family

The Small Things

Sometimes it is best for me to focus on the small things. The pieces of life that make me grateful for each day. The small moments show me that my choices have been good ones. The small things that make me smile are all worth it.

  • Marcus, at age 20, crawling inside the boxes on Christmas morning. Don’t babies always play with the packaging more than their gifts?
  • Carl wearing Chewbacca onesie pajamas and cuddling his Chewbacca doll.
  • Carl looking up from his iPad to say, “I love you Mama!”
  • Luke tucking his knees in behind mine and snuggling me close on a cold New England morning.
  • Beef stew simmering in the crock pot when I come home from work.
  • Walking from the car into a building without thinking about back pain until I sit down.
  • Mary calling to ask how my day was.
  • Mary calling to check on Luke when he had a fever and wasn’t well enough to visit her.
  • Playing the new jeopardy board game with my mom and Carl.
  • Marcus coming home from a piano lesson with Papa shouting, “Yo! Papa is NASTY on the piano! He’s so great!!!!”
  • Watching the latest Star Wars movie with my boys. I wasn’t worried about Mary melting down in the theatre or being unsafe in the car. The villain Kylo Ren didn’t remind me of losing Marcus. This time Marcus was sitting next to me during the movie. Plus, Kylo Ren got a promotion and he is my favorite character…
  • Ripping open box inside of box inside of yet another box to get to the present Marcus gave me on Christmas morning. After about 15 layers I found a tiny snow globe with his adoption day photo in the center. Tears.

Not all the moments are like these. We have had so much to contend with lately. All I can do is hold on to these small things.

What are your small moments?

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

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family

My Life With Boys

There are paper cups everywhere. I just stepped on someone’s dirty socks. I keep finding wrappers everywhere. Dirty socks keep popping up from the couch cushions! And Gatorade. Lots of purple gatorade. It’s a messy, noisy, testosterone-laden bustle.

Mary is at a residential center. I am here with the boys. Luke and I feel like we are having a much easier time parenting Marcus and Carl in our home. It’s not dangerous or frightening. I don’t dread any oncoming rages. Its just…messy!

Marcus has been staying in Mary’s room. She will be gone for some time. He asked if he could repaint it. My heart squeezed at the thought of pushing Mary out. His posters are on the walls. His clothes are in the closet. But painting? That is so permanent.

No, we won’t be changing the paint. She may be away for a year. I have to believe that my girl will be working towards coming home. This is where she belongs.

In a year’s time Marcus will be 21. I would imagine he’s going to want his own place by then. And I need her to come home. I need my girl in this house full of boys!

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

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adoption, family

The Finish Line

He ours! He’s ours! He is finally our son OFFICIALLY! We made it. We finally made it to adoption.

It took us four years. Four long years. Four years ago we met a 16-year-old that was labeled as “troubled teen.” 3 years since the first time he asked to be adopted. 2-and-a-half years since he walked out and then walked back in again. 2 years since he walked out for good, before we could finalize that adoption. 1 year since he started coming back for weekend visits.

The night before the adoption I was still wondering if he would go through with it. 6 months was the closest we had ever gotten to finalization in the past. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be overjoyed. But instead I was apprehensive. Would he back out? Would he have second thoughts?

It wasn’t until the judge pronounced us a family that I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s when the joy hit. I am not at all embarrassed to admit that I cried the whole time. He has our last name. It cannot be a happy ending because our story isn’t over. He may still pull back at times. But we have made it this far. Whatever happens after this, he has our name.

Our newest “baby” is 20. We finally made it to the finish line. He’s ours

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

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adoption, family

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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Once, it was our “almost-adoption.” The son that was, then wasn’t, then was and then repeat again. Marcus was our Prodigal son. Each time he circled back to us I got more used to the push-pull of his affections. At first was a 16-year-old boy, desperate for a family while simultaneously terrified of family. He eventually turned into an 18-year-old with the same hopes and fears. Only then he was on his own, having aged-out of foster care.

Marcus has been back home since the end of September. He is 20-years-old now. A young man by all accounts, and yet he still needs his family. He’s asked us if we would still be able to finalize his adoption. Could he still take our last name? Could he still call us his “parents” in an official capacity?

Of course he can! And so we filed the paperwork for an adult adoption. He chose a name for his new birth certificate. He asked that we be listed as his parents. His new middle name will be based off of a favorite comic book character. It’s odd for a legal name but who am I to judge? He is an adult now. He can make his choices.

So now we wait. The fee has been paid and the clerk has signed off. Our court date will be sometime after Thanksgiving, either late November or early December. I should be overjoyed. I am overjoyed. It’s just that I’m also apprehensive.

Every time we got close to legalization in the past, he recoiled. It was as if he’d touched a hot stove and instinctively backed away. Then we would start over at square one to build a relationship with him.

It’s been so wonderful to have him home. It’s been great to hear, “Mom! Hey Ma! Ma!!” over and over (and over!) all day. Sometimes I think he is checking to make sure I’m still here. I am. I will always be here.

Eventually he may push us away again. He tends to follow a pattern in his relationships. But maybe, just maybe, it will be different if he has our name. Maybe then he will realize that no matter how hard he pushes, we will always be right here.

Marcus reminds me of Icarus from Greek mythology. He takes risks. He learns the hard way.  He wants so badly to love and to be loved. Like Icarus, he flies too close to the sun and burns. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this time he will keep flying.

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

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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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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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Therapeutic Strategies for Sleep Disturbances

Our Daughter has such a difficult time sleeping at night. She used to physically fight for her life when bedtime came (you can read about it here.) Bedtime triggered her fight/flight response because she experienced trauma at this time in her biological home. Luckily we have the very best trauma therapists to work with us and out children with therapeutic strategies. These are some of the best strategies to calm our daughter’s fear response at night. She needs to feel safe in order to rest.

  1. Comforting Smells: I like to use lavender scented baby lotion to give her arms a deep-pressure massage before bed if she needs it. She will also put a drop of essential oil onto a tissue and rub it together. Then she holds it to her face and breathes in slowly. Smells activate the brain’s Amygdala, which triggers memories from the hippocampus and can activate an emotional response. The mom-massage is a good smell, thus triggering feelings of love and safety. I also rub a bit of my hair conditioner in her hair before bed sometimes.
  2. Comforting Sounds: We have a noise machine for both of our children. They can choose to listen to white noise, rain sounds, a forest, the ocean, a brook, etc. They use these sounds as a coping skill when they need to calm down throughout the day. The sounds also give them a sense that they are not alone in a scary place.
  3. Soothing Light: Our children have always needed a night light to sleep. Complete darkness means they can’t see if any danger is approaching. Although there isn’t a real threat inside our home, our children have an overactive fight/flight response. In order to calm this fear we provide creative nightlights. Our daughter had one that was activated whenever a the light was turned off. We also have a mushroom nightlight probably intended for infants. It projects a series of flowers and stars onto the ceiling with slowly changing colors and designs. This is mesmerizing to look at and soothing for her to watch. Our son has a moon-light that comes with a remote control. He can switch the phases of the moon depending on his mood. A quarter moon if he feels safe, a full moon if he is feeling afraid, and a rotating phase moon to look at if he can’t sleep.
  4. Soothing Taste: Fruits and vegetables are always available for our children in the house. Our kids choose an apple or a clementine (Yuck! After brushing teeth?) before bed. Sometimes our daughter will choose to eat a lemon. I can’t explain that one! Tasting food before bed helps to ease the constant fear that there won’t be enough food and they will starve. This is another leftover fear from their bio-home.
  5. Calming touch: We have given our children physical objects that they can hold throughout the night in order to help them. One of these is a giant stuffed dog named “Mr. Luke” that my daughter has slept with since she got home. It always wears one of daddy’s dirty shirts (preferably from that day) so that she can hold it and feel like daddy is there, protecting her. We also bought Mary a large body pillow and our family wrote positive messages all over it. We used fabric markers but permanent markers might have been just as good. Then we wiped my deodorant all over it and dressed it in my dirty shirt from that day. This way Mary can feel like she is sleeping between mommy and daddy.
  6. ROUTINE, ROUTINE, ROUTINE: Every night we keep the same schedule so that our children know exactly what is going to happen. This gives them a sense of control over a world that was previously chaotic and unpredictable. Their bedtimes remain the same, even on weekends (with maybe a 30 minute difference.) While one child showers, the other child gets to choose an activity  with mom or dad, completely led by them.  Every night I say the same goodnight. I rub their backs, slowly counting down from 10. Then I touch their faces in the same pattern and say the words, “I love you forever, no matter what, and I am so glad your home!” Then we both make a “pop!” sound with our lips and hug each other.

 

At the end of the day, I wish I could tell you that everything is fine and our daughter has no trouble whatsoever sleeping with these strategies in place. Unfortunately, That simply isn’t true in our case. Ever since she’s come home from an inpatient stay, she’s been seeing “monsters” and hearing “talking things” downstairs. If I had a completely healthy back, I might sleep downstairs with her for a night to show her it’s OK. But I can’t. So we’ve moved the bedroll upstairs to the hallway right outside our bedroom. This way she knows mommy and daddy are close. My fingers are crossed that this stage won’t last long. Either way? She’s our girl and we will do whatever it takes to make her feel safe at night!

 

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

 

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