adoption, family

Home Again: the Prodigal Son Returns

He’s home. He’s finally home. If I peek into his room I can barely make out his sleeping form beneath the covers and beneath the dog. The huge sense of relief I feel overwhelms me even now. I am not even sure where to begin with this post.

 Marcus, our “prodigal” son will turn 20 next week. Some of you may remember when he disrupted from our home after a tumultuous few months prior to what would have been his adoption. (Thank you, by the way, for all of your kind emails and comments.)

This happened rather suddenly. He’d just been to see us for a visit on his brother Carl’s birthday. I think it reminded him what being in a family looks like. I believe that in this trip we somehow managed to show Marcus we were really there for him. Despite the fact that we never officially adopted him, we are here in all the ways that really count.

It happened during a workshop I attended. There was a panel of former foster youth speaking about what they wished foster/adoptive parents knew. I will never forget the one young man who had moved “home” at 25 after the death of his biological mother. He affectionately referred to the couple next to him as his parents. He had no hesitation about belonging to more than one family.

I’m embarrassed to say that I started tearing up as he told his story. I mean, how on earth did they convince him that it was OK to love two families? How was he so well-adjusted? Did it come with time? Would we ever get there with Marcus? Because honestly? Dropping him off and leaving was the hardest thing to do.

Right in the middle of the panel I got a message from him: “I need a place to stay. Can you please pick me up?” Life is full of strange coincidences. I know it wasn’t ideal for him to get kicked out of the place he was staying. I know he can only manage a few months of love and family at a time. I know this may not Work out well at all. I know he is on his way to Job Corps as soon as his medical clears.  I’m happy about it all the same. Because I am not perfect.  Because I am selfish. Because I missed my son.

 

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

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adoption, family

Making Room for Bio Family 


The game of bananagrams is like Scrabble in the way that you make words out of letter tiles. It is unlike Scrabble in the way that each player is going as fast as they can, at the same time. Players are rearranging words to fit the new letter tiles they grab every time someone calls “peel!”

You start with 12 tiles. When you’ve connected all of them into words you can call a “peel” and everyone must add one additional letter tile into a word. You often have to break apart words you’ve already made and create something new.

Adopting our siblings was much like the beginning part of the game. We started with a bunch of unconnected letters and put them all together into a pattern that became “family.” Things don’t stay the same, though. When the two oldest disrupted and left for greener pastures, we rearranged our words once more into a new pattern. When my parents moved from Missouri to Connecticut to be with us, we added to our pattern.

Carl turned 12 last week. He wanted a few things. He asked for the usual things: Pokémon cards, Star Wars action figures, a card game called Phase 10 etc. Then he asked for something else. He wanted his biological father to come to his football game. I’m not sure if it was because he was a starter this year or because Bio Dad’s birthday card reminded him. Either way, it was his choice, and I was determined to make it happen, if I could.

A few days prior I had messaged Bio Dad on Facebook to remind him about Carl’s 12th birthday. BD forgets the birthdays unless I remind him. I think it’s more indicative of not living with the children, or having difficulties with organization than anything else. As soon as I remind him he sends a beautiful card and some money for Carl. The card says, “I hope you enjoy this day with your family.” Every card he sends reminds the children that he will always love them.

When I ask if he and his wife would be willing to make the one-and-a-half hour drive to attend the game, he immediately agrees. I give him the address to come to our tiny town with historic brick walkways and towering green forests. I’m hoping it looks nice and not boring compared to the city BD’s family lives in. After all, our “downtown” consists of only one street, albeit one with historical New England charm.

The game itself goes better than I could have imagined. It’s a close game, and we are up by one point until the fourth quarter, when the other team gets a touchdown and wins. BD comes with his new wife and a son he has from a different relationship named E. Luke is the volunteer EMT, sitting inside the fence, directly on the field. Marcus sits with him because he cannot stand Mary and Carl’s BD.

This leaves me in the stands with BD, new wife, and Little E. Eventually my mom comes to watch the second half. We all sit together. We all cheer together. I explain some of the plays (poorly.) Every time Carl’s name is announced on the loudspeaker all 7 of us go wild. He has the biggest cheering squad of anyone here.

The day is remarkably pleasant. Some of the interaction is strained but not nearly as much as I had assumed. They love the game. They love the town. Marcus and BD do not interact and therefore no one is required to break up a fight. BD and family compliment our little town and tell us they took pictures everywhere. I point out where Carl goes to school so they can see this too.

At one point I actually hit BD in the arm. Well it’s more of a back handed smack on his arm. Ok more of a series of rapid back-handed smacks on his arm. It isn’t my fault! I was so excited about a tackle that Carl made! I was overexcited and cheering and it just happened. Luckily he just laughed it off. I mean, what is the worst thing I could do in this situation? Hitting is definitely in the top 5 of things you should NOT do to your child’s biological family.

After the game Carl is studious about hugging every person who came to see him. He glows with pride over our compliments. Even though the team lost, he played very well. I leave Luke to handle the visit, exchange of presents, and good-byes. It’s time to drive Marcus back to his girlfriend’s apartment. The one she loves in with her mother, who is also Little E’s mother. BD seems unaware that Little E and Marcus live together. He asked me if Marcus lives with us. To make matters worse, Marcus’ BD and this BD do not get along either and Marcus is back in contact with his BD. Throughout the game, Little E kept giving me details about Marcus like his age and favorite color. Awkward.

Needless to say, I hasten our exit. I know how aggressive Marcus can be when he is angry with someone. The next night my Facebook messenger is flooded with pictures. BD has sent me baby pictures of Mary and Carl. Some alone, some with him, and some with Bio Mom. This is a treasure trove of items we have never been able to give them. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. BD did not give his children up willingly. But BD is forging this new relationship willingly. I am beyond grateful.

I’m pretty sure this contact means Carl is rearranging the pattern of his family. He is adding new tiles and fitting them in where he can. I don’t know where things will go from here. Two successful visits make me feel optimistic.

 

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

 

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adoption, family

Rearview Mirror: My Prodigal Son

“It’s your brother’s birthday party this weekend. I wish you were coming. We all miss you.” I sent this Facebook message onto the cybersphere with little hope of a response. It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Marcus, our “prodigal son.” I went off of the assumption that he had just ghosted out again. He does this often. Eventually I figured he’d contact us if he needed something.

Imagine my surprise when the phone chirped back with, “I wud love to go.”

Just like that, our oldest was back in our orbit. He told me he had “big news.” Marcus insisted he could only tell me in person. My stomach dropped as I immediately tried not to think of the possibility that he was having a baby.  I’m pretty sure that I kept my fingers crossed the entire way to pick him up for the weekend.

Pulling up to a tiny, dingy, brick duplex, I spotted him hoisting an oversized zebra-print duffel bag onto his shoulder. It had pink writing on the pockets, and there was a pouch for a bottle on the side. Gulp. Marcus hopped into the car, stating the bag was his girlfriends. He is now living with this latest girlfriend-and-her-mother. Another girlfriend, another mother, another home, rinse, repeat. This is Marcus’ cycle. There are many people residing in the tiny apartment, including the younger brother (paternal) to Mary and Carl (Marcus has a different father.) Imagine trying to explain that our oldest son is living with his siblings’ younger sibling. Oh and he is also dating that sibling’s oldest sister. Sure….

Anyway, the visit went the same as usual. Marcus wanted to drive everywhere. He wanted to take out the trash, run the errands, help out around the house. We played Bananagrams (his favorite) and card games into the night. He gave Carl a ninja turtle Lego set and a red fidget spinner. He got me iced coffee from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. In other words, classic Marcus, or at least classic when he’s in his good place.

When he finally shared his big news, I could have cried with relief and happiness. Marcus signed up for the Job Corps’ electrician program. He’d have a guaranteed place to stay. He’d would have food, supervision, and training.  Did this mean he would be OK? Maybe I could stop wondering “what-if” with Marcus. Maybe he was doing alright despite never having been adopted. 

Driving home he recounted his weekend highlights. He loved visiting the farm where he had riding lessons when he lived with us. He loved Carl’s birthday party. His absolute favorite thing was going to the batting cage with Luke. It was one of those classic father-son moments where Luke taught him how to swing and how to watch for the ball. The difference being that most kids do this with their dad at a young age, not at age 19.

And then he played me Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s song “Trap House.”

“I used to have a trap house,” he commented nonchalantly. I could see him glance over at me to gauge my reaction. I froze in place, staring straight ahead at the road. A drug house. He used to sell drugs.

“After we knew you?” I asked quietly in a tightly-controlled voice.

“After I left.”

After you left which time??” I ground out each word with effort. It was when he was 18 and living with yet-another-girlfriend-and-her-mother. Rinse, repeat. I catch my breathe and sit in silence until I am sure I will not scream. Why did he choose this life over our family? Why?

It hurt to get the words out. “Do you know that I’ve never wanted anything from you except for you to be happy? I’ve only wanted for you to have a good life. I can’t make your decisions for you. No matter how you feel about me, I will always consider you to be my oldest. I will always care about you. I will never stop worrying. I will never stop asking myself why you couldn’t let us take care of you. ”

Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. When he got out of the car he caught me up in an enormous hug. Words of apology for his past choices washed over me. Reassurances that he was “staying away from that stuff” filtered through my ears like so much white noise. How many times over the years have we repeated this same conversation?

Driving away, I could see him standing in the road, adjusting his zebra-striped duffel bag  higher up on his shoulder. He looked so small. A part of me wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my days looking into the rearview mirror at Marcus.

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

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adoption, family

Dear Teacher…


I often struggle with how to explain my child’s trauma-related behavior to new teachers. Being a teacher myself, I know that we don’t have time to review much at the start of the school year. We are too busy reading your childrens’ IEPs and 504 plans while filling out mountains of paperwork. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I wrote to introduce Carl to his teachers. Please comment with anything YOU use at the beginning of the school year.

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

If you are reading this, you have the tremendous honor of teaching the death-defying, brave, and fearless (except for spiders) Carl! Congratulations! (Picture a crowd going wild.)

I’m his mom, and believe me, we got lucky too. I guess you’re in good company. We met Carl when he was 8-years-old and in the foster care system. We adopted him, and his younger sister, Mary.

Carl is an amazing kid. He hates spiders and vegetables despite what his mother tells him. He is sensitive to gooey materials, bugs, and the dark. When Carl first came home he couldn’t read that well. After a lot of practice, and the Wilson reading program, he is now an avid reader. When it’s time to pull him out of a Harry Potter book we generally employ the use of a fishing line or long cane to retrieve him.

In addition to being an avid reader, he loves history. Carl is a history buff with a strong interest in Betsy Ross and all things colonial America. Every season Carl plays a different sport. He’s a linebacker in football, a “middie” in lacrosse, and something-or-other I can’t remember in basketball. He’s very athletic and it’s a great way for him to manage his ADHD and blow off some steam. It’s also a great excuse for his dad to yell loudly at sporting events and wave his arms all around.

As a family we are active supporters of child labor. To this end Carl is now able to wash his own laundry, mow the lawn and vacuum like a boss. He can also brew me a mean cup of coffee on the Keurig machine! We pay him a small pittance for his efforts, of course, because…child labor.

Sometimes, due to his history of complex PTSD, Carl has trouble controlling his temper. His brain goes into fight/flight mode and it’s best to give him some space. If he feels cornered or pursued his body reacts as though he were in actual physical danger. If he needs a consequence or a reminder, it’s best to have him take a bit of space first. This way he can be calm enough to process what you’re saying. If he appears agitated or fidgety you may want to send him on an errand. I strongly suggest sending him to make you a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Or maybe to wash your car. Because…child labor.

In addition to athletic talents and the ability to work in harsh conditions, Carl is extremely empathetic. He loves animals, younger children and his grandparents. Papa is his best friend and they are always up to no good. Maybe if you ever meet Papa, you should preemptively give him a detention. Just trust me on this. Papa is naughty and has probably already pushed all the buttons on your school intercom.

Finally, Carl comes as part of a package deal. When you get him as your student (again, the crowd goes wild) you also get his family. He has Nana and Papa in town. He lives with Mom, Dad, and his younger sister Mary. He has 3 older teenaged siblings that come on weekend visits. We are all here to work with you in any way necessary. This is going to be a great year.  Trust me, I’m his mom!

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

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family, politics

Ice Cream and The N Word


It wasn’t until I became the mother of brown children that I truly saw the racism in this world. I mean, yeah, I’m against racism, I don’t tolerate racial jokes at social events, I support diversity, I support #BlackLivesMatter.  But did I ever really know racism? Did I feel it on a personal level? As a white woman, probably not.

My son was berated as an “N-word” at camp this week. Some of the kids have been asking him if he is Mexican and if he is here “legally.” Carl is much darker than I am so sometimes kids ask “how he came out like that.” This kind of ignorance permeates our society today. I have no problem gently educating people that our nation is made up of all kind of different people. Some children are born into families and some are adopted. Not all Mexicans are “illegals” and not all Hispanics are Mexican. Yada yada yada. At this point I realize my lip service is doing nothing whatsoever.

Carl was thrown up against a metal fence and choked at camp on Tuesday. His head was pushed back over the back of a metal fence by a 12-year-old boy named T. And this boy screamed at Carl for being a “N–!” Why? As it turns out Carl had bested him earlier during a sporting event. The camp staff intervened immediately and the rest of the day was spent trying to contain T (who turned on them) while waiting for his mother to pick him up.

I honestly expected the boy’s mother to address the actions of her son. I expected that she would reprimand the boy, educate him, give him consequences and ultiuhave him apologize for his actions. I thought this because I am naive. I am white. This has been my experience so far and in my naivety I expected the same.

Instead, the woman yelled at the camp counselors. According to the other campers she later came back and screamed at the staff some more. This baffles me. There is video of the incident. Clearly her son did something wrong.

Only, according to her this action was justified. Because my little boy is brown. She proudly wears neo-nazi white supremacist emblems on her jacket. She decided not to put her children in Lacrosse last season because my Hispanic husband was the coach. So I guess a bit of strangulation means nothing to her, so long as the victim is a child of color.

I went to the police in town. Of course I did. The state trooper was busy heading out for a narcotics raid. He gave me the email of our local officer instead. Then he gave my son a certificate for free ice cream. So I dutifully sent an email describing the incident, whom to speak with at the program (staff witnesses) etc. I simply asked that the T be spoken to about hate crimes and their repercussions. I thought education was the way to go before this boy became a hate-filled teenager. It seemed reasonable to me. That was on Tuesday. On Thursday I re-sent the email “just in case.”

I was naive again. Almost 2 weeks ago I left my cell phone in a cab. The driver attempted to steal it by stating everything in the cab belonged to him. An officer was at my house in 10 minutes and went to retrieve the phone for me. I baked him a pie, I was so happy he went out of his way for me.

Today is Sunday. It is the Sunday following horrible atrocities committed in Charlottesville VA, in the name of white supremacy.  Have I heard anything from the police about the incident with my son? What do you think?

But I suppose we should be happy with his ice cream.

 

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

 

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family

How Are You? 


It’s such a loaded question.

“How are you?”

“I’m in pain. I still can’t drive. I’m pretty sure the anesthesia from my surgeries has caused some major hair loss. A rare reaction, but then I am the Murphey’s Law of patients. And when I tuck my daughter in I have to do it via phone call because she’s in a therapeutic facility. Because we weren’t save when she was home. Because she wasn’t safe. Oh yeah and sometimes I have to ask my husband or son to tie my shoes.”

Ok, it sounds bad, I know. But adopting children from hard places can be…well, hard. And then the rest of life happens.

Let’s try this again.

“How are you?”

“Fine,” I reply. “Getting better every day. I’m working really hard in physical therapy.”

“How is your daughter?”

“She’s working hard in therapy.”

She is. And so am I. Only it’s really slow going.

But that’s not all that is happening. My parents are here with me. They moved halfway across the US to be near my family. Luke and I got to adopt the most amazing kids. We really did.

I have great friends. We have support. And they never give up on me. I have rides. I have encouragement. We are not alone.

And get this, I am a mom! Yeah, that’s me, the proud Mama milking every last moment for family-goodness. Sorry about all the pictures, Facebook. My family is CUTE!

Our son is flourishing. Carl has become a topless chef. Yeah it’s true. He cooks dinner without a shirt. He bakes pies and cakes without a shirt. Who needs an apron?!. We fill our days measuring and mixing in the kitchen. Then we spend the evening playing card games like Uno, Skip-Bo, Monopoly Deal and Exploding Kittens (that last one is, believe it or not, is a real game.)  Oh yeah, and there are no meltdowns. I mean, none. I hope I’m not jinxing this! 

Having peace in the house has had an amazing effect on all of us. We aren’t walking on eggshells. For the most part I’m sleeping at night. And when we visit Mary our time is spent having fun rather than struggling to get through.

The truth is that developmental trauma sucks. It’s an ugly beast. Disorganized attachment patterns suck. Mental illness? It’s so hard. And our daughter deals with all of these things. And we deal with all of these things, too. It kills me that I cannot protect her from any of this. When I became her mom, it had already happened.

So how am I? That’s a tough question. Right now I’m just counting my blessings.

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

*If you’ve ever struggled with “How are you?” I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

cooking.Y

I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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