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.

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adoption, family

Rearview Mirror: My Prodigal Son

“It’s your brother’s birthday party this weekend. I wish you were coming. We all miss you.” I sent this Facebook message onto the cybersphere with little hope of a response. It’s been a few months since we’ve heard from Marcus, our “prodigal son.” I went off of the assumption that he had just ghosted out again. He does this often. Eventually I figured he’d contact us if he needed something.

Imagine my surprise when the phone chirped back with, “I wud love to go.”

Just like that, our oldest was back in our orbit. He told me he had “big news.” Marcus insisted he could only tell me in person. My stomach dropped as I immediately tried not to think of the possibility that he was having a baby.  I’m pretty sure that I kept my fingers crossed the entire way to pick him up for the weekend.

Pulling up to a tiny, dingy, brick duplex, I spotted him hoisting an oversized zebra-print duffel bag onto his shoulder. It had pink writing on the pockets, and there was a pouch for a bottle on the side. Gulp. Marcus hopped into the car, stating the bag was his girlfriends. He is now living with this latest girlfriend-and-her-mother. Another girlfriend, another mother, another home, rinse, repeat. This is Marcus’ cycle. There are many people residing in the tiny apartment, including the younger brother (paternal) to Mary and Carl (Marcus has a different father.) Imagine trying to explain that our oldest son is living with his siblings’ younger sibling. Oh and he is also dating that sibling’s oldest sister. Sure….

Anyway, the visit went the same as usual. Marcus wanted to drive everywhere. He wanted to take out the trash, run the errands, help out around the house. We played Bananagrams (his favorite) and card games into the night. He gave Carl a ninja turtle Lego set and a red fidget spinner. He got me iced coffee from the local Dunkin’ Donuts. In other words, classic Marcus, or at least classic when he’s in his good place.

When he finally shared his big news, I could have cried with relief and happiness. Marcus signed up for the Job Corps’ electrician program. He’d have a guaranteed place to stay. He’d would have food, supervision, and training.  Did this mean he would be OK? Maybe I could stop wondering “what-if” with Marcus. Maybe he was doing alright despite never having been adopted. 

Driving home he recounted his weekend highlights. He loved visiting the farm where he had riding lessons when he lived with us. He loved Carl’s birthday party. His absolute favorite thing was going to the batting cage with Luke. It was one of those classic father-son moments where Luke taught him how to swing and how to watch for the ball. The difference being that most kids do this with their dad at a young age, not at age 19.

And then he played me Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s song “Trap House.”

“I used to have a trap house,” he commented nonchalantly. I could see him glance over at me to gauge my reaction. I froze in place, staring straight ahead at the road. A drug house. He used to sell drugs.

“After we knew you?” I asked quietly in a tightly-controlled voice.

“After I left.”

After you left which time??” I ground out each word with effort. It was when he was 18 and living with yet-another-girlfriend-and-her-mother. Rinse, repeat. I catch my breathe and sit in silence until I am sure I will not scream. Why did he choose this life over our family? Why?

It hurt to get the words out. “Do you know that I’ve never wanted anything from you except for you to be happy? I’ve only wanted for you to have a good life. I can’t make your decisions for you. No matter how you feel about me, I will always consider you to be my oldest. I will always care about you. I will never stop worrying. I will never stop asking myself why you couldn’t let us take care of you. ”

Tears welled up in his eyes and spilled down his cheeks. When he got out of the car he caught me up in an enormous hug. Words of apology for his past choices washed over me. Reassurances that he was “staying away from that stuff” filtered through my ears like so much white noise. How many times over the years have we repeated this same conversation?

Driving away, I could see him standing in the road, adjusting his zebra-striped duffel bag  higher up on his shoulder. He looked so small. A part of me wonders if I’ll spend the rest of my days looking into the rearview mirror at Marcus.

  https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

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

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family

The Prodigal Son…Graduates! 

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This is a day I never thought I’d be able to see. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always believed he would finish his high school degree. This is a point I hotly debated with the many social workers, and clinicians involved over the years. “He won’t want to graduate from high school when he is almost 20. He’s missed too many credits. He’ll probably just get his GED,” was something a clinical consultant on his case said to me once. What he meant was “Marcus will surely drop out.” But I knew better. Marcus, our children’s oldest biological brother, never backs down when he’s determined about something.

It’s just that after he decided he didn’t want us to adopt him, he left and swore he’d never return. So I believed that I would have to miss the day he got his diploma. I stupidly tried to comfort myself with thoughts of seeing his pictures on Facebook or being there “in spirit.” Marcus eventually made contact with us and we managed to forge a new kind of relationship. Despite this, I didn’t think he would want his “old parents” at his high school graduation. But he did. He asked us to come when he contacted me to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Man can that kid make me cry!

For me, he will always and forever be my eldest son. For him I’m probably one of the many “moms” he’s had through his years in the foster care system. He often felt like a throwaway kid.  Marcus felt out of place being loved by a family. So he pushed back. He got suspended, kicked out of schools, sent to a group home, disrupted many foster placements and did a stint in “juvie.”

Social workers cautioned us from the beginning against getting too attached to this “troubled teen.” But attachment was just what he needed. Unconditional love, acceptance, and ultimately the ability to ride out his struggles. No, we never got to adopt him. He aged out of foster care. But eventually Marcus returned to the house of his first foster mom. He wasn’t “in the system” anymore. She had long since retired from fostering kids. But Marcus? He always had a place with her.

Marcus often felt that no one wanted him. He pushed back against love so hard that he tried to drive the people closest to him away however he could. It didn’t work. For this  graduation the vice principal and resource officer (the same one who had to arrest him once) from his former school attended. He had a childhood friend he’d kept in touch with over his years shuffling through foster homes. He had his first foster family. He had an older sister’s ex-husband.  And he had us. One of his older biological sisters came and surprisingly, so did his biological father. We all loved him enough to be there.

When Marcus first started coming to visit us, he reminded me of the little boy Max from the children’s’ book Where the Wild Things Are. For one thing, he would stretch waaay into his 7-year-old sister’s footy pajamas, shirts, and headbands when playing with her. He was just shy of the wolf costume Max wears in the book’s opening illustrations. Like Max, Marcus was always quite fond of “making mischief of one kind or another,” and like Max he was an expert at driving his caregivers crazy.

If ever a child deserved to be made “King of the Wild Things,” it was Marcus.  He would have angry outbursts and tantrums over the smallest things. Then he would put on his headphones and drift away to a place where no one could make contact with him. Marcus would come back at his own pace. So many of his relationships followed this back-and-forth pattern. Like Max, Marcus was a lovable child at heart and needed to know it. I obviously had to read him the book aloud. He loved the experience! At 17, he’d never heard of the story, or even heard of parents reading stories to their children at bedtime. 

When we started his adoption process, I bought him a hardcover copy of the book. I slipped it beneath his pillow after writing on the inside cover “You have finally come home to a place where someone loves you best of all.” We never discussed it. After he left us, he packed everything except that book. It crushed me. Like the beasts Maurice Sendak created, I wanted to roar and gnash my teeth. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so! But I couldn’t. So I let go. I had been wrong about this story the whole time.

I wasn’t the mother waiting at home with his hot supper. I was one of the many “Wild Things” trying to love him along the journey of foster care. So when Marcus asked us to be at his graduation, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt love, pride, and gratitude that we were still family. I cried through the ceremony from the moment he walked in until the moment he crossed the stage.  Luke and I were by far not the only ones there for Marcus. He had the largest group of supporters of any graduate that day. As we stood around wiping tears and snapping pictures, I figured maybe I wasn’t the mother or the “Wild Thing” after all.

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Marcus approached Luke and I last. Without words, he fell into Luke’s arms and pulled me into a tight group hug. He was crying and so was I. In that moment, in that hug? Marcus really was “home.” No matter where he goes in life, that hug was the place where “someone loved him best of all.”

Congratulations, Marcus.

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

*My sincere apologies if I botched the plot with my interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story book Where the Wild Things Are

 

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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.

mgroups

 

**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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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? 

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

 

 

 

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family

Changing the Adoption Fairy Tale

I still believe in happily-ever-after. I’ll be the first to encourage people to take the next step in considering fostering or adopting children from foster care. I’ll also be the first to admit that it doesn’t always work out. It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t easy. I still believe in happy endings but my story is my own. I had to shift the narrative. I had to change my expectations. Yes, I’m living my happily-ever-after, it’s just that my fairy tale is different. It’s messy and heart-wrenching and wonderful and it is REAL. 

In the beginning we were attempting to adopt a sibling group of 4 children. Two disrupted and two were adopted. The oldest disrupted, aged out of care, and now keeps in touch with us. I guess our final success rate is two-and-a-half?

Marcus is the oldest. He disrupted from our house almost a year ago. I was worried sick about him ever since. He is 18 now, and living with a girlfriend. He signed himself out of care. He’s been in touch more and more frequently over the last several months. He sent me a text message the other day. It said, “Ya I know I never said it but I really care about you guys. And ya, I love you too.”

I thought he’d get arrested on his own. I worried that he might drop out of school. I worried there wouldn’t be anyone to love him. Did we fail him? He didn’t want to live in our house and take our last name. Was this a “failed” adoption attempt?

He’s still in school. He’s in a credit recovery program and getting good grades. He has a job. So far he hasn’t  had any episodes with the law. In all honesty he is probably drinking and engaging in risky behaviors. Overall, though, I’m impressed he’s done so well for himself. Recently, my husband and step-father traveled the 2 hours to where he lives and took him out to lunch. I sent along a care-package like my mother used to send to me in college. He isn’t in college. He isn’t technically “ours,” but I love him just the same. Did we have a fairy tale adoption story with him? No. I believe we have something equally as valuable. We have a relationship. It’s not a typical family relationship but it’s as close as he is comfortable with. I take pride in his successes. I also take pride in what I’ve been able to  give of myself as a parent. I take pride in teaching him to drive, holding his hand when he was shaking with fever, and rubbing his back when he cried about a relationship. Those moments were all real for me. Regardless of what our non traditional parent-child relationship looks like now.  No matter how he fares in life, I am glad I could do these things.

Mary and Carl have their ups and downs. They have trauma reactions, and fears and meltdowns. But they are also real little people. They have creative ideas and hilarious antics. I’m surprised and amazed by my children every day. They love us and have attached to us. That is success. We earned our family bonds through blood, sweat and tears. I mean that in the literal sense. One child drew my blood by stabbing me with a pencil during a dissociative episode. I’ve spent a sweaty hour in a car at a rest stop holding my daughter safe while she raged on a 100 degree day. I’ve cried tears of joy and triumph to hear them say, “I love you mom.” This is better than your run-of-the-mill fairy tale. This is 3 dimensional life. And it is amazing. What more could I ask for? These triumphs over trauma, attachment struggles and pain? These triumphs are the happy endings. This family is the happiest of endings.

A few months ago our daughter Mary was filling out a questionnaire in her little “All About Me” journal. It asked her to list her family members in one section and then write how they are related to you. She wrote “Carl–brother” and “Mommy and Daddy–love.”She was right. We aren’t related by blood, we are related by love. And so we live happily, messily, crazily ever-after.

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

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