adoption, family

All the Children We Left Behind

Sometimes I get caught up thinking about the children we left behind. The ones we did not take. The ones we didn’t have.

Almost nine years ago, I was a Kindergarten teacher. Luke and I always wanted to adopt, we just didn’t know which adoption path we’d choose. Our marriage was only about a year old and we were enjoying the kid-free time.

There was a girl in my class who was so very special to me. J had an incredible singing voice, a ridiculously large vocabulary, and a penitent for unexpected and unexplainable temper tantrums. At the time, I didn’t really know much about trauma. I just knew that J was a great kid going through something awful.

Due to a horrific home situation, which I won’t describe, my colleagues and I made multiple reports to child services. They were involved with the family but refused to acknowledge what was happening there. J and her siblings were finally taken into care in the spring, after months of significant abuse. At last, they were safe. Was it a happy ending? Far from it.

The rest of that school year, and the beginning of the next, were terrible for J. She was physically safe but emotionally bleeding out. She started in a group home setting. During her first grade year the teacher couldn’t handle her so she came back into my class as a “helper.” I had her for about another month until a spot in the specialized behavior program opened up.

Luke and I wanted to take her. We wanted to foster J until she could be returned to her family safely. In all reality, we wanted to adopt her. But we weren’t foster parents. We lived in an apartment. We didn’t know if we could help her…and so on.

She begged us to take her home. “We could just sit on the couch and watch a nice movie. I could sit in the middle and hold the popcorn,” she said.

Luke used to visit me at the school every week. He was an EMT for the city I was working in and we lived down the road from the school. He knew all of my students. We both knew how special J was.

We didn’t see her again after those two years. She did change our lives, though. Because of J, Luke and I decided to become foster parents. We’ve always talked about her through the years. Eventually we adopted our children through the system. I should say that we didn’t see J again…until now.

I stumbled upon her accidentally. She’s listed on a site for older, adoptable children who are still in the foster care system. She’s not with her siblings. Shes not back with her mom. She’s not with an adoptive family. She’s a young teenager in the system. Alone.

To be sure, we are very happy being parents to the children we have. This has been a wild and crazy parenting journey but it’s our journey. It’s worth every difficult trauma-related parenting experience we’ve had.

Now that we are seasoned trauma parents I have a better understanding of J’s behaviors all those years ago. It’s helped us parent Mary, who is in RTC to get treatment. Our other kids are healing the best they can and we are truly parenting the best we can. It’s hard. Our house is crazy and loud and filled to the brim with people. It can be absolutely exhausting and impossible at times. It’s also amazing. We aren’t licensed as foster parents with the state anymore.

And all this time J has still been there. Waiting for her forever family.

I just can’t help thinking about the other kids. There was a baby we chose not to take. Our children have a younger sister who was born into the foster care system. She was able to be adopted by the family who fostered her from birth. At least, that’s what we think happened. It was best for the baby.

Sean moved on (and is presumably still moving around) to other foster homes. This was the best thing for everyone, although it was hard to see at the time.

We never did have that biological baby. Sometimes I still get a pang watching parents with an infant in public. But then I remember all the sleepless nights when the kids first came home. I think it’s for the best we didn’t go that route.

Looking at J on this website is different. Is it for the best that we didn’t take her? I can’t stop thinking about her. I just can’t.

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

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family, Uncategorized

Choosing Me

Reading has always been a favorite pastime of mine. It’s a refuge from life, an escape from the daily drama. Fiction, nonfiction, research journals all captivate me. My preferred fictional works are books by Jane Austen or books full of zombies. Or both (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies!)

Historical biographies and historical events are my non-fiction go-tos but I do enjoy some travel writing. Since becoming an adoptive parent I’ve read more nonfiction works on trauma than I ever believed humanely possible. This led me into journal articles on trauma research starting in the 1980s. I am obsessed with Dr. Bassel Van Der Kolk!

Peer-reviewed research became an obsession of mine. I could go through an entire journal in one sitting. I’ve always wanted to go back to school. There are a million reasons why I shouldn’t. I already have a Masters in education. I have a post-masters certification in special education. I’m a teacher and the price is pay for a sixth year or Ph.D would most likely not come back to me in the form of a pay increase.

We have highly traumatized children that need me.

I’ve got back problems that continue to this day.

Our daughter isn’t stabilized. She’s in residential care right now.

So I did it anyway. Because, sometimes, I have to choose myself. Waiting for our kids to be in-traumatized or for Mary to stabilize would be like waiting for Hailey’s Comet. It may not come again in my lifetime. If I spend all of my time staring at the sky, waiting for it to happen, I might see it. Then it would be over so quickly that I wouldn’t have had time to do much of anything. So maybe this is our normal. Maybe I need to learn to work within it.

I want to look back on my life and say, “I accomplished these things.”

I will most likely look back on my life and say, “I acquired these student loans.”

I don’t want another degree in education. I’d like to earn my doctoral degree in Applied Behavior Analysis.

The first step is to get another post-masters certificate. After that I can sit for my BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) exam and then pursue the doctorate. There’s just one small problem.

I can’t start my field experience. My workplace would have to sign off on it and they haven’t. We had a big meeting about what I would be doing. Things like helping one of my students reduce episodes of screaming in class is one. Another would be to increase the time-on-task of a different student. I also suggested tracking the social exchanges of a child I am working with to increase reciprocal conversations.

I’m doing these things anyway as part of my job. Why not take some data and allow my field supervisor to provide feedback and guidance? I think I know why. My injury is a work injury. I won’t go into details but it seems unlikely my employer is concerned about my physical health here. After all, I’m already doing the job.

It’s more of a courtesy to allow me to do my field experience within my job. And they don’t have to be courteous. Most districts would encourage the further education of their teachers. In this case, I’d have to conduct my field experience elsewhere.

I think it’s obvious I won’t be going to another location to complete my 10 weekly hours minimum requirement. I don’t have it in me physically to take on the extra time.

I just come home and rest on my heating pad after making it through a day of work.

For the time being, I am researching, writing and acing my little heart out of these online classes. If I can ever get my field experience I can think about that doctorate. If not…I guess I’ve wasted a lot of money.

I don’t have all the answers. Does anyone? I can still answer one thing. What choice do I really have? None. This time I need to choose me.

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

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adoption, family

When the Grass is Greener: Residential Treatment

That old adage about the first year of marriage “being the hardest” is a myth. When I married Luke ten years ago, I had no idea what it would really be like. It was a whirlwind of anticipation. At the time, I wondered what the grass really looked like on the other side.

The first year of marriage wasn’t hard. The first year was delightful. It was filled with blustery New England storms. They’re called “Nor’Easters” and I love them.

Luke and I would curl up together in front of our apartment’s floor-to-ceiling windows. We listened to the wind howl as a soft white blanket covered the world. We’d sip hot, exotically flavored, coffee Luke would brew. I’d clutch my mug of “almond toffee” or “coco-mocha” and tuck my feet underneath my new husband’s lap. My hands and toes would warm me into a languid, dreamy state of contentment.

Old folk sayings never do these things justice.

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Then why did all of these terrible things happen to our children before we knew them?? Why weren’t we there at the beginning?

“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side”

It is greener. Being married to Luke is sooo much better than before-Luke. Our daughter’s residential treatment center is sooo much better than the psychiatric treatment facility where she was. 

I didn’t realize how effective the residential school would be. I didn’t realize how much good they would do for our daughter. I didn’t realize how supportive they would be to our whole family. I didn’t know how much it would hurt. They are doing what we could not.

Mary is finally in a place that truly understands developmental trauma. The non-profit that runs this residential school specializes in adoption-related difficulties. They know complex trauma inside and out. They use effective, evidence-based treatment models. They all communicate. The staff are all well trained and on the same page. Mary is being kept safe.

I’ve never heard her take ownership of any part of her treatment. Lately she’s been talking about what she can do to reach goals that she has set for herself. She’s responding to the structure and boundaries of this place. Hugs are for families, not staff. Mary cannot call any of the staff “mom” or “dad.” She doesn’t sit in laps or snuggle the staff. They gently remind her about what her family is there for.

She isn’t allowed to call me between 10 and 30 times per day to scream at me when she is unhappy. Instead, she is encouraged to build better family relationships. She may call once a day and she is explicitly taught about how to speak to her parents respectfully.

The best/worst part is that it is all working. We are having pleasant visits. We enjoy our phone calls with Mary. She is making connections about what they are trying to teach her. I know we are only at the very beginning of residential treatment but I have such newfound hope. So far it’s everything we weren’t able to help her with and more. The grass is so very green here.

“Jealousy is a green-eyed monster.”

I am so jealous. I am this monster. Why couldn’t we have accomplished this at home?

Their program is nearly identical to what the kind of therapeutic parenting we practice. The relational model we use is the same. We don’t have their staffing. We didn’t get their results. It hurts.

This first year of RTC is shaping up to be so successful. Will it be the hardest? I don’t know.

“Hindsight is 20/20”

What I do know is that ten years into marriage, I can look back and laugh at my worries. Perhaps, when she’s been safely at home for ten years, I will look back and see the same. Until then I will curl up with Luke while the wind is howling. I still have a warm place to tuck in my feet while we wait out the storm.

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

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adoption, family

Wherein I Suck

Here is where I suck. I want to be therapeutic as a mom. I want to help my children. Being a parent is a huge part of my identity.

But sometimes? I suck at it. I just want to have some fun and enjoy my family. Having kids with trauma, kids with teenage hormone changes, kids with psychiatric conditions or basically just human children prevents that. I can’t have the fun Mom experiences I feel like everyone else (but me) is having.

Marcus had been in a great mood since starting his new job. He is making friends, feeling good. So I’ve done what no sane mother would do here. I’ve avoided him. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until it occurred to me I hadn’t seen Marcus in three days. I skipped our nightly Phase 10 game with him. I took a bath, instead.

I think I’m scared that Marcus’ pattern will continue. I’m protecting myself when I should be connecting with him. He’s older and he needs more connection experiences to feel grounded and safe. And I, apparently, need another bubble bath.

Carl has been waking us up in the middle of every. Single. Night. He’s also been having meltdowns over nothing. If something goes wrong, like when he broke the third can opener, he yells at me. It’s clearly my fault. If he isn’t drinking enough water for his lacrosse practice it’s my fault. Did I mention he threw a plastic cup filled with water because of this? Also my fault. I’m not sure you can hydrate your body via carpet, but, whatever. His choice.

The next morning Carl yelled and snapped at me all morning. I refused to engage. He kept at it. I quit helping him. He kept at it. I stated that we would discuss his restitution later when we were both more calm. He did the eye-roll-snap-at-mom-for-being-stupid combo.

So I did what any sane mom getting sucked into a pre-pubescent argument would do. I yelled back.

“You’re grounded!”

“FINE!!” he screamed back as he got on the bus for school.

Those were the last words we said to each other as he walked out the door. Great. It’s been a theme this week. I’m fairly certain I need another bubble bath with my Eucalyptus aromatherapy suds.

Someone else, please take a peak around. Am I still a mother? Do I have to?? Because this week I really suck at it! This week I’d rather do something else, please. Are any positions open for a professional bubble bath aficionado?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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