adoption

Scars and Secrets: Memories of Child Abuse

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They kept so many secrets in foster care. So many. My son has three tiny round scars on his top left shoulder. They have spread apart and faded as he has grown and his shoulders have broadened. Those scars are not his fault. They are from the metal end of a belt buckle. He was beaten with it in his biological home by “everyone,” he says. His biological mother, his biological father, and many other men that passed through the house.

When his skin browns deeper in the summer sun, they stare at me in accusation. I wasn’t there to protect him. In the winter months they are easier to overlook. Easier to lose sight of, at least for me. Carl never forgets.

Other memories he has of his biological parents are fun. His biological father let him steer the car while driving drunk. Bio-dad had Carl “help” when he worked on cars. He bought Carl little toy Hot Wheels for a collection.  Once, when their biological father was drunk and left a $100 bill under Mary’s pillow for the toothfairy.

But Carl was left alone a lot. When his biological parents were drunk or high, they often left 5-year-old Carl to care for his younger sister, Mary. They would find their own food  in the cabinets while their mother slept and the older kids went to school. Soon after Bio-Dad left, a string of men were in and out of the house. When Bio-Mom wasn’t high and sleeping, locked in her room, she was drinking and partying with anyone and everyone.

These are stories that I have heard from our children and their older biological siblings. Obviously, I wasn’t there, but I believe my kids. I believe their siblings. I know these things happened. Yet, I also know that their Bio-Dad loves these children and his feelings for them are real. Once we started contact with their biological father, things changed a bit.

Our littles both got cards and pictures from Bio-Dad for Christmas. Mary got a birthday card. He promised to send Carl a birthday card as well, only if I told him when Carl’s birthday was. We have decided to let the kids respond if they want to.I continue to send updates and photos.

Carl looked at Bio-Dad’s Christmas card, tossed it aside, and continued playing a card game with Luke. Later on he put it under the coffee table and hasn’t looked at it since then. Mary kept both of her cards in a memory box and seemed really happy to have gotten them.

But their views are very different. Carl remembers being beaten. He remembers more because he is older. Mary was younger. Most of what she remembers came from the many boyfriends mom had after bio-dad. The difficult part with having siblings adopted from the same traumatic background, is that they hold different memories.

Mary has begun insisting that their Bio-Dad never hurt them, it was only their bio-mom. She has begun to build up this fantasy around him (similar to what I did when I was younger.) Both children got into an argument about their bio-dad the other day. Mary insisted he never hurt her, so whatever Carl did must have gotten him hit. His face crumbled as she implied that the abuse was somehow his fault. I corrected her immediately and ended the conversation.

I spoke to them each separately about how different the things they might remember are. Everyone sees things from their own viewpoint. I stressed to Mary that she must never, ever, ever invalidate her brother’s feelings.

With Carl I explained that his memories were his and all of his feelings were OK. He and Mary might feel differently, but she will not be allowed to invalidate his experience. No one should ever be abused physically. It was never Carl’s fault. Bio-dad probably just had no idea what to do as a parent.

Later at dinner that night, Mary started counting all of the “moms” she had. She came up with 4 or 5. Carl scoffed at her and said, “Well I only have one mom!” His feelings may change on the subject but for now he refuses to contact Bio-Dad. That’s OK.

Beyond that, it is up to them if they decide to write to their Bio-Dad. So far, neither one has. I’ve put a moratorium on discussing their bio-home together until we get to the therapist’s office. Until that time they can talk to Mom or Dad alone about their first parents. Good and bad memories are OK. Mixed feelings are OK. Love and anger are OK, even at the same time.

I will continue to casually mention that sending a letter or picture would be nice, but the contact is up to them. So far I haven’t gotten any takers, but I am determined to leave that door open and respect my children’s wishes. Only time will tell what happens next.

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Mary happy with Daddy Luke

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

 

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family

One Step Closer to Biology

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It always strikes me as peculiar to refer to “our children” when I’m speaking to a man who is not my husband. Well I’m actually messaging via Facebook, to be more specific. I’m nervous, it’s awkward, and he hasn’t legally been “dad,” to our Chickens since October of 2014.

I’ve made contact with our children’s biological father. Or first father, depending on how you look at it. He was in and out of their lives for the first few years so he contributed more than biology.

Some of his contributions were great. Our son builds robots and toy cars and can build things from scratch just by figuring out the pieces. He gets this from his bio-dad, who fixes cars. They used to “work” on cars together when Carl was 3 or 4.

Some of his contributions were harmful and it’s hard to say how much came from him and how much came from the many men in and out of their biological home. Our children are still afraid of the smell of beer. They still cringe a little when my husband removes his belt too quickly.

I am surprised by how gracious he is to me. How nice. He thanks me and my husband for taking care of the children. He wants to know how they are. He has looked at and “liked” every picture of them on the closed Facebook page I created. This isn’t a man who doesn’t care. He’s missed the children and he wants to see them, but he agrees it would be better for them and for him to start slowly.

He gives us his home address under the condition that we not share it with the Department of Children and Families. He agrees to send us pictures of himself and one of his other sons through the mail. He doesn’t mention the other children I know he has.

I want to ask a million questions:

  • Do you remember their first words?
  • How old were they when they took their first steps?
  • Where does Mary get her blonde hair from? Does it come from your side of the family?
  • How was bio-mom’s mental health? Did she sometimes hear voices speaking to her? Is there a diagnosis we aren’t aware of?
  • Is there a history of mental illness on either side of the family?
  • Did you ever get all of the pictures we left for you at the DCF office?
  • Do you or Bio-mom sing? Both children are musically inclined. Mary sings and Carl plays the trumpet.
  • Was Bio-mom sober during pregnancy?

I want to ask these things but I don’t. Not Yet. Instead, I mail out a package of 3 years worth of school pictures, sports pictures, and refrigerator magnets with our children’s faces on them. I send him everything that we saved for him. It’s a step. I’m not sure where this road will lead, but it’s a step.

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

 

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adoption, family

Down the Rabbit Hole: In Search of My Emotions

My grief has taken some strange twists and turns this past week. I feel like Alice chasing the white rabbit down a winding and elusive hole. It feels like I am falling and I have no idea where I will land.

My father’s death has brought up some strange reactions in me.  We weren’t exactly estranged. Our relationship was more like a distant veneer than the messy truth of human connections. When I remember simpler times from my childhood, I miss him. Many times, though, I forget about his death. It simply becomes lost in all the minutiae of the day. I’ll be fixing lunches, brushing my daughter’s hair, or matching socks from the laundry when I suddenly remember. Who forgets a parent’s death in a week? What kind of a person does this make me?

Other times I am bombarded with confusing and seemingly unrelated feelings. At my son’s football practice last night I got caught up watching the older team of kids. Adolescent boys (and one girl) grumbled and groaned and generally proclaimed their angst to their coach. They were made to run extra laps because of their argumentative nature. Two of them commiserated together in a sweaty huddle after the practice. As I watched these teenagers doing what teens do best, I felt an almost palpable kick to the stomach.

In that moment my longing for my teenage boys sucked the breath right out of my lungs. I missed them with a startling ferocity that unnerved me. All of the sudden I was reminded of washing sweaty practice clothes for Marcus. I could almost hear Sean whining and complaining about wanting chinese food for dinner. I was thinking of my foster sons. The foster sons I had hoped to adopt. One of the boys on the field started teasing his mother with that cracking adolescent voice so common for boys in the throes of puberty. That sound can be like nails on a chalkboard. It’s awful. And I missed it so badly!

With utter astonishment I realized that I had begun to cry behind my oversized sunglasses. I was staring at this mother-son interaction and crying for the boys I had lost. What was wrong with me? They moved out a year ago. They were long gone. It’s a loss I thought I had come to terms with months ago.

And the loss of my father? It is somehow eclipsed by this improbable longing for boys that gleefully tortured me and trampled my heart. Boys who itched to shed the uncomfortable skin of “family,” and try things on their own. Boys I thought I’d long since let go of.

Where is my traditional grief? Where are the tears for the parent I’ve lost? I’ve shed some, of course. But shouldn’t there be more? Where are the feelings I just cannot access? Am I so cold-hearted that they don’t exist? Are my emotions so confused that I am grieving the wrong person? Are my true feelings so far down the rabbit hole that they are lost in Wonderland?

 

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

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