adoption, family

Report Card for a Trauma Mama

On the last day of summer vacation I brought Carl to the lake, all the while keeping a diligent eye on my son. It was hard to peg him at a distance. Carl spent the summer outdoors baking in the sun until his brown skin perfectly matched the dock color.

I hate to admit it but I panicked a little. Where did my kid go? I could see the headline now: “White Mother is Complicit in Hispanic Son’s Drowning.”

He kept bobbing in and out of sight as he swam away, and then back to, the dock. Drowning statistics were running through my head. Doesn’t it only take 30 seconds or something? The peaceful water lapping at the sand became suddenly ominous.

Through my sunglasses I glanced at a sign that read “Children under 13 must be accompanied by an adult.” This gave me pause. I realized in a flash that Carl turns 13 in two weeks. He will be a teenager. He can technically, by the law of the lake, swim alone in two weeks. What on earth was I panicking about?

Also, what could I even do if I saw him in distress? Paddle slowly over to him at the speed of an octogenarian or snail? I certainly couldn’t pull or drag him to safety. My back injury would completely sideline me on a rescue mission. So basically, I spent a good hour on the possibility that I might just watch my son drown. In this situation my mom skills were nonexistent.

I settled back in my ergonomic beach chair to contemplate my role as he ages. The house seems strangely quiet these days. Out of 5 children only one remains at home. Soon he will be a teen. I think it’s time to re-evaluate my skills. Let’s face it. I am most certainly not always up to the task of parenting. Sometimes I am magical and wonderful and thisclose to being Mary Poppins. Sometimes parenting adopted children from trauma gets the best of me. My report card is as follows:

Areas where I am crushing it:

  • Persistence- I don’t give up on my kids. I advocate in schools, in psychiatric hospitals, RTCs, therapists offices and so on with the persistence of an emperor penguin. No, seriously, an emperor penguin. These animals are persistent AF. Google this!
  • Scheduling- I can remember to throw laundry in overnight on the delay timer setting. I switch it over in the morning and go from there. I can rotate chores, emergencies, sports schedules and my medical treatment like a boss. I should probably admit here that Siri helps me.
  • Using Siri-I am totally counting this in the mom-skill plus column. Yeah, she can do anything. Enough said.
  • TBRI- Its a form of therapeutic parenting known as “Trust Based Relational Intervention” and I’ve gotten pretty good with this over the years.
  • Research- I’ve read books, taken classes, and done many a webinar on developmental trauma. I can quote Deborah D. Gray, Bassel Van Der Kolk, Karyn Purvis and Heather Forbes verbatim. I LOVE reading.
  • I bake my own bread- Yes, this one is real. It’s also not as cool as it looks. I have a bread-maker so I just add 4 ingredients in the morning and set a delay timer. Voila! Fresh homemade bread for dinner and it is hot out of the…er…oven.
  • Crockpot Usage- I am a crock-pot ninja.
  • Saying “no”- I don’t mean to my kids. I mean to everyone else who wants something from me.  My kids have worn me out with trauma drama. I’m sorry. I can’t volunteer for you. I just don’t want to.
  • Naming and validating feelings-If you’re having a tough day then I am here for you. I won’t advise. I will name and validate your feeling and then ask you (therapeutically of course!) how you think you might handle the situation. I can validate your feelings like a boss!
  • Apologizing- I’m not above it and I need to do it a LOT.

Areas where I need to take the remedial training:

  • Naming animal facts- see above under “persistent.”
  • Sports- Umm, I can totally get you there but I don’t know what you’re doing. Hooray for ball points!
  • TBRI- Hey, some days I’m a therapeutic master and some days I am back to grasshopper status.
  • Research- I’ve read everything I could find. I still don’t have all of the answers when it comes to helping my children heal from trauma.
  • Making dinner- OK, being the queen of the crock pot and the delay timer on our bread maker are my ONLY cooking skills. The stove and I have a tumultuous relationship that once ended up with me melting a leggo on the back burner.
  • Saying “no”- When it comes to a therapeutic recommendation or treatment for my children, I have a hard time saying “no.” Even if it isn’t evidence-based or isn’t helping I’ve given just about everything a try. This has the unfortunate effect of working me to the bone while the children either ignore or actively evade the treatment.
  • Naming and validating feelings- I forget my own all the time. I think our entire family would be better off if I could admit to having feelings rather than waiting until the boiling point.
  • Apologizing-  I just HATE to be wrong. I’m sorry, Luke. See? I can do it.
  • Letting go- This is the hardest one. I can’t actually do the healing for my children. At some point I need to give them more freedom to make decisions and hope they make the right ones. You don’t want to go to therapy (Carl) anymore? OK well then it’s up to you to practice the skills you’ve learned. I’m not staying up with you until 3:00 AM because there might be maybe a bug alive somewhere in the world. You want to live in your car (I’m looking at you, Marcus!) for no apparent reason? I’m going to sleep in my nice memory foam mattress and love you from over here.

All in all I think my report card breaks even.  I’ll just give myself an A and pick up takeout.

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


The Mother Load

My mother has perfectly coiffed hair at all times. Her blonde matches my own, but that is where the similarity ends. She has shiny, obedient coif arranged perfectly around her face. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her with a flyaway except maybe right after a wash. I have wildly curly hair that I attempted to tame in my teenage years. I flat-ironed the curls, set it in rollers, attempted blow-outs and relaxers. As I got older I grew it longer and just left it down to fly free. Why fight nature? My hair does it’s own dynamic thing.

Unfortunately, she ended up with me for a daughter. I was a messy child. I’m a little cleaner now, but I never dust, and sometimes my bed goes unmade. I wear flowing skirts and very little make-up (if at all.) My skin care regimen consists of soap and sun screen. Fingers crossed I end up with my mother’s complexion which is somehow impervious to the passing of time.I listen to Bob Dylan or Phish. I eat with paper napkins. My elbows are forever on the table and sometimes I even sit cross-legged during dinner.

One Thanksgiving, she called me and asked what my centerpiece was. I was confused. I said, “Isn’t that where the food goes?”

While out at the grocery store on a sweltering August day last week, I donned my summer uniform of bohemian maxi-dress and flip flops. As long as the clothes feel soft and allow me to move easily, I’m happy. This used to be an added bonus when Mary was violent and attacking me. It allowed me to dodge and dart away. Now she is in a residential school and my days of darting are behind me.

I don’t have to look over my shoulder anymore. I’m not as likely to scan for exits and double check that the police are a speed-dial touch away on my phone. I can wear my long and flowing dresses without long-sleeved cardigans in the melting summer heat. The reason is simple. I am no longer covering arms awash in multi-colored bruises from a violent child.

A elderly man approached me in the frozen food aisle and let out an appreciative whistle. At a certain age I think people can get away with just about any behavior and still seem endearing. He told me it was a long time since he’d seen a “real woman” dressed “properly in a dress or skirt.” He claimed my husband must just “love all over me” (spoiler alert: he does!) and that he was lucky not to have a woman always in pants. I thanked the man dubiously as I helped him reach the steam-able carrots. It occurred to me that I might tell him I wear pajama-jeans in a completely un-ironic way in the Fall. Obviously he assumed I was dressed up rather than the truth which lies somewhere around my ambivalent attitude towards underwear.

Maybe I am more like my mother than I think. I certainly hope I grow to be just like her as I age. My mom may be different than I am in many ways. However, she supports this family without another thought. She moved with my stepdad halfway across the country, braving frigid New England winters and high taxes, just to be close to us. No matter what drama our family was experiencing, or how bizarre this family/herd-of-chickens gets, she is with us. In my darkest hour, I am not alone. My mother is the tree trunk to my spreading branches. I want so badly to be this way for my own daughter.

Unfortunately, I haven’t managed it yet. I can’t. My daughter is living in a residential therapeutic setting. Someone else tucks her in at night. Someone else restrains her when she rages. In her darkest hours I am simply not there. I wish it could be different. It can’t.

How will she view our mother-daughter relationship one day? If I’m not the trunk to her branches, will I be the house next door? If I am not Mary’s steadfast base, am I at least Mary-adjacent? I hope so. I hope that one day she is comparing our preferred music and fashion rather than wondering why we lived apart. I hope her memories of me are not filled with being abandoned or pushed away.

It is hard to do this from a distance. I try but even in her physical presence, a gap divides us. How will she view me one day? Only time will tell.

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

adoption, family

Making My World Smaller


I’ve been confined to the upstairs of my house. My bedroom and bathroom are here. There is a hallway and an “art loft” that overlooks our living room. These are the only areas I can be without assistance.Back surgery is tough. Everything else is downstairs and I have absolutely no control over what is happening there. So far I’ve made it down twice. Once with my paramedic husband, and once with my in-home physical therapist. Hooray for me.

I have a snazzy new walker that is sure to be the envy of every other 35-year-old mom. I use it every so often to do some laps upstairs. (Impressive, I know) If I’m lucky my hubby will help me get into my shower seat with the grip bar on the side of the tub. Then I can shower with the removable shower head he gives me. Yeah, this is the life. Glamourous, I know.

The rest of the time I am sitting on my bed with the special wedge pillow my nurse got for me. I read books or magazines or I watch TV. Visiting nurses, Occupational Therapists, and Physical Therapists come to work with me. The rest of my time I spend wondering about my family. Is Luke Ok? Does he have too much to do? How can he possibly juggle having me relatively immobile, Mary in the hospital, and Carl in Lacrosse? Impossible, right?

Wrong. He’s got it covered. He has stepped up his game like a boss. He organizes offers from friends and church members to provide dinner for us. He tries to do the laundry but he gave in and let a friend from church come to clean our house. He organized his time and gets Carlos to Lacrosse games, even when Luke is working. I haven’t had to plan a thing.

Believe it or not, the family didn’t fall apart without me. If Luke works the night shift, he arranges a sleepover for Carl with Nana and Papa or with friends. We have so much support from my parents. The kids’ godparents have helped out. No one has died. No one has been left neglected. In fact, as far as I can tell, the world is still spinning without all of my frantic planning and intervention.

We moms work ourselves into sort of a frantic pace of action that barely allows us time to breathe. And for what? Things will still continue all of our planning and listing and intervening. It may not all be perfect or perfectly planned, but who cares? When was perfection ever a goal anyone could achieve?

I’ve been so wrong. Silly me. Carl cuddles up next to me and put our favorite TV show on, “Fresh Off the Boat.” We snuggle and binge-watch a few episodes. Then he turns to me and says, “You’re the best mommy. I love you.”

“But why?” I ask him. “I haven’t done anything this week.”

“You’ve been my mom. You’ve been loving me and you’re right here,” he says slowly, as if talking to a very dim-witted adult. “Plus, you adopted me.”

Oh. Well if that’s all it takes then I guess I’m mom of the week. Yes, I am the mom that stuck around and yes, I am loving him. I’ll concentrate on my recovery. I’ll let Luke do all the planning. I will stay in my small upstairs area.

And I will have faith. I will have faith in this little family we created through adoption. Maybe I don’t need any more than that in my world right now. Maybe that is enough.

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