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 Get Stuck on a Log

The inertia of a back injury always surprises me. I am slow moving. The insurance company is slow to approve my treatment. Everything is slow and a resolution is not appearing on the horizen.

We’ve reached out to J’s social worker. I’m not sure what will even come of it. Could we provide respite and support for an adoptive family? Could we be mentors for her? Could we even possibly adopt her? Who knows. We have to leave to God and just wait.

Marcus cannot seem to make up his mind about what he will do. He’s made sincere apologies to us. We are driving him around for now. We’ve given him a deadline. If Marcus wants to live at home he must invest in himself. We are not landlords, we don’t want rent money. He receives free tuition for state schools due to all of his years in foster care. Marcus must take some sort of action towards his future. Reach out to job corps again, register for one class at a community college or trade school, really any step will do. We drew a line in the sand and now we have to wait for his move.

Currently he is having an emotional text-conversation with me. I know I’m old because I can’t seem to figure out why all serious conversations take place via text message. He is pleading with me to meet Toxic Girlfriend and give her a chance. I am pleading with him to think beyond this girl and beyond his next car.

“Please, Marcus, please consider your future.”

He’s walked out of the house and gone goodness-knows-where. I have taken the Ill-advised steps (literally) to go out and find him. I walk a short distance from the house and immediately my back stiffens up and my right leg decides not to work. So I sit down on a fallen tree log to wait.

I promise Marcus one thing in my text message.

“No matter what choices you make, how hard you push me away, or how far you go I will be waiting for you. Probably right here on this very log. I appear to be stuck.”

After about 45 minutes of sitting on the log and staring at my house, I’m able to hobble inside. The rest of the evening consists of me, stuck in my bed, on a heating pad. Ouch.

Later on, Marcus makes his way upstairs. He is holding Phase 10 cards and a large cardboard square. He hesitates in the doorway.

“Mom, I know you can’t get up and stuff. I cut this out of a box so we could play cards up here. Want to play Phase 10?”

Of course I do. At least, if I have to be stuck, I’m in good company.

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

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adoption, family

No End in Sight

Parenting, like marriage, is an odd thing in its cyclical nature. There isn’t an obvious beginning, middle, or end. Relationships have ups and downs and even times where things seem “perfect.” Perfection isn’t really a human quality, though. If we are waiting for a lasting time of happy stasis, we will wait forever.

Trauma is like this, too. There is usually a beginning, to be sure. The trauma of my back injury began with a loud “pop” at work. Two surgeries later and there is still no end in sight. In all likelihood this will stay with me forever. The goal is simply to manage the symptoms and live most days in semi-comfort.

With developmental trauma, the beginning is fuzzy. It often starts before explicit memories do, even before verbalization. I suppose the middle stretches on forever. It could be the middle of experiencing the actual trauma. It could be the middle of experiencing the trauma symptoms. Of course, there isn’t really an end.

Trauma symptoms can subside, or go dormant. However, in times of stress, they rise up again like stubborn zombies, devouring everything in their paths. Right now Carl’s trauma symptoms are on the upswing. It’s springtime, which is always difficult for him. He isn’t sleeping through the night. He’s yelling, slamming doors, and occasionally breaking things in his room. He avoids any mention of his sister Mary. He avoids participating in his once per week therapy session. We’ve decided to send him to intensive outpatient treatment after school. There, he can practice coping skills and participate in group therapy for a few weeks.

Marcus is struggling, too. He avoids talking about his adoption, largely avoids the family, and has mysteriously missed his last two therapy sessions.  He’s spent most of his time (and money) smoking pot, smoking cigarettes, and hiding in his nonfunctional car. He bought a cool-looking, electric-blue coupe about as old as I am. It doesn’t run for more than 5 minutes, but it has a satisfyingly (to him!) loud muffler. He religiously revs his engine until failure several times per day. Things he is NOT doing include daily chores, going to therapy or paying for gas when he drives my car. Imagine his surprise when his car privileges were revoked until he fills the car…

I like to think Mary is healing. She does get to stay at her amazing RTC school, and that’s fantastic. She’s just at the beginning of her therapeutic journey there. She is still aggressively violent, but not as much as at the last facility.  She’s also on the downslope of her mood cycling. The good part is that they know what to do when her cycle revs up again. We are all in good hands with them.

So where does this leave Luke and I? We are finding the in-between places. The times where we can be alone together and relish all the good parts of “us.” It leaves snuggles and kisses and whispers long into the night. It also leaves us stuck somewhere in thought. We are stuck thinking about the girl we left behind all those years ago. The first girl we ever wanted to adopt: J.

She pops up in conversation with my parents. She pops up in whispered conversations long after we should have been sleeping. She pops into thought as I’m watching a school production of “The Lion King,” because she would have been the star. We haven’t stopped thinking about her yet. And there is no end in sight…

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

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adoption, family

All the Children We Left Behind

Sometimes I get caught up thinking about the children we left behind. The ones we did not take. The ones we didn’t have.

Almost nine years ago, I was a Kindergarten teacher. Luke and I always wanted to adopt, we just didn’t know which adoption path we’d choose. Our marriage was only about a year old and we were enjoying the kid-free time.

There was a girl in my class who was so very special to me. J had an incredible singing voice, a ridiculously large vocabulary, and a penitent for unexpected and unexplainable temper tantrums. At the time, I didn’t really know much about trauma. I just knew that J was a great kid going through something awful.

Due to a horrific home situation, which I won’t describe, my colleagues and I made multiple reports to child services. They were involved with the family but refused to acknowledge what was happening there. J and her siblings were finally taken into care in the spring, after months of significant abuse. At last, they were safe. Was it a happy ending? Far from it.

The rest of that school year, and the beginning of the next, were terrible for J. She was physically safe but emotionally bleeding out. She started in a group home setting. During her first grade year the teacher couldn’t handle her so she came back into my class as a “helper.” I had her for about another month until a spot in the specialized behavior program opened up.

Luke and I wanted to take her. We wanted to foster J until she could be returned to her family safely. In all reality, we wanted to adopt her. But we weren’t foster parents. We lived in an apartment. We didn’t know if we could help her…and so on.

She begged us to take her home. “We could just sit on the couch and watch a nice movie. I could sit in the middle and hold the popcorn,” she said.

Luke used to visit me at the school every week. He was an EMT for the city I was working in and we lived down the road from the school. He knew all of my students. We both knew how special J was.

We didn’t see her again after those two years. She did change our lives, though. Because of J, Luke and I decided to become foster parents. We’ve always talked about her through the years. Eventually we adopted our children through the system. I should say that we didn’t see J again…until now.

I stumbled upon her accidentally. She’s listed on a site for older, adoptable children who are still in the foster care system. She’s not with her siblings. Shes not back with her mom. She’s not with an adoptive family. She’s a young teenager in the system. Alone.

To be sure, we are very happy being parents to the children we have. This has been a wild and crazy parenting journey but it’s our journey. It’s worth every difficult trauma-related parenting experience we’ve had.

Now that we are seasoned trauma parents I have a better understanding of J’s behaviors all those years ago. It’s helped us parent Mary, who is in RTC to get treatment. Our other kids are healing the best they can and we are truly parenting the best we can. It’s hard. Our house is crazy and loud and filled to the brim with people. It can be absolutely exhausting and impossible at times. It’s also amazing. We aren’t licensed as foster parents with the state anymore.

And all this time J has still been there. Waiting for her forever family.

I just can’t help thinking about the other kids. There was a baby we chose not to take. Our children have a younger sister who was born into the foster care system. She was able to be adopted by the family who fostered her from birth. At least, that’s what we think happened. It was best for the baby.

Sean moved on (and is presumably still moving around) to other foster homes. This was the best thing for everyone, although it was hard to see at the time.

We never did have that biological baby. Sometimes I still get a pang watching parents with an infant in public. But then I remember all the sleepless nights when the kids first came home. I think it’s for the best we didn’t go that route.

Looking at J on this website is different. Is it for the best that we didn’t take her? I can’t stop thinking about her. I just can’t.

**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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adoption, adoption disruption

A Dream or a Nightmare?

Facebook is telling me to look. “You have memories today,” it says. A notification keeps popping up on my phone, on my computer, on my mind. Look! But I don’t want to look.

I don’t want to remember. It’s too hard. It hurts. I do not want to have the memories today.

I dreamt of him last night. My dream was about Sean but it wasn’t the kind of dream I used to have about him. I used to dream of being his forever mom. I dreamt of giving him love, a home, a safe place to land.

Last night my dream was a nightmare. Sean was already in the house when I came home. He was there with Marcus and they were waiting for me.

“Hi, mom. I’m back,” he said in my dream. “I’m ready to get adopted. Whenever you want.”

He carried a duffle bag full of cash in my dream. I knew he had committed some crime and was charming his way into safety. My heart was racing and I was inexplicably concerned about his proximity to Marcus. Both boys were looking at me.

“Get out.” I said in the dream. “I’m not your mom. I was never your mother.”

I woke in a cold sweat, shaking and crying. My heart pounding in panic and dread. I couldn’t really say why.

I’ve been having these dreams for about a week. Sean has been on my mind one way or another. Sometimes I am remembering the times I thought we were getting close but I was really getting manipulated. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left behind on my body. Sometimes I am remembering the bruises he left on my heart.

He contacted me three times since Spring. They were just short Facebook messages but I read them over and over. I dissected each word  trying to see what he was after. Because Sean is always after something. In the end, I didn’t reply at all. But I couldn’t delete them. I couldn’t bring myself to block him on social media.

We adopted three out of the four children we started this journey with. Maybe having Marcus home, the “last one,” brings up Sean for me. Perhaps it’s been on my mind because Carl is now the age Sean was when we met the children. I can’t quite tell. Carl has developed some of the mannerisms Sean had at this stage. They are part teenage boys and part brother. It’s possible they are also part trauma.

I’ve been butting heads with Carl more than usual. Yesterday at dinner we had pizza. Sean used to drown his pizza in ranch sauce. This was a practice I found both disgusting and perplexing. He was morbidly obese at the time, which made it that much more dangerous when he was angry. Lately Carl has been gaining a lot of weight. His hormones must be making him hungry. His fuller cheeks make him look so much more like Sean.

We actually had an argument about it at dinner last night. He was sensitive to any form of food talk. I was sensitive to the mistakes I made with Sean. Whatever the reasons, it was a difficult night. As I sit and type now I can see where my triggers lie. In the moment I was completely lost to them.

As I sit here and type this the last fragments of the dream are drifting away from me. I hope I will not have this same nightmare tonight. I hope that someday the fragments of  of my feelings for Sean drift away, too.

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

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