Keep a Lid On It

It’s been four weeks since surgery. Last night I was able to cook some red lentil pasta with vegetables. The pot of pasta boiled up a white foam dangerously close to the lid of the pot if Mary and I didn’t stir it constantly. I greased a glass pan and gathered three kinds of shredded cheese while Mary stirred the lentil ziti continuously. Each time she would lean over to stir the pot of sauce and chopped veggies, the lentil pasta would heartily foam up again and threaten to overflow. She’d jump back and stir furiously while we laughed uproariously. Such hubris, trying to escape the pot like that!

Mary and I strained the pasta together, laughingly avoiding the billows of steam coming out of the strainer. I layered the ziti and veggie sauce while she sprinkled a generous amount of cheese over the top. Our team work lead to an amazing baked ziti dish for dinner. My MIL (who is quarantined with us) was mildly perplexed. She’s had the kitchen to herself for the last month. It’s seen a borderline-illegal amount of garlic, and almost no vegetable products.

To my surprise our kitchen contains full heads of garlic, minced garlic, garlic powder, garlic salt and a garlic seasoning called “perfect pinch.” She proudly displays these and explains that she uses them ALL for each meal, along with some Goya seasonings. My MIL cooks a lot of traditional Puerto Rican dishes. My children love this. I suppose I am just as perplexed as she is when she looks at my food.

In this time of quarantine, it’s best that I do not share my feelings. We are all stuck here together and it is best if I don’t respond to her many, many opinions about cooking, child-rearing, housekeeping and marriage. The woman may have more opinions than forms of garlic in her cooking!

As I nod my head benignly, I let my MIL’s words wash over me like so much rain. I pay little attention and therefore I don’t have any idea what I am nodding along to. This is the time Marcus pops up and begins asking me (in a roundabout and rambling way) if he can go and visit a friend. What?! Full stop. Now I am listening.

Absolutely not. Luke and I have said no to his girlfriend coming over. We have said no to his friend coming over, even if they “stay in the basement.” He doesn’t understand. Marcus is straining at the confines of this house. He wants to go out and be in the world. Since he is twenty-two he must be absolutely immortal and impervious to infection. Additionally, he knows this friend and so, obviously, the friend couldn’t possibly be infected.

I clearly and firmly state that he cannot be in contact with others. Full stop. I briefly outline why some people can be asymptomatic and still spread the germs. I remind him about using Facetime, Facebook Watch Party and Google Hang. I state the facts without lots of words because once he is upset too much language just doesn’t get processed. I do this over my MIL’s mounting panicked protests. She has a lot of anxiety.

After he stomps downstairs, I agree quietly while MIL reminds me that Luke has Type 1 diabetes, high blood pressure and is now on immunosuppresent medication. I nod while she complains that Marcus refuses to wash his hair because his dreadlocks aren’t “mature enough” yet. Supposedly, only his girlfriend can wash them so they don’t unravel (?) Honestly, I have to pick my battles with Marcus. It is very difficult to keep him home. It is difficult to convince him to wear gloves and mask at the pharmacy and grocery store. It is even difficult to get him to shower when he gets home from the store.

Marcus bubbles up with frustration, he pushes to be free. I take a cleansing breathe and exhale slowly. I am straining against the constant string of advice from my MIL. Instead of engaging I go and find Mary. Together we take a perfect baked ziti out of the oven. She smiles at me and makes a “sqee!” sound of joy.

This period of social isolation has worked well for Mary. She is transforming into a happy, well-adjusted child. Rather than straining against circumstances, she’s adapted well. Perhaps I should follow her lead.

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



“He says he never wants to be adopted.”

“He told the social worker he doesn’t want to live with the family. He is pursuing an independent living option.”

“Unfortunately, he is having difficulty with adapting to another mother-figure right now. Sometimes this is hard for older kids to accept.”

These are all things we heard time and again from social workers involved in Marcus’ case when he was a teenager. We would spend time together as a family. Things would seem to be going well. Then, out of nowhere, Marcus would pull back and everything would change. He act out against me. He’d rage against the idea of “mom.” The closer he got, the more fireworks would explode when he pulled away.

Looking back over our history as a family, I am amazed that Marcus is here now. Currently, we are all hunkered down together in the midst of this Covid-19 pandemic. The littles are home from school for the foreseeable future. I am supposed to be helping them with online learning. Instead, I am moaning and writhing in after-surgery pain. The kids seem to be doing alright with distance learning on their own.

My stomach is covered with incisions, bruising and purple surgeon’s marker. I lovingly call it “Frankenbelly.” I have an innate love of the macabre so I snap a discrete picture. It probably wouldn’t do to use this to scare the children on Halloween. In the midst of my tummy-musings, Carl runs upstairs with a fresh ice pack for me. I sigh in contentment as I hold the cold relief against my stitched-up skin. Heaven. Carl bounds down the stairs before I can thank him.

Luke is having a harder time. He feels constantly nauseous. His level of pain causes his blood-pressure to spike. This is very bad for his new kidney. His pain medication causes him to vomit. This is very bad for his stitches and probably…his new kidney. He’s already been back to the hospital once via ambulance. Marcus drove behind the “bus” and stayed with Luke. He was sent home with stronger anti-nausea medication.

Upon returning home, Luke vomits again. He winds up on the floor where I crawl down to meet him. We are like two raggedy-dolls patched up with stitches. Our movements are jerky and awkward but we are together. Once I get Luke situated I call the transplant coordinator again. She gives some advice to just continue what we are doing. The subplot is we can’t be at the hospital during a pandemic. It isn’t safe for my immunocompromised husband.

Mary comes in quietly and hands me another ice pack. Sweet relief! I haven’t been asking for these but they’ve been coming all day. Marcus keeps them in the drop freezer in the basement. He says this makes them colder.

“Thank you Little Chicken.” I say to Mary.

She pauses briefly to say, “You’re welcome, Mama. But it’s Marcus that keeps telling us when to bring them.” Then she’s off and running down the stairs to tackle an online math game.

As soon as I settle Luke back into bed I send Marcus a message, thanking him. He hasn’t even taken credit for all the helping out he’s been doing. I let him know he’s such a good son. I am so lucky to get to be his mother.

The message I get back is simple. It reads, “ Of course I’m helping. You’re my mom.”

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

adoption, family

Murphy’s Law

Sometimes, every single thing that can go wrong will absolutely 100% go wrong. This is the turning point. It’s the beginning of the end of things, or at least this cycle.

Marcus is always in-and-out, push-then-pull, loving-then-running-from family. I’m pretty sure he’s on his way out again. At this point it seems like a matter of time before the volcano erupts, sweeping our family dynamic under mounds of smoking viscous deluge. Let me start at the beginning of this particular ending.

The weekend began with temperatures well below freezing and a snowstorm in the forecast. Luke and I awoke to a frigid morning wrapped in murky gray winter sunlight. There was no cheerful burbling noise from the radiator. We could practically see our breathe…inside the house. Our furnace was out. On a holiday weekend.

After several phone calls where cheerful operators offered to send a technician out to fix the problem AFTER the long weekend, we found someone willing to work a Saturday. At first he thought it was an easy fix, maybe a few hundred dollars. Would we like it fixed today? Yes!

Marcus borrowed the car and left with his girlfriend. Mary, Luke and I made our way to the grocery store for warmth and (as an afterthought) some groceries. Right before snowstorms, a New England market resembles a post-apocalyptic horror film. As we fought our way through panicked shoppers we got the call. The furnace fix was actually more of a replacement-situation. It would probably run over $2,000. Super.

In the parking lot of the grocery store Marcus suddenly appears in a full panic. He is shouting, pacing, and waving his arms in a frantic jerky motion. It’s hard to tell what he’s referring to or when he arrived.

“They f-ing did it, man. Some guys f-ing got me. What the hell?! Why does this sh-t happen to me?!!”

I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me as he interspersed his rant with spurts of anger against bystanders. In the grocery store parking lot, patrons driving or walking by were met with Marcus yelling and charging at them.

“What the F–K are YOU LOOKING AT?! I bet you’re f–ing in on it. You like this, A–HOLE?!?!!”

I wedged mysef between the raging Marcus and the bewildered bystanders. Eventually he ushered me over to our SUV and showed me a completely shattered rear glass panel. A disjointed story followed peppered with expletives and semi-delusional statements of paranoia.

It seems some sort of road rage incident ended with 2 men in a pickup truck cutting Marcus off, getting out and smashing one of the SUV windows. Marcus is so full of panic and rage that he’s convinced someone from his ex-girlfriend’s past has hunted him down in our state. Also the local shoppers may be in on it.

He is yelling at me, yelling at passerby, and completely out-of-control raging. Mary begins to sob, both kids are shaking and glass bits continues to fall out of the window as the winter wind blows. Marcus is enraged that he moved out of the city to get away from being jumped and it’s happened in our sleepy town. He is not safe anywhere.

Once we are home I wisely give him an Ativan before the police come to take his statement. There’s nothing they can do except go back to the area to see if the pickup truck returns. Marcus, however, can’t hear this. Even after the officer leaves, Marcus gets progressively drunk on corona and collects a skin cell from the smashed window with my tweezers. He places this in a ziplock bag CSI style, convinced he’s cracked the case.

I try in vain to explain to Marcus that this kind of forensic evidence is too costly and won’t be pursued. He won’t hear me. He is raging and yelling about how he plans to escape the “next time” someone tries to tie him up. He has plans about being stabbed and beaten as well.

At this point it’s been close to 4 hours since the incident. I’ve had a hot shower, the heat is on and everyone is home safe. But Marcus is ranting and yelling and has not stopped for even 5 minutes. He’s calling friends from the city to back him up. He’s threatening to cut off fingers, steal a car, and commit various and sundry crimes to any and all that are “after him.”

This rage lasts a whopping 48 hours. He stays up all night. The next day at 1:30pm he wakes up screaming at his siblings to be quiet because no one should be making noise in the house. Because he is in an irrational place he focuses his anger on Carl. He is mad about things that aren’t actually even happening.

Luke and I keep them apart and contain Marcus as best we can. We do not allow Marcus to drive in this state. Carl is afraid of him and sleeps in the living room. Meanwhile Marcus locks Carl out of the bedroom without his shoes.

By the 3rd day Marcus is calm but depressed. He wants a job. His siblings are spoiled. He can’t understand why I haven’t written him a resume yet (?!) or why we ask him to be quiet in the middle of the night, yet we make noise in the daytime. He’s frustrated he doesn’t have his own room. He wants his own car. According to Marcus he is over the incident and it never bothered him in the first place.

Today Luke is having a talk with him. The truth is that once Marcus’ trauma is triggered he cannot think clearly at all. He can’t hear anything we say. He has little to no concept that he’s just raged out of control for 2 days. He is unaware that his actions affected others. He doesn’t remember most of it.

However, our heat is fixed. The snowstorm is past. Now it’s time for all of us to dig out and keep going. Hopefully, Marcus will stay. However, I see the signs of an awakening volcano in our forecast.

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

adoption, family

New Beginnings

Sparkling white snow blankets our yard like the heaviest of down comforters. Close to 10 inches of fluffy white has the effect of muffling all sound outside. For once, the forest is silent and still. I could scream and shout but my noise would be swallowed up in winter’s thick insulation. I have always believed that snowflakes start the world anew.

In typical New England fashion the pristine powder will eventually turn brown and grey from cars traveling by. What was once beautiful will become a dirty, muddied slush from use. However, none of that is visible now. I cannot see mud or dirt underneath the powdery blanket. For now, all I can see is the sparkle of a pure white expanse. All is beautiful. All is calm.

Inside my house the fireplace crackles and Christmas lights twinkle. I wrap both of my hands tightly around a steaming cup of peppermint mocha coffee. Meanwhile, Marcus struggles into his uniform shirt for school. I am inexplicably moved to tears. School! My oldest son has started college. Could I have even imagined this six years ago?

I hastily blink away the moisture while he is busy determining how to get his cast through the right sleeve. Marcus broke his wrist punching his bag that we keep in the basement. He was mad. This is behavior I’ve become accustomed to from Marcus. He damages himself to deal with feelings.

Enrolling in a technical school to pursue his goal of becoming an electrician? This is something I wasn’t sure if he would ever do. After the incident where he was terminated from Job Corps due to an anger outburst, he seemed resigned to failure. Somehow he has managed to pick himself up and start over at a technical college. I am overwhelmed with pride that he is actually doing this.

The sound of Marcus driving off is absorbed by all of the snow. The rest of us are off on a snow day today. Alone in the quiet once more I busy myself in preparation. In the kitchen I gather up ingredients to make slime. I’ve selected an art project and a science project to do with Mary today.

This is the day we will have fun together. For the time being I will let her sleep-in while I relish the silence. Today feels full of possibility.

Staring out at the pure white expanse that has become my world, I exhale.

Today is a day for new beginnings.

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

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.

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.

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.