adoption, family

Sobriety Not Required: Biological Parents

I am forever curious about how other adopted families do this. How does everyone else manage incorporating the first family into their child’s world? I admit that I don’t know much about domestic infant adoption or foreign adoption. All of my experience stems from children placed in foster care because their parents were unable to properly care for them. I suppose other situations might be vastly different.

We do have an open adoption with Mary and Carl’s father, Dad C. The biological mother does not want contact. Marcus is an adult and manages his own contact with family so I won’t detail that. I’ve only written about the relationship with Dad C because that’s the only one at this time. Mary is not mentally stable enough to participate in contact right now. We had one visit that was very detrimental to her last year. At the advice of her therapists we are holding off until she can handle contact.

For us, it was never a question of if  biological family fit in, it was more how to fit them in. Our children are older and therefore remember their first years with these parents. It’s a part of who they are and so we try to respect that. I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about our open adoption so I will do my best to answer them below. I am in  no way an expert so please don’t take this as advice. I mess it up all the time in a hundred ways. This conversation is what happens in our family only. I’d love to hear what it looks like in yours!

Private Information: Dad C has our address, has been to our town, and has seen the kids’ schools. He isn’t allowed to show up to these places and all parties are aware of that. He hasn’t been to our house. I think it helps that he knows the kids are in a nice area. He’s met my mom and the kids’ godparents at football games.

Photos: During one of our first visits with Dad C he asked apprehensively if he could have permission to take pictures. He asked if he could be allowed to post them or share them with his family. Luke and I didn’t hesitate to agree. We took pictures with his phone so that he could be in them. This is one of those pieces I don’t entirely understand. A stranger could come and sneak a picture of my kids on their phone. It really doesn’t affect us if Dad C posts pictures of the kids or tries to paint a Facebook-friendly image of a family that is still together. Who cares? We live in different states and don’t move in the same crowds. I might feel differently if people in the community thought the kids were “back” with Dad C. Probably not, though. Our friends know what’s going on and everyone else can think whatever they like.

Sobriety: I have had some questions about requiring bio parents to be sober. It has even been suggested that bio-parents present a clean drug test for a period of time before being allowed visitation. Personally, I think this is more for a foster-care situation than an open adoption. If the parents could maintain sobriety then they might have been able to parent their children. Since the time  to prove they can stay clean and resume parenting has passed, I can’t see that it’s my business.

The bio-parents are only required to be 100% sober for visits. Our children will not have contact with anyone under the influence or behaving erratically. Other than visitation times, it’s their life. I hope they do get clean. If not, it doesn’t change anything. We adopted these children. We parent them safely. If they can feel loved by multiple people and have positive interactions, I think it’s good. Our kids know about their bio-parents problems. They already lived through it.

In-person visits: Luke and I supervise these. We only have them with Dad C because bio-mom does not want contact. We schedule them when/if Carl wants to see Dad C. We will give gentle reminders or prompting that this is available. Typically Carl isn’t that interested in seeing Dad C but he likes to get letters in the mail. Carl also likes when Dad C attends a few sporting events to watch him play. We support this and arrange it as best we can. During visits Carl can give us a signal if he feels uncomfortable or is ready to end the visit. Dad C does not drive Carl anywhere or take him to another location. We usually have a post-game meal at a fast-food restaurant together.

Luke and I field requests for visits. If Carl doesn’t want to see or speak to Dad C, we handle it. It’s OK with me if Dad C thinks we are keeping him away sometimes. It’s fine with me if he believes we are mean for not giving him holidays. We take care of our kids first. We protect them from having to say “no” or be in an uncomfortable position. Luke and I are only concerned with the well-being of the kids.

Letters and presents: Sure. Bio parents can send these any time. We do read them first to make sure they aren’t triggering or inappropriate. Dad C likes to give the kids money. Cool.

I also post pictures and report cards to a closed Facebook group for bio-family.

Boundaries: This one is hard. Dad C doesn’t seem to understand, or at least admit, why he doesn’t have any of his children. This is fine as long as it’s not a conversation with our kids. We know he has several more although he only mentions one other son. This is his private business so we don’t ask him about the other kids. He sometimes mentions he “lost his case” because he didn’t have enough money. We know this isn’t true at all. The kids know this isn’t true and obviously remember why they aren’t with him. We ask that he does not mention the case. We require that he avoids adult conversation, violence, and inappropriate language. He is not able to ask the kids why they didn’t want to live with him etc. On the flip side, he can answer anything the kids ask him.

Do we get along: I guess we do. It’s more about getting along in front of the kids than anything else. Even if I am annoyed or unhappy with something Dad C has done I try not to show it in front of Carl. I dislike that Dad C spends a lot of the visits crying and saying he misses Carl and thinks about him every day. This is probably all true. However, I don’t think it should be Carl’s burden to make Dad C feel better. I don’t think the visit should be about Dad C’s feelings at all. It should be about the child.

I don’t like having to provide prompts and reminders over and over (and over!) again about the children’s ages and birthdays. I am frustrated at trying hard to plan visits and give reminders, directions, and more prompting only to have things fall apart. Dad C and his wife aren’t good at this stuff.  Since this is my personal problem and not the kids, I keep it to myself.

I really dislike the different treatment Carl gets in comparison to Mary. He always gets a card and money for holidays and birthdays (as long as I give multiple reminders first.) Mary has never gotten the same. On her last birthday she was overlooked for about 4 months despite reminders. She wrote a sweet letter asking for a card or letter. Eventually she got a card with less money. This came with another card for Carl with money. Luke and I had to make it clear that both children had to be treated the same.

I don’t like that Dad C’s new wife considers herself the “stepmom” and wants the kids to hug her. It’s weird. They don’t know her. She talks to me a lot about asking the kids if they want her to have a baby. We do not allow that conversation because it shouldn’t be Mary and Carl’s burden to handle big adult decisions. She also talks a lot about how the kids are bonding with her and accepting her. She thanks them and says she loves them and talks my ear off about why this is a big deal for her. I know I’m being unfair but that is just plain annoying. It shouldn’t be about her. It should be about the kids.

Neither one of them has ever asked about how the visit was for the Carl. They’ve never asked if he had a good time, if he wants to do something different or how he felt about it. Both of them just talk a lot about how the experience was for them and what they might like next time.

Look, I don’t think we are ever going to be BFFs. As long as we maintain a polite and functional communication for the kids I feel accomplished.

The Takeaway:

At the end of the day it’s their relationship, not mine. I tell the children the honest truth about everything if they ask. I keep my judgments and opinions to myself as much as possible. I honestly don’t always do a good job. It’s complicated  and fraught with my own emotions. In our case Dad C has been respectful of boundaries and we’ve never had an actual problem. During one visit he became angry and struck the table a bit with his fist. Carl wasn’t present for that. Dad C’s wife intervened quickly before he got too angry. This is the only hint I’ve personally seen that he has aggression issues. If he had raised his voice, if Carl had noticed, if anything had escalated we would have terminated the visit. However, cooler heads prevailed and it ended on a pleasant note.

Someone in the blogosphere recently suggested to me that the state lies to kidnap kids and adopt them out. No. Just…no. I’ve seen the evidence in this case. I believe the DCF reports about how my kids lived before they came to us. More than that, I believe my children when they describe how things were in their first family.  As accepting and open as I try to be, I’m not an automaton. There are things in my children’s past that enrage me. There are things about these first parents that chill me to my very core. But still, the bio-family belongs to my children. So I try and then I try again.

No matter what happened, no matter what their biological parents did or didn’t do, my children love them. Carl will be thirteen next month. He has such a wise perception of the events in his earlier years. When discussing his biological dad he says, “It’s not my fault he did those things. He made bad choices. I know he loves me though.”

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

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Days Like Today

The days like today are the ones I hold dear. Days of quiet. Days of kindness. Days of peace.

Carl has come out of his Springtime traumaversary. It’s been several weeks since he’s had a violent meltdown at home. My lovely cuddly boy is back. He bakes me with, we watch “Brooklyn 99” and play the card game “Dos.” These lazy summer days stretch on and soothe my battle-weary soul.

Mary is responding well to treatment at her residential school. We went on an off-grounds trip to Dunkin Donuts the other day. It was just the two of us. For a few minutes I forgot that the police were programmed on my speed dial. Instead I simply enjoyed her conversation and marveled at how she’s big enough to sit in the front seat.

We haven’t heard from Marcus at all since he came to get his things. In all likelihood no news is good news. We will hear from him when he is desperate or in trouble. For now I’ll have to let it be.

Luke gave me some Eucalyptus bath salts for Mother’s Day. I finally have time to use them. Here I sit in aromatherapy heaven, counting all the ways that I am lucky. Some days are very hard. Some days I count all of the things that have gone wrong, all of the things I must face.

Not today. This is a good day. Days like these are what I need to hang onto.

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

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The Good, the Bad, the Birthday

Holidays are tough around here. The “mom” holidays are the worst because the kids conflate them with bio mom. Once that happens, trauma can taint everything. Having children adopted from foster care really changed the holiday game for us.

My birthday is no exception. The best play for me is usually to set my expectations low. Then I lower them some more. I try to fly under the radar and just do what’s fun for me sans kiddos.

I do this on Mother’s Day, too. It sounds counter-intuitive but trust me, it’s necessary. This therapeutic parenting gig is HARD.

I turned 37 this week. I have to say this turned out to be a very different birthday than expected.

The Good:

-Luke drove Carl to camp and let me sleep in.

-I went with my mom for mani-pedis while Carl was at day camp.

-Both Luke and Carl brought me coffee and cleaned the house a bit.

-I called Mary in the morning just to hear her little voice. She sang “Happy Birthday” loudly and off-key (which is the best way.) Then she called back later to do it again!

-My mom also sang “Happy Birthday” to me, albeit, in a slightly quieter and slightly less-off-key fashion. I’ll still giver her credit, though.

-My BFF sent me a Kitchen-Aid mixer in a beautiful shade of blue.

-I finally figured out how to load my Amazon Music playlist. Score!

The Bad:

-Marcus didn’t call.

-Marcus showed up the following day and I (stupidly) thought he came for my birthday. Sometimes he really does pull off something incredibly sweet. This wasn’t one of those times.

-Marcus came with his new mommy to collect all of his things and demand a TV (denied.) In dramatic Marcus fashion he stormed out, but not before ripping his closet doors off completely. He didn’t even speak to me.

The Birthday:

Overall this was one of my better birthdays. I had a good day. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The next day wasn’t as great but Luke and I ended it well. We curled up in our room to watch an apocalyptic move (the best kind) all by ourselves. It was wonderful.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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