adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

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I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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family, parenting

Why I Don’t Co-Sleep, and I Don’t Care If You Do

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I Lied. This entire post is about to be a lie! My husband and I always had a pact. We would be the only two people in our bed.

We would make time to spend with just each other, every night. Mom and Dad’s “Special Married Time” was sacred in our house. Yes, sometimes our kids would wake with nightmares, and we’d tuck them back into bed. But then Luke and I would return to bed. Alone. We like to spend time together and we like to have sex (and here’s how I had to explain it to my kids!) We both think it’s important to our marriage. So the bottom line is, “no kids allowed.”

But then we adopted kids. Traumatized kids who came from hard places. We did our best to maintain that boundary, until last night. It was our 9 year wedding anniversary. We’d been together for 10 years exactly (We got married on the first anniversary of our very first date.) After a decade together, we wanted to do something special. Since my recent back surgery, I haven’t been able to do much, though. The original “out-on-a-date” plan was replaced with a tentative plan to make very, very gentle love, then have chinese food and watch our new favorite zombie show in bed. I even put on make-up! (Carl’s comment was, “What happened to your face?!)

And so, we put our children to bed. Mary began to sob and cry. Her eyes weren’t even open but she was crying. She hasn’t been afraid of bedtime in almost 3 years. Ever since she got back from the hospital, and I had my back surgery, she’s been afraid again. We’ve done our best to soothe her fears. We use a soothing sounds noise machine, a sensory pillow, her blankie, essential oils, and her favorite cat. Carl even slept on the floor of his room one night so that she could see him across the narrow hallway and wouldn’t feel “alone.” He tired of that after about 3 nights of her waking up crying.

OK, I lied again. We attempted to put Mary to bed. First dad stayed with her. Then I awkwardly hobbled in on my walker to lie uncomfortably on her bed to hold her. She claimed she “couldn’t breathe” because she was so scared. I held her back against my chest as we breathed in and out together using a “belly breathing” technique to calm her. Then I rubbed her back in circles and whispered soothingly, “mommy’s here,” over and over again until she finally fell asleep. Then I clumsily angled of of her bed and back to my walker. Ouch! Definitely time for my pain medication.

Now, Luke and I knew she would wake up again at some point. She is really and truly scared, probably because she is triggered. It may be my back injury that makes her scared to be away from me. It may be that she has been away from us at the inpatient unit in the hospital. Either way, Luke and I knew our anniversary celebration was on a time schedule. So we got to it right away. And then we put our Pajamas back on and went to sleep.

Sure enough, Carl woke us up around 1:00 AM to tell us, “Mary is crying AGAIN!” Not being able to go up and down the stairs more than twice, a day I gave in. We ALL needed sleep after the last week of Mary waking to cry repeatedly through the night. “Send her up,”I said, defeatedly.

Mary came up, clutching her blankie, hiccuping and trying to stifle her sobs. “Climb in,” I told her. And she did with an instant sigh of relief. We all slept amazingly well after that. Mary was snuggly and warm. I typically snuggle Luke but this was even rather pleasant.

I realize that every family is different. Some people do this all of the time. Hey, I don’t judge that. If this is what works for a family, then why not? After last night I am able to see the appeal of holding your child close and helping them to feel safe. I just don’t personally want to do it all the time.

So I spoke to Mary about how we would need to address her new night fear with her therapists. She agreed. I explained in a gentle way that we love her and we want her to feel safe. We just don’t want her in our bed every night. I held my breath and waited for her to protest, or beg, or even cry.

Instead she nodded and said, “Yeah, I don’t want to hear Daddy snoring all night, either.” Well, there you have it!

 

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

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family

I’m Not Sick and You Can’t Make Me! Adventures in Oppositional Defiance

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Anyone who has ever raised an oppositional child knows that they are very good at one thing: opposing you. It is like an unexpected special talent or bonus sporting event that adoptive parents were not expecting. This issue isn’t really about trying to drive us parents crazy. It’s really about gaining their own sense of control out of a chaotic life and a traumatic background. It’s just really hard to remember that after a night with only about 3 hours of sleep and an aching back.

Mary was sick all of Sunday afternoon. She took an unprecedented nap at a friend’s house. When Luke picked her up she had red puffy eyes, a runny nose, and the sniffles that wouldn’t quit. She forced herself miserably through dinner and then begged me for snuggle time. She fell asleep in my arms around 6:30. We put her to bed with some children’s cold medicine and called it a night.

Meanwhile, Carl was hacking up deep phlegm-filled cough from his chest. We gave him some cough medicine and sent him to bed at the regular time. He got up twice for extra snuggles and a cough drop. When both kids were finally asleep, Luke and I thought we were in the clear. We quickly wrapped Christmas presents like fiends  and before we knew it the time was 11:30PM. Very late for us old folks.

Of course, this was when the parade of sick children began. It started with a tap-tapping on my shoulder and, “Mommy, I need you.” Mary was throwing up, Carl couldn’t stop coughing. It sounded like a tuberculosis factory.  I administered medicine, checked temperatures, and held back hair. By 3:00AM my husband found us all in a pile with pillows and blankets sleeping right outside the bathroom door. After this, we traded places and my husband stayed awake with the sick little chickens while I got some sleep. It was a disaster.

What we did next might shock you. We kept the children home from school. Yes, we called them out of school and made doctor’s appointments for them. Carl was astounded and infuriated with our decision. Around 5 my husband crawled into bed for some shut eye. Big mistake.

Carl was ready to go to school at 6. Not to be deterred he came back at 6:30, then at 7. We just didn’t get it. “I am NOT SICK!” he started  yelling. He wanted to watch TV. He wanted to play (cough) outside (hack) in the snow (labored wheezing breathe.) Back to bed I sent him with Vick’s vaporub and the humidifier running. As he is crying and wailing about how (gasp, wheeze, guttural coughing fit) unfair and mean I am, Mary decides to join.

My vomitous daughter of the previous night comes out dressed in the full regalia of her sleeveless Christmas Eve gown. Did I mention that the gown is pure white? Or that she has been vomiting poison green phlegmy stuff? She tells us she is ready for school. If they can’t play in the snow or play video games then she is off to school. Carl agrees. Clearly I am crazy for ever thinking they were sick!

Unfortunately for these little chickens, the doctor did not agree with their self-diagnosis. After having both children change into warm clothing (It was 12 degrees outside this morning) Luke takes them in for a check-up. Both children have prescriptions and are ordered into bed for the day with plenty of rest and fluids.

We are all exhausted but I see a small victory. Last night, when they were in the worst throes of discomfort, they sought us out. They came to mom and dad for comfort. Our children have many issues from their past trauma, but one thing is for sure. They are attached to us. After almost 3 years, they trust us to meet their needs. Now if they would only believe us about what it is they actually need!

And home they are now. Despite how adamant Carl was about not being tired, he is fast asleep. Let’s hope we are all a little less grumpy after getting some rest.

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

 

 

 

 

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Technology and Trauma: Adventures in Finding a Middle Ground.

I wholeheartedly want to get rid of the iPad. I am ready to throw the thing away and be done with it. My husband loves his technology, but the children simply cannot handle it. It’s as if they escape into this magical world where their problems do not exist. They don’t have to think about anything at all while they are using the iPad. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s versatile. Most of all it is a path to escaping.

Children with a history of trauma can often manifest fear and anxiety as pure rage. My son has been having difficulty with irritability and anger lately. I can’t tell if this is the start of puberty or part of his emotional difficulties or a reaction to a trigger I just can’t seem to find. Either way, time on the iPad soothes him and takes him away from his emotions in a way that nothing else can. Unfortunately for Carl, these emotions all come flooding back the second he puts the device down.

We only allow electronic use for the children on the weekends. We don’t even watch much TV during the week. Instead, we play outside, play board games, eat dinner as a family, and attend events. The kids are involved in clubs after school and sports. The more exercise they have, the better they are able to regulate. Football has really helped to let Carl take out his aggressions in an appropriate way.

Unfortunately for all of us, once Carl gets on the iPad, he refuses to do anything else. He refuses to eat. he wants family meals to be over as quickly as possible so that he can pick up his game again. He sulks through family outings because he wants to be at home, playing. He whines that he wants a phone of his own so he can play whenever he wants. He becomes enraged when I won’t let him use my phone. To be clear, he’s 11-years-old. he does not have a phone and we are in no hurry to provide one.

I think my problem is that I remember his older brother. Sean was with us for a year-and-a-half. For the most part he seemed calm and happy. he could laugh his way through any event as if nothing at all was amiss. However, he couldn’t stand to be separated from his iPod. When that happened, he would become a totally different child. He was 14-years-old and over 200 pounds. Separating him from his technology was scary.

He brought it with him when he moved in. It had been a gift from another foster family so we were loathe to keep it from him for any reason. He had to earn his electronics time by taking out the trash, going to school (which he always tried to refuse) and completing his homework. When I had to take the iPod away from him the first time, he took a hammer to the pipes in our basement. I called the emergency crisis intervention hotline. By the time the therapist came he was perfectly composed. He smiled and laughingly told her he wasn’t angry and had “no problems.” Sean insisted he had no idea what I was talking about when I explained his tantrum.

When I hear Carl yelling at us that he doesn’t want to put down the iPad, my heart starts racing. Carl has never tried to do purposeful damage when he is enraged. He never plotted to break the pipes or threatened to do so. In the past, he has threatened me, but he was reacting to anger. Carl was proactively planning to damage anything or “punish” us. I am afraid of the thrall this technology has in him.

I can’t tell if I am nervous because of what his intense rages look like. After all, he hasn’t had one in awhile. I could be afraid because his behavior reminds me of Sean, who was truly dangerous when crossed. Or maybe all kids have this problem. Maybe it has nothing to do with trauma and everything to do with raising a preteen.

So should we keep our weekend electronic policy? Modify it? Cancel electronics and get back to basics? If only I had all of the answers. Feel free to weigh in…

 

 

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

 

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Coffee Pots and Closet Pee: Why are We Fighting Each Other?

“Foster kids are smelly. Foster kids pee in the closet. I don’t want to have any foster kids around here!” This from my 10-year-old son. My a-month-away-from-being-officially-adopted-but-still-technically-foster-kid-son. Apparently, in his last foster home, there was a foster child who urinated in the closet. Who knows? Maybe they were too scared in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom. Maybe they were mad. Maybe they hated closets. Maybe it was my son.

And it’s not just the odd pee location that bothers him. Their very existence is irksome. He will often take the time to note the many differences he can find between himself and the “fosters.” He has a burning need to show how he is different. How is not like them. How he is NOT a “foster.”

The urination reference is not the part that bothers me. What I find disturbing is his absolute vehemence about distancing himself from those “foster” kids. The ones that are just like he used to be. He says the word almost like he is naming a horrible disease. Why is it that he can find so much animosity within himself towards kids he doesn’t know? Towards kids that have so many similarities to him?

The other day I was listening to foster parents talking. It was in a “support” group setting. A few mothers had gathered in a small group, near the coffee pot, and were avidly discussing something. There was a lot of eye rolling and shaking their heads. Since they were all standing around the coffee machine I got a little nervous. they seemed exasperated about something and I was praying it wasn’t the coffee.  I am, admittedly, a pretty intense coffee addict.

Luckily for me, the coffee was fine. Score. What was not so fine? These women were critiquing a member of our support group.  A new foster mom who had asked several questions about supervised visits. This, after she had already asked about cutting the child’s hair on a separate occasion! As it turned out, there was another parent being discussed. I heard every mom say, “Well I would never” or “I, obviously, would have handled that differently.” The other parent in question? She was considering medication to help the child in her care. Imagine my surprise. Parents, in a support group, asking for support and information from parents who were in the same “foster” boat. Shocking!!!

I was utterly baffled by the animosity of these women towards other women. Other moms. Other foster moms, just like them. Why? I started noticing this more and more. I know there are the so-called “mommy wars” out there. The wars are about public school vs. homeschool, breast feeding vs. bottle feeding, working vs. stay-at-home. But foster mom wars? Why? There aren’t enough of us to begin with. Shouldn’t we be working together to grow our skill sets and make connections? Build support and community?  Other mommy wars are all about doing it “right” or doing it “better.” I would think we would just be proud of each other for doing it at all.

This wasn’t the first coffee pot conversation, wither. isn’t the first time I’ve witnessed foster parents gathered together playing the “who is the most therapeutic” game. I started to wonder if there was something in the coffee! I hope not, because I CANNOT stop drinking the stuff, no matter what! The question remained, would I, too, succumb to the coffee pot effect? Would I start to judge other foster parents? Would I start competing to be the best, most qualified, foster parent?

The bigger question is why would foster parents participate in mom-shaming and in-fighting? Are they just mean? Are they mad? Are they actually super-human and annoyed with the rest of us? It can’t be the coffee. It just can’t be. Rather than being concerned about the foster moms who were “not getting it” or “not doing it the right way” I was concerned for the moms who were judging. The foster moms complaining  seemed to be the the ones in need, not the moms reaching out for support and advice.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of these mommy wars, I had to put on my Heather T Forbes glasses and look again. This time I saw a different picture. These moms were angry, sure. But was it it really anger? No. It was fear. Fear of making parent mistakes. Fear of not knowing what they are doing all of the time. Fear that all of their efforts may not result in lasting changes for the child and/or birth family.

I also saw shame. Some of the very women (and maybe men, although I have only personally witnessed this in moms. It could be the exact same thing in dad groups) who railed against foster parents for disrupting placements, had disrupted themselves. Foster moms saying, “these people are not equipped to foster,” or “they expect perfect children, they don’t understand foster kids” may have felt this way about themselves at one time. They are the same moms who were utterly baffled when their first placement slept with a rotting banana hidden in their bed. That same parent now vehemently despises when parents “refuse to understand” food hoarding issues in traumatized children.

This brings me back to the pee in the closet. My son seeks to distance himself from “fosters” because he can see parts of himself reflected back. He is ashamed. Maybe he is ashamed of his own trauma reactions. Maybe he feels ashamed that it is somehow his fault that his bio-mom couldn’t take care of him. How should I treat him now? Should I affirm that “those fosters” are, indeed, smelly and bad? Should I list other bad things fosters have done because they “refuse to understand” their own trauma? No way! We all know this would be cruel. So why would we do it with each other?

With my Heather T. Forbes glasses on, I can acknowledge his feelings. I can look inside myself and see my own fears about being a good parent. I can acknowledge and accept my own weaknesses. I get to his level, look in his eyes, and try to understand and empathize. I continue building connection with him, I listen to him.

Now back to the coffee pot crew. These women have fear. They have shame. They also have a deep and abiding commitment to fostering and working with children. I take a deep breathe. I empathize with them and acknowledge their feelings of frustration. I acknowledge their fear. I will do the same for the foster mom who disrupted, or doesn’t understand why there is pee in the closet. We should ALL do the same. If we are so well trained to respond to kids’ emotional turmoil, let us try and do the same for each other. We already know how to respond therapeutically. Now let’s extend this grace to our peers. We need to support this tiny community. We need to grow this tiny community.

I believe that foster parents can learn how to deal with the pee in the closet. They can learn why the rotting banana is so important (and how to replace it with a non-perishable bed-buddy, like a granola bar.) What we need is for foster parents to vent to each other, not the children in their care. We need to offer empathy and suggestions. We can work together to grow this team. We don’t need to be better than one another. It is alright that you are scared. It is alright that you feel overwhelmed. Your feelings are OK. We need to be strong as a whole. This is important work, right?

Hey, if I’m wrong, if many people should just stop fostering, go ahead and tell me all about it. Troll me on Facebook support groups if you like. Just be sure and pass the coffee first!

 

**Names in the “Herding Chickens” blog have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

  • Photographs courtesy of Huffingtonpost.com and clipart

*If you have ever considered fostering or adopting, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure.

 

 

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