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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parenting

Murder and Attachment: Bonding Games to Play on a Snow Day

“You’re gonna poke someone’s eye out!” is one of my favorite quotes from the movie “A Christmas Story.” In an ill-advised burst burst of mom-creativity, I did not heed this advice. Instead, I suggested that our whole family have a nerf gun fight today. Because of my back injury, I had to sit in one stationary position whilst my family ran around firing. Guess who got hit directly in the eye? Yup, that would be me. Who knew murder and mayhem could actually be dangerous?!

The reason I was so motivated (read: desperate!) to schedule some family fun activities is because we are snowed in with 18 inches. No school. No work for Luke. Two beautiful children who usually freak out when their schedule changes. Don’t get me wrong, I love snow days. I love the pure  white powder covering our New England stone fences. I love the deep quiet blanketing the forest in which we live. The only colors are the green Douglas fir trees and the soft white of freshly fallen snow. Ahhh…the silence.

Oh-wait. I’m the mother of two children with early childhood trauma. Replace “silence” with “shouting, whining, crying” and also a weird wolf sound that comforts Carl and is a kind of cute.  Days spent stuck at home snuggling by the fire or playing in the snow can trigger one thing in them. Stuck. If their fight or flight instinct is triggered their only option is to fight because they feel TRAPPED. This can show itself as anger, fights between siblings, and battles for control.

So today, I strapped on my super-mom back brace, my stylish old-lady walker, and organized some activities. It was great to turn this day into a bonding experience with family. Playful activities are often a super way to create happy, oxytocin-inducing interactions with a family. Silliness is often the best weapon against fear.

Luckily for me, the rest of our games went much better than the nerf guns. We had a great time. After murdering each other (mostly mom!) with nerf guns, we switched over to a gentler game. I call this one “Throw a wish.” Everyone gets 5 pieces of paper to write a wish on. Some of ours were:

“Kiss my cheek”

“Give a sandwich hug”

“Smell my feet”

“Hug Carl’s stinky shoes.”

“Sing ‘I’m a little teapot’ with hand motions”

“Let mommy eat your brains for 30 seconds!” (Author’s note: this activity is NOT to be taken literally. Pretend only!)

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Section off a room into squares using painter’s tape and crumble the papers into little tossable balls. Everyone picks a section and then set a 2 minute timer. During that time throw as many balls out of your section and into someone else’s section as possible. (Author’s note: you WILL lose this game if you are sitting in a stationary chair due to back issues. Just saying…)

The loser has to perform all of the activities listed on the papers in their section. You must perform the activity for the original writer. For extra fun everyone can perform the “wishes” in their section. This is why I smelled Mary’s armpit, Luke performed the teapot song, and Carl had to hug his own stinky shoes for a full minute!

Our next game was the “Worry Web” (or any kind of web at all.) Again, we used the painting tape so Luke could create a giant web. Then we tossed objects at it to try for a “bullseye!” This is not to be confused with the actual eye of an animal that Carl worried we may have lying around somewhere.

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We launched papers covered with extra painter’s tape into the web. If your child has lots of worries they can write them down and crumble them into balls. Then the worries can be thrown into the spider’s web where they cannot bother anyone and will surely be eaten by a giant, fictitious, spider! (I may have seen this on pinterest somewhere. If I ever find a source I will be sure to cite it. Apologies!)

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We ended the day with a movie night, complete with snacks. The activities were distracting and fun. They cut down on any fear-based misbehaving because everything was kept light and silly.

So please, enjoy your very own snow day (or rainy day) in a way that brings your family closer together. Calm their fear of being trapped, changing schedule, or losing control.  Also, try not to get your eye poked out!!

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

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Returns! (No, Seriously!)

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I would like to believe that love ALWAYS wins. It doesn’t. The past three years have humbled me and taught me that attachment and trauma are strong opponents. They plague children from hard places. But sometimes, sometimes, love wins.

This weekend was a win. Marcus, our prodigal son, the one we never got to adopt, came home. It was only a weekend visit, but it meant the world to all of us. (You can read about the struggle for this visit here and here in case you haven’t been following!) At the last minute (the day of) Marcus decided to come.

The former foster mom he lives with now told Luke truth about why she asked him to leave March 1st. As it turns out he is hanging out with friends that are not welcome in her home. The house rules are that he cannot bring these friends around. She told Luke that if his friends are more important than the house rules, he needs to leave. His choice. She’s not wrong, I just hope he chooses family over what are probably fleeting friendships.

Marcus was almost our son, too.  Love can be tricky for him. Too much is scary. Too little is devastating. We decided to surprise Carl and Mary, because we weren’t sure if he would change his mind at the last minute. When he walked in with Luke he got squeals of joy from both children. They flew into his arms and he looked almost surprised at the amount of big-brother-worship they still hold for him.

I had to choke back tears as I hugged him. It was the best weekend. I made sure we did all of the family traditions that he used to participate in. We played a million board games. He helped Luke move things around upstairs. He went to work overnight Friday on the ambulance with Luke (as an observer.) He slept in the next day and then the family (except for me. Stupid back injury!) went to the science center. We always have season passes.

Saturday night dinner was chinese food, a family favorite, followed by more board games. After the Littles went to bed, Luke and I played Bananagrams with him. When he lived here the teens and adults would always battle out this game after the younger children went to bed. Eventually it was just Marcus and I playing Monopoly Deal into the wee hours, and talking.

He proudly showed me a picture of his girlfriend on his phone (skipping past few nude ones.) He told me all about her, seeking my approval, but he is 19. He makes his own decisions now.  I just listened to him, late into the night. He made us both look like “The Joker” from with Snapchat. He told me things that me proud. He graduates in June and wants to be an electrician. He told me things that made me shudder. He smokes a lot of pot and no longer takes his prescribed medication. I just listened until I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

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Scary Snapchat!

On Sunday Marcus had “sibling time” with Carl and Mary. He took them to Mcdonald’s in town for lunch. We told them “sibling time,” was just for them. As a bonus, Luke and I got a bit of alone time! (You can read here about why Luke and I aren’t getting much sleep!)

As he was packing to leave I realized that he brought along the fuzzy purple blanket I gave him 2 years ago. When I asked him about it he laughingly said, “I take that everywhere! That’s like my blankie, yo!” Once again, I choked back some tears and hugged him good-bye. He has a choice to make in a few days. He can choose to live with his former foster mom (family) and follow house rules. He can also choose his “friends” or this new girlfriend.

My hope is that this weekend reminded him about the importance of family. About the permanence of unconditional love. He chose love this weekend. I hope he makes the same choice March 1st.

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

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Attachment Disorders, family

The Prodigal Son…Cancels?

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I would consider myself a fairly decent mom, even pretty good at predicting my children’s trauma-based actions. Not this time. I entirely missed the mark. Last week I wrote about Marcus asking to visit. After a lot of time and planning, he was finally coming this weekend. He sent me numerous messages about how excited he was. I really believed it was happening.

He is the oldest biological brother to our 2 adopted siblings. Our relationship with him is haphazard at best. At one time he lived with us. We wanted to adopt him. We tried. But the closer we got to him emotionally, the more he seemed to fight against that bond.

The day he left was the day his adoption worker from our state was coming to meet him. He was 17. On that day I truly believed he sabotaged his adoption because remaining in the foster care system was more familiar and easier to him than committing to being part of a loving family.

He threw an enormous tantrum, threatening to kill us and bury us in the backyard. (I guess he knew all of the best places since he had painstakingly cleared out an area of forest and landscaped it in our backyard the week before.) At our house, he had been the one to grab the tool bag eagerly and enjoy fixing things around the house with “Pops,” my husband.

He called me a whore, and a b**ch and a c**t. He told his younger siblings that he hated them and he would kill them, too. He slammed doors, threw things, kicked me and threw his iPhone at me, shattering it. I actually think he didn’t mean to make contact with me at all. His big scary tantrum was more along the lines of putting on a big show. Later he apologized to my husband saying, “You know I didn’t really mean to throw the phone at her, right? That part was an accident.”

He got his way that day. He had done this many times before. He would get really close to me, discuss his feelings about his biological mom with me, or simply let me in on an emotional issue with a girlfriend. For a few weeks we’d be closer than I ever thought a teen and his mom could be. Then, he would drop all communication and act as though he hated me and couldn’t stand the sight of me. He’d cut off contact, only to resume again in a few more weeks, asking to return or visit (we always said a joyful yes, but with behavioral boundaries.) But that was from 16-18. The closer he got to 18, the more he tasted his freedom.

Like so many other foster kids, he aged out at 18 and began life on his own. After that, our relationship actually improved a bit. Our communication was spotty, but when he had a problem, he always came to me. He bounced around to a few different places. I assumed, with a fair amount of certainty, that he was back on the streets hanging with his old crew. He’d put selfies on FaceBook throwing up the symbol for the “Bloods” a notorious gang. Whether he simply admired them, or was involved, I’ll probably never know. He was always wearing their colors of red and black.

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Over time, I began to think of him as the son who just left the nest early. He called and messaged us when he could. If I squinted my eyes really tight, and let my vision go blurry, I could almost see a son who was off to college, or the military, or the peace corps, and checked in when he could. He had asked for visits before, but this one seemed so real to me.

That was, obviously, a fantasy. There are many sides to Marcus. He loved family dinner we had each night. He took pride in our family and our home. He decorated his room immaculately with all of his favorite things. He played board games for hours with us, as if he couldn’t get enough. Our family took him to science centers, zoos, and museums. He was delighted and amazed by the reptile show at our local library.

These were all of the amazing memories I was reminiscing about when he called to cancel his upcoming visit. I had to stop and question myself. Why had I really believed he would show? He’s a few weeks away from moving somewhere new. We are trapped in this cycle where he gets close and then pulls away. His issues with attaching to a family are too complicated to let him enjoy a typical family relationship with us. This is what complicates his ability to allow himself to be loved.

My daughter told her therapist that she thinks he didn’t get adopted because he was “too dangerous.” This gave us the opportunity to explain that no matter what Marcus did or said, we would have gotten help and we would have adopted him. It just wasn’t what he wanted anymore, and we respected that. Mary agreed there was less swearing when he wasn’t in the house. She loved his happy, playful side, but was scared of his short-fused anger. Me, too, I told her. But no matter what, we will always love him.

The only good thing that came out of this was that he texted with both of the Littles and told them he missed them. They sent silly pictures of their faces back and forth. They saw the texts where he wrote, “I love you, Ma,” to me. Good or bad Marcus knows we are here for him. And maybe that’s all that really matters right now?

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Whenever he is ready, our door is always open. 

 

 

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

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family

Contingency Plan: In Case I Don’t Make It

The back brace Mary decorated for me

Anyone who reads my blog knows that our daughter, Mary, has been inpatient at the psychiatric hospital for almost 2 weeks now. It’s her second stint since right before Christmas. It’s been terribly hard on all of us. Children with attachment issues need to be close to their caregivers. Mothers of any kind need to be near their children.

In this case, safety is paramount in all of our decisions. I have a serious spinal injury, . Therefore I cannot physically assist in any way, if Mary has a dangerous dissociative episode. She hasn’t had one in almost 2 years until now. Just our luck that it happens when I’m at my most vulnerable, physically.

They’ve been titrating a new medication for her. We aren’t sure yet if it’s at a therapeutic level. Her emotions are still all over the place. She fluctuates from one minute to the next. She is angry, then giggly, then despondent within 10 minutes. She’s had several physical outbursts on the unit. She’s been defiant towards staff, throwing things at them. During one incident, she pounded on the window of her door, trying to break it. Too bad we don’t have unbreakable plexiglass on our windows at home.

No, she isn’t “there” yet. She isn’t at that place that keeps her safe enough to access all of the therapies and interventions we have in place for her. No amount of TBRI parenting, PHP treatment, TF-CBT therapy, coping skills, or sensory diet can help her until her brain is in a place to process it. The medication helps her brain to get there.

I need a contingency plan. I admit, I plan for all scenarios as much as possible. It helps me to feel productive and in control. Frankly, there are some things entirely beyond my control. But I’ll probably never accept that. At least, not in this lifetime (I swear, I’ve tried!)

My spinal fusion surgery takes place this Tuesday. We are taking our girl home from the hospital on Monday. We will have a meeting to hear the results of the full psychological evaluation they gave her. Maybe we will gain some insight. Maybe not. Either way, she comes home with us.

We have to take her home because I need all of my chickens together on Monday night. We’ve planned a “Pajama Party” where we all pile onto the king-sized bed in our matching Jammies (lame, I know!) and have popcorn.

The next day is my surgery. This is a big long, serious operation. I can face anything if I’ve had my family with me. I’m one tough Mama so I feel like it will turn out just fine. But if it doesn’t? I’ve had that one last family night.

When I was little, my mom used to read to me all the time. Even a series of books called “Sweet Valley  High,” which she hated yet read anyway. My mom has probably made me macaroni and cheese thousands of times. She’s tucked me in, kissed my boo-boos, and generally made things better for me my whole life. She’s taught (or tried) to teach me good lady-like manners my whole life.

I’m not the best student but she loves me anyway (remember my zombie centerpiece at Christmas dinner, mom?) She has perfect hair, perfect make-up, and a perfectly dirty joke when you least expect it. My mom could give Emily Post, Lauren Bacall, and Elizabeth Taylor a run for their money. In the same breathe she can out-do Chris Rock for shockingly funny dry wit. And she’s mine. I’ve gotten to have her for my entire 35 years on this earth. Lucky me.

Mary hasn’t had me since infancy, so I’m making up for lost time. By my calculation, I still have dozens of horrible books from a predictably plotted children’s series to read to her. I have thousands more mac and cheese meals to go. And let’s face it, I’ll probably never have the center-piece thing down. But still. Mary is owed the full mommy experience. The kind I got to have. The kind that always makes it better.

My kids need me. They can’t afford to lose another mom. But if the worst should happen, I cannot, I WILL NOT allow Mary to think that it was all somehow her fault.

It like an oncoming storm. Maybe it will hit and maybe it won’t. Maybe my surgery will be a shining success, maybe it won’t. Maybe Mary has to go back inpatient this week, maybe not.

Either way, we are going to batten down the hatches, and ride it out. Together. As a family. Because that is the most important thing I have ever had in this lifetime. My family.

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

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adoption

Biological Parents: Waiting for the Pony

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When I was 4, my father promised me a pony. He said it would be white and beautiful and that it could live in a barn next to the enormous house he would buy just as soon as his “ship came in.” I believed him. When I was 6, he promised me a pony. He said I could ride this pony when I came to see the big beautiful house he would buy near the ocean. I believed him. When I was 10 he told me that his “money was going to come in soon,” and that I could have a horse. Despite my misgivings, I believed him.

My parents divorced when I was 4 years old. During my childhood my father would bounce around from apartment to apartment, never staying in one place for too long. He also bounced around from fiancee to fiancee and the occasional marriage. During our bi-weekly visits he would often spon great tales about how fabulous life would be if he married so-and-so and bought the big house with my horse. Then he would leave me in his apartment while he took his newest “lady friend” out dancing on the town.

Needless to say, the fabled pony never appeared. A small part of me believed that someday he might actually pull off one of the many business schemes he was always planning. Sometimes I actually believed he would marry and stay with one of his nicer more stable girlfriends. It wasn’t the empty promises he made that hurt me the most. I wasn’t looking for a pony. I just wanted a relationship with my dad.

During my teen years I questioned why my mother encouraged me to have a relationship with him. She tried to keep her own negative experiences with him to herself.  I think my mother wanted him to know me. She wanted him to watch me grow up because, despite his many flaws, he was my father. She wanted me to have visits and phone calls to understand him for what he was. She recognized my right to know my own origins. I only realize now how wise she was in doing so.

My father was a confusing, difficult to explain, part of my family tree. But I had a right to this part of my history. Knowing him allowed me to see him for the man he was; irresponsible, flawed, and caring in his own way.

“He won’t be around forever,” my mother always told me. She didn’t want me to have regrets. She was right. He died this past summer, and I do not have regrets. I know that I was a good daughter to him. The flaws in our relationship, which began in my infancy, were not my fault. In the end, my mother’s early actions were able to provide me with a sense of peace when he died.

It pains me that my own children are growing up so beautifully, and the people who created them don’t see it. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not comparing them to my father. My father wasn’t the greatest but he never hurt me physically, neglected my basic care, or put me in imminent danger. The situation isn’t the same in this way. But I believe it’s the same that despite all the mistakes that were made, these parents loved their children. Despite what our children sometimes believe, they are NOT throwaway kids.

My husband and I tried an open adoption agreement, we tried saving memories and pictures for the biological parents. Our overtures were not received. Not at all. It’s been almost 3 years now. It doesn’t matter how the biological parents of our children feel about us, or about DCF. It doesn’t matter what kind of people they are. Even the things they put our children through cannot negate what matters. All of this pales in comparison to the amazing children we are raising.

“Look at them,” I want to say, “See how beautiful they are? They have your eyes. He looks like you. These kids are beautiful human beings.” I can’t say this to them. We have no contact, at their choice. It’s alright if they won’t hear us. It’s alright if they won’t hear our children. Maybe they can’t.

But I made it possible anyway. I created a closed Facebook group with pictures of the little chickens through all of the years they missed. This isn’t about giving them access to my children, or putting my children in danger. Maybe the biological parents will never pick up the school pictures we ordered them (which are still sitting in the DCF office collecting dust.) But online, it will always be there if they ever want to see.

It took me awhile, but I managed to find and include older biological siblings and both biological parents into the group. At the very least, nothing at all happens. At the very worst, we start a web of contact that may backfire. I don’t want my children to be the ones always waiting for that pony to materialize.  Despite everything, my choice has been made. I have just cracked open the door on our closed adoption.

 

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

 

 

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