adoption, family

Second Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t think she recognizes me from 2014.

“It’s ok,” I say. “I’ll be here.”

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

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

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

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

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

Well now that we’ve cleared that up…

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

This is my chance to get it right.

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

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family

All the Honors

When our children were still in foster care we began the process with a “disclosure meeting.” In this meeting the social workers gave us all the information they had about our children. Many people put a lot of stock in these meetings. Personally, I don’t. The system won’t know everything about your children. Lots of trauma gets “disclosed” by the children themselves once they have a safe and stable family.

Anyway, we knew Carl received Special Education services. He had an IEP and we got to see it. As a special education teacher I combed through the evaluations for information. I felt that we could surely help him. The IEP was for an emotional disturbance but he lagged in academics. He was ending the second grade at a Kindergarten reading level.

Honestly, this was all quite understandable. His level of trauma was compounded by the grief of being separated from his mother. Add to that the fact that his bio family did not enroll him in Kindergarten until he was 6 years old. In first grade he missed over 80 days of school by Springtime. The kid had a lot to overcome.

In the beginning we were working so hard on our children’s emotional wellbeing, everything else fell to the wayside. Luke and I battled their trauma, soothed their fears and weathered their rages. In between I worked with Carl so that he could learn to read.

He’s come a long way in five years. Today, Carl doesn’t need an IEP anymore. He doesn’t receive any special services. He’s flourishing at his grade level. I can’t tell you how proud he is of himself.

This school year he’s made honor roll every semester. He’s going for high honors in the upcoming term. Every time Carl shows us a test or paper he’s aced, he glows. He’s so proud of himself.

We are proud, too. He gets the honor roll while we get all of the real honor. After all, we get to be his parents!

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

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family

Fruit Fight!

Recently Carl was arguing with Luke about snacks. He really wanted something unreasonable like popcorn dipped in frosting or Doritos in ice cream. Who knows. Luke was trying to convince him to eat fruit. It went like this:

Carl: Can I have–

Luke: Fruit?

Carl: No, I want–

Luke: Fruit?

Carl: Dad! Listen! I want to eat–

Luke: Fruit?

Carl (exasperated) NO! Listen to me!! Can I please just talk?

Luke: Fruit?

Carl: Aaarg!! Let me say one word!!!

Luke: OK. (Looks expectantly at Carl)

Carl: FRUIT!! (Looks shocked, slaps forehead)

Poor little guy has fruit on his brain now!!

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

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adoption, family

I Missed Open House…Again

I seriously, honestly, for real, no excuses planned to go to Carl’s open house this year. It’s a great opportunity to meet your child’s teachers and see their work. I didn’t make it last year. I’m pretty sure it’s because Open House conflicted with one of Mary’s visits.

This year I had it circled on the calendar. My best laid plans were derailed when Luke needed surgery. I still thought I could go if my parents could just drop Carl off at football practice, I could pick him up after the open house. In my imagination Luke went home to bed and slept without my help for a few hours. Since Luke needed to be in at 7:00AM the day of the surgery I was sure I’d be home for the 6:00PM open house. Wrong!

I didn’t make it. We got home around 7:00PM. Luke was completely blind and in pain. He needed me to take care of him the way he’s taken care of all of us a hundred times before. So I skipped Open House. Again.

Carl has two band events coming up that I can’t make, either. Worse, he can’t go because there are a lot of moving parts and tight schedules around my surgery. It really stinks. When we started the adoption process I didn’t see myself this way.

In my before-mommy strategies I saw myself at all of the PTA meetings and school events. I thought we’d go to all the outings put on by the foster care association. I’d volunteer for things. I’m a teacher so I assumed I’d be involved in all the school things.

Reality was different. I hope we didn’t let these guys down. I think it’s OK, though. Maybe I didn’t make it to every school function. Maybe I didn’t get to every sporting event. But I did other things. Luke and I sort of triaged what the kids needed at any moment. He’d take Marcus to another court appearance while I took Mary to another therapy appointment. Luke and I haven’t ever missed a week visiting Mary. We’ve never missed a PPT or a treatment meeting.

I manage to be there at the times my kids need me but maybe not all of the times both of us would like. Last night Carl was up on three separate occasions in the night. Sunday nights are difficult for him. I think he experiences anxiety about starting the school week again. The first time he woke up he was stressed out that Luke (in the shower) had left or decided not to wish him goodnight. Our kids are always freaked out about people potentially disappearing from the bathroom.

The second time Carl woke me up to ask for help. He was holding a wad of tissues to his nose and dripping red blood down the front of his shirt. A bloody nose had awoken him to a crime-scene worthy amount of blood on his sheets and pillow. He was understandably panicked.

I stripped the bed, and tossed the soiled sheets and jammies in the washing machine sanitary cycle. I cleaned up Carl, and put fresh sheets on his bed because he was shaking too badly to do it. Once he was calm we tracked down and plugged in his humidifier.

The third time Carl woke me up by banging against the wall in an urgent call for help. The insistent BANG BANG BANG(!!!) pulled me out of a deep sleep and right to my feet. When I got to Carl’s room he was hidden under a mountain of blankets, stuffies, and our 109 lb therapy dog.

He poked his head out and tearfully told me that the power had flickered. To Carl this automatically means the power will go out which he places right next to “terrorist attack” and “nuclear bomb detonation” on his fear scale. He needed a battery powered nightlight. He was frozen in terror at the thought of being alone in the dark.

Even at 13, my teenager needs me to chase away the nightmares. So here I am. I didn’t make it to the open house (again) this year but that’s probably OK. I show up when it counts.

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

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adoption, family

The Storm Has Passed

I wonder if 13 is a fun age for mothers to enjoy their sons. Carl is less than a month away from turning 13 and so far we’ve been having a blast. Springtime is his annual storm of violence and rage. Thank goodness that season has passed.

I remember a similar phenomenon when Mary was 8. She was finally stable on medication. Her violent rages were gone. We went everywhere together and just enjoyed life. Shopping trips, singling along to Taylor Swift in the car, and sharing little jokes comprised our days.

At this time, Mary was really interested in whatever I was interested in. Rather than playing “school” over and over until exhaustion, she wanted to accompany me to set up my actual classroom.

Carl and I now seem to be hitting the same stride. With summer came an end to his emotional storm. Springtime brings out his fiercest trauma-related behaviors. Summer seems to bring calmer, more rational, times. His age brings out a new set of unexpected bonuses.

For the last two weeks we’ve been taking some time to hang out. We’ve been to the local lake. He’s started to watch more interesting PG-13 shows and movies. I’m finally able to bid Spongebob Squarepants adieu!

I think part of this happy period is that Carl can separate from me a bit. Generally, he can be very anxious as to my whereabouts in the house. I’ll often find him sitting right outside the door when I exit the bathroom. If he looks up and doesn’t see me he will shout a panicked, “Ma-ma? Ma-ma??? MA-MAAAA!!!” much like a toddler. It can all get a bit overwhelming.

At almost 13, he now wants to spend some time with his friends. They don’t necessarily think it’s cool for Carl’s mom to join in the Pokémon game every time. His poor friends don’t have to wait on playing with the matchbox cars while I finish dinner. Gone are the days where Carl says, “Wait for my mom. She has to be the yellow car!”

Not having to participate actively in all of his social interactions is freeing. As a mom, I’m supposed to want to spend every second with my child. I don’t. I enjoy alone time to pursue my own interests. Carl’s doing just fine navigating on his own. This gives me a bit of much needed breathing room.

Football season has started again. Unlike last year, Carl is able to accept that I’m not going to sit and observe a two hour practice each night. He isn’t so scared to be without me. I get to shop, grab a coffee, or catch up on some reading. A bit of me-time makes it easier to be a calm and happy mom.

Oddly enough, Carl seems to have entered the stage where he’s interested in what I’m interested in. I like reading horror novels, so he wants to explore the genre. I bought him a few of the young adult R.L. Stine books to start with. I don’t actually want him to be too scared. I like to read the news app on my phone, so he regales me with the news alerts that pop up on his tablet.

I’ve been watching “Once Upon a Time” on Netflix this week. It’s the ultimate girly-show. Carl has started to watch with me. He asks a lot of questions because he doesn’t know any of the fairytales referenced. Before adoption, his early childhood consisted of “Chucky” movies rather than books.

As we watch he’ll say, “Does everyone know about Excalibur? Who is the girl in the red hood that brings things to her granny? Why do they keep mentioning a glass slipper? How do people know this???” It gives me an opportunity to tell some of the stories he might not be otherwise interested in. I can catch him up on a bit of what he missed in his younger years.

When I make a cup of coffee in the morning he’ll sometimes brew himself a decaf one. He’ll sit and watch the morning news with me and share his thoughts on the topics.

Don’t get me wrong, I like playing matchbox cars as much as the next mom. It’s just sometimes fun to do more “grownup” things!

The most important thing is that Carl isn’t acting out violently right now. This soothes some of my own anxiety and PTSD symptoms. I’m not sure what adolescence has in store for us.

All I can say is that I am really enjoying this part.

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

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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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