adoption, Attachment Disorders

If I Die Before I Wake

I pray the lord my soul to take. I wish these were just the words of a bedtime prayer. In my case, these words are real. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that our children have experienced an intense level of unspeakable trauma. Luke and I know this. We know how to parent therapeutically. We know how to get as many services as possible for our daughter. It doesn’t matter. She is a real danger to me and to her brother right now.

Our daughter has learned to survive. Her current diagnosis are PTSD-dissociative subtype and Reactive Attachment Disorder, with periods of psychosis. There is a lot of chatter about the RAD diagnosis, which I won’t get into here. Because I don’t care. Whether it be Developmental Trauma Disorder  (DTD, which never made it into the DSM-V) or RAD or PTSD or DMDD or any other diagnosis she’s had, it doesn’t matter. She still wants to kill me. A mother’s love is something she craves so badly that it hurts her. It twists her happy feelings into anger and possessiveness.

It all started the month we needed to buy her bras. She’s only 10 but here comes puberty. And so it began. In with the bras. Out with the effectiveness of her medication. She began hearing voices. SHe started to journal about my death. She began to tantrum and scream and fight invisible foes that only she could see. Oh, my dear little Mary, how I wish I could fight them for you.

Her love for me is desperate and all consuming. She needs me every second of every day. If I take a shower, she tantrums, if I leave the room, she explodes in a fit of rage. If I ask an innocuous question such as, “Do you like your new shorts?” She hears, “I hate you. I no longer love you. I am abandoning you.” When I turn to her brother for a momentary comment, she attacks. She will circle me and chase me with her little fists flying. She is trying to hit me in the spine. She will cripple me before allowing me to speak to Carl. So far, it hasn’t worked.

“If I can’t have you, ” she tells me, “no one can. I will stab us both.” In the night or early morning, she will loom over the bed, watching me sleep. “Mama?” she whispers, “Do you love me?” Of course I do. But I can never show her enough to quell her fear of losing me. She will make comments on my facial expressions. Why did my eyebrow twitch? Why did I move my top lip? Am I trying to get away? Have I stopped loving her?!The last 3 years of Trust Based Relational Intervention made all the difference, until now. TF-CBT made all the difference. Until now. Her anti-psychotic medication made all the difference. Until now.

The worst part is that it becomes unpredictable. We play mirroring games, and we snuggle, and I giver her all of my attention. Our time is spent connecting. As close as I stay to her, and as much love as I provide? I can never guess when a momentary glance at another person or thing will invoke her uncontrollable rage. We keep our knives and “sharps” locked up. You need the combination for a screwdriver in this house. Only, she finds other things. She shows me a bottle opener I’ve overlooked.

“You know this is sharp enough?” she casually quips, “I could stab you with this.”

The part that gets to me is how she discusses my murder without any observable emotion at all. Her brother tells me that earlier that she’s tried to figure out the combination for the lock on the knife cupboard. We only use plastic silverware in our house now.

As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. Nothing except the onset of puberty. Her intense violent rages happen every day. She injures herself most frequently.  She rips out her hair or punches herself in the face. She screams about murder. And blood. And the death of everyone on this planet who has ever hurt her. The bio-mother who abandoned her and hurt her. The mother she has now who sometimes needs to shower.

She is being released from the inpatient psychiatric hospital for the 5th or 6th time tomorrow. I’ve lost track. We have in-home services. We have an amazing trauma therapist who has worked with her for 3 years. We have a parent therapist for Luke and I. We have a partial hospitalization program set up that she has used more than I could even count over the last 3 years. There aren’t anymore services, unless the state agrees to help. Her medication no longer works. Today the inpatient hospital program told us they are releasing her tomorrow because there isn’t anything more they can do for her on the unit. Ever.

We’ve called a meeting with all of her providers for safety planning. We have PHP, Trauma team, And IICAPS (Intensive In-home Adolescent and Psychiatric Services) all concerned for safety is she is home. I miss my girl. I want her home. I’d just like to remain alive for her childhood. She hasn’t managed to truly hurt me yet, beyond a few arm and leg bruises. She hasn’t hurt Carl yet. It isn’t for lack of trying. It’s because Carl and I are too quick. We lock ourselves away and call for help.

Luke and I are doing the only things we can do. We are installing security cameras in all of the common areas of the house. Everywhere except for bedrooms and bathrooms. We need to objectively see what is happening. It’s entirely possible that we are unwittingly triggering her in some way. It is entirely true she doesn’t want anyone to see the things she does in the privacy of our home.

It is also highly probable that she’s spent a lot of time talking to “Josie” the “ghost” who orders my death (and possibly that of her brother.) The therapists in our home see her mood fluctuation and dangerous actions. So does her long term trauma therapist. But to most other clinicians? She is the sweetest most charming girl of all. She has always had to be this way, in order to survive her biological home. My Mary is a fighter. A survivor. For this, I am proud. I only wish she didn’t feel the driving need to survive being loved. 

Mary flipped out and began to yell at us and her inpatient therapist in the hospital today. She doesn’t like the cameras. She doesn’t want others to see her violence and destruction. She doesn’t want anyone to see her try to hurt Carl or try to attack me. When we don’t make progress with her on-call crisis team, we call 9-1-1. She will scream at the police and yell at the EMTs, but they never hear her plan my murder. Once we get to the psychiatric ward she is completely calm. Perhaps the video will help us to show what happens. After all, she only threatens or attacks those she loves the most. This kind of deep attachment-related trauma won’t be seen on a psychiatric ward. She simply does not require or crave deep relationships with revolving staff.

What she really needs from me is proof of my unconditional love. I try to give this as much as I can. Is it enough? It never is. What she is getting is 24/7 surveillance. Just in case. Because our daughter is trying to literally love me to death.

So if I never blog another post? Well then, I guess you’ll know why. 

 

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

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adoption, PTSD

A Safe Place to Land

Everyone seems to know how to live this life better. This complex and confusing life of parenting children with severe developmental trauma. The life where your kids may have extreme behaviors, and/or mental health diagnosis. This life. This is a life that others are afraid to live. 

The part that most don’t understand is how this particular life could be one that I love. One that I have chosen. This life is fulfilling and joyful for me. I can be a hard person to buy material gifts for because I honestly just don’t care. I already have everything I could ever want.

Sometimes, though, I am scared. How will I continue to handle aggressive rages and outbursts? After almost 3 years of physical safety from my daughter it is hard to go back to that place. The place where her most common expression is one of anger. Her reactions to the slightest disappointment become violent outbursts. She is 10 now, and much taller and stronger than when she was barely 7.  I wonder how we got back to this place?! 

Loving my daughter is never the question. Sometimes, when I am in my deepest, darkest place, surviving her becomes the question. No matter how much love we put in or how many resources we find, the trauma continues to plague us all. This past week I’ve woken up several times in terror, covered in a cold sweat. I feel as though danger is imminent and I cannot catch my breathe. Since when do I have such a  visceral response to basic nightmares? Probably since Mary started raging again. 

There could never be an expiration on my love for her. There could never be an expiration on my commitment to her. Is it possible there could be an expiration on my ability to handle her violence? 

How did this happen? I naively thought we had conquered the worst parts. We still battle past traumas alongside our children. They still go to therapy. But I thought the days of her physical attacks were long gone. Perhaps that is why my reaction is one of panic. We left this place so far behind. Can we get through it all over again? 

I understand that professionals have a different perspective. In fact, they often lack perspective entirely. This life that I have chosen is actually quite rare. Not many “older children” get adopted from foster care. In essence, there is less chance of a doctor coming across a case like ours. The goal seems to always be to change their behavior. Change my behavior. To fix it. To fix her. How ridiculous.

I cannot fix what is already beautiful. All I can hope for is a bit of healing mixed with trust. I can love until forever. And I can hope for a safe place to land. For all of us. 

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

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Attachment Disorders, family

The Prodigal Son…Cancels?

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I would consider myself a fairly decent mom, even pretty good at predicting my children’s trauma-based actions. Not this time. I entirely missed the mark. Last week I wrote about Marcus asking to visit. After a lot of time and planning, he was finally coming this weekend. He sent me numerous messages about how excited he was. I really believed it was happening.

He is the oldest biological brother to our 2 adopted siblings. Our relationship with him is haphazard at best. At one time he lived with us. We wanted to adopt him. We tried. But the closer we got to him emotionally, the more he seemed to fight against that bond.

The day he left was the day his adoption worker from our state was coming to meet him. He was 17. On that day I truly believed he sabotaged his adoption because remaining in the foster care system was more familiar and easier to him than committing to being part of a loving family.

He threw an enormous tantrum, threatening to kill us and bury us in the backyard. (I guess he knew all of the best places since he had painstakingly cleared out an area of forest and landscaped it in our backyard the week before.) At our house, he had been the one to grab the tool bag eagerly and enjoy fixing things around the house with “Pops,” my husband.

He called me a whore, and a b**ch and a c**t. He told his younger siblings that he hated them and he would kill them, too. He slammed doors, threw things, kicked me and threw his iPhone at me, shattering it. I actually think he didn’t mean to make contact with me at all. His big scary tantrum was more along the lines of putting on a big show. Later he apologized to my husband saying, “You know I didn’t really mean to throw the phone at her, right? That part was an accident.”

He got his way that day. He had done this many times before. He would get really close to me, discuss his feelings about his biological mom with me, or simply let me in on an emotional issue with a girlfriend. For a few weeks we’d be closer than I ever thought a teen and his mom could be. Then, he would drop all communication and act as though he hated me and couldn’t stand the sight of me. He’d cut off contact, only to resume again in a few more weeks, asking to return or visit (we always said a joyful yes, but with behavioral boundaries.) But that was from 16-18. The closer he got to 18, the more he tasted his freedom.

Like so many other foster kids, he aged out at 18 and began life on his own. After that, our relationship actually improved a bit. Our communication was spotty, but when he had a problem, he always came to me. He bounced around to a few different places. I assumed, with a fair amount of certainty, that he was back on the streets hanging with his old crew. He’d put selfies on FaceBook throwing up the symbol for the “Bloods” a notorious gang. Whether he simply admired them, or was involved, I’ll probably never know. He was always wearing their colors of red and black.

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Over time, I began to think of him as the son who just left the nest early. He called and messaged us when he could. If I squinted my eyes really tight, and let my vision go blurry, I could almost see a son who was off to college, or the military, or the peace corps, and checked in when he could. He had asked for visits before, but this one seemed so real to me.

That was, obviously, a fantasy. There are many sides to Marcus. He loved family dinner we had each night. He took pride in our family and our home. He decorated his room immaculately with all of his favorite things. He played board games for hours with us, as if he couldn’t get enough. Our family took him to science centers, zoos, and museums. He was delighted and amazed by the reptile show at our local library.

These were all of the amazing memories I was reminiscing about when he called to cancel his upcoming visit. I had to stop and question myself. Why had I really believed he would show? He’s a few weeks away from moving somewhere new. We are trapped in this cycle where he gets close and then pulls away. His issues with attaching to a family are too complicated to let him enjoy a typical family relationship with us. This is what complicates his ability to allow himself to be loved.

My daughter told her therapist that she thinks he didn’t get adopted because he was “too dangerous.” This gave us the opportunity to explain that no matter what Marcus did or said, we would have gotten help and we would have adopted him. It just wasn’t what he wanted anymore, and we respected that. Mary agreed there was less swearing when he wasn’t in the house. She loved his happy, playful side, but was scared of his short-fused anger. Me, too, I told her. But no matter what, we will always love him.

The only good thing that came out of this was that he texted with both of the Littles and told them he missed them. They sent silly pictures of their faces back and forth. They saw the texts where he wrote, “I love you, Ma,” to me. Good or bad Marcus knows we are here for him. And maybe that’s all that really matters right now?

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Whenever he is ready, our door is always open. 

 

 

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

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Visits?

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This is a post I never wanted to write. I just never thought things would turn out this way. Despite my best intentions,my hardest work, and all of my love, this is where we stand. We started with a sibling group of 4. The teen boys disrupted before we could officially adopt them. We have now adopted the younger two. The adoption fairytale isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Is that wrong? No. It just…is. I thought I was OK with it. Maybe I was wrong.

Our children’s oldest sibling, Marcus, has been in touch with us for a time. It’s weird to think of ourselves as just one in a long line of “foster parents” for him. I still feel like his mother. We had every intention of adopting them. Only Marcus has stayed in touch. (This is the story of meeting Marcus and bringing him home) In the end, he chose not to be adopted by us. His attachment issues ran too deep to allow him to be in a family.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Marcus. When he left it felt like a part of me was dying. Why didn’t he choose to be in our family? Why didn’t he choose to be adopted? Why didn’t he choose to have a mom. Even more painfully: why didn’t he choose me?! I wrote him an open good-bye letter (you can read it here.) This was cathartic for me, in a way. I’ve never stopped loving him. Sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

Marcus aged out of foster care. He signed himself out at 18 and bounced around a bit. He lived with a girlfriend, and her family. His job was supporting a lot of the people living there. He contacted us for money because he was so hungry. Luke gave him advice about how even if he loved this girl, he shouldn’t live where he couldn’t eat food. He also shouldn’t be supporting a family of 6-8 people.

We didn’t send him money. Luke and I had made a pact about letting Marcus learn to stand on his own two feet now that he had chosen not to be adopted. He needed to know that being an “adult” didn’t necessarily mean getting to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It’s hard work! (I caved and sent him and Amazon care package of food overnight anyway.)

As always, Marcus only lasts with a family for a short time. He bounced again, this time back to a former foster home. Marcus had been very close to the foster mom and we had facilitated visits between them when he lived with us. We didn’t want him to lose anymore people that were important to him. He always referred to her by her first name,  but I knew he loved her. Then he was gone from our house, gone from another foster home, and now about to leave his girlfriend’s home.

He was contacting us a lot during that time, and I think he wanted to ask to come back. He never said it, though. Our contact went something like this. He was making a lot of bad choices at the time. Drinking, getting high, and hanging out with a tough crowd. He was still enrolled in school. He still texted me pictures of his report card. He still wanted me to be proud of him. He still called me, “Ma.”

I was glad he was going back to that former foster home. Maybe he really belonged there the whole time. Perhaps we just hadn’t been the right family for him. Only it didn’t last. Now he has a few weeks left before he has to leave that home, too. He tells me it’s because he lost a job by falling asleep. He works in the day and is getting his high school diploma at night. He says his former foster mom is telling him this is “tough love.” I’m not exactly sure that it isn’t because of drinking, irresponsible behavior, or not working. Marcus usually tells his own version of a story.

It doesn’t matter what the story is, they all have the same ending, Marcus moves on to a new family.

He’s been asking me just for a visit. Just a day or a weekend. I’m conflicted. I don’t want to keep the littles from their brother. Sometimes, I feel like it will be too much for them to see him, and then not see him again for who knows how long? The thing is, I want Carl and Mary to see that we still have a relationship with Marcus. We still love him. No matter what happens, our love is forever. I also get the feeling that Mary has fears that her behavior might get her “kicked out” somehow.

I want her to know that we NEVER “throw away” people!

Should we have him over? Show them that he is still family even though he is an adult making his own living arrangements? Will it break their hearts?

Will it break mine? 

mlettera

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

 

 

 

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family

Contingency Plan: In Case I Don’t Make It

The back brace Mary decorated for me

Anyone who reads my blog knows that our daughter, Mary, has been inpatient at the psychiatric hospital for almost 2 weeks now. It’s her second stint since right before Christmas. It’s been terribly hard on all of us. Children with attachment issues need to be close to their caregivers. Mothers of any kind need to be near their children.

In this case, safety is paramount in all of our decisions. I have a serious spinal injury, . Therefore I cannot physically assist in any way, if Mary has a dangerous dissociative episode. She hasn’t had one in almost 2 years until now. Just our luck that it happens when I’m at my most vulnerable, physically.

They’ve been titrating a new medication for her. We aren’t sure yet if it’s at a therapeutic level. Her emotions are still all over the place. She fluctuates from one minute to the next. She is angry, then giggly, then despondent within 10 minutes. She’s had several physical outbursts on the unit. She’s been defiant towards staff, throwing things at them. During one incident, she pounded on the window of her door, trying to break it. Too bad we don’t have unbreakable plexiglass on our windows at home.

No, she isn’t “there” yet. She isn’t at that place that keeps her safe enough to access all of the therapies and interventions we have in place for her. No amount of TBRI parenting, PHP treatment, TF-CBT therapy, coping skills, or sensory diet can help her until her brain is in a place to process it. The medication helps her brain to get there.

I need a contingency plan. I admit, I plan for all scenarios as much as possible. It helps me to feel productive and in control. Frankly, there are some things entirely beyond my control. But I’ll probably never accept that. At least, not in this lifetime (I swear, I’ve tried!)

My spinal fusion surgery takes place this Tuesday. We are taking our girl home from the hospital on Monday. We will have a meeting to hear the results of the full psychological evaluation they gave her. Maybe we will gain some insight. Maybe not. Either way, she comes home with us.

We have to take her home because I need all of my chickens together on Monday night. We’ve planned a “Pajama Party” where we all pile onto the king-sized bed in our matching Jammies (lame, I know!) and have popcorn.

The next day is my surgery. This is a big long, serious operation. I can face anything if I’ve had my family with me. I’m one tough Mama so I feel like it will turn out just fine. But if it doesn’t? I’ve had that one last family night.

When I was little, my mom used to read to me all the time. Even a series of books called “Sweet Valley  High,” which she hated yet read anyway. My mom has probably made me macaroni and cheese thousands of times. She’s tucked me in, kissed my boo-boos, and generally made things better for me my whole life. She’s taught (or tried) to teach me good lady-like manners my whole life.

I’m not the best student but she loves me anyway (remember my zombie centerpiece at Christmas dinner, mom?) She has perfect hair, perfect make-up, and a perfectly dirty joke when you least expect it. My mom could give Emily Post, Lauren Bacall, and Elizabeth Taylor a run for their money. In the same breathe she can out-do Chris Rock for shockingly funny dry wit. And she’s mine. I’ve gotten to have her for my entire 35 years on this earth. Lucky me.

Mary hasn’t had me since infancy, so I’m making up for lost time. By my calculation, I still have dozens of horrible books from a predictably plotted children’s series to read to her. I have thousands more mac and cheese meals to go. And let’s face it, I’ll probably never have the center-piece thing down. But still. Mary is owed the full mommy experience. The kind I got to have. The kind that always makes it better.

My kids need me. They can’t afford to lose another mom. But if the worst should happen, I cannot, I WILL NOT allow Mary to think that it was all somehow her fault.

It like an oncoming storm. Maybe it will hit and maybe it won’t. Maybe my surgery will be a shining success, maybe it won’t. Maybe Mary has to go back inpatient this week, maybe not.

Either way, we are going to batten down the hatches, and ride it out. Together. As a family. Because that is the most important thing I have ever had in this lifetime. My family.

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

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adoption, family

The Non-Argument: Adventures in Battling Trauma

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It’s been a year since Sean left. He’s 15 now. Marcus left in August of last year and he will be 19 next month. I can go whole days without thinking about them. The bone-deep grief that brought me to my knees is subsiding. But foster kids leave. Pre-adoptive placements disrupt. It happens all the time. Or so they say.

I’ve been dreaming about the teens all week. It’s usually about Sean. I dream that I’ve forgotten to pick Sean up somewhere. In this dream I try desperately to remember where he is before it becomes dark. And then I wake up to find that the angry, traumatized teens have moved on. Have I?

Mary has been having a difficult transition back to school. Her feelings are jumbled about most things lately. Her 9-year-old emotional roller coaster is on the fast track. She will cycle from maniacal laughter to gut-wrenching sobs within minutes. My husband and I are on high-alert for that intense “happy” reaction that is just a shade too bright, too intense. This is our signal that she is on the brink of losing control over her emotions.

Mary is disappointed over her own reactions.  Her perception is that others are disappointed with her as well. That fear bubbles over into her interactions with me. She has to share this intense discomfort somewhere. This leads to having what I call the “non-argument.” For example:

Mary: Mom? You’re going to be disappointed. I spilled my drink

Me: That’s ok, honey. Accidents happen. Just grab the cleaner under the sink.

Mary: I can’t clean this!

Me: We can clean it together.

Mary: (dumping the bottle of cleaner) I’m sorry! I spilled it all! It was an accident! I know you’re mad I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! Please believe me! Why are you mad? Do you still love me????

Me: (gathering her into a hug) I am going to hug you for 30 full seconds and then we will clean together.

Another example:

Mary: Mom! Why won’t you look at me? You’re mad at me?

Me: I’m just tying my shoe.

Mary: I made that noise you don’t like, didn’t I? I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I’m really sorry, Mommy! Don’t be mad!

Me: Honey I’m happy. Let’s have a happy hug.

Mary: Well what about this noise? How about this one?

And so on and so on. I’ve tried giving her extra attention to make her feel safe. I’ve been giving extra cuddles. Luke and I recorded our voices on a small device that she can play back whenever she needs to. We provide transitional objects. Both Carl and Mary pick out their clothes and  breakfast the night before school (like at a hotel!) so we can spend the mornings connecting.

But still she looks to fight, argue, then apologize. She cowers like I might hit her and cries. She begs fervently for my forgiveness so often I can’t get a word in edgewise. I have to admit something.  She asks me if I’m mad so often that it’s starting to make me mad. My logical brain knows it’s her anxiety and her fear. My tired brain wants a quiet room and some space.

I am supposed to be bigger, stronger, and always safe. My emotional regulation sets the tone for hers. I do show her my emotions but she is so terrified of her own feelings that mine send her into full panic. I won’t engage in her non-arguments. I offer love and support. I hold her until her breathing slows. Then I make her clean up the spills or do her chores or her homework. Because that’s life. I say, “It’s ok to feel your feelings. You can feel them while you take out the trash. I’ll be right here.”

She is testing that limit to see where I break. I know she is. I understand why. That doesn’t stop it from happening.

Out of nowhere:

Mary: “You didn’t love him enough!”

Me: “Who?”

Mary: “Sean.”

I try to explain that we will always love Sean. We respect his choice not to be with our family.  He will always be a part of us.

Mary: “You just should’ve let him quit school! You should have respected his choices when he didn’t want to shower or do his chores. You should have just given him electronics! You wouldn’t just forgive him and let him come home! Just because he did ONE LITTLE THING! He hurt you ONE time, Mommy and your bruises weren’t that big.  Now he’s gone!”

Mic drop.

Immediately she is crying and wailing that she is sorry she said it. She is such a bad kid and she’s so terrible that no one could ever love her. But by now I am crying, too. Uncontrollably and I miss my boy and I cannot stop. My grief hits me like a tidal wave and I am swept away in emotion so strong that I’ll surely drown.

The truth about Sean is very hard for me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I’m still not sure that I can process everything that has happened with him. We tried like hell to love him perfectly and be a good family for him. It was after he left that I saw the lying, manipulation, stealing, and damage he had done. Those were his survival skills.

It doesn’t matter. I miss him still. He’s made it clear he never wanted to see us again. Carl and Mary included. He’s changed so much I wouldn’t recognize the boy I knew. The boy I knew never existed. My logical brain knows this. But my emotional brain keeps dreaming about the son I’ve lost. The illusion of Sean is what I knew. The reality of my own emotions is what I have left.

And so Mary has found my Achilles heal. When I won’t engage in her non-argument she fights back. She’ll drop a comment that sounds as sweet as sugar but cuts deeper than a scalpel. I’ll be driving the car. “No mommy,” she’ll sigh. “You just don’t understand Sean. Sean is sweet.”

“Of course,” I’ll say calmly, “He is a sweet boy.”

I’ll be in the refrigerator. “You just don’t understand him,” she’ll say while ruefully shaking her head. I don’t argue. I won’t engage. I continue whatever it is I’m doing. The more she knows it bothers me, the more she will bring it up. The less reaction she gets, the less she’ll try this non-argument. But it cuts so deep. I plaster an innocuous look on my face while inside I’m bleeding out.

The more I agree we love Sean, the more open I am to discussing him, the more frustrated she becomes.  I wake up one day to find an 8×10 picture of him on the fridge. I offer to frame it for her. I ask if she wants it in her room, but of course she wants it where “everyone can see.” She looks pointedly at me. I nod in a noncommittal way and move on.

She pushes and prods and pokes at my tender spot all week. When I can’t take it anymore I retreat upstairs for a bubble bath. I leave Luke to serve dinner while Sean watches from the fridge. That’s when I realize something. It’s not Mary landing the blows. It’s her trauma pushing her into strong emotions. She doesn’t want to be alone in these feelings. It was Sean’s trauma that led him to do the things he did. It’s my trauma giving me bad dreams about my former son.

After my bath I snuggle up my little girl on the couch. She is wearing her pineapple  nightgown. We snuggle under a huge pineapple blanket her godmother made for her. She needs to know that she is not leaving no matter what she does. She needs to know she is safe in her forever home.  I’m going to love her through her fear. I will love her no matter what kind of fight trauma brings up. After all, someone has to retreat and it won’t be me.

 

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

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adoption, family

Roller Skating and Regulation: Handling the Meltdowns

This is beyond Mary’s ability to tolerate. We’ve been at the roller-skating rink for almost 2 hours and she has not yet  mastered the art of flawless skating. She is also skating in a rink without her parents. We have been meeting her on the sides and encouraging her as she clings to the edges and slides precariously around the floor. There is loud music. There are lots of people. It’s fun, but it’s also a lot of stimulation.

Luke and I have taken Mary and Carl out with  their godmother and her two stepsons. The 4 kids are a regular crew of pals and enjoy spending time together. We want to celebrate finishing the first week back to school, including me. Normally, I would put on skates and get out there. After my recent surgery, however, I have to be very careful not to fall. Instead I try to content myself with watching from the sidelines like the other grown-ups.

After about an hour of falling and then determinedly righting himself, Carl has the hang of this. He is still unsteady, but for the most part he is skating with purpose. He is on his skates more than he is on the ground. We cheer and clap for his persistence.  We cheer for more than just skating. This week is full of accomplishments for Carl. He has started 5th grade. He is trying his best on his football team, even though he is with older kids now. He is working hard at school, even though he misses us when summer ends. He is trying hard in therapy  even though that’s just plain hard all around. In short, he is persevering no matter the difficulty of the task. His hard work is paying off.

Traditionally, the start of the school year is hard. It’s a very big transition. The kids are spending less time with us and more time in school. As a teacher, I enjoy summers with my children and then return to work a few days before they return to school. This year is hard because I’ve been home with a back injury for some time now. The kids get nervous when they don’t exactly know where I am during the day. They wish I would just stay at home where they leave me. In their experience, mothers are a slippery thing to keep ahold of.

In addition, I have to go to physical therapy 3 times a week after work. Then the children have sports. Don’t get me wrong, they love to be on teams and it’s been good for them. It’s just that we normally have more time to connect after school and before football/cheerleading activities. Carl has come up with a solution. He asks to go to PT with me. He puts on his football pads and loads his gear into the car. As the therapist works on my back, he drapes himself over my head in an awkward, yet endearing, snuggle of sorts. Then, when I do my exercises, he performs them side-by-side with me.

It hasn’t been as easy for Mary. I try to lie down with her for a bit at night. We whisper and giggle in the dark. I spend time snuggling with her on the couch after she showers in the evenings. It’s never enough. She’s been like a colander this week. Every time I try to fill her up with love it just all leaks out and she is never fulfilled. She has become louder, more upset, more persistent, and more antagonistic of Carl. In these ways she seeks attention.  From time to time she throws hurtful words my way. I’m guessing that she is merely seeking the attention an argument will bring. Seeking to find out if I care enough to be wounded. I won’t argue with her, and I’m not mad. Just concerned.

So here we are at the rink. I’m taking pictures of the boys skating and Luke is on the other side with Mary. I don’t see my cell phone buzzing. I don’t realize that my husband is texting me an SOS. Mary is smacking the side of the rink with her fists and spewing vitriol at Luke, and everyone unlucky enough to be near.

“This is stupid!” she screams. Her face turns red and blotchy and her breathing gets shallow when she is angry like this.

“I hate this stupid place and all these stupid people! These skates are stupid! You have to come in here with me! Right now!!”

“Stop looking at me! LEAVE ME ALONE! LEAVE ME ALLOOOONNNNE!!!!!”

Someone else is clinging to the side nearby. She shoots him a look filled with daggers and screams, “Well if HE won’t move then I guess I’ll be stuck here FOREVER!! STUPID!!!”

Of course the man moves and my husband mutters a “Thank you.” This isn’t the first time we’ve gone down the path of Mary’s “big feelings.” Obviously we don’t want her pounding on things and screaming at strangers, but parenting a kid with trauma is a process. This has actually gotten a lot better over the years. At this point, Luke and I know how to handle the situation. Her anger is really a form of fear. We are fairly seasoned therapeutic parents.

When she is finished screaming and pounding her fists on the divider, she puts her head in her arms and cries. After a few minutes Luke is able to coax her out of the rink and she makes her way across the room to me. She is sobbing out-of-control and cannot catch her breath. It comes in huge, hiccupping hitches and her body shakes. When I see what is happening I gather her into my chest and squeeze. She collapses against me like a ragdoll and her words all come spilling out. She feels stupid. She is embarrassed that she isn’t good at skating. She didn’t get to spend enough time with anyone today. She fears that all of the people in the place have been laughing at her. All day.

Mary is afraid she has blown her only shot to see her friends and her godmother ever again. Ever. All because she is awful and stupid at skating. Also she is awful and stupid for yelling at Daddy. She believes that she has ruined the day with her stupid big feelings and now it will be over. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Only, that isn’t at all true. She is brilliant. She has managed to hold on to her “big feelings,” and express them with her words. She has come to me for regulation when she was unable to regulate on her own. She hasn’t hurt anyone, hurt herself, or broken anything. She is coping. Amazing.

As I hold her chest against my own, we take deep breaths together. She shoves her face directly into my sternum and inhales. Instantly she is able to match her breathing to my own and we stay this way for a few minutes, just inhaling and exhaling. Finally she is calm. “Did I ruin it, Mommy?” She asks. “Did I ruin the playdate?”

“No, honey,” I tell her. “We are going to practice our coping skills until you’re calm again. Then we are going home with our friends for pizza. You’re doing a great job coping with your feelings.”

“Can I handle that?” she ventures.

“Yes,” I reply confidently. “I know that you can. And if not? I’m here.”

As her sniffles taper off, she looks up at me. “How do you always know what to do?” she asks. Despite the stupid place and the stupid skates, I am wise. I know the answer. My reply is simple,”That’s easy. Because I’m your mom.”

 

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

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