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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adoption, family

Am I Losing My Son/Mind? Part 3

When the state trooper arrives at our house to take a statement, Marcus has already come home with the car. He yells at Luke once and then runs outside. He parks himself on the hood of his car that-will-probably-never-run. This is where the trooper finds him smoking a cigarette and admitting he took the car without permission. Marcus agrees to remain calm and not escalate the situation. They have a calm conversation and the trooper returns inside, alone.

The officer compliments us about how nice our home is. He expresses concern about the amount of drug prevalence in the city where Marcus has been visiting Toxic Girlfriend. The whole event gets filed as a “domestic disturbance.” We are told to hide the car keys and call immediately if we think Marcus is driving under the influence. By the time the trooper leaves, Luke and I decide its time for bed. It would be better to approach Marcus when everyone is calmer and a bit more rational.

The next day Marcus again emerges after banking hours and demands the car for work. Still no gas. Still no car. He’s also lost parent-favor privileges and car privileges for the stunt he pulled the night before. We calmly but firmly let him know he must treat people well in order to elicit favors, such as rides to work.

Again he hides away and fires off a slew of curse-word laden texts to Luke. For whatever reason I am not the target today (this is a rare occurrence.) Marcus is angry. He feels that we are “unfair, Dawg!” He bemoans his fate at having to live in our rural location, calling it “East Bum-f-ck,” which sounds like an interesting town to me.

Soon after that, to our surprise, a taxi pulls up in front of our house. Marcus gets in and heads to work. He’s figured out a plan! At least he is resourceful. I am begrudgingly impressed. This an adult move. But then…

As Luke is leaving to work the overnight EMS shift in town, Marcus asks for a ride home. Apparently he didn’t plan that far ahead. He threatens to walk home at 1:00AM from work, which is two towns away.

We say, “OK.” We let Marcus know he will have to figure it out. If he wants his parents to provide favors, he will have to make restitution for his actions. If he plans to get to work he will have to plan how to get back from work.

I went to bed. There are just some problems I am not able to solve at 11:30PM. There are also some problems that really are not mine to solve. I’ve done my best. Marcus will now have to figure out the rest. Just in case, I leave the dining room lights on to guide him home.

At around 2:00AM my phone alerts me to the dining room camera’s motion-sensor. I peer blearily into the screen and see Marcus. He’s come home. He walks past the dining room and then leans back into the shot. He turns off the dining room lights before heading to bed.

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

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adoption, family

Am I Losing My Mind/ Son? Part 2

Marcus came home just in time to go to his second-shift job on Tuesday. He barely spoke to us, hastily agreed to put gas in the car, and then left for his shift at work. I got a text that he didn’t have any money left from his extended weekend. He said that he’d have to get up early the next morning and take out more from the bank to pay for “my gas.” He didn’t come home until we were already asleep. Wednesday afternoon rolled around and he was still in bed.

At this point Luke and I knew it was time to go over the house rules again. Marcus used to have future plans and ambitions. Somehow we ended up with a son who is going to work to buy pot, FaceTime Toxic Girlfriend all night and sleep all day. Not. Happening.

At around 2PM we pestered him until he woke up and came out for “the talk.” We gave him the tough love speech about living at home. He lives rent-free because he is supposed to be investing in Marcus. His four parameters are:

1) Complete daily/ weekly chores (he does this consistently so we praised him.)

2) No gas means no car. Pay for the gas you use or find an alternate way to get around.

3) No more pot. Not here, not on the property, don’t come home high.

4) There is a thirty day time limit to sign up for classes or job corps. Period.

Marcus took this about as well as you can imagine. He exploded out of the house to sit in his non-functioning car, rev the engine, and talk to his girl. We didn’t hear from him again until after banking hours. He requested to use the car. He didn’t have gas money because we didn’t wake him up in time to go to the bank.

Sorry, kid. No gas means no car. Maybe try using the alarm clock we bought you next time. Good luck getting a ride.

Here is where he loses it. He’s slamming doors and sending rapid-fire text messages that say things like, “This is f-ing b-sh-t dawg.”

When these tactics don’t work he takes the car. He actually steals my car. We keep dinner and lacrosse normal for Carl’s sake all the while texting to try and get the car back. Marcus sends vague text messages that he “will be home in 5 minutes” as the hours drag on. He isn’t at work. He isn’t returning the car. We live in a tiny town so the only responding officers to a problem are usually the state troopers.

Eventually Luke warns him that we will report the car stolen if he doesn’t bring it back.

“Do it,” is his only reply.

So we call it in and wait for the state trooper to come to the house for a report.

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

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adoption, family

Am I Losing My Mind/Son? Part 1

He’s been moody for weeks. He snaps at us and sulks around in his room. We know he’s been smoking pot. He disappears with the car or with friends to the “store” for long periods of time. His mood changes. He has been back in contact with Toxic Girlfriend and this never bodes well.

Marcus refuses to pay for his own gas when he drives my car to work. Directly after that he is mystified when the car is no longer available to him. It seems like he has given up all ambition to go to school, go to job corps, or get his electricians’ license. Marcus, at 20, has taken on the emotional state of an angst-ridden 16-year-old.

It isn’t out of the ordinary for children who have experienced trauma to be functioning on a much younger level, emotionally. It’s fairly common for children who have been in the foster system to have difficulty trusting in healthy relationships. It is, however, dangerous because Marcus now has the options of an adult. This part becomes tricky.

It started with a girl. The exact same girl who starred in the previous Marcus meltdown. He’s been into at least two girls between then but now we are back to Toxic Girlfriend and being-without-her-is-like-death. He alternates between yelling on the phone and crying into the phone.  Marcus cried continuously all Friday and then left “for the weekend” to “visit his bio-sister” in another city. This is code for being with Toxic Girlfriend.

So he leaves, after taking out $100 from his bank account. Luke reviewed a budget with him to include gas money to get himself to and from work. Despite being scheduled for several shifts, and an upcoming therapy session, he leaves. Marcus swears he will be home on Sunday. He swears he has a ride. He swears he understands what Luke went over with him about his budget.

It’s just that we “wouldn’t understand him” because “no one understands” him. He has to get away.

Sunday goes by. Monday goes by. More work shifts are missed. All we get are a few vague texts. They range from, “I’ll be home tonight,” to “I’ll talk to you guys in 5 minutes.”

On Monday a staff member is arrested for threatening to shoot up Carl’s school. This causes Luke and I to focus in on Carl and support him. Tuesday we decide to keep Carl home and give him Marcus’ therapy slot with their trauma therapist. We are pretty sure Marcus won’t make it back in time, anyway. It’s a good call because apart from a text from Marcus commenting on the school situation saying, “That’s so F-ed up!” we don’t hear from him.

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

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adoption, family

No End in Sight

Parenting, like marriage, is an odd thing in its cyclical nature. There isn’t an obvious beginning, middle, or end. Relationships have ups and downs and even times where things seem “perfect.” Perfection isn’t really a human quality, though. If we are waiting for a lasting time of happy stasis, we will wait forever.

Trauma is like this, too. There is usually a beginning, to be sure. The trauma of my back injury began with a loud “pop” at work. Two surgeries later and there is still no end in sight. In all likelihood this will stay with me forever. The goal is simply to manage the symptoms and live most days in semi-comfort.

With developmental trauma, the beginning is fuzzy. It often starts before explicit memories do, even before verbalization. I suppose the middle stretches on forever. It could be the middle of experiencing the actual trauma. It could be the middle of experiencing the trauma symptoms. Of course, there isn’t really an end.

Trauma symptoms can subside, or go dormant. However, in times of stress, they rise up again like stubborn zombies, devouring everything in their paths. Right now Carl’s trauma symptoms are on the upswing. It’s springtime, which is always difficult for him. He isn’t sleeping through the night. He’s yelling, slamming doors, and occasionally breaking things in his room. He avoids any mention of his sister Mary. He avoids participating in his once per week therapy session. We’ve decided to send him to intensive outpatient treatment after school. There, he can practice coping skills and participate in group therapy for a few weeks.

Marcus is struggling, too. He avoids talking about his adoption, largely avoids the family, and has mysteriously missed his last two therapy sessions.  He’s spent most of his time (and money) smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, and hiding in his nonfunctional car. He bought a cool-looking, electric-blue coupe about as old as I am. It doesn’t run for more than 5 minutes, but it has a satisfyingly (to him!) loud muffler. He religiously revs his engine until failure several times per day. Things he is NOT doing include daily chores, going to therapy or paying for gas when he drives my car. Imagine his surprise when his car privileges were revoked until he fills the car…

I like to think Mary is healing. She does get to stay at her amazing RTC school, and that’s fantastic. She’s just at the beginning of her therapeutic journey there. She is still aggressively violent, but not as much as at the last facility.  She’s also on the downslope of her mood cycling. The good part is that they know what to do when her cycle revs up again. We are all in good hands with them.

So where does this leave Luke and I? We are finding the in-between places. The times where we can be alone together and relish all the good parts of “us.” It leaves snuggles and kisses and whispers long into the night. It also leaves us stuck somewhere in thought. We are stuck thinking about the girl we left behind all those years ago. The first girl we ever wanted to adopt: J.

She pops up in conversation with my parents. She pops up in whispered conversations long after we should have been sleeping. She pops into thought as I’m watching a school production of “The Lion King,” because she would have been the star. We haven’t stopped thinking about her yet. And there is no end in sight…

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

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adoption, family

Keeping Our Teeth for Easter

We made it. We survived Easter, albeit with some causalities. Holidays never go off without a hitch around here. Sometimes the family togetherness triggers our kids. Sometimes all of the sugar sets off a chain reaction of, “Yikes!” Sometimes wanting a nice-holiday-where-no-one-screams-and-everyone-keeps-their-teeth triggers me!

The morning started out in typical Ester fashion. We hid the eggs and placed the Easter Baskets out. I brought Mary her Easter goods on Friday afternoon at her residential setting. We had things for both boys because, even though Marcus is really too old (20) he never got to have many of these experiences when he was young. Every time we have a holiday he gets crazily excited and says things like, “Me too? WOW!”

What went well: Carl ran around excitedly, squealing, and finding eggs. He even played outside with the kickball that was in his Easter Basket. I got my own basket with soothing essential oils for my diffuser, and a new coffee-maker. Coffee is my drug of choice…

What went considerably less-well: Marcus refused to get up and join the family festivities. He moaned and groaned and texted his newest Toxic Girlfriend instead. He didn’t acknowledge our presence or say one word to us. When I called Mary to wish her a happy holiday, she was short and angry with me. She did not call me back again.

Easter dinner rolled around at Nana and Papa’s house.

What went well: Luke made a great ham and my mother cooked delicious sides. She also baked an incredible orange cake. She gave Carl and Marcus each a chocolate bunny (I brought Mary’s to her on Friday.)

What went considerably less-well: Marcus refused to get out of the car for the first half-hour we were there. After we started dinner he came in, sat down, and stared morosely at his empty plate for another half-hour. He ignored all of us. He ignored his chocolate bunny. Eventually he texted me that he needed a “walk” and began the journey home all the way across town.

We started to pull away after dinner (with orange cake in tow!) to look for Marcus on the way home. I glanced at Carl and saw his eyes well up with tears. When questioned he admitted he missed his Papa and wanted to stay longer. 

What went well: Nana and Papa kept Carl for the evening. Luke and I found Marcus halfway home on the side of the road and picked him up. Then he went to work and we had….THREE WHOLE HOURS OF ALONE TIME!!!!!

Needless to say, by the time Carl was dropped off I was feeling quite refreshed.

What went considerably less-well: When it was time for Carl to leave Nana and Papa’s, he had a mini-meltdown. My mother is great about giving him advance warning to help with the transition. However, he still scribbled all over their game pad and whacked his brother’s chocolate bunny against the table repeatedly. I told Nana to go ahead and eat that poor bunny!

Once Carl was home he looked exhausted and we put him to bed. During this time he realized that the next day was a school day. 

What went well: After mom-and-dad time I was feeling pretty mellow. I also had a chance to use my new calming essential oils.

What went considerably less-well: Carl had his typical night-panic and got up over and over (and over) again. At first he got Mirilax in his eye somehow and felt he needed medical attention. Although laxatives to the eye may be uncomfortable, they don’t usually warrant a trip to the emergency room. Next, Carl induced vomiting three times. That didn’t entice us stay up and party all night, forgoing school in the morning. So he ripped out a tooth. Yes, you read that correctly.

He ripped out a tooth!

It was a baby tooth for sure, but it wasn’t loose. Unfortunately for Carl, his exhausted parents advised him to leave the tooth on the table and go to bed. Since it wasn’t to the level of accidental-eye-laxative-exposure we decided wisely to go to bed.

Here’s to hoping that next holiday everybody keeps their teeth.

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

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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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