adoption, family

What Have I Done?

There are times when rage bubbles up inside of me like so much lava. I choke it down and attempt to swallow it whole. It seems I can barely breathe for choking on my own anger.

Carl screams and screams at me. He pounds on his door and smashes the things in his room. When upset, Carl tries to assert his dominance. He speaks to me in the horrible way an abusive husband speaks to his wife. Carl makes a show of his physical strength in an attempt to…I’m not sure. Maybe in an attempt to intimidate me or scare me.

The last two weeks have been up and down with him. He’s gotten into several physical altercations at school. I’ve had to pick him up from his intensive outpatient program for throwing rocks at a boy and smashing him over the head with a water pitcher. They discharged Carl the next day because his treatment program was “finished.” At this point, Carl has done so much property damage at home that the drywall in his room resembles Swiss cheese.

Last Friday he slammed his own head against the wall in anger. On autopilot I gave him Tylenol and an ice pack. My calm face and quiet voice almost never falters. It’s like a therapeutic-mom mask that I’ve worn too long. I can’t take it off, even when I try. I also can’t bring myself to exactly care that his head hurts. From a detached place inside of me I check him for signs of concussion and then simply walk away.

The past two weeks have been hell. Actually they’ve probably been my family’s version of normal. Marcus has screamed and yelled at me about calling the police to check on him. Then he yells and swears at me to give him money. He questions why we ever adopted him. Why did we change his name?

On a two-hour round trip visit to see Mary she dismisses me after twenty-four minutes. Her therapist has inadvertently scheduled a trip to get Chinese food with her. If I stay, Mary can go the following day for Chinese food. I don’t stay.

I don’t stay because Mary wants the food more than the visit. If I force her to finish this visit we will both be miserable. Taking food from one of my children is akin to cutting off a finger. Disheartened, I drive home only to get a phone call from Carl’s school about yet another behavior issue.

My face is stuck in a small strained smile. I must resemble some freakishly macabre scarecrow. No matter how I’m feeling on the inside my outer veneer remains frozen.

The truth is that nothing is getting better with our children. I looked back at all the notes I’ve taken over the years. I checked all of the blog posts I never published, the data I never looked at cumulatively. The younger children only improved after completed trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. That was the only time things improved.

At least, they improved to a point. When Carl began psychotropic medication things got a bit better. This first year showed the most, and the only, change in his trauma symptoms. Every Spring after this we’ve had the exact same experience with Carl.

We have been fooling ourselves thinking that things have gotten incrementally better over time. The data says otherwise. It says that beyond year one things have remained the same for three years. No matter what subsequent medication change or modality of therapy, Carl has been the same every Spring. He is physically violent and verbally abusive in the exact same way every year.

Now I stand in Carl’s room with my anger- lava finally flowing from my mouth. The veneer of my face has finally cracked.

“Enough!” I yell back at him. Yelling back is never wise. It doesn’t help anything. Still, the lava is spewing out now and I don’t care to stop it. “You cannot talk to me like this! You cannot treat people like this. Screaming at me every day is abusive. Trying to intimidate me by smashing things and throwing things is abusive. You are acting like an a**hole!”

He (of course) yells back at me, “You think you’re making me feel better but you AREN’T!”

I realize that I am uninterested in his feelings. I am uninterested in his healing. I am uninterested in helping him to feel safe. Instead I yell, “I don’t care how you feel! You are done treating me like this! You are done acting like an abusive a**hole!”

“If you don’t like it when we yell at you then WHY DID YOU ADOPT US??!!”

I open my mouth to deny this but nothing comes out. I want to say, “I always wanted you. I’d never second guess this choice.” The words never come. I choke on these, too.

It’s hard to admit that Carl has struck upon something here. A dark, ugly, secret part of me agrees with him.

Why did I do this?

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

adoption, family

Morning Rage

The whole house is shaking. My 12-year-old son is making this happen by systematically stomping/slamming whatever he comes into contact with. From the living room I can hear the banging of cabinets, the stomping of feet, the slamming of doors and the smashing of (fill in the blank.)

I know better than to approach him in these moments. His rage is all consuming and needs an outlet. He’s swearing and yelling at me from his room. He stops to brush his teeth and then it continues. Yes, tonight we will discuss this. Later on he might be able to hear me. Right now he’s spoiling for a fight and too dysregulated to remember anything I say. I can’t speak over all the slamming and smashing anyway. It’s too loud.

You see, I’ve woken him up by singing. He was fast asleep on his bed, cuddling his shut-off alarm clocks (he has two!) I burst into my cheeriest “Good Morning Carl!” song and he explodes. Of course, after this he will hopefully decide it’s better to get up with the alarm than mom’s bad singing. Right now he is a ball of fury, breaking everything while he gets ready.

My husband comes downstairs to ensure everyone’s safety. Something about the earth-quaking in our house must have woken him. The upside to Carl’s anger is that it’s really limited to the inanimate objects in his room. He will be verbally aggressive but he doesn’t attack us physically. The downside to Carl’s anger is…well everything else.

We attended his first family session at the intensive outpatient clinic this week. His therapist was very nice and supportive. Apparently the insurance company was already looking to discharge him after three weeks. Thankfully, she can see that he still needs the help. His meds are not right yet. He isn’t safe enough to go back to regular outpatient therapy yet. The program is typically six- to eight-weeks long.

When things go wrong with Carl it really affects me deeply. He’s the most stable child of the sibling group we adopted. He is the one who has some insight into what he’s feeling. Carl is the one who probably trusts us the most and tries to work with us. He wants help with these “big feelings” and we all try our best. When he struggles I start to feel that nothing we have done as parents made any difference. Our children are no better with a family than they were without one.

This isn’t really true. Our kids are certainly better supported now that they have us. They are together, in a sense. Mary is at RTC right now and Marcus is homeless, living out of his car, so they aren’t exactly together. I’d like to think that we are all connected by this crazy place that we call home. I’d like to think we are all connected by this crazy thing that we call family.

I need to believe that Carl will be OK.

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

adoption, family

Could Your Child’s Crisis Please Wait Until Business Hours?

“Our mobile crisis service does not ‘get going’ until 1:00 PM,” says the pleasant, yet detached, voice on the other end of the call. I can’t help but see a tinge of irony in this. In fact, our son’s crisis has been going since 10:00 AM.

“Alright then, will you please send a clinician to our home at 1:00 PM to evaluate the crisis situation? I am certain we will still have a crisis on our hands.”

“Sure!” chirps the operator enthusiastically. She spends a few more minutes asking about our home situation, who lives there, and who is currently keeping the child safe. Thank goodness for my hubby doing the safety thing downstairs while I ineffectually call for help.I cannot fathom how people are able to call for help when they are alone.

The farthest I’ve ever gotten with one of those calls  (while holding a screaming Mary,  frantically clawing at my face) is to say “Hello, we could use assistance–” Before I am abruptly cut of by the crisis worker who says something helpful along the lines of, “Ma’am, we cannot hear you over the screaming of your child. Could you please step away or call back when the situation is more calm?”

Anyhow, starting last night Carl has been experiencing intermittent explosive outbursts about every 3-4 hours. He just started at his intensive outpatient treatment. We are very hopeful that this will help him. However, we’ve changed meds again and the resulting days have been nothing short of disastrous. Almost everything is broken in his room. He’s chucked his air conditioner out of the window. He is repeatedly screaming “F-ck you!” at my husband.

Carl’s forehead is starting a nice yellow bruise from where he picked up the coping skills box and smashed it directly into his head last night. Spoiler alert–that isn’t actually how coping skills boxes work. He would have had better luck actually opening the box and using the tools inside…

His knuckles are raw and red from punching the door and maybe other things (he can’t remember.) His entire room is trashed. One pinky finger looks a bit swollen, but he’s got an ice pack now.  I have the bizarre notion that his brother needs to practice a proper punch with him when they are using the boxer-grade punching bag in the basement. That would be a better way to channel punching, or at least to prevent further injury.

At this point all we can do is wait until the next fit of rage hits. My sweet boy doesn’t actually want to be this way. When he is calm he lets us know that his medication isn’t working and he can’t stop once he starts. Carl is so different from Mary. He doesn’t threaten us or punch us, or at least he hasn’t for several years.

I don’t know what is going on. His puberty hit later than Mary’s so maybe old trauma stuff is coming back up. Maybe this is what hormonal changes look like in our children? Maybe he really does have an underlying mood condition that we haven’t given enough thought to. After all, he isn’t like Mary. He’s so different. He is the most mentally stable child out of the sibling group we adopted.

Some questions remain. Should we bump up his treatment to the partial hospitalization level? Should he go inpatient again to be safe while his meds are changed? Should I join the witness protection program? Should we consider sending SOS smoke signals from our house?

I am not sure about any of this. All I know is that I have Luke by my side. We will just have to tread water in this crisis until the Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Service crisis worker arrives. I hope he/she has some practice dodging air conditioners…

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


Am I Raising Donald Trump?

I can tell the school principal is struggling to say the word “p*ssy,” to me. It appears as though my husband and I will be heading to the school for a meeting with the principal. I clutch the phone a little closer to my ear in case I have mis-heard what she is trying to explain to me about Carl.

“He sad what?!

“He shouted at the other girl that, “at least I don’t have blood coming out of my p*ssy,” the principal blurts out. She is in the middle of tactfully explaining to me the thorough investigation she has just completed at school.  Children have been complaining to her that Carl is making them feel uncomfortable with the “sixth grade health class” talk he’s been having. And that isn’t all.

When she asks the other children if they have asked Carl to stop they all say that they are too afraid of him. They are afraid of what will say to them or say about them. He has two other boys he is close with that participate in treating a group of girls a certain way. Apparently they call make fun of the girls by calling them “gay” and “lesbians.” They target girls in the class at recess, lunch, and other unstructured times.

To me the worst part of the whole thing is that Carl and his friends have been ensuring that the girls won’t “tell.” They have intimidated the other classmates not to talk about the harassment. It’s been happening for weeks. They know it’s wrong and yet they are using this newfound power and prestige to make themselves feel bigger and more entitled than the others.

As you can imagine, my husband and I are horrified. It isn’t OK to treat women this way. It’s not OK to bully other kids. It’s not OK to derive pleasure out of someone else’s pain. And yet, I don’t need all of the principal’s detailed accounts of the thorough and ironclad investigation to believe that our son is capable of this.

I am long familiar with the dichotomy of Carl. This 11-year-old boy, on the cusp of adolescence, is a study of contrast. He is stuck somewhere between his present-day life and the past that still haunts him. This is the same boy who delicately disentangles a bird stuck in netting, snuggles his kitten at night, and painstakingly prepares a cup of coffee for his me when my back is hurting. His love and loyalty are some of his best qualities. I like to think that this is part of what we have taught him during the almost 3 years he has been home with us now.

But there is another Carl. The one who came to us from foster care in an angry desperation that he should ever have a family at all. This Carl has a past littered with domestic violence that shadows his current life. This Carl forgets that women are not a “lesser” species to be ordered and used as a commodity. After all, that is what he saw in his birth home. The shadow of his past darkens his view of me when he shouts at me and tells me what I must do. His words can become the domineering words of an abusive husband/boyfriend/stranger/pimp that leers out at me from his past life.

There are always consequences to actions. There will be consequences at school. There will be consequences at home. My husband and I prepare to go to the school with the resignation that we are in for a long battle. It isn’t us against the school. It isn’t us against Carl. It’s all of us against the horrible past the reappears, zombie-like, just as we are making progress.

I have hope. My hope is that he will learn better ways. There is still time for us to teach him what a man should be. There is still time to teach him how a man should behave. There is still time to chase away the shadows of his past. Isn’t there? Or should I comfort myself that, at least, this behavior is presidential?







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

adoption, family

Drowning in Trauma

He puts his little 10-year-old hand into my hair and fiddles around with the curls. He’s smiling at me and watching the long strands of hair boing back when he tugs. We are giggling and being silly.  Little Carl looks into my eyes and twists one strand around a finger. He tugs gently but steadily. Something changes in his eyes. He is looking at me intently. He pulls hard and firm on the strand of hair. I gasp and throw up a hand over my scalp as he yanks the strand right out of my head.

“No, Carl. That hurts. We have gentle hands,” I admonish in a firm yet bewildered voice. He is smiling.

My husband walks over and Carl immediately falls to the ground wailing, “She hates me! She won’t even let me near her! She never loves me! All she does is yell at me!” He screams and thrashes around. Then he slams both fists on the seat and runs off.

It’s been weeks now. Weeks of leaving bruises on my arms from where he has “snuggled” me. Strangers exclaim about how loving he is. How sweet he is to me. He climbs into my lap smiling. He yanks my arms around him and then digs his fingernails into the soft flesh of my forearms. “What an affectionate child” I hear. They don’t see me bleed.

He has started to hurt his sister. He swears at her and shoves her down. He tries to bend her to his will. He does the same with me. A “no thank you” or “perhaps later” response is met with threats from him. When asked why he threatened to hurt his sister or why he punched her or kicked her or shoved her he shrugs. “She deserved it” he says.

There is violence from him. So much violence. He rages and screams and yells. He breaks apart his room and the house. He hurts me. He hurts his sister. Then he screams at us some more because after all, this is our fault. Women should listen.

When my husband is not around he will let me know that I am going to “learn my lesson.” He holds a fist to my face and steps forward. I stand my ground and repeat that I will not allow hurts in this family. We are a safe family. This is a safe house.

Only, I’m not telling the truth. Not really. Because we aren’t a safe house at the moment. We are a house caught in the past trauma of a 10-year-old boy. He is reliving the domestic abuse suffered at the hands of his biological family. As he faces these things in trauma therapy, he becomes caught in the past.

No longer is Carl the tiny boy being whipped with the metal of a belt buckle. No longer is he the victim of multiple men telling him to “learn his lesson” or that he/his siblings “had it coming.” Now he is bigger and stronger. Now he feels safer not being preyed upon. Now he has taken on the role of the aggressor. If only he can control his environment, he will feel safe.

But love is never safe. Falling in love means taking a risk that you could be hurt. “It’s ok to love us,” I want to tell him. “It’s ok to trust that we won’t hurt you.” I want to tell him. I do not say these things. He wouldn’t listen right now. He cannot hear a mother’s words. To him, in this moment, they are the words of the enemy.

Instead I wait. I pray. I try not to drown in the deep waters of his trauma. He has an intake tommorow for a partial hospitalization placement. I hope it will help us. It isn’t just the trauma’s effects on a little boy anymore. Right now our whole family could use a lifeline. We are drowning.