family

My Life With Boys

There are paper cups everywhere. I just stepped on someone’s dirty socks. I keep finding wrappers everywhere. Dirty socks keep popping up from the couch cushions! And Gatorade. Lots of purple gatorade. It’s a messy, noisy, testosterone-laden bustle.

Mary is at a residential center. I am here with the boys. Luke and I feel like we are having a much easier time parenting Marcus and Carl in our home. It’s not dangerous or frightening. I don’t dread any oncoming rages. Its just…messy!

Marcus has been staying in Mary’s room. She will be gone for some time. He asked if he could repaint it. My heart squeezed at the thought of pushing Mary out. His posters are on the walls. His clothes are in the closet. But painting? That is so permanent.

No, we won’t be changing the paint. She may be away for a year. I have to believe that my girl will be working towards coming home. This is where she belongs.

In a year’s time Marcus will be 21. I would imagine he’s going to want his own place by then. And I need her to come home. I need my girl in this house full of boys!

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

Advertisements
Standard
adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Returns! (No, Seriously!)

mcarlos

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.

mjoker

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.

Standard
adoption disruption, family

The Prodigal Son…Visits?

mhelmet.jpg

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? 

mlettera

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

 

 

 

Standard
adoption, adoption disruption, family

Family Divided: Adventures in Rupture and Repair

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Marcus in one of his sweeter moments. He is cuddled up in the blankie I bought him.

Is there a protocol for this? How does one navigate the waters of almost-used-to-be children? In his time-honored, often repeated cycle, Marcus is back in contact. He wants to visit. He wants back in. Again.

His 18th birthday comes in less than a week. I’m sending money for his birthday present (he wants a tattoo about a friend that was murdered in his old neighborhood.) I have promised this since he was 16. I have never missed a birthday or holiday no matter where he was or how he was feeling about us. It’s important to me that he knows our family is a constant in his life.

How does one solve an equation as complicated as this one. And how does one count the cost? The cost to my teenager. The cost to my family. The cost to my heart.

He comes to us when he wants something. Marcus can’t discern the difference between his wants and his needs. The survivor in him urges him to meet his perceived needs by any means necessary. This could be $50 for clothes, a haircut, sunflower seeds or a car. I’m glad he knows to come to us. I wish I could teach him the difference between “needing” a new video game and needing bail money. If we deny one will he still know to come to us for the other? I hope so. We are about to find out.

How much do I give and how much do I allow him to take? He wants a day visit. Breakfast until dinner. He asks me with such timidity, such trepidation. But is this real or is it all manipulation? He hasn’t asked after his siblings. He will probably never apologize for being physically aggressive towards me. Marcus never apologizes. It’s one of the ways he keeps his heart safe. I get it. It doesn’t mean that I like it.

How would I handle it if he came for the day? Would Sean show up as well? Inevitably, the visit would end and my teenagers would walk away from me. Again. Can I handle that again? Could anyone handle watching them walk away over and over again?

But if not me, then who else? For Marcus, there won’t be another “mom.” There won’t be another family to be there for him when no one else will. If I walk away I will truly leave an orphan behind me. Sean, on the other hand, has his biological father on the sidelines. This is the same father Marcus has. He told us to adopt Marcus, because he only wants Sean. He is still fighting for Sean, no matter what Sean wants. Sean isn’t talking. Marcus is. Marcus hates that man with a burning vengeful rage.

And that leaves us. The safe place. Home. I want to be mom-enough to handle whatever heartbreak is thrown my way. I’m not sure that I am capable. Before he comes home for a visit, he needs to have some boundaries. He can put my emotions through this roller coaster ride, but not my littles. My littles deserve peace.

The newfound peace in our home is fragile. It’s new. Our littles have more of our time and attention. They are more easily soothed and they express less anxiety. Luke and I have more time for each other. We have an extra hour when the littles go to bed for talking, dancing in the kitchen, having a glass of wine or making love. I no longer spend an hour massaging the teens’ post-football practice aches. I don’t tuck Sean in and go back over and over for at least an hour to soothe his nighttime anxieties. How can we be there for the teens and still preserve this delicate family balance?

That’s an equation I can’t solve. How could I? Where do I draw the line between him and me? How will I know if I’m doing the right thing? How would anyone?

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

Standard
adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Disrupted Adoption

So, Luke is pissed. Pissed. Mad, steaming, angry, seeing red, blow-a-gasket, pissed. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my husband this mad in nearly a decade. Today just happens to be one of those days. He is typically calm and steady. He is always the voice of reason. Just, not so much today. His exact words were, “Of course I’m pissed! I’m sick of them! They did this to you on purpose and I am pissed at them! All I hear about is them and look what they’ve done to you! Do you see me calling them? I won’t do a thing to help them. I’m not going to play their games.” He is, of course, right. They were trying to hurt me as deeply as possible, thus making it easier for them to walk away. The “they” he is referring to are Marcus and Sean. Our 17 and 14-year-old boys who recently disrupted out of our home.

It worked. I am but a shadow of myself these days. This day, in particular, has been difficult for me. A friend’s 14-year-old son attended a social function with her recently. He obligingly took pictures of us grown women acting like silly children. He held his baby cousin most of the time. Sure, he rolled his eyes at his mother and poked fun at her, but he was there.  He was right there with her. I went home and cried for hours. Today I’m mad and prickly. I’m snapping at everyone for no reason and I can’t seem to get back on track. I feel like there’s a cartoon storm cloud brewing over my head and I’m just spoiling for a fight.

I sometimes feel that my intense level a grief over these teens is a huge inconvenience to him and to the rest of the family.It can hit me so hard over the smallest things. I look at the door knob on our basement door and remember Marcus installing it. I stumble across Sean’s favorite chicken salad sandwich in a picture at Dunkin’ Donuts.  There are times that it consumes me so much that I cry. I spend time alone. I go into our room and shut the door to be alone. I can tell that I am not myself. In our family I am usually laughing and baking brownies and singing crazy songs. I always find the bright side, the half-full glass, the silver lining. Lately I can’t seem to find my own smile.

It occurs to me that I can switch back to my old shampoo again.  Sean was so hyper-sensitive to smells that I had to switch hair products. This was to keep him from gagging on long car rides with me. I still buy the Sean-approved brands of shampoo and conditioner, out of habit. Why am I doing this? Why am I holding out hope? Why can’t I let go? My therapist tells me that I don’t need to let go. Grief is a process. I am grieving the loss of a child. But, wouldn’t it be easier to let it all go? Wouldn’t it be easier if they just weren’t my problem anymore? Sometimes, in my deepest, darkest places, I admit this is true. It would be so much easier. If we had never become this entangled with them, if I had never fallen in love with parenting these chickens, wouldn’t things be better right now? They would be, but that isn’t the point.

All anger is born of fear. I admit that I am angry at the teens. It comes and goes. I am angry because I fear that they never really loved me, even a little bit. I am angry because when I am in my darkest place, I fear that I didn’t actually make any impact on them. I am afraid that I wasn’t a good parent.

Luke is afraid, too. He is afraid for me. He is afraid that the fun-loving, optimistic wife is MIA and he wants me to come back. I am precious to him and he wants to protect me. Of course he is mad.

If I am being honest, the hardest part was losing Sean. When Marcus left, I wasn’t all that surprised. He has struggled back and forth with loyalty to his biological mother for a long time. He went through a phase before where he got incredibly close to me and then just completely cut off contact. He always seemed to have one foot out the door, in case things didn’t work out. Not so with Sean. Sean was my cuddle buddy, my cooking buddy, my constant companion. Now he is my yesterday, my memory, my once-upon-a-time.

It’s not as if they are dead. They simply don’t wish to be in our family. They can’t handle being in any family. The question is, how do I move on? How do I come back from this? And then my fear creeps in. Do I ever come back from this? Can I?

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

Standard
adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Seeking Sean: Understanding Why He Can’t

book

The Mother’s Day gift Sean made me with a deck of cards.

Why? Why on earth would he despise being in our family?? I have compiled a list of the horrors our family inflicted upon our teenage son, Sean. The perils of family life he faced include, but are not limited to:

1. Having to shower on the daily. Yes, that’s correct, we do enforce proper hygiene particularly for those in the throes of puberty.

2. Family dinners. That’s it. We just sit down at the table as a family. You don’t have to eat but you have to show up.

3. Taking out the trash. His only chore.

4. Be respectful to your family members, at least decently so.

Before he left, these seemed to be his triggers. I feel like the real list of complaints he has boil down to one thing only. The revised (and I believe truthful) list is this:

1. Having a mom and dad who set limits and enforce boundaries.

He couldn’t get used to it. He complained about it all the time. Ever since Marcus left he began threatening to do the same. It was usually about how if he didn’t get what he wanted or do as he pleased, then he didn’t want the family.

We sat down that day and made a little book about what our family responsibilities and roles are. Mom, Dad, the littles, and Sean all had a page. We wrote it together. We talked about it and agreed to it. That was the last thing we did with Sean, as a family.

Now, his place is empty at the dinner table each night. The last I heard he actually went into the same foster home Marcus is in. At least, Marcus will be there until October 24th, when he turns 18. Then he is going to his older bio-sisters home for a “big party.” Part of me is happy they are together. Part of me is cringing inside because my 14-yr-old baby is back in “the system.”

I want to make sure he is going to therapy. Given the history of Marcus’ mental health care during foster placement, I doubt it. I wonder who goes to him at night when he has nightmares? Who watches the cooking channel with him in the evenings? Who will hang up his art work and buy him all of those expensive art supplies? Who will hug him and tell him he is a wonderful boy?

No one. That is what a mom does. That is what he did not want. Sean used to wait for me each night for almost 45 minutes while I put the littles to bed and sat there until they slept. I didn’t want them to be scared. He didn’t want to be scared, either.

We would watch a movie or HGTV. The last movie we saw was “A Monster in Paris.” It was an animated musical and Sean sang all of the songs while cuddled up. I didn’t make him snuggle up or hug me. I didn’t chase him around to watch TV. He craved that time with me. Sean used to make little art projects for me and he would just glow when I put them on the fridge. Being his mother is rewarding but also exhausting at times. I would tuck him in at bedtime and rub his back. I would try to leave 2 or 3 times and he would beg for me to stay a little longer because he was scared. Just like a small child.

Some nights (when he was especially anxious or triggered) I was so exhausted my eyes would close and I would nod off while standing up. It took so long to put him down for the night. Now I lie down early to read or write before bed. I have time in the evenings. I still wish I appreciated the times he needed me, no matter how exhausting.

Sean didn’t like limits and rules. He didn’t like that Mom and Dad set them. He didn’t like it that Mom and Dad had “off duty” time at night to be with just each other. Sean wanted to be our only child, soaking up all of our attention. That tells me that he does want to be loved. However, he wanted to be our equal. Having control and being separate from “the kids” was a big sticking point for him. That tells me that he absolutely does not understand love.

Having a mom and dad is hard for all of our kids. It’s a foreign concept to them.  That would be like someone dropping off an exotic elephant and expecting me to know what to do with it. Even though showering and taking out trash are not torture, it must feel like it to someone who just can’t understand. The care, the limits, the very oversight of us must have smothered him.

I saw him one last time when he was in-patient. I brought him his favorite sketch books. I said what I needed to say. He looked bored, indifferent even. But I know my Sean and I saw that he was holding back tears. I was a mess just crying and distraught.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: I really do love you, you know. Very much.

Sean: Yeah. (Eye roll) I love you, too.

Me: I want you to know that you are very, very wanted. It was never a question of that. We always wanted you.

Sean: Yeah. I know.

Me: I’m so sad that you didn’t want to be part of a family. That it was so hard for you. I’m sorry it worked out like this.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I want you to be happy. I really hope that you find what it is you’re looking for.

Sean: Okay.

Me: I don’t know what else to say to you. I promise we will take very good care of the littles.

Sean: I know.

Me: You’re a great kid, Sean.

(Long pause)

Me: Do you want me to go?

Sean: Yeah.

That was the last of it. I can accept that he doesn’t want parents right now. I can accept that he wants to be with Marcus or maybe be like Marcus. I can even accept that he doesn’t want contact with us. He didn’t need to say anything to me that day. I needed to say what I said to him. What I cannot accept is the facade that being in a family was so awful for him that he just doesn’t care. I know he cared. It must have been harder than I can imagine but I know that it was good for him to be with us.

I can’t say if he will ever be with us again. Who knows? I can say that this experience was the hardest. It taught me that what we are doing with these kids, for however log we have them, is worth it. My joy, my love, my memories? They are worth the soul-shattering grief I am feeling right now. That time was worth everything. Being “mom” is worth everything to me.

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

Standard
adoption, family, parenting

And Then There Were 5: Aftermath of a Failed Adoption

bedempty

There are no more boxing gloves in the basement. His bedroom walls are bare and his bed is stripped down to nothing. All of his Rubik’s cubes and puzzles are gone. I can’t even find one bottle of Gatorade left in the refrigerator. It’s official. No more 17-year-old. Marcus is gone. We’ve only got 5 little chickens left.

He came by to get his things this weekend. He didn’t say a word to me. I greeted him and helped him and asked how he was. Marcus would only address my husband. He wouldn’t make eye contact with either of us. Although he claimed to be mad I sensed guilt and sadness. I can still see through his facade.

Afterwards I tried to send him a message via Facebook to let him know that he would always have a place in our home and in our hearts. I received a brief auto message from Facebook that read “This person is not accepting messages from you at this time.”

I don’t think social media has ever been more insightful. It’s true. Marcus cannot accept a message of love at this time. He won’t hear me right now because he simply can’t. But is there someone who can hear me? Someone who needs me? It would appear so. After all, there are still 5 chickens running around, needing a mama.

Since Marcus left I have been grieving the loss of a child. I try not to let it affect my day-to-day interactions but I have felt such a sense of failure. I’ve been just so sad and so heartbroken. It took me a few weeks to notice that Sean was different.

It started when he emerged from the basement (the Marcus lair) and began to interact with his younger siblings again. Gone was the jealousy he had been presenting about his older brother “getting more stuff” or even “getting away with more stuff.” Instead we saw him laughing and participating in family art time or movie night or game night again.

Not long after that he began hugging me again and seeking me out for comfort. He made me a beautiful carved heart with needlepoint stitching in the middle. He never would have done this while Marcus was around. It seems that he is once again finding his equilibrium after the tornado that hit our family. The Marcus tornado.

Sean started high school last week. Our boy is now a high school freshman! The most amazing thing started to happen. He had one friend over to the house. Then two. Then he began asking to go to do things with a group of friends 2 or 3 times a week. He never socialized beyond Marcus before. Sean loves to be at home making sure the family is all safe and together. We’ve been waiting for him to start some outside friendships. I’ve been recounting tales of high school fun and hi-jinx for months now. Is he finally taking my advice?

Last night he asked me to tuck him in before bed. I know he’s 14 now, but it’s nice to give him the kind of mothering he never had before. As I rubbed his back and listened to him talk to me about friends and high school classes I realized something. He wants to be close again. I think I’m getting through to Sean.

I am still grieving my lost son. A part of me will probably always hold this grief. That empty space in his room is like an empty void inside of me.

But maybe it’s time to shift my focus. Perhaps I’ve lost in the struggle to help heal one child. But I am a part of the healing for another. Sean is flourishing. This child is beginning to “accept messages from me at this time.” Maybe Facebook can tell me all about it someday. Until then, this is enough. Isn’t it?

mfish
**The names in this blog have been changed to protect those involved.
If you’ve ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

Standard