family

Days Like Today

The days like today are the ones I hold dear. Days of quiet. Days of kindness. Days of peace.

Carl has come out of his Springtime traumaversary. It’s been several weeks since he’s had a violent meltdown at home. My lovely cuddly boy is back. He bakes me with, we watch “Brooklyn 99” and play the card game “Dos.” These lazy summer days stretch on and soothe my battle-weary soul.

Mary is responding well to treatment at her residential school. We went on an off-grounds trip to Dunkin Donuts the other day. It was just the two of us. For a few minutes I forgot that the police were programmed on my speed dial. Instead I simply enjoyed her conversation and marveled at how she’s big enough to sit in the front seat.

We haven’t heard from Marcus at all since he came to get his things. In all likelihood no news is good news. We will hear from him when he is desperate or in trouble. For now I’ll have to let it be.

Luke gave me some Eucalyptus bath salts for Mother’s Day. I finally have time to use them. Here I sit in aromatherapy heaven, counting all the ways that I am lucky. Some days are very hard. Some days I count all of the things that have gone wrong, all of the things I must face.

Not today. This is a good day. Days like these are what I need to hang onto.

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

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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

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, adoption disruption

A Dream or a Nightmare?

Facebook is telling me to look. “You have memories today,” it says. A notification keeps popping up on my phone, on my computer, on my mind. Look! But I don’t want to look.

I don’t want to remember. It’s too hard. It hurts. I do not want to have the memories today.

I dreamt of him last night. My dream was about Sean but it wasn’t the kind of dream I used to have about him. I used to dream of being his forever mom. I dreamt of giving him love, a home, a safe place to land.

Last night my dream was a nightmare. Sean was already in the house when I came home. He was there with Marcus and they were waiting for me.

“Hi, mom. I’m back,” he said in my dream. “I’m ready to get adopted. Whenever you want.”

He carried a duffle bag full of cash in my dream. I knew he had committed some crime and was charming his way into safety. My heart was racing and I was inexplicably concerned about his proximity to Marcus. Both boys were looking at me.

“Get out.” I said in the dream. “I’m not your mom. I was never your mother.”

I woke in a cold sweat, shaking and crying. My heart pounding in panic and dread. I couldn’t really say why.

I’ve been having these dreams for about a week. Sean has been on my mind one way or another. Sometimes I am remembering the times I thought we were getting close but I was really getting manipulated. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left behind on my body. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left on my heart.

He contacted me three times since Spring. They were just short Facebook messages but I read them over and over. I dissected each word  trying to see what he was after. Because Sean is always after something. In the end, I didn’t reply at all. But I couldn’t delete them. I couldn’t bring myself to block him on social media.

We adopted three out of the four children we started this journey with. Maybe having Marcus home, the “last one,” brings up Sean for me. Perhaps it’s been on my mind because Carl is now the age Sean was when we met the children. I can’t quite tell. Carl has developed some of the mannerisms Sean had at this stage. They are part teenage boys and part brother. It’s possible they are also part trauma.

I’ve been butting heads with Carl more than usual. Yesterday at dinner we had pizza. Sean used to drown his pizza in ranch sauce. This was a practice I found both disgusting and perplexing. He was morbidly obese at the time, which made it that much more dangerous when he was angry. Lately Carl has been gaining a lot of weight. His hormones must be making him hungry. His fuller cheeks make him look so much more like Sean.

We actually had an argument about it at dinner last night. He was sensitive to any form of food talk. I was sensitive to the mistakes I made with Sean. Whatever the reasons, it was a difficult night. As I sit and type now I can see where my triggers lie. In the moment I was completely lost to them.

As I sit here and type this the last fragments of the dream are drifting away from me. I hope I will not have this same nightmare tonight. I hope that someday the fragments of  of my feelings for Sean drift away, too.

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

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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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