adoption

Where Do All the Foster Teens Go?

spop

Sean, at 13, playing with Mary in a pile of packing popcorn.

The month of March leaves me thinking about our former foster son, Sean. He turned 16 a few days ago. We received a copy of the latest foster review for him and the youngest sibling of our children. I assume it was sent to us by mistake, as our 2 have already been adopted. In the review it mentioned all of the things we tried to tell DCF, although they wouldn’t listen. He ran away, was hospitalized for suicidal ideations. I still worry for him.

The worst part was that his reunification had failed. Now his goal is “independent living” rather than reunification. Apparently, Sean had disrupted from his biological father’s home with police called for the fight they had. I had been so hopeful that the reunification would work out for both of them.

I heard from the siblings’ former foster mom (our kids call her “Grandma”) that he contacted her and requested to move back in. She is still a huge part of all of our lives, and our kids visit her for weekends sometimes. She wasn’t able to take Sean back. She had other children in the home and he had already made an abuse allegation once about her (just like us) years ago. That was right before leaving to come to our home for adoption with his siblings

His worker told her they had nowhere to put him and he had been diagnosed with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder.) In the end, Grandma just couldn’t take the risk. This is all information I got through Grandma, I haven’t heard from him. I thought we might get a phone call, too, but we never did. We probably won’t because he and Marcus are estranged, and we maintain a relationship with Marcus.

So where is Sean now? Staying with a friend’s family who must have agreed to take the foster parent classes in order to have him there? I wish I knew for sure. He is so charming. It’s so easy to get drawn in. I wonder how they will feel about “saving him,” (as he so often said to me) in a year or so. The report stated that this is the first place he has lived that he didn’t feel like he was a “foster kid.” I can’t lie, that one stung.

But still, in all honesty, I just want him to be happy. I want him to be OK. And I really, really, want him to learn to love deeply. I think everyone in this world needs at least one person they can truly count on. The more people you can trust, the bigger your safety net is, should you ever fall. I hope he allows himself to be loved. I wonder often if he is still “shopping” for the best deal he can get with a family. How I wish he had let us adopt him.

shib

Luke, at 14, with Sean and Carl at our favorite Hibachi grill.

I thought about this as I called my own mother. She was taking me to my neurosurgeon’s appointment. I was scared about getting the results of some recent blood work. There is a fair possibility that my body may be rejecting the titanium implant in my spine. I was so nervous, I asked if my step dad could come too. It always makes me feel better when both of my parents are there. At 35, I still need a mom and dad. And I have them. I’m lucky.

What about the all the other teens in foster care? The ones who never got therapy? The ones with a failed reunification? The ones who just don’t know how to trust in love? Where do they all go? Do they ever stay?

ssilly

Sean being his funny, silly, self.

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

 

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adoption, family

The Non-Argument: Adventures in Battling Trauma

pink

It’s been a year since Sean left. He’s 15 now. Marcus left in August of last year and he will be 19 next month. I can go whole days without thinking about them. The bone-deep grief that brought me to my knees is subsiding. But foster kids leave. Pre-adoptive placements disrupt. It happens all the time. Or so they say.

I’ve been dreaming about the teens all week. It’s usually about Sean. I dream that I’ve forgotten to pick Sean up somewhere. In this dream I try desperately to remember where he is before it becomes dark. And then I wake up to find that the angry, traumatized teens have moved on. Have I?

Mary has been having a difficult transition back to school. Her feelings are jumbled about most things lately. Her 9-year-old emotional roller coaster is on the fast track. She will cycle from maniacal laughter to gut-wrenching sobs within minutes. My husband and I are on high-alert for that intense “happy” reaction that is just a shade too bright, too intense. This is our signal that she is on the brink of losing control over her emotions.

Mary is disappointed over her own reactions.  Her perception is that others are disappointed with her as well. That fear bubbles over into her interactions with me. She has to share this intense discomfort somewhere. This leads to having what I call the “non-argument.” For example:

Mary: Mom? You’re going to be disappointed. I spilled my drink

Me: That’s ok, honey. Accidents happen. Just grab the cleaner under the sink.

Mary: I can’t clean this!

Me: We can clean it together.

Mary: (dumping the bottle of cleaner) I’m sorry! I spilled it all! It was an accident! I know you’re mad I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry! Please believe me! Why are you mad? Do you still love me????

Me: (gathering her into a hug) I am going to hug you for 30 full seconds and then we will clean together.

Another example:

Mary: Mom! Why won’t you look at me? You’re mad at me?

Me: I’m just tying my shoe.

Mary: I made that noise you don’t like, didn’t I? I’m so sorry! I’m sorry! I’m really sorry, Mommy! Don’t be mad!

Me: Honey I’m happy. Let’s have a happy hug.

Mary: Well what about this noise? How about this one?

And so on and so on. I’ve tried giving her extra attention to make her feel safe. I’ve been giving extra cuddles. Luke and I recorded our voices on a small device that she can play back whenever she needs to. We provide transitional objects. Both Carl and Mary pick out their clothes and  breakfast the night before school (like at a hotel!) so we can spend the mornings connecting.

But still she looks to fight, argue, then apologize. She cowers like I might hit her and cries. She begs fervently for my forgiveness so often I can’t get a word in edgewise. I have to admit something.  She asks me if I’m mad so often that it’s starting to make me mad. My logical brain knows it’s her anxiety and her fear. My tired brain wants a quiet room and some space.

I am supposed to be bigger, stronger, and always safe. My emotional regulation sets the tone for hers. I do show her my emotions but she is so terrified of her own feelings that mine send her into full panic. I won’t engage in her non-arguments. I offer love and support. I hold her until her breathing slows. Then I make her clean up the spills or do her chores or her homework. Because that’s life. I say, “It’s ok to feel your feelings. You can feel them while you take out the trash. I’ll be right here.”

She is testing that limit to see where I break. I know she is. I understand why. That doesn’t stop it from happening.

Out of nowhere:

Mary: “You didn’t love him enough!”

Me: “Who?”

Mary: “Sean.”

I try to explain that we will always love Sean. We respect his choice not to be with our family.  He will always be a part of us.

Mary: “You just should’ve let him quit school! You should have respected his choices when he didn’t want to shower or do his chores. You should have just given him electronics! You wouldn’t just forgive him and let him come home! Just because he did ONE LITTLE THING! He hurt you ONE time, Mommy and your bruises weren’t that big.  Now he’s gone!”

Mic drop.

Immediately she is crying and wailing that she is sorry she said it. She is such a bad kid and she’s so terrible that no one could ever love her. But by now I am crying, too. Uncontrollably and I miss my boy and I cannot stop. My grief hits me like a tidal wave and I am swept away in emotion so strong that I’ll surely drown.

The truth about Sean is very hard for me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and I’m still not sure that I can process everything that has happened with him. We tried like hell to love him perfectly and be a good family for him. It was after he left that I saw the lying, manipulation, stealing, and damage he had done. Those were his survival skills.

It doesn’t matter. I miss him still. He’s made it clear he never wanted to see us again. Carl and Mary included. He’s changed so much I wouldn’t recognize the boy I knew. The boy I knew never existed. My logical brain knows this. But my emotional brain keeps dreaming about the son I’ve lost. The illusion of Sean is what I knew. The reality of my own emotions is what I have left.

And so Mary has found my Achilles heal. When I won’t engage in her non-argument she fights back. She’ll drop a comment that sounds as sweet as sugar but cuts deeper than a scalpel. I’ll be driving the car. “No mommy,” she’ll sigh. “You just don’t understand Sean. Sean is sweet.”

“Of course,” I’ll say calmly, “He is a sweet boy.”

I’ll be in the refrigerator. “You just don’t understand him,” she’ll say while ruefully shaking her head. I don’t argue. I won’t engage. I continue whatever it is I’m doing. The more she knows it bothers me, the more she will bring it up. The less reaction she gets, the less she’ll try this non-argument. But it cuts so deep. I plaster an innocuous look on my face while inside I’m bleeding out.

The more I agree we love Sean, the more open I am to discussing him, the more frustrated she becomes.  I wake up one day to find an 8×10 picture of him on the fridge. I offer to frame it for her. I ask if she wants it in her room, but of course she wants it where “everyone can see.” She looks pointedly at me. I nod in a noncommittal way and move on.

She pushes and prods and pokes at my tender spot all week. When I can’t take it anymore I retreat upstairs for a bubble bath. I leave Luke to serve dinner while Sean watches from the fridge. That’s when I realize something. It’s not Mary landing the blows. It’s her trauma pushing her into strong emotions. She doesn’t want to be alone in these feelings. It was Sean’s trauma that led him to do the things he did. It’s my trauma giving me bad dreams about my former son.

After my bath I snuggle up my little girl on the couch. She is wearing her pineapple  nightgown. We snuggle under a huge pineapple blanket her godmother made for her. She needs to know that she is not leaving no matter what she does. She needs to know she is safe in her forever home.  I’m going to love her through her fear. I will love her no matter what kind of fight trauma brings up. After all, someone has to retreat and it won’t be me.

 

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

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adoption, family

Mom Shopping

pancakes

Another football season begins again. Carl is an intrepid linebacker, even if he is in the 20th percentile for height.He never gives up.  Mary is cheerleading her heart out. Each night we parents sit for 2 hours watching our children practice. For the entire month of August they practice for all 5 weeknights. No exceptions. So here I sit, faithfully waiting for my children as they practice and learn.

But today I am reminded of Sean. It has been almost a year since he left our home. I miss him terribly. He never played a sport or joined a club. He only wanted to sit at home on the couch watching TV. He especially loved doing this when no one else was home. During those times he would rifle through our things, steal what he wanted, and gorge on food. When he left we found hidden stashes of molded frosting tubs, cream cheese, and half-eaten uncooked pasta with salsa. I imagine he also enjoyed the quiet of being alone, but I will never know.

As a family we attended sports games, awards ceremonies, or activities that we’re featuring any member. I would beg, cajole, plead, offer rewards or remove privileges to entice Sean to participate. Still he stiffly refused to support anyone by participating in their events. He attended his own field trips and  academic achievement ceremonies. For anyone else, he refused. Instead he would try to order fast food from us. “Pick it up on your way home. How hard could it be?” I always refused. If he wanted a treat then he’d have to come, too.

This brought on whining, crying, and general tantruming as though he were 4 and not 14. Not the run-of-the-mill angry teen stuff but a high pitched baby whine of “why? WHY! WHYWHYWHYWHYWHYYYYYY” that could last hours. He kicked his legs, banged on his bed, and rolled around on the floor. Eventually he wasn’t even making intelligible sounds anymore at all.

Other times he would snuggle and lean his head on my shoulder. I’d make him blue pancakes (his favorite color) with chocolate chips. “I love you, mom” he’d say. When he was scared of the shower I ran him baths instead. I got bubble bath and little bath toys and I waited outside. He cried the whole time. He didn’t want to wash unless I was in the hallway. I read out loud to him so that he’d know I was still outside the door, waiting faithfully.

He wanted me to stay with him at other times, too. He couldn’t fathom how I might leave him to go the gym. I had a high intensity interval class I really loved. When the kids came I cut down to once a week. Lifting heavy weights and killing it in class always made me feel like a total rockstar. I loved doing this as dearly as I loved the Christmas holiday. Sean didn’t love it. At all. He would cling to me and beg me not go. He would tear up and claim that it hurt him every time he was away from me. I tried to take him with me. I tried to go every other week. Eventually I quit. It was a simple choice. He was my son and he needed me.

We spent at least an hour each night together after the littles had gone to bed. I read him stories. I rubbed his back. I listened as he told me all about his day, his complex feelings, his fears. We brainstormed solutions for school conflicts. I listened to him talk about his biological family. I always empathized with his feelings rather than passing judgement. I listened. He was never ready to go to bed. I tucked him in and rubbed his back. He wouldn’t sleep. He was scared for me to leave the room. With my heavy eyelids slipping shut, I waited with him faithfully until he finally fell asleep.

Sean often told me that I was the only mom who ever cared for him. He was amazed at his birthday when he got things we wanted. He explained that no one had ever given him a birthday before. No mom had ever given him a cake. When I asked his former foster mom about this she laughed. “He always had a birthday here,” she told me, “Sean just makes up these stories.”

At times, my husband Luke thought Sean was being lazy, selfish, or even manipulative. I was baffled. I believed that Sean was just scared. All he really needed was a mom who would faithfully stick with him. He just needed the right mom.  He needed me.

Sean beamed with pride at his eighth grade dance. I chaperoned it (at his request) and he introduced his friends to me. They were all adoring girls. They all called him “Shay.” The other chaperones were so jealous that my son was happy to see me. Their sons hid in embarrassment on the other side of the dance floor. I smiled and glowed and secretly thanked my lucky stars. I was so naive.

Eventually I got Sean to come to a football game with me. I felt triumphant. He was leaving the house because he felt safe with me. I was a super-mom! He was making so much progress!

Surprisingly, he left my side the second we got there. He was 14 so I didn’t mind if he walked around. I was impressed. Sean had probably seen some friends from school. He was being so independent! He almost never left my side. Especially if I had money in my pocket…

Later on I found him  with one of the other moms. She had gotten him something at the concession stand and they were sitting on a blanket she had brought. She had a daughter his age who was nowhere to be seen.  I caught his eye and he jumped up as if he’d been caught at something. Confused, I glanced around for friends his age. There were none. He ran over to me and rapidly ushered me away from the other mom. I always thought it was odd he’d chosen to hang out with another adult than with one of his friends. Still, I felt, this must be progress. I didn’t speak to Other Mom until a different game. She approached me and very solemnly pulled me aside. She let me know that my foster son was “very special” and just needed someone to “listen to him and REALLY try to understand him.” I was astonished. Just what, exactly, had I been doing all of this time?!

Later that year I took the kids to visit a former foster family of Marcus’s. The littles ran around and played with the family goats while Luke and I let Marcus show us around his old stomping grounds. I noticed that Sean spent a great deal of time in deep conversation with the foster mother. Occasionally another child would seek her attention and Sean would urgently spirit her away to a more private area in the home. He was speaking earnestly and rapidly. He seemed distraught. She put her hand on his back as if to comfort him so I hurried over to check on my son. He met me somewhere in the middle and steered me away from the foster mom. It wasn’t until later that she pulled me aside to explain that foster kids need a lot of understanding. They need someone to “really listen to them.” She mentioned that she had offered Sean to come and stay with her any time he “needed someone to talk to.” Again, I was astonished.

It didn’t take long to learn that there were many other “moms” for Sean. They all listened. They all comforted and cajoled him. They listened to his stories about how I didn’t throw him birthday parties. I didn’t buy him clothes. I never supported him. I didn’t spend time with him and, of course, I didn’t listen to him.

They all advised me about supporting him. Appreciating him. Listening to him. I’d never heard of “parent shopping” before Sean. Now I know. Kids with trauma histories have learned to hedge their bets. Much like the hidden stash of food in his room, Sean was collecting mothers. He had a secret stash. Just in case.

I’ve worried about Sean ever since he left our home a year ago. Since then he’s run away from a foster home. He was eventually reunited with his biological father. The last I heard he had disrupted that placement as well. Sean wanted out.  His biological father wanted out. He said Sean needed therapy and he “couldn’t parent him” like this. Part of me worries for Sean still.

At football practice today I saw Other Mom walk by. It reminded me of Sean and his parent shopping. I’m not so worried anymore. If anything, I learned that Sean will always land on his feet. He will always find another woman to feel special about meeting his needs. If nothing else, Sean is a consummate survivor. Somewhere in his back pocket, I’m sure he has another mom.

But Carl and Mary have me. As I sit here faithfully waiting for practice to end, I cheer for them.  And I can say, without a doubt, that I’m a super mom for them.

 

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

 

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adoption disruption, family

False Allegations: Adventures in Knowing When to Throw in the Towel

And now I know. I know it’s done. At least, I know I’m done. I have to be. In truth, my husband Luke, has been done for awhile. The damage left in the wake of Sean has been nothing short of a tsunami.

Let’s start with the allegations. The investigation. It’s done, over, finished, and grandly ridiculous. Sean left our house amidst a storm of drama, rage, and physical violence that he perpetrated.  I was bleeding, we had damage done to our property and Carl had been shoved to the ground. It was a violent and scary scene. The state police came. They suggested that we press charges. We declined.

Weighing in at just under 230 lbs, Sean walked himself to the ambulance and got on laughing and joking with the staff. We chose in-patient treatment in the hopes of getting him some help. What mother would want to press domestic violence charges against her own son? I was hurt and angry and scared, yes, but I was still his mother. No, I didn’t want to press charges. Luke and I declined the officer’s suggestion. I hid my injuries in an upstairs bathroom, applying ice and bandages alone. I was scared and ashamed. I didn’t want to show anyone. I didn’t want to press charges against Sean.  It wasn’t until later that I learned we should have.

It wasn’t until later, when I was alone, that I destroyed his iPod, the object of the whole stupid dispute in the first place. My next step was to promptly forgive him and move on. We respected his wishes not to remain in our house. We even agreed with them, given the level of violence we had experienced at his hands. He wanted to live with his bio dad. We informed the DCF (still his legal guardian) of this. We told them he was always welcome back if he would agree to participate in his counseling, take the medication prescribed by his psychiatrist, and agree to a no-tolerance violence policy. I’d been injured one too many times. Luke and I both decided no more.

I mourned the loss of Sean. I irrationally waited for the day he would ask to come home. He was now in a foster home with Marcus, he was safe, but he wasn’t loved in the way a mom and dad would love him. I figured eventually he would miss his honors classes, art classes, outings with his friends, and family game night. He would have to miss baking cupcakes with me and binge-watching  iZombie episodes on Hulu. He would have to miss his little brother and sister. Right?

I tried hard to prepare myself for the possibility that he wouldn’t want to come home with us permanently. It was simply unfathomable to me that he would continue in his senseless adolescent rage. It was over the time his iPod was confiscated until he had finished taking out the trash and showering. I mean, he was just surviving, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he just confused?

Social workers came and went. They checked on our house and checked on our children. The in-home therapists processed the events with our Littles. Miraculously, tension and stress seemed to leave our Littles. They were actually more relaxed and less anxious. Things were going well. Still, I waited for Sean. I was like the golden retriever in a Disney movie, sitting by the window and waiting for it’s human to return, against all odds.

We saw him a month later, at his foster care review at the DCF office. These reviews occur every 6 months, and all parties are invited to attend and report on the progress of the children in their care. Marcus was there, too. Marcus ran and hugged Luke, exclaiming, “Hey Pops!” while ignoring their bio dad. I joked around with Marcus until the social worker attempting to run the meeting shushed us. Marcus gave me a conspiratorial grin, as if we were the class clowns interrupting the important DCF meeting.

I was cautious with Sean. He sat down next to me and said, “Hi” right away. I told him that his school pictures had come in and that he had smiled in them for the first time ever! (Sean rarely smiles in photos because he ends up talking to the photographer. He has years worth of open-mouthed startled looking school pictures.) We told him who got what position in the high school student government. He had been running for class treasurer  against a “frenenemy” of his. He seemed jovial and engaging. We left for the teen’s half of the meeting, although we weren’t sure why at the time. The stern DCF worker running the meeting told us we would be invited back for our children’s portion.

It wasn’t until a week later that we learned about the allegations Sean made in that meeting. After he had spoken so sweetly to us, after we had left the room feeling hopeful for some sort of future relationship, he had accused us of child abuse.

More specifically, he had accused me of physically harming him. His claims included me kicking him in the back and them picking him up and throwing him onto the bed (or maybe the floor?) He also alleged that I punched him, and Luke physically held him in the room. The latter part is somewhat true. Luke did hold him back by placing both hands on his chest, as I ran from Sean’s attack. Sean then punched Luke, to which Luke calmly replied, “Really? Really, Sean?” (Short of a nuclear attack, Luke is always calm and soft spoken.) However, Luke promptly stepped away as soon as I was safely locked in the bathroom, and allowed Sean to go outside the home. Then Luke called the social worker and called the police. Following the disruption we contacted all of the involved social workers and therapists. I even visited Sean in-patient and Luke packed and delivered his things. We thought that portion was over.

After the big review meeting at DCF,  Sean smiled and wished us well. It was a pleasant good-bye. Luke and I made bets that we would hear from him by the end of the week. Maybe he would just want to visit on a weekend. Maybe a day trip with the family? Certainly we assumed we’d have him with his siblings for a visit Thanksgiving and Christmas.

I got the call a few days later about the allegation. Our adoption finalization for Mary and Carl was put on hold pending the conclusion of the abuse investigation. A very nice worker came out and questioned all of us separately at our house. He met the Littles right off of the bus and we encouraged him to please feel free to drop in unannounced at any time. We had nothing to hide. We reviewed the allegations together and I showed him a picture of me with Sean. Sean and I are the same height. This teenager has almost 100 lbs on me. It is physically impossible for me to pick him up, let alone throw him. As for kicking him in the back? How would I have accomplished that? Like a Rockette? I’m certainly not flexible to kick up that high. We showed the worker the damage done to the window in Sean’s room. Again, I’m not physically capable of doing that kind of damage. Maybe I should start lifting some weights?

We provided this worker with the names and contact information of Sean’s therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist, and all of the crisis team who had been in our home,multiple times, for Sean’s anxiety attacks, Sean’s anger outbursts, and of course, his attempts to run away (mostly just sitting alone under the porch until he felt he needed snacks.) In addition we have him the contact information for Sean’s previous foster home (where he had also made an allegation when leaving) and the in-home therapy team who worked with the Littles and were in our home multiple times a week. Hey, raising kids with the issues our chickens have, isn’t easy. We have a big team. We do a damn good job considering the past trauma we are working with. Aside from my yelling at Sean that day, we don’t even raise our voices when the children have violent tantrums. A screaming child slamming things about is nothing new around here.

Our resources backed us up about going above and beyond for Sean. They gave information about our extensive training and use of therapeutic parenting strategies. They were able to confirm that we are relatively calm, level-headed, nonviolent parents. We do not participate in “holding therapy” or physical punishment or even grounding.They also confirmed that one must, indeed, shower and take out the trash to earn one’s electronics privileges.

I urged the worker to please follow up on the mental health services Sean was or was not receiving in foster care. He needed his therapy and his medical appointments. We were familiar with the home he was placed in, with Marcus. The foster parent was very nice, but the agency was slow moving. We worried about why Sean would be angry enough to do and say these things. Was he majorly depressed? Was he delusional? Was he manipulating this situation? In the end, did it even matter? I refuse to believe he just hates us out of the blue. I think he is hurting and confused and conflicted. And yes, he is also highly manipulative.

Since Sean had a prior history of false allegations, since the children and my husband corroborated my story, and since the mental health professionals Sean worked with had serious concerns about his mental health, we were in no real danger of losing our Littles. The only thing Sean really accomplished with this unfathomable attempt at revenge (or possible delusion?) was to delay the finalization of adoption for his two younger siblings. National adoption day came and went, and poor Mary missed out on a birthday sleepover because it didn’t take place at a DCF licensed home. She couldn’t go, because she was technically still a “foster kid.”

Luke and I asked ourselves a million times a day why he would do this. He loved the Littles. Why would he jeopardize their permanency? What if his plan had actually worked? What if someone had believed him and taken Mary and Carl? They didn’t have the same bio dad. Where would they go? Luke worried over this for some time. Statistically speaking, “older” children, sibling groups, and children with behavioral health concerns, are hard to place. They have a heart-breakingly small percentage chance of ever getting adopted, even less so of being kept together. Carl and Mary came with all of these caveats. Plus, they were our children now. Who else could herd our little chickens to-and-fro on this crazy adventure called “family?” Why try and take that from them?

We may never know his motivations. Trauma, neglect, and maladaptive survival skills play a role. We forgave him. We moved on. We hoped he would come around eventually. We hoped DCF would get him the help he so desperately needs. He certainly wouldn’t participate when we provided it.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving weekend. We took a trip to the former foster home where Carl had been for a few months, and Sean and Mary had stayed for almost 2 years. This couple is called “Grandma” and “Grandpa” by all of their current and former foster youth. They are a  friendly couple who have fostered over 500 children in their 40 years as foster parents.

We consider them extended family now. So do our children and hundreds of children before them. On this visit we learned that Sean had blocked his “Grandma” on Facebook. She had tried to reach out and check on him after the disruption, with no luck. He had, however, been in contact with other family members from Grandma and Grandpa’s house. They told us he was threatening to hurt himself because of the poor conditions in his new foster home. A few of the other children had seen on Facebook that he was making claims about how horrible his new placement is.

I can honestly say that we know this home and we know how sweet the foster mom is. She is religious, she is kind, and she strictly enforces house rules. She does not buy Sean electronics or art lessons as we had done. She does expect that chores are completed before dinner. In short, it’s a pretty normal foster home. But again, he is making allegations.

My first instinct was to run to him. Yes, it’s a nice foster home, but maybe he missed his real home. Maybe he missed us? Maybe he missed his bio dad? We had always provided those visits with bio dad so Luke and I assumed maybe he wasn’t getting them at all. Like I said, DCF can be slow to set things up. Visits, medical appointments, mental health services, can wait months and months if left solely to the department.

Luke and I dug a little deeper. We reached out to some contacts. It seems as if the real story is that bio dad is promising some material items, and fewer rules. DCF took until recently to approve overnight visits. Sean was looking for immediate reunification, and thus, he made the new allegations. I doubt he will hurt himself. I remember Sean threatening to tell others that he would hurt himself if I refused to buy him things or let him skip school, etc. But what if? What if this time it was for real?

But I was almost sucked back in. I was irrationally drawn to help him. I kept telling myself, he’s only 14. What if he is hurting? What if no one is noticing or caring about his serious depression? Maybe we should reach out. Who is going to take care of him? Then I realized he was still manipulating. Still surviving. It’s probably all he knows how to do.

I have to step away. I have to give up and throw in the towel. It seems easier for Luke, because Luke is so mad at all of the pain the teens have caused me. Until our  Littles are finalized in court, we can’t even think about involving ourselves with the older boys. At this point I have to accept defeat. Sean doesn’t want our family. He doesn’t even want us to have our family.

If I hadn’t fought for those boys until the very end, I could never have forgiven myself. I would always have wondered the difference I could have made if I only reached out a little more. Proved my love a little more. My love won’t change but my involvement has to.

It’s over now. I’m throwing in the towel. I wish Sean the best. Out of the 4 siblings, the 2 youngest are thriving. I forgive Sean for surviving the only way he knew how. Now I have to forgive myself for surviving. I can’t maintain contact because I will always fall for his sweet words. I can’t anymore.

We notified DCF of our concerns and support for the new foster parent.  But now I’m done. I hope he does well for himself. I may be throwing in the towel but I will never throw my title of “mom” away, no matter how briefly I held it for this boy. Although it is hard to remember sometimes, it isn’t us against the child. It’s us against his past. It’s us against his trauma. It’s us against his RAD. I just desperately hope that DCF or his bio-dad will take up that call to battle. After all, someone must fight for this boy. And it can no longer be us.

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

**If you have ever considered foster or adoptive care I would STILL encourage you to get started on your own adventure

***Photo and quote courtesy of “Great Big World” Facebook page.

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adoption disruption, family, grief, parenting

Switching Shampoo: Grief in Distupted 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.

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

Seeking Sean: Understanding Why He Can’t

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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.

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adoption, family, parenting, PTSD

Smashing the iPod: Adventures in Accepting My Own PTSD

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My first thought is “Oh god, it finally happened. Someone’s been stabbed.” It was around 3 AM and Sean was standing over my bed with his arms stretched wide. A thick liquid was pooled on his head and dripping down his face. His arms and hands were covered in the stuff. I didn’t even hear what he was saying to me. My heart raced in terror and panic. I just began to scream and grab at Luke, my husband.

Glue. It was only glue. Sean had apparently woken up in the middle of the night and attempted an ill-fated art project that ended with the explosion of a bottle of Elmer’s. After crying hysterically and cowering into my husband, I realized what was happening. Just glue. I got out of bed and helped clean off my perplexed teenager. “It’s OK, mom. It’s not like this happened at a frat party or something,” he said. Not at all reassuring but, OK.

The thing that got to me was my reaction. I actually believed that Marcus may have stabbed Sean or Sean may have stabbed someone. It was my first thought. Waking up to children standing silently over the bed is nothing new. They do it all the time. They wake up and want to make sure they still have parents. It’s never scared me before. It’s slightly creepy to have someone watch you sleeping, but I understand why they do it. My reaction is new. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’m jumpy at loud noises. If I hear the kids yelling I often dread that it’s a fight or a tantrum. Usually it isn’t. But that feeling in the pit of my stomach? That’s new.

It started when Marcus finally moved in. It wasn’t his fault, certainly. I was afraid of him, though. I loved him but I was scared. As he began to chafe against family life, his anger was directed at me. He walked around with barely concealed rage just at the sight of me giving hugs to the littles or offering him snack. Sometimes he lashed out and punched his punching bag or the wall. The day he left he assaulted me by kicking me and throwing his phone at me. At the time I remained calm, yet firm. We are a house of no hurts and he would need to use a coping skill and take some space. He honestly didn’t leave a mark on me. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized how jumpy and nervous I was becoming. I haven’t slept well at all since then.

All of our kids have expressed aggression at one time or another. Little Mary used to have severe and prolonged violent episodes due to her trauma history. It wasn’t her fault and it was just as hard on her as it was on the rest of us. There were months in the beginning of bringing our children home where she would scream and attack me and rage for literally 5 or more hours. Living at home and walking through that with her was like living in a war zone. I was relieved to go back to work because no one was hitting me there. I spent the months of August and September sweating in long sleeves and long pants to cover all of my bruises. But all of that is long in the past. Our children still rage from time to time but the daily prolonged violence is gone. So, it’s all over, right? Then why don’t I feel safe in my home?

Sean has had a few outbursts but not many. Normally he is sweet and affectionate and loving. He is the child who is filled with hugs and snuggles. He is also the child who is over 200 lbs and is physically intimidating. Sean lost it last week. That’s not the worst part for me. The worst part is that I lost it last week. 

Sean had been upset for a few days about “having to be in a family.” He didn’t earn his electronics privileges over breaking some rules, and refused to hand over his iPod. He grabbed his things and started packing up to leave. I snapped. I yelled at him. I don’t often raise my voice at all but I yelled that if he wanted to leave, fine, take it up with the social worker. Then I snatched the iPod right out of his pocket. He shoved me and hit me and broke a window. Sean tackled me to the ground and I cut my leg on part of his bed. Little Carl started punching me and then Sean punched him and then Carl and Sean were fighting. Luke came in to break it up. He blocked Sean from chasing me. Mary ran and hid in her room with the door locked. I scrambled away and locked myself in the bathroom.

That’s not the worst thing by far. I was upstairs with the stupid iPod just shaking with rage. I was furious at being the “target.” I was mad at the fact that I felt weak and helpless and preyed upon. Why did I always get the bruises and the blood? Why? None of our kids target Luke presumably because he is larger and stronger than I am. I was furious with Sean but mostly furious at feeling so weak and vulnerable.

Everything I’d been holding in just hit me at once. I did the most illogical thing I could think of. I smashed the iPod. Then I dumped it into the tank behind the toilet and sat down in the floor and sobbed. Luke handled the whole thing like a pro. He was calm and assertive and let me hide in the bathroom while he handled things. I am so thankful that this man is the other half of my equation.

The police came. The ambulance came. Sean went to the hospital psychiatric in-patient unit. He has been there for a few days now and he is insisting that he won’t return home. Without Marcus and Sean in the house there really isn’t anyone to hurt me physically anymore. I still jump when a door slams. If the perceived threat is gone then why am I still scared??

I decided to see a therapist that I know and trust because I can’t seem shake this fear. I’m ashamed, really. I haven’t lived through even an iota of what they have lived through. I am a strong and stable adult. I should always be the calming influence in their lives. I shouldn’t yell and smash iPods. I most definitely shouldn’t be losing children. Losing Marcus was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. If we lose Sean? How do I even come back from that?

My therapist listened to my story and my symptoms. She told me I have PTSD from suffering my own trauma with our children. She told me I was a good mother, and I so needed to hear that. She told me that it was OK to be human and have reactions. She told me that it was OK to grieve for losing Marcus. She told me it was OK to grieve for Sean. Most of all she gave me permission to feel my feelings. I can’t and shouldn’t just “let it go,” because I love my boys. I will always be their mother. A part of me will always hold out hope, no matter what the boys say right now. The therapist says that I will still feel “jumpy” like this for a while and it may take time. I’m going to continue to see her because even though I haven’t been through what our children have, I know that I am affected by this. I need help, too.

The best thing happened with Little Mary, though. She saw me crying about Sean and she came over and snuggled up. She began to rub my back in broad circles, as I have done so many times for her. I heard her parrot my own words back to me, “It’s going to be OK. You are safe. I will stay with you until you feel safe. Here, have my blankie as a coping skill.” I was so proud of her. I think I might even be a little proud of myself this week. I’m not proud at all for losing it. But PTSD? I can acknowledge and accept the effects that this kind of intensive parenting have had on me. I can acknowledge that intensive therapeutic parenting has had a huge impact on little Mary, in a miraculous way. I am flawed and I am tired. But I am mom, and I will survive this, too.

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