorrow is another day. And through it all? I’m still here. This mom isn’t going anywhere. We all have our bad days but I am still here.


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


Til Death Do Us Part: Adventures in Morning Separation Anxiety 


It’s hard to describe how we survive mornings at our house. It feels like we might all die before making it out to our school and jobs, respectively.  Mornings have always been difficult. It is the time of day when the Little chickens go to school and we go off to work. Our entire family is splitting up. Even though it’s only temporary, for kids with trauma it can still be scary. Their fight-or-flight response kicks in and, sadly for us, Carl is a FIGHTER. 

Yes, I promise that we will all come home at the end of the day. No, I will not leave you for another family. I promise I do not love my students more than my own chickens. Yes, I will still send you to school if you refuse to wear pants. Yes, I will put you on the bus even if your hair is messy. Even if you are in your pajamas. Even if you are naked. And yes, even if you are hitting me, and I have to carry you onto the bus.

These are all things I have actually said. To my own children. Luckily I have never had to carry a naked child onto the bus. At least, not yet…

My lovely, adorable, traumatized children. They don’t always know we will still be there at the end of the day. They don’t always know what a family does. The one thing they do know is how to survive. When threatened, they will do anything and everything to preserve what is theirs. This family belongs to them and they will fight before they let us go to work. 

So how do we get them out of the door every morning? I’m not really sure. We do have a bag full of tricks to help us out, though. We use a combination of secure connection, visual supports, prayer, and special-ops schemes to get us through. 

Some days are easier than others. lately, I really miss those days. So far this week, Carl had woken up yelling, screaming and making wailing siren sounds. For fun. He says it’s because he “likes to test us. It’s fun.” He has broken his closet doors. Again. He had gotten into a fist fight with his dresser. Again. 

Every morning this week Carl has run right up to his sister and burped in her face, yelled at her, slapped her, and gotten into her “bubble.” (When are kids get too close into personal space, we tell them they are “popping someone’s bubble.”) On Saturday, Carl and Mary got into a fist fight over the TV remote. He scratched her to the point of blood. They punched and slapped at each other and Luke had to pry them apart. 

Weekdays are the worst. Carl will wake up screaming that we are all “losers” and “meanies.” He slams doors, kicks walls, and throws things in the bathroom. He yells at Mary that she’s, “STUPID!” or “ugly” and that he hates us all. Carl talks back, screams that he hates us and we are so mean. He called his sister a loser and so on. He tries to find a rule to break just to spite everyone. He tells us we are so mean for making him go to school. Keeping his hands to himself proves to be impossible. The little guy is just spoiling for a fight.

 We’ve given him a sensory box with a “mystery” inside. It’s supposed to help him feel loved in the mornings. He had to reach inside and feel the object before taking it out. We put in a stuffed animal or one of our dirty shirts that smells like mom or dad. Yesterday morning he just yelled at the box and then at me for giving him the box. 

We have tried every trick in the proverbial book. He has positive behavior supports, rewards, some connected time, sensory solutions, etc. I try to snuggle him awake with hugs and kisses and kind words. Right now, Carl just cannot get through the morning without damaging something.

Carl is right in the middle of his trauma narrative in therapy. He is facing big scary issues from his past. We know from experience that he will improve after the course of this therapy. It’s just surviving this part that’s hard. In the middle of treatment the behavior is always worse. His fear and anxiety are worse. He has become fearful once more that maybe we won’t really finalize the adoption. Maybe we might give up on him. He told me that he “just doesn’t get loved” in the mornings. I asked him if he really felt like we didn’t love him in the mornings? Carl replied that it just feels this way but he knows we love him. 

It’s a roller coaster ride and we just have to hang on. Just a little longer until he gets past this part. Seeing and realizing that his behaviors are coming from a place of fear helps me to understand. It doesn’t make mornings any easier, it’s just easier to understand. 

Like I said, mornings are hard.  But I know he loves us. He just hates mornings. 

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



adoption, family

Mommy Needs a Time Out: Adventures in Self Care

It’s my job to remain regulated when they are dis-regulated. And sometimes? I want to quit. OK, maybe I don’t really want to quit my job as “mom.” It’s more like I just need a personal day. Parenting kids with trauma means lots of tantrums. Lots of yelling and crying. Lots of aggression. And LOTS of work.

Our kids have some very very large emotions. I want to be as responsive as possible. I acknowledge their emotions, reflect back their statements, help them to label their feelings. I encourage them to let it all out.It’s my job to act as if I am their frontal lobe. It’s my job to bringing these children back to the here and now.

Mary yelled at her homework because it was the same math sheet she always gets. She threw her pencil to teach it a lesson. Apparently the 81st math sheet was one worksheet too many? Carl yelled at the fridge and kicked it because it contained an apple that he would have to eat after his shower. I tried to watch an HGTV show about buying homes in Montana. Mary yelled at me for loving Montana more than I love her. I spent a better part of the day processing everyone’s feelings about homework, the fridge, and Montana. Then I iced Carl’s foot for awhile. Sometimes when you fight with the refrigerator, the refrigerator wins!

On Friday night I knew I needed a break. I could feel the frustration building. I love my kids so much, but sometimes I just crave a bit of piece and quiet. My children interpret this to mean, “Mom doesn’t love us anymore and will soon leave us.”

I should have been more in tune with my own needs on Friday when I began to feel this way. I wasn’t. I was guilty of something that many moms are guilty of. I forgot about myself. I tried to push through like a super hero. I am not a superhero. I am a sleep-deprived, overworked, exhausted mama. And by Saturday, it showed.

In trying so hard to be present with my children, I forgot to be present with them. Instead of really connecting with them, I was going through the motions and feeling cranky and resentful. The kids picked up on this right away. They began to feel unsettled and afraid. They began to vie for attention by picking each other apart. They tattled, they fought, they stole food from each other. Because I was dis-regulated, they became dis-regulated. I had basically backed myself into a lose-lose situation. I triggered their anxiety.

The solution? A mommy time-out. I put myself upstairs for a time out. Luke told the Littles that I was taking space. He brought me a picnic style dinner to eat in our room. I skipped family dinner. I watched trashy grown up TV. I took time to myself and I did not emerge until it was time to cuddle the little chickens and tuck them into bed. They missed me, sure. They were worried that I didn’t love them and that’s why I was taking a “time-out.” But guess what? We all got through it and I believe we were better for it. As I tucked them into bed, they both complimented me on using my “coping skills!”

Sometimes, getting sucked into the quagmire of their trauma means that I am so busy responding to their feelings that I forget to respond to my own. I’m not suggesting that every mom needs to watch Bravo TV in order to feel good. I’m suggesting that we, as parents acknowledge ourselves and our emotions as part of the intricate framework that makes up our families. We, too, are important.

The road of parenting children with trauma is not an easy one. Therapeutic parenting has it’s own set of challenges unique to us as Trauma Mamas (and Papas!) As I sit here sipping tea and listening to Chopin I know that I am taking care of myself. I am alone. I am not ashamed to take this time for myself.  And I know that I am worth it.


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

*If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure!


Burger King Must Read My Blog! : Adventures in Healing Food


“Herding Chickens…How’d they know?!

Pizza is disappearing into his face at an alarming rate. He is crouched in his chair, hunkered down over his plate, using both fists to shove pepperoni slices and crust into his mouth. It’s savage and a little scary to watch. He is coughing and gagging, but refuses to stop shoving food into his mouth. Any and all attempts to enter into his space to offer comfort or words of caution, is met with direct hostility.

This is not quite as alarming as the fact that he has left the table twice now, to go into the bathroom. The second time I follow him down the hall to listen through the door. Just as I suspected. He is throwing up the food he is eating. I reach up to knock on the door and am almost run over by the boy sprinting out of the bathroom and back to his food. I find him back at the table, sniffling, and shoveling food into his mouth.

I attempt to slow him down and offer to save food for him. He begins wailing and crying heavily. Between sobs he is begging me to give him cake. We do not have cake. I’m not sure what made him think of that. He is begging me not to take his food. I offer to save his food in the refrigerator. He clutches his head at the thought and I realize that he also has a migraine coming on.

He is my 10-year-old son, Carl. He is not at all sick, at least not the viral kind of sick. This isn’t out of character for him, but we have not seen these behaviors in about a year.Carl has issues around food.  I am quite taken by surprise to see this today because I’m not sure what triggered it. Carl is sobbing in loud, heaving hiccups and claiming that I am “mad” at him. There is a huge blob of ketchup running down his shirt. He finally allows me to gather him onto my lap and soothe him. I start his shower and promise to wait outside the door. I stay with him to pick out some cozy pajamas. My husband gives him children’s Tylenol for the headache. I rub his back as he vomits a few more times. I clean him up and give him water.

As I am going through the motions, I am reflecting. We have seen this before with Carl. It’s a trauma-response he has due to spending his early years without enough food. Carl and Mary would often eat butter or croutons that they got for their lunches when they were 4 and 5 (and maybe younger) because there wasn’t anyone to make them lunch. They didn’t always have enough food in the house. They learned to survive by eating as much as they could, before their siblings could get it.

When Carl first came home to us, his trauma response was triggered all over again. He had been living in a foster home separate from his siblings. Living with them again reminded him of all the times they were his competitors for basic survival needs, like food. He would scream and yell at me during each meal. He would throw his plate at me, food, silverware and all. I learned to catch the knife like a ninja! Then we started opting for plastic ware. After throwing his food he would scream that we were starving him and tantrum. Fifteen minutes after he ate a meal, he would forget that it even happened. He was convinced that we were lying to him about having eaten already. He was sure we were tricking him out of meals. It took this little guy a long time to finally feel safe.

His food issues have included hoarding food in his room, his backpack, and burying it outside in the snow. Snow melts, but Carl didn’t think of that at the time. He used to bring multiple snacks to school and then tell his teacher he had nothing to eat, and beg for more. He was just always worried that the food would run out. We gave him non perishable foods to hang onto so that he would know he had his own food. I made a written schedule onetime so that he knew when the next meal was coming. We let him know he could eat fruits, veggies, and granola any time of the day he wanted to. We showed him where to find these items, and always kept a full supply, where he could easily reach it. Slowly, he came around and stopped the food-shortage panic. It took a loooong time.

I thought we were past that phase. The thing about trauma, especially early childhood trauma, is that it sticks around. Carl’s brain was forming at a time when resources were scarce and adult support was even scarcer. He is almost hard-wired at this point to take care of himself by whatever means necessary. In times of stress, he reverts back to these survival skills.

This last week has been almost legendary in terms of the food drama. We could even hear him rummaging around in the middle of the night, collecting as much food as he could. He is in the beginning of his “trauma narrative” in therapy. This can bring up a lot for our kids. It puts them right back into that survival mode while they face their past traumas. The good news is that after they face the trauma, they begin to heal, and their mal-adaptive survival behaviors start to fade. The bad news is that while they are facing their trauma, we parents are facing it too!

Today we had church. We made it through communion although part of me was worried that he might jump across the alter and gobble down all of the wafers. He didn’t, and I was proud of him. After church, I decided to take the chickens out for lunch. Lately, eating a meal at home never ends, because Carl will beg for more and more foods to be brought out. Since he knows there is more food nearby he will cry and beg for other options and generally panic and yell at us that we aren’t feeding him despite the 3 different lunch options sitting in front of him. Carl isn’t trying to be difficult. He’s just afraid he won’t be fed.

Eating at a fast food place is great. You get all of your food at once, in your own little bag. Carl can easily see what is his and how much is in front of him. There are no other options seemingly withheld from him, stashed in cabinets or a refrigerator within arms reach. Also, Burger King is doing a “chicken fries” promotion right now. There are pictures of chickens everywhere including a grumpy looking “buffalo chicken.” Carl says that one is him! Since I refer to my children as “chickens” it seemed only fair that I herd them to a location with the slogan, “We herd you were hungry!” Lunch went off without a hitch. I would even say we all had a good time.


Carl says he is the chicken on the left. Mary says she is the chicken on the right.

I took pictures to remind everyone about the great time we had at lunch. This way Carl can’t forget it happened. I have proof! Other than that, Luke and I just have to buckle up and wait out the trauma narrative. It’s hard to watch Carl struggle but it will be entirely worth it to watch him feel safe.  In the meantime? Pass the chicken fries! I promise to take a picture so that you won’t forget.


Good thing Burger Kind knows a princess when they see one!

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

**If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting I encourage you to start your journey today.