Changing the Adoption Fairy Tale

I still believe in happily-ever-after. I’ll be the first to encourage people to take the next step in considering fostering or adopting children from foster care. I’ll also be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work out. It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t easy. I still believe in happy endings but my story is my own. I had to shift the narrative. I had to change my expectations. Yes, I’m living my happily-ever-after, it’s just that my fairy tale is different. It’s messy and heart-wrenching and wonderful and it is REAL. 

In the beginning we were attempting to adopt a sibling group of 4 children. Two disrupted and two were adopted. The oldest disrupted, aged out of care, and now keeps in touch with us. I guess our final success rate is two-and-a-half?

Marcus is the oldest. He disrupted from our house almost a year ago. I was worried sick about him ever since. He is 18 now, and living with a girlfriend. He signed himself out of care. He’s been in touch more and more frequently over the last several months. He sent me a text message the other day. It said, “Ya I know I never said it but I really care about you guys. And ya, I love you too.”

I thought he’d get arrested on his own. I worried that he might drop out of school. I worried there wouldn’t be anyone to love him. Did we fail him? He didn’t want to live in our house and take our last name. Was this a “failed” adoption attempt?

He’s still in school. He’s in a credit recovery program and getting good grades. He has a job. So far he hasn’t  had any episodes with the law. In all honesty he is probably drinking and engaging in risky behaviors. Overall, though, I’m impressed he’s done so well for himself. Recently, my husband and step-father traveled the 2 hours to where he lives and took him out to lunch. I sent along a care-package like my mother used to send to me in college. He isn’t in college. He isn’t technically “ours,” but I love him just the same. Did we have a fairy tale adoption story with him? No. I believe we have something equally as valuable. We have a relationship. It’s not a typical family relationship but it’s as close as he is comfortable with. I take pride in his successes. I also take pride in what I’ve been able to  give of myself as a parent. I take pride in teaching him to drive, holding his hand when he was shaking with fever, and rubbing his back when he cried about a relationship. Those moments were all real for me. Regardless of what our non traditional parent-child relationship looks like now.  No matter how he fares in life, I am glad I could do these things.

Mary and Carl have their ups and downs. They have trauma reactions, and fears and meltdowns. But they are also real little people. They have creative ideas and hilarious antics. I’m surprised and amazed by my children every day. They love us and have attached to us. That is success. We earned our family bonds through blood, sweat and tears. I mean that in the literal sense. One child drew my blood by stabbing me with a pencil during a dissociative episode. I’ve spent a sweaty hour in a car at a rest stop holding my daughter safe while she raged on a 100 degree day. I’ve cried tears of joy and triumph to hear them say, “I love you mom.” This is better than your run-of-the-mill fairy tale. This is 3 dimensional life. And it is amazing. What more could I ask for? These triumphs over trauma, attachment struggles and pain? These triumphs are the happy endings. This family is the happiest of endings.

A few months ago our daughter Mary was filling out a questionnaire in her little “All About Me” journal. It asked her to list her family members in one section and then write how they are related to you. She wrote “Carl–brother” and “Mommy and Daddy–love.”She was right. We aren’t related by blood, we are related by love. And so we live happily, messily, crazily ever-after.

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

adoption, family

The Difference Between Their Birthmom and Me: An Honest Conversation About Addiction

As many of you know I recently herniated a disc in my spine. Since then I’ve gone to PT, had cortisone injections, and took pain medication after pain medication in order to perform the most basic movements.

Today I couldn’t make it any more. My surgical consult isn’t until the end of the month. I landed in the ER at the hospital where my neurosurgeon practices. They consulted with him and put me on some heavy duty meds normally given by IV in the hospital. I am now going back tomorrow for an emergency appointment with the surgeon.

I have learned something huge through all of this. The medication today is only thing that helps to somewhat dull this pain. It isn’t gone, it still feels like I live with searing hot daggers lodged in my spine. I have shooting, squeezing, blood-curdling muscle spasms all down my right leg. The pain is like fire and acid and nightmares too terrible to remember. I need this medication they gave me. I cannot make it without the medication I got today. I am living in pervasive, festering, agony. I feel that my life and my sanity are forfeit if I do not have the tools to survive until the appointment tomorrow. But I will have the appointment.

The good news for me is that soon this will be over. There are medical interventions available to me in order to help. As unbearable as this is, I know it will get better for me. Here’s the thing. What if it didn’t? Re-read the last paragraph. Re-read it and replace the pain in my spine with the pain of depression. The pain of mental illness. The pain of addiction. For some people that pain is real. There is no emergency appointment with a surgeon tomorrow that will make things all better right away for an addict, a person with a mental illness, a person with a deep and unyielding depression. These people? These addicts? They aren’t so different than me. That second paragraph is probably the closest I will ever come to walking a mile in their shoes.

Today I am humbled. Today is the day that I can honestly empathize with the birthmother of my children. I may wish her well and pray for her and hope she finds healing. Yes, I do all of those things. But do I understand the things she did? Can I fathom the things she left undone? Do I, in my heart of hearts, believe that I am somehow better? It’s an ugly thing to admit about myself but, yes, sometimes I do. Tomorrow I will have answers. Tomorrow I will have my way out.

Let me take today to be humbled. Let me take today to understand, at least a little bit. Let me take this horrible day to realize that we are not so far from those we may judge. We are not so far from those addicts, those hurting, or those in need. We are all human. If only we all had the promise of help tomorrow. For this experience I am truly grateful.


Fighting Fear With Bubbles: Adventures in the Fear Behind Anger


Fear can hide behind the mask of anger. In children with past trauma, their fear can show itself as rage. It can look violent and loud and destructive. It can leave a trail of physical damage from tantrums and meltdowns. In our house, fear looks like holes punched in the walls, broken closet doors, smashed toys and cracked windows. But I won’t be fooled. I can see my child’s anger for what it really is. It is fear.

Carl is afraid. I recently suffered a herniated disc in my spine from a work injury. I am out of work. I am taking prescription pain killers. I cannot drive, I cannot take walks with my children, I cannot let them sit on my lap. I cannot bend down to tuck my children in at bedtime. I spend time at doctor’s appointments, or on the couch on a heating pad. I groan when I move and I need help to stand. I am always in pain.

Carl remembers another mom who took pills. He had a mom before me who slept through the day and wouldn’t get out of bed. There was another mom who didn’t tuck him in or take walks with him or drive him places. She would leave sometimes to go to “work” while a 4-year-old Carl was left with a 9-year-old sibling to watch him and baby Mary. Sometimes when he woke up she was gone. Sometimes she cried in her room for weeks at a time and wouldn’t talk to the family.

Although my situation is nothing like hers, there are enough similarities to trigger Carl’s fear. And he must be very, very afraid. He’s been having meltdowns. My parents watched the children Wednesday night while Luke took me to get a spinal injection. We were not there when he got home. Even though we told him about the plan, he still felt the fear. He flew into a rage when we got home and prompted him to take a shower (bathing is often a struggle and a trigger for our children anyway.) He broke things in his room and punched the walls. He screamed that he wanted a different mom. A better mom.

His rage continued the next morning before school. He exhibited his anger at his intensive outpatient treatment center after school. His therapist wasn’t sure she would be able to get him on the van to go home. He yelled and punched things and kicked things at the center. He was able to tell the therapist that he was scared. Logically he knew he could trust Luke and I but he still just felt scared.

Disarming his fear response was the only way I could think of to stop his raging cycle. At this point, if he were to be dangerously out-of-control or violent, we would have to hospitalize him. I’m not physically able to restrain him from hurting himself. I could suffer permanent damage to my spine of he were to punch or kick me in the wrong spot. So I tried to approach his anger in a way that would quell his fear.

When he came home it was just the two of us. Luke and Mary were at Lacrosse practice. I had a note taped to the front door. It said, “Roses are red, Violets are blue. Follow the clues, look where you go poo!” Who can stay scared when joking about poo? Carl ran to the toilet where he found another note. It said, “Carl is good, Carl is great. Look in the office, hurry don’t wait!” He followed the clues all over the house until he got to the last clue. He was giggling away and smiling. He kept saying, “Mommy what is this? I never got to do anything like this before!”

His last clue read,”This has been silly. This has been fun. Look under the bed and see what you’ve won!”Under the bed I had a brand new bottle of Mr. Bubbles. Take that, scary bath time! Bubbles are fun!

I gave Carl some choices, which usually helps to calm him because it gives him some control. He chose to take a bubble bath in our master bathroom. He also chose to eat his dinner in the bubble bath. Weird choices, I know, but it was just what he needed. After all, who can be scared eating pizza bites in a bath full of bubbles? Especially while their mom warbles off-key silly songs from the hallway? Silly, crazy, fun activities will help to disarm a child’s fear. It helped Carl.

I asked him later what he was afraid of. Carl told me that he is afraid I will die. He’s already lost one mother. He does not want to lose another. His fear is real. So is his love. That is why, no matter what, I will continue to fight fear with silly songs and bubbles.

No Bohns About It


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