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.

Advertisements
Standard
adoption, family

A Mouthful of Dirty Socks

Why does it always come to sweaty, stinky socks? On the hottest day in the summer of 2014 I was in the back seat of my Honda Pilot with a mouthful of Carl’s dirty, sweaty gym socks. Mary was having an all out meltdown in the parking lot of the first outpatient therapist we took her to. She hadn’t even spoken in session. It was a getting-to-know-you visit. After session she punched me, screamed nonstop and ran into traffic. The other three children and I eventually corralled her into the car. Sean, at 13, was in the driver seat and Carl was next to him. Marcus and I had Mary contained in the third row while she raged, intent on running into the busy street. At one point a well-meaning lady stopped to ask Sean if his “mother had left him in the car.” Mary promptly screamed obscenities at the woman and she backed quickly away.

Her tiny, 7-year-old fists pummeled me with fury. She had ripped out some chunks of my hair, and my chest was bleeding from scratches and bites. Mary hit, kicked, slapped and bit for over 45 minutes. Even with the AC at full blast it must have been over 80 degrees in the car. There was a strong odor akin to cooking armpits wafting from the trunk area. Mary yelled at Marcus to go away. Marcus yelled at Mary to quitting hitting me. I prayed silently to a higher power.  I imagined a cooler place where it was quiet and didn’t stink. Almost every day that summer had been exactly like this.

I couldn’t figure out how to child-lock the hatchback-style trunk, and I couldn’t drive with a raging child. We were stuck trying to hold her safely, as far away from the other two boys as possible. Mary kicked at the windows and screamed, “They’re murdering me!” to passerby. Eventually bystanders called the police. It was around this time that Mary grabbed a pair of extremely ripe socks that Carl had hidden in the trunk, and shoved them into my mouth. My eyes watered and I gagged on putrid Carl foot-funk. This was a maneuver I hadn’t anticipated!

When the police came I had managed to spit out the offending socks, but my mouth was still full of foul sock fibers. Luke had come. He met us in time to answer the officers questions while I picked putrid sock fuzz out of my teeth. Finally, after over an hour of screaming, Mary subsided and cowered behind me. The sight of the officers transformed her rage into fear.

Four years later, and Sean is gone. Our daughter is in a private therapeutic school. It’s a residential school that focuses on complex trauma. They’ve been absolutely amazing with Mary. She hasn’t needed to be restrained in over a month. They continue to stress the importance of family to her. They help her check her own energy level for regulation. She is making a conscious effort to be involved in her care planning and goal setting. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Meanwhile, Carl is going to intensive outpatient therapy. He has a daily group that focuses on coping skills. He is struggling with uncontrollable bursts of anger. The good thing about Carl is that he doesn’t intentionally attack us. His rage is limited to property damage, mostly in his room. He did try to put his shoes on the other day by chucking them across the kitchen. This technique was unsuccessful, but at least he’s trying new things.

Marcus is homeless and sleeping in his car, in a cemetery. He chafed at living here because he was required to take a class, start a certification, or go to job corps. Essentially, he had to invest in himself in order to be supported by us financially. He chose to quit his job and run off to the next state where all of his friends are. He claimed the only thing he needed to secure his future was this rusted out Honda Civic circa 1995.

I was surprised to see him on Friday morning, fast asleep in his car, in our driveway. I attempted to talk to him but he buried his head under a blanket and then drove off when I walked away. He had a buddy with him, someone I’ve never met before. As far as I can tell they came home to grab some gas from the emergency cans in the basement and then go to grab his final check. We didn’t hear from him for a few more days after this.

Marcus continued to insist that his only goal was his car. The car died in a dangerous city and there he now sleeps. He refused to let me pick him up because, in his words, “No matter what, I’m not leaving without my car. I’m going to stay with my car.” So there he now stays, in a cemetery, with a dead cell phone battery. It’s been three days.

Driving home from Mary’s family session the other day, something odd occurred to me. I asked Luke, “Did you ever think there would be a time when Mary would be our most stable child?”

“No,” he admitted. We sat in shocked silence for a few moments to process this. In the silence I became aware of pungent odor emanating from the back seat. It was a mix of rotting skunk corpse and teenage sweat. Glancing behind me I spied a pair of Pokemon sport socks.

I sighed. “Carl took off his lacrosse socks in the car again.” Luke nodded sympathetically.

It always comes back to the socks.

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

Standard
adoption, family

I Can’t

I can’t do it. I honestly just…can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not that I’m sick of it. I just cannot. I’ve hit an immovable wall. I’d like to curl up and hide in my bed for several reasons.

The first of which would be my back injury. My last appointment with the neurosurgeon was a little under two weeks ago. We planned for the revision surgery to address the fact that my spine hasn’t fused and my hardware is loose. At the appointment the surgeon wanted to pull me out of work completely until after my surgery. I am obviously struggling and can barely move on a bad day.

However, I argued that I needed to finish out a few meetings and transfer things to my long-term substitute. I sort of bargained him into agreeing to let me work three days a week until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed a couple of weeks to get things done. He agreed that I could try this but that I had to call back for another note when I could no longer make it.

Fast forward to now. I cannot do it anymore. I wrapped everything up as best I could but I wasn’t even able to make it in on Friday. I called the surgeon’s office. For whatever reason, the physician’s assistant agreed to fax in a note stating that I was requesting not to work rather than a note of medical necessity. The nurse who called me asked, “Do you still want us to send it in? Are you sure you aren’t returning to work?”

Ummm….yes I am sure. I bargained for an extra two weeks which was most likely four weeks too many! I am not calling for fun, I am calling because I cannot do it anymore. I can’t. It has nothing to do with “wanting.” So now I have to wait until Monday to see if the doctor himself will change the note, or if I am about to lose all financial support and let my family suffer the consequences of my inability.

Then there is Mother’s Day. I can say that beyond a shadow of a doubt:

I hate Mother’s Day!

It’s a traumatic day for my adopted children. They’ve lost a mom, so it is hard. Things that remind them of their first mom bring up grief, anger, and a variety of complex emotions. Since she isn’t around, I get to bear the brunt of all that emotional baggage.

Marcus has taken off for parts unknown, as he typically does after an argument. At this point he’s given up most of the pretext of trying to get into job corps. This was what he had chosen out of a variety of options to further his future when we laid down house rules. Instead, he’s blown off the admission interview just days before his deadline. He had more important things to do like go to the junkyard and buy parts for his car, work on his car, and run out of gas money to get to work. Upon being reminded that his requirement to live at home without financial worry was to take one step toward bettering his future, he became very angry. He rage texted a few swears about me kicking him out and why did I adopt him just to tell him he has to leave and so on.

I know he was trying to hurt me. I know this is way of leaving, or processing, or whatever the reasons are behind this Marcus pattern. It still stung. He hasn’t returned in a few days and I’m pretty sure he skipped work Friday. He clearly isn’t coming home for our Mother’s day BBQ today because he isn’t even bothering to answer any text messages.

Mary isn’t here. It’s better than last year when Carl and I were locked in his room behind a deadbolt while she destroyed everything in a rage. Luke had to spend the day trying to safely contain her while we hid. It was awful. This year she is in RTC, she’s actually doing quite well, but it is still awful. I miss my girl.

Carl has been having a very difficult time these past weeks.

I just don’t feel like I have the energy left to cope with it. I know my children have trauma and it leads them to behave a certain way. It’s just that sometimes understanding isn’t the same thing as coping with. I selfishly want to hide away from my family all day because I’m miserable. So far I’ve managed to hide in my room with my essential oil diffuser, some cheesy television, and my laptop. Writing helps. Alone time helps.

I will need to emerge for tonight’s BBQ because my own mother will be there. The one good thing about this Mother’s Day is that I get to be with my own mom. Sometimes, only my mom can make things better. And isn’t today about honoring that very thing?

Until then, I just can’t. I can’t bring myself to emerge and deal with everything. My legs won’t move and my tears will start. So until my own mom comes? I just…can’t.

(Just as soon as I’ve finished typing this a text pops up from Marcus. And that’s something.)

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

Standard
adoption, family

Could Your Child’s Crisis Please Wait Until Business Hours?

“Our mobile crisis service does not ‘get going’ until 1:00 PM,” says the pleasant, yet detached, voice on the other end of the call. I can’t help but see a tinge of irony in this. In fact, our son’s crisis has been going since 10:00 AM.

“Alright then, will you please send a clinician to our home at 1:00 PM to evaluate the crisis situation? I am certain we will still have a crisis on our hands.”

“Sure!” chirps the operator enthusiastically. She spends a few more minutes asking about our home situation, who lives there, and who is currently keeping the child safe. Thank goodness for my hubby doing the safety thing downstairs while I ineffectually call for help.I cannot fathom how people are able to call for help when they are alone.

The farthest I’ve ever gotten with one of those calls  (while holding a screaming Mary,  frantically clawing at my face) is to say “Hello, we could use assistance–” Before I am abruptly cut of by the crisis worker who says something helpful along the lines of, “Ma’am, we cannot hear you over the screaming of your child. Could you please step away or call back when the situation is more calm?”

Anyhow, starting last night Carl has been experiencing intermittent explosive outbursts about every 3-4 hours. He just started at his intensive outpatient treatment. We are very hopeful that this will help him. However, we’ve changed meds again and the resulting days have been nothing short of disastrous. Almost everything is broken in his room. He’s chucked his air conditioner out of the window. He is repeatedly screaming “F-ck you!” at my husband.

Carl’s forehead is starting a nice yellow bruise from where he picked up the coping skills box and smashed it directly into his head last night. Spoiler alert–that isn’t actually how coping skills boxes work. He would have had better luck actually opening the box and using the tools inside…

His knuckles are raw and read from punching the door and maybe other things (he can’t remember.) His entire room is trashed. One pinky finger looks read and a bit swollen, but he’s got an ice pack now.  I have the bizarre notion that his brother needs to practice a proper punch with him when they are using the boxer-grade punching bag in the basement. That would be a better way to channel punching, or at least to prevent further injury.

At this point all we can do is wait until the next fit of rage hits. My sweet boy doesn’t actually want to be this way. When he is calm he lets us know that his medication isn’t working and he can’t stop once he starts. Carl is so different from Mary. He doesn’t threaten us or punch us, or at least he hasn’t for several years.

I don’t know what is going on. His puberty hit later than Mary’s so maybe old trauma stuff is coming back up. Maybe this is what hormonal changes look like in our children? Maybe he really does have an underlying mood condition that we haven’t given enough thought to. After all, he isn’t like Mary. He’s so different. He is the most mentally stable child out of the sibling group we adopted.

Some questions remain. Should we bump up his treatment to the partial hospitalization level? Should he go inpatient again to be safe while his meds are changed? Should I join the witness protection program? Should we consider sending SOS smoke signals from our house?

I am not sure about any of this. All I know is that I have Luke by my side. We will just have to tread water in this crisis until the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Service crisis worker arrives. I hope he/she has some practice dodging air conditioners…

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

Standard
adoption, family

When the Lights Go Out

BANG BANG BANG!!!

I am awoken by a loud sound. In a state of confusion I try to get my bearings. Where am I? What is happening? The darkness is absolute. My white noise machine has gone quiet.

BANG BANG BANG!!!

The urgent, insistent pounding is coming from the walls. In a sudden surge the white noise machine comes to life. It’s babbling brook sound battles the banging from below. Various electronics resume their small glow.

I realize with a start that the power must have gone out. The wind is howling around our little house in the forrest. Carl is signaling for us. He is afraid of being alone. He is afraid of bedtime. He is terrified of the dark.

BANG BANG BANG!!!

Adeline surges through me and I race out of bed and down the stairs to Carl. My back burns with the effort and sharp pains shoot down my right leg. In my bewildered state I’ve forgotten my back injury. My spine reminds me now.

When I get to Carl, he is wrapped tightly in one of his blankets (He has about twenty.) His appears tiny all huddled up in a corner. The horse-sized bull mastiff and her friend the fat cat aren’t enough to make him feel safe. My twelve-year-old, in this moment, looks to me as if he’s still eight. I realize I’ve been rescuing him from the darkness for four years.

After hugs and water he’s ready to get back into bed with his dog and cat. The power is restored. His one million nightlights are back on. His own white noise machine is happily babbling away once more.

Carl just needed to see me. He needed to know one of us would come for him. He needed to know his parents were still there.

Someday I hope he’ll learn that we always will be. Even in the dark. Even when the lights go out.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Late Night Compulsions

It’s 3:30 in the morning and I am wide awake. Luke is working the overnight shift. Something about being alone at this hour makes me feel unsettled. It happens at least once a week when he volunteers for our town’s EMS service. Sleeping alone after ten years of marriage feels wrong, as if I have somehow misplaced a limb. How careless of me.

I wonder how it must feel to spend your beginning years with a family and then suddenly be sleeping somewhere else. I know that Luke will come home. My children lived with uncertainty about their biological families for years. With adoption comes the certainty of family. However, adoption can never really give back what was lost. That limb is forever missing.

Alone at night I creep through the silent house, checking on everyone.

Marcus is asleep in his room. Recently, he injured his hand at work. He can’t sleep comfortably with his cast. Right now it makes him appear all tangled up and awkward. Having him here is what counts so I continue on with a mental, “check.”

Carl is still inpatient at the psychiatric hospital, so his bed is empty. He will be discharged tomorrow. For the life of me, I cannot put together how we got here. All of these thoughts are with me as I check on his empty room. I think the new medication change will help him. His spot on the list for intensive outpatient care has bumped up, or so they say. Luke and I know how to do this part. We find the services our children need and then we hang on while they stabilize. Check.

Mary is at her amazing residential private school. She seems to be making progress. For once, I don’t actually feel the need to check on her. I don’t feel the need for the late night reassurance, because I know that she is in a safe place. I know we are all in a safe place now. Check.

Another weird late-night compulsion I have is to read my messages from Sean. He’s reached out three times since he left. He sent DMs on Facebook to me. In June he thanked us for being at Marcus’ high school graduation. Then he asked if everything was alright. In July he asked if he could come  visit us. The last message was in September, asking about Mary. I didn’t respond to these. Some things are better left unsaid. I’m not sure why I feel the need to reread them. Check?

A bizarre image of myself giving a social worker a tour pops into my head. “This is where Sean used to be. He’s gone, now. Here is the man-child in a cast who has been known to steal my car. Here is where Mary’s things are. We are thinking about converting the upstairs loft for her bedroom. That way, when she comes home from RTC, she will be closer to us at night. Here is Carl’s empty room. He is at the psychiatric hospital right now for a med adjustment. He is our most stable child!” In my weird mental movie I end with a dramatic flourish and a bow.

A part of me feels like I should be checking on J, the child we never adopted. Short of re-reading the little “Learn more about J!” synopsis on the website, I can’t actually check on her. OK, sometimes I watch her video, but then I end up crying over the student who asked us to adopt her all those years ago. She isn’t missing a limb tonight. She is without bio or adoptive family. She is missing out on everything.

“Don’t leave her in care longer than you must,” is what I told her worker. “She’s at an age where she needs to push her boundaries, rebel a little and stretch her wings. She cannot do this without the safety of a family.”

I understand why J’s worker had reservations about our family adopting her. Aside from the space issue (there is none!) we have a lot going on. Luke and I already have kids with complex needs. We certainly have our hands, and our hearts, full. I wouldn’t trade this family for anything.

It still gnaws at me, though. I cannot shake this feeling that I am somehow missing a limb…

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

Standard
adoption, family

When it Was Unwritten

How does one go about following a script that simply isn’t there? When there are no words left, how does one go about shouting into the void? When it goes unwritten for me it is difficult to process. When it goes unwritten, it becomes easier to ignore.

It was a nagging worry at the back of my mind. Have I misplaced something? It was a shapeless anxiety taking hold. Have I taken the wrong path after missing all the signs?Perhaps I should have written, “I’m not sure where things started to go wrong here.”

Most things can need to become writing for me. Or else they are barely brought to light in my own thoughts.

Carl has been de-compensating for awhile. I haven’t given this a voice on paper. I’ve pushed it away so far in my mind that it never came out in my typing. The unwritten truth was Carl’s deteriorating condition. His old fears and trauma triggers came back with a vengeance. Like Jack’s giant beanstalk, they have grown until I can no longer see where they end. I can no longer reach the solutions. I can no longer reach Carl to pull him down from the height of his fears.

In years past he’s always had a “traumaversary” in the springtime. We know it’s coming so we batten down the hatches. We up our therapeutic game in preparation. We just didn’t prepare for adolescence to add fuel to this fire. Still, I left it mostly unwritten.

When he screamed at me, and lost the dog, and kicked at the floors because he didn’t want to take the trash out, I didn’t write it. When my back was on fire and I hobbled down to scream at him to get out of the house with the trash, I didn’t write it.

When he shouted at me, “You freakin’ do it! I’m NOT going outside!” I knew he was scared. His fear masquerades as anger. I left it unwritten.

“The only thing you should be afraid of is ME!” I screeched back until he put on his shoes and grabbed the trash bag to stand in the garage. Then, in a fit of pure irrationality, I locked the doors and stood outside on the porch until he put the trash bag into the bin and came inside.

First, though, he hit and kicked the garage door so many times he left a dent. Eventually he came up on the porch and back inside we both muttered, “Sorry,” before we BOTH went to timeout.

I never wrote the words. How can I explain that his fear was so big it triggered BOTH of our responses? 

His bedtime became too dangerous. The wait list for his spot at the intensive outpatient program is two months away at least. He’s broken almost everything in his room (including his many nightlights) and then he almost broke me. He launched an 8lb hand weight  down the hall to where I happened to be standing. It missed me by an inch. He didn’t know I was there. He scared both of us.

Marcus helped Luke remove breakable and heavy objects after the incident. I went upstairs to despair quietly, all the while refusing to look at the problem.

The next morning I talked to Carl. He was quiet and subdued. He said that nothing in therapy was working. His meds weren’t working, he told me, and “Something isn’t right.” We discussed the option of inpatient treatment to stabilize him. To my utter surprise, he asked to go.

At the hospital he told the clinician he was afraid he could have hurt his mom.

My sweet, sweet boy is afraid to be so out-of-control. It’s been so long since he was like this. It’s so unexpected. He asked in the smallest voice if he would be like Mary and go away for a long time.

“No, Love. You will be home in a few days. We can do this.”

I should be doing many things. But for now I think I’ll stay right here. I’ll sit and write awhile.

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

Standard