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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adoption, family

What Are We Teaching Them?

“Wait–what do you mean? My glasses prescription can expire?!?!! That doesn’t make sense!”

Sorry, Marcus. You have to go to the eye doctor every year. You also need a yearly checkup with your primary care physician. And the dentist? Yeah, that is every six months.

This week Marcus was texting me in a panic that he had lost his glasses and was having headaches. He wanted me to look for his prescription so that he could get new glasses. Sometimes I am still caught off guard by the things my children do not know. Looking back, it makes sense.

Marcus went from 2014 until 2016 without a doctor’s appointment in foster care. He never went to the dentist. For whatever reason the state he was in somehow claimed to change insurance based from town to town. Marcus bounced around continuously. Therefore he pretty much never had health insurance.

His last placement (after the Juvenile Detention Center) was with something called “intensive foster care.” This meant that a specialized agency was contracted by child services to care for him. A worker met with him weekly and a highly trained foster parent provided a home. In theory it looked great. The program was supposed to provide skills for older teens who would soon age out of the system. They had strict regulations and monitored each worker intensely.

In practice, it was pretty awful. His intensive case worker changed every few months. Marcus never saw a therapist. He never saw a psychiatrist even though he was prescribed psychotropic medication.

His foster parent was not supposed to take him to medical appointments or attend the case review meetings. She really wasn’t required to do much except feed him. She couldn’t even give him Tylenol without calling the agency for approval first. That just meant no medication was available if he spiked a fever after business hours. Maybe the lesson was not to get sick on the weekends?

When Marcus came to us we were required to drive him back to his home state each week to meet with his worker. Marcus was 17, so his case worker had a limited amount of time to impart the all-important “life skills.” A frantic worker would meet my husband and Marcus at Panera Bread every week for lunch. He spent three weeks focusing on reviewing a module in his binder called, “water safety.” Yes, they worked on pool safety while eating lunch (that my husband payed for) at a restaurant on dry land. Luke used to joke with Marcus to “try not to drown in the drive home.”

In the meantime we had to fight to get Marcus his driver’s permit. We were willing to teach him but technically the DMV requires a legal guardian. I doubt many caseworkers are headed to the long lines at the DMV with their teens. They also require an original birth certificate which child services refused to release to Marcus. Don’t worry, after lots of advocating we got it all figured out.

However, here I sit explaining to my 21-year-old how medical care works. Sometimes I think we’ve missed so much time to instruct Marcus he may never catch up. Have we really prepared him for the world? What else have we missed or lost along the way?

So the question remains. What are we teaching teens in foster care to prepare them for the world? If they age out without a family to turn to, how will they learn?

In this, Luke and I are lucky. Marcus knows he can turn to us if he needs to. I thank my stars that our son can come to us. If we have taught him nothing else, I know we have taught him this.

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

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adoption, family

Seriously, Please Leave

She drives me crazy. I have no idea why her opinions affect me at all but they do. Every time our children’s older biological sister  M is around, my back teeth ache. Her invasive questioning and snide comments put me over the edge. It takes all that I have not to seriously lash out at her.

Unfortunately, M was the one transporting Marcus to and from school after the holiday. Luke was fresh off of eye surgery and not able to drive. I’m not cleared to drive yet either. It is probably good to give Carl some contact with his older sister. At least that’s what I try to keep telling myself. Foster care took so much from my kids. I never wanted their adoption to mean we were taking more.

It’s odd to me that M gets under my skin this way. My family often makes a spectacle in public and by now I’m fine with it. I think M reminds me a lot of Sean. I can see her calculated moves a mile away. Although she appears sweet there is always the underlying fact that she doesn’t believe we should have adopted her siblings.

From the second she entered my home the other day she began looking through things (bedrooms, photo albums) and digging for information. For whatever reason she selectively remembers what happened in their biological home. She champions her biological mother as a victim. It would seem Luke and I are the villains here (but mostly me.)

I know that Mary and Carl both exhibited rages in their biological home. I know they were both significantly underweight there. I know that Mary didn’t speak and her pediatrician was concerned. He suggested multiple times that she needed to be evaluated for developmental delays.

I know Carl didn’t start Kindergarten until he was 6 years old. I know they missed over 80 days of school that year. After the adoption we ordered copies of all their previous medical and school records. According to M it’s a completely different story.

Just because I know these things doesn’t mean that strangers do. When my kids are panicking in public and begging me not to get drunk I know it’s not about me personally. Past trauma causes my children to be afraid that moms get drunk or violent.

Past trauma also causes my children to fear showers, bedtime, Halloween masks and mothers. All of them share these fears (even Sean) so there is clearly a history there. Because I know about their trauma I don’t really mind when strangers make ignorant comments. They simply don’t know what it’s like.

With M it’s a different story. She absolutely knows what happened. She was there. For whatever reason her denial permeates every conversation. She acts shocked that Mary needs to be in a residential school. M does not believe in therapy.

She demands to know why the service dog didn’t go with Mary to her school. She demands to know why Mary didn’t come home for Christmas. She demands to know Mary’s psychiatric diagnosis which I will not share. It is Mary’s private business for her to share as she wishes. She demands and demands and demands.

I told M firmly that Mary has a very difficult time during the holidays. Therefore we relieve pressure by bringing Christmas to her. M’s face was the portrait of pure shock.

“Really?!?! Why???”

At this point I was done with the prying questions. I was done hearing about how well Sean was doing now that he’s out of our home and about to age out of foster care. I could not take any more of M’s questions.

I told her about how Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time when she first came home. I told M that Mary was terrified and would wake up screaming for the entire first year. I told her about all of the things we did to help her feel safe.

Then I got a little bit catty. I told her Sean had the same exact problem and I got up with him every night, too. I was sorely tempted to tell her that he also sobbed before every bath at age 15. It was hard not to tell her I sat outside the bathroom while Sean was in the tub to sing him silly songs. Every. Single. Time.

For once M was speechless. She stammered that it must have been hard. I countered back with the fact that it wasn’t (it was) and that we didn’t mind (we did) because it wasn’t their fault. Luke and I would do anything for these chickens.

Undoubtedly she feels that Mary only has these problems because of us and our parenting. She’s basically continued to hint that things used to be fine and she doesn’t understand why Mary needs all this treatment. She doesn’t believe in therapy anyway.

Why do I even care?? I sat through the rest of the visit listening to M talk about how the shelter she stays at is giving her $8,000 and helping her find subsidized housing. She had another baby 6 months ago. The shelter bought both of her children all of their Christmas gifts. Her baby’s dad hasn’t gotten his cell phone back from the police after they took it as evidence in a case against him. Blah blah blah.

It’s really uncharitable for me to have these thoughts. Logically I know it’s good that the shelter is helping her. My angry jealous side is mad that Luke and I put in tons of work and still get blamed for things. No one is chipping in for our kids’ gifts or offering us $8,000.

I should have more grace. She was never adopted. She doesn’t have a family, really. I don’t even know if she’s in contact with bio-mom.

In the end I was happy to hug Marcus good-bye and wave him off in M’s car. By the time her van pulled out of the driveway I was shaking. It was a relief to get her out of the house.

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

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adoption, family

Late Night Texting With the Patchwork Kid

In typical Marcus fashion I got a late-night text message. My phone chirped with the image of a certificate. Clicking on the “Student of the Month” award picture with Marcus’ name on it made the late-hour text worthwhile. This was the first time he’d ever received the accolade. His childhood was spent missing out on, well, being a child.

When our kids were in their biological home they only attended about half of the school days. Even if they went to school there was often no one to get them off of the bus at the end of the day. They were all behind in academic subjects when they entered foster care. Mary wouldn’t speak in school at all. She would sit with her head down, her arms limp at her sides and her eyes averted for most of the day.

Carl and Marcus got into trouble often. They had physical altercations, tantrums and suspensions. Carl once famously (infamously?) told a teacher he couldn’t participate in reading because the “kids were ugly.” Marcus was more likely to get arrested in high school than go to a school dance. In fact, I know the former happened but I’m pretty sure the latter never did.

Carl couldn’t read when he came to us. He was at a Kindergarten level going into third grade. I worked with him all summer before school and he flourished. By the end of that year he was right on track. Now he’s made honor roll for two semesters. This coming semester he’s trying for high honors!

Mary struggles with her behavior in class. She is behind but it’s hard to keep her on track when her mental health prevents it. Now that she is in a great residential school for complex trauma, she’s making progress. Both Mary and Carl have received the “Student of the Month” award a few times.

For Marcus, it’s a huge deal. It took him until he was 21, and in Job Corps, to engage in academics. It’s suddenly very important to him that he does well. Seeing his younger siblings achieve accolades through the school years has been so difficult. Marcus never got the same support in elementary school.

So last night I made a HUGE deal about it. I posted his certificate on Facebook. Luke and Nana praised him. I sent him every celebration emoji in my phone! Go team Marcus!!!

Even though he’s older it  feels like he needs that approval. Marcus still has so many milestones yet to be experienced. His maturity is like a patchwork quilt that is continuously being made. Piece by piece we are filling in the missing patches.

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

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adoption, family

Naked Mom and the Zombie-Pickle Holiday Plumbing

My children really do not get the whole Christmas concept. In the 5 years they’ve been home we’ve never been successful in getting wish lists for gifts. I totally understand where they didn’t get into Santa. I am a bit of a Scrooge about that guy. I mean, where does he get off breaking into our house at night while we’re sleeping? Why is he always watching and judging us?! That guy is a total creep. We fully disclosed that particular myth almost immediately because Mary was so terrified of him.

Over time the kids started to come around to the idea that they would get presents at Christmas time. In foster care one child got presents while another child would got one or two items per year from the Child Services stipend.  Poor Marcus bounced around so much he went without the holiday more often than not.

In fact, every Christmas since he was 16 has been a surprise for Marcus. He’d open one gift in shock saying things like, “Really?? You guys got something for me???”

Yeah, kid. We did. It gets a bit repetitive when he’s still confused after opening the first four packages. Imagine that multiplied by 5 Christmases.

This left Luke and I to explain a lot over the years as we forged our own traditions. Marcus’ first foster home had a custom where they would hide a fake pickle in the tree. We continue this tradition (I think it’s German) and hide a plastic singing pickle. The kids find it and re-hide it over and over until Christmas morning. Whoever finds it then gets a prize.

Luke and I have always had very zombie-themed Christmases. There are zombies in the nativity set and zombie caution tape as garland on our tree. Our living room boasts a happy skeleton with mistletoe in his mouth. Our children acclimated to the zombie theme more easily than the presents portion. They’d get absolutely rabid about trying to find out if they were getting gifts (at all) each year.

Since our children can be masterminds at sniffing out food, presents, and other items in the middle of the night we needed a covert op. If we didn’t hide the evidence all the presents would go missing weeks before the actual holiday.

Luke and I made elaborate stories like, “These packages are for a plumbing project in the attic. We just had to purchase lots of PVC piping. Don’t open them because the parts are very sharp.”

Sadly, the vague and unlikely attic-plumbing made more sense to Carl last year than hidden packages of Christmas gifts. In fact, I ran out of excuses for disappearing into the master bedroom with the door locked to wrap presents. Unfortunately, it’s a big trauma trigger for Carl when he can’t find me.

He’d bang on my bedroom door shouting, “Mom? MOM!!! What are you doing???? WHY ARE YOU LOCKING ME OUT???!!!”

Last year he was 12 and still buying into the whole December home-improvement mystery. I had to come up with an excuse so I’d usually say, “Don’t come in. I’m naked right now!”

This worked like a charm. It worked so well that an exasperated Carl outed me in the middle of a busy CVS holiday crowd.

He burst out with, “You never spend time with me! You’re always upstairs naked in your room!!!”

The stares were priceless.  This kind of thing happens to me a LOT. 

This year he’s 13 and he’s figured it out. He knows we have presents up here but he isn’t confiscating them ahead of time. Marcus is planning to spend Christmas here with his GF and her baby. He actually texted me some things he’d like as gifts. At 21, he is finally able to give me a wish list. Mary knows we will be visiting her on Christmas at her residential school.

This may be the first year that everyone is on board for the holiday process. I no longer need the naked attic-plumbing ruse! Everyone seems ready for a merry zombie-pickle-fully-clothed-mother holiday!!!

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

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adoption, family

Math Lessons in Ramen Noodles

At about 3:00AM my cell phone comes to life with a string of beeps. Who is texting me at 3:00AM?!

“MMMOOOMMM!!!”

“MOM??”

MOOMMM I’M RUNNING LOW ON NOODLES!!!!”

The texts devolve into a series of shocked and presumably dying or close-to-death emojis.

Hi, Marcus.

He’s still at Job Corps. He’s been there for two months and 3 care packages. When he first got to his dorm he didn’t want to bring any of this own things, even toiletries. Years spent in the foster care system taught him some unfortunate lessons.

In typical Marcus fashion he keeps his personal items scattered across several houses with different relatives or friends. He’s always done this. It allows him to move locations frequently and easily. It also guarantees that if he blows out of a home in a rage, he won’t lose the entirety of his belongings. I guess it’s his way of diversifying assets.

Due to this process, he went into his dorm without much. Marcus had honestly never heard the term “care package” until I explained it to him. When I was in college my mom sent me goodies in the mail. It kept me going and made me feel loved. It connected me to the woman who took care of me even when I wasn’t physically with her.

Marcus was flabbergasted. “Srsly?!” He texted me when I explained the concept, “That’s a real thing? Like Nana really did that? Do other people do it???”

Yes, Marcus.

Now here we are at 3:00 AM. He seems to have gotten a good grasp on the care package concept. I’d like to think he’s gotten a handle on the trust concept also. When you need food, go to mom!

However, his math skills are suspect. It was exactly 6 days ago that I Amazon Primed him 48 packages of Ramen noodles. Even if he eats 2 per day it should last him over 3 weeks!

Perhaps the next lesson for Marcus will be a math lesson about the consumption of Ramen noodles.

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

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adoption, family

When Your Parents are Falling Apart

All I can say about this week is, “OOPS!!” Yup, that’s right. It’s one big “oops” for the parents over here in the Herding Chickens household. Let’s start with Monday. For whatever reason reason I forgot it was Veteran’s day. This is really disrespectful and wrong. I also forgot there was no school and tried to wake Carl up before my physical therapy appointment. Oops.

Early Tuesday morning my mother took Luke in for his next eye surgery. Somehow we got our wires crossed and I thought they were making sure Carl was up for the bus. At 8:00 AM Carl knocked on my door and asked if he was going to school. It starts at 7:15 and I still can’t drive. Luckily my mom came back at 9:00 to trade a bandaged-up Luke for a frantic Carl. He made it to school for an extremely short day. Oops.

The next day brought parent-teacher conferences. I totally forgot to respond about this. I’ve never ever missed these for my kids unless we recently had a 504 and didn’t need the rerun version. Oops.

I was rather tardy sending out the email saying, “Hey neither of us can physically make it to conferences this term. We are always available by phone. We’ve been in contact a lot lately so I hope to keep the lines of communication open.” Oops.

After that it was my scheduled FaceTime with Mary. We do this three times a week. However, I couldn’t answer at all. I got stuck in the shower with muscle spasms. It doesn’t make it any better that the previous day I had removed my shower seat with the brazen, “I can stand on my own two feet” attitude. I wound up hunched on the floor frozen in a stiff fetal position. I was rendered useless while my spinal muscles performed their own macabre version of the Rumba. Oops.

I have handle bars in the shower but I still had to use my phone to call Luke.  My SOS went out for a muscle relaxer RIGHT NOW. However, Luke couldn’t see to read the medication labels. Carl had to read through the bottles and find my drugs. When you make your son a drug dealer it is an awesome mom-move. Yeah, I’m crushing it in the responsibility arena! Oops.

This morning Luke got up with Carl to make sure the “Go-to-school” part of the day happened. However, he really can’t see well in the morning light. That is how, on the first New England day of 21 degree weather, our son went to school in basketball shorts. And a t-shirt. We are knee-deep in our annual warm clothes and mitten-feud with Carl. Score 1 for the drug-dealing kid. Oops.

Some weeks are just like this. I made the fixes that I could. I emailed Carl’s teachers. I called Mary back but by that time it could only be a voice call. Then I visited with my mom on my bed while my back calmed down. Let’s not discuss how I may or may not have still smelled after that ill-fated shower! Oops.

I checked with my physical therapist and discovered I was only supposed to be doing 3 sets of strengthening exercises a day. I had misinterpreted that to be 3 sets done 3 times per day. This explained my body’s rebellion via Megladon-sized muscle spasms. Oops.

The last fix I made was to take all of Carl’s shorts upstairs into storage. In case he decided to hide some and out-fox the broken-mom/blind-dad combo, I made a backup plan. I called his school counselor and amazon-primed a warm pair of winter pants to the school. If he manages to somehow pull off a shorts heist his teachers will send him to change. I will win against this winter if it’s the last thing I do!!!! (Insert evil laugh here.)

There is some good news, though. In the past all of these things would have been huge triggers for our kids. Carl and Mary would fell abandoned or unsafe. If they felt we couldn’t care for them it might bring up memories of bad times from their first home.

It takes a long time for kids with as much trauma as ours to trust another set of parents. We are nearing our 5th Christmas together. They took this week in stride. I’ll take it as progress.

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

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