adoption, family

I Am the Bionic Woman

OK, I know, I get it, not everyone wants to look at my skeleton. X-ray pictures might seem gross to some but they totally fascinate me. In these pics my spine looks so super-strong that nothing could topple it. Of course some of that is due to the fact that this time around the surgeon used extra large screws made of a special material. This was in order to prevent the reaction I had last time.

The first time around my body didn’t respond well at all to the stainless steel hardware. Rather than grow bone material (called fusing) I grew an excessive amount of scar tissue. During this time my entire body was left without support due to the instability of my spine.

Some of the problem was obvious in the form of a hard outward lump the size of a ping-pong ball. It made all kinds of doctors (even an allergist) say things like, “Wow, come look at this! I’ve never seen anything like this!” They also said, “Hey can I write about this in a medical journal? This condition is really rare.”

The pain I felt in my nerves and in my spine was obvious to anyone who looked at the outward mass of scar tissue. It didn’t show everything that was going on inside, but it gave an indication. Clearly, something needed to be done. I needed help.

My kids are like this sometimes. We cannot see all the ways that early trauma, foster care and adoption have affected them deep inside. One or two angry interactions show us that they are experiencing some kind of emotional pain. We’ll never really know how deep that scar tissue has formed. We can’t truly understand how it affects their ability to navigate in the world.

Marcus is this way. He will blow up, become angry, break things, yell, rant, really try anything to push us away. His last leaving was like this. So was the one before and the one before that. Like my medical-journal-level scar tissue, these are the outward signs of his problem. I cannot say how much I wish that I had my surgeon’s specially formulated tools and extra-long screws coated in healing solution. I want so badly to fix these internal wounds for him.

I can’t. Obviously, I cannot heal for him but what I can do is try to weather the storm. He called this week and asked to come home for family dinner. After I missed his visit the day of my surgery I was jumping for joy (metaphorically) and shouting, “YES!!” I gave him the obvious news that this wouldn’t be one of those family dinners where I baked homemade bread and his favorite cookies for dessert. I’m recovering, Luke is rather blind at the moment, so pizza ordering is our dinner go-to.

He messaged back a bit later that he was on his way and I shouldn’t be over-doing it in the kitchen. The very fact that he is thinking about what might be best for me is progress from his sulky teens. He was stuck in survival-mode we met almost five years ago. When he thinks beyond his own needs it truly is progress.

However, he informed me that he “had someone we needed to meet.” It’s a girl. It’s always a girl. I agreed just so long as it wasn’t Toxic Ex-Girlfriend. Marcus let me know this was someone new. Then he also let me know she had a baby. Could she bring her baby? Said baby was already in the car.

Have you ever watched a horror movie where the clearly-about-to-be-dead character slowly opens the basement door to go and “check things out?” That’s the way I felt as I attempted composure while asking if this was Marcus’ baby. He took his time  responding while I sat clutching phone thinking, “Why did I have to check in the creepy basement?”

In the end, Marcus denied the child was his. It belongs to his girlfriend, but they also have “something to tell us.” I checked her out on social media. She looks young. She poses with her middle finger up or her backside out towards the camera. I suppose everyone looks young to me. Marcus is about to be 21 so presumably (hopefully) she is around that age as well. It is taking every super-power I have not to pre-judge this situation and start heavily disliking this baby. I mean, it’s just a baby for heaven’s sake. I need to get it together!

In the end, Marcus cancelled dinner. He asked to reschedule in a few days because he “got called into work.” A part of his pattern is to get close and then rapidly retreat so I’m not all that surprised. This will give me a little more time to work on my “what a cute baby!” as opposed to “Leave that in the car!” greeting statement. I should also work on holding in comments like, “Marcus you aren’t emotionally stable enough to be hanging out with babies. That’s a huge responsibility. Please start taking care of MY baby (Marcus) first!”

Luke is wiser and more patient than I am. He says we have to understand that our son will make choices we may not agree with. We have to guide him as best we can while continuing to support him. Without us, Marcus wouldn’t have the support network he so clearly needs. Luke is also blind at the moment, so no matter what I’m probably going to tell him it’s not a very cute baby. I am a horrible person.

So here I wait. I summon all the strength I can from my newly bionic spine. My prayer goes something like this:

Please let me stand tall no matter what my son might be facing.

Please let me be less judgmental. (Because I am on a SERIOUS path of prejudgment right now and it’s not a good look.)

Please do not let me be a grandmother right now.

Please let me lend the support that is needed.

Please help me to stand tall and strong like the bionic woman I am.

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

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family

Because I Could

Most things that I have done lately are because I’ve had to. I chose the venue for Carl’s thirteenth birthday party based on seating options. This local arcade/laser tag/mini-golf establishment boasts a multitude of plush reclining couches for parents with bad backs. Being the only driver before my surgery meant I chose Carl’s birthday based on what I could physically manage.

I literally finished the entire signature project for my school semester ahead of time. I took quizzes, study guides, and completed that big project well before the due dates. Because I had to, otherwise my grad-school work would be clouded with a post-surgery haze of pain medication.

On that same note I wrote out a comprehensive list of all the medications Carl takes, their doses, their purposes, and the doctors’ info. I pre-filled the next weekly container of his pill case just to be sure.

I arranged casseroles of food for after my surgery. I had to do this because things would be so busy that no one might have time to cook and I had to feed my family. There was also the (slim) possibility that for whatever reason I might not make it and then everyone would need comfort food.

I had awkward conversations with Luke about how if something happened to me I’d want him to move on and find happiness at some point. I wanted him to know how  fulfilled he’d made my life. I had to say all of this just in case. I also had to remind him where to find the information about my life insurance policy.

I gave my children the best few days I could on the off chance that they’d be the last. I left some “in case” notes behind so they’d know how amazing and great they were. If they lost another mom they really needed to know it wasn’t anything to do with them. I just had to do it.

When it came to my own parents I was at a loss for what I had to do. I wanted to make sure they had a good trip right before my surgery (planned long before.) I wouldn’t let them change any travel plans. They deserved enjoyment away from all of the chaos and drama that surrounds my family of herded chickens!

I made sure to leave my mom what must have been a weirdly sappy message about how great she’s been to me. Everyone loves their mom, but before becoming a foster parent I never realized how MUCH I had to appreciate.

The last thing I had to do was send Marcus an oddly sappy message. I usually avoid communicating too much positive emotion to him, so as not to make him uncomfortable.   Our communication has been off and on since he last moved out. But just on the off-chance I didn’t make it I sent him what, in hindsight, must have been cryptic. It read:

“Hi honey, No matter what happens I want you to know that I love you forever no matter what. I am so lucky that I got to be your mom (one of them.)”

To my surprise he replied that he loved me and he wanted to do something to help us. Sometimes it really surprises me how much Marcus has learned about family. Although he didn’t realize I’d be in the hospital for at least a night, he showed up at the house that day. I did have a wonderfully happy morphine-laced phone conversation with him that  I can’t remember at all. But at least I spoke to my son.

I did all of this because I had to. Everything changed when I woke up from the procedure.  I hugged my husband and my family close, albeit in a highly gentle way, because I could. I drank a much-needed cup of coffee, because I could. I wrote a blog post, that largely made no sense, because I could.

I hope that each day I have now counts as one I could do something great with.

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

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family

I made it!

I made it! It’s over! The surgery was a success. I’m so very lucky. I didn’t even come out as a zombie!!

I’m most grateful that’s my family was here for me. Marcus even came to the house. He made food.

Thank you to my mom and dad for saluting back Thanks to my wonderful hubby and a good friend today. I am truly blessed.

I also got to give my autograph to Ronda if staff. I am famous now. 🎺

I’m also on lots of meds so pls forgive typos and crazy talk !! 😂

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adoption, family

It’s Time

I’ve spent this past week tying up all of the loose ends I can find before my surgery.  I wonder if I’m ready. No matter how much I’ve prepared I can’t be sure that I’m ready. Also, my mother-in-law is coming to help out for a week so this should get very interesting.

I do love my MIL. She isn’t one to show affection with hugs and kisses. She will make me a cup of tea when I’m stressed. When she visits she cleans everything and cooks dinner for us. I absolutely love it. She fills our house with the savory smell of Spanish rice mixed with lavender Fabuloso cleaner. However, she has a great deal of anxiety and is scared to be out here in the countryside. Once she asked me fearfully if the deer ever came into the house!

When we first brought the children home my mother-in-law came to visit. It was great to have someone to help with household tasks because the kids were desperate for my attention. If foster care had taught them anything it was to be afraid that moms were actively trying to escape. The house was in turmoil and the kids raged, tantrummed, fought with each other and generally did whatever they could to hold my attention. They were so afraid then that their new mom would get away somehow.

My MIL was scared of them. While they were terrified of the world around them she was terrified of their violence. She didn’t want to be alone with them. She slept with her bedroom door locked. When Mary would begin to rage she’d run to her room and lock herself in. Her anxiety was pushed to the limits. She really didn’t understand why we would want to grow our family this way.

At one point she told me that foster care had “better kids” than these and that we needed to “send them back.” It wasn’t spoken with malice. She was afraid of what our lives would be like with these children. My MIL told me a story about someone who adopted troubled kids and ended up divorced.

After this, Luke jumped in to gently, yet firmly, establish some boundaries. She was only trying to protect us but it wasn’t helping. Over the years she eventually became very close to Carl. He loves her Spanish cooking which is truly the way to my MIL’s heart. When she talks about our family these days, it’s with respect. She brags about how far the children have come.

Now that she is coming I feel like things can run smoothly while I’m in the hospital. The only thing she fears at our house currently are those pesky deer! Under our kitchen sink I have organized the cleaners and miscellany so she can find her cleaning supplied. I’ve purchased her favorite cleaning gloves and a bottle of her signature Fabuloso. She has two boxes of her favorite cereal available.

The SUV just had an oil change and it’s burnt out bulbs replaced. I’ve prepared and frozen a few casseroles just in case. Luke and I rounded up three dead vacuum cleaners and other useless stuff from the basement to make a dump run. I can guarantee my MIL will still clean the basement, but at least this way she can get around.

Carl’s appointment with the in-home therapist is all scheduled and his rides for football practice are arranged. In short. there isn’t much else I can do. Is it enough? Have I prepared my family?

All I know is that it’s time.

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

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adoption, family

Cycle of Anxiety

It started at night. After football practice Carl had an episode in the shower. For our children this is a place where trauma occurred, so fear is heightened there. Both Carl and Mary refuse to shower with the door shut. Carl takes the therapy dog into the bathroom with him to sit on the rug and guard the door. Usually it works for him.

Last night it didn’t. Luke was in our bathroom and I was upstairs when Carl began shouting and banging on the walls. I froze. The pounding of the walls grew more insistent and my heart skipped a beat. I struggled to take a breathe and my knees went week. For whatever reason I was frightened. Carl hasn’t been truly violent in months. He wasn’t mad. Mary isn’t here. It’s unlikely that I have anything to be afraid of but my body panicked anyway.

Then Carl’s shouting turned into bellowing and screaming as he began punching the shower stall and the surrounding drywall. I should have gone to him but I didn’t. Instead I locked my bedroom door and tried to slow my breathing. Carl’s outburst lasted for what seemed like an eternity but was really only about ten minutes. Eventually Luke was able to go and talk to him.

Anxiety is a difficult thing to explain. I’m not talking about fear over getting something wrong on a test or speaking in front of a crowd. Those things may cause anxiety in some but are mostly uncomfortable to others. I’m talking about a true and measurable physical reaction where the body responds as if mortal danger is near.

For people with PTSD, anxiety disorders or developmental trauma it’s quite different. When Carl is afraid his body flips into fight or flight mode. What he experiences is similar to what one might experience after a bad car accident. It’s sheer terror and panic. These are physical characteristics that can be seen.

For humans, a resting heart rate of about 60-80 is normal. When I measured Carl’s heart rate it was 144 after he had already calmed down! Mine was 103 and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breathe. I can only imagine what he felt. His breathing was shallow and his pupil’s were dilated. Carl’s hands were shaking.

He didn’t know why fear overtook him. He was just triggered. He’s been argumentative lately and controlling. These are actually signs of stress. It’s Carl’s way of dealing with uncertainty and fear. He didn’t logically decide to stand naked in his bathroom and have a tantrum. It just happened.

I didn’t mean to hide away and ignore him. It just happened. Somehow we will have to find a way to work around these symptoms. Until then, I hope others can understand what this kind of anxiety looks like. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t productive. It just is.

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

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adoption, family

The Evolution of the Hug

When Carl first came to us at 8-years-old he didn’t know how to hug. He’d grab and pull or thrust himself at full speed into my arms. His expressions of love left red marks behind. He was a fighter. He would not be forgotten.

During visits with his biological mom he’d shove the baby away from her arms and forcefully climb into her lap. The social workers would say how sad t was that he was trying to get some kind of affection from her. Carl seemed to be always angry then or at least always on the verge of tears.

Before visits he would tell me that Luke was going to marry his biological mom and they’d be happy together with the kids. After visits he’d yell at me and tell me to get lost. Sometimes he’d tell me I was an awful mom and he knew I wanted to hit him. Carl would scream at me to just hit him already. He’d say he hated me.

But things would change before bed on those nights. I’d tuck Carl in and he’d dissolve into tears. The little guy would clutch me so tightly that little half-moon claw marks speckled my arms.

“Mommy?” he’d ask me, “Are we going to stay here with you and Daddy? If we can’t go back, I mean. Then can we please stay with you?”

He’d tremble and sob and ask me why she couldn’t take care of them. He’d ask if we could “play baby” and I could hold him. So that’s what I did.

Many times neither biological parent came to the visits. The office was so close to Bio Mom’s apartment that the kids would watch it out of the window, hoping to see her emerge. Often she didn’t.

Carl didn’t have as much anger on those days. Instead he was afraid. He’d clutch my left arm with his whole body. He was a solid 8-year-old but he’d ask to be picked up. Luke was the king of piggy back rides in those early days.

Eventually, Carl would come to me on his own for comfort. He’d climb into my lap and grab onto me roughly. He’d say, “You have to love me!” And I did. We dubbed him “The snuggle monster.”

When friends would come, when I’d watch TV, when I’d talk on the phone Carl would push his way in as close as possible and grab on tight. He might shout in my face or fist his hands tightly into my hair. His actions spoke so loudly to me. They said he didn’t want to be abandoned. They said he would get his needs met by force if he had to.

Carl always loved animals. He was so rough with the cats at first that he’d grab their tales or squeeze them too tightly. He seemed utterly baffled that they wouldn’t like that. He would be so rough with me even in the tenderest of moments. I had to wonder if he really knew how to do this. Was it possible he just didn’t know, “gentle?”

We taught Carl to be gentle as best we could. We’d make a game of it and practice a hug or an arm stroke. Then I’d ask, “Was that gentle or rough?”

By the end of the third grade Carl was the king of hugs. He replaced what we referred to as the “attack hug” (running at full speed and body slamming us) to a normal embrace. If he felt like he desperately needed the contact and we were busy, he’d use our code word, “applesauce.” Looking back it seems ages ago.

Carl became a warm and gentle snuggler. He’d lay his head on my arm and tuck his body into my side. He’d allow me to make phone calls without diving head-first into my lap.

He’s thirteen now. It’s hard to remember that he’s a teenager. He never cries “Applesauce!” anymore. I still have the urge to take his hand in a crowded parking lot, but I refrain! Carl is getting to an age where it’s probably uncool to snuggle with mom so much. He still won’t leave for school without a quick hug and an, “I love you, Mama!”

He’s getting older but I hope his hugs stick around. Perhaps a time will come when I am the one calling out, “Applesauce!”

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

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adoption, family

I Missed Open House…Again

I seriously, honestly, for real, no excuses planned to go to Carl’s open house this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet your child’s teachers and see their work. I didn’t make it last year. I’m pretty sure it’s because Open House conflicted with one of Mary’s visits.

This year I had it circled on the calendar. My best laid plans were derailed when Luke needed surgery. I still thought I could go if my parents could just drop Carl off at football practice, I could pick him up after the open house. In my imagination Luke went home to bed and slept without my help for a few hours. Since Luke needed to be in at 7:00AM the day of the surgery I was sure I’d be home for the 6:00PM open house. Wrong!

I didn’t make it. We got home around 7:00PM. Luke was completely blind and in pain. He needed me to take care of him the way he’s taken care of all of us a hundred times before. So I skipped Open House. Again.

Carl has two band events coming up that I can’t make, either. Worse, he can’t go because there are a lot of moving parts and tight schedules around my surgery. It really stinks. When we started the adoption process I didn’t see myself this way.

In my before-mommy strategies I saw myself at all of the PTA meetings and school events. I thought we’d go to all the outings put on by the foster care association. I’d volunteer for things. I’m a teacher so I assumed I’d be involved in all the school things.

Reality was different. I hope we didn’t let these guys down. I think it’s OK, though. Maybe I didn’t make it to every school function. Maybe I didn’t get to every sporting event. But I did other things. Luke and I sort of triaged what the kids needed at any moment. He’d take Marcus to another court appearance while I took Mary to another therapy appointment. Luke and I haven’t ever missed a week visiting Mary. We’ve never missed a PPT or a treatment meeting.

I manage to be there at the times my kids need me but maybe not all of the times both of us would like. Last night Carl was up on three separate occasions in the night. Sunday nights are difficult for him. I think he experiences anxiety about starting the school week again. The first time he woke up he was stressed out that Luke (in the shower) had left or decided not to wish him goodnight. Our kids are always freaked out about people potentially disappearing from the bathroom.

The second time Carl woke me up to ask for help. He was holding a wad of tissues to his nose and dripping red blood down the front of his shirt. A bloody nose had awoken him to a crime-scene worthy amount of blood on his sheets and pillow. He was understandably panicked.

I stripped the bed, and tossed the soiled sheets and jammies in the washing machine sanitary cycle. I cleaned up Carl, and put fresh sheets on his bed because he was shaking too badly to do it. Once he was calm we tracked down and plugged in his humidifier.

The third time Carl woke me up by banging against the wall in an urgent call for help. The insistent BANG BANG BANG(!!!) pulled me out of a deep sleep and right to my feet. When I got to Carl’s room he was hidden under a mountain of blankets, stuffies, and our 109 lb therapy dog.

He poked his head out and tearfully told me that the power had flickered. To Carl this automatically means the power will go out which he places right next to “terrorist attack” and “nuclear bomb detonation” on his fear scale. He needed a battery powered nightlight. He was frozen in terror at the thought of being alone in the dark.

Even at 13, my teenager needs me to chase away the nightmares. So here I am. I didn’t make it to the open house (again) this year but that’s probably OK. I show up when it counts.

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

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