adoption, family

A Twist on the “Terrible” Teen Years

Sometimes I forget just how far we’ve come. It always happens on the Lacrosse field while I’m watching Carl play. I’ll find myself commiserating with the other Lacrosse parents about the difficulties of parenting a teenage boy. We roll our eyes as we recount mysteriously multiplying towers of dirty sports-socks. We cluck knowingly about the constant backtalk and the snide remarks we get. We nod to each other over the angst, the backne and the BO. “Oh yes,” our expressions say, “I feel your pain!”

I revel in these moments. I am one of them now. You know, the parents who worry over grades and manners instead of psychiatric hospitalizations. I embrace the times I can forget just how different we are as a family. I love that it slips my mind how Carl used to be so violent. I catch myself puzzling over patches in our drywall as I try to remember what happened there.

Every Spring since coming home has been difficult for Carl. He acted out, screamed for hours, destroyed property and generally seemed possessed by his trauma. The season used to bring intensive therapy, medication changes and calls to the crisis line. Heck, Springtime meant anti-anxiety medication for me, too. It was a LOT to get through for all of us.

This is the first year where I don’t have to explain why my child sleeps on the floor or eats until vomiting and then stuffs his face some more. I don’t have to explain the broken doors or the air conditioner that’s been thrown out of a window. This is the first year I don’t smile politely at other parents’ “problems” while my eyes well with tears behind over-sized sunglasses. This is the first Spring that we haven’t had a crisis worker in our home. I wonder if they think we’ve moved?

This year I am confident when I sympathize with the bleacher parents. I belong. We are now safely out of the woods of the Springtime drama. So what changed this year? We are still using the same therapeutic parenting techniques. Carl attends the same school. He plays the same sports.

We aren’t taking Carl to therapy anymore except for brief check-ins every few months. We honestly only do that because it’s a requirement for Carl to access the psychiatrist (which he continues to need.)

It’s Carl that is different. He’s grown. He’s matured. He believes in in this family. He believes in Carl. It doesn’t matter how much work as we have poured into our children’s healing. In the end they are the ones who fight their trauma. Truthfully, I am amazed by this shift. I was bracing for the worst.

Out here on the Lacrosse sidelines I join the other parents agonizing over the game. It’s gone into over-time. From the left side of the field, Carl shoots in out of nowhere. He swings his stick with a vengeance, sending the ball diagonally into the net. He’s just done it. Carl has just shot the winning goal from a seemingly-impossible side angle. We won the game in overtime. This team is going to the play-offs!

“Look at them!” another mom laughs amid the cheering, “They are all filthy! This is one mega-laundry load I have tonight!!”

I’m cheering, too, but I nod at her in sympathy. Now I can join the rest of the parents in moaning and groaning over the little things. Parenting a teen in our house is starting to look like…well, like everyone else parenting a teen! I’ve never been happier to complain.

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

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adoption, family

Proven Wrong

I need to spend more time counting my blessings. Yesterday morning I was filled with dread over the impending Mother’s Day drama. I was expecting the pattern of trauma and dysregulation from the last few years to continue.

I have never been happier to say I WAS WRONG!!! Mary got up with me in the morning to go to church with my parents. It was a nice service and I actually found myself relaxed and happy. Mary wasn’t irritable or on edge. She was pleasant and sweet to me. Slowly my own irritability and edginess drained away. I went home to a spotless house that Luke had cleaned.

Later, we had a celebratory lunch at my parents’ house. Typically we go around the table and appreciate one person in the family for something at mealtimes. Carl almost always appreciates us for eating with him or giving him food. This time, I gave appreciation to my mom and sort of waited for things to get weird.

Mary and Carl both appreciated me. Carl appreciated the food (of course) but also the sports I take him to. Mary appreciated her family and adoption. Marcus shocked me the most. This is NOT his thing. He appreciated the holiday because he said he had “never been a ‘mom’ fan” but now he was. It was amazing.

When I drove Mary back to campus she was calm and centered. Only Bio Sister’s comments from the previous evening upset her. Mary teared up a bit and wanted to know why BS called her “chubby” and “sad looking.”

She asked me, “Do I look ok? I’m trying to eat healthy and not be chubby.”

Mary also expressed concern about BS knowing where she went to school. She didn’t want BS to know because she felt BS would judge the school. She felt her sister would blame us for sending her away.

Later on, when Bio Sister (BS) came (almost 2 hours late) to get Marcus, we had a conversation. It’s weird that she didn’t want us to meet her over the state line. It turns out her boyfriend was violating his probation by driving out of state so they had to take someone else’s car.

Luke is very good at this so he firmly but politely set a boundary for her conversations with the kids. He told her that some comments had been hurtful to Mary. I confirmed that Mary is sensitive and felt bad about being called chubby and being told she “didn’t want to go back to that school.”

Of course BS backtracked and claimed she didn’t mean it and that all Puerto Rican’s hate school and call each other fat. She looked at Luke to confirm this and he flatly disagreed. She asked again if Mary had learning disabilities and why she went to private school.

“Why can’t they help her in regular school?”

I explained that Mary has overcome a lot and is doing very well. She is so strong and so amazing. She has a lot going on and if she chooses to share her diagnosis or struggles someday it’s up to her. Until then we will be protective of her.

I gave BS some examples of supportive comments. I told her to be positive and and tell Mary she looks great, IF they were going to talk. BS quickly agreed. We told her regardless of her personal feelings about the school, she shouldn’t share them.

Even Marcus jumped in and said the school was amazing.

BS looked nervous, apologized, and left quickly. I’ll miss Marcus but I’m glad she’s gone.

All in all it was a great day. Victory!!!

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

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adoption, family

That Day

That day is here again. The one I dread with a visceral gut twist every single year. It’s Mother’s Day.

Here is the day where I leave the house and people congratulate me over and over again for being a mother. People ask my kids if they are celebrating me or doing something “nice” for me. Well, first people look at Carl and Marcus with puzzlement before checking that I am, in fact, their mother.

All it does is remind all of us that there was an original mom in this picture who really messed up. Her loss has been my gain and it isn’t comfortable in any way. This day reminds my children of grief.

Being a daughter myself means that I have my own mother to celebrate. I love her dearly but it does prohibit me from hiding in the closet and ignoring the entire thing altogether.

Someone traditionally has a meltdown every year around this day. It’s just too hard. My money is on ME this year. I am pretty sure I’ll be the one to lose it and stomp off.

Today we have to return Marcus to Bio Sister and Mary to campus. We had planned to meet BS at a halfway point. She doesn’t want to do that. Instead she is driving TO MY HOUSE.

Last night Marcus hands his phone to Mary and it’s BS on FaceTime again. Her first words are, “You look sad. Why do you look so sad?” Then she said stuff in Spanish while Mary stared at the screen thoroughly confused. Insert my eye roll here.

Doesn’t Bio Sister have her own kids to worry about? She’s pregnant again.

Please wish me luck as I bravely (reluctantly) embark on That Day again. At the end of it I can snuggle up with Luke and watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

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

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adoption, family

The Prodigal Returns (Again)

Marcus is home. We finally convinced him to come home, at least for a little while. He’s here so that we can take him to get a new driver’s license at the DMV. He can’t get a job without it.

He’s also here because he needed me to help him write his appeal letter to Job Corps. As much as he wanted to leave there previously, he now wants to stay. He’s depressed and mad at himself for the way he reacted to the girl that threatened him.

Marcus is an odd duck this way. He always wants what he doesn’t have. He knows he gets triggered and that his reactions are extreme. He understands it’s not ok to react with rage and violence. At the same time he often feels as though it’s someone else’s fault.

Tonight he’s trying to explain that he’s been thinking of self-harming. He claims to have two separate people inside him that want different things. He wants to do well but a part of him wants to mess everything up. He does honestly believe he has someone else inside of him.

I wish Marcus could see that the thing he is fighting is trauma. To that end I’ve scheduled an emergency appointment with L, our local super-hero trauma therapist. She’s the only one he’ll see anyway. His comments about wishing himself to die or to hurt are something I take seriously.

Hopefully he stays at home for awhile. We can focus on his mental health in a way his sister won’t. He certainly won’t face these issues on his own.

Please stay this time, Marcus. Please put in the work. Trust me, you’re worth it.

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

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adoption, family

The Lion’s Den

The sound of her voice sets my teeth on edge. The children’s older biological sister, M, is difficult for me to stomach. I am caught between my instinct to get her away from my children and the idea that I should try to maintain their original sibling bonds. It’s hard for me to do.

Contact with her is something the children are entitled to. She isn’t a danger to them. She’s just…herself. I know that if I keep them from her they will only seek her out all the more as they get older. Forbidden fruit is always sweeter.

Still, it’s hard for me to see the upside of this contact. She’s always pushing the limits just enough to set off my internal warning system. Her compliments are backhanded. Her questions are all masking hidden intentions. I know she is poking around the edges of our relationship, looking for a soft spot.

When M comes to the house it’s usually to pick up Marcus. Without fail she immediately requests to use the bathroom and then proceeds to the younger children’s rooms. She goes through their things rapidly asking questions about what clothes or shoes might fit her and what her children would like. If I could describe her in one word it would be “hungry.”

Then she tears through picture albums and other personal effects. All the while she’s asking a million questions about what we think is “wrong” with Mary and why. I never answer these. It’s Mary’s business to share if and when she wants to.

The last contact with M came just as I was bringing Mary home for the weekend. Marcus handed Mary the phone the second Mary and I walk in. It’s a FaceTime call from M. She wanted to grill Mary about the private boarding school where we “sent her away.” M does not believe that Mary has any problems that need addressing.  I suppose living with Mary for the first 3 years of her life has made M an expert.

She puts on a pouty face and comments, “I bet you don’t want to go back there. I bet you wished you could stay at your mom’s house. Right? Right, Mary???”

A confused Mary shrugs and says, “Sure.”

Her “mom’s house” really?? This is obviously Mary’s home, too! Also, this is a two parent household. For whatever reason, M has always treated Luke as an afterthought. She sees me as the parent and Luke as some sort of family-adjacent variable. It’s insulting, really. He’s an excellent father and as it just so happens: homeowner!

I glance at the screen and notice that M is surrounded by scattered trash and maybe 6 black trash bags littering the floor. She’s changing her youngest child directly on the carpet next to some old McDonald’s wrappers and what looks like a banana peel. Her face appears drawn and tired. She’s gained about 20 pounds since I saw her at Christmas time.

Mary becomes quiet and awkward. She asks after the baby. M begins to rapid fire questions one after the other while my daughter tries to keep up. Mary answers either “yes” or “no” as M demands to know what clothes she has, what is in her room and if she misses “having friends.” Mary doesn’t even know how to respond to the last question. She scrunches up her brow in confusion and glances at me.

Rather than answer M what size her Nike shoes are, I wish Mary would describe her riding lessons, gymnastics or on-campus therapeutic rope course. I wish she’d fill M in about her dorm room in the elite wing with TV, DVD player an iPod. She’s doing quite well at her amazing school but it doesn’t come up.

Instead M ends the call with, “Wow you look chubby! You’re getting chubby just like me!” Then she says she has to go and cuts off the call.

No matter how I feel, M is a part of my children’s lives. I’ve just got to suck it up and smile unless she were to do something obviously inappropriate. Until then I feign happiness that she’s in touch and swallow my own hurt pride.

As of this moment Marcus is staying with her in the city. I can’t help but feel that my oldest child has just walked into the Lion’s den.

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

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adoption, family

It Has Begun

These past few days have gotten warmer. Birds are chirping outside. A daffodil burst ostentatiously into bloom in the front yard. The air smells sweet and thick with the promise of new growth.

If only that chirping bird could be the soundtrack to our Spring season. I was starting to be hopeful that crickets and sparrows would comprise our Spring sounds this year. However, I was wrong.

Around here the soundtrack to Spring is the yelling of Carl. Sometimes it’s accompanied by smashing objects and broken drywall. It has begun. Last night he flew into a rage because his alarm clock needed to be reset.

Bedtime was filled with yelling about how Luke “ruined my puzzle on purpose! ” According to Carl, Luke also, “went after my remote and stomped on it on purpose.” There were some other bizarre statements about a conspiracy to steal the alarm clock manual. None of it made much sense.

Mostly Carl yelled at Luke a bunch to “shut up right now! He told me “shut your mouth!” He gave me the puffed up chest and leaned forward in the classic domestic violence/intimidation pose that pops up in Spring.

I did what any ridiculously ignorant-to-trauma parent would do and yelled right back at him.

“This is what you sound like: SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!” etc.

I also told him his statements “sounded crazy.” Good job to me for lighting that particular match.

It ended with all three of us arguing. Carl vowed never to go to bed because he would puzzle all night. Luke and I confiscated the puzzle and TV remotes in hopes that Carl would actually sleep. Carl ranted on about not “being crazy like Mary.”

This morning my throat hurts. I feel like a dope. The reason I got so mad is that I was actually starting to believe this would be a pleasant Spring. I really should know better. I should tap into my skills and address the trauma responses properly.

I just wanted to enjoy the damn birds! Oh well. For good measure (and because I wanted to continue digging my own grave) I sent Marcus a text. It said I’m disappointed in his choices but I love him. I would like to see him take responsibility for his actions. No response.

At this point the score is:

Trauma: 2

Exhausted Parents: 0

It has begun. Happy Spring, everyone!

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

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adoption, family

The Easter Explosion of My Prodigal Son

Well, it finally happened. Marcus got terminated from his Job Corps program. He’s not a licensed electrician. He didn’t finish with the job referral or the stipend to get his own place. He’s been kicked out for flying into a violent rage and (most likely) destroying property. He got into it with some girl at the program and lost all control. I’m so glad our conversations about respecting women had an effect…

All I know is that it isn’t about this girl. It isn’t even about this particular explosion. He was looking for a reason to sabotage himself even if he doesn’t realize it. This would have happened over the next thing to go wrong. A broken shoelace could have set him off.

This free program is now gone and an opportunity like this won’t come around for him again. This is Marcus. He won’t allow himself to have something good. He won’t allow himself to stay with anything or anyone. This is what he does.

Luke and I got the message from him today. It’s Easter. We were celebrating with the entire family except for Marcus. He wouldn’t come home this weekend because he wanted to sell his car and buy another. Instead of having the holiday with us, he is with his older bio-sister M back in the city. All he can talk about is “my car my car my car.”

M is recently out of the homeless shelter and in an apartment they procured for her. The program payed her a lump sum that was intended for a year’s worth of rent. I would assume she’s already blown through that money and now needs Marcus to live there. In the past he got a job and payed her rent. Eventually when he decided to move out she sold all of his things. However, she’s always looking to get him back. She’s always looking for that money.

Luke and I had been speculating that she would try to convince him to leave the program. After all, if he gets a job he can be with “his car.” He can pay her bills. He can party with her and all of the old crew from the city. He’s probably been thinking about this for awhile.

Marcus makes really dumb choices. He makes destructive choices. As far as we know he isn’t being arrested for anything he did. However, he hasn’t given us much information. I want to go up there and shake him. I want to yell at him and ground him and send him to his room.

I won’t do any of those things. It’s no use. It would do nothing to teach Marcus to make better choices. He wants to throw away his future so that he can have his car and get drunk with his friends. Eventually I hope he learns from the natural consequences of his actions. If not then I hope he at least makes friends with a bail bondsman.

All I can do right now is sit back and enjoy my mother’s famous cannoli cake. It’s Easter. Luke and I can’t quit on our holiday when there is so much joy here. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know today brings cake!

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

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