adoption, family

Death and Changes

Nothing reminds us of the sanctity of life as much as the finality of death. Luke and I went to a memorial service today. I didn’t actually know the woman who died. We might have met a total of two times.

Her husband is the one we are friends with. He volunteers with Luke as an EMT here in our little town. He’s a captain named K. Our relationship with K began before Luke ever volunteered at EMS.

My husband didn’t have time for any of that in the summer of 2014. We had just brought home 3 (4 when Marcus visited) foster children with plans to adopt them. That summer was filled with a series of crisis. Mary was having out-of-control violent episodes on a daily basis. They’d last for hours and leave a swath of broken furniture, broken walls, and a bruised up mother in their wake. Sometimes there was blood.

When it got too dangerous for us to manage we’d have to call for backup. The mobile crisis team would send out a therapist. Often Mary was much too violent for them to manage. The police and ambulance would soon follow.

Every time we had to bring Mary in for a psychiatric hospital stay I felt like such a failure. Why wasn’t she getting any better? Was our love breaking her in some way? Why couldn’t our family be enough to help Mary stabilize?

Here is where K came in. After the third or fourth hospitalization he began to show up first on scene after a 9-1-1 call. Luke was at work and I was on my own. K never judged me. He never judged Mary. K had a similar experience with a family member suffering from a mental illness.

Mary was terrified to be alone with men back then. She wouldn’t let anyone touch her. The only way to get her to the ER was if I rode in the back of the ambulance with her. When Luke was working I couldn’t ride with her. I’d end up without a way home from the ER. I couldn’t leave the other kids with neighbors overnight again and again as I stayed at the hospital.

On one of the worst days, K was there. Mary was heading back for an inpatient stay. Her violence was escalating. Marcus had called their oldest biological sister and their biological mother in a fit of rage. I don’t even recall why he was mad that day. My cell phone started blowing up with calls, threats, and comments about the terrible things we were doing to Mary who really just “needed her mother.”

At my wits end, I looked at K in despair. He gently asked me where my car keys were. That night he drove my car behind the ambulance to the hospital. I was able to go with Mary and still have a way to get home. I dare anyone to find an EMT that amazing.

Over the next few years Mary stabilized. We would see K around town and she’d run to hug him. Luke began volunteering at EMS as family life settled down. They became fast friends and K was always there for us.

At the service I brought him a brightly colored pink and purple bracelet made by Mary. I told him, “This may not be your style but you know who wanted you to have this.”

He put on his sparkly bracelet and wore it the rest of the service. When I glanced down at Luke’s hand I realized both of us were still decked out in our Mary-made jewelry, too. Luke never takes his off.

Sometimes things change. K’s wife died after a hard-fought battle with cancer. Mary went to a residential school after two years of relative stability here at home.

Some things never change. I know this each time I glance down at our wrists.

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

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adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Visits?

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This is a post I never wanted to write. I just never thought things would turn out this way. Despite my best intentions,my hardest work, and all of my love, this is where we stand. We started with a sibling group of 4. The teen boys disrupted before we could officially adopt them. We have now adopted the younger two. The adoption fairytale isn’t exactly what I thought it would be. Is that wrong? No. It just…is. I thought I was OK with it. Maybe I was wrong.

Our children’s oldest sibling, Marcus, has been in touch with us for a time. It’s weird to think of ourselves as just one in a long line of “foster parents” for him. I still feel like his mother. We had every intention of adopting them. Only Marcus has stayed in touch. (This is the story of meeting Marcus and bringing him home) In the end, he chose not to be adopted by us. His attachment issues ran too deep to allow him to be in a family.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Marcus. When he left it felt like a part of me was dying. Why didn’t he choose to be in our family? Why didn’t he choose to be adopted? Why didn’t he choose to have a mom. Even more painfully: why didn’t he choose me?! I wrote him an open good-bye letter (you can read it here.) This was cathartic for me, in a way. I’ve never stopped loving him. Sometimes I miss him so much it physically hurts.

Marcus aged out of foster care. He signed himself out at 18 and bounced around a bit. He lived with a girlfriend, and her family. His job was supporting a lot of the people living there. He contacted us for money because he was so hungry. Luke gave him advice about how even if he loved this girl, he shouldn’t live where he couldn’t eat food. He also shouldn’t be supporting a family of 6-8 people.

We didn’t send him money. Luke and I had made a pact about letting Marcus learn to stand on his own two feet now that he had chosen not to be adopted. He needed to know that being an “adult” didn’t necessarily mean getting to do whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. It’s hard work! (I caved and sent him and Amazon care package of food overnight anyway.)

As always, Marcus only lasts with a family for a short time. He bounced again, this time back to a former foster home. Marcus had been very close to the foster mom and we had facilitated visits between them when he lived with us. We didn’t want him to lose anymore people that were important to him. He always referred to her by her first name,  but I knew he loved her. Then he was gone from our house, gone from another foster home, and now about to leave his girlfriend’s home.

He was contacting us a lot during that time, and I think he wanted to ask to come back. He never said it, though. Our contact went something like this. He was making a lot of bad choices at the time. Drinking, getting high, and hanging out with a tough crowd. He was still enrolled in school. He still texted me pictures of his report card. He still wanted me to be proud of him. He still called me, “Ma.”

I was glad he was going back to that former foster home. Maybe he really belonged there the whole time. Perhaps we just hadn’t been the right family for him. Only it didn’t last. Now he has a few weeks left before he has to leave that home, too. He tells me it’s because he lost a job by falling asleep. He works in the day and is getting his high school diploma at night. He says his former foster mom is telling him this is “tough love.” I’m not exactly sure that it isn’t because of drinking, irresponsible behavior, or not working. Marcus usually tells his own version of a story.

It doesn’t matter what the story is, they all have the same ending, Marcus moves on to a new family.

He’s been asking me just for a visit. Just a day or a weekend. I’m conflicted. I don’t want to keep the littles from their brother. Sometimes, I feel like it will be too much for them to see him, and then not see him again for who knows how long? The thing is, I want Carl and Mary to see that we still have a relationship with Marcus. We still love him. No matter what happens, our love is forever. I also get the feeling that Mary has fears that her behavior might get her “kicked out” somehow.

I want her to know that we NEVER “throw away” people!

Should we have him over? Show them that he is still family even though he is an adult making his own living arrangements? Will it break their hearts?

Will it break mine? 

mlettera

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

 

 

 

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adoption, family

Down the Rabbit Hole: In Search of My Emotions

My grief has taken some strange twists and turns this past week. I feel like Alice chasing the white rabbit down a winding and elusive hole. It feels like I am falling and I have no idea where I will land.

My father’s death has brought up some strange reactions in me.  We weren’t exactly estranged. Our relationship was more like a distant veneer than the messy truth of human connections. When I remember simpler times from my childhood, I miss him. Many times, though, I forget about his death. It simply becomes lost in all the minutiae of the day. I’ll be fixing lunches, brushing my daughter’s hair, or matching socks from the laundry when I suddenly remember. Who forgets a parent’s death in a week? What kind of a person does this make me?

Other times I am bombarded with confusing and seemingly unrelated feelings. At my son’s football practice last night I got caught up watching the older team of kids. Adolescent boys (and one girl) grumbled and groaned and generally proclaimed their angst to their coach. They were made to run extra laps because of their argumentative nature. Two of them commiserated together in a sweaty huddle after the practice. As I watched these teenagers doing what teens do best, I felt an almost palpable kick to the stomach.

In that moment my longing for my teenage boys sucked the breath right out of my lungs. I missed them with a startling ferocity that unnerved me. All of the sudden I was reminded of washing sweaty practice clothes for Marcus. I could almost hear Sean whining and complaining about wanting chinese food for dinner. I was thinking of my foster sons. The foster sons I had hoped to adopt. One of the boys on the field started teasing his mother with that cracking adolescent voice so common for boys in the throes of puberty. That sound can be like nails on a chalkboard. It’s awful. And I missed it so badly!

With utter astonishment I realized that I had begun to cry behind my oversized sunglasses. I was staring at this mother-son interaction and crying for the boys I had lost. What was wrong with me? They moved out a year ago. They were long gone. It’s a loss I thought I had come to terms with months ago.

And the loss of my father? It is somehow eclipsed by this improbable longing for boys that gleefully tortured me and trampled my heart. Boys who itched to shed the uncomfortable skin of “family,” and try things on their own. Boys I thought I’d long since let go of.

Where is my traditional grief? Where are the tears for the parent I’ve lost? I’ve shed some, of course. But shouldn’t there be more? Where are the feelings I just cannot access? Am I so cold-hearted that they don’t exist? Are my emotions so confused that I am grieving the wrong person? Are my true feelings so far down the rabbit hole that they are lost in Wonderland?

 

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

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family

Goodbye

When I was small, my dad would take me for ice cream. He always got peppermint stick. I usually got chocolate chip. We would eat ice cream and chat. My Dad always said that these were father-daughter dates. This was the normal parent-child relationship that I enjoyed.

My father also took me to workshops about drawing my own aura. He let me sit in when he performed psychic readings on friends. I learned about tarot cards and palm reading from his girlfriends. He traveled everywhere performing “rescues” for earthbound souls trapped in our reality. He placed purple amethysts in the four corners of my room to chase the bad dreams away. This was the paranormal parent-child relationship I enjoyed as a child.

My parents were divorced so when I was with my dad it was just the two of us. He would always cook steak and potatoes for dinner. He drank red wine every night of my life. Sometimes he had one glass, sometimes four or more. He played traditional Irish music in the car as he drove me back to my mother’s house. I leaned the lyrics to songs about war, dismemberment and whiskey. We would sing along but it always meant that I was going home without him.

He was married three times, and engaged on at least ten occasions. He was in love with falling in love. He went dancing every weekend. He didn’t work consistently so he rarely had money. After his third divorce, moved from state to state living with various girlfriends.

My dad believed that before I was born, I chose to be born to him and my mom. He says that I watched over him in World War II and kept him safe as his guardian spirit. He says he knew me well in spirit form. According to my dad I decided to be born as his child in order to experience human life and to help him on his journey. Unfortunately for my dad, I held the belief that I was born in order to live my own life and form my own destiny.

As I grew up I continued to disappoint him. He had a grand idea to build a psychic healing center. He thought I would come and work with him and run this center. He wanted to pass this legacy to me. The only problem? I’m not psychic. I don’t want to work running a center. He would always say, “Yes you do. You told me before you were born. You forget I knew you before this incarnation!” And who could argue with that?

I’m a teacher. I’m an Episcopalian. I married an amazing man. A Hispanic man with two children from a previous marriage. We grew our family trough adoption. Dad was bewildered at best. “Why would you want to raise someone else’s children?!” He said that with a disdain that would have been more appropriate if I had said I was going to start wearing other people’s dirty clothes.

As the years went by he moved farther and farther away. For the last 6 years he has been living in California and working on his healing center. We spoke on the phone every week on Sunday. He never remembered the names of my kids, or how many I have. He really wanted me to learn more about the big project he was working on and how I would play a pivotal role in it. I gave up trying to convince him that I had my own life or that it was something to be proud of.

I was always glad that I talked to him, though. I knew I was making an effort in our relationship even though we were miles apart. No matter what he thought about my life choices, he always called me “his angel,” to anyone who would listen.

My father died on Saturday, at 90 years old. When he became seriously ill, I flew out to California in order to be there at the end. I spent the week massaging his feet, holding his hand, and reading out loud to him. I shared stories about the fun things we used to do together. I showed him pictures that family members sent, and played him songs that they requested. As the days wore on he regained consciousness less and less often. I spoke to him anyway so that he would know he was not alone.

As the time grew near for my return flight to Connecticut I became anguished over leaving him. I didn’t want my father to be alone at the end. His girlfriend and her family visited but I was there all day brushing his hair and using a small sponge to keep his mouth from drying out. Didn’t he need me there? The hospice doctor explained that he could survive for days or even weeks. I made arrangements for his remains. I contacted family members about a memorial service. And then I waited. And waited. I didn’t want him to be alone when he took his last breath. Like many things in life, he had other plans.

Finally the time came for me to go back to Connecticut. I simply couldn’t afford to stay any longer and I needed to get back to my children. On our last day together I played him that Irish music he had played for me so many times. The last song I played was “Irish Rover.” I dipped my sponge into some red wine and dabbed the drink on his tongue. I said my goodbyes and I kissed my dad for the last time.

He died exactly when I got to the airport. I think he was waiting until I was through security and couldn’t come back. They say he took his last breathe in his sleep. I think he waited until I was gone and then he let go. His approval really didn’t matter anymore. I think he knew that what I really needed, in my grief, was my family.

Back in Connecticut I melted into Luke’s embrace. Even though it was 2 AM, I snuck into each child’s room.  I hugged my children close. My daughter woke up and exclaimed, “Mommy! You came BACK!” My son rolled over and mumbled, “I love you, mom. I’m sorry about your dad.” I realized that as different as we were, I passed some of my father’s traditions onto my family. Both children have a purple amethyst in a corner of their rooms. And that was all I really needed. My family.

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adoption, family

“Mad Dog Face”: Adventures in My Daughter’s Emotional Rollercoaster

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There is a small girl with a big helmet on the lacrosse field, running through plays, sobbing uncontrollably. I’ve just made it to Lacrosse practice and my husband is coaching. He tells me that she has been crying the entire time. She won’t say why. Since she has been crying nonstop for the past two weeks, I suspect she doesn’t even know why.

The team is mostly full of boys. Extremely confused boys. They keep asking her, “What’s wrong with you? Why are you crying?” It’s obvious that they are genuinely perplexed and concerned but unsure of how to approach her. I don’t entirely blame them. I mean, she is loud and upset and clearly dripping boogers. She is also armed with a lacrosse stick. The ensuing conversation takes place:

Confused/concerned Little Boy: “Are you OK? Why do you keep crying?

Mary: “LEAVE ME ALONE!” (picture a lion roaring)

Offended Little Boy: “You don’t have to be a butt head about it!”

Offended Carl : “Don’t call my sister a butt head!”

Mary: “WAAAAHHHHH!!!!” (picture the wail of a siren)

And so on all through practice.

Since she is reacting this way over breakfast, dinner, bedtime, a broken nail, and a cat that “looked at her” I can only guess. She’s 9 years old now. Is it hormones? Please tell me that my 9-year-old child is not about to get her period.

Is it medication related? Is she missing her therapist who is on maternity leave? Did a cat really look at her?!?!?!! What is happening???!!!!

Luke saved the day. He told her to get her “mad dog” face on. “C’mon mad dog. Go scare some boys!” Since she was already scaring most of them away, the rest of practice went relatively smoothly for her. She was able to scare most of them away from the goal. Maybe we should let her do the wailing/sobbing/booger thing at games?

In the car on the way home she told me she was upset about her bio-mom. She told me that she couldn’t remember any good memories about her. She remembers getting hit with a belt, and getting taken from the home during a drug raid. She remembers her bio-mom drinking and partying or sleeping a lot. She tells me that her bio-mom had “poor parenting skills” and that she is mad about it. I tell her she is feeling anger mixed with grief over the loss of her bio-mom. I explain that Mary was loved by her first mother, even though her first mom made a lot of mistakes.

By the time we get home she is quiet. After her shower I hold her on my lap for a long while. I press my cheek against her cheek and we practice taking deep breaths together. At bedtime, I lay down next to her and hold her close until she falls asleep. The last thing she says to me is, “Mommy? I’m glad you’re here.”

 

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

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family

The “Other Mother” in Adoption

“Will she see what I made her? Can we mail it to her?” My 8-year-old daughter is looking at me with wide, hopeful eyes. How can I possibly explain this to her?

“Well sweetie, we can hold onto it for her. If we get an address or if she contacts anyone, then we can let her know we have this.” Mary looks crushed.

She has spent the better part of an hour making a “memory box” for her other mother. We decorated it with glitter and hearts and stickers. She has lined it with a soft felt lining. We have all of her school pictures and her sports pictures gathered to put inside. Mary has written her a letter.

I had the idea that making this memory box would be helpful for our children. They have a lot to say to her. That other mother. The mother who had them first. She had Mary until age 3 and Carl until age 5. In the years after they came into care the siblings were separated, their first mom came and went, tried at times and not at others. So much has happened.

In those first years, their years with her, bad things happened. Our children still carry the psychological and physical scars of their first home. There was severe neglect, physical abuse, and intermittent abandonment. Scary things happened to them. Painful things happened to them at the hands of this other mother.

Still. Love must have happened, too. No matter what, a child loves their parent. According to the older siblings there were some good times, too.  It was her voice they heard in utero. They took their first steps with her and said their first words. It was in her house that they played together. That first home is the last place all six children lived together (the 7th baby came later.) She was the one who spent those first years with them good or bad. I am amazed at my daughter’s capacity to hold so much love in her heart. Beautiful Mary sees the good in people despite their struggles. I hope she knows that this first mother loved her. I believe this wholeheartedly.

I don’t have much to go on about their other mother. I have the DCF file, of course, and I have what our children and their siblings have told me.  I’ve only met her once. She refused further visits and contact. In our adoption agreement my husband and I offered to send pictures and updates. She is entitled to three supervised visits per year.She refused. I imagine it’s too painful but I hope someday she will want to see how these beautiful children grew.

I don’t know her story. At least, I only know the parts that the children have told me. DCF has shared things with us but when it comes down to it, I believe my kids. I try not to judge her because her choices were influenced by mental health issues and narcotics. I believe the older siblings about what they remember from that first family. Adoption is hard. It all starts from a loss. Everyone with the exception of my husband and myself, has lost so much in this process.

My husband and I get the report cards and sports games. We will go to recitals and play dates and birthday parties. We get the hugs and kisses and cuddles. But we also get the trauma. We spend a huge chunk of our lives cleaning up the emotional mess left over from addiction, mental health concerns, and injuries from this other mother. They couldn’t fight back when they were little. They couldn’t fend for themselves and couldn’t defend themselves. Now that they are in a safe place they can let their anger out sometimes. We take the brunt of that anger from time to time. It’s OK because we are strong enough for all of their emotions.

They still hoard food sometimes just in case my husband and I stop providing. They still worry that I might get drunk and leave them because that’s what they think “moms do.” Things are getting better for them, though. They are safe now. They are healing.

Our kids will be OK because they have us to help them through. Who will help the older “aged out” siblings? Who will help her, the “other mother” through it? I hope she has someone.

We heard from Marcus the other day. He’s 18 now and just beginning to process the effects of growing up in care without a family there for him. He had been ranting and raging at her for never returning his calls or answering his Facebook posts or text messages. In 5 years of foster care, he has never stopped trying with her. Despite his struggles, he has a lot of love in him. Last month he managed to make contact. According to Marcus she told him she has a new man and another family now. She doesn’t want to look back on the life she had here. She is in Puerto Rico and won’t be coming back. He couldn’t understand how she just didn’t ask about the younger siblings. He couldn’t understand why she didn’t ask about how he was doing. He couldn’t understand why she just couldn’t give up the drugs.

I may never understand her choices but I understand the damage they caused. I see the wreckage every day. All I can do is save a box for her. A box filled with the childhoods she is missing. Maybe one day she will want to see. Maybe it’s too hard for her. Who knows?

What I do know is that I can help my children hold these memories for her. I can keep the lines open just in case she is ready someday. No, I won’t let her endanger my children again. They won’t be physically hurt anymore. Could we manage a phone call or a supervised visit? I believe we could. I believe the kids could handle it, but it would be hard. She can’t handle it.  I will respect the distance she keeps by choice, but I will also respect my children’s feelings about what is and what once was.

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

*If you’ve ever thought about foster care or adoption, I encourage you to consider an older child or sibling group.

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

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