adoption, family

Naked Mom and the Zombie-Pickle Holiday Plumbing

My children really do not get the whole Christmas concept. In the 5 years they’ve been home we’ve never been successful in getting wish lists for gifts. I totally understand where they didn’t get into Santa. I am a bit of a Scrooge about that guy. I mean, where does he get off breaking into our house at night while we’re sleeping? Why is he always watching and judging us?! That guy is a total creep. We fully disclosed that particular myth almost immediately because Mary was so terrified of him.

Over time the kids started to come around to the idea that they would get presents at Christmas time. In foster care one child got presents while another child would got one or two items per year from the Child Services stipend.  Poor Marcus bounced around so much he went without the holiday more often than not.

In fact, every Christmas since he was 16 has been a surprise for Marcus. He’d open one gift in shock saying things like, “Really?? You guys got something for me???”

Yeah, kid. We did. It gets a bit repetitive when he’s still confused after opening the first four packages. Imagine that multiplied by 5 Christmases.

This left Luke and I to explain a lot over the years as we forged our own traditions. Marcus’ first foster home had a custom where they would hide a fake pickle in the tree. We continue this tradition (I think it’s German) and hide a plastic singing pickle. The kids find it and re-hide it over and over until Christmas morning. Whoever finds it then gets a prize.

Luke and I have always had very zombie-themed Christmases. There are zombies in the nativity set and zombie caution tape as garland on our tree. Our living room boasts a happy skeleton with mistletoe in his mouth. Our children acclimated to the zombie theme more easily than the presents portion. They’d get absolutely rabid about trying to find out if they were getting gifts (at all) each year.

Since our children can be masterminds at sniffing out food, presents, and other items in the middle of the night we needed a covert op. If we didn’t hide the evidence all the presents would go missing weeks before the actual holiday.

Luke and I made elaborate stories like, “These packages are for a plumbing project in the attic. We just had to purchase lots of PVC piping. Don’t open them because the parts are very sharp.”

Sadly, the vague and unlikely attic-plumbing made more sense to Carl last year than hidden packages of Christmas gifts. In fact, I ran out of excuses for disappearing into the master bedroom with the door locked to wrap presents. Unfortunately, it’s a big trauma trigger for Carl when he can’t find me.

He’d bang on my bedroom door shouting, “Mom? MOM!!! What are you doing???? WHY ARE YOU LOCKING ME OUT???!!!”

Last year he was 12 and still buying into the whole December home-improvement mystery. I had to come up with an excuse so I’d usually say, “Don’t come in. I’m naked right now!”

This worked like a charm. It worked so well that an exasperated Carl outed me in the middle of a busy CVS holiday crowd.

He burst out with, “You never spend time with me! You’re always upstairs naked in your room!!!”

The stares were priceless.  This kind of thing happens to me a LOT. 

This year he’s 13 and he’s figured it out. He knows we have presents up here but he isn’t confiscating them ahead of time. Marcus is planning to spend Christmas here with his GF and her baby. He actually texted me some things he’d like as gifts. At 21, he is finally able to give me a wish list. Mary knows we will be visiting her on Christmas at her residential school.

This may be the first year that everyone is on board for the holiday process. I no longer need the naked attic-plumbing ruse! Everyone seems ready for a merry zombie-pickle-fully-clothed-mother holiday!!!

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

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adoption, family

Math Lessons in Ramen Noodles

At about 3:00AM my cell phone comes to life with a string of beeps. Who is texting me at 3:00AM?!

“MMMOOOMMM!!!”

“MOM??”

MOOMMM I’M RUNNING LOW ON NOODLES!!!!”

The texts devolve into a series of shocked and presumably dying or close-to-death emojis.

Hi, Marcus.

He’s still at Job Corps. He’s been there for two months and 3 care packages. When he first got to his dorm he didn’t want to bring any of this own things, even toiletries. Years spent in the foster care system taught him some unfortunate lessons.

In typical Marcus fashion he keeps his personal items scattered across several houses with different relatives or friends. He’s always done this. It allows him to move locations frequently and easily. It also guarantees that if he blows out of a home in a rage, he won’t lose the entirety of his belongings. I guess it’s his way of diversifying assets.

Due to this process, he went into his dorm without much. Marcus had honestly never heard the term “care package” until I explained it to him. When I was in college my mom sent me goodies in the mail. It kept me going and made me feel loved. It connected me to the woman who took care of me even when I wasn’t physically with her.

Marcus was flabbergasted. “Srsly?!” He texted me when I explained the concept, “That’s a real thing? Like Nana really did that? Do other people do it???”

Yes, Marcus.

Now here we are at 3:00 AM. He seems to have gotten a good grasp on the care package concept. I’d like to think he’s gotten a handle on the trust concept also. When you need food, go to mom!

However, his math skills are suspect. It was exactly 6 days ago that I Amazon Primed him 48 packages of Ramen noodles. Even if he eats 2 per day it should last him over 3 weeks!

Perhaps the next lesson for Marcus will be a math lesson about the consumption of Ramen noodles.

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

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adoption, family

When Your Parents are Falling Apart

All I can say about this week is, “OOPS!!” Yup, that’s right. It’s one big “oops” for the parents over here in the Herding Chickens household. Let’s start with Monday. For whatever reason reason I forgot it was Veteran’s day. This is really disrespectful and wrong. I also forgot there was no school and tried to wake Carl up before my physical therapy appointment. Oops.

Early Tuesday morning my mother took Luke in for his next eye surgery. Somehow we got our wires crossed and I thought they were making sure Carl was up for the bus. At 8:00 AM Carl knocked on my door and asked if he was going to school. It starts at 7:15 and I still can’t drive. Luckily my mom came back at 9:00 to trade a bandaged-up Luke for a frantic Carl. He made it to school for an extremely short day. Oops.

The next day brought parent-teacher conferences. I totally forgot to respond about this. I’ve never ever missed these for my kids unless we recently had a 504 and didn’t need the rerun version. Oops.

I was rather tardy sending out the email saying, “Hey neither of us can physically make it to conferences this term. We are always available by phone. We’ve been in contact a lot lately so I hope to keep the lines of communication open.” Oops.

After that it was my scheduled FaceTime with Mary. We do this three times a week. However, I couldn’t answer at all. I got stuck in the shower with muscle spasms. It doesn’t make it any better that the previous day I had removed my shower seat with the brazen, “I can stand on my own two feet” attitude. I wound up hunched on the floor frozen in a stiff fetal position. I was rendered useless while my spinal muscles performed their own macabre version of the Rumba. Oops.

I have handle bars in the shower but I still had to use my phone to call Luke.  My SOS went out for a muscle relaxer RIGHT NOW. However, Luke couldn’t see to read the medication labels. Carl had to read through the bottles and find my drugs. When you make your son a drug dealer it is an awesome mom-move. Yeah, I’m crushing it in the responsibility arena! Oops.

This morning Luke got up with Carl to make sure the “Go-to-school” part of the day happened. However, he really can’t see well in the morning light. That is how, on the first New England day of 21 degree weather, our son went to school in basketball shorts. And a t-shirt. We are knee-deep in our annual warm clothes and mitten-feud with Carl. Score 1 for the drug-dealing kid. Oops.

Some weeks are just like this. I made the fixes that I could. I emailed Carl’s teachers. I called Mary back but by that time it could only be a voice call. Then I visited with my mom on my bed while my back calmed down. Let’s not discuss how I may or may not have still smelled after that ill-fated shower! Oops.

I checked with my physical therapist and discovered I was only supposed to be doing 3 sets of strengthening exercises a day. I had misinterpreted that to be 3 sets done 3 times per day. This explained my body’s rebellion via Megladon-sized muscle spasms. Oops.

The last fix I made was to take all of Carl’s shorts upstairs into storage. In case he decided to hide some and out-fox the broken-mom/blind-dad combo, I made a backup plan. I called his school counselor and amazon-primed a warm pair of winter pants to the school. If he manages to somehow pull off a shorts heist his teachers will send him to change. I will win against this winter if it’s the last thing I do!!!! (Insert evil laugh here.)

There is some good news, though. In the past all of these things would have been huge triggers for our kids. Carl and Mary would fell abandoned or unsafe. If they felt we couldn’t care for them it might bring up memories of bad times from their first home.

It takes a long time for kids with as much trauma as ours to trust another set of parents. We are nearing our 5th Christmas together. They took this week in stride. I’ll take it as progress.

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

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adoption, family

The Prodigal Son Makes a Decision

Marcus is here in the house, fast asleep. Just writing those words is like a having a weight lifted from my chest. Last night my living room was full and so was my heart. When Mary FaceTimed she got to see all of us.

At the wise old age of 21, he’s made a decision about his future. Marcus came home without the GF, her baby, and her extra friend. I’m not sure where they are staying exactly. I did manage to ship a package of warm winter baby clothes to GF at a reliable address.

Now it’s just my son. He’s back in his room among a pile of suitcases, boxes, and trash bags full of clothes. I wonder what happened to the other luggage he had. Where are all of the plastic bins he previously used?

Trash bags are the currency of packing in foster care. Just seeing them full of clothes sets my teeth on edge. I can assume his luggage went the way of his electronic keyboard and Beatz headphones we got him. Marcus must have bartered or sold them to get by on the streets.

He isn’t he here to stay. He’s here to do all of his laundry and store some of his things. Then it’s off to Job Corps! Marcus starts on Tuesday at 12, for the Electrical program. Victory! He can come home for holidays and some weekends.

Job Corps is a lot like the the regular college experience except they also teach basic life skills and schedule medical appointments. This is great because our son is behind on everything. Luke and I tried to cram a lifetime’s worth of “life skills” into a boy we met when he was already 16. It didn’t exactly stick. Needless to say, he still requires guidance.

I have no idea how Marcus finally, FINALLY, came to this decision. Like most things, he’s had to make the choice on his own by learning through a multitude of mistakes. Experiences, usually bad and had on his own, are Marcus’ only teachers. If you tell him the stove-top is hot, he’ll have to reach out and burn his hand before he believes you.

I don’t know what’s really going on with GF. He told us she said “hi” but that he doesn’t care what she thinks of his decision to do this. Marcus says “no one can hold him back” from his future. I’m pretty sure this is the same kid that told us “no one could make him” decide things about his future.

I want to say, “Honey sometimes you hold yourself back.” But I don’t.

I want to say, “When did you realize you need to consider a future?”

I want to say, “Hey, by the way, how come you ripped the doors off of the closet last time you packed your stuff?”

I don’t say these things because he’ll never even be able to explain. He probably doesn’t know why. I don’t even really need to know the “why.”

Here is what I do know:

1. My son is safely home in (approximately) one piece. He’s still a bit bruised and broken from the beat-down he got on the streets.

2. In 48 hours Marcus will be living on-campus in a program teaching him skills to be a licensed electrician.

3. He had to pass a clean drug test to get into this program.

4. I will love my oldest son forever, no matter what. Someday he may actually trust me on this one. He’s certainly tested it a few times.

 

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

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adoption, family

When the Chickens Don’t Come Home to Roost

I’ve heard that every night chickens come home to roost. Mine do not seem to have this homing instinct. Early trauma and adoption have taken such a toll on my kids that I’m not sure they understand the concept.

Mary isn’t home. My little girl is flourishing in her residential therapeutic school. I am so glad she is making progress. I am also so heartsick that she couldn’t get better here in our home. It shouldn’t matter as long as she is healing, but somehow it still matters to me. I am grateful but I am also resentful.

It isn’t as if they are doing anything different than we ever did. It isn’t as if they are even using a different treatment model. It’s literally the same language, same sensory tools, and the same coping strategies. It’s just that when she’s removed from the pressure of a family structure, Mary is able to respond to treatment. I can’t even put into words how much that hurts me. Aside from this blog, I’ll never even try.

Marcus still hasn’t returned home for his visit. At this point he’s refusing. Now he’s got some kind of extra person he’ responsible for. He seems to be somehow taking care of his new girlfriend’s baby and one of her friends with no place to go.

I get the impression they are all living in his car or in motel rooms when they can afford it. He doesn’t even know these people and yet they are more to him than his real family right now.

At this time he’s refusing to visit us unless we allow this extra person into our home. I dug in my heals. I know how poorly he decides who to associate with. I am aware that he is dealing some low level drugs in his current city.

His last Toxic Girlfriend was an addict who stole, lied, and showed up unpredictably high anywhere. I cannot let people like this into my home. I cannot re-expose Carl to the scenes that comprised his early childhood.

Maybe I’ll except the girlfriend and the baby. I don’t know if I can but I will try. I won’t take the stray unpredictable new friend into my home. I’m trying to accept some of the people he associates with. I just know too much about some of the people he associates with.

We also have some hard and fast rules about no fire arms or drugs in the home. Older associates know this, at least the ones we allow here. I wonder how I would feel if my daughter someday brought home a person like Marcus as a date?

I tried to make a compromise. I offered that we could meet him at a neutral location halfway between the states. He could bring this random friend and girlfriend and baby and we’d buy everyone lunch. If anything inappropriate goes down or anyone is high we can take Carl and leave.

If all goes well we can celebrate our oldest son’s 21st birthday and give him his gift. He’s a survivalist. He’s coming for the gift. A large part of me just really wants to throw it at him.

The only consolation here is that my mom thinks this is a good compromise. She’s pretty good at this parenting stuff so if she approves my plan then it must be worth something.

I want to scream and yell at him that he should care about this family. Check on us. Come and see us. His real and actual family that has been through so very much recently!! But Marcus doesn’t really get family. He thinks he is protecting his “family.”

I try so hard but sometimes I don’t want to. It sucks and I hate every picture perfect Facebook family. Well, at least I hate them until I realize I post the same shiny family to the rest of the public.

I just want to give up sometimes. I really do.

However, I have to let the wayward chickens find their way home as they will. For now I should snuggle into this mostly empty nest and hope that Carl stays.

**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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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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