adoption, family

Second Chances

Paper stars flutter to and fro in time to the rhythm of the air conditioning. A wall of black plastic sits beneath reams of masking tape and fluorescent post-it notes. It’s masquerading as the New York City skyline. This is Pinterest’s creation come to life. This is the middle school’s eight grade dance.

I set it up and now I wait for the children to arrive. I chaperoned this event for Sean when he was in eighth grade. At the time I sort of signed up illegally because only seventh grade parents chaperone the eighth grade “graduation” dance. Since we didn’t have him when he was in the seventh grade I never got the opportunity.

Of course after Sean’s umpteenth “Hey! That’s my mom!!” shout-out to friends I got caught. The teacher in charge gently but firmly chastised me for breaking with tradition. Oops.

At the time, getting caught as an illegal chaperone was my biggest embarrassment. It wasn’t until months later that I began to hear all of the things Sean had said about us around town. For that one night I felt confident enough as Sean’s mother to take the risk and stick it out at the dance.

Tonight was my chance to do it all over again. It was my second chance to follow the correct order of things. Carl is adopted: I’m officially his mom. I don’t have to explain what a foster parent is to the head teacher. Carl is in seventh grade so I officially qualify for chaperoning.

I even got here early enough that I helped the eighth-grade parents decorate. It wasn’t exactly clear to me who was qualified to decorate. It’s hard to keep up with the very specific roles around here!

Right now I’m checking over the streamers and refreshments. I’m admiring all of my handiwork when the head teacher comes in. It’s the same one from 5 years ago. The teacher looks flustered and out-of-breathe. She remarks that the ceremony is wrapping up too quickly and the kids will be here before the chaperones arrive.

I don’t think she recognizes me from 2014.

“It’s ok,” I say. “I’ll be here.”

Immediately I sense the change in her demeanor. She shakes her head and clucks in time to the air conditioner. “Oh no,” she shakes her head, “The eighth grade parents only do decorations. You can’t stay to chaperone. The seventh grade parents are the chaperones.”

I vaguely wonder what happens when someone parks in her favorite spot. How does she react if someone orders at the grocery deli without first taking the little paper ticket? Even when there’s no line at the deli? Life must be very frustrating.

“I’m a seventh-grade mom,” is my smooth reply, “I just showed up early to help.

She looks mildly bewildered that I would show up before my scheduled time. A wayward streamer sticks to her hair sprayed helmet as she rocks back on her heels to ponder me.

“Yes, that’s right!” She exclaims, “You ARE a seventh-grade parent. You belong to Carl!”

Well now that we’ve cleared that up…

I nod solemnly because I do belong to Carl. I am eternally proud to belong to him. I belong here.

This is my chance to get it right.

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

Advertisements
Standard
adoption, family

Proven Wrong

I need to spend more time counting my blessings. Yesterday morning I was filled with dread over the impending Mother’s Day drama. I was expecting the pattern of trauma and dysregulation from the last few years to continue.

I have never been happier to say I WAS WRONG!!! Mary got up with me in the morning to go to church with my parents. It was a nice service and I actually found myself relaxed and happy. Mary wasn’t irritable or on edge. She was pleasant and sweet to me. Slowly my own irritability and edginess drained away. I went home to a spotless house that Luke had cleaned.

Later, we had a celebratory lunch at my parents’ house. Typically we go around the table and appreciate one person in the family for something at mealtimes. Carl almost always appreciates us for eating with him or giving him food. This time, I gave appreciation to my mom and sort of waited for things to get weird.

Mary and Carl both appreciated me. Carl appreciated the food (of course) but also the sports I take him to. Mary appreciated her family and adoption. Marcus shocked me the most. This is NOT his thing. He appreciated the holiday because he said he had “never been a ‘mom’ fan” but now he was. It was amazing.

When I drove Mary back to campus she was calm and centered. Only Bio Sister’s comments from the previous evening upset her. Mary teared up a bit and wanted to know why BS called her “chubby” and “sad looking.”

She asked me, “Do I look ok? I’m trying to eat healthy and not be chubby.”

Mary also expressed concern about BS knowing where she went to school. She didn’t want BS to know because she felt BS would judge the school. She felt her sister would blame us for sending her away.

Later on, when Bio Sister (BS) came (almost 2 hours late) to get Marcus, we had a conversation. It’s weird that she didn’t want us to meet her over the state line. It turns out her boyfriend was violating his probation by driving out of state so they had to take someone else’s car.

Luke is very good at this so he firmly but politely set a boundary for her conversations with the kids. He told her that some comments had been hurtful to Mary. I confirmed that Mary is sensitive and felt bad about being called chubby and being told she “didn’t want to go back to that school.”

Of course BS backtracked and claimed she didn’t mean it and that all Puerto Rican’s hate school and call each other fat. She looked at Luke to confirm this and he flatly disagreed. She asked again if Mary had learning disabilities and why she went to private school.

“Why can’t they help her in regular school?”

I explained that Mary has overcome a lot and is doing very well. She is so strong and so amazing. She has a lot going on and if she chooses to share her diagnosis or struggles someday it’s up to her. Until then we will be protective of her.

I gave BS some examples of supportive comments. I told her to be positive and and tell Mary she looks great, IF they were going to talk. BS quickly agreed. We told her regardless of her personal feelings about the school, she shouldn’t share them.

Even Marcus jumped in and said the school was amazing.

BS looked nervous, apologized, and left quickly. I’ll miss Marcus but I’m glad she’s gone.

All in all it was a great day. Victory!!!

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

Standard
adoption, family

That Day

That day is here again. The one I dread with a visceral gut twist every single year. It’s Mother’s Day.

Here is the day where I leave the house and people congratulate me over and over again for being a mother. People ask my kids if they are celebrating me or doing something “nice” for me. Well, first people look at Carl and Marcus with puzzlement before checking that I am, in fact, their mother.

All it does is remind all of us that there was an original mom in this picture who really messed up. Her loss has been my gain and it isn’t comfortable in any way. This day reminds my children of grief.

Being a daughter myself means that I have my own mother to celebrate. I love her dearly but it does prohibit me from hiding in the closet and ignoring the entire thing altogether.

Someone traditionally has a meltdown every year around this day. It’s just too hard. My money is on ME this year. I am pretty sure I’ll be the one to lose it and stomp off.

Today we have to return Marcus to Bio Sister and Mary to campus. We had planned to meet BS at a halfway point. She doesn’t want to do that. Instead she is driving TO MY HOUSE.

Last night Marcus hands his phone to Mary and it’s BS on FaceTime again. Her first words are, “You look sad. Why do you look so sad?” Then she said stuff in Spanish while Mary stared at the screen thoroughly confused. Insert my eye roll here.

Doesn’t Bio Sister have her own kids to worry about? She’s pregnant again.

Please wish me luck as I bravely (reluctantly) embark on That Day again. At the end of it I can snuggle up with Luke and watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

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

Standard
adoption, family

The Prodigal Returns (Again)

Marcus is home. We finally convinced him to come home, at least for a little while. He’s here so that we can take him to get a new driver’s license at the DMV. He can’t get a job without it.

He’s also here because he needed me to help him write his appeal letter to Job Corps. As much as he wanted to leave there previously, he now wants to stay. He’s depressed and mad at himself for the way he reacted to the girl that threatened him.

Marcus is an odd duck this way. He always wants what he doesn’t have. He knows he gets triggered and that his reactions are extreme. He understands it’s not ok to react with rage and violence. At the same time he often feels as though it’s someone else’s fault.

Tonight he’s trying to explain that he’s been thinking of self-harming. He claims to have two separate people inside him that want different things. He wants to do well but a part of him wants to mess everything up. He does honestly believe he has someone else inside of him.

I wish Marcus could see that the thing he is fighting is trauma. To that end I’ve scheduled an emergency appointment with L, our local super-hero trauma therapist. She’s the only one he’ll see anyway. His comments about wishing himself to die or to hurt are something I take seriously.

Hopefully he stays at home for awhile. We can focus on his mental health in a way his sister won’t. He certainly won’t face these issues on his own.

Please stay this time, Marcus. Please put in the work. Trust me, you’re worth it.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Getting Antsy

If there is one thing the foster care system has taught my children it would be leaving. An internal alarm will alert them not to feel safe with permanency. Unfortunately, the very nature of foster care perpetuates this. Are you comfortable here? Do you love these people?  Are you happy in this school? It’s time to go. It’s time for another placement.

Ostensibly, it’s affected Marcus the most. He’s been through the greatest number of placements. Even an amazing foster home like the one Sean and Mary had is still not their birth home. They’ve all been moved. After awhile kids can get rather used to this. It’s taken years to assure them we are a forever family. Carl gets it. Mary still sometimes asks if she needs to go to another family.

As far as Marcus is concerned everything and everyone has an expiration date. His relationships never last past 8 months. Neither do his homes. Even as an adult, he is constantly moving around, constantly seeking something better. At around the 6-month mark for anything he gets antsy. Marcus will start small arguments or come up with little reasons as to why things aren’t working. He’s building up to his “time to go” alarm.

At the 8-month mark he’s either already gone or he’s heading out the door. Marcus has always been a fan of the “ripping off the band-aid” school of thinking. When he feels the need to leave he will take extreme measures to make it happen. He’ll cause fights, take risks, and generally try to burn it all down. I’ve heard of people burning their bridges before but Marcus will set fire to his own life raft.

Having been on the receiving end of this several times, I am very familiar with the signs. When he’s doing well in a job/school/relationship he can only tolerate it for so long. Then Marcus chafes against some imagined confinement. He’ll eventually chew off his own leg to escape.

This weekend he came home early from Job Corps. He took Friday off because he “couldn’t take it.” Apparently he’d been written up for smoking in a non-designated area and giving staff a hard time. He had started or almost-started fights with a few kids. He was behind in some of his electrical work.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad Marcus chose to come home. This is much better than, say, starting a physical fight with a staff member. I am an advocate of walking away when you need to. I just really, really want him to walk back.

I see the signs. He is beginning to exhibit some reckless behaviors that could eventually get him terminated from the program. He smuggled alcohol onto campus by duct taping nips bottles to his waist. Then he lifted up his shirt so security could wave the metal detector over his belt like he had nothing to hide. Somehow he didn’t get caught. At least, he hasn’t been caught yet.

He has been at Job Corps for 5 months. He hasn’t completed his apprenticeship yet. He wants to leave next month. Marcus claims he absolutely cannot be there during the summer. He wants to get a job. He’s found a new car to buy. It would seem we are back to square one with car vs. real life!

Obviously, we have tried to persuade him to continue investing in his future. This opportunity dries up the moment he walks away. Marcus is getting too old for these programs to take him. He’s an adult and these are adult choices. I hope he makes the right one.

My mother says, “You can save people from a lot of things but you can’t save them from themselves.”

Her words ring true. There isn’t anything I can do here. Still, the whole thing makes me antsy.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Swimming Upstream

I wonder how a salmon can continue to swim upstream fighting the flow of water every inch. It seems counter-intuitive but their instinct tells them to keep going. Just thinking about it makes me exhausted.

Recently, Marcus broke up with the girlfriend who had the baby. He and his friends were all over social media saying horrible things about her. The threads ranged in topic from disparaging comments about her vagina to the fact that she had a baby. The language used was awful.

I explained that these words were not OK. This is a form of abuse and harassment. I offered an alternative as to how to handle the situation. At 21, Marcus makes his own decisions and I’m not even sure I got through to him. The social media backlash did stop so maybe our conversation worked.

As a woman and a mother I want to raise strong men. I want my sons to internalize the same values I do. It is so important to me that they respect women in their words and actions. I don’t believe that a man should ever use physical strength to coerce or intimidate a woman under any circumstances.  I also believe that a woman’s sexuality is just as natural and sacred as a man’s. Words like, “c*nt, whore, slut, b*tch” etc. do not have any place in my value system.

In fact, the more shame that surrounds a woman’s sexual identity, the more vulnerable she is. Sexuality is a natural thing. If the taboos surrounding it disappeared so too would the silence. I believe it is easier for perpetrators to commit sexual crimes if they know victims will be too afraid to speak out. If we teach our girls to be ashamed of sexuality then we teach oppression. A strong man doesn’t wield this as a weapon. He doesn’t have to.

So how can I pass this on to my sons? The truth is that I can’t. At least, not entirely. Carl and Marcus grew up in a very different environment. An early model of domestic violence colors their views. Foul language disparaging a woman for her sexuality was simply common vernacular in their childhood home. The value that physical dominance makes a “man” permeated their early years.

Over time Carl has mostly shed these misconceptions. It’s Marcus I worry about. He doesn’t understand what is appropriate here and what is not. When he was 16, I found out that he was bullying a girl online by calling her a “slut” and other sex-shaming phrases. I tried to make him see how this was wrong no matter the circumstances. Utterly baffled, he defended his actions because, “she really is a slut!”

When discussing Chris Brown’s infamous 2009 attack on then-girlfriend Rihanna, Marcus took his side. “She deserved that!” The idea that no one should be physically punished was foreign to him. It’s taken a lot of years to get him to a place where he believes that physical violence between partners is not OK.

He’s got a new girlfriend now. Girlfriend L attends his Job Corps program. She seems nice, but like anyone getting emotionally close to Marcus she probably won’t last. He posted about her the other day. It went something along the lines of being lucky to have her in his life. I found it to be incredibly sweet. If he is able to verbally express his emotions then he’s maturing. This is new for him.

Unfortunately, his oldest biological sister and Sean weighed in. Both of them encouraged him to take down the post because it made him sound like a “little b*tch.” I have no idea why but this seems to be a persistent family value from long ago. Be a man. Don’t be “soft,” whatever that means.

I hope that Luke and I have influenced the way Marcus treats women. I’d like to think he’ll continue to grow to be more like Luke. Every step we take it seems that history is there to fight us. Marcus is caught between the values of our home and those he grew up with. Parenting Marcus is a lot like un-parenting his past. I am still fighting my way upstream.

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

 

Standard
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.

Standard