family

Not This Time: Mood Disorder Warrior

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Sometimes I just know that I can do this. I am feeling the super-powers of being “mom” to some very traumatized children. I try to hold on to these feelings because, let’s be honest, every parent feels woefully inadequate at times. It doesn’t matter if you’re a trauma-mama or the parent of a perfectly behaved honor roll student. We all question ourselves.

Our little family has once again been faced with some big challenges. My back injury has returned. The disc that was operated on has re-herniated. I am out of work, on a heating pad, and just trying to manage my pain. In addition, Mary’s emotional cycle is on the uptick. This time she is in her happy place. Unfortunately, for Mary, that means that she is louder, laughs longer, and becomes wildly impulsive. She is in a manic state.  Eventually, her laughing  ends up as screaming. Then she cries and falls asleep.

Her emotions come before her thoughts. They precede any kind of cognition and she is left scrambling to figure out why she is feeling whatever emotion has taken over. It’s like she’s been hijacked by a feeling and can’t regain control of the car. When Mary cannot control her feelings, or her body, she is scared of herself. I get that. I can’t control the pain and/or function of my own body right now. All of us feel more comfortable when we are in the driver’s seat.

This time, Mary is able to verbalize if she feels unsafe. She tells me that she is afraid she will be hospitalized again. Mary can name her feelings and rate them on a scale of 1-10. She can ask for help. Mary is proficient on coping skill strategies to help her. I am so proud of her ability to handle this mood disorder that life has handed her.

She has been having intrusive thoughts about hurting me. To be clear, Mary hasn’t been hospitalized in almost 2 years. She hasn’t been physically violent with me since then, either. Mary is well-managed with a combination of therapy and medication.  But emotion this big does not know logic. Mary is terrified of the intrusive thoughts she is having. These thoughts tell her that she is going to hurt her mother. These thoughts tell her what the other girls on her cheerleading team are thinking about her. These thoughts are telling her, “I know where you live.”

While Mary is flying high in her manic phase, I am lying low. Literally. I am lying down on a heating pad or an ice pack. I am arranging lumbar support in the strangest sitting positions you’ve ever seen. I am feeling sharp, fiery, electric shocks down my right leg. That right leg isn’t working as well as it once did. I can’t drive at the moment. I can’t go to work. But I can still parent my daughter. I can be there to listen to her needs.

Mary is scared. But she isn’t alone. She is reaching out. She is asking for help.She can do this.  She is a little 10-year-old warrior who inspires me to face my own fears every day! Luckily, we have an amazing trauma therapist who is always there for us. We have a full sensory-diet plan to help her at home. Our state has a mobile crisis team that can send out a therapist when Mary says she is having suicidal thoughts. Her psychiatrist is adjusting her medication and it just takes time. Mary is scared.

We’ve been down this road before. I have neurosurgeons, and pain specialists, and MRI appointments. She has her therapist, her psychiatrist, and the mobile crisis team. We have my parents and our church. We have the support that we need, but that’s not all. The important part is having each other. We will get through this.  A 10-year-old warrior told me so.. So I’m not scared. Not this time.

 

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

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politics

A “Good” American?

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There is one peach color among all of the crayons. I’m at school working with some students on coloring a picture of a boy. There are at least 6 shades of brown, tan, and something called “coffee grounds” in front of my student. She looks perplexed.

Me: “Honey, why don’t you use one of these to color in your boy?”

Student “But I’m coloring an American”

Me: “You can still use another color. Americans come in all different colors.”

Student: (looking confused) “But I’m drawing a good American.”

What?! My jaw hangs open while I try to gain some composure. I explain to her that good American people come in many colors. I ask if she thinks that Hispanic people or African American people are not “good” somehow.  I’m not just a teacher. I’m a mom. I am the adoptive white mom of Hispanic children.
Is she racist 8-year-old? I don’t think so. This is obviously an interpretation she has garnered from what is being said around her. We, as adults, must be careful with the message we are sending our youth.

Maybe it isn’t outright racist comments. Maybe she’s hearing the “Black Lives Matter” movement retorted with “All Lives Matter.” You can justify this to yourself, but a child will see the truth. A child sees it as a denouncement of black lives actually mattering. I’m sure there’s more. In a culture that professes anxiety about the growing number of hispanics, or “dangerous immigrants” in our country, what message are we really sending to our kids? Is she hearing concerns about American Muslims? Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

Children are concrete thinkers. They hear the truth behind rhetoric couched in “nationalist” terms. They hear the fear mongering about people of darker skin colors. They hear presidential candidates who want us to fear what is different, what is “other.” Being afraid of differences is harming our culture in so many ways.

As the mother of brown children, I worry. “No,” I tell my Puerto Rican son, “You can’t have the toy gun. Choose another toy.” Is it because I’m anti-gun? Because I don’t want children to play hunting games or Wild West adventures? No. It’s because my son is a darker skinned Hispanic boy. I’m afraid that somehow, somewhere outside of our small town, an officer might mistake his toy for the real thing. I won’t take any chances with him.

My husband and I spend extra time with our kids discussing how to speak to an officer. How to be respectful of the police if they ever stop you. How to explain every physical movement before you make it.  How to avoid being shot. We do this, not because we think police are all bad, but because we are afraid. So we practice. Just in case.

My husband is a paramedic in our town. Everyone knows everyone else here. It’s a wonderful community and we feel safe. When I get pulled over I feel safe. I chat with the officer freely and never think twice about reaching into the glove box. I’m not sure if that’s due to the safety of our little town or the privilege of my white skin. Either way, I want this safe feeling for my kids.

Will our children be subject to discriminatory “stop-and-frisk” policing? Will they grow up to face unfair voter laws which smack of Jim Crow laws to me? I’m not asking about my kids. I’m asking about all of our “good” American children.

Every time I hear rhetoric about “dangerous” Mexicans I get worried. I can’t help it. A country afraid of its brown people isn’t a country that I want my kids to grow up in. I can’t understand the things they might face. The preconceived notions or subtle racism they will experience. I can’t understand it because I’ve never experienced it. It is lucky that I’m raising children with a Hispanic husband. He will understand in ways I may never fully grasp. I’m a product of the white privilege I didn’t even realize I grew up with.

It brings me back to thinking about America. What makes a “good” American? Think about it. Is it hard work? Patriotism?  What about simply being “good” to others? I believe our country is stronger for its diversity.

No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, please be careful. You’re children are listening when you speak. A good American comes in many colors. A good American sees the good in others. A truly good American cares for all of the citizens in our country.

Are you a “good” American? Either way, you’re children are listening.

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adoption, family

Finding Our Biology: Adventures in Origins

Family is such a tangled web we weave. I am always trying to maintain some connection between our adopted children and their biological siblings. Even if they do not remember each other well, someday they will want to know. I believe that all humans are like homing pigeons. Eventually we seek the very source of our own origins. In this case, biological family is key.

I know this is so because I struggle with my own biological connections. My father has always been an ambitious man. He was 56-years-old when I was born. My mother was 18 years younger. It was a second marriage for both of them. I have half-siblings on both sides. I am very close to my older brother on my mother’s side. I have 4 half-siblings on my father’s side.They are all 20+ years older than I am.

My father is not an easy man. I know that the older siblings had very bad experiences being his children. He could be brutal, angry and inebriated. He could also be charming, gregarious and entertaining. I don’t think his interests ever aligned with having a family. Roger had delusions of grandeur about himself and what he would achieve. He had strong beliefs in the supernatural and the afterlife. He was a larger-than-life character in public. In private he struggled to maintain personal relationships. My parents divorced when I was 4. 

Roger was much older by the time they had me. The first set of siblings suffered through his mistakes and physical abuses. I can’t even imagine but I have heard from many people that this is so. I do not doubt it and I understand why their relationships with him were minimal and fragile at their best.

When I was small, and my parents were still married, I remember spending time with my father’s oldest son, Ron. He and his girlfriend would take me places. They took me to an amusement park one day, just the 3 of us. At the end of the trip they bought me a clear plastic ruler filled with water and sparkles. I treasured it and though about my “biggest” brother whenever I looked at it.

My father’s youngest son, Ed, and his family were a part of my childhood right up through high school. We would drive from Connecticut to Virginia each summer and stay with them. I held each of their 3 children as babies. I played in their yard and swung in their hammock. My sister-in-law was impossibly sweet and I wanted to be just like her.

Over time, the visits stopped.  As my father got older, what little relationship he had with these 2 became more and more strained. I do not recall his relationship with his daughter, Carol. We may have visited once or twice with her but I was too young to remember. His son Rich had long since changed his last name and completely  distanced himself from the family. I never met him. As Roger got older his relationship, and by association, mine, became more strained with the siblings. We stopped visiting. They stopped talking. I was the only child who still spoke with Roger.

They were always sort of a mystery to me. A special club that I was not a part of. I dearly loved the two brothers that I knew. I had no idea what Rich looked like. I tried to friend him on facebook once. He immediately blocked me. His response was swift and baffling. I was only curious. Did we have any of the same features? Enjoy the same foods? Was our eye-color the same? It was sort of a gaping hole of knowledge and I just wanted to know.

About 9 years ago, Roger had his second heart attack. His first had happened while I was in high school. His second was when I was only 26-years-old. He was divorced and alone. Suddenly I had legal medical proxy in case anything should happen to him. I was making arrangements at his apartment and trying to make sense of the mess of medical and insurance information. Needless to say, I was a wreck. I was way over my head in terms of responsibility.

By this time my own relationship with Roger was getting complicated. He didn’t really approve of Luke and wasn’t keen on the idea of our marrying. He believed he was going to become rich developing a holistic healing center and I should come and live with him on this compound. He made many job offers to me but his center never appeared. It was one of the many dreams he had that never made it to reality. In addition, I had no interest in a psychic healing center. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to marry Luke and start a family. Roger did not approve.

When I reached out to my siblings, none of them came. Luke and I dealt with the heart attack by ourselves. They had work, families, other commitments. I was alone. At the time I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t be there to support me. Now I understand that it had more to do with out father.

I have decided to seek my biology in the same way I encourage my children to seek their own. I reached out to my oldest brother, Ron. We both live in Connecticut. I was ready to drive across the state to meet him for lunch or whatever he preferred. He seemed happy and willing at first, but when the day came to meet he stopped contacting me. My texts and phone calls went unanswered.

I contacted my brother, Ed, in Virginia. He was very enthusiastic and loved the idea of a summer visit, just like old times. We are driving to his house so that he can meet my husband and my kids. It’s been 15 years since I last saw him. Our contact has been mostly Facebook “likes” and comments. I’m scared but I am sure. If I am telling my kids that it’s ok to have mixed feelings about relatives, then I should be able to handle my own. If I tell them that maintaining family connections is important, then I should practice what I preach.

If adoption has taught me nothing else it has taught me this. Family is important. Hopefully I will continue to learn and grow. I am reaching out to my siblings because family is what you make of it. My kids deserve this from their own biology and from mine. Wish me luck…

 

 

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

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adoption, family

The Weight of the World

It takes a village to raise a family. Logically I know this, but sometimes I don’t ask for help. I’m not sure why. My family life is complicated. Sometimes it feels like it will take an army rather than a village!  I’m protective over our children because not everyone understands their trauma. I’m hesitant to let others into our little world (outside the bogging community…obviously!)

After injuring my back at work, I’m starting to see how much I can’t do on my own. This scares me. 

At church this Sunday, our Reverand prayed over me. She offered prayers of healing for my back. It went something like this:

“Dear Lord, please help Abigail heal. She carries the weight of so many on her back. The weight of work, the weight of her family, the weight of responsibility. Heal her and watch over her. Amen.”

The Reverand is right. Sometimes it feels like the weight of the world. Parenting is hard work. Work is hard work. Heck, being a grown-up is hard work! The thing is, I’m not alone on this journey. I have a strong and loving family. 

Over the holidays my parents made the journey from the mid-west to our little New England town. They sold their house. They left their friends and their church behind. They came with their cat to live in a house they’d seen only on the internet. They did it for our family. For me. 

My mom has flown out to visit us in the past. She’s offered me backup when we were in crisis mode. She’s visited Mary in the psychiatric unit of the hospital with me. My mother has seen the Littles rage and anger. She also sees their love and creativity. She has never once questioned their place in this family. She just loves us, warts and all! 

My parents now live about ten minutes away from us on the other side of town. They come for dinner, we go to church together, and they take our Littles occasionally to give Luke and I some alone time. My step-dad makes “black cows” for the kids with coke and ice cream. My mother reads aloud to them as she did for me so long ago. My husband takes my step-father to doctor’s appointments. It’s family. We aren’t alone out here, not anymore. 

I can’t tell you how much it means to me to have my mommy when I’m hurt like this. She’s offered to drive me places or come with me to work. She keeps me company when I’m stuck at home. Sometimes she makes me coffee with a bit of Kaulua in it. She loves me. When I’m with her I am reminded of a time when I was safe and small and someone else made the tough decisions. 

Luke and I are not alone. I don’t have to carry all of the weight on my back. For now, my body is telling me to slow down. I’m hurt but I have my family. 

I only hope that one day I can be the kind of mom who radiates safety and love. I want to be the mom who shares the weight of the world. When I finally grow up? I want to be just like my mom. 

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

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