adoption, family

The Prodigal Son Makes a Decision

Marcus is here in the house, fast asleep. Just writing those words is like a having a weight lifted from my chest. Last night my living room was full and so was my heart. When Mary FaceTimed she got to see all of us.

At the wise old age of 21, he’s made a decision about his future. Marcus came home without the GF, her baby, and her extra friend. I’m not sure where they are staying exactly. I did manage to ship a package of warm winter baby clothes to GF at a reliable address.

Now it’s just my son. He’s back in his room among a pile of suitcases, boxes, and trash bags full of clothes. I wonder what happened to the other luggage he had. Where are all of the plastic bins he previously used?

Trash bags are the currency of packing in foster care. Just seeing them full of clothes sets my teeth on edge. I can assume his luggage went the way of his electronic keyboard and Beatz headphones we got him. Marcus must have bartered or sold them to get by on the streets.

He isn’t he here to stay. He’s here to do all of his laundry and store some of his things. Then it’s off to Job Corps! Marcus starts on Tuesday at 12, for the Electrical program. Victory! He can come home for holidays and some weekends.

Job Corps is a lot like the the regular college experience except they also teach basic life skills and schedule medical appointments. This is great because our son is behind on everything. Luke and I tried to cram a lifetime’s worth of “life skills” into a boy we met when he was already 16. It didn’t exactly stick. Needless to say, he still requires guidance.

I have no idea how Marcus finally, FINALLY, came to this decision. Like most things, he’s had to make the choice on his own by learning through a multitude of mistakes. Experiences, usually bad and had on his own, are Marcus’ only teachers. If you tell him the stove-top is hot, he’ll have to reach out and burn his hand before he believes you.

I don’t know what’s really going on with GF. He told us she said “hi” but that he doesn’t care what she thinks of his decision to do this. Marcus says “no one can hold him back” from his future. I’m pretty sure this is the same kid that told us “no one could make him” decide things about his future.

I want to say, “Honey sometimes you hold yourself back.” But I don’t.

I want to say, “When did you realize you need to consider a future?”

I want to say, “Hey, by the way, how come you ripped the doors off of the closet last time you packed your stuff?”

I don’t say these things because he’ll never even be able to explain. He probably doesn’t know why. I don’t even really need to know the “why.”

Here is what I do know:

1. My son is safely home in (approximately) one piece. He’s still a bit bruised and broken from the beat-down he got on the streets.

2. In 48 hours Marcus will be living on-campus in a program teaching him skills to be a licensed electrician.

3. He had to pass a clean drug test to get into this program.

4. I will love my oldest son forever, no matter what. Someday he may actually trust me on this one. He’s certainly tested it a few times.

 

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

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adoption, family

It’s Time

I’ve spent this past week tying up all of the loose ends I can find before my surgery.  I wonder if I’m ready. No matter how much I’ve prepared I can’t be sure that I’m ready. Also, my mother-in-law is coming to help out for a week so this should get very interesting.

I do love my MIL. She isn’t one to show affection with hugs and kisses. She will make me a cup of tea when I’m stressed. When she visits she cleans everything and cooks dinner for us. I absolutely love it. She fills our house with the savory smell of Spanish rice mixed with lavender Fabuloso cleaner. However, she has a great deal of anxiety and is scared to be out here in the countryside. Once she asked me fearfully if the deer ever came into the house!

When we first brought the children home my mother-in-law came to visit. It was great to have someone to help with household tasks because the kids were desperate for my attention. If foster care had taught them anything it was to be afraid that moms were actively trying to escape. The house was in turmoil and the kids raged, tantrummed, fought with each other and generally did whatever they could to hold my attention. They were so afraid then that their new mom would get away somehow.

My MIL was scared of them. While they were terrified of the world around them she was terrified of their violence. She didn’t want to be alone with them. She slept with her bedroom door locked. When Mary would begin to rage she’d run to her room and lock herself in. Her anxiety was pushed to the limits. She really didn’t understand why we would want to grow our family this way.

At one point she told me that foster care had “better kids” than these and that we needed to “send them back.” It wasn’t spoken with malice. She was afraid of what our lives would be like with these children. My MIL told me a story about someone who adopted troubled kids and ended up divorced.

After this, Luke jumped in to gently, yet firmly, establish some boundaries. She was only trying to protect us but it wasn’t helping. Over the years she eventually became very close to Carl. He loves her Spanish cooking which is truly the way to my MIL’s heart. When she talks about our family these days, it’s with respect. She brags about how far the children have come.

Now that she is coming I feel like things can run smoothly while I’m in the hospital. The only thing she fears at our house currently are those pesky deer! Under our kitchen sink I have organized the cleaners and miscellany so she can find her cleaning supplied. I’ve purchased her favorite cleaning gloves and a bottle of her signature Fabuloso. She has two boxes of her favorite cereal available.

The SUV just had an oil change and it’s burnt out bulbs replaced. I’ve prepared and frozen a few casseroles just in case. Luke and I rounded up three dead vacuum cleaners and other useless stuff from the basement to make a dump run. I can guarantee my MIL will still clean the basement, but at least this way she can get around.

Carl’s appointment with the in-home therapist is all scheduled and his rides for football practice are arranged. In short. there isn’t much else I can do. Is it enough? Have I prepared my family?

All I know is that it’s time.

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

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On the Frontlines of Food Insecurity

I heard the most ridiculous thing at a training given by the Department of Children and Families. The session was about health and safety for kids in foster care. The speaker was a registered nurse whose job it was to approve all medical treatment for the foster children in her region. Don’t even get me started on the times she described vetoing a medical doctor’s recommendation based on her shoddy anecdotal evidence.

The comments that irked me into feelings of mild violence were her views on food insecurity. “Oh that’s not really a problem. I don’t why people come to me with this. Just offer a variety of foods at dinner time.” She called this a “food tour” and opined that it always worked.

Seriously?! Ummm…no.

All of our children, to some degree, suffer from food insecurity. Because they spent large amounts of time without food, without enough food, or without appropriate nutritional fare, they have food insecurities. Two of our children don’t even feel safe unless they have a stash of non perishables in their bedrooms.

When the kids first came home, Carl couldn’t handle family meal times. His behavior escalated to what seemed like bizarre levels. We would sit down to a meal and politely pass the food around from plates in the middle of the table. Carl would grab between 3 and 6 dinner rolls and then scream at anyone else who tried to take one.

“Stop it! There will be none left!!!”

Carl would sit on his feet in a crouch with his arms protectively over his plate. No amount of cajoling or reminding got him to sit on his bottom would last for more than 30 seconds before he hopped up and perched protectively over his plate again.

His pupils would dilate and his heart rate would pick up. His voice got louder and his words were more oppositional. It was like watching someone handle being the victim of a hostage situation. Pure panic.

Inevitably the dinner stress would be too much for Carl. He would start by complaining he hated the food and would never eat it. This would progress to trying to grab all of the remaining food on the table. ALL of it. At some point after that he would throw his plate/cup/meal directly at me and run away screaming that we were starving him. Sometimes he would punch me.

At the same time, Sean would gobble huge amounts of food as if it were a race while Marcus and Mary sat turned away from the table, staring at the floor. They would not respond in any way, even if spoken to. It was as if they weren’t even there.

After everyone left, Mary would take her plate underneath the table, or to the floor, and finally eat her dinner. Marcus would eat whatever was left over when he awoke in the middle of the night.

None of it made any sense to me at the time. We did everything we could think of to manage this behavior. We put limits on the amount of ___ the kids could put on their plate at one time. We proactively switched over to paper plates and disposable plastic cutlery. My apologies to the environment but experience has literally shown me it’s better to have a plastic knife hit you in the face than a steak knife. After Carl’s outbursts he’d have to finish eating in his room. I didn’t know at the time that he felt much safer eating there.

Eventually we learned that our kiddos had a past history of stressful mealtimes. We already knew they spent a lot of time fending for themselves as toddlers and young children. Hence, Mary developed a taste for dog food and would sneak it whenever no one was watching. Apparently when bio mom was manic she’d begin cooking at 2 or 3 AM. Then she’d wake the kids up and insist they eat. Other times they existed on the Monster energy drinks and Jolly Ranchers they stole at the local corner store.

To this day, when Carl is feeling stress or anxiety it flares up. He will binge eat in the middle of the night. There is a far off, unfocused look that comes over him while he stuffs huge amounts of food into his mouth at an alarming rate. He’s often crying at the same time.

Have you ever seen a hamster stuff it’s cheeks full of food? This is sort of what it looks like. Carl will swallow without chewing. His cheeks swell to an unusual size yet still he keeps going. He stuffs more and more food into his mouth even before he swallows what’s already in there. This leads to choking and vomiting. As soon as Carl finishes puking, he immediately resumes guzzling food. Then he vomits more and eats more and so on. He chokes a lot when he gets like this because he forgets to breathe.

Last spring he suffered scratches to his esophagus because of the sharp edges of un-chewed food (think crackers or nuts.) He had also vomited so much that the acid was eroding soft tissue in his esophagus and stomach. He threw up so many times a day that eventually he was vomiting blood. The wait to see a specialist for pediatric GI took forever. We ended up in the emergency room at the children’s hospital four times in one month.

In the meantime we would wake up in the morning to find vomit, blood, and food wrappers of one kind or another all over the house. It was terrifying. This is when we got combination locks for the fridge. Our cabinets were already locked overnight to keep Mary out of the cutlery. Finally we got him in to do a series of tests, including an endoscopy.

The specialist concluded that Carl was reacting to his past, so it couldn’t be medically treated.  He asked me, completely straight-faced if we’d ever considered Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He told me that sometimes children who were traumatized need therapy. I burst out laughing. Yes, we’d been working on that for 4 years.

After the first winter together, the snow melted and revealed a surprise. Carl had buried all of his school snacks in the snow. Every day at school he would tell the teacher we refused to give him snacks. Meanwhile, he built up a stock in case he ever ran out of food again.

Carl would ask strangers for food at the store, at parks, at the lake, basically anywhere. While I stood behind him with a rescue-bag of goldfish in my hand I would hear him beg strangers desperately.  “Please,” he’d urgently whisper, ” Can I have some of that? My parents NEVER feed me. I’m starving!!!”

Once a well-meaning older lady kindly explained to me that children cannot go for long periods of time without eating. She kindly suggested that I consider snacks for the children. In response I pulled gently on Carl’s outside coat pocket. Imagine her surprise when three granola bars and a bag of almonds fell out!

Some things have helped. We developed a calm dinner routine where we take turns appreciating one person at the table for something they did that day.  Our goal was for Carl to feel safe at mealtimes. His therapist, L, helped him develop a self-talk manta. It goes, “I will have enough to eat. I will have these foods again.”

We let him keep boxes of power bars and granola  in his room. For years he slept with them in his bed. This was preferable to the chicken drumsticks and other perishables he used to hide in his pillow case!

We got frozen pizzas that Marcus could prepare and eat in the middle of the night. We stopped buying “high-value” foods that would trigger Carl into a binge. This included peanut butter, Nutella, candy of any kind and cream cheese. During the stressful spring season we padlock the fridge to prevent Carl from getting hurt while out of control at night.

Some things have never changed at all. For example, Mary literally does not know how to drink water.  If a glass is placed in front of her she will chug it as fast as possible without breaking. It doesn’t matter how much liquid you put in front of her. I tried to give her a huge water bottle once to see if it would slow her down. It didn’t. Instead she threw her head back and guzzled until I was sure she’d drown.  Instead she began choking and crying while continuing to gulp. Mary wouldn’t put the bottle down until I physically pryed it away from her mouth.

When chugging her water Mary still tilts her head as far back as she can. She also flings her left arm out straight to grab and hold onto whoever is nearest. She will clutch onto them until she is done rapidly swallowing everything in front of her. It looks exactly like a baby drinking from a bottle. Mary is stuck in this phase.

Unfortunately this also makes her vomit. Because of how unpleasant it is for her to chug liquid down and then puke, she usually refuses it entirely. She claims she is “allergic” to water and it always makes her sick. She physically cannot sip from a cup. That skill simply isn’t in her repertoire.

Eventually we learned to pour out two fingers of liquid at a time for her to drink or else we’d give her a straw. She was able to appropriately use the water fountain at school.

My point is this: food insecurity is terrible.  If a professional gives advice on this they should have some actual experience with kids exposed to starvation. Healing takes hard work and years of patience. Even then, that trauma is always with our kids to some degree. Because, really a “food tour” is NOT going to fix the problem.

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

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The Mother Load

My mother has perfectly coiffed hair at all times. Her blonde matches my own, but that is where the similarity ends. She has shiny, obedient coif arranged perfectly around her face. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her with a flyaway except maybe right after a wash. I have wildly curly hair that I attempted to tame in my teenage years. I flat-ironed the curls, set it in rollers, attempted blow-outs and relaxers. As I got older I grew it longer and just left it down to fly free. Why fight nature? My hair does it’s own dynamic thing.

Unfortunately, she ended up with me for a daughter. I was a messy child. I’m a little cleaner now, but I never dust, and sometimes my bed goes unmade. I wear flowing skirts and very little make-up (if at all.) My skin care regimen consists of soap and sun screen. Fingers crossed I end up with my mother’s complexion which is somehow impervious to the passing of time.I listen to Bob Dylan or Phish. I eat with paper napkins. My elbows are forever on the table and sometimes I even sit cross-legged during dinner.

One Thanksgiving, she called me and asked what my centerpiece was. I was confused. I said, “Isn’t that where the food goes?”

While out at the grocery store on a sweltering August day last week, I donned my summer uniform of bohemian maxi-dress and flip flops. As long as the clothes feel soft and allow me to move easily, I’m happy. This used to be an added bonus when Mary was violent and attacking me. It allowed me to dodge and dart away. Now she is in a residential school and my days of darting are behind me.

I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. I’m not as likely to scan for exits and double check that the police are a speed-dial touch away on my phone. I can wear my long and flowing dresses without long-sleeved cardigans in the melting summer heat. The reason is simple. I am no longer covering arms awash in multi-colored bruises from a violent child.

A elderly man approached me in the frozen food aisle and let out an appreciative whistle. At a certain age I think people can get away with just about any behavior and still seem endearing. He told me it was a long time since he’d seen a “real woman” dressed “properly in a dress or skirt.” He claimed my husband must just “love all over me” (spoiler alert: he does!) and that he was lucky not to have a woman always in pants. I thanked the man dubiously as I helped him reach the steam-able carrots. It occurred to me that I might tell him I wear pajama-jeans in a completely un-ironic way in the Fall. Obviously he assumed I was dressed up rather than the truth which lies somewhere around my ambivalent attitude towards underwear.

Maybe I am more like my mother than I think. I certainly hope I grow to be just like her as I age. My mom may be different than I am in many ways. However, she supports this family without another thought. She moved with my stepdad halfway across the country, braving frigid New England winters and high taxes, just to be close to us. No matter what drama our family was experiencing, or how bizarre this family/herd-of-chickens gets, she is with us. In my darkest hour, I am not alone. My mother is the tree trunk to my spreading branches. I want so badly to be this way for my own daughter.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed it yet. I can’t. My daughter is living in a residential therapeutic setting. Someone else tucks her in at night. Someone else restrains her when she rages. In her darkest hours I am simply not there. I wish it could be different. It can’t.

How will she view our mother-daughter relationship one day? If I’m not the trunk to her branches, will I be the house next door? If I am not Mary’s steadfast base, am I at least Mary-adjacent? I hope so. I hope that one day she is comparing our preferred music and fashion rather than wondering why we lived apart. I hope her memories of me are not filled with being abandoned or pushed away.

It is hard to do this from a distance. I try but even in her physical presence, a gap divides us. How will she view me one day? Only time will tell.

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

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Sobriety Not Required: Biological Parents

I am forever curious about how other adopted families do this. How does everyone else manage incorporating the first family into their child’s world? I admit that I don’t know much about domestic infant adoption or foreign adoption. All of my experience stems from children placed in foster care because their parents were unable to properly care for them. I suppose other situations might be vastly different.

We do have an open adoption with Mary and Carl’s father, Dad C. The biological mother does not want contact. Marcus is an adult and manages his own contact with family so I won’t detail that. I’ve only written about the relationship with Dad C because that’s the only one at this time. Mary is not mentally stable enough to participate in contact right now. We had one visit that was very detrimental to her last year. At the advice of her therapists we are holding off until she can handle contact.

For us, it was never a question of if  biological family fit in, it was more how to fit them in. Our children are older and therefore remember their first years with these parents. It’s a part of who they are and so we try to respect that. I’ve gotten a number of emails asking about our open adoption so I will do my best to answer them below. I am in  no way an expert so please don’t take this as advice. I mess it up all the time in a hundred ways. This conversation is what happens in our family only. I’d love to hear what it looks like in yours!

Private Information: Dad C has our address, has been to our town, and has seen the kids’ schools. He isn’t allowed to show up to these places and all parties are aware of that. He hasn’t been to our house. I think it helps that he knows the kids are in a nice area. He’s met my mom and the kids’ godparents at football games.

Photos: During one of our first visits with Dad C he asked apprehensively if he could have permission to take pictures. He asked if he could be allowed to post them or share them with his family. Luke and I didn’t hesitate to agree. We took pictures with his phone so that he could be in them. This is one of those pieces I don’t entirely understand. A stranger could come and sneak a picture of my kids on their phone. It really doesn’t affect us if Dad C posts pictures of the kids or tries to paint a Facebook-friendly image of a family that is still together. Who cares? We live in different states and don’t move in the same crowds. I might feel differently if people in the community thought the kids were “back” with Dad C. Probably not, though. Our friends know what’s going on and everyone else can think whatever they like.

Sobriety: I have had some questions about requiring bio parents to be sober. It has even been suggested that bio-parents present a clean drug test for a period of time before being allowed visitation. Personally, I think this is more for a foster-care situation than an open adoption. If the parents could maintain sobriety then they might have been able to parent their children. Since the time  to prove they can stay clean and resume parenting has passed, I can’t see that it’s my business.

The bio-parents are only required to be 100% sober for visits. Our children will not have contact with anyone under the influence or behaving erratically. Other than visitation times, it’s their life. I hope they do get clean. If not, it doesn’t change anything. We adopted these children. We parent them safely. If they can feel loved by multiple people and have positive interactions, I think it’s good. Our kids know about their bio-parents problems. They already lived through it.

In-person visits: Luke and I supervise these. We only have them with Dad C because bio-mom does not want contact. We schedule them when/if Carl wants to see Dad C. We will give gentle reminders or prompting that this is available. Typically Carl isn’t that interested in seeing Dad C but he likes to get letters in the mail. Carl also likes when Dad C attends a few sporting events to watch him play. We support this and arrange it as best we can. During visits Carl can give us a signal if he feels uncomfortable or is ready to end the visit. Dad C does not drive Carl anywhere or take him to another location. We usually have a post-game meal at a fast-food restaurant together.

Luke and I field requests for visits. If Carl doesn’t want to see or speak to Dad C, we handle it. It’s OK with me if Dad C thinks we are keeping him away sometimes. It’s fine with me if he believes we are mean for not giving him holidays. We take care of our kids first. We protect them from having to say “no” or be in an uncomfortable position. Luke and I are only concerned with the well-being of the kids.

Letters and presents: Sure. Bio parents can send these any time. We do read them first to make sure they aren’t triggering or inappropriate. Dad C likes to give the kids money. Cool.

I also post pictures and report cards to a closed Facebook group for bio-family.

Boundaries: This one is hard. Dad C doesn’t seem to understand, or at least admit, why he doesn’t have any of his children. This is fine as long as it’s not a conversation with our kids. We know he has several more although he only mentions one other son. This is his private business so we don’t ask him about the other kids. He sometimes mentions he “lost his case” because he didn’t have enough money. We know this isn’t true at all. The kids know this isn’t true and obviously remember why they aren’t with him. We ask that he does not mention the case. We require that he avoids adult conversation, violence, and inappropriate language. He is not able to ask the kids why they didn’t want to live with him etc. On the flip side, he can answer anything the kids ask him.

Do we get along: I guess we do. It’s more about getting along in front of the kids than anything else. Even if I am annoyed or unhappy with something Dad C has done I try not to show it in front of Carl. I dislike that Dad C spends a lot of the visits crying and saying he misses Carl and thinks about him every day. This is probably all true. However, I don’t think it should be Carl’s burden to make Dad C feel better. I don’t think the visit should be about Dad C’s feelings at all. It should be about the child.

I don’t like having to provide prompts and reminders over and over (and over!) again about the children’s ages and birthdays. I am frustrated at trying hard to plan visits and give reminders, directions, and more prompting only to have things fall apart. Dad C and his wife aren’t good at this stuff.  Since this is my personal problem and not the kids, I keep it to myself.

I really dislike the different treatment Carl gets in comparison to Mary. He always gets a card and money for holidays and birthdays (as long as I give multiple reminders first.) Mary has never gotten the same. On her last birthday she was overlooked for about 4 months despite reminders. She wrote a sweet letter asking for a card or letter. Eventually she got a card with less money. This came with another card for Carl with money. Luke and I had to make it clear that both children had to be treated the same.

I don’t like that Dad C’s new wife considers herself the “stepmom” and wants the kids to hug her. It’s weird. They don’t know her. She talks to me a lot about asking the kids if they want her to have a baby. We do not allow that conversation because it shouldn’t be Mary and Carl’s burden to handle big adult decisions. She also talks a lot about how the kids are bonding with her and accepting her. She thanks them and says she loves them and talks my ear off about why this is a big deal for her. I know I’m being unfair but that is just plain annoying. It shouldn’t be about her. It should be about the kids.

Neither one of them has ever asked about how the visit was for the Carl. They’ve never asked if he had a good time, if he wants to do something different or how he felt about it. Both of them just talk a lot about how the experience was for them and what they might like next time.

Look, I don’t think we are ever going to be BFFs. As long as we maintain a polite and functional communication for the kids I feel accomplished.

The Takeaway:

At the end of the day it’s their relationship, not mine. I tell the children the honest truth about everything if they ask. I keep my judgments and opinions to myself as much as possible. I honestly don’t always do a good job. It’s complicated  and fraught with my own emotions. In our case Dad C has been respectful of boundaries and we’ve never had an actual problem. During one visit he became angry and struck the table a bit with his fist. Carl wasn’t present for that. Dad C’s wife intervened quickly before he got too angry. This is the only hint I’ve personally seen that he has aggression issues. If he had raised his voice, if Carl had noticed, if anything had escalated we would have terminated the visit. However, cooler heads prevailed and it ended on a pleasant note.

Someone in the blogosphere recently suggested to me that the state lies to kidnap kids and adopt them out. No. Just…no. I’ve seen the evidence in this case. I believe the DCF reports about how my kids lived before they came to us. More than that, I believe my children when they describe how things were in their first family.  As accepting and open as I try to be, I’m not an automaton. There are things in my children’s past that enrage me. There are things about these first parents that chill me to my very core. But still, the bio-family belongs to my children. So I try and then I try again.

No matter what happened, no matter what their biological parents did or didn’t do, my children love them. Carl will be thirteen next month. He has such a wise perception of the events in his earlier years. When discussing his biological dad he says, “It’s not my fault he did those things. He made bad choices. I know he loves me though.”

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

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I Can’t

I can’t do it. I honestly just…can’t. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s not that I’m sick of it. I just cannot. I’ve hit an immovable wall. I’d like to curl up and hide in my bed for several reasons.

The first of which would be my back injury. My last appointment with the neurosurgeon was a little under two weeks ago. We planned for the revision surgery to address the fact that my spine hasn’t fused and my hardware is loose. At the appointment the surgeon wanted to pull me out of work completely until after my surgery. I am obviously struggling and can barely move on a bad day.

However, I argued that I needed to finish out a few meetings and transfer things to my long-term substitute. I sort of bargained him into agreeing to let me work three days a week until I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed a couple of weeks to get things done. He agreed that I could try this but that I had to call back for another note when I could no longer make it.

Fast forward to now. I cannot do it anymore. I wrapped everything up as best I could but I wasn’t even able to make it in on Friday. I called the surgeon’s office. For whatever reason, the physician’s assistant agreed to fax in a note stating that I was requesting not to work rather than a note of medical necessity. The nurse who called me asked, “Do you still want us to send it in? Are you sure you aren’t returning to work?”

Ummm….yes I am sure. I bargained for an extra two weeks which was most likely four weeks too many! I am not calling for fun, I am calling because I cannot do it anymore. I can’t. It has nothing to do with “wanting.” So now I have to wait until Monday to see if the doctor himself will change the note, or if I am about to lose all financial support and let my family suffer the consequences of my inability.

Then there is Mother’s Day. I can say that beyond a shadow of a doubt:

I hate Mother’s Day!

It’s a traumatic day for my adopted children. They’ve lost a mom, so it is hard. Things that remind them of their first mom bring up grief, anger, and a variety of complex emotions. Since she isn’t around, I get to bear the brunt of all that emotional baggage.

Marcus has taken off for parts unknown, as he typically does after an argument. At this point he’s given up most of the pretext of trying to get into job corps. This was what he had chosen out of a variety of options to further his future when we laid down house rules. Instead, he’s blown off the admission interview just days before his deadline. He had more important things to do like go to the junkyard and buy parts for his car, work on his car, and run out of gas money to get to work. Upon being reminded that his requirement to live at home without financial worry was to take one step toward bettering his future, he became very angry. He rage texted a few swears about me kicking him out and why did I adopt him just to tell him he has to leave and so on.

I know he was trying to hurt me. I know this is way of leaving, or processing, or whatever the reasons are behind this Marcus pattern. It still stung. He hasn’t returned in a few days and I’m pretty sure he skipped work Friday. He clearly isn’t coming home for our Mother’s day BBQ today because he isn’t even bothering to answer any text messages.

Mary isn’t here. It’s better than last year when Carl and I were locked in his room behind a deadbolt while she destroyed everything in a rage. Luke had to spend the day trying to safely contain her while we hid. It was awful. This year she is in RTC, she’s actually doing quite well, but it is still awful. I miss my girl.

Carl has been having a very difficult time these past weeks.

I just don’t feel like I have the energy left to cope with it. I know my children have trauma and it leads them to behave a certain way. It’s just that sometimes understanding isn’t the same thing as coping with. I selfishly want to hide away from my family all day because I’m miserable. So far I’ve managed to hide in my room with my essential oil diffuser, some cheesy television, and my laptop. Writing helps. Alone time helps.

I will need to emerge for tonight’s BBQ because my own mother will be there. The one good thing about this Mother’s Day is that I get to be with my own mom. Sometimes, only my mom can make things better. And isn’t today about honoring that very thing?

Until then, I just can’t. I can’t bring myself to emerge and deal with everything. My legs won’t move and my tears will start. So until my own mom comes? I just…can’t.

(Just as soon as I’ve finished typing this a text pops up from Marcus. And that’s something.)

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

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adoption, family

Late Night Compulsions

It’s 3:30 in the morning and I am wide awake. Luke is working the overnight shift. Something about being alone at this hour makes me feel unsettled. It happens at least once a week when he volunteers for our town’s EMS service. Sleeping alone after ten years of marriage feels wrong, as if I have somehow misplaced a limb. How careless of me.

I wonder how it must feel to spend your beginning years with a family and then suddenly be sleeping somewhere else. I know that Luke will come home. My children lived with uncertainty about their biological families for years. With adoption comes the certainty of family. However, adoption can never really give back what was lost. That limb is forever missing.

Alone at night I creep through the silent house, checking on everyone.

Marcus is asleep in his room. Recently, he injured his hand at work. He can’t sleep comfortably with his cast. Right now it makes him appear all tangled up and awkward. Having him here is what counts so I continue on with a mental, “check.”

Carl is still inpatient at the psychiatric hospital, so his bed is empty. He will be discharged tomorrow. For the life of me, I cannot put together how we got here. All of these thoughts are with me as I check on his empty room. I think the new medication change will help him. His spot on the list for intensive outpatient care has bumped up, or so they say. Luke and I know how to do this part. We find the services our children need and then we hang on while they stabilize. Check.

Mary is at her amazing residential private school. She seems to be making progress. For once, I don’t actually feel the need to check on her. I don’t feel the need for the late night reassurance, because I know that she is in a safe place. I know we are all in a safe place now. Check.

Another weird late-night compulsion I have is to read my messages from Sean. He’s reached out three times since he left. He sent DMs on Facebook to me. In June he thanked us for being at Marcus’ high school graduation. Then he asked if everything was alright. In July he asked if he could come  visit us. The last message was in September, asking about Mary. I didn’t respond to these. Some things are better left unsaid. I’m not sure why I feel the need to reread them. Check?

A bizarre image of myself giving a social worker a tour pops into my head. “This is where Sean used to be. He’s gone, now. Here is the man-child in a cast who has been known to steal my car. Here is where Mary’s things are. We are thinking about converting the upstairs loft for her bedroom. That way, when she comes home from RTC, she will be closer to us at night. Here is Carl’s empty room. He is at the psychiatric hospital right now for a med adjustment. He is our most stable child!” In my weird mental movie I end with a dramatic flourish and a bow.

A part of me feels like I should be checking on J, the child we never adopted. Short of re-reading the little “Learn more about J!” synopsis on the website, I can’t actually check on her. OK, sometimes I watch her video, but then I end up crying over the student who asked us to adopt her all those years ago. She isn’t missing a limb tonight. She is without bio or adoptive family. She is missing out on everything.

“Don’t leave her in care longer than you must,” is what I told her worker. “She’s at an age where she needs to push her boundaries, rebel a little and stretch her wings. She cannot do this without the safety of a family.”

I understand why J’s worker had reservations about our family adopting her. Aside from the space issue (there is none!) we have a lot going on. Luke and I already have kids with complex needs. We certainly have our hands, and our hearts, full. I wouldn’t trade this family for anything.

It still gnaws at me, though. I cannot shake this feeling that I am somehow missing a limb…

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

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