adoption, family

Fragile Peace

There is a fragile peace that lies somewhere between contentment and heartbreak. Lately I’ve felt more at ease about Mary. She is in a top notch private residential school. They know all about complex, developmental trauma. They understand the deep attachment struggles. I think that if anyone can help her, maybe they can. This comforts me when missing her rips away at my insides and keeps me up at night.

In a fragile kind of truce, Marcus and I are existing. After having the outburst where he smashed a TV in the basement (it was his own, he was waiting to sell it) he went dark. First, he cleaned up the glass and the wreckage. Then Marcus holed up in his room and spoke to no one, only sending angry texts to me occasionally.

The drama was apparently related to a girl. He loves her. He loves her as much as I love Luke. He can’t stand to be away from her. I never even gave her a chance/believe him/acknowledge his feelings. He is trapped here like an animal. He is caged in. Or so he says…I refused to have the fight. I  let him know that I wasn’t arguing with him and that I loved him. I’ve had a lot of practice at not taking the bait.

On the fourth day I went into his room and sat down at the edge of his bed. The last text just said that I was the mom and he was supposed to be able to talk to his mom about his feelings. He was cloaked in darkness and speaking in the softest whisper. I wasn’t allowed to turn on the light. He told me all about the girl, his feelings, how deep his love was for her. I’m pretty sure he dumped her a year ago because he didn’t like her anymore. Marcus is always back and forth this way.

I did the thing that I do best. I held him while he cried. I told him that he must be very heartbroken. I acknowledged the love he claimed, the depression, the fate of star-crossed lovers everywhere. And then I faced the thing I did not want to face. His move-out pattern. I told him if he chose to move back to that other state, into the city with those old friends, then I would support his decision.

He isn’t trapped. He’s asked to be here. He’s a grown man. But I made it clear that he didn’t need to start a huge fight with me to do it. I wasn’t going to make it easy by participating in the, “I-hate-you-I’ll-never-speak-to-you-again.” ritual. If he wanted a fight he’d have to do it without me.

So now we wait. Everything seems quiet. Marcus started a new job. Since our non-argument, I haven’t heard about the girl. Maybe the storm has passed.

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

adoption, family

Kidnapping the Kid

Carl and I needed a day off. We needed a break from being at home, being around the Marcus-drama, and being swamped with responsibilities. Frankly, I also needed a parenting “win.” Out of all the children, Carl is the one I feel like I can really get through to. Connecting with me is somehow easier for him and, consequently, very rewarding for me.

He’s been having a hard time at home. Bursts of anger and tantrums we haven’t seen for a long time have come out. School is going well for Carl right now, and that’s a huge plus. However, he is showing fear about the bathroom and about bedtime again. Luke and I did the normal rounds with therapy and the psychiatrist.

Still, I felt like he could use a little one-on-one time to connect. Sunday was a perfect day, with low humidity (less back pain) and sunshine aplenty. So I surprised him with a trip to the zoo, just the two of us. Luke was working and Marcus was locked in his room, not speaking to anyone. It was time for some fun.

Carl absolutely loves animals so the trip was a hit. We saw zebras and elephants and giraffes. We learned about the zoo’s efforts to rescue animals that had been domesticated for unsavory purposes. Carl didn’t even mind my plentiful use of the benches. He just took off to see an exhibit, then reported back to me.

At 12, I feel his childhood slipping away. I try to grasp onto it while I still can. He’s almost my height now and he has a tiny mustache (which he completely denies!) On days like this I can still get him to begrudgingly let me kiss his cheeks or give him “squishes.”

It goes like this:

Me: Just let me kiss those adorable cheeks. Please please please please please!

Carl: (eye-roll) I don’t want to!

Me: But I’ll buy you that sweatshirt you want at the gift shop. Just two more kisses!!!

Bystanders: (lots of horrified stares)

By now I’m used to people staring at Carl and me when we are out. We certainly don’t look related. Out of our entire family I have the lightest skin and he has the darkest. It can lead to awkward exchanges explaining adoption. Sometimes people ask if I’m his tutor or his babysitter.

I sort of realized belatedly (read: when Carl told me) that the zoo patrons were under this very same impression. Only this time it seemed wildly inappropriate. They must have been thinking something along the lines of:

“What a pervy babysitter. Where are that boys parents?”

“Does he know the creepy lady that’s offering to buy him things if he lets her kiss his cheek?”

“Did that crazy white lady kidnap that poor Hispanic boy?!?!!”

Luckily we left before the police or park security showed up. Whew! I still got my parenting win.

I swear I didn’t kidnap him! No really, he’s my son!!

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

adoption, family

The Coming Storm

I’ve felt it coming. The oncoming of a storm settles itself deep into my lower back. The pelting rain and thunder is on its way. A real nor’easter is bearing down on us. The constant throbbing in my right hip repeats to me, “it’s coming, it’s coming.”

On these mornings I am frozen in bed, my muscles locked up and uncooperative. Attempting to move causes my bones to crack. My sacroiliac joints groan in protest. I am like the tin man without his oil. A half hour on the heating pad and some Tylenol help me to get to a functioning level of chronic back pain. Each groan and crack is whispering to me, “No matter what you try you will always end up back in this place. Always.”

We are seven months into Marcus’ latest return. The old wounds are still there, but just like anything else, we are learning to work around them. To be more accurate, I am learning to work around them. I am learning to stay so quiet. I am hoping not to rock the boat.

Over the last few weeks I can see him getting closer to me. Like a drowning man, he seeks the comfort of my life raft. Tighter and tighter he clings.

What he doesn’t realize is that each time he climbs into this raft, we all capsize. He mistakenly believes it will help him weather the storm inside of him. I want to believe it, too. Survival. This is what he knows.

But I know things, too. I am familiar with Marcus’ storm. Like the cracking of thunder he begins to smash things in the basement. The punching bag coping skill just isn’t working this time. Our house shakes in time to the thunder. Marcus is slamming doors and shouting loud guttural cries that have no words.

I’ve said no to taking my car out to “visit a friend” in the storm. It seems another storm has now moved in. A mere nor’easter is nothing compared to the Marcus storm. I felt it coming in my bones long before now. “He’s too close. He’s too comfortable,” they told me. “Soon he will be gone.”

Part of me wonders how we got here. Part of me knows how. We’ve been coming to this point ever since adoption finalization. Part of me wonders when it all began. Part of me knows it began long before I was ever in the picture.

All of me wonders if tonight is the night. Will he stay?

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

adoption, family

The Quietest Mother


I have to approach so slowly, so cautiously. Marcus is crying. It’s rare for him to ever cry out loud. Instead he will sit with silent tears streaming, unchecked, down his face. He is a statue of sorrow.

The well of hurt and loss inside him runs so deep. He isn’t like his other siblings. He hasn’t had the benefits of good therapy. He hasn’t had the benefit of a stable family, a place to stay longer than a few months. Foster care has trained him to be an island.

He’s crying. He needs his mom. He needs me. Marcus hates needing a mom. In the past, every time we have gotten close, he’s run. He will put as much distance between us as possible. He is a young man now but we’ve done this dance for years.

Eventually, he always returns. Then we continue the dance all over again. Perhaps, this time, he won’t notice me. I will be so quiet he won’t even notice a mother has crept up on him.

I try not to say “I love you,” too much. Even after the adoption I still tread lightly. I try not to show those deep feelings that so often spook him. I hug him sparingly and only if I warn him first. Keep things light, I tell myself. Don’t scare him off. Try to keep him this time.

In this moment I am so very quiet. I say in my softest whisper, “I’m going to hug you now.” Quietly, so quietly, I place my arms around him. And then suddenly he’s crushing his face into my shoulder. His embrace is fierce and tight. My sweater soaks up all his tears.

I stay like this, completely still, while he cries it all out. Later, he may resent having exposed this much emotion to me. Still, I stay. My legs go numb and my back is on fire. He is crushing me. I say nothing. I just stay here. I am the quietest mother.

Please stay, Marcus. I want you to stay.

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

adoption, family

Portrait of Pain

It hurts. Pain is a slippery thing to define. Like grains of sand, the words seem to slip through my fingers. At the doctor’s office there is a scale with emojis in various stages of frowning. This is how I am supposed to measure my pain. A scale from 1-10. How can a number convey what this feels like?

It hurts. I choose words like throbbing, stabbing, constant ache. I mention hot electric shocks running down the back of my right leg. The muscle spasms in my right side are grabbing, squeezing, deep and unbearable. My hips feel so sore that when it rains I walk the tin man without his oil.

It hurts. My daughter isn’t here. She doesn’t want to talk to me on the phone. We didn’t buy her a live white tiger cub for her birthday so she has found a new mom. Mary hasn’t called us since her birthday. When I call her she proudly proclaims her new “valentine” is who she will be with now. She calls her godmother every single day. It is always a woman she chooses.

It hurts. I am glad she has her godparents. I feel lucky they are understanding about attachment disorders. They don’t believe her when she says that we don’t provide for her, love her, or meet her needs. She still says it, though. Manipulation is her survival skill.

It hurts. The new Residential Center where she is now living understands. We are having a meeting with clinicians today to discuss her phone calls and how to set appropriate boundaries. One of the reasons she is there is to learn how to handle relational models. You cannot beat someone physically until they buy something you want. You cannot trade moms in for newer models.

It hurts. I am back at work full time. I sit in a chair. I walk down the halls. I always feel like my lower half is on fire. Every step I take is one step closer to convincing me I need the revision surgery my doctor is recommending. A constant, burning ache engulfs my lower back. It engulfs my heart. It hurts.

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


I Have a Screw Loose…Literally

I met with my neurosurgeon yesterday. It’s been a year since my spinal fusion and I am still having some pain and difficulty. I had a functional capacity assessment (FCE) done and a CT scan to look at my spine.

The FCE came back with “valid” results (apparently this is good? Maybe some people try to fake these? They are hard to read? I have no clue) so everyone was pleased. It basically showed that I can work at a sedentary job for 8 hours a day but no lifting over 30 pounds. There is weakness in my right side. It recommended I don’t walk or stand for too long and don’t waist-lift heavy things. It’s sort of a permanent thing. This is where I am at. Period.

The CT scan showed that I have an actual screw loose in my spine. It has an amount of “micro-movement” that bumps into nerves and throws my pelvis alignment off to compensate. My spine is starting to curve a bit to make up for it. The fusion has not completely fused and could use some more bone material. Another screw may be needed to stabilize my SI joint. The doctor recommended a revision. Normally time to heal, Physical Therapy, and pain management injections help quality of life. I’ve done all of those things. A LOT. So…

We know a bit more about my genetic condition that creates extra scar tissue and my bones ability to fuse. There are special tools, screws and some kind of dip that can be used. This will help to promote bone growth and minimize scarring. I have a lot to think about.

I am going to go back full-time to work next week. I guess I will see how my body responds to the added activity. At 36 I really don’t want to be this way forever. I can function with chronic pain and limitations. But do I have to?

I am leaning towards the revision surgery. Hard. Since Mary just started her new RTC there is a very good chance she will be there for a year. I will need a year to recover just like this past one. I wonder if it will be easier for me if I’m not worried about my physical safety and her mental state at all times. Could my healing process be a bit smoother?

How would this affect our children? Will it trigger Marcus, who just came home? Will it throw off Carl? How much stress and extra work will this cause Luke? And Mary…well, you can read about how is affected her here. It gets so complicated.

When I think of the long run I wonder how much my inability to do things affects them all now. I’m too tired. My back is too sore. I can’t walk for that long. It’s too much to go to lunch with my mom sometimes (booths care painful to sit in.) I need to take a muscle relaxer to sit through Carl’s band concert. We can’t take a long trip. I wouldn’t make it walking in the streets of New York City, the trip I have promised for over a year. I have to lie down on the heating pad…all evening.

The way things are now could be forever. It is unlikely that I will improve much from here. Unless we fix the problem. Luke supports the surgery. I think I want it. I am just not sure. The decisions are huge. Again, I would ask my reader to please wish us luck. And if you’re the praying kind then it can’t hurt to pray as I consider this huge decision. What’s next?

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

adoption, family

Are You My Mother?

What is it like to love someone who doesn’t love you back? Or maybe the better question is what is it like to love someone who isn’t capable of loving you in a reciprocal way? I ponder this all the time because I live it. Loving my daughter with attachment difficulties is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

I’m her mom. To me, nurturing her comes second nature. I want her to be happy. I want her to do well. I so desperately want to help her after all she has been through.

For Mary the word “love” has an entirely different meaning. Nurturing in her experience means having a female figure who helps her to survive. The woman must give her attention at all times because even a glance away can mean death. Mary can remember what severe, chronic neglect feels like.  A woman who yells at her or hits her is still providing the attention Mary feels is necessary to survival. It no longer even matters who the woman is.

The “woman” is interchangeable. It could be anyone. Mary isn’t able to tell the difference between a healthy bond and an unhealthy bond. A woman who has just met her has the same value as one who provides food, shelter and affection. There is no standard here. The only burning need Mary must have fulfilled is that there is another woman and then another and another one waiting somewhere after that. This way Mary can never run out. This way she feels as if she can survive.

I do my best to meet the challenge of parenting a child like this. I always fall short when it comes to giving her enough attention. Having anyone else in my life is too much for her. My going to the bathroom is too much for her. When I watch the road while driving the lack of attention drives her into a panic. No one human person can provide enough for Mary to feel safe.

She will throw herself into my arms and snuggle and play and be happy for a time. I will feel like we are making progress. Maybe she is feeling safe. Then I will find secret letters she has written to strangers with nice jewelry. They will say, “I think you should be my mother now. My parents don’t want me. Maybe you can adopt me and we can wear necklaces.”

It sucks. I mean it is heartbreaking and sad. I know that the minute she can no longer see me I am forgotten to her. She’s moved on to another way of getting her needs met. She is a survivor and she will love the one she’s with.  I really hate this part of an attachment disorder. I understand it in a logical way. I just hate it.

Trying to explain attachment disorders to the staff at her last psychiatric facility (PRTF) is akin to nailing jell-o to a tree. “Please keep reassuring her that Family is forever. She has a biological family and an adoptive family that love her. We will always be here.” That facility let her call some of the staff “mom” and “dad.” A lot of them meant well, but were ill-informed.

They told her that her command hallucinations were “the devil,” and that she should keep him out. Don’t ask me how a psychoiatric facility has staff that aren’t familiar with auditory hallucinations, complex trauma or attachment disorders. They were the only PRTF for a child her age. Insurance gave us this or nothing. Mental health care (or lack thereof) in our country is a whole different story…

I found that some PRTF staff members had made secret pacts with our almost-11-year-old. They’ve told her they can call each other from Mary’s new RTC program. They told Mary it was alright not to mention it to us. They will find each other someday. They have known Mary for all of 7 months.

We moved her into the new residential treatment center (RTC) a few days ago. They specialize in complex trauma and use reserch-based treatment methods. I am pretty sure they don’t beleive the devil is causing her to hallucinate, or that she is collaborating with him etc. Instead, they greeted us with “Welcome Mary!” signs everywhere. They remembered everything from the information we provided. They kindly but firmly stated that staff are referred to by name and that only famililies have titles like “mom” or “dad.” Every staff member on the beautiful campus greeted her by name immediatley.

This is  a 45 day diagnostic placement to determine if she needs a residential setting to keep her (and us) safe while accessing her right to education. Keep your fingers crossed for us. We were beyond lucky to get her this placement  through an IEP with her school district. It’s almost impossible to do. Almost.

Impossible isn’t a word we use in this family. Nothing is impossible. Not even love.

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