adoption, family

Second Chances

Paper stars flutter to and fro in time to the rhythm of the air conditioning. A wall of black plastic sits beneath reams of masking tape and fluorescent post-it notes. It’s masquerading as the New York City skyline. This is Pinterest’s creation come to life. This is the middle school’s eight grade dance.

I set it up and now I wait for the children to arrive. I chaperoned this event for Sean when he was in eighth grade. At the time I sort of signed up illegally because only seventh grade parents chaperone the eighth grade “graduation” dance. Since we didn’t have him when he was in the seventh grade I never got the opportunity.

Of course after Sean’s umpteenth “Hey! That’s my mom!!” shout-out to friends I got caught. The teacher in charge gently but firmly chastised me for breaking with tradition. Oops.

At the time, getting caught as an illegal chaperone was my biggest embarrassment. It wasn’t until months later that I began to hear all of the things Sean had said about us around town. For that one night I felt confident enough as Sean’s mother to take the risk and stick it out at the dance.

Tonight was my chance to do it all over again. It was my second chance to follow the correct order of things. Carl is adopted: I’m officially his mom. I don’t have to explain what a foster parent is to the head teacher. Carl is in seventh grade so I officially qualify for chaperoning.

I even got here early enough that I helped the eighth-grade parents decorate. It wasn’t exactly clear to me who was qualified to decorate. It’s hard to keep up with the very specific roles around here!

Right now I’m checking over the streamers and refreshments. I’m admiring all of my handiwork when the head teacher comes in. It’s the same one from 5 years ago. The teacher looks flustered and out-of-breathe. She remarks that the ceremony is wrapping up too quickly and the kids will be here before the chaperones arrive.

I don’t think she recognizes me from 2014.

“It’s ok,” I say. “I’ll be here.”

Immediately I sense the change in her demeanor. She shakes her head and clucks in time to the air conditioner. “Oh no,” she shakes her head, “The eighth grade parents only do decorations. You can’t stay to chaperone. The seventh grade parents are the chaperones.”

I vaguely wonder what happens when someone parks in her favorite spot. How does she react if someone orders at the grocery deli without first taking the little paper ticket? Even when there’s no line at the deli? Life must be very frustrating.

“I’m a seventh-grade mom,” is my smooth reply, “I just showed up early to help.

She looks mildly bewildered that I would show up before my scheduled time. A wayward streamer sticks to her hair sprayed helmet as she rocks back on her heels to ponder me.

“Yes, that’s right!” She exclaims, “You ARE a seventh-grade parent. You belong to Carl!”

Well now that we’ve cleared that up…

I nod solemnly because I do belong to Carl. I am eternally proud to belong to him. I belong here.

This is my chance to get it right.

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

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adoption, family

Proven Wrong

I need to spend more time counting my blessings. Yesterday morning I was filled with dread over the impending Mother’s Day drama. I was expecting the pattern of trauma and dysregulation from the last few years to continue.

I have never been happier to say I WAS WRONG!!! Mary got up with me in the morning to go to church with my parents. It was a nice service and I actually found myself relaxed and happy. Mary wasn’t irritable or on edge. She was pleasant and sweet to me. Slowly my own irritability and edginess drained away. I went home to a spotless house that Luke had cleaned.

Later, we had a celebratory lunch at my parents’ house. Typically we go around the table and appreciate one person in the family for something at mealtimes. Carl almost always appreciates us for eating with him or giving him food. This time, I gave appreciation to my mom and sort of waited for things to get weird.

Mary and Carl both appreciated me. Carl appreciated the food (of course) but also the sports I take him to. Mary appreciated her family and adoption. Marcus shocked me the most. This is NOT his thing. He appreciated the holiday because he said he had “never been a ‘mom’ fan” but now he was. It was amazing.

When I drove Mary back to campus she was calm and centered. Only Bio Sister’s comments from the previous evening upset her. Mary teared up a bit and wanted to know why BS called her “chubby” and “sad looking.”

She asked me, “Do I look ok? I’m trying to eat healthy and not be chubby.”

Mary also expressed concern about BS knowing where she went to school. She didn’t want BS to know because she felt BS would judge the school. She felt her sister would blame us for sending her away.

Later on, when Bio Sister (BS) came (almost 2 hours late) to get Marcus, we had a conversation. It’s weird that she didn’t want us to meet her over the state line. It turns out her boyfriend was violating his probation by driving out of state so they had to take someone else’s car.

Luke is very good at this so he firmly but politely set a boundary for her conversations with the kids. He told her that some comments had been hurtful to Mary. I confirmed that Mary is sensitive and felt bad about being called chubby and being told she “didn’t want to go back to that school.”

Of course BS backtracked and claimed she didn’t mean it and that all Puerto Rican’s hate school and call each other fat. She looked at Luke to confirm this and he flatly disagreed. She asked again if Mary had learning disabilities and why she went to private school.

“Why can’t they help her in regular school?”

I explained that Mary has overcome a lot and is doing very well. She is so strong and so amazing. She has a lot going on and if she chooses to share her diagnosis or struggles someday it’s up to her. Until then we will be protective of her.

I gave BS some examples of supportive comments. I told her to be positive and and tell Mary she looks great, IF they were going to talk. BS quickly agreed. We told her regardless of her personal feelings about the school, she shouldn’t share them.

Even Marcus jumped in and said the school was amazing.

BS looked nervous, apologized, and left quickly. I’ll miss Marcus but I’m glad she’s gone.

All in all it was a great day. Victory!!!

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

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adoption, family

That Day

That day is here again. The one I dread with a visceral gut twist every single year. It’s Mother’s Day.

Here is the day where I leave the house and people congratulate me over and over again for being a mother. People ask my kids if they are celebrating me or doing something “nice” for me. Well, first people look at Carl and Marcus with puzzlement before checking that I am, in fact, their mother.

All it does is remind all of us that there was an original mom in this picture who really messed up. Her loss has been my gain and it isn’t comfortable in any way. This day reminds my children of grief.

Being a daughter myself means that I have my own mother to celebrate. I love her dearly but it does prohibit me from hiding in the closet and ignoring the entire thing altogether.

Someone traditionally has a meltdown every year around this day. It’s just too hard. My money is on ME this year. I am pretty sure I’ll be the one to lose it and stomp off.

Today we have to return Marcus to Bio Sister and Mary to campus. We had planned to meet BS at a halfway point. She doesn’t want to do that. Instead she is driving TO MY HOUSE.

Last night Marcus hands his phone to Mary and it’s BS on FaceTime again. Her first words are, “You look sad. Why do you look so sad?” Then she said stuff in Spanish while Mary stared at the screen thoroughly confused. Insert my eye roll here.

Doesn’t Bio Sister have her own kids to worry about? She’s pregnant again.

Please wish me luck as I bravely (reluctantly) embark on That Day again. At the end of it I can snuggle up with Luke and watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

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

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adoption, family

The Prodigal Returns (Again)

Marcus is home. We finally convinced him to come home, at least for a little while. He’s here so that we can take him to get a new driver’s license at the DMV. He can’t get a job without it.

He’s also here because he needed me to help him write his appeal letter to Job Corps. As much as he wanted to leave there previously, he now wants to stay. He’s depressed and mad at himself for the way he reacted to the girl that threatened him.

Marcus is an odd duck this way. He always wants what he doesn’t have. He knows he gets triggered and that his reactions are extreme. He understands it’s not ok to react with rage and violence. At the same time he often feels as though it’s someone else’s fault.

Tonight he’s trying to explain that he’s been thinking of self-harming. He claims to have two separate people inside him that want different things. He wants to do well but a part of him wants to mess everything up. He does honestly believe he has someone else inside of him.

I wish Marcus could see that the thing he is fighting is trauma. To that end I’ve scheduled an emergency appointment with L, our local super-hero trauma therapist. She’s the only one he’ll see anyway. His comments about wishing himself to die or to hurt are something I take seriously.

Hopefully he stays at home for awhile. We can focus on his mental health in a way his sister won’t. He certainly won’t face these issues on his own.

Please stay this time, Marcus. Please put in the work. Trust me, you’re worth it.

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

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adoption, family

Getting Antsy

If there is one thing the foster care system has taught my children it would be leaving. An internal alarm will alert them not to feel safe with permanency. Unfortunately, the very nature of foster care perpetuates this. Are you comfortable here? Do you love these people?  Are you happy in this school? It’s time to go. It’s time for another placement.

Ostensibly, it’s affected Marcus the most. He’s been through the greatest number of placements. Even an amazing foster home like the one Sean and Mary had is still not their birth home. They’ve all been moved. After awhile kids can get rather used to this. It’s taken years to assure them we are a forever family. Carl gets it. Mary still sometimes asks if she needs to go to another family.

As far as Marcus is concerned everything and everyone has an expiration date. His relationships never last past 8 months. Neither do his homes. Even as an adult, he is constantly moving around, constantly seeking something better. At around the 6-month mark for anything he gets antsy. Marcus will start small arguments or come up with little reasons as to why things aren’t working. He’s building up to his “time to go” alarm.

At the 8-month mark he’s either already gone or he’s heading out the door. Marcus has always been a fan of the “ripping off the band-aid” school of thinking. When he feels the need to leave he will take extreme measures to make it happen. He’ll cause fights, take risks, and generally try to burn it all down. I’ve heard of people burning their bridges before but Marcus will set fire to his own life raft.

Having been on the receiving end of this several times, I am very familiar with the signs. When he’s doing well in a job/school/relationship he can only tolerate it for so long. Then Marcus chafes against some imagined confinement. He’ll eventually chew off his own leg to escape.

This weekend he came home early from Job Corps. He took Friday off because he “couldn’t take it.” Apparently he’d been written up for smoking in a non-designated area and giving staff a hard time. He had started or almost-started fights with a few kids. He was behind in some of his electrical work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Marcus chose to come home. This is much better than, say, starting a physical fight with a staff member. I am an advocate of walking away when you need to. I just really, really want him to walk back.

I see the signs. He is beginning to exhibit some reckless behaviors that could eventually get him terminated from the program. He smuggled alcohol onto campus by duct taping nips bottles to his waist. Then he lifted up his shirt so security could wave the metal detector over his belt like he had nothing to hide. Somehow he didn’t get caught. At least, he hasn’t been caught yet.

He has been at Job Corps for 5 months. He hasn’t completed his apprenticeship yet. He wants to leave next month. Marcus claims he absolutely cannot be there during the summer. He wants to get a job. He’s found a new car to buy. It would seem we are back to square one with car vs. real life!

Obviously, we have tried to persuade him to continue investing in his future. This opportunity dries up the moment he walks away. Marcus is getting too old for these programs to take him. He’s an adult and these are adult choices. I hope he makes the right one.

My mother says, “You can save people from a lot of things but you can’t save them from themselves.”

Her words ring true. There isn’t anything I can do here. Still, the whole thing makes me antsy.

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

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family

This Weekend Almost Defeated Us

Tooth-jarring screeching sounds of metal scraping against metal emanated from the undercarriage of my Honda Pilot. A vague scent of smoke wafted in through the open windows. The more I hit the accelerator, the louder the noise got. I wish I could say that my horrible weekend started there but I’d be lying.

Friday started much differently. I finished my first week of work since spinal surgery. I’m only doing 3 hours a day but it’s a huge win for me. I was flying high and feeling invincible. Nothing could put a dent in my sunny, triumphant mood!! Saying I was wrong on this account is a vast understatement.

Upon getting home I checked my bank account. It was very, very low. Since Luke’s eye surgery we’ve been struggling. He only recently returned to work after months without pay. Worker’s comp covers a percentage of my salary, but it’s not much.

Add to that a series of emergencies (water pump died, washer/dryer died, roof needed repairs) and we had problems. We even had to borrow money from my parents (thanks, guys!)

So Friday comes around and I get a check from the insurance company that is maybe 1/5 of my normal check. Presumably I’ll be receiving a regular check from my job but it will come in the mail. Then I get a notification that Carl’s lunch money balance is low. Great.

Next, I start a small stovetop fire while making popcorn. I put it out right away things got a little crazy. Saturday rolls around and I’m watching for the mail like a hawk. I need that other paycheck to come through. As soon as it comes I send Carl out to retrieve it. I probably should have gone myself but my back was killing me.

Unfortunately, Carl was not as concerned as I was about the mail. He walked in with a package but no envelopes and insisted that’s all the mail we got. It wasn’t until the bank had already closed and we left to pick up Mary, that I double checked. Yup, there was my paycheck ready to do absolutely nothing until Tuesday. Sigh.

As we left to pick Mary up at school the horrible scraping sound began. Luckily, we were only a few miles into our hour drive. I did what, presumably, any smart mom would do. I made Carl run alongside the car. I figured if it blew up (or if I started my second fire of the weekend) at least he’d be safe. When he suggested calling a tow truck I burst into tears. I couldn’t do that because I hadn’t deposited the check.

In a state of sheer panic I pulled into a nearby friend’s house to park. She wasn’t answering her phone. If she wasn’t home I could still leave the car there. The entire time I was calculating how far I could walk towards home before Carl would have to carry me.

How would I call Mary and cancel our overnight? I always come through for her. I NEVER let her down even though she always expects me to. What would happen if this time I followed through on plans like bio mom?

By the time I parked the car I felt like I was struggling to breathe. By some stroke of sheer luck my friend was actually home. As soon as I explained my situation she got her two kids and loaded them into her car. Without any questions she dropped everything and drove me the hour to get Mary. Thank heavens for ride-or-die friends!

We ended up having a fun yet overwhelming weekend. Luke was able to figure out the car problem and fix it within our minuscule/nonexistent budget. The kids cleaned the kitchen and ran the dishwasher while I took some downtime on the heating pad.

We filled our weekend with at-home budget friendly activities like board games and family dinner with Nana and Papa. By the time I took Mary home on Sunday night I was feeling a bit of that Friday high coming back. My belly was full of my mother’s famous pistachio cake and my little girl was riding shotgun.

The weekend had been stressful, crazy, and filled with financial ruin. Mary was back in her “fast” place. Her speech was so pressured she smooshed her words together and dropped almost all of her consonants. No one can really understand her vowel-speak but at least we were certain it was all very sweet. She wasn’t making violent or outlandish comments.

I had my family. I had my car back. I ended the weekend singing with my daughter and driving literally into the sunset. What more could I really ask for?

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

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family

The State of Our Union

For over a decade Luke and I have made this journey together. This week was my 11-year wedding anniversary.  I was in my mid-twenties when I met him. It’s supposed to be a bad idea to date your boss but I guess I’ve never followed convention well.

Luke and I were married at town hall a year to the day of our first date. I stood there in a strapless black gown long enough to hide my signature flip-flops. Luke wore a matching suit. We said “I do” in front of six friends and celebrated with a river of champagne.

The next day we “illegally” bribed the DMV to issue a license with my new name before I’d even filed for a new social security card. Waiting has never been our thing. After all these years he’s still my best partner in crime.

It started out just the two of us in a shoe box-sized apartment in the city. Our view consisted of buildings upon buildings crammed into grid-lines of perfectly strait roads. Gun fire resounded like popcorn in the streets nearly every day. Luke never let me walk alone there. When we moved to the country the sound of hunting rifles echoed through the trees but never frightened me.

The road to our house winds through hills and thick forest. Our home is nestled in the middle of deep dark woods and green grass. Neighbors are few and far between.  Not every road is even paved. It can be hard to see sharp turns through the towering oaks.  We spread out here and grew into this house. Then we filled it with lots of children. Sean didn’t stay but the rest did.

We adopted three siblings. Sean’s disrupted adoption still haunts me. Marcus’ adoption eventually came full circle to finalize in adulthood. I lost one pregnancy in such a scary way I was too terrified to try again. I gained two great step-kids. Luke lost a job when Mary was too dangerous to be alone with Carl and me. I’ve had three back surgeries. Luke’s had several major eye surgeries. We both developed a serious addiction to caffeine.

Our marriage sometimes feels like Luke and I huddled down in a foxhole. We certainly didn’t pick an easy road. I like to think we chose the road most worthwhile. Adopting three children with significant complex developmental trauma has been challenging to say the least. Beyond a doubt our life together could never be considered boring.

This week we settled in to celebrate with a bottle of Prosecco on a wintry New England night. There are no streetlights in our forest. Here in the dark we can see every star.

There isn’t anyone I’d rather take this journey with. Here’s to the next decade of adventure. Perhaps the rockiest roads are the ones with the most scenery.

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

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