adoption, family

What Have I Done?

There are times when rage bubbles up inside of me like so much lava. I choke it down and attempt to swallow it whole. It seems I can barely breathe for choking on my own anger.

Carl screams and screams at me. He pounds on his door and smashes the things in his room. When upset, Carl tries to assert his dominance. He speaks to me in the horrible way an abusive husband speaks to his wife. Carl makes a show of his physical strength in an attempt to…I’m not sure. Maybe in an attempt to intimidate me or scare me.

The last two weeks have been up and down with him. He’s gotten into several physical altercations at school. I’ve had to pick him up from his intensive outpatient program for throwing rocks at a boy and smashing him over the head with a water pitcher. They discharged Carl the next day because his treatment program was “finished.” At this point, Carl has done so much property damage at home that the drywall in his room resembles Swiss cheese.

Last Friday he slammed his own head against the wall in anger. On autopilot I gave him Tylenol and an ice pack. My calm face and quiet voice almost never falters. It’s like a therapeutic-mom mask that I’ve worn too long. I can’t take it off, even when I try. I also can’t bring myself to exactly care that his head hurts. From a detached place inside of me I check him for signs of concussion and then simply walk away.

The past two weeks have been hell. Actually they’ve probably been my family’s version of normal. Marcus has screamed and yelled at me about calling the police to check on him. Then he yells and swears at me to give him money. He questions why we ever adopted him. Why did we change his name?

On a two-hour round trip visit to see Mary she dismisses me after twenty-four minutes. Her therapist has inadvertently scheduled a trip to get Chinese food with her. If I stay, Mary can go the following day for Chinese food. I don’t stay.

I don’t stay because Mary wants the food more than the visit. If I force her to finish this visit we will both be miserable. Taking food from one of my children is akin to cutting off a finger. Disheartened, I drive home only to get a phone call from Carl’s school about yet another behavior issue.

My face is stuck in a small strained smile. I must resemble some freakishly macabre scarecrow. No matter how I’m feeling on the inside my outer veneer remains frozen.

The truth is that nothing is getting better with our children. I looked back at all the notes I’ve taken over the years. I checked all of the blog posts I never published, the data I never looked at cumulatively. The younger children only improved after completed trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. That was the only time things improved.

At least, they improved to a point. When Carl began psychotropic medication things got a bit better. This first year showed the most, and the only, change in his trauma symptoms. Every Spring after this we’ve had the exact same experience with Carl.

We have been fooling ourselves thinking that things have gotten incrementally better over time. The data says otherwise. It says that beyond year one things have remained the same for three years. No matter what subsequent medication change or modality of therapy, Carl has been the same every Spring. He is physically violent and verbally abusive in the exact same way every year.

Now I stand in Carl’s room with my anger- lava finally flowing from my mouth. The veneer of my face has finally cracked.

“Enough!” I yell back at him. Yelling back is never wise. It doesn’t help anything. Still, the lava is spewing out now and I don’t care to stop it. “You cannot talk to me like this! You cannot treat people like this. Screaming at me every day is abusive. Trying to intimidate me by smashing things and throwing things is abusive. You are acting like an a**hole!”

He (of course) yells back at me, “You think you’re making me feel better but you AREN’T!”

I realize that I am uninterested in his feelings. I am uninterested in his healing. I am uninterested in helping him to feel safe. Instead I yell, “I don’t care how you feel! You are done treating me like this! You are done acting like an abusive a**hole!”

“If you don’t like it when we yell at you then WHY DID YOU ADOPT US??!!”

I open my mouth to deny this but nothing comes out. I want to say, “I always wanted you. I’d never second guess this choice.” The words never come. I choke on these, too.

It’s hard to admit that Carl has struck upon something here. A dark, ugly, secret part of me agrees with him.

Why did I do this?

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

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adoption, family

Acceptance

Acceptance. It’s a hard word for me these days. It is hard to accept and let things happen. I am trying to understand that my children operate within their own emotional states. I cannot save them from this. All I can do is support what they need in the moment. All I can do is try to accept where they at, emotionally. It is hard!

It seems as though Marcus has moved in with his biological dad. We did pay for his car to get towed there, because at the end of the day we are his safety net. It’s hard to accept that he honestly can’t comprehend this. At least he is with Bio Dad in a house and not parked in a cemetery and sleeping in his car. BD is a mechanic and that is what Marcus believes he needs for survival. He’s safe(ish) where he is.

Accepting that Marcus wants to live with BD for now is OK. I think a lot of young adult adoptees want to find their roots and figure things out. He is 20, so he needs to be able to explore his connections. I think it’s hard to accept that he can’t have both families. He isn’t speaking to us right now. His car insurance notice came in that they were canceling because he owed over $700. I hope he goes to his court date but since he isn’t talking, I don’t know. I have to try and accept that Marcus can’t manage two sets of parents right now. That’s hard.

I have to accept where Mary is in her healing. She is working to get off-grounds privileges at the her RTC school. She earned horseback riding lessons that she can attend weekly if she is safe. The program there is amazing. They are so good with complex trauma and attachment issues. Mary, however, has a hard time believing she deserves any of these things. Instead of making it to her first horseback riding lesson, she had a violent incident the day before. She was so excited (and possibly anxious) that she sabotaged the moment.

We haven’t been able to take her off-campus since Thanksgiving. It’s hard to accept that she isn’t ready to be away from the safety and structure of the RTC. I have to work on accepting that she needs this level of restriction right now. It’s hard to accept that my little shadow is not able to get in the car and take trips with me.

Harder still is accepting that Carl is struggling. He is our most successful child. Carl is a gentleman who holds the door open for ladies in public. He carries my bags and hugs me in front of his middle school friends. It’s hard to accept that he also yells at me for hours and smashes his room to bits. It’s hard to accept that right now we need the emergency mobile psychiatric service team to come out 2-3 times a week for deescalation. It’s hard to reconcile the boy I know to the tornado of his emotions. I am trying to accept where he is emotionally at the moment. It’s hard to do.

In all my worry I turn to Luke. Late at night when my back hurts, or I’m filled with doubts, he wakes to hold me. Luke tucks me in close to his side. He shelters me from the storm of my own emotions. Never once has Luke told me I cannot feel what I am feeling. Right now I am in a space where I occasionally need a 2:00 AM snuggle session. He never questions why. This is acceptance.

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

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adoption, family

The Prodigal Son is Homeless

He’s been sleeping in his car, apparently in a cemetery. Marcus is in another state, in a slum, sleeping on the street in his car. I cannot understand this choice for the life of me. Why does Marcus prefer living in his car to learning or skill to help him get gainful employment? He honestly can’t visualize his future at all.

He’ll say/shout, “I told you what I want for my future. I want MY CAR! I need to work on MY CAR! That’s what I need for my ‘future.’ I don’t have a future if I don’t have MY CAR!!!”

It baffles me and I feel as if we are always speaking a different language. Either way, we aren’t supporting him financially so that he can buy more pot and “soup up” the rusting Honda Civic from the 90s that has become his whole life.

I made a throwaway comment the day that he left. I sent him a text message (because he refused to talk to me) trying to convince him to go to his interview with Job Corps. I was so mad that he blew it off to work on his car. I said, “Unless you want to LIVE in your car…blah blah blah.” I didn’t mean that Marcus should literally live in his car. He did it anyway.

Marcus took off. I only saw him once since then. One Friday morning I found him asleep with some guy, in his car. He’d spent the night in his car, in our driveway. His bed was right there and he chose to sleep in the car. Marcus was wrapped up like a burrito in the fuzzy purple blanket I bought for him when he was a teenager. He didn’t really pack anything from his room but he took that blanket with him when he left.

Now, he calls because his car has been towed in the city where he’s been staying. He didn’t switch his license plates over from his first junker to his second. This means he was (recklessly) driving  an unregistered car when he got pulled over.

So, now he is sleeping…?

Marcus called begging for us to pay for the car to be towed to his biological dad’s house. His BD is a mechanic and tries to help Marcus on occasion. Marcus had no plan to go to his court date for this infraction, or register his car, or deal with his overdue emissions. As usual he had no plan for the future, no matter how immediate. It wouldn’t be so bad if he’d let us help him plan these things but he refuses to plan. Instead he calls and yells awful things at us.

Despite the fact that he called swearing and cursing me out, we knew he needed help. Unfortunately we couldn’t quite understand what he needed through all of the yelling and the obscenities. He is, of course, still refusing to come home. Marcus is clinging to the  phrase, “I was kicked out!”

He still won’t agree to any certificate program or apprenticeship. He is determined to…? His only plan is about his car. He says he needs to, “Get MY CAR back!”

Luke says that Marcus is like the fox. He heard a quote by Voltaire (and I am heavily paraphrasing here) that fits our son perfectly.  Marcus is like a fox you’re trying to free from a trap that bites you:

“It’s difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.”

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

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adoption, family

A Mouthful of Dirty Socks

Why does it always come to sweaty, stinky socks? On the hottest day in the summer of 2014 I was in the back seat of my Honda Pilot with a mouthful of Carl’s dirty, sweaty gym socks. Mary was having an all out meltdown in the parking lot of the first outpatient therapist we took her to. She hadn’t even spoken in session. It was a getting-to-know-you visit. After session she punched me, screamed nonstop and ran into traffic. The other three children and I eventually corralled her into the car. Sean, at 13, was in the driver seat and Carl was next to him. Marcus and I had Mary contained in the third row while she raged, intent on running into the busy street. At one point a well-meaning lady stopped to ask Sean if his “mother had left him in the car.” Mary promptly screamed obscenities at the woman and she backed quickly away.

Her tiny, 7-year-old fists pummeled me with fury. She had ripped out some chunks of my hair, and my chest was bleeding from scratches and bites. Mary hit, kicked, slapped and bit for over 45 minutes. Even with the AC at full blast it must have been over 80 degrees in the car. There was a strong odor akin to cooking armpits wafting from the trunk area. Mary yelled at Marcus to go away. Marcus yelled at Mary to quitting hitting me. I prayed silently to a higher power.  I imagined a cooler place where it was quiet and didn’t stink. Almost every day that summer had been exactly like this.

I couldn’t figure out how to child-lock the hatchback-style trunk, and I couldn’t drive with a raging child. We were stuck trying to hold her safely, as far away from the other two boys as possible. Mary kicked at the windows and screamed, “They’re murdering me!” to passerby. Eventually bystanders called the police. It was around this time that Mary grabbed a pair of extremely ripe socks that Carl had hidden in the trunk, and shoved them into my mouth. My eyes watered and I gagged on putrid Carl foot-funk. This was a maneuver I hadn’t anticipated!

When the police came I had managed to spit out the offending socks, but my mouth was still full of foul sock fibers. Luke had come. He met us in time to answer the officers questions while I picked putrid sock fuzz out of my teeth. Finally, after over an hour of screaming, Mary subsided and cowered behind me. The sight of the officers transformed her rage into fear.

Four years later, and Sean is gone. Our daughter is in a private therapeutic school. It’s a residential school that focuses on complex trauma. They’ve been absolutely amazing with Mary. She hasn’t needed to be restrained in over a month. They continue to stress the importance of family to her. They help her check her own energy level for regulation. She is making a conscious effort to be involved in her care planning and goal setting. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Meanwhile, Carl is going to intensive outpatient therapy. He has a daily group that focuses on coping skills. He is struggling with uncontrollable bursts of anger. The good thing about Carl is that he doesn’t intentionally attack us. His rage is limited to property damage, mostly in his room. He did try to put his shoes on the other day by chucking them across the kitchen. This technique was unsuccessful, but at least he’s trying new things.

Marcus is homeless and sleeping in his car, in a cemetery. He chafed at living here because he was required to take a class, start a certification, or go to job corps. Essentially, he had to invest in himself in order to be supported by us financially. He chose to quit his job and run off to the next state where all of his friends are. He claimed the only thing he needed to secure his future was this rusted out Honda Civic circa 1995.

I was surprised to see him on Friday morning, fast asleep in his car, in our driveway. I attempted to talk to him but he buried his head under a blanket and then drove off when I walked away. He had a buddy with him, someone I’ve never met before. As far as I can tell they came home to grab some gas from the emergency cans in the basement and then go to grab his final check. We didn’t hear from him for a few more days after this.

Marcus continued to insist that his only goal was his car. The car died in a dangerous city and there he now sleeps. He refused to let me pick him up because, in his words, “No matter what, I’m not leaving without my car. I’m going to stay with my car.” So there he now stays, in a cemetery, with a dead cell phone battery. It’s been three days.

Driving home from Mary’s family session the other day, something odd occurred to me. I asked Luke, “Did you ever think there would be a time when Mary would be our most stable child?”

“No,” he admitted. We sat in shocked silence for a few moments to process this. In the silence I became aware of pungent odor emanating from the back seat. It was a mix of rotting skunk corpse and teenage sweat. Glancing behind me I spied a pair of Pokemon sport socks.

I sighed. “Carl took off his lacrosse socks in the car again.” Luke nodded sympathetically.

It always comes back to the socks.

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

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adoption, family

I Can’t

I can’t do it. I honestly just…can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not that I’m sick of it. I just cannot. I’ve hit an immovable wall. I’d like to curl up and hide in my bed for several reasons.

The first of which would be my back injury. My last appointment with the neurosurgeon was a little under two weeks ago. We planned for the revision surgery to address the fact that my spine hasn’t fused and my hardware is loose. At the appointment the surgeon wanted to pull me out of work completely until after my surgery. I am obviously struggling and can barely move on a bad day.

However, I argued that I needed to finish out a few meetings and transfer things to my long-term substitute. I sort of bargained him into agreeing to let me work three days a week until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed a couple of weeks to get things done. He agreed that I could try this but that I had to call back for another note when I could no longer make it.

Fast forward to now. I cannot do it anymore. I wrapped everything up as best I could but I wasn’t even able to make it in on Friday. I called the surgeon’s office. For whatever reason, the physician’s assistant agreed to fax in a note stating that I was requesting not to work rather than a note of medical necessity. The nurse who called me asked, “Do you still want us to send it in? Are you sure you aren’t returning to work?”

Ummm….yes I am sure. I bargained for an extra two weeks which was most likely four weeks too many! I am not calling for fun, I am calling because I cannot do it anymore. I can’t. It has nothing to do with “wanting.” So now I have to wait until Monday to see if the doctor himself will change the note, or if I am about to lose all financial support and let my family suffer the consequences of my inability.

Then there is Mother’s Day. I can say that beyond a shadow of a doubt:

I hate Mother’s Day!

It’s a traumatic day for my adopted children. They’ve lost a mom, so it is hard. Things that remind them of their first mom bring up grief, anger, and a variety of complex emotions. Since she isn’t around, I get to bear the brunt of all that emotional baggage.

Marcus has taken off for parts unknown, as he typically does after an argument. At this point he’s given up most of the pretext of trying to get into job corps. This was what he had chosen out of a variety of options to further his future when we laid down house rules. Instead, he’s blown off the admission interview just days before his deadline. He had more important things to do like go to the junkyard and buy parts for his car, work on his car, and run out of gas money to get to work. Upon being reminded that his requirement to live at home without financial worry was to take one step toward bettering his future, he became very angry. He rage texted a few swears about me kicking him out and why did I adopt him just to tell him he has to leave and so on.

I know he was trying to hurt me. I know this is way of leaving, or processing, or whatever the reasons are behind this Marcus pattern. It still stung. He hasn’t returned in a few days and I’m pretty sure he skipped work Friday. He clearly isn’t coming home for our Mother’s day BBQ today because he isn’t even bothering to answer any text messages.

Mary isn’t here. It’s better than last year when Carl and I were locked in his room behind a deadbolt while she destroyed everything in a rage. Luke had to spend the day trying to safely contain her while we hid. It was awful. This year she is in RTC, she’s actually doing quite well, but it is still awful. I miss my girl.

Carl has been having a very difficult time these past weeks.

I just don’t feel like I have the energy left to cope with it. I know my children have trauma and it leads them to behave a certain way. It’s just that sometimes understanding isn’t the same thing as coping with. I selfishly want to hide away from my family all day because I’m miserable. So far I’ve managed to hide in my room with my essential oil diffuser, some cheesy television, and my laptop. Writing helps. Alone time helps.

I will need to emerge for tonight’s BBQ because my own mother will be there. The one good thing about this Mother’s Day is that I get to be with my own mom. Sometimes, only my mom can make things better. And isn’t today about honoring that very thing?

Until then, I just can’t. I can’t bring myself to emerge and deal with everything. My legs won’t move and my tears will start. So until my own mom comes? I just…can’t.

(Just as soon as I’ve finished typing this a text pops up from Marcus. And that’s something.)

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

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adoption, family

Late Night Compulsions

It’s 3:30 in the morning and I am wide awake. Luke is working the overnight shift. Something about being alone at this hour makes me feel unsettled. It happens at least once a week when he volunteers for our town’s EMS service. Sleeping alone after ten years of marriage feels wrong, as if I have somehow misplaced a limb. How careless of me.

I wonder how it must feel to spend your beginning years with a family and then suddenly be sleeping somewhere else. I know that Luke will come home. My children lived with uncertainty about their biological families for years. With adoption comes the certainty of family. However, adoption can never really give back what was lost. That limb is forever missing.

Alone at night I creep through the silent house, checking on everyone.

Marcus is asleep in his room. Recently, he injured his hand at work. He can’t sleep comfortably with his cast. Right now it makes him appear all tangled up and awkward. Having him here is what counts so I continue on with a mental, “check.”

Carl is still inpatient at the psychiatric hospital, so his bed is empty. He will be discharged tomorrow. For the life of me, I cannot put together how we got here. All of these thoughts are with me as I check on his empty room. I think the new medication change will help him. His spot on the list for intensive outpatient care has bumped up, or so they say. Luke and I know how to do this part. We find the services our children need and then we hang on while they stabilize. Check.

Mary is at her amazing residential private school. She seems to be making progress. For once, I don’t actually feel the need to check on her. I don’t feel the need for the late night reassurance, because I know that she is in a safe place. I know we are all in a safe place now. Check.

Another weird late-night compulsion I have is to read my messages from Sean. He’s reached out three times since he left. He sent DMs on Facebook to me. In June he thanked us for being at Marcus’ high school graduation. Then he asked if everything was alright. In July he asked if he could come  visit us. The last message was in September, asking about Mary. I didn’t respond to these. Some things are better left unsaid. I’m not sure why I feel the need to reread them. Check?

A bizarre image of myself giving a social worker a tour pops into my head. “This is where Sean used to be. He’s gone, now. Here is the man-child in a cast who has been known to steal my car. Here is where Mary’s things are. We are thinking about converting the upstairs loft for her bedroom. That way, when she comes home from RTC, she will be closer to us at night. Here is Carl’s empty room. He is at the psychiatric hospital right now for a med adjustment. He is our most stable child!” In my weird mental movie I end with a dramatic flourish and a bow.

A part of me feels like I should be checking on J, the child we never adopted. Short of re-reading the little “Learn more about J!” synopsis on the website, I can’t actually check on her. OK, sometimes I watch her video, but then I end up crying over the student who asked us to adopt her all those years ago. She isn’t missing a limb tonight. She is without bio or adoptive family. She is missing out on everything.

“Don’t leave her in care longer than you must,” is what I told her worker. “She’s at an age where she needs to push her boundaries, rebel a little and stretch her wings. She cannot do this without the safety of a family.”

I understand why J’s worker had reservations about our family adopting her. Aside from the space issue (there is none!) we have a lot going on. Luke and I already have kids with complex needs. We certainly have our hands, and our hearts, full. I wouldn’t trade this family for anything.

It still gnaws at me, though. I cannot shake this feeling that I am somehow missing a limb…

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

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adoption, family

Wherein I Get Stuck on a Log

The inertia of a back injury always surprises me. I am slow moving. The insurance company is slow to approve my treatment. Everything is slow and a resolution is not appearing on the horizen.

We’ve reached out to J’s social worker. I’m not sure what will even come of it. Could we provide respite and support for an adoptive family? Could we be mentors for her? Could we even possibly adopt her? Who knows. We have to leave to God and just wait.

Marcus cannot seem to make up his mind about what he will do. He’s made sincere apologies to us. We are driving him around for now. We’ve given him a deadline. If Marcus wants to live at home he must invest in himself. We are not landlords, we don’t want rent money. He receives free tuition for state schools due to all of his years in foster care. Marcus must take some sort of action towards his future. Reach out to job corps again, register for one class at a community college or trade school, really any step will do. We drew a line in the sand and now we have to wait for his move.

Currently he is having an emotional text-conversation with me. I know I’m old because I can’t seem to figure out why all serious conversations take place via text message. He is pleading with me to meet Toxic Girlfriend and give her a chance. I am pleading with him to think beyond this girl and beyond his next car.

“Please, Marcus, please consider your future.”

He’s walked out of the house and gone goodness-knows-where. I have taken the Ill-advised steps (literally) to go out and find him. I walk a short distance from the house and immediately my back stiffens up and my right leg decides not to work. So I sit down on a fallen tree log to wait.

I promise Marcus one thing in my text message.

“No matter what choices you make, how hard you push me away, or how far you go I will be waiting for you. Probably right here on this very log. I appear to be stuck.”

After about 45 minutes of sitting on the log and staring at my house, I’m able to hobble inside. The rest of the evening consists of me, stuck in my bed, on a heating pad. Ouch.

Later on, Marcus makes his way upstairs. He is holding Phase 10 cards and a large cardboard square. He hesitates in the doorway.

“Mom, I know you can’t get up and stuff. I cut this out of a box so we could play cards up here. Want to play Phase 10?”

Of course I do. At least, if I have to be stuck, I’m in good company.

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

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