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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family

The Prodigal Son…Graduates! 

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This is a day I never thought I’d be able to see. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always believed he would finish his high school degree. This is a point I hotly debated with the many social workers, and clinicians involved over the years. “He won’t want to graduate from high school when he is almost 20. He’s missed too many credits. He’ll probably just get his GED,” was something a clinical consultant on his case said to me once. What he meant was “Marcus will surely drop out.” But I knew better. Marcus, our children’s oldest biological brother, never backs down when he’s determined about something.

It’s just that after he decided he didn’t want us to adopt him, he left and swore he’d never return. So I believed that I would have to miss the day he got his diploma. I stupidly tried to comfort myself with thoughts of seeing his pictures on Facebook or being there “in spirit.” Marcus eventually made contact with us and we managed to forge a new kind of relationship. Despite this, I didn’t think he would want his “old parents” at his high school graduation. But he did. He asked us to come when he contacted me to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Man can that kid make me cry!

For me, he will always and forever be my eldest son. For him I’m probably one of the many “moms” he’s had through his years in the foster care system. He often felt like a throwaway kid.  Marcus felt out of place being loved by a family. So he pushed back. He got suspended, kicked out of schools, sent to a group home, disrupted many foster placements and did a stint in “juvie.”

Social workers cautioned us from the beginning against getting too attached to this “troubled teen.” But attachment was just what he needed. Unconditional love, acceptance, and ultimately the ability to ride out his struggles. No, we never got to adopt him. He aged out of foster care. But eventually Marcus returned to the house of his first foster mom. He wasn’t “in the system” anymore. She had long since retired from fostering kids. But Marcus? He always had a place with her.

Marcus often felt that no one wanted him. He pushed back against love so hard that he tried to drive the people closest to him away however he could. It didn’t work. For this  graduation the vice principal and resource officer (the same one who had to arrest him once) from his former school attended. He had a childhood friend he’d kept in touch with over his years shuffling through foster homes. He had his first foster family. He had an older sister’s ex-husband.  And he had us. One of his older biological sisters came and surprisingly, so did his biological father. We all loved him enough to be there.

When Marcus first started coming to visit us, he reminded me of the little boy Max from the children’s’ book Where the Wild Things Are. For one thing, he would stretch waaay into his 7-year-old sister’s footy pajamas, shirts, and headbands when playing with her. He was just shy of the wolf costume Max wears in the book’s opening illustrations. Like Max, Marcus was always quite fond of “making mischief of one kind or another,” and like Max he was an expert at driving his caregivers crazy.

If ever a child deserved to be made “King of the Wild Things,” it was Marcus.  He would have angry outbursts and tantrums over the smallest things. Then he would put on his headphones and drift away to a place where no one could make contact with him. Marcus would come back at his own pace. So many of his relationships followed this back-and-forth pattern. Like Max, Marcus was a lovable child at heart and needed to know it. I obviously had to read him the book aloud. He loved the experience! At 17, he’d never heard of the story, or even heard of parents reading stories to their children at bedtime. 

When we started his adoption process, I bought him a hardcover copy of the book. I slipped it beneath his pillow after writing on the inside cover “You have finally come home to a place where someone loves you best of all.” We never discussed it. After he left us, he packed everything except that book. It crushed me. Like the beasts Maurice Sendak created, I wanted to roar and gnash my teeth. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so! But I couldn’t. So I let go. I had been wrong about this story the whole time.

I wasn’t the mother waiting at home with his hot supper. I was one of the many “Wild Things” trying to love him along the journey of foster care. So when Marcus asked us to be at his graduation, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt love, pride, and gratitude that we were still family. I cried through the ceremony from the moment he walked in until the moment he crossed the stage.  Luke and I were by far not the only ones there for Marcus. He had the largest group of supporters of any graduate that day. As we stood around wiping tears and snapping pictures, I figured maybe I wasn’t the mother or the “Wild Thing” after all.

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Marcus approached Luke and I last. Without words, he fell into Luke’s arms and pulled me into a tight group hug. He was crying and so was I. In that moment, in that hug? Marcus really was “home.” No matter where he goes in life, that hug was the place where “someone loved him best of all.”

Congratulations, Marcus.

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

*My sincere apologies if I botched the plot with my interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story book Where the Wild Things Are

 

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