adoption, family

When the Lights Go Out

BANG BANG BANG!!!

I am awoken by a loud sound. In a state of confusion I try to get my bearings. Where am I? What is happening? The darkness is absolute. My white noise machine has gone quiet.

BANG BANG BANG!!!

The urgent, insistent pounding is coming from the walls. In a sudden surge the white noise machine comes to life. It’s babbling brook sound battles the banging from below. Various electronics resume their small glow.

I realize with a start that the power must have gone out. The wind is howling around our little house in the forrest. Carl is signaling for us. He is afraid of being alone. He is afraid of bedtime. He is terrified of the dark.

BANG BANG BANG!!!

Adeline surges through me and I race out of bed and down the stairs to Carl. My back burns with the effort and sharp pains shoot down my right leg. In my bewildered state I’ve forgotten my back injury. My spine reminds me now.

When I get to Carl, he is wrapped tightly in one of his blankets (He has about twenty.) His appears tiny all huddled up in a corner. The horse-sized bull mastiff and her friend the fat cat aren’t enough to make him feel safe. My twelve-year-old, in this moment, looks to me as if he’s still eight. I realize I’ve been rescuing him from the darkness for four years.

After hugs and water he’s ready to get back into bed with his dog and cat. The power is restored. His one million nightlights are back on. His own white noise machine is happily babbling away once more.

Carl just needed to see me. He needed to know one of us would come for him. He needed to know his parents were still there.

Someday I hope he’ll learn that we always will be. Even in the dark. Even when the lights go out.

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

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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 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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adoption, family

Kidnapping the Kid

Carl and I needed a day off. We needed a break from being at home, being around the Marcus-drama, and being swamped with responsibilities. Frankly, I also needed a parenting “win.” Out of all the children, Carl is the one I feel like I can really get through to. Connecting with me is somehow easier for him and, consequently, very rewarding for me.

He’s been having a hard time at home. Bursts of anger and tantrums we haven’t seen for a long time have come out. School is going well for Carl right now, and that’s a huge plus. However, he is showing fear about the bathroom and about bedtime again. Luke and I did the normal rounds with therapy and the psychiatrist.

Still, I felt like he could use a little one-on-one time to connect. Sunday was a perfect day, with low humidity (less back pain) and sunshine aplenty. So I surprised him with a trip to the zoo, just the two of us. Luke was working and Marcus was locked in his room, not speaking to anyone. It was time for some fun.

Carl absolutely loves animals so the trip was a hit. We saw zebras and elephants and giraffes. We learned about the zoo’s efforts to rescue animals that had been domesticated for unsavory purposes. Carl didn’t even mind my plentiful use of the benches. He just took off to see an exhibit, then reported back to me.

At 12, I feel his childhood slipping away. I try to grasp onto it while I still can. He’s almost my height now and he has a tiny mustache (which he completely denies!) On days like this I can still get him to begrudgingly let me kiss his cheeks or give him “squishes.”

It goes like this:

Me: Just let me kiss those adorable cheeks. Please please please please please!

Carl: (eye-roll) I don’t want to!

Me: But I’ll buy you that sweatshirt you want at the gift shop. Just two more kisses!!!

Bystanders: (lots of horrified stares)

By now I’m used to people staring at Carl and me when we are out. We certainly don’t look related. Out of our entire family I have the lightest skin and he has the darkest. It can lead to awkward exchanges explaining adoption. Sometimes people ask if I’m his tutor or his babysitter.

I sort of realized belatedly (read: when Carl told me) that the zoo patrons were under this very same impression. Only this time it seemed wildly inappropriate. They must have been thinking something along the lines of:

“What a pervy babysitter. Where are that boys parents?”

“Does he know the creepy lady that’s offering to buy him things if he lets her kiss his cheek?”

“Did that crazy white lady kidnap that poor Hispanic boy?!?!!”

Luckily we left before the police or park security showed up. Whew! I still got my parenting win.

I swear I didn’t kidnap him! No really, he’s my son!!

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

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family, parenting

Why We Fight

This is why we fight for our children. We fight for a better world. My readers may remember the challenges that Carl was facing in middle school. There were children calling him a “taco.” They called him “brownie.” They threatened to send him “back over the wall” to Mexico.

Carl was bewildered. “But I’m Puerto Rican!” he kept saying. “I was born in Massachusetts!”

My husband and I went to administration. We asked if these children could be educated about racial slurs, racism, and the impacts of their insensitivity. Since the Vice Principal didn’t really understand the impact of the bullying (you can read about it here) we went to the Superintendent. In our state there are bullying laws, so we requested an investigation.

The director of pupil services got involved. The investigation substantiated that bullying had, in fact, occurred. A plan was developed to educate students about racism in every class. One was developed for the students involved in the bullying.

Another plan was made to educate administration about racism and cultural sensitivity. Trust me, they needed it. I was initially told that the VP would be educating staff about racism at an upcoming faculty meeting. Umm…no. He is not qualified.

After I explained to the director of pupil services why he was unqualified, she agreed to provide specific training for him. Our state’s leading school climate specialist is coming out to hopefully help him further. In fact, he’s also had 4 days out-of-school training. I hope it helps. Education is the only way to fight ignorance.

Two children continued harassment after the investigation took place. Everyone else stopped immediately after being educated about the impact of their words. One of the children continuing to bully is a white kid who believes what he says. He has been hearing these statements somewhere. The other kid is, sadly, part Mexican. He’s also scared to let anyone know. So he passes for white and targets my darker skinned son. This is fear, plain and simple. It is a little boy’s fear hiding behind a light-skinned face, hoping he won’t be discovered.

All I can say is that administration is handling the matter. The school setting needs to be a safe place for children of color. Changes are now occurring because my husband and I fought for our son.

Carl came home the other day and said he’d had a great week. He asked to visit a friend this weekend. He seems to be doing better. So this is why. He is the reason we fight.

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

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adoption, family

My Son is Not Your “Mexican Taco”


My 12-year-old son is not a “mexican taco,” and he is not going to be “deported back over the wall.” Unfortunately, some of the children in his middle school would disagree. In particular, a group of 8th grade boys that enjoy teasing my 6th grader during morning breakfast. Carl is one of the few Puerto Rican children in our town.

And then there was the boy on his football team who called him “n—er” after Carl tackled him in practice. Our son is a great linebacker and he always makes his tackle. He keeps pushing long after others have quit. Carl is an absolute football star. So when someone is upset in practice? They say the one thing they (think they can) can say about him. Middle school kids will pick out that one difference and exploit it.

My son is left with nightmares, headaches, and developing school-avoidant behaviors. Additionally, he has been acting out in school. For a child with C-PTSD, feeling unsafe triggers a fight/flight response. Our son is a fighter. He fights with lockers. He tries to be the class clown. He runs out of class. In short, Carl tries to be known for anything other than his brownness.

How on earth do I handle something like this? I’m a white mom raising hispanic kids in a mostly white town. In all honesty I can never really understand. I will never really know what this feels like. But I can tell you what it feels like to pick up my sobbing son after practice. It fills me with a fiery rage at the ignorant parents of these ignorant kids.

My husband and I complained to the middle school. We requested a full investigation. The following is the vice principal’s response:

VP: Well when I asked Carl about this he said it doesn’t bother him. The other children say he told them it was OK to call him “taco.” They admitted to saying some things but he told them it was OK.

Me: ……?!?!

VP: You know, this is Carl’s responsibility. If he feels uncomfortable with these comments then we would expect him to tell the other children why this makes him uncomfortable. Especially at this age.

Me: Excuse me? It is not the job of one of the few hispanic children in the school to educate the white children how to behave. This would be the job of the educators such as yourself!!!!

VP: Well then we would expect him to tell a trusted adult. He could have come to me, especially if this has been going on for months.

Me: You and I may consider you to be a “trusted adult.” But why would a 12-year-old assume that a white man would understand this problem and take it seriously? In fact, I don’t think you are taking it seriously at all.

VP: Well Carl has been saying mean things as well. It’s not just the other children picking on him. When boy X called him a “taco” his reply was, “Well at least my parents aren’t cousins!”

Me: (Using every ounce of self-control not to retort, “Well ARE they cousins?!”) Did he use a racial slur?

VP: No

Me: OK then. This matter is about racism. It is about a pervasive racial bias in the school climate. What are you going to do to educate these students about racism and racial slurs? In what ways are you attempting to educate staff such as yourself?

VP: This isn’t about racism. It is about respect. It is about respect from all sides.

Me: No. It is about addressing racist remarks and educating kids about racism and racial slurs.

VP: Well one of the boys making comments actually has some ethnicity in his background.

Me: Umm….?!?@%?@??? Yes I am aware. The boys is half Mexican and he is terrified to come-out as such to the other students. It is a school climate problem when you have a secretly Mexican child who feels the need to hide.

VP: Well I have to worry about all the students. Respect is my concern. Racism is only a part of it.

Me: I need to hear you say you will address racism.

VP: As a part of it, yes, we will address racism.

We went around like this for about 45 minutes. He believes that Carl’s own behavior is bringing this on himself. I asked him if women who are raped are “asking for it” based on what they are wearing. He had no comment other than to reiterate Carl should be directly telling the older boys to stop. I asked if girls who were the victims of sexual harassment were expected to immediately stand up to the aggressor lest it be “their fault.” He said he absolutely expected them to do so.

I. Have. No. Words.

Oh wait–yes I do have some words. I have enough to write this blog post. Then I have some leftover to bring to a meeting we are having involving the entire school team. I requested the d**n meeting and invited the superintendent, principal, and VP. No way, no how is this going to fly. I have enough words to tell them in tomorrow’s meeting they are violating state laws regarding our son’s civil rights. And I WILL file a complaint with the state department of education if this matter is not resolved.

I will always fight for my son. Do NOT cross this mama-bear. I may never have experienced this, it’s true. Only my Puerto Rican husband can truly (sadly) relate to this treatment. I never will experience it first hand. But I will do my best to ensure that my son doesn’t experience it either. I may not be able to protect him from the whole world. But so help me I will protect him from ignorant administrators!

 https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

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

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adoption, family

Making Room for Bio Family 


The game of bananagrams is like Scrabble in the way that you make words out of letter tiles. It is unlike Scrabble in the way that each player is going as fast as they can, at the same time. Players are rearranging words to fit the new letter tiles they grab every time someone calls “peel!”

You start with 12 tiles. When you’ve connected all of them into words you can call a “peel” and everyone must add one additional letter tile into a word. You often have to break apart words you’ve already made and create something new.

Adopting our siblings was much like the beginning part of the game. We started with a bunch of unconnected letters and put them all together into a pattern that became “family.” Things don’t stay the same, though. When the two oldest disrupted and left for greener pastures, we rearranged our words once more into a new pattern. When my parents moved from Missouri to Connecticut to be with us, we added to our pattern.

Carl turned 12 last week. He wanted a few things. He asked for the usual things: Pokémon cards, Star Wars action figures, a card game called Phase 10 etc. Then he asked for something else. He wanted his biological father to come to his football game. I’m not sure if it was because he was a starter this year or because Bio Dad’s birthday card reminded him. Either way, it was his choice, and I was determined to make it happen, if I could.

A few days prior I had messaged Bio Dad on Facebook to remind him about Carl’s 12th birthday. BD forgets the birthdays unless I remind him. I think it’s more indicative of not living with the children, or having difficulties with organization than anything else. As soon as I remind him he sends a beautiful card and some money for Carl. The card says, “I hope you enjoy this day with your family.” Every card he sends reminds the children that he will always love them.

When I ask if he and his wife would be willing to make the one-and-a-half hour drive to attend the game, he immediately agrees. I give him the address to come to our tiny town with historic brick walkways and towering green forests. I’m hoping it looks nice and not boring compared to the city BD’s family lives in. After all, our “downtown” consists of only one street, albeit one with historical New England charm.

The game itself goes better than I could have imagined. It’s a close game, and we are up by one point until the fourth quarter, when the other team gets a touchdown and wins. BD comes with his new wife and a son he has from a different relationship named E. Luke is the volunteer EMT, sitting inside the fence, directly on the field. Marcus sits with him because he cannot stand Mary and Carl’s BD.

This leaves me in the stands with BD, new wife, and Little E. Eventually my mom comes to watch the second half. We all sit together. We all cheer together. I explain some of the plays (poorly.) Every time Carl’s name is announced on the loudspeaker all 7 of us go wild. He has the biggest cheering squad of anyone here.

The day is remarkably pleasant. Some of the interaction is strained but not nearly as much as I had assumed. They love the game. They love the town. Marcus and BD do not interact and therefore no one is required to break up a fight. BD and family compliment our little town and tell us they took pictures everywhere. I point out where Carl goes to school so they can see this too.

At one point I actually hit BD in the arm. Well it’s more of a back handed smack on his arm. Ok more of a series of rapid back-handed smacks on his arm. It isn’t my fault! I was so excited about a tackle that Carl made! I was overexcited and cheering and it just happened. Luckily he just laughed it off. I mean, what is the worst thing I could do in this situation? Hitting is definitely in the top 5 of things you should NOT do to your child’s biological family.

After the game Carl is studious about hugging every person who came to see him. He glows with pride over our compliments. Even though the team lost, he played very well. I leave Luke to handle the visit, exchange of presents, and good-byes. It’s time to drive Marcus back to his girlfriend’s apartment. The one she loves in with her mother, who is also Little E’s mother. BD seems unaware that Little E and Marcus live together. He asked me if Marcus lives with us. To make matters worse, Marcus’ BD and this BD do not get along either and Marcus is back in contact with his BD. Throughout the game, Little E kept giving me details about Marcus like his age and favorite color. Awkward.

Needless to say, I hasten our exit. I know how aggressive Marcus can be when he is angry with someone. The next night my Facebook messenger is flooded with pictures. BD has sent me baby pictures of Mary and Carl. Some alone, some with him, and some with Bio Mom. This is a treasure trove of items we have never been able to give them. I am overwhelmed with gratitude. BD did not give his children up willingly. But BD is forging this new relationship willingly. I am beyond grateful.

I’m pretty sure this contact means Carl is rearranging the pattern of his family. He is adding new tiles and fitting them in where he can. I don’t know where things will go from here. Two successful visits make me feel optimistic.

 

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

 

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