adoption, family

Am I Tough Enough For Tough Love?

I cannot say that I am surprised at the events of the last few days. Since Marcus moved back to the city where his biological family raised him, he’s been in a bad situation. We got a phone call  I’d been dreading since the day he left home. Marcus had been to the hospital with a broken nose and three broken ribs.

His car was stolen and found totaled. His phone appears to have been destroyed. The inexplicably large amount of cash he is carrying was taken.

According to Marcus he was simply minding his own business, delivering pizzas for work.  Then he was pulled from his car, beaten, and robbed by twenty guys. I happen to know more about this situation than he thinks I do. He’s associating with some very bad and dangerous people. He’s been up to some dangerous activities.

Marcus’ frequent companion is a semi-big time drug dealer in that city. This guy doesn’t just sell pot, he deals some of the harder stuff. Recently he has been breaking into the houses of friends and stealing items. As a convicted felon with already one drug charge, it’s only a matter of time before this man goes back to prison. I just hope he doesn’t take my son with him.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not oblivious. I know my son has chosen this career path before. Through social media I found that he is once again on this path. I don’t know how deep he’s in. I don’t know if he’s just selling or of he’s dealing too. What I do know is that Marcus’ best friend acts like a father figure while using Marcus as a runner. This man plays on Marcus’ secret desire to have his original father’s approval.

I would conjecture that the true events were somewhat different. Marcus was inexplicably flush with cash from some recent “deliveries.” I don’t know for sure, but it seems likely that a turf war broke out. Possibly some rivals sent a message by violently attacking a competitor and confiscating his things.

I was glad my son made a few good choices. Marcus did go to the police and report the incident. At least we have insurance on his phone. Originally we got it based on the number of phones Marcus has smashed or thrown when mad. Now the insurance is coming in handy.

Beyond calling in the phone insurance account, we are at an impasse. We’ve let Marcus know that he is welcome to come home and start over. He can save up for a new car. He get a fresh start away from this dangerous city where he is unfortunately notorious.

It doesn’t matter. He won’t leave.

What Marcus really wants is for us to pay to have his car fixed or replaced so he can continue the exact things that are getting him hurt now. We won’t do it. We can’t. I fought back tears in a phone call where I had him repeat to me that he knew he could always come home.

Apparently he’s been completely financially supporting New Girlfriend and Mystery Baby. We aren’t taking them so he’d have to leave them behind in another state. I empathized with what a difficult choice that would be. I can’t tell him what to do about New Girlfriend. I just affirmed that he loved her very much and this situation was hard.

I was able to validate his feelings with understanding. What I couldn’t do was agree to support this lifestyle by replacing the car. After some discussion he was able to hear me when I explained that he’s in a dangerous place doing dangerous things. He knows the path he is currently on won’t take him anywhere good.

Still, for now he chooses the girlfriend. They are staying with her cousin. He chooses employment with this “friend” who I will no longer allow onto my property or into my home.

Marcus has to decide on his own. Luke and I have already decided we will only take Marcus (not New Girlfriend and Mystery Baby) home. We will not finance his car problem. We will not support this new family he’s picked up.

Marcus is  not a baby, he’s a week away from 21. No matter what though, he’s my baby. All I want to do is rush to his side and care for him. I hope he eventually makes a good choice. He probably won’t. I know him too well.

Instead he chooses to stay at New Girlfriend’s cousin’s house. I’m not sure how long that will last if he can’t bankroll that family without his means of transportation. Regardless, he waits for a miracle to provide his car. We won’t be the ones to provide it for him. Giving this kind of tough love kills me.

I would do anything for my son. The question is: can I do this?

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

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adoption, family

I Am the Bionic Woman

OK, I know, I get it, not everyone wants to look at my skeleton. X-ray pictures might seem gross to some but they totally fascinate me. In these pics my spine looks so super-strong that nothing could topple it. Of course some of that is due to the fact that this time around the surgeon used extra large screws made of a special material. This was in order to prevent the reaction I had last time.

The first time around my body didn’t respond well at all to the stainless steel hardware. Rather than grow bone material (called fusing) I grew an excessive amount of scar tissue. During this time my entire body was left without support due to the instability of my spine.

Some of the problem was obvious in the form of a hard outward lump the size of a ping-pong ball. It made all kinds of doctors (even an allergist) say things like, “Wow, come look at this! I’ve never seen anything like this!” They also said, “Hey can I write about this in a medical journal? This condition is really rare.”

The pain I felt in my nerves and in my spine was obvious to anyone who looked at the outward mass of scar tissue. It didn’t show everything that was going on inside, but it gave an indication. Clearly, something needed to be done. I needed help.

My kids are like this sometimes. We cannot see all the ways that early trauma, foster care and adoption have affected them deep inside. One or two angry interactions show us that they are experiencing some kind of emotional pain. We’ll never really know how deep that scar tissue has formed. We can’t truly understand how it affects their ability to navigate in the world.

Marcus is this way. He will blow up, become angry, break things, yell, rant, really try anything to push us away. His last leaving was like this. So was the one before and the one before that. Like my medical-journal-level scar tissue, these are the outward signs of his problem. I cannot say how much I wish that I had my surgeon’s specially formulated tools and extra-long screws coated in healing solution. I want so badly to fix these internal wounds for him.

I can’t. Obviously, I cannot heal for him but what I can do is try to weather the storm. He called this week and asked to come home for family dinner. After I missed his visit the day of my surgery I was jumping for joy (metaphorically) and shouting, “YES!!” I gave him the obvious news that this wouldn’t be one of those family dinners where I baked homemade bread and his favorite cookies for dessert. I’m recovering, Luke is rather blind at the moment, so pizza ordering is our dinner go-to.

He messaged back a bit later that he was on his way and I shouldn’t be over-doing it in the kitchen. The very fact that he is thinking about what might be best for me is progress from his sulky teens. He was stuck in survival-mode we met almost five years ago. When he thinks beyond his own needs it truly is progress.

However, he informed me that he “had someone we needed to meet.” It’s a girl. It’s always a girl. I agreed just so long as it wasn’t Toxic Ex-Girlfriend. Marcus let me know this was someone new. Then he also let me know she had a baby. Could she bring her baby? Said baby was already in the car.

Have you ever watched a horror movie where the clearly-about-to-be-dead character slowly opens the basement door to go and “check things out?” That’s the way I felt as I attempted composure while asking if this was Marcus’ baby. He took his time  responding while I sat clutching phone thinking, “Why did I have to check in the creepy basement?”

In the end, Marcus denied the child was his. It belongs to his girlfriend, but they also have “something to tell us.” I checked her out on social media. She looks young. She poses with her middle finger up or her backside out towards the camera. I suppose everyone looks young to me. Marcus is about to be 21 so presumably (hopefully) she is around that age as well. It is taking every super-power I have not to pre-judge this situation and start heavily disliking this baby. I mean, it’s just a baby for heaven’s sake. I need to get it together!

In the end, Marcus cancelled dinner. He asked to reschedule in a few days because he “got called into work.” A part of his pattern is to get close and then rapidly retreat so I’m not all that surprised. This will give me a little more time to work on my “what a cute baby!” as opposed to “Leave that in the car!” greeting statement. I should also work on holding in comments like, “Marcus you aren’t emotionally stable enough to be hanging out with babies. That’s a huge responsibility. Please start taking care of MY baby (Marcus) first!”

Luke is wiser and more patient than I am. He says we have to understand that our son will make choices we may not agree with. We have to guide him as best we can while continuing to support him. Without us, Marcus wouldn’t have the support network he so clearly needs. Luke is also blind at the moment, so no matter what I’m probably going to tell him it’s not a very cute baby. I am a horrible person.

So here I wait. I summon all the strength I can from my newly bionic spine. My prayer goes something like this:

Please let me stand tall no matter what my son might be facing.

Please let me be less judgmental. (Because I am on a SERIOUS path of prejudgment right now and it’s not a good look.)

Please do not let me be a grandmother right now.

Please let me lend the support that is needed.

Please help me to stand tall and strong like the bionic woman I am.

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

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adoption, family

Am I Losing My Son/Mind? Part 3

When the state trooper arrives at our house to take a statement, Marcus has already come home with the car. He yells at Luke once and then runs outside. He parks himself on the hood of his car that-will-probably-never-run. This is where the trooper finds him smoking a cigarette and admitting he took the car without permission. Marcus agrees to remain calm and not escalate the situation. They have a calm conversation and the trooper returns inside, alone.

The officer compliments us about how nice our home is. He expresses concern about the amount of drug prevalence in the city where Marcus has been visiting Toxic Girlfriend. The whole event gets filed as a “domestic disturbance.” We are told to hide the car keys and call immediately if we think Marcus is driving under the influence. By the time the trooper leaves, Luke and I decide its time for bed. It would be better to approach Marcus when everyone is calmer and a bit more rational.

The next day Marcus again emerges after banking hours and demands the car for work. Still no gas. Still no car. He’s also lost parent-favor privileges and car privileges for the stunt he pulled the night before. We calmly but firmly let him know he must treat people well in order to elicit favors, such as rides to work.

Again he hides away and fires off a slew of curse-word laden texts to Luke. For whatever reason I am not the target today (this is a rare occurrence.) Marcus is angry. He feels that we are “unfair, Dawg!” He bemoans his fate at having to live in our rural location, calling it “East Bum-f-ck,” which sounds like an interesting town to me.

Soon after that, to our surprise, a taxi pulls up in front of our house. Marcus gets in and heads to work. He’s figured out a plan! At least he is resourceful. I am begrudgingly impressed. This an adult move. But then…

As Luke is leaving to work the overnight EMS shift in town, Marcus asks for a ride home. Apparently he didn’t plan that far ahead. He threatens to walk home at 1:00AM from work, which is two towns away.

We say, “OK.” We let Marcus know he will have to figure it out. If he wants his parents to provide favors, he will have to make restitution for his actions. If he plans to get to work he will have to plan how to get back from work.

I went to bed. There are just some problems I am not able to solve at 11:30PM. There are also some problems that really are not mine to solve. I’ve done my best. Marcus will now have to figure out the rest. Just in case, I leave the dining room lights on to guide him home.

At around 2:00AM my phone alerts me to the dining room camera’s motion-sensor. I peer blearily into the screen and see Marcus. He’s come home. He walks past the dining room and then leans back into the shot. He turns off the dining room lights before heading to bed.

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

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adoption, family

The Coming Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

The Quietest Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please stay, Marcus. I want you to stay.

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

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adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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adoption, family

One Last Adoption: the Prodigal Son

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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