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.

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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.

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adoption, family

What Are We Teaching Them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

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

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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Once, it was our “almost-adoption.” The son that was, then wasn’t, then was and then repeat again. Marcus was our Prodigal son. Each time he circled back to us I got more used to the push-pull of his affections. At first was a 16-year-old boy, desperate for a family while simultaneously terrified of family. He eventually turned into an 18-year-old with the same hopes and fears. Only then he was on his own, having aged-out of foster care.

Marcus has been back home since the end of September. He is 20-years-old now. A young man by all accounts, and yet he still needs his family. He’s asked us if we would still be able to finalize his adoption. Could he still take our last name? Could he still call us his “parents” in an official capacity?

Of course he can! And so we filed the paperwork for an adult adoption. He chose a name for his new birth certificate. He asked that we be listed as his parents. His new middle name will be based off of a favorite comic book character. It’s odd for a legal name but who am I to judge? He is an adult now. He can make his choices.

So now we wait. The fee has been paid and the clerk has signed off. Our court date will be sometime after Thanksgiving, either late November or early December. I should be overjoyed. I am overjoyed. It’s just that I’m also apprehensive.

Every time we got close to legalization in the past, he recoiled. It was as if he’d touched a hot stove and instinctively backed away. Then we would start over at square one to build a relationship with him.

It’s been so wonderful to have him home. It’s been great to hear, “Mom! Hey Ma! Ma!!” over and over (and over!) all day. Sometimes I think he is checking to make sure I’m still here. I am. I will always be here.

Eventually he may push us away again. He tends to follow a pattern in his relationships. But maybe, just maybe, it will be different if he has our name. Maybe then he will realize that no matter how hard he pushes, we will always be right here.

Marcus reminds me of Icarus from Greek mythology. He takes risks. He learns the hard way.  He wants so badly to love and to be loved. Like Icarus, he flies too close to the sun and burns. Perhaps this time will be different. Perhaps this time he will keep flying.

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

 

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

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adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

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I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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adoption

Where Do All the Foster Teens Go?

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Sean, at 13, playing with Mary in a pile of packing popcorn.

The month of March leaves me thinking about our former foster son, Sean. He turned 16 a few days ago. We received a copy of the latest foster review for him and the youngest sibling of our children. I assume it was sent to us by mistake, as our 2 have already been adopted. In the review it mentioned all of the things we tried to tell DCF, although they wouldn’t listen. He ran away, was hospitalized for suicidal ideations. I still worry for him.

The worst part was that his reunification had failed. Now his goal is “independent living” rather than reunification. Apparently, Sean had disrupted from his biological father’s home with police called for the fight they had. I had been so hopeful that the reunification would work out for both of them.

I heard from the siblings’ former foster mom (our kids call her “Grandma”) that he contacted her and requested to move back in. She is still a huge part of all of our lives, and our kids visit her for weekends sometimes. She wasn’t able to take Sean back. She had other children in the home and he had already made an abuse allegation once about her (just like us) years ago. That was right before leaving to come to our home for adoption with his siblings

His worker told her they had nowhere to put him and he had been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) In the end, Grandma just couldn’t take the risk. This is all information I got through Grandma, I haven’t heard from him. I thought we might get a phone call, too, but we never did. We probably won’t because he and Marcus are estranged, and we maintain a relationship with Marcus.

So where is Sean now? Staying with a friend’s family who must have agreed to take the foster parent classes in order to have him there? I wish I knew for sure. He is so charming. It’s so easy to get drawn in. I wonder how they will feel about “saving him,” (as he so often said to me) in a year or so. The report stated that this is the first place he has lived that he didn’t feel like he was a “foster kid.” I can’t lie, that one stung.

But still, in all honesty, I just want him to be happy. I want him to be OK. And I really, really, want him to learn to love deeply. I think everyone in this world needs at least one person they can truly count on. The more people you can trust, the bigger your safety net is, should you ever fall. I hope he allows himself to be loved. I wonder often if he is still “shopping” for the best deal he can get with a family. How I wish he had let us adopt him.

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Luke, at 14, with Sean and Carl at our favorite Hibachi grill.

I thought about this as I called my own mother. She was taking me to my neurosurgeon’s appointment. I was scared about getting the results of some recent blood work. There is a fair possibility that my body may be rejecting the titanium implant in my spine. I was so nervous, I asked if my step dad could come too. It always makes me feel better when both of my parents are there. At 35, I still need a mom and dad. And I have them. I’m lucky.

What about the all the other teens in foster care? The ones who never got therapy? The ones with a failed reunification? The ones who just don’t know how to trust in love? Where do they all go? Do they ever stay?

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Sean being his funny, silly, self.

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

 

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