adoption, family

When it Was Unwritten

How does one go about following a script that simply isn’t there? When there are no words left, how does one go about shouting into the void? When it goes unwritten for me it is difficult to process. When it goes unwritten, it becomes easier to ignore.

It was a nagging worry at the back of my mind. Have I misplaced something? It was a shapeless anxiety taking hold. Have I taken the wrong path after missing all the signs?Perhaps I should have written, “I’m not sure where things started to go wrong here.”

Most things can need to become writing for me. Or else they are barely brought to light in my own thoughts.

Carl has been de-compensating for awhile. I haven’t given this a voice on paper. I’ve pushed it away so far in my mind that it never came out in my typing. The unwritten truth was Carl’s deteriorating condition. His old fears and trauma triggers came back with a vengeance. Like Jack’s giant beanstalk, they have grown until I can no longer see where they end. I can no longer reach the solutions. I can no longer reach Carl to pull him down from the height of his fears.

In years past he’s always had a “traumaversary” in the springtime. We know it’s coming so we batten down the hatches. We up our therapeutic game in preparation. We just didn’t prepare for adolescence to add fuel to this fire. Still, I left it mostly unwritten.

When he screamed at me, and lost the dog, and kicked at the floors because he didn’t want to take the trash out, I didn’t write it. When my back was on fire and I hobbled down to scream at him to get out of the house with the trash, I didn’t write it.

When he shouted at me, “You freakin’ do it! I’m NOT going outside!” I knew he was scared. His fear masquerades as anger. I left it unwritten.

“The only thing you should be afraid of is ME!” I screeched back until he put on his shoes and grabbed the trash bag to stand in the garage. Then, in a fit of pure irrationality, I locked the doors and stood outside on the porch until he put the trash bag into the bin and came inside.

First, though, he hit and kicked the garage door so many times he left a dent. Eventually he came up on the porch and back inside we both muttered, “Sorry,” before we BOTH went to timeout.

I never wrote the words. How can I explain that his fear was so big it triggered BOTH of our responses? 

His bedtime became too dangerous. The wait list for his spot at the intensive outpatient program is two months away at least. He’s broken almost everything in his room (including his many nightlights) and then he almost broke me. He launched an 8lb hand weight  down the hall to where I happened to be standing. It missed me by an inch. He didn’t know I was there. He scared both of us.

Marcus helped Luke remove breakable and heavy objects after the incident. I went upstairs to despair quietly, all the while refusing to look at the problem.

The next morning I talked to Carl. He was quiet and subdued. He said that nothing in therapy was working. His meds weren’t working, he told me, and “Something isn’t right.” We discussed the option of inpatient treatment to stabilize him. To my utter surprise, he asked to go.

At the hospital he told the clinician he was afraid he could have hurt his mom.

My sweet, sweet boy is afraid to be so out-of-control. It’s been so long since he was like this. It’s so unexpected. He asked in the smallest voice if he would be like Mary and go away for a long time.

“No, Love. You will be home in a few days. We can do this.”

I should be doing many things. But for now I think I’ll stay right here. I’ll sit and write awhile.

**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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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

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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adoption, family

Wherein I Suck

Here is where I suck. I want to be therapeutic as a mom. I want to help my children. Being a parent is a huge part of my identity.

But sometimes? I suck at it. I just want to have some fun and enjoy my family. Having kids with trauma, kids with teenage hormone changes, kids with psychiatric conditions or basically just human children prevents that. I can’t have the fun Mom experiences I feel like everyone else (but me) is having.

Marcus had been in a great mood since starting his new job. He is making friends, feeling good. So I’ve done what no sane mother would do here. I’ve avoided him. I didn’t even realize I was doing it until it occurred to me I hadn’t seen Marcus in three days. I skipped our nightly Phase 10 game with him. I took a bath, instead.

I think I’m scared that Marcus’ pattern will continue. I’m protecting myself when I should be connecting with him. He’s older and he needs more connection experiences to feel grounded and safe. And I, apparently, need another bubble bath.

Carl has been waking us up in the middle of every. Single. Night. He’s also been having meltdowns over nothing. If something goes wrong, like when he broke the third can opener, he yells at me. It’s clearly my fault. If he isn’t drinking enough water for his lacrosse practice it’s my fault. Did I mention he threw a plastic cup filled with water because of this? Also my fault. I’m not sure you can hydrate your body via carpet, but, whatever. His choice.

The next morning Carl yelled and snapped at me all morning. I refused to engage. He kept at it. I quit helping him. He kept at it. I stated that we would discuss his restitution later when we were both more calm. He did the eye-roll-snap-at-mom-for-being-stupid combo.

So I did what any sane mom getting sucked into a pre-pubescent argument would do. I yelled back.

“You’re grounded!”

“FINE!!” he screamed back as he got on the bus for school.

Those were the last words we said to each other as he walked out the door. Great. It’s been a theme this week. I’m fairly certain I need another bubble bath with my Eucalyptus aromatherapy suds.

Someone else, please take a peak around. Am I still a mother? Do I have to?? Because this week I really suck at it! This week I’d rather do something else, please. Are any positions open for a professional bubble bath aficionado?

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

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