I can understand the impulse that Marcus has to punch walls. Sometimes I feel the same way. If I have ever given the impression that I am really good at all of this therapeutic parenting stuff, I’m sorry. Adopting children with developmental trauma is far from easy. If it ever seems like this doesn’t affect me then I’ve misled you. It can really, REALLY get to me. This ongoing war on trauma is draining all of my reserves.
Things can be going well and then BOOM, trauma launches a surprise attack. This past week Mary had her 12th birthday. She hit puberty right when she turned 11 and things have calmed down since then. Mary’s been doing excellent work in her therapeutic boarding school. We’ve been having great home visits. It’s all good, right? Not so much.
Luke and I usually do the same thing for every child’s birthday. They get a dinner of their choice. We each go around the table and say a special “appreciation” about them. My mother typically bakes a cake. Then, usually that weekend, we throw a party. They can choose among a few venues and have either friends or family in attendance. We limit the number of guests in order to keep things low-key.
Mary in particular can be overwhelmed by large celebrations or breaks in her routine. Her birthday presents and party don’t mean that much to her. For the most part she obsesses about what foods she will have but she also enjoys shredding wrapping paper. The week leading up to her party she discusses food endlessly and checks several times to be sure she will have some.
This year was a bit different because she’s at a residential school. They had two separate celebrations at the school for her. She went off-grounds early in the week with her “advocate” which is a staff member each child is assigned as a primary caregiver. Mary chose her favorite, the Chinese buffet.
She also picked the day of her birth for a school party. We all had to refuse the Chinese buffet on this day because of the number of guests from school. Her final party was to be her family party with us.
At her school, birthdays always start with the child waking up to a special personalized poster the art teacher crafts just for them. A floor supervisor sneaks in at night and hangs it up in the child’s room. This year Mary got a pineapple in her favorite colors. After a special breakfast followed by classes, the staff threw her a party with school friends. They had karaoke, dancing and served her requested dinner of shrimp scampi. Her gifts were clothes, jewelry and new Adidas sneakers.
The family party was on a full day pass where we would once again go to the Chinese buffet, followed by a movie. Our present was a portable DVD player for her dorm room and several DVDs. As a general rule we only provide those crazy-expensive brand name sneakers at Christmas time once a child reaches the teen years. We try not to buy into the designer label thing, but once the kids get to middle school we accept it.
This year we spent many a FaceTime or a phone call discussing Mary’s three upcoming celebrations. We planned out every detail but mostly the food. She sounded excited and even appreciative. She appeared to be handling the elaborate birthday week well.
When things seem to be going well it always fools me. Unbeknownst to me Mary had begun calling all of the other people on her call list to beg for a third trip to the Chinese buffet. She can be really convincing when she persuades people that Luke and I don’t take care of her. This year she told people no one was celebrating with her at all.
I started to get calls and text messages from multiple people asking if they could pick her up on her birthday so she wouldn’t be “alone.” Never mind the fact that she requested a school party with friends, now she wanted to skip it for Chinese food. The worst part for me was that Mary stressed to people how her family doesn’t do anything for her.
She told them we wouldn’t be visiting her, we wouldn’t get her presents, and we never call her. Most everyone knows this isn’t true but it still really hurts. Luke and I got a reputation around town about not really putting an effort into these “adopted kids” thanks to Sean. Now it chills me to the bone that Mary is starting to do the exact same thing.
We planned the three birthday celebrations to her own specifications and she seemed delighted. Now she turns around and laments her misfortune to other people. What in the actual heck?!?
Logically I know she does this as part of her developmental trauma. The impulse to survive is strong with her. I suppose in her mind Chinese food equates survival and she’ll get that third meal any way she can. Regardless, it cuts me deeply when she straight up lies about us in regards to the things we work really hard at.
It’s horrible to hear she’s told people we don’t communicate with her. Telling others she won’t get presents is also hurtful. Because the school provided expensive gifts, she got double what her siblings did this birthday. She also got every single item she requested (which we generally don’t do.) It eviscerates me that she can beg others to save her. All of our elaborate planning and now she claims no one is celebrating her birthday. We worked really, really hard on all of this!
If she could tell people actual things we do that she doesn’t like it would be so much better. Making up these lies just pours vinegar into an open wound. I don’t know what else to say except that it hurts me beyond physical pain. After five years she’s still more interested in food than in her family. Mary is growing to be more and more like Sean.
I was able to discuss it with her. I firmly reiterated the plans we’d all agreed to. No matter what she said we would be following the schedule already set. I told her that it’s wrong and hurtful to make up stories about her family. She just sighed and said, “OK, mommy.” I could practically hear her eye-roll through the phone.
By the time I showed up for her day pass I was ready to spit nails. I am so sick of being portrayed as a mother who doesn’t care. Someone who didn’t want to adopt. Someone who exerts little to no effort. Someone who doesn’t try. In fact, by the time I signed her out for the day I honestly didn’t care if she liked her party or not. Either way she was going to say it never happened, right?
Then Mary pulled out a little bag. Inside there was one present for every member of our family. She told me that she had taken on extra chores to earn money. She did it to buy us all gifts for her birthday. I was floored. It says something about her that she wants us all to feel included in celebrating her special day. Perhaps there is hope after all.
I suppose we can’t win all of the battles but we might just win this war.
**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.