adoption, family

The Prodigal Returns (Again)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

The Easter Explosion of My Prodigal Son

Well, it finally happened. Marcus got terminated from his Job Corps program. He’s not a licensed electrician. He didn’t finish with the job referral or the stipend to get his own place. He’s been kicked out for flying into a violent rage and (most likely) destroying property. He got into it with some girl at the program and lost all control. I’m so glad our conversations about respecting women had an effect…

All I know is that it isn’t about this girl. It isn’t even about this particular explosion. He was looking for a reason to sabotage himself even if he doesn’t realize it. This would have happened over the next thing to go wrong. A broken shoelace could have set him off.

This free program is now gone and an opportunity like this won’t come around for him again. This is Marcus. He won’t allow himself to have something good. He won’t allow himself to stay with anything or anyone. This is what he does.

Luke and I got the message from him today. It’s Easter. We were celebrating with the entire family except for Marcus. He wouldn’t come home this weekend because he wanted to sell his car and buy another. Instead of having the holiday with us, he is with his older bio-sister M back in the city. All he can talk about is “my car my car my car.”

M is recently out of the homeless shelter and in an apartment they procured for her. The program payed her a lump sum that was intended for a year’s worth of rent. I would assume she’s already blown through that money and now needs Marcus to live there. In the past he got a job and payed her rent. Eventually when he decided to move out she sold all of his things. However, she’s always looking to get him back. She’s always looking for that money.

Luke and I had been speculating that she would try to convince him to leave the program. After all, if he gets a job he can be with “his car.” He can pay her bills. He can party with her and all of the old crew from the city. He’s probably been thinking about this for awhile.

Marcus makes really dumb choices. He makes destructive choices. As far as we know he isn’t being arrested for anything he did. However, he hasn’t given us much information. I want to go up there and shake him. I want to yell at him and ground him and send him to his room.

I won’t do any of those things. It’s no use. It would do nothing to teach Marcus to make better choices. He wants to throw away his future so that he can have his car and get drunk with his friends. Eventually I hope he learns from the natural consequences of his actions. If not then I hope he at least makes friends with a bail bondsman.

All I can do right now is sit back and enjoy my mother’s famous cannoli cake. It’s Easter. Luke and I can’t quit on our holiday when there is so much joy here. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring but I know today brings cake!

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

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adoption, family

Getting Antsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

Swimming Upstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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

Late Night Texting With the Patchwork Kid

In typical Marcus fashion I got a late-night text message. My phone chirped with the image of a certificate. Clicking on the “Student of the Month” award picture with Marcus’ name on it made the late-hour text worthwhile. This was the first time he’d ever received the accolade. His childhood was spent missing out on, well, being a child.

When our kids were in their biological home they only attended about half of the school days. Even if they went to school there was often no one to get them off of the bus at the end of the day. They were all behind in academic subjects when they entered foster care. Mary wouldn’t speak in school at all. She would sit with her head down, her arms limp at her sides and her eyes averted for most of the day.

Carl and Marcus got into trouble often. They had physical altercations, tantrums and suspensions. Carl once famously (infamously?) told a teacher he couldn’t participate in reading because the “kids were ugly.” Marcus was more likely to get arrested in high school than go to a school dance. In fact, I know the former happened but I’m pretty sure the latter never did.

Carl couldn’t read when he came to us. He was at a Kindergarten level going into third grade. I worked with him all summer before school and he flourished. By the end of that year he was right on track. Now he’s made honor roll for two semesters. This coming semester he’s trying for high honors!

Mary struggles with her behavior in class. She is behind but it’s hard to keep her on track when her mental health prevents it. Now that she is in a great residential school for complex trauma, she’s making progress. Both Mary and Carl have received the “Student of the Month” award a few times.

For Marcus, it’s a huge deal. It took him until he was 21, and in Job Corps, to engage in academics. It’s suddenly very important to him that he does well. Seeing his younger siblings achieve accolades through the school years has been so difficult. Marcus never got the same support in elementary school.

So last night I made a HUGE deal about it. I posted his certificate on Facebook. Luke and Nana praised him. I sent him every celebration emoji in my phone! Go team Marcus!!!

Even though he’s older it  feels like he needs that approval. Marcus still has so many milestones yet to be experienced. His maturity is like a patchwork quilt that is continuously being made. Piece by piece we are filling in the missing patches.

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

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adoption, family

Math Lessons in Ramen Noodles

At about 3:00AM my cell phone comes to life with a string of beeps. Who is texting me at 3:00AM?!

“MMMOOOMMM!!!”

“MOM??”

MOOMMM I’M RUNNING LOW ON NOODLES!!!!”

The texts devolve into a series of shocked and presumably dying or close-to-death emojis.

Hi, Marcus.

He’s still at Job Corps. He’s been there for two months and 3 care packages. When he first got to his dorm he didn’t want to bring any of this own things, even toiletries. Years spent in the foster care system taught him some unfortunate lessons.

In typical Marcus fashion he keeps his personal items scattered across several houses with different relatives or friends. He’s always done this. It allows him to move locations frequently and easily. It also guarantees that if he blows out of a home in a rage, he won’t lose the entirety of his belongings. I guess it’s his way of diversifying assets.

Due to this process, he went into his dorm without much. Marcus had honestly never heard the term “care package” until I explained it to him. When I was in college my mom sent me goodies in the mail. It kept me going and made me feel loved. It connected me to the woman who took care of me even when I wasn’t physically with her.

Marcus was flabbergasted. “Srsly?!” He texted me when I explained the concept, “That’s a real thing? Like Nana really did that? Do other people do it???”

Yes, Marcus.

Now here we are at 3:00 AM. He seems to have gotten a good grasp on the care package concept. I’d like to think he’s gotten a handle on the trust concept also. When you need food, go to mom!

However, his math skills are suspect. It was exactly 6 days ago that I Amazon Primed him 48 packages of Ramen noodles. Even if he eats 2 per day it should last him over 3 weeks!

Perhaps the next lesson for Marcus will be a math lesson about the consumption of Ramen noodles.

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

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