adoption, family

Fragile Peace

There is a fragile peace that lies somewhere between contentment and heartbreak. Lately I’ve felt more at ease about Mary. She is in a top notch private residential school. They know all about complex, developmental trauma. They understand the deep attachment struggles. I think that if anyone can help her, maybe they can. This comforts me when missing her rips away at my insides and keeps me up at night.

In a fragile kind of truce, Marcus and I are existing. After having the outburst where he smashed a TV in the basement (it was his own, he was waiting to sell it) he went dark. First, he cleaned up the glass and the wreckage. Then Marcus holed up in his room and spoke to no one, only sending angry texts to me occasionally.

The drama was apparently related to a girl. He loves her. He loves her as much as I love Luke. He can’t stand to be away from her. I never even gave her a chance/believe him/acknowledge his feelings. He is trapped here like an animal. He is caged in. Or so he says…I refused to have the fight. I  let him know that I wasn’t arguing with him and that I loved him. I’ve had a lot of practice at not taking the bait.

On the fourth day I went into his room and sat down at the edge of his bed. The last text just said that I was the mom and he was supposed to be able to talk to his mom about his feelings. He was cloaked in darkness and speaking in the softest whisper. I wasn’t allowed to turn on the light. He told me all about the girl, his feelings, how deep his love was for her. I’m pretty sure he dumped her a year ago because he didn’t like her anymore. Marcus is always back and forth this way.

I did the thing that I do best. I held him while he cried. I told him that he must be very heartbroken. I acknowledged the love he claimed, the depression, the fate of star-crossed lovers everywhere. And then I faced the thing I did not want to face. His move-out pattern. I told him if he chose to move back to that other state, into the city with those old friends, then I would support his decision.

He isn’t trapped. He’s asked to be here. He’s a grown man. But I made it clear that he didn’t need to start a huge fight with me to do it. I wasn’t going to make it easy by participating in the, “I-hate-you-I’ll-never-speak-to-you-again.” ritual. If he wanted a fight he’d have to do it without me.

So now we wait. Everything seems quiet. Marcus started a new job. Since our non-argument, I haven’t heard about the girl. Maybe the storm has passed.

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

adoption, family

The Coming Storm

I’ve felt it coming. The oncoming of a storm settles itself deep into my lower back. The pelting rain and thunder is on its way. A real nor’easter is bearing down on us. The constant throbbing in my right hip repeats to me, “it’s coming, it’s coming.”

On these mornings I am frozen in bed, my muscles locked up and uncooperative. Attempting to move causes my bones to crack. My sacroiliac joints groan in protest. I am like the tin man without his oil. A half hour on the heating pad and some Tylenol help me to get to a functioning level of chronic back pain. Each groan and crack is whispering to me, “No matter what you try you will always end up back in this place. Always.”

We are seven months into Marcus’ latest return. The old wounds are still there, but just like anything else, we are learning to work around them. To be more accurate, I am learning to work around them. I am learning to stay so quiet. I am hoping not to rock the boat.

Over the last few weeks I can see him getting closer to me. Like a drowning man, he seeks the comfort of my life raft. Tighter and tighter he clings.

What he doesn’t realize is that each time he climbs into this raft, we all capsize. He mistakenly believes it will help him weather the storm inside of him. I want to believe it, too. Survival. This is what he knows.

But I know things, too. I am familiar with Marcus’ storm. Like the cracking of thunder he begins to smash things in the basement. The punching bag coping skill just isn’t working this time. Our house shakes in time to the thunder. Marcus is slamming doors and shouting loud guttural cries that have no words.

I’ve said no to taking my car out to “visit a friend” in the storm. It seems another storm has now moved in. A mere nor’easter is nothing compared to the Marcus storm. I felt it coming in my bones long before now. “He’s too close. He’s too comfortable,” they told me. “Soon he will be gone.”

Part of me wonders how we got here. Part of me knows how. We’ve been coming to this point ever since adoption finalization. Part of me wonders when it all began. Part of me knows it began long before I was ever in the picture.

All of me wonders if tonight is the night. Will he stay?

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

adoption, family

The Quietest Mother


I have to approach so slowly, so cautiously. Marcus is crying. It’s rare for him to ever cry out loud. Instead he will sit with silent tears streaming, unchecked, down his face. He is a statue of sorrow.

The well of hurt and loss inside him runs so deep. He isn’t like his other siblings. He hasn’t had the benefits of good therapy. He hasn’t had the benefit of a stable family, a place to stay longer than a few months. Foster care has trained him to be an island.

He’s crying. He needs his mom. He needs me. Marcus hates needing a mom. In the past, every time we have gotten close, he’s run. He will put as much distance between us as possible. He is a young man now but we’ve done this dance for years.

Eventually, he always returns. Then we continue the dance all over again. Perhaps, this time, he won’t notice me. I will be so quiet he won’t even notice a mother has crept up on him.

I try not to say “I love you,” too much. Even after the adoption I still tread lightly. I try not to show those deep feelings that so often spook him. I hug him sparingly and only if I warn him first. Keep things light, I tell myself. Don’t scare him off. Try to keep him this time.

In this moment I am so very quiet. I say in my softest whisper, “I’m going to hug you now.” Quietly, so quietly, I place my arms around him. And then suddenly he’s crushing his face into my shoulder. His embrace is fierce and tight. My sweater soaks up all his tears.

I stay like this, completely still, while he cries it all out. Later, he may resent having exposed this much emotion to me. Still, I stay. My legs go numb and my back is on fire. He is crushing me. I say nothing. I just stay here. I am the quietest mother.

Please stay, Marcus. I want you to stay.

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

adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?


There were many years where we questioned if Marcus would finish high school. He HATED it. He couldn’t stand the authority, the lack of choices, and the reading. He had an IEP in school and finally graduated through a specialized night program. He now has a full diploma, as opposed to a GED. Marcus is the first one in his biological family to graduate high school. I saw his cognitive testing scores once, when he was a junior. It came as no surprise to me that his IQ was high. He was rather shocked at the time.

Now, Marcus is twenty. He has choices. There used to be four things he despised in life: lack of choices, therapists, police, and hospitals. He would avoid all of those things if possible. As a foster kid “in the system” he had no choices. Marcus was moved wherever and whenever often without much notice.

He was frequently in what is known as “intensive foster care.” This means he was the only child in a specialized foster home as part of a program for troubled youth. He was assigned a number of therapists. He had no choice in this. Some of them dug too deep, too fast. Some of them made what he perceived to be disparaging comments about his biological family. None of them ever got Marcus to talk. Ever.

Recently he started to mention college and my mother and I got really excited. As a retired English teacher (and the best one there ever was!) my mom started to make plans. Marcus is most likely dyslexic so reading is hard, but he has learned strategies to compensate. She suggested a program where he could utilize speech-to-text to write his papers. Nana offered to tutor him through the English classes. I could help him with Psychology. If he chooses this path, he will not walk it alone.

Over the last few months Marcus has hovered around the periphery of our therapy appointments. He has asked a lot of insightful questions about his sister, Mary. He thinks she may be able to find a way to release her anger the way he uses his punching bag. Still, Marcus would never come into the sessions. He just sat in the car until we finished and then went to dinner as a family. Once he actually sat in the waiting room. However, he avoided eye contact with L, our children’s longtime trauma therapist.

Imagine my shock when Marcus approached me last week and asked what he would need to do to become a therapist. Luke assumed he wanted to be a physical therapist at first. When Marcus clarified for us he said, “No, I want to be a therapist to help kids in the system. I want to help kids that are like me.”

Tears. I cannot help it. This kid will make me cry. Every. Single. Time. So we took him to see L. He got dressed up in his brand new purple polo shirt, new purple Nikes embroidered with his name, and his purple sushi socks. I’m pretty sure that it was a professional look despite the ski cap he likes to keep on his head. He announced, “I’m ready for therapy. I’m in my party clothes!”

I went in with him to talk to L about his possible career path. Keeping in mind that he has never spoken to a therapist, I felt that just getting him into the office was a feat! I should have remembered how magical L is with what she does. Somehow her humor and casual demeanor drew him out of his protective shell. As soon as she settled into her chair with her legs tucked under her (I usually take my shoes off in her cozy office) he laughed and started talking. L has this effect on people. In the past he would stare at the ground with his arms crossed and tell the therapist to “f**k off!”

Not this time. He got some great career counseling and advice. L was open and honest about the fact that he would need to go through about six more years of school. She gave some information about the TF-CBT model she practices. L spoke about how trauma responses physically affect the body. To my astonishment Marcus spoke openly about some of his own triggers and some coping skills. L encouraged him and agreed that having a therapist who had experienced foster care and trauma could relate to clients. She also pointedly told him that he would really have to address him own stuff before working with others. If not, it could trigger him.

So he agreed to go back for at least two more sessions to work on his own stuff. Amazing. When I paid the bill he saw what kind of money he could possibly make. I just saw that any amount of money would be worth it for Marcus to finally get some support, or maybe insight, in therapy.

So, will he go to college? Maybe. I don’t know. Marcus has come so very far. The sky is the limit for him.

What I do know is that two therapy sessions is a win. And I am so proud.


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



adoption, family

The Finish Line

He ours! He’s ours! He is finally our son OFFICIALLY! We made it. We finally made it to adoption.

It took us four years. Four long years. Four years ago we met a 16-year-old that was labeled as “troubled teen.” 3 years since the first time he asked to be adopted. 2-and-a-half years since he walked out and then walked back in again. 2 years since he walked out for good, before we could finalize that adoption. 1 year since he started coming back for weekend visits.

The night before the adoption I was still wondering if he would go through with it. 6 months was the closest we had ever gotten to finalization in the past. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be overjoyed. But instead I was apprehensive. Would he back out? Would he have second thoughts?

It wasn’t until the judge pronounced us a family that I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s when the joy hit. I am not at all embarrassed to admit that I cried the whole time. He has our last name. It cannot be a happy ending because our story isn’t over. He may still pull back at times. But we have made it this far. Whatever happens after this, he has our name.

Our newest “baby” is 20. We finally made it to the finish line. He’s ours

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

adoption, family

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

adoption, family

Home Again: the Prodigal Son Returns

He’s home. He’s finally home. If I peek into his room I can barely make out his sleeping form beneath the covers and beneath the dog. The huge sense of relief I feel overwhelms me even now. I am not even sure where to begin with this post.

 Marcus, our “prodigal” son will turn 20 next week. Some of you may remember when he disrupted from our home after a tumultuous few months prior to what would have been his adoption. (Thank you, by the way, for all of your kind emails and comments.)

This happened rather suddenly. He’d just been to see us for a visit on his brother Carl’s birthday. I think it reminded him what being in a family looks like. I believe that in this trip we somehow managed to show Marcus we were really there for him. Despite the fact that we never officially adopted him, we are here in all the ways that really count.

It happened during a workshop I attended. There was a panel of former foster youth speaking about what they wished foster/adoptive parents knew. I will never forget the one young man who had moved “home” at 25 after the death of his biological mother. He affectionately referred to the couple next to him as his parents. He had no hesitation about belonging to more than one family.

I’m embarrassed to say that I started tearing up as he told his story. I mean, how on earth did they convince him that it was OK to love two families? How was he so well-adjusted? Did it come with time? Would we ever get there with Marcus? Because honestly? Dropping him off and leaving was the hardest thing to do.

Right in the middle of the panel I got a message from him: “I need a place to stay. Can you please pick me up?” Life is full of strange coincidences. I know it wasn’t ideal for him to get kicked out of the place he was staying. I know he can only manage a few months of love and family at a time. I know this may not Work out well at all. I know he is on his way to Job Corps as soon as his medical clears.  I’m happy about it all the same. Because I am not perfect.  Because I am selfish. Because I missed my son.


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