The World at 1:00 AM

I am sitting in the dark with a bottle of Jelly Belly bubbles. The clock reads 1:14 AM. Sleep eludes me tonight because my thoughts are racing. I breathe in the smell of Very Cherry and I exhale a gentle stream of scented bubbles. This is a technique taught to us by our children’s longtime trauma therapist, L. It’s meant to slow breathing down and bring you back to a calm and logical state. L gave us our first bottle and now I buy them in bulk.

The last few weeks have been challenging. Carl was raging out on a regular basis. The crisis clinician now comes to our house twice a week to work with him. We call for any additional emergencies, but that just means waiting for hours until someone shows up to say, “You handled this very well.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

I had to take him home from camp because he threatened a female counselor. She was scared. After being corrected for something he sneered at her and said, “You’re lucky I don’t go crazy on you right now.” His defense of this statement was to say that she was, indeed, lucky he didn’t get mad and hurt her. The little boy I love so much is a nightmare sometimes. He also isn’t so little anymore.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

After this incident I dragged him to the police station. To tell the truth, all of my connected parenting and therapeutic techniques were for naught. He needed to see what the consequences would be if he continues down the path of domestic violence. The Lieutenant there is (sadly) very familiar with our children.

He really scared Carl within an inch of his life. He threw down his handcuffs and had Carl hold them. He shouted like a drill Sargent and demanded Carl stop the violence. He promised to arrest my son if he laid a hand on me or did any further property damage.

I was glad. I was honestly glad that the Lieutenant promised to come and take my son if he tried to hurt me.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

After this Carl was less destructive. He didn’t threaten. He is still mad and yelling. but he isn’t domineering. He isn’t trying to intimidate women in the same way. This could be due to the visit to the police station. It could also be due to the time of year. We are at the point where his aggression decreases again.  I wonder if anything other than change of season affects him.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

Mary was having a difficult time at her program. She had to be secluded once for violence. For a few weeks her conversations consisted of yelling at me, refusing to speak to Luke, and demanding we buy her things. We had a visit scheduled on a day that Carl had a massive meltdown.

Rather than leave him with Nana and Papa, I stayed home. I cancelled my visit with Mary. I made sure Carl was stabilized and performing his restitution. After that I simply went to bed. I shut off my phone because it was too much to talk to the world. I drew the shades and shut out the world. It was too much effort to explain the crazy of my house. It was too much to hear suggestions. It was all too much.

I took a day off and laid in bed watching my favorite shows. Behind the safety of a closed door I snuggled my kitty. Luke brought home takeout. I didn’t go down to dinner. I didn’t do a thing because I just didn’t have the emotional bandwidth left.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

After my “day off” I was ready to face the world again. I rallied and went to see Mary. Carl actually wanted to go with me, which was amazing. He hadn’t seen or spoken to her in 6 months. Because he was so traumatized by her murder attempt and her physical abuse, we never push him. I’m not even sure how to put these two back together again when she finally comes home.

The visit worked out. I brought a huge bin which we filled with soapy water. We played with water guns and water toys for over an hour. The visit was a beautiful thing. I try to hold on to this.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Bubbles.

It isn’t easy. It’s 1:14 AM and I am caught between sleep and stress. All I can say is that I’m trying. I think I’ll sit here with my bubbles awhile longer.

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

adoption, family

What Have I Done?

There are times when rage bubbles up inside of me like so much lava. I choke it down and attempt to swallow it whole. It seems I can barely breathe for choking on my own anger.

Carl screams and screams at me. He pounds on his door and smashes the things in his room. When upset, Carl tries to assert his dominance. He speaks to me in the horrible way an abusive husband speaks to his wife. Carl makes a show of his physical strength in an attempt to…I’m not sure. Maybe in an attempt to intimidate me or scare me.

The last two weeks have been up and down with him. He’s gotten into several physical altercations at school. I’ve had to pick him up from his intensive outpatient program for throwing rocks at a boy and smashing him over the head with a water pitcher. They discharged Carl the next day because his treatment program was “finished.” At this point, Carl has done so much property damage at home that the drywall in his room resembles Swiss cheese.

Last Friday he slammed his own head against the wall in anger. On autopilot I gave him Tylenol and an ice pack. My calm face and quiet voice almost never falters. It’s like a therapeutic-mom mask that I’ve worn too long. I can’t take it off, even when I try. I also can’t bring myself to exactly care that his head hurts. From a detached place inside of me I check him for signs of concussion and then simply walk away.

The past two weeks have been hell. Actually they’ve probably been my family’s version of normal. Marcus has screamed and yelled at me about calling the police to check on him. Then he yells and swears at me to give him money. He questions why we ever adopted him. Why did we change his name?

On a two-hour round trip visit to see Mary she dismisses me after twenty-four minutes. Her therapist has inadvertently scheduled a trip to get Chinese food with her. If I stay, Mary can go the following day for Chinese food. I don’t stay.

I don’t stay because Mary wants the food more than the visit. If I force her to finish this visit we will both be miserable. Taking food from one of my children is akin to cutting off a finger. Disheartened, I drive home only to get a phone call from Carl’s school about yet another behavior issue.

My face is stuck in a small strained smile. I must resemble some freakishly macabre scarecrow. No matter how I’m feeling on the inside my outer veneer remains frozen.

The truth is that nothing is getting better with our children. I looked back at all the notes I’ve taken over the years. I checked all of the blog posts I never published, the data I never looked at cumulatively. The younger children only improved after completed trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. That was the only time things improved.

At least, they improved to a point. When Carl began psychotropic medication things got a bit better. This first year showed the most, and the only, change in his trauma symptoms. Every Spring after this we’ve had the exact same experience with Carl.

We have been fooling ourselves thinking that things have gotten incrementally better over time. The data says otherwise. It says that beyond year one things have remained the same for three years. No matter what subsequent medication change or modality of therapy, Carl has been the same every Spring. He is physically violent and verbally abusive in the exact same way every year.

Now I stand in Carl’s room with my anger- lava finally flowing from my mouth. The veneer of my face has finally cracked.

“Enough!” I yell back at him. Yelling back is never wise. It doesn’t help anything. Still, the lava is spewing out now and I don’t care to stop it. “You cannot talk to me like this! You cannot treat people like this. Screaming at me every day is abusive. Trying to intimidate me by smashing things and throwing things is abusive. You are acting like an a**hole!”

He (of course) yells back at me, “You think you’re making me feel better but you AREN’T!”

I realize that I am uninterested in his feelings. I am uninterested in his healing. I am uninterested in helping him to feel safe. Instead I yell, “I don’t care how you feel! You are done treating me like this! You are done acting like an abusive a**hole!”

“If you don’t like it when we yell at you then WHY DID YOU ADOPT US??!!”

I open my mouth to deny this but nothing comes out. I want to say, “I always wanted you. I’d never second guess this choice.” The words never come. I choke on these, too.

It’s hard to admit that Carl has struck upon something here. A dark, ugly, secret part of me agrees with him.

Why did I do this?

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


Suicidal Ideations

The waiting room is freezing. I’m certain my fingers are turning blue. The wait is nearing 3 hours but Marcus still won’t let me into the ER where he is. As an adult, it’s his option. As a mom it’s my option to be here for him no matter how he pushes me away.

“I’m to the point in life where all that’s left is to hang myself”

“I need a grave n a tombstone. And a casket”

These are a few of the text messages he sent me. My son, my Marcus, was in a city in another state when he told me this. So I came running. What else could I do?

I do not want to bury my son. I take this seriously even if he’s just trying to hurt me. I would do anything to keep my boy alive.

Therefore, in the interim I called the police in that city. It takes me and hour and half to get there and they were closer. They found my son by pinging his cell phone. The EMTs somehow convinced him to go to the hospital for an evaluation.

Marcus hates nothing as much as he hates the police. He has a tumultuous past with them. He distrusts them. Marcus avoids the police at all costs. But he couldn’t avoid them today.

The EMTs took him to a local hospital. He went, but he was denying everything. I came because…well I came because I’m his mom. It’s what we do. We moms will be there for our kids. I was able to show the text messages to the social worker.

This comes on the heel of some strange FaceBook posts he made. Marcus also called Luke on Father’s Day. We all spoke to him but he told me he was surprised he’s still alive. He said his life was terrible.

If you’ve followed my blog you know that Marcus has been living in his car. He refuses to come home. He’s up and down. He’s Marcus.

He’s also an adult so he can refuse to see me. That leaves me here, in the waiting room.

“Yo r u f-omg serious, man?? Go to your house.”

This is what he texts me now. My reply is along the lines of what I always tell him. My hope is that someday he believes this:

“You don’t have to let me in. I’m still here, though. Always will be”

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

adoption, family

Imperfect Family

When my daughter came home I found myself well out of my depth parenting the girliest of girly-girls. She loved pink and Disney princesses. She owned a pair of sparkly high-heels and wore them despite being unable to walk very far. She was seven. I hated those heels with a fiery feminist passion. They wreck a woman’s spine. They represent a misogynistic ideal and so on. However, she brought them with her from foster care. She loved them. They were hers and therefore taking them away would be a violation of her possessions and her past. I was trapped.

As a brand-new mom to a child already seven-years-old I struggled to bridge a divide. She’d already had seven years without me and now I needed to find a way to connect. I favored bare feet and Bob Marley over nail polish and tea sets. Light mascara and a bit of translucent face powder was the sum total of my makeup repertoire. Mary came to me asking about perfume, blush and something called “contouring.”

The boys were always easier in this way. They wanted to be outdoors exploring or working on projects. We’d all put on comfy sneakers and take off for the day to explore a museum exhibit, petting zoo, or aquarium. Inevitably someone would end up carrying Mary because her shoes were uncomfortable.

She’d wonder aloud why I didn’t have more “boyfriends” while her new feminist mom fretted about teaching her the truth behind a woman’s worth. (As an aside Luke was constantly baffled at her lack of understanding around the “marriage” concept. Poor guy!)

People would say to me, “All those boys! At least you’ve got your girl.”

I would think to myself, “Yes, but what do I do with her?? I hope I’m doing this right!”

Mary loved to wear matching clothes. She was delighted at thinking we looked the same. She said it marked us as family. We bought all manner of matching outfits in pastel colors. I happen to love long flowing skirts or dresses with flip-flops. Luckily for me, Mary picked up my penchant for hippie-clothes and Bob Marley music. It seemed like we met somewhere in the middle. Although I still gritted my teeth through “Barbie: Life in the Dream House” on TV, I found I could play actual barbies with finesse.

One of the cardinal sins in adoption is trying to order up your perfect child. Sometimes parents envision a certain kind of future with their child only to face reality  involving an imperfect child. I’m sure we all do this to an extent. We’d like for our children to take after us. Then we find we have a unique individual with their own ideas. Letting go of my peace, love and political-activism ideal wasn’t exactly easy.

One day it all came to a violent end with those god-awful high heels. You see, from the time Mary came home she would experience intense, violent rages. Mary, and the other children, were always on high alert for danger. The slightest thing could trigger a volcanic eruption from her that resulted in blood, bruising, and property damage all around. If she felt my attention was elsewhere, intense fear of abandonment would start a chain of destructive behavior.

It was startling and baffling to the rest of us. She’d begin to laugh in a loud and strange way. The laughing would reach an uncontrollable frequency and an ear-piercing decibel. Then the rage would start as the laughing turned to screaming, hitting, biting and head-banging. This could go on for hours.

The demise of the high heels came on a day like many others. It was a weekend, which was usually the time Mary found unbearable. Lot’s of close family time was difficult for her. Having a really fun time turned to intense fear and anger quickly. On this day, Luke was at work all day so I took the kids out by myself. We’d all done something fun like a trip to the park before coming home for lunch.

Spirits were high and everyone was laughing. I should have noticed then that Mary had begun the laughing sequence that never ended well. I was a new-mom though, and I didn’t. When I started preparing lunch, she couldn’t handle it anymore. She attacked me with full force hitting, kicking, and biting. She chomped into my exposed leg with the strength of a rabid racoon. Thanks a lot, flowing skirts!

Around this time I had been reading a book by Heather T Forbes that explained regulation and explosive behavior in traumatized kids. She had this suggestion that you contain the child in a room and get below eye level so they didn’t feel threatened. I took/dragged Mary into the safety of her room, speaking in a soft voice. I closed the door for the safety of the other kids. Kneeling down below eye level, I softly repeated, “you’re safe, I’m here,” while she raged.

And rage she did, in spectacular fashion. Before the adoptions were finalized we were unable to place her in a protective hold. The best we could do was mitigate the damage and wait for the on-call crisis worker to come.

After knocking over her book shelf she sort of flew at me and then BAM! something hit my head. It all happened so fast I couldn’t understand why red blood was clouding my vision. I (smartly) stood up and felt around at the wet patch on my throbbing, burning, skull. Mary stood screaming and thrashing with one bloody high-heel in her hand. She’d landed a blow with the heel of the shoe right on top of my head. I stood up and grabbed the heel while clutching my sweater onto the blood. Her rage went on for another hour and I fended her off as best I could.

By the time I was able to disengage, the storm had passed. Mary lay in a tiny 44 pound heap under her blankies. I cleaned up my head and applied ice. The emergency crisis clinician arrived to find a straitened room and a shaken mom with wet hair. Mary had gone mute and wouldn’t talk at all to the responding clinician.

This was maybe the fourth time they’d responded to a sad, quiet child and a shaking, nervous mom. I didn’t realize it at the time but so far as they could tell, nothing was wrong at all. When they asked Mary if anything had happened she would shake her head “no.”

“Was it just that she didn’t want to eat lunch?” the clinician asked, looking skeptical. I shrugged. I had no idea.

When Mary was finally hospitalized in the psychiatric ward, the therapists didn’t understand. I overheard one say to another, “Well, the mom didn’t get exactly what she wanted. She wanted a little doll to dress up and look like her. When these kids aren’t perfect playthings, the parents give them back.”

Four years ago I was stunned to realize that people didn’t believe our tiny daughter was violent and dangerous when dysregulated. At home she felt safe to let her feelings out. In public she was selectively mute, small and unassuming. People in public thought she was the sweetest thing and we just didn’t like her. It was quite the opposite. We loved her and she was beginning to love us. She was terrified.

Four years later and those high heels are GONE. Mary is still here. So is the tiny round scar on my scalp from the heel of her shoe. She may be in a residential therapeutic school, but she is in this family. Therapeutic school is what she needs for treatment. If she needed a kidney, I’d give her that. Instead, she needs intense treatment in a place she can be safe. She is still our beloved daughter. She is always a part of this crazy, imperfect family.

Luke and I did listen to Heather Forbes. We listened to Karyn Purvis and Deborah D. Gray. We learned about trauma and we continue to connect with our daughter the best we can. Mary has a psychiatric condition, though. Her trauma, like my scar, will always be there.

I don’t know what this means for our family long-term. We have a moratorium on heels now. We have the best relationship with Mary that she will allow. Maybe she thought she’d get a perfect mom. Maybe I did think we’d all have that perfect happy ending. I don’t know.

What I know is this: We have a perfectly imperfect family. For now, that’s enough.

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

adoption, family


Acceptance. It’s a hard word for me these days. It is hard to accept and let things happen. I am trying to understand that my children operate within their own emotional states. I cannot save them from this. All I can do is support what they need in the moment. All I can do is try to accept where they at, emotionally. It is hard!

It seems as though Marcus has moved in with his biological dad. We did pay for his car to get towed there, because at the end of the day we are his safety net. It’s hard to accept that he honestly can’t comprehend this. At least he is with Bio Dad in a house and not parked in a cemetery and sleeping in his car. BD is a mechanic and that is what Marcus believes he needs for survival. He’s safe(ish) where he is.

Accepting that Marcus wants to live with BD for now is OK. I think a lot of young adult adoptees want to find their roots and figure things out. He is 20, so he needs to be able to explore his connections. I think it’s hard to accept that he can’t have both families. He isn’t speaking to us right now. His car insurance notice came in that they were canceling because he owed over $700. I hope he goes to his court date but since he isn’t talking, I don’t know. I have to try and accept that Marcus can’t manage two sets of parents right now. That’s hard.

I have to accept where Mary is in her healing. She is working to get off-grounds privileges at the her RTC school. She earned horseback riding lessons that she can attend weekly if she is safe. The program there is amazing. They are so good with complex trauma and attachment issues. Mary, however, has a hard time believing she deserves any of these things. Instead of making it to her first horseback riding lesson, she had a violent incident the day before. She was so excited (and possibly anxious) that she sabotaged the moment.

We haven’t been able to take her off-campus since Thanksgiving. It’s hard to accept that she isn’t ready to be away from the safety and structure of the RTC. I have to work on accepting that she needs this level of restriction right now. It’s hard to accept that my little shadow is not able to get in the car and take trips with me.

Harder still is accepting that Carl is struggling. He is our most successful child. Carl is a gentleman who holds the door open for ladies in public. He carries my bags and hugs me in front of his middle school friends. It’s hard to accept that he also yells at me for hours and smashes his room to bits. It’s hard to accept that right now we need the emergency mobile psychiatric service team to come out 2-3 times a week for deescalation. It’s hard to reconcile the boy I know to the tornado of his emotions. I am trying to accept where he is emotionally at the moment. It’s hard to do.

In all my worry I turn to Luke. Late at night when my back hurts, or I’m filled with doubts, he wakes to hold me. Luke tucks me in close to his side. He shelters me from the storm of my own emotions. Never once has Luke told me I cannot feel what I am feeling. Right now I am in a space where I occasionally need a 2:00 AM snuggle session. He never questions why. This is acceptance.

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

adoption, family

The Prodigal Son is Homeless

He’s been sleeping in his car, apparently in a cemetery. Marcus is in another state, in a slum, sleeping on the street in his car. I cannot understand this choice for the life of me. Why does Marcus prefer living in his car to learning or skill to help him get gainful employment? He honestly can’t visualize his future at all.

He’ll say/shout, “I told you what I want for my future. I want MY CAR! I need to work on MY CAR! That’s what I need for my ‘future.’ I don’t have a future if I don’t have MY CAR!!!”

It baffles me and I feel as if we are always speaking a different language. Either way, we aren’t supporting him financially so that he can buy more pot and “soup up” the rusting Honda Civic from the 90s that has become his whole life.

I made a throwaway comment the day that he left. I sent him a text message (because he refused to talk to me) trying to convince him to go to his interview with Job Corps. I was so mad that he blew it off to work on his car. I said, “Unless you want to LIVE in your car…blah blah blah.” I didn’t mean that Marcus should literally live in his car. He did it anyway.

Marcus took off. I only saw him once since then. One Friday morning I found him asleep with some guy, in his car. He’d spent the night in his car, in our driveway. His bed was right there and he chose to sleep in the car. Marcus was wrapped up like a burrito in the fuzzy purple blanket I bought for him when he was a teenager. He didn’t really pack anything from his room but he took that blanket with him when he left.

Now, he calls because his car has been towed in the city where he’s been staying. He didn’t switch his license plates over from his first junker to his second. This means he was (recklessly) driving  an unregistered car when he got pulled over.

So, now he is sleeping…?

Marcus called begging for us to pay for the car to be towed to his biological dad’s house. His BD is a mechanic and tries to help Marcus on occasion. Marcus had no plan to go to his court date for this infraction, or register his car, or deal with his overdue emissions. As usual he had no plan for the future, no matter how immediate. It wouldn’t be so bad if he’d let us help him plan these things but he refuses to plan. Instead he calls and yells awful things at us.

Despite the fact that he called swearing and cursing me out, we knew he needed help. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite understand what he needed through all of the yelling and the obscenities. He is, of course, still refusing to come home. Marcus is clinging to the  phrase, “I was kicked out!”

He still won’t agree to any certificate program or apprenticeship. He is determined to…? His only plan is about his car. He says he needs to, “Get MY CAR back!”

Luke says that Marcus is like the fox. He heard a quote by Voltaire (and I am heavily paraphrasing here) that fits our son perfectly.  Marcus is like a fox you’re trying to free from a trap that bites you:

“It’s difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”

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

adoption, family

Morning Rage

The whole house is shaking. My 12-year-old son is making this happen by systematically stomping/slamming whatever he comes into contact with. From the living room I can hear the banging of cabinets, the stomping of feet, the slamming of doors and the smashing of (fill in the blank.)

I know better than to approach him in these moments. His rage is all consuming and needs an outlet. He’s swearing and yelling at me from his room. He stops to brush his teeth and then it continues. Yes, tonight we will discuss this. Later on he might be able to hear me. Right now he’s spoiling for a fight and too dysregulated to remember anything I say. I can’t speak over all the slamming and smashing anyway. It’s too loud.

You see, I’ve woken him up by singing. He was fast asleep on his bed, cuddling his shut-off alarm clocks (he has two!) I burst into my cheeriest “Good Morning Carl!” song and he explodes. Of course, after this he will hopefully decide it’s better to get up with the alarm than mom’s bad singing. Right now he is a ball of fury, breaking everything while he gets ready.

My husband comes downstairs to ensure everyone’s safety. Something about the earth-quaking in our house must have woken him. The upside to Carl’s anger is that it’s really limited to the inanimate objects in his room. He will be verbally aggressive but he doesn’t attack us physically. The downside to Carl’s anger is…well everything else.

We attended his first family session at the intensive outpatient clinic this week. His therapist was very nice and supportive. Apparently the insurance company was already looking to discharge him after three weeks. Thankfully, she can see that he still needs the help. His meds are not right yet. He isn’t safe enough to go back to regular outpatient therapy yet. The program is typically six- to eight-weeks long.

When things go wrong with Carl it really affects me deeply. He’s the most stable child of the sibling group we adopted. He is the one who has some insight into what he’s feeling. Carl is the one who probably trusts us the most and tries to work with us. He wants help with these “big feelings” and we all try our best. When he struggles I start to feel that nothing we have done as parents made any difference. Our children are no better with a family than they were without one.

This isn’t really true. Our kids are certainly better supported now that they have us. They are together, in a sense. Mary is at RTC right now and Marcus is homeless, living out of his car, so they aren’t exactly together. I’d like to think that we are all connected by this crazy place that we call home. I’d like to think we are all connected by this crazy thing that we call family.

I need to believe that Carl will be OK.

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