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.

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adoption, family

While She is Gone

So many things happen while she is gone. There are birthdays, holidays, and family outings. There is so much lost time. And yet, I ask myself: what really happens while she is gone?

Mary has been at a psychiatric residential treatment facility (PRTF) for 5 months. People will ask me, “Do you get to see her?” Yes, of course we get to see her. She isn’t in jail. We have visits and day trips and we’ve even made it up to almost 8 hours at home on a handful of occasions. Ok, maybe just 2 occasions, but we are working on it. It’s just not enough.

Luke and I travel the hour drive one-way to see her about 3 times a week. Once is for a day-trip visit. once is for a family therapy session at the PRTF. The third is for an attachment-focused therapy session “off-grounds” with a psychologist. This last one is the ONLY therapy session in which she will participate. I’m almost certain the psychologist is part wizard.

In the PRTF session she mostly screams at the clinician, Mrs. T. Mary runs away, laughs uncontrollably and then smashes things during Mrs. T’s sessions. Afterwards she asks me to take her to lunch as if nothing has happened. Instead, I’ve begun to call in for the PRTF sessions because nothing beneficial is happening during that time.

Mrs. T has decided that whatever happens in therapy will be Mary’s choice but if she won’t go to session her “level” will drop. So Mary goes and sits in the room. She screams and slams things. Mrs. T assures her they will only talk about what Mary wants to talk about. They will only do what Mary wants to do. Not being a therapist herself, Mary makes some interesting choices. She chooses a lot of yelling and foul language at said clinician. Eventually she colors some pictures about why she hates therapy. Mrs. T praises Mary and sends her on her way.

I know they care about Mary at the PRTF. Mrs. T wants her to do well. Everyone wants Mary to improve. Everyone except Mary. Maybe she is too scared to try. So all of us keep trying while she is away. Mrs. T acquiesces and cajoles to no effect.

Not so with Dr. P, the off-grounds psychologist. He calls Mary out for her avoidance tactics. He lets her know that mom and dad will go to lunch and she will stay behind if she won’t participate. After all, it’s her session. She has to finish it but we do not. Oddly, she isn’t upset by this. Instead, she responds fully. He somehow magically draws her out of her shell. She would never scream at him. So Luke and I attend this weekly session together, every week. Dr. P has Mary sit in between us to “feel the love all around her.”

Dr. P has many insights into why it’s so hard for Mary to share Mom. He is very, very good. I still spend so much time wondering: what is really happening with her? How much progress is really taking place while she is there? While she is gone, we are all safe. Are we really accomplishing anything else?

Because life is happening while she is gone. Our family is healing while she is gone. The world continues while she is gone.

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

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adoption, family

My Son is Not Your “Mexican Taco”


My 12-year-old son is not a “mexican taco,” and he is not going to be “deported back over the wall.” Unfortunately, some of the children in his middle school would disagree. In particular, a group of 8th grade boys that enjoy teasing my 6th grader during morning breakfast. Carl is one of the few Puerto Rican children in our town.

And then there was the boy on his football team who called him “n—er” after Carl tackled him in practice. Our son is a great linebacker and he always makes his tackle. He keeps pushing long after others have quit. Carl is an absolute football star. So when someone is upset in practice? They say the one thing they (think they can) can say about him. Middle school kids will pick out that one difference and exploit it.

My son is left with nightmares, headaches, and developing school-avoidant behaviors. Additionally, he has been acting out in school. For a child with C-PTSD, feeling unsafe triggers a fight/flight response. Our son is a fighter. He fights with lockers. He tries to be the class clown. He runs out of class. In short, Carl tries to be known for anything other than his brownness.

How on earth do I handle something like this? I’m a white mom raising hispanic kids in a mostly white town. In all honesty I can never really understand. I will never really know what this feels like. But I can tell you what it feels like to pick up my sobbing son after practice. It fills me with a fiery rage at the ignorant parents of these ignorant kids.

My husband and I complained to the middle school. We requested a full investigation. The following is the vice principal’s response:

VP: Well when I asked Carl about this he said it doesn’t bother him. The other children say he told them it was OK to call him “taco.” They admitted to saying some things but he told them it was OK.

Me: ……?!?!

VP: You know, this is Carl’s responsibility. If he feels uncomfortable with these comments then we would expect him to tell the other children why this makes him uncomfortable. Especially at this age.

Me: Excuse me? It is not the job of one of the few hispanic children in the school to educate the white children how to behave. This would be the job of the educators such as yourself!!!!

VP: Well then we would expect him to tell a trusted adult. He could have come to me, especially if this has been going on for months.

Me: You and I may consider you to be a “trusted adult.” But why would a 12-year-old assume that a white man would understand this problem and take it seriously? In fact, I don’t think you are taking it seriously at all.

VP: Well Carl has been saying mean things as well. It’s not just the other children picking on him. When boy X called him a “taco” his reply was, “Well at least my parents aren’t cousins!”

Me: (Using every ounce of self-control not to retort, “Well ARE they cousins?!”) Did he use a racial slur?

VP: No

Me: OK then. This matter is about racism. It is about a pervasive racial bias in the school climate. What are you going to do to educate these students about racism and racial slurs? In what ways are you attempting to educate staff such as yourself?

VP: This isn’t about racism. It is about respect. It is about respect from all sides.

Me: No. It is about addressing racist remarks and educating kids about racism and racial slurs.

VP: Well one of the boys making comments actually has some ethnicity in his background.

Me: Umm….?!?@%?@??? Yes I am aware. The boys is half Mexican and he is terrified to come-out as such to the other students. It is a school climate problem when you have a secretly Mexican child who feels the need to hide.

VP: Well I have to worry about all the students. Respect is my concern. Racism is only a part of it.

Me: I need to hear you say you will address racism.

VP: As a part of it, yes, we will address racism.

We went around like this for about 45 minutes. He believes that Carl’s own behavior is bringing this on himself. I asked him if women who are raped are “asking for it” based on what they are wearing. He had no comment other than to reiterate Carl should be directly telling the older boys to stop. I asked if girls who were the victims of sexual harassment were expected to immediately stand up to the aggressor lest it be “their fault.” He said he absolutely expected them to do so.

I. Have. No. Words.

Oh wait–yes I do have some words. I have enough to write this blog post. Then I have some leftover to bring to a meeting we are having involving the entire school team. I requested the d**n meeting and invited the superintendent, principal, and VP. No way, no how is this going to fly. I have enough words to tell them in tomorrow’s meeting they are violating state laws regarding our son’s civil rights. And I WILL file a complaint with the state department of education if this matter is not resolved.

I will always fight for my son. Do NOT cross this mama-bear. I may never have experienced this, it’s true. Only my Puerto Rican husband can truly (sadly) relate to this treatment. I never will experience it first hand. But I will do my best to ensure that my son doesn’t experience it either. I may not be able to protect him from the whole world. But so help me I will protect him from ignorant administrators!

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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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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

Dear Teacher…


I often struggle with how to explain my child’s trauma-related behavior to new teachers. Being a teacher myself, I know that we don’t have time to review much at the start of the school year. We are too busy reading your childrens’ IEPs and 504 plans while filling out mountains of paperwork. I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I wrote to introduce Carl to his teachers. Please comment with anything YOU use at the beginning of the school year.

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

If you are reading this, you have the tremendous honor of teaching the death-defying, brave, and fearless (except for spiders) Carl! Congratulations! (Picture a crowd going wild.)

I’m his mom, and believe me, we got lucky too. I guess you’re in good company. We met Carl when he was 8-years-old and in the foster care system. We adopted him, and his younger sister, Mary.

Carl is an amazing kid. He hates spiders and vegetables despite what his mother tells him. He is sensitive to gooey materials, bugs, and the dark. When Carl first came home he couldn’t read that well. After a lot of practice, and the Wilson reading program, he is now an avid reader. When it’s time to pull him out of a Harry Potter book we generally employ the use of a fishing line or long cane to retrieve him.

In addition to being an avid reader, he loves history. Carl is a history buff with a strong interest in Betsy Ross and all things colonial America. Every season Carl plays a different sport. He’s a linebacker in football, a “middie” in lacrosse, and something-or-other I can’t remember in basketball. He’s very athletic and it’s a great way for him to manage his ADHD and blow off some steam. It’s also a great excuse for his dad to yell loudly at sporting events and wave his arms all around.

As a family we are active supporters of child labor. To this end Carl is now able to wash his own laundry, mow the lawn and vacuum like a boss. He can also brew me a mean cup of coffee on the Keurig machine! We pay him a small pittance for his efforts, of course, because…child labor.

Sometimes, due to his history of complex PTSD, Carl has trouble controlling his temper. His brain goes into fight/flight mode and it’s best to give him some space. If he feels cornered or pursued his body reacts as though he were in actual physical danger. If he needs a consequence or a reminder, it’s best to have him take a bit of space first. This way he can be calm enough to process what you’re saying. If he appears agitated or fidgety you may want to send him on an errand. I strongly suggest sending him to make you a cup of coffee in the teachers’ lounge. Or maybe to wash your car. Because…child labor.

In addition to athletic talents and the ability to work in harsh conditions, Carl is extremely empathetic. He loves animals, younger children and his grandparents. Papa is his best friend and they are always up to no good. Maybe if you ever meet Papa, you should preemptively give him a detention. Just trust me on this. Papa is naughty and has probably already pushed all the buttons on your school intercom.

Finally, Carl comes as part of a package deal. When you get him as your student (again, the crowd goes wild) you also get his family. He has Nana and Papa in town. He lives with Mom, Dad, and his younger sister Mary. He has 3 older teenaged siblings that come on weekend visits. We are all here to work with you in any way necessary. This is going to be a great year.  Trust me, I’m his mom!

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

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adoption, Attachment Disorders

Too Young to Die


“I don’t want to die yet. I mean, I’m too young to be dead. There is still a lot of stuff I want to do.”

This is Carl’s pragmatic view on why he doesn’t want Mary coming home for visits. Why he doesn’t want to see her. He is “not ready to be dead yet.” Currently Mary is at a therapeutic program for a few months. It’s a short term program and we are working towards home visits. The longer she stays away from home, they say, the harder it will be for her to transition back.  There is a danger she will become “institutionalized.”

So here we sit, at dinner to celebrate our adoption anniversary. I’m sipping a glass of sparkling moscato. Luke is holding my hand discretely under the table. If the kids see they will surely tell us to “keep it PG!” Catlyn and Seth are tucking into their creamy alfredo pastas. We are all in a happy bubble of contentment. Except…except….Mary isn’t here. I can’t decide how I feel about it.

We visited Mary earlier in the day. She was wearing her adoption T-shirt, but hadn’t realized it was Adoption Anniversary day. She was in a good mood, hugging us and snuggling into my hair. Mary had just gotten glasses. She picked the brown ones so they would look like mine. A part of me is melting over this. 

 In all the years we had her, she never would complete a vision test. Doctor’s appointments tend to leave Mary shut-down, mute and staring at the floor. By the time the vision test came she would be entirely unresponsive, not even attempting to stand on the marked line. Don’t even get me started on the scoliosis test.

But when the nurse from the institution took her? She was fine. Mary said she “felt safe,” and that she “had been telling us” she needed glasses all along. Color me confused. It seems that her trauma is always triggered by, well, us. Being in a family, with a mom is hard. Being in an institution with strangers? That’s easy.

Her clinician says they have seen a lot of the drastic mood swings. They notice when Mary’s speech is so pressured that her words blend together and they don’t know what she is saying. She’s had to be restrained once so far, for attacking staff members who tried to break up a fight she was having with another girl. There is no way I could restrain her like that at home. I have a (possibly permanent) spinal injury, and my husband is going back to work full time. We can’t afford for him to just work the odd shift now and again. He can’t stay home all the time anymore in order to protect us from Mary’s violent rages.

What on earth will we do? After the murder planning, Carl is traumatized. So am I. Things are just starting to settle nicely. We are sleeping without the deadbolts locked on the doors. We haven’t had to secure the locks on the kitchen cabinet where the cutlery and glassware is. Things are quiet. Things are safe. I can allow myself to exhale.

But there is another side to this. The side where I see one of Mary’s little stuffed owls lying on the floor. I am gut-wrenchingly sick with missing her and simultaneously glad she isn’t here. I, like Carl, feel that I am too young to die. There is so much left to do.

 

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

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