adoption, adoption disruption, family

Family Divided: Adventures in Rupture and Repair

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Is there a protocol for this? How does one navigate the waters of almost-used-to-be children? In his time-honored, often repeated cycle, Marcus is back in contact. He wants to visit. He wants back in. Again.

His 18th birthday comes in less than a week. I’m sending money for his birthday present (he wants a tattoo about a friend that was murdered in his old neighborhood.) I have promised this since he was 16. I have never missed a birthday or holiday no matter where he was or how he was feeling about us. It’s important to me that he knows our family is a constant in his life.

How does one solve an equation as complicated as this one. And how does one count the cost? The cost to my teenager. The cost to my family. The cost to my heart.

He comes to us when he wants something. Marcus can’t discern the difference between his wants and his needs. The survivor in him urges him to meet his perceived needs by any means necessary. This could be $50 for clothes, a haircut, sunflower seeds or a car. I’m glad he knows to come to us. I wish I could teach him the difference between “needing” a new video game and needing bail money. If we deny one will he still know to come to us for the other? I hope so. We are about to find out.

How much do I give and how much do I allow him to take? He wants a day visit. Breakfast until dinner. He asks me with such timidity, such trepidation. But is this real or is it all manipulation? He hasn’t asked after his siblings. He will probably never apologize for being physically aggressive towards me. Marcus never apologizes. It’s one of the ways he keeps his heart safe. I get it. It doesn’t mean that I like it.

How would I handle it if he came for the day? Would Sean show up as well? Inevitably, the visit would end and my teenagers would walk away from me. Again. Can I handle that again? Could anyone handle watching them walk away over and over again?

But if not me, then who else? For Marcus, there won’t be another “mom.” There won’t be another family to be there for him when no one else will. If I walk away I will truly leave an orphan behind me. Sean, on the other hand, has his biological father on the sidelines. This is the same father Marcus has. He told us to adopt Marcus, because he only wants Sean. He is still fighting for Sean, no matter what Sean wants. Sean isn’t talking. Marcus is. Marcus hates that man with a burning vengeful rage.

And that leaves us. The safe place. Home. I want to be mom-enough to handle whatever heartbreak is thrown my way. I’m not sure that I am capable. Before he comes home for a visit, he needs to have some boundaries. He can put my emotions through this roller coaster ride, but not my littles. My littles deserve peace.

The newfound peace in our home is fragile. It’s new. Our littles have more of our time and attention. They are more easily soothed and they express less anxiety. Luke and I have more time for each other. We have an extra hour when the littles go to bed for talking, dancing in the kitchen, having a glass of wine or making love. I no longer spend an hour massaging the teens’ post-football practice aches. I don’t tuck Sean in and go back over and over for at least an hour to soothe his nighttime anxieties. How can we be there for the teens and still preserve this delicate family balance?

That’s an equation I can’t solve. How could I? Where do I draw the line between him and me? How will I know if I’m doing the right thing? How would anyone?

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

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

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adoption, adoption disruption, Attachment, Attachment Disorders, family, parenting

The War Against RAD: An Open Letter to Rosie O’Donnell

Behind closed doors: Rosie O'Donnell's adopted daughter says her mom is a ' phony' in public who would put on a happy face, but then ignore her kids at home

Dear Rosie,

I am sorry for your loss. You have lost the most precious thing to any mother. You have lost a child. My hope for you is that Chelsea will eventually realize what her actions have done. In the meantime, be strong, Mama. From one adoptive mother to another, I feel for you. In the midst of everything I am sure that your biggest concern is for your child. Isn’t that always the way? We put them first. We are mothers.

I am sure I’m not the only Trauma Mama out there with a strong suspicion that your daughter may suffer from an attachment disorder of some sort. Of course it’s not my business, nor is it the public’s business. However, when it’s out in the media, I just hope people consider all sides. We never talk about RAD in public, do we? Mental illness is considered to be private, a family secret to be concealed. I wonder why? Adoption is wonderful, but adoption is also hard.

It’s curious to me that at 17, she had a 25-year-old boyfriend with a history of drug involvement. I can see where any parent would try to circumvent this kind of unhealthy relationship. I can also see where a mother might distance the family from a birth parent making public accusations. I believe that in this case the mother even admitted to being on heroin at the time of pregnancy and the birth of Chelsea. I am sorry for your daughter that the start of her life was so traumatic.

I have seen Reactive Attachment Disorder up close and it does terrible things to a child. An attachment challenged child will push away the very people they love the most. They will view love, affection, and nurturing as the enemy. Reactive Attachment Disorder is the driving force that causes our children to seek relationship after relationship with friends, family, and romantic partners, only to sabotage them purposefully. Reactive Attachment Disorder whispers in the ear of our children that they will never be safe, never be loved. It tells them to make claims to the rest of the world that they are happy and well-adjusted. Then it traps them in permanent loneliness, causing them to lash out against all who try to love them. it is a war we fight against the disorder.

There has been a lot of media around the “different side” of you that Chelsea saw at home. She has “exposed” the fact that you liked arts and crafts and that you presented a happier face to the world. Don’t all of us present a happy face to the general public? Especially in times of strife or turmoil at home? I know I do. I love all of my children and I wouldn’t change a thing. That is the truth and it is what I tell others who ask me about adoption. The truth that I don’t tell, that I hide from the public, is that sometimes it is really, really hard. I may blog about it, but I can’t share within my immediate circle. At home, we battle against RAD.

Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. Our children leave us either physically or emotionally. Then we are left wondering if they will be alright. I have to believe they will be. The hardest part is letting go and seeing where they land. Chelsea went to her birth mother and then back to her boyfriend. She is probably in the windstorm of Reactive Attachment DIsorder. I’m sure she will be tossed around from place to place, never finding enough to fill the void inside. Eventually, I believe she will come home. To you and to your family. I believe this because I want to believe I will see my boys again. I must believe that they can heal.  I wish only safety and healing for you and your family. Sometimes, Reactive Attachment Disorder wins. I hope it loses this time.

Love,

Another RAD Soldier

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adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Furniture in the First Degree: Adventures in the Rage of a Traumatized Child 

He is standing in the closet doorway, screaming in a wordless rage at his dresser. I eye the dresser suspiciously. What was its offense against my son?

“Carl, honey, did you want me to help you pick out some shorts?” It’s 6:00AM. A full hour before he needs to be up. My bleary-eyed-9-yr-old is standing in long sleeves and pants, screaming at his dresser. It is going to be over 90 degrees outside today.

It isn’t entirely unusual for Carl to become enraged with inanimate objects. I very much prefer this to becoming enraged at mom! Often times I will “count” the offending object a la “1-2-3 Magic.” I will sternly scold the table-door-cleats-refrigerator with a, “Hey! You can’t do that to Carl. That’s 3, take 5!” Then said object will remain in “time out” until the timer rings. I figure laughter is the best policy, right?

Wrong. At least, not this morning. This is one of those mornings that Carl woke up yelling. He blocks me from the dresser in a defensive stance and insists that he has no shorts. He dares me to “cross him.” Why on earth would I want to do that? I suggest getting myself some coffee and coming back when he is ready to choose his clothes.

As I walk away I can hear him kicking the closet door. Maybe the closet is an accomplice? I shrug it off and wake my husband. He will need to be up early if Carl is already raging. Just in case. Because I have to go to work. Thank god for Luke. He is the glue that holds our family. He has the power to soothe a raging child, calm a stressed out Mama, and properly discipline a wayward dresser.

This marks a solid week of Carl being in his rage cycle. Waking up is difficult and the time before bed is difficult, too. He has been physically aggressive with both Luke and I. He has punched his walls and thrown his things. Luke caught him smashing his bed with a hammer he must have gotten out of the toolbox in the basement.

Things are changing. Marcus is gone. Sean is gone. I’ve gone back to work. The chickens have gone back to school. It’s a lot to take in. And let’s not forget that the furniture is misbehaving.

The problem is, when Carl starts in this cycle, he gets stuck. He rages one day, then the next and the next and the next. He hurts us and hurts himself. He feels tremendous guilt about his own actions. He starts to make claims about how he “hates Carl.” Who could hate little Carl? Seriously, his dimples are to-die-for-cute. He judges himself too harshly.

Luke and I have concerns that he may go back in-patient if we can’t break his cycle. What we want most of all is to keep him home and keep bonding with him. A sense of permanence and belonging is so important to our kids.

We are working on a sensory plan to help with his mornings. After work I got a “thunder vest” for him. It’s actually a strong Velcro vest that is used to soothe dogs during thunder storms. The vest has little doggie paw prints on the front. A weighted vest didn’t help very much but Carl seems to love the Velcro. I can strap him in really to provide deep pressure that should help to soothe his senses.

We tried it on and then Mary wanted to try it. Don’t worry, I had one for her, too! They paraded around in their vests and pretended to be police. I told them that they were ASPCA officers responsible for brushing our cats in the mornings. I added it into “Officer Carl’s” morning schedule.

I am hoping that tomorrow he wakes up, gets dressed, and then suits up to fight against cruelty to animals. I hope he has a morning adventure rather than a morning altercation with the closet.

The bottom line is, I am hoping. Perhaps with practice, modeling, and a little sensory feedback, maybe we can break this cycle. Just don’t tell my children that the vests are made for dogs.

I am hoping we can maintain Carl in the home without another hospitalization. No matter what, we will keep trying new approaches. Therapy, sensory, behavioral, visual interventions, whatever it takes. We haven’t had much luck modifying the behaviors of our furniture. I am hoping we have luck in riding out this cycle with Carl. After all, we were lucky enough to find him, weren’t we?

vest.2

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

If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure today.

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family, marriage, parenting

Choosing Forever: Adventures in Marriage and Adoption

Wedding_rings

Here is your forever home. Here are your forever parents. Here is your forever family. In the world of foster care and adoption we toss around the word “forever” a lot. We use it liberally and sprinkle it in to the interactions we have with the children we are adopting. But what does this concept mean to our children? 

I wonder if many of us have stopped to consider our own personal paths to our “forever?” I know one thing for sure. I know that Luke is my “forever.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever home.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever family.” I have known this from almost the first week we started dating 8 years ago.

But how did we get there? There certainly wasn’t a social worker assigning us to be a match. We both chose to walk the path of “forever” on our own. I had the advantage of a preconceived notion, a schema, a background upon which I based my beliefs about marriage. In the world I grew up in, such things are possible. 

Luke and I were friends before we started dating. We had known each other for about a year before I asked him to run away with me. That’s right, I asked him to run away with me. During the time of our friendship, I’d always had a crush on him. We were both in other relationships and so we remained friends and nothing more.

After my relationship ended, I figured it was now or never. If I didn’t take the leap, I knew I’d end up regretting it or the rest of my life. So I called Luke and asked him to run away with me. He compromised and offered to take me on a date. We went out the very next night, and the next, and the next. We’ve never been apart since.  A year to the day after our first date, we were married. We just knew. 

Fast forward to 9 years later and I realize that the reason I so firmly believe in happily ever after is because I have mine. He is right by my side where he belongs. And so, my schema starts. I have lived with the certainty and the joy of his love. We are family by choice, but I never question that we are truly one family. Luke is a sure thing, my forever.

When I try to view this from my children’s schema I simply can’t. The past has already taught them that love can be hurtful and scary and not to be counted on. We are their family by choice but they didn’t choose us. Not really. If anything, it seems to me that adoptive parents have many more choices than adopted children. How can I expect them to love us back with reciprocity? I can’t.  That is a whole new foreign language for them. 

They are thrust into a situation they can’t comprehend.  To me, family is forever. It has always been that way. To them, family is temporary at best. We must shift their entire thinking.

The foundation of our family is the marriage Luke and I have. My love for my husband reminds me that I am worthy of being loved. His kisses, his hand in the small of my back, his gentle words, tell me that I am not alone on this journey. No matter how rough the road is I am comforted by him. I find joy in him. No matter how others feel about me, I am able to bask in the image he holds of me (albeit, I admit, he has a rather inflated view of me!)

We need to nurture and treasure this connection. We need to be reminded of how reciprocal relationships work. We need to show our children that fairy tales ain’t got nothin’ on this family!

I can give unconditional love to our little chickens, but for now I will have to receive unconditional love only from my husband. What more could I possibly expect of them after such a relatively short time in a healthy family? 

I can only hope that one day our children will learn to love and be loved the way Luke and I do. I hope we can re-teach them the meaning of “forever.” But until that time? I can see why they wouldn’t believe. I can see why choosing this family may not always seem so permanent. That’s OK for now. Luke and I have enough faith to go around.

** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 
**If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure! 

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adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Tales from Our Bathroom: Adventures in Trauma Triggers and PTSD

fear ladder

Playing Uno in the bathroom? Go Fish? Perhaps a bathroom snack of apples and peanut butter? Sounds great, pull up a bath mat and let’s get started! Yes, that’s me, attempting card games with Little Mary in the bathroom floor. The bathroom is one of her biggest triggers. Right now we are attempting to gradually expose her to the bathroom in a non-scary way. We need to provide this corrective experience in order to lessen her fear.

In fact, Carl and Sean have the bathroom as a trigger as well. Whatever happened to them there must have been terrifying to stay with them years after being out of their bio home. Taking a shower or a bath can cause them to re-experience the trauma they suffered in this location. Then their “fight or flight” response kicks in and they panic.

For Mary, any added stress or anxiety in her life can exacerbate her fear of the bathroom. Recently, she has been showing us her elevated fear levels by fussing and tantruming before it’s time to take a shower. Mary has also been avoiding going to the bathroom unless someone waits outside the door and talks her through it. When she is finished she flushes, jumps off of the toilet, and bolts out of the room. She refuses to wipe, but she will wash her hands in the kitchen sink.Her fears include the mirror, having the door all the way closed, being alone, and being naked.

To alleviate her fears we have implemented the following:

  1. The door is always cracked open.
  2. Someone waits outside. Sometimes all of us wait outside. And we sing silly songs loudly and off-key.
  3. We play soothing music.
  4. We send in back-up. Mermaid Barbie to the rescue.
  5. We colored all over the mirror with Crayola Window markers. We made encouraging messages and silly pictures.
  6. We taped wallet-sized pictures of me on the mirror, next to the toilet paper roll, and yes, even in the shower. That way mom can be with Mary the whole time. Creepy? Maybe. But we’ll try anything.
  7. We let her go into the shower with a dirty shirt that has been worn by either Luke or me. This way it has our comforting smell, and she has the job to “wash it.”
  8. We play car-ride type games to activate the “thinking” area of her brain, because her emotional-survival brain is taking over. My favorite is the ABC game. You take turns naming your favorite food starting with “A is for ___” Next, the other person takes a turn but they have to repeat all of the other letters and foods that have been named, before adding a new one. You have to focus on your memory, language, and coming up with a food name. This can be awesomely distracting if you can engage the child before they become too escalated.

Despite all of our interventions, Mary had an incident one day when she refused to brush her teeth. Luke and I stood outside with the bathroom door open and promised to stay with her while she went in. She couldn’t do it. She screamed like she was being murdered. As Luke attempted to talk her down from her sobs, and I attempted to comfort Carl, she switched into “flight” mode. She turned and ran across the hallway with her head down and head-butted the door to the basement. Twice. It happened so fast we couldn’t even catch her and we were right next to her. I ended up in the ER with her, making sure she didn’t have a concussion. She has a bump and a bruise, but otherwise she is physically alright. The poor thing was so scared of brushing her teeth, that she preferred a head wound.

Currently Mary is in the midst of her Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). She is writing a narrative with her therapist about the trauma she experienced in her bio home. I’m no therapist but I will try to paraphrase what I’ve learned about it. This particular kind of therapy helps the child to confront and process their past trauma with the support of a therapist. Our children’s therapist is amazing. She showed us (including Little Mary) a graph representing the research on what happens when a person represses and tries not to think about traumatic events in their past. When the past event is ignored and not thought about, temporary relief is gained. However, over time, the fear grows into epic proportions when the child is confronted with any reminders of the traumatic events. This causes all kids of maladaptive response behaviors, including Mary’s tantrums. She is a survivor and her brain’s “fire alarm” is going off, even when there is no fire. With TF-CBT, she is opening up old wounds, in order to heal them. Exposure therapy is intended to help her face her triggers, in this case, the bathroom, a little at a time.

In her last session, Mary was able to express why the bathroom was so scary. This is progress for her. Her therapist helped her to come up with a fear thermometer and a fear ladder. This helped Mary to see exactly how afraid she was in what circumstances. When Mary was able to express and quantify her feelings in this way, she gained a measure of control over her fear. A million thanks to this therapist who is putting Mary back in charge of her emotions. I believe there will come a day when she is no longer at the mercy of her past, her triggers, and her “big feelings.”

She still cries when she gets into the shower and screams for a minute before washing up. We will continue to reassure her that she is in a safe home now. Until she internalizes this safe feeling, we will be there. You can find me right outside the bathroom. Or inside, playing Hungry-Hungry-Hippo! We will take it one day at a time and we just keep working on it. She will never have to face these fears alone, ever again.

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

If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure, today!

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family

littlesfair

Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.

Yfootballcfootball

The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!

yarypigs

**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

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