adoption

Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

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Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!

 

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

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adoption, Attachment

What Are We Fighting For?

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You can’t fight a war on all fronts. Or so I’m told. Lately we’ve been fighting that way, though. Everywhere I turn there is something else to confront, another battle to win.

On the one hand, I don’t want to die. I don’t want Carl to die. And I most certainly don’t want to see that haunted look on his face ever again, where he says, “She sounds just like Mom G. (Bio-mom)” Carl is referring to Mary. After her 8th acute psychiatric hospital stay since 2017 began, we installed cameras all over our house. With motion sensors and night vision. We find a dog to be trained as a PTSD service dog. We find a trainor. We spend thousands, thinking “this has to work!”

After the 8th hospitalization, Mary came home with a murder plan. She’d written it down with pictures and words while inpatient. Despite our best efforts to monitor and keep our cupboards locked, she found a weapon. And she planned to find it, planned to use it, all around her father’s work schedule. When Luke wouldn’t be here to protect us. She wasn’t out-of-control. She was casually discussing getting rid of the people who cause her the most emotions. Because love hurts Mary. She fears it. She hates it.

We need more help, we tell providers. We need more help we tell her insurance company. We need more help we tell the Department of Children and Families Voluntary Services program. We need more help we tell the state Office of the Child Advocate. (That last one actually worked.)

We can’t take her home yet, we say to the Emergency Department. She’s too dangerous. We have another child in the home.  Luke cannot work because he stays home to protect the family when she is there. Carl doesn’t sleep. We’ve been putting the service dog in with him at night. “Her violent rages are increasing,” we say. That isn’t the scariest part. The part that terrifies us is when she is smiling and happy, but you find her with a knife.

We fight to get her services. She will be going to a short-term residential treatment facility. (Thank you, child advocate!) The director tells us that they are trauma-informed. They’ve worked on cases of RAD before. I’ve heard that before from providers with little to no experience. “But,”he says, “we can’t cure your daughter. Once we’ve exhausted all of our treatment options, you have to agree to take her home.” Huh?

“She’s not a renovation project,” I find myself defending her, “She’s a traumatized little girl. And, no, you can’t keep her.” But it’s said over and over again. “In cases like this we have to insist that the family agree to take the child home. If not, you may be charged with child abandonment.” What?!

“Do you know how hard we fought to adopt her in the first place? Why is this even a conversation?” So I’m battling again. To show others the good inside of her. To show them that we love her. She’s not a “bad kid.” She’s not a mistake. She’s just very, very dangerous right now. But she’s our daughter, so hands-off!

We fight to show the intensity of our struggle at the same time we fight to show the validity of our family. We fight for services. We’ve had trauma focused, in-home, and partial hospitalization programs galore. She isn’t getting any better. She’s having more intense periods of mania. No more SSRIs. We are fighting about med changes.

In the end we are fighting for her not to return/but then to return home. “What outcome would you like?” says the Residential Center director.

“Less homicidal,” we say, “less dangerous.”

If we can be safe we can handle the rest. I think. At least, we’ve managed so far. It’s probably too much to hope the girl I knew will be coming back anytime soon.

And I’m fighting with Luke. We hardly ever argue. Sure, we get upset sometimes but after a decade together, we work it out. Luke has always been my safe place. It’s just that I can’t seem to conceptualize “safe” anymore. Instead , I’m irrationally fearful. I still want to sleep with the deadbolt on, even while Mary is away. I walk Carl across the road in an empty parking lot. I’m irritable. I don’t like it when she calls Luke from the hospital to calmly argue her points on all of the reasons I should die and that “It was only a little knife.” Why even take the phone calls? So Luke stops taking calls until we can meet with a clinician. They are just too disturbing. And he is too much of a good man to listen if it hurts me.

I feel as though I’m fighting for my life. All the time. I’m fighting for Carl’s life. The hospital thinks we should live apart. Carl and I should take up a separate residence. Luke should stay with Mary and keep her safe. “You’ll have to agree to take her home” they repeat. Why do they keep saying that? Now Luke is fighting.

“I live with my wife! I live with my family!” He is fighting for me. He is fighting for Carl. He loves us. He will not have us separated.

I am fighting to muddle my way through EMDR therapy. It’s supposed to help my stress levels. Help me to cope. “But if I’m still in the same stressful situation, can it really be helped?” I ask the therapist. She has no answer.

Instead she asks, “what would you like the outcome to be? How would you like to respond to these incidents?”

“How would you respond?” I ask, “If someone was planning your death?” The therapist just shakes her head. She doesn’t know. Nobody knows how to do this.

And I’m still fighting back pain. My injury has nothing to do with Mary. It happened at work. And yet, it has everything to do with Mary. She cannot be near me so Luke always has to be home when she is. For safety. The neurosurgeon tells me that I will “probably never be asymptomatic” because my “reaction is very rare.” We won’t know for months. Mary worries that I will die. It’s better if she can control when that happens. That way her grief can’t surprise her like it did with Mom G. So Luke has to fight to keep Mary away from me. We literally can never be alone together. So even if I’m not dying, I’m slipping away from her. This only feeds her fear.

At the same time I fight to help Mary, I’m fighting to regain my own balance. I’m fighting to remember that I’m a good mom, a good wife. Mary is still mad at that other mom. The first one. Her biological mother who hurt her so much. It’s just that, well, why do I always have to pay the price? Why does Carl? Because she assumes I love him more. Because I talk to him and this makes her panic. Therefore I should watch him get hurt. To pay for all the hurts Mom G doled out to Mary.

So I’m fighting. We are all fighting a war. But the question is, what are we really fighting for?

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

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mental illness

Childhood Trauma and Mental Health: Guest Post From a Survivor

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Herding Chickens Guest Post:

One of my readers has agreed to share her experience on Herding Chickens. She has been following the blog for awhile. C always has great insight about my children, particularly Mary. This is because C is a survivor of trauma herself. She also lives with a mental health diagnosis she agreed to share with my readers.Enjoy! I think parents like me have a lot to learn from C. This will be written in an interview format. You may leave questions for C in the comments section.

HC:  Thank you for agreeing to do this. I am hoping you can shine some light on mental health and childhood trauma. Can you share your story with us?

C: First, I’ll give some background. I just turned 30 and I am in a master’s program for clinical counseling. I am a trauma survivor. My earliest memories involve trauma. This trauma involves my parents and maternal grandmother. I was never removed from my home. I did not start receiving treatment until I was 12 years old and it was from a guidance counselor.

I had my first psychotic episode around that time as well and began self-harm. I went impatient around that time. I wasn’t given a correct diagnosis at that time. I was too old for RAD, too young for borderline, and too young for bipolar. So they threw oppositional defiant disorder at me.

My parents were very good at acting perfect while demonizing me. They would call me a “bad little girl.”  I was medicated for depression and later Bipolar Disorder. I was discharged with lots of conditions such as limited contact with my father, family therapy as well as psych evals on my parents. I was supposed to attend a day program, and continued individual therapy. I went to the day program and continued therapy.

That therapist saved my life. He saw through the denials of abuse and sent me to a residential treatment facility. I went when I was 14 almost 15 and spent about a year there. By week two I refused meds and quickly became manic. I stayed that way for months. I did make friends while I was there. There were a few adults I came to trust. I  believed that they would protect me and they did. I got my Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis while I was there.

My parents were supposed to go to couples counseling, psychoeducation and parenting classes. They went to the parenting classes my mom went to therapy on her own. They were supposed to decide if they were going to be together to separate. They did not. I was discharged with no aftercare plan. For about 5 years I swung between mania, psychosis and depression. I also developed Agoraphobia. I didn’t go back to therapy until age 19.  I did a lot of talk therapy at first. Eventually I did prolonged exposure and Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), which I think desperately needs to be adapted for children. I wrote a paper and did adapt it somewhat. Then I went back to talk therapy and I still go weekly.

My personal life is depressing. I don’t have many relationships. My fear of abandonment is crippling my need for attention drives people away. Imagine an adult friend having those clingy behaviors Mary is having.  My family can shun me at times. I struggle with attaching to people inappropriately and letting go. I am still intertwined with my parents and am “retraumatized” often. I have no choice right now because I need to keep my medicaid while I’m going to school fulltime. I find strength in my trauma. I am currently in a fight with my previous university for discriminating and stigmatizing me. Since age 15 I have attempted suicide 4 times. It has been 6 years since I injured myself. Self-injury, like cutting, is very much like an addiction. When I was younger I was manic more than depressed, but that pattern has reversed in recent years.

I have always known I am not my diagnoses. I have Bipolar but I am not Bipolar. It’s something I manage. It has both enhanced my life and damaged it. It takes time to develop a very strong understanding of the diagnosis.  Making sure you have the correct diagnosis is so important. Learning how the diagnosis affects my life and not how I affect the diagnosis was important. Also there are many therapists who treat the diagnosis and not the person. That is detrimental. No matter how close a person’s symptoms match a disorder in the DSM, there are always many nuances, differences and uniqueness to each person.

HC: You sound like an incredibly strong person. When did you start reading “Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care” What drew you to this blog?

I started reading this blog about 8 months ago. I think another blog I follow had a link to it on her twitter. I kept reading for three reasons (in no particular order): 1) I am still trying to make sense of my life. I thought if I could read about kids who have experienced trauma and what they are like, I might find a group where I fit in. Also, sometimes I still like I caused so many problems for others with my behavior. If it’s from the trauma I can absolve myself of that. 2) Fostering/adoption is something I am considering. 3) The blog is compelling. It took me a very long time to get help. I want to see the turnout for children who get the therapy, meds, and proper parenting.

HC: Thank you! Can you tell our readers a little bit about your diagnosis? How did this affect your childhood? How does it affect you now?

Currently, I am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type 1, Borderline Personality disorder, and PTSD. By the time I saw a professional I was in sixth grade and the professional was a guidance counselor. He recognized something was not right with me. I was too old for a RAD diagnosis but still too young for a diagnosis of Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, or PTSD. At that time (1999) Bipolar was not diagnosed in children. Although, all the mental health professionals I’ve seen in my adult life agree that the bipolar came out in 4th grade. I have very few complete memories before age 15. I will get random snippets of things, but there are very few things I can recall at will.

That being said, I know I was well liked by teachers and peers. I just never knew what to do with that. I knew how to be a friend, but not how to have friends. I got into fights a lot, usually when something was happening that I had couldn’t tolerate and had to stop. This could be teasing or one instance a friend was just playing around. She shoved me a couple of times, even after I told her to stop. I nearly broke her jaw. Physical contact has always been a trigger for me. I had many fears. I was paranoid a lot. I was manic a lot. I was very lonely.

As an adult, fear of abandonment and the need for someone to love me rules all. I attach to people instantaneously. It’s like I am a child and I have wrapped myself around mommy’s ankles immediately. I never would have done this with my mother. I don’t know how I choose these people. It just happens. Then I will do almost anything to keep these people in my life. At any sign that they are going to leave, whether it is real or imagined, I become distressed. It’s like experiencing all 7 stages of grief at the same time. It’s like a hole is burned into my soul that can never be filled except by that person. I haven’t had many relationships romantic or otherwise. I feel pathetic. My chronological age and emotional age are so out of sync, that I can’t make it work. Emotionally I am about 18. Chronologically I am 30! Of all my diagnosis the Borderline Personality Disorder is the worst.

HC: I know that you experienced some childhood trauma, which causes you to feel unsafe in relationships. Many foster/adoptive parents want to know one thing. How can we help? What would have helped you in childhood to know you were loved? Is there anything that helps you now?

These are great questions. I will answer them in reverse. What helps me now is simply knowing that someone is thinking of me. My cousin is great for this. He will text or call me because he saw something that reminded him of me. It could be something we did together, or he could just invite me to dinner. Can you believe it’s that freakin’ simple? Yet so very few people do it. Sorry, but it isn’t about you making sure they feel loved. They have to be able to feel loved. I’ve lived so much of my live believing I’m “unlovable.”

I don’t think that belief was shattered until I was 18 and my nephew was born. A big part of feeling love is being chosen. When my nephew was a baby he chose me over other people. The belief that I was “unlovable” started to peal away. I think that in childhood, having friends would have helped in a major way. If you can get your kids to socialize, and make a friend or two, it would be great. I know getting to that point is difficult because their chronological age and emotional age don’t match up. I did read a study that said kids with anxiety often build confidence and social skills, if they are placed in a group that is a year or two younger. That may be helpful here as well. Creative outlets are also important. I know Mary and Carl are musically inclined. So maybe lessons of some type would be beneficial. This can apply to sports as well. Having that talent and knowing there is something great about them is helpful.  Giving them control over when and where to share that talent can balance the inferiority/badness/out-of-control they feel.

HC: That is really helpful advice. Thank you. Have you ever had violent outbursts during a manic episode, or periods of dissociation? What signs or triggers should parents look for? Since we can’t read our children’s minds, what does it feel like to be out of control?

Comments on Bipolar Disorder: Anything can happen during a manic episode. The longer the episode goes on the greater risk for losing control, becoming psychotic, and dissociating. Be aware that mania in children and adults look very different. I was often violent during mania, complete with crazy strength. I once picked up a wooden coffee table with 4 panes of glass measuring about 24×24 inches, and threw it across the room at my brother. He was calling me names and teasing me. I had no other resources to make him stop, because of the mania. I also flipped over a sofa with my dad sleeping on it. I would bang my head on things punch things. This evolved into cutting and burning. The self-injury was almost always an effort to escape the dissociation. It was so scary.

Comments on Trauma: Dissociation is so much more that not being in control. It’s not knowing which way is up. Not knowing what’s real and what is a dream. Who is talking to you and what’s just the hallucinations. Keep in mind that as a child I was not in treatment and my trauma wasn’t over. I ended up in a residential program at age 14-15. My experience was unique. Most kids don’t talk about positive experiences in residential treatment facilities. However, I had one counselor who took care of me a lot she said she always knew I was dissociating/entering psychosis by the way I would look at her. She said it was as though I was looking through her. She also said it was like I was struggling to listen and nothing was getting in. Also I tried any attempt to control things. I had OCD-type behaviors. I wanted to organize having and doing things is a just so manner.

HC: Thank you for sharing that with us. It sounds like that caregiver was very attuned to you. What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

During undergrad I was in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Club. We were looking for a cause, and I suggested having an out of the darkness walk. Those are walks that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has to raise awareness about suicide, suicide prevention, and stigma surrounding mental illness. So another student and I made it happen, and we had our first campus walk. Over the three years I was there we raised about $20,000. We also brought people together to talk about this issue. We remember those who have been lost, the survivors, attempt survivors, and those who are struggling. We also had events leading up to the walk.

HC: That’s quite an accomplishment! If you could have changed anything in your childhood, what would it have been and why?

I wish my mother would have taken my side just once. She chose my father over and over again. She participated in the infliction of pain upon her children. Til this day she doesn’t take my side or acknowledge my pain. However, she will for my brother.

HC: That’s terrible. I’m very sorry about your mother. No one should have a childhood like that.  What would you like parents of children with mental health disorders to know?

It can take a long time for anyone living with a mental illness to come to terms with it. They can feel like there is something inherently wrong with them, especially kids. Keep your kids age appropriately educated and let them have a say in their treatment. Listen to them and make them feel like they have some control. They will have to deal with this on their own one day, so prepare them for that. Also, let your kids see that mom and dad or grandma and grandpa, or insert adult role model here______, are also flawed. Adults make mistakes too. Let your child’s disorder be part of them, but let them know everyone has differences and no one is inferior to anyone else. Beware if they are idolizing and glamorizing someone. Talk them about how there are things that they don’t know about the person they idolize. The danger is in creating an idol that they can never live up to.

Aside from the trauma, I think dealing with the Bipolar Disorder is easier because it’s always been there. I know what to look for, when to call the doctor, and all that jazz.

HC: How is your life different because of your condition? In what ways are you flourishing despite your struggles?

I can’t imagine having a career, a family, responsibilities, and then losing everything. My social life suffers most. I don’t have friends, and I don’t drink or party so that doesn’t help. I drank once. I was of age (23). I didn’t get drunk. I had 2 beers and 2 shots of vodka and I got manic. I even checked with my psychiatrist before I went to the party. She said it should be fine, it would only increase the effects of my Klonopin. Never again! I am trying to start a photography business, and I do great in school. I am pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. I hope to do something to help the community mental health system and eventually go into private practice.

HC: Your story is an amazing one. You are such a survivor. One last question: when are you starting your own blog and where can we find it? Lol

Not sure. Let’s see how this goes first lol.

 

**Our guest poster, C, is open to answering reader questions. You can leave them in the comments section.

 

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family

The Prodigal Son…Graduates! 

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This is a day I never thought I’d be able to see. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always believed he would finish his high school degree. This is a point I hotly debated with the many social workers, and clinicians involved over the years. “He won’t want to graduate from high school when he is almost 20. He’s missed too many credits. He’ll probably just get his GED,” was something a clinical consultant on his case said to me once. What he meant was “Marcus will surely drop out.” But I knew better. Marcus, our children’s oldest biological brother, never backs down when he’s determined about something.

It’s just that after he decided he didn’t want us to adopt him, he left and swore he’d never return. So I believed that I would have to miss the day he got his diploma. I stupidly tried to comfort myself with thoughts of seeing his pictures on Facebook or being there “in spirit.” Marcus eventually made contact with us and we managed to forge a new kind of relationship. Despite this, I didn’t think he would want his “old parents” at his high school graduation. But he did. He asked us to come when he contacted me to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Man can that kid make me cry!

For me, he will always and forever be my eldest son. For him I’m probably one of the many “moms” he’s had through his years in the foster care system. He often felt like a throwaway kid.  Marcus felt out of place being loved by a family. So he pushed back. He got suspended, kicked out of schools, sent to a group home, disrupted many foster placements and did a stint in “juvie.”

Social workers cautioned us from the beginning against getting too attached to this “troubled teen.” But attachment was just what he needed. Unconditional love, acceptance, and ultimately the ability to ride out his struggles. No, we never got to adopt him. He aged out of foster care. But eventually Marcus returned to the house of his first foster mom. He wasn’t “in the system” anymore. She had long since retired from fostering kids. But Marcus? He always had a place with her.

Marcus often felt that no one wanted him. He pushed back against love so hard that he tried to drive the people closest to him away however he could. It didn’t work. For this  graduation the vice principal and resource officer (the same one who had to arrest him once) from his former school attended. He had a childhood friend he’d kept in touch with over his years shuffling through foster homes. He had his first foster family. He had an older sister’s ex-husband.  And he had us. One of his older biological sisters came and surprisingly, so did his biological father. We all loved him enough to be there.

When Marcus first started coming to visit us, he reminded me of the little boy Max from the children’s’ book Where the Wild Things Are. For one thing, he would stretch waaay into his 7-year-old sister’s footy pajamas, shirts, and headbands when playing with her. He was just shy of the wolf costume Max wears in the book’s opening illustrations. Like Max, Marcus was always quite fond of “making mischief of one kind or another,” and like Max he was an expert at driving his caregivers crazy.

If ever a child deserved to be made “King of the Wild Things,” it was Marcus.  He would have angry outbursts and tantrums over the smallest things. Then he would put on his headphones and drift away to a place where no one could make contact with him. Marcus would come back at his own pace. So many of his relationships followed this back-and-forth pattern. Like Max, Marcus was a lovable child at heart and needed to know it. I obviously had to read him the book aloud. He loved the experience! At 17, he’d never heard of the story, or even heard of parents reading stories to their children at bedtime. 

When we started his adoption process, I bought him a hardcover copy of the book. I slipped it beneath his pillow after writing on the inside cover “You have finally come home to a place where someone loves you best of all.” We never discussed it. After he left us, he packed everything except that book. It crushed me. Like the beasts Maurice Sendak created, I wanted to roar and gnash my teeth. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so! But I couldn’t. So I let go. I had been wrong about this story the whole time.

I wasn’t the mother waiting at home with his hot supper. I was one of the many “Wild Things” trying to love him along the journey of foster care. So when Marcus asked us to be at his graduation, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt love, pride, and gratitude that we were still family. I cried through the ceremony from the moment he walked in until the moment he crossed the stage.  Luke and I were by far not the only ones there for Marcus. He had the largest group of supporters of any graduate that day. As we stood around wiping tears and snapping pictures, I figured maybe I wasn’t the mother or the “Wild Thing” after all.

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Marcus approached Luke and I last. Without words, he fell into Luke’s arms and pulled me into a tight group hug. He was crying and so was I. In that moment, in that hug? Marcus really was “home.” No matter where he goes in life, that hug was the place where “someone loved him best of all.”

Congratulations, Marcus.

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

*My sincere apologies if I botched the plot with my interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story book Where the Wild Things Are

 

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