adoption, family

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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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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