adoption, family

The Coming Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

The Go Bag: Adventures in Emergency Coping Skills

Gillette2

My husband has a “jump bag.” It’s filled with life-saving tools that paramedics use. He keeps it with him because he volunteers for the service in town, and may have to go at a moments notice. I’m pretty sure he even carries an oxygen tank in there. Basically, anywhere he is in the town, he  is only a phone call away from saving a life. He is a prepared paramedic.

Our family needs first responders, too. We need to be able to respond to a child’s out-of-control or spiraling emotions in a flash. We need tools to help soothe sensory overload, or satiate sensory seeking behavior. We need things to help us be proactive, rather than reactive to our children’s emotional needs. And they have plenty of emotional needs!

Recently, we took a trip to visit Gillette castle here in Connecticut. For long day trips, we always plan ahead. We talk to both children about the long car ride. We role play and practice responses to possible frustrating scenarios. We brainstorm coping skills ahead of time. I ask the Littles, “Where can you sit in the car to make the car ride easier?” I guide them into thinking about sitting in separate rows so as not to attack each other on the ride. We carefully plan out what we can bring with us. Would Mary like to bring her blankie, her doll, or both? We give choices.

And then, we have the coping skills bag. I bring it on trips both short and long. I bring it to church. I bring it to events. Just having the bag helps Mary feel like she is prepared to handle her emotions.

Our Emergency Coping Skills Bag includes the following:

  1. An iPod with extra headphones. Music is soothing and it can drown out the annoyance of your siblings.
  2. An adult coloring book with colored pencils. This is a soothing activity that you can take anywhere.
  3. Sludge (or another gooey substance.) This is a fun sensory activity that is calming and keeps hands busy.
  4. A stuffed animal, blankie, or another transitional object (such as Dad’s dirty shirt) for hugging, squishing, and soothing.
  5. Snacks
  6. Word search or activity book. This gives them something to think about other than murder plots for siblings.

Having the emotional “jump bag” made our day trip possible. Two hours in the car and no one was physically assaulted. No one tried to climb out of the vehicle. No one collapsed from boredom. Not one meltdown! And the best part? We all got to enjoy our trip to the castle.

Apparently William Gillette wrote in his will that he did not want his castle to fall into the hands of a “blithering sap-head.” Although our kids didn’t necessarily retain all of the historical information from this trip, they remembered that phrase. I am proud to say that they both declared they would not be calling each other “blithering sap-heads” because it wouldn’t be nice. Hey, any day without a blithering sap-head is progress to me!

castle

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

*Photographs courtesy of my awesome husband, Luke!

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adoption, family

Let the Hunger Games Begin: Sibling Rivalry in Adoption

It’s no secret that siblings fight. Arguments, disagreements, the pilfering of someones favorite toy or hairbrush are common themes in sibling relationships. The siblings closest in age are typically the biggest competitors.In a stable household siblings may fight and argue, but at the end of the day there are enough resources to meet their basic survival needs. Even in stressful situations they have adult supervision, enough food not to go hungry, and no imminent threat of physical danger.

For siblings raised in consistently traumatizing circumstances, the opposite is true. Our kids spent their early childhoods in a very scary and unstable place. There wasn’t always enough food. Carl and Mary spent toddler years climbing in the kitchen and reaching whatever they could in order to eat. When Mary first came home she thought Baccos Bits were a good lunch option. Sometimes affection came in small doses between their birth mom’s mental health episodes. If Carl or Mary didn’t get her attention then, they would have to wait weeks and even months for her to get out of bed and start interacting with the family again.

This all leads to a different type of sibling relationship. Mary and Carl are fiercely loyal to each other and protective of each other. In outside settings, they cling together and block out the world around them. Throwing a mom and dad into that relationship shifted their dynamic. All of the sudden they had a resource that they both desperately wanted. Deep down, they still believe this resource is fleeting.

That brings us back to this week. It’s been disastrous in terms of health. The stomach bug has swept through our household like a plague upon humanity. Mary was sick first. I cradled her head in my lap on the bathroom floor for about five hours. She was feverish, wrapped in a cocoon of blankets, and snuggled into me for all she was worth. Mary alternated from deep sleep to intense vomiting the entire time. I held her hair back, cleaned up her face, and rubbed her back until she slept again.

Meanwhile, Luke was fast asleep with a fever as well. He wasn’t sick to his stomach…yet. Carl was fine. He wanted to play with me outside. He was utterly mystified that I needed to stay in the bathroom with Mary for hours. This is where his trauma history and attachment problems came out to torment him. Soon Carl was convinced that I didn’t love him. I only enjoyed being with Mary and I would never want to be with him again. He yelled at me for never loving him and stomped away downstairs.

I’d like to say that he found something constructive to do. I’d be happy to think that he played with his hundreds of toys or read one of his many books or even played outside. Mostly, Carl watched TV all day and complained that he needed a better family to spend more time with him. Every attempt I made at comforting him was met with thinly veiled contempt. By evening time, Mary was so dehydrated that Luke had to wake up and take her to the ER for IV fluids. The poor girl couldn’t even keep down ice chips. I spent the evening worried about her. Carl celebrated that she was gone. At 8:00 PM he gleefully suggested that we could go outside to play now that she was “finally gone!”

Of course, it was time for bed. I did my best to give him some extra snuggles and mommy love. My aching back protested and my energy was completely drained. Still, I withstood hurricane Carl’s emotions as he railed at me for the unfairness of bedtime. He voiced his disdain at parents who didn’t know how to “do anything right” or spend time with him.

The next morning, Mary stayed home from school. She was sick in the bathroom with diarrhea while Carl was getting dressed for school. He stormed through the house screaming at her for smelling so bad. He yelled that he shouldn’t have to have a sister like her because she stinks. He was mad at me for going to work. He was mad at Luke for staying at home. He was mad that Mary was home from school because, “we loved her more” and just “wanted to spend time with her.” Carl was convinced that he was missing out on a great party we were all having without him.

The thing is that Carl cannot see beyond his own fear. He confuses his wants with his needs. He feels like he NEEDS time to play outside with me, no matter what is going on. If his sister is getting attention then he NEEDS to be there in order to ensure she is not taking up all of the love and attention that is supposed to be his. He believes this. He is afraid we will stop loving him. I am afraid my back will never recover after 5 hours of sitting on a tile floor.

So here we are. This is just one of the many times we will weather the storm of Carl’s trauma. It isn’t rational, it doesn’t come at the opportune times, but it is there nonetheless. Yes, we can give him extra attention. Of course we will try to show him how much he is loved and valued and treasured by us. We will delight in what he does and love him. Families have to bend, though. On this day and many more to come, our family had to bend in order to take care of it’s members.

I cannot erase his past trauma. What I can do is just continue to be there even when his sister seems to be “winning” in the attention department. Even when I’m tired and depleted and I’m pretty sure my backside has a permanent tile imprint on it. I’m still here for Carl. I hope someday he knows that. Until then? May the odds be ever in his favor!

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

 

 

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adoption, family

Friend or Foe?: Sibling Relationships After Adoption

siblings

She’d just as soon stab me in the back as smile in my face. Who could blame her? I’m the mom enjoying the kids she raised in their early years, despite being a child herself. Her relationship with us has been tumultuous at best and downright preditory at its worst. For the purpose of this blog, I will call her M.

She is one of their older biological sisters. She has a child of her own and is on an “independent living track” in DCF care. M was never adopted. She is 19 years old, with a 4-year old son. We have pictures of her, from her Facebook page, that we added to the children’s lifebooks. She has my children’s beautiful eyes.

When the biological mother lost parental rights to our kids, the older siblings lost by proxy. How could this possibly be fair to a sibling group of 7 children? The two adult sisters, who attempted to raise our little chickens through chaos and strife, have lost so much. To lose their siblings because of their mother’s mistakes as well? They already lost their own childhoods to that. It’s beyond imagining.

These waters are very murky for adoptive parents to navigate. How can we honor and maintain these connections? To complicate matters further, DCF had not been maintaining visits between the siblings in the group. At all. In fact, the older girls were not even aware that their siblings had been placed in a pre-adoptive home out of state. By the time my husband and I entered the picture, damage had been done.

Our kids were home for 6 months before we were even able to make contact. We asked the social workers for a visit. We asked them for a phone number. Our requests went unanswered. The department was hesitant about the oldest sister, K, for various safety reasons. We pointed out that M was a teenager. She was still in the care of DCF. She, at least, should have visits. The department maintained that visits were required for biological parents only. Since those visits were long gone, we were stuck.

I messaged both sisters on Facebook. I offered to provide pictures. I left a phone number. I heard nothing. During this time, the biological mother had her seventh baby. The child was born with drugs in her system. We stayed out of this case, as it was separate from that of our children. We hoped she was on the track to reunify with the infant. We kept a respectful distance.

We waited to hear from M or K. They were in contact with Marcus and Sean (we think) during this time, so I hoped they knew their siblings were safe and loved. Eventually, the reunification between the baby and the bio-mom failed. After about 6 weeks with the infant, her mother, for whatever reason, gave her to the previous foster home and left to Puerto Rico. She had been in contact with the older girls while she had the baby, so in essence, she left 3 daughters behind. That’s when we heard from M.

I was eager to re-establish the lost sibling connection. I felt guilty that it had been almost a year since the siblings had seen each other. I felt guilty that DCF had not maintained these important connections. By that time, the siblings had been estranged for nearly a year. I spoke to M on the phone and I was so encouraged by the conversation. Maybe I was too eager. Maybe I was naive. I scheduled a visit.

I loaded up the car with 6 kids and drove out of state. We met met M, her child, and her girlfriend, at a science center in her city. I bought everyone tickets and souvenirs. We looked at animals and played in fun exhibits. M spent most of her time talking to Sean and her girlfriend in a corner. I ran around and played in the toddler area with her son and my Littles.

At the end of the trip, she (jokingly?) told the Littles to get into her car. She motioned to the front seat, saying, “quick. Get in, no one’s looking!” They ran back to me, and Carl was laughing. Mary was not. Mary was hesitant to speak to M. She had massive tantrums on the way home, but we stopped frequently and helped her through the long drive home.

I honestly had no idea what was coming after that. I believe that M is a good person and is trying her best. She is grieving the loss of her siblings. While I was sending her pictures from the trip, and planning the next visit, she was talking to the social workers. Apparently she made claims that my husband and I locked the children in the basement for lengths of time. I have no idea why she would think or say this except that it did happen in their bio home. At any rate, no one took her seriously and we didn’t hear anything more about that.

Soon after this, communication with M became toxic. She encouraged Sean to run away. She talked about ways for Sean to get the Littles to her. She might have told him to hide Mary’s psychiatric medication because she didn’t believe that Mary was “crazy.” Poor M claimed that she had “heard voices” telling her to do things all through high school and that she was “just fine without all that therapy and medication.” Poor girl. It’s possible that Sean fabricated some of this, as he so often did. It’s equally possible that he fabricated stories about us to her. Who knows? My heart went out to her but I also felt the need to protect our family.

She tried to stop the adoption in any way she could. She sent me texts swearing at me and threatening me. Eventually I told her that I was willing to send pictures of the kids, but we should not communicate any further. The social worker asked us to stop attempting visits with her and we agreed.

The Littles didn’t notice her absence, but I did. I felt for this teenager who had never been adopted. Her mother had left her many times. Her siblings had left her. Even when she started speaking to them again they had been full of happy stories about their new “mommy” and “daddy.” That must have been awful for her.

After a time, she contacted me to apologize. I sent her pictures and videos right away.  We had a good conversation about boundaries. She gave us information and little stories about our children’s early childhoods. We will forever cherish these and share them with our children. M actually sent baby pictures to us so that the children could see themselves as babies. She also sent us her own baby pictures. I think she needed someone to tell her how cute and precious she had been. She wanted someone to cherish her baby pictures as well.

She was the only one who gave our kids this invaluable link to their past. For this, I am forever grateful.

I continued to send pictures and updates. I set up a few phone calls. I think the calls were awkward because Mary didn’t want to talk and Carl went on and on about all of the cool things he did with “his dad” and “his mom.” We started discussing another visit. And then things fell apart with Marcus and Sean.

We never heard from M again. The last update I sent was a picture of the Littles in front of the Christmas tree. She never responded. Since then, Sean ran away from his new foster home, presumably to follow the plans they had made.

I never could figure out how to allow her to be in the children’s lives in a way that was separate from her feelings about us as parents. I never could find a way to make her feel included. Friend or for? She was never truly a friend to the family. How could she be? She was never a foe, either, because how could we ever blame her? She was just a girl. A girl that got left behind in all the DCF shuffle.

I wish her well. We must proceed cautiously with her, should she ever contact us again. How do we keep that connection alive? How do we honor it? I don’t know but I am trying to learn.
*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

**If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure.

 

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adoption, family

Smiling at My Daughter’s Tears: Adventures in Overcoming PTSD Symptoms

cheer

This is the first time I am happy to see her cry. In fact, I’m overjoyed. Our little girl has buried her face in my sweater and she is sobbing. I’m crying, too, but I am mostly excited for her.

A year and a half ago, Luke and I were blessed to bring Mary and her siblings home. At the time she was just 7 years old. She was described in her pre-adoption paperwork as “selectively mute” outside of her foster home. In public, she would cling to her older brother, look at her shoes, and flinch away from others.

She wouldn’t speak to her first grade teacher when she was in foster care. She didn’t participate in any groups, teams, or activities outside of the home. This was mostly due to her trauma. She was scared. She was intent on staying “safe,” which is all part of her PTSD.

When we brought Mary home, she was adamant that she would never join a team. She didn’t want to take dance or try sports. She claimed she “needed to be home with Mama.” Carl was the opposite, he jumped right in to every sport he could. None of the children had the chance to participate in any sports or activities while in foster care. They didn’t have this opportunity in their bio home, either. The parts of my childhood that I took for granted were completely foreign to our little chickens.

For awhile, Mary simply had therapy as her extra curricular activity. We tried to take her to basketball, but took one look at a loud room full of men and boys, and screamed and cried for her daddy to “protect her.” This kind of crying was the kind we were used to. It was fear and anxiety and downright terror at anything she perceived as threatening. This was her PTSD telling her that she wasn’t safe yet. This season, she joined the cheer-leading  squad, in order to cheer for Carl’s football team.

Today is the day that she did a perfect cartwheel, in front of a crowd. Mary didn’t have the type of early childhood filled with cartwheels and skipping and jump rope. These things are all new to her. She spent weeks learning to cartwheel with Luke in the backyard. Today is the day she did it! In front of a huge crowd!

The best part for me, was that my mom was there. She lives far away and she flew in to spend time with us. We all need our moms, no matter how old we are! My mom has had the opportunity to see our kids grow and blossom over time. I think every time she comes she is able to see huge improvements. Since Luke and I are here every day, we have to remind ourselves to look back at how far we have come as a family. Our little chickens are healing.

Today, Mary is a completely different child. She is so brave. Today, our little Mary just won her first medal at a cheer-leading competition. She is crying tears of joy because she never won anything before. Ever. I’ve never see her cry tears of joy before. Ever.

Luke and I won, though. We won big time when we got to be her parents. We have been winning every day we are blessed to hear her call us “mom” and “dad”. No matter what has happened with the teens, or what we have been through, we have this. We have her first medal hanging in our house. It’s a third place win, and she was so happy that she sobbed after winning it. At the end of the day, we must be doing something right.

 

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

If you have ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure today!

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family, marriage, parenting

Choosing Forever: Adventures in Marriage and Adoption

Wedding_rings

Here is your forever home. Here are your forever parents. Here is your forever family. In the world of foster care and adoption we toss around the word “forever” a lot. We use it liberally and sprinkle it in to the interactions we have with the children we are adopting. But what does this concept mean to our children? 

I wonder if many of us have stopped to consider our own personal paths to our “forever?” I know one thing for sure. I know that Luke is my “forever.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever home.” Wherever he is, there is my “forever family.” I have known this from almost the first week we started dating 8 years ago.

But how did we get there? There certainly wasn’t a social worker assigning us to be a match. We both chose to walk the path of “forever” on our own. I had the advantage of a preconceived notion, a schema, a background upon which I based my beliefs about marriage. In the world I grew up in, such things are possible. 

Luke and I were friends before we started dating. We had known each other for about a year before I asked him to run away with me. That’s right, I asked him to run away with me. During the time of our friendship, I’d always had a crush on him. We were both in other relationships and so we remained friends and nothing more.

After my relationship ended, I figured it was now or never. If I didn’t take the leap, I knew I’d end up regretting it or the rest of my life. So I called Luke and asked him to run away with me. He compromised and offered to take me on a date. We went out the very next night, and the next, and the next. We’ve never been apart since.  A year to the day after our first date, we were married. We just knew. 

Fast forward to 9 years later and I realize that the reason I so firmly believe in happily ever after is because I have mine. He is right by my side where he belongs. And so, my schema starts. I have lived with the certainty and the joy of his love. We are family by choice, but I never question that we are truly one family. Luke is a sure thing, my forever.

When I try to view this from my children’s schema I simply can’t. The past has already taught them that love can be hurtful and scary and not to be counted on. We are their family by choice but they didn’t choose us. Not really. If anything, it seems to me that adoptive parents have many more choices than adopted children. How can I expect them to love us back with reciprocity? I can’t.  That is a whole new foreign language for them. 

They are thrust into a situation they can’t comprehend.  To me, family is forever. It has always been that way. To them, family is temporary at best. We must shift their entire thinking.

The foundation of our family is the marriage Luke and I have. My love for my husband reminds me that I am worthy of being loved. His kisses, his hand in the small of my back, his gentle words, tell me that I am not alone on this journey. No matter how rough the road is I am comforted by him. I find joy in him. No matter how others feel about me, I am able to bask in the image he holds of me (albeit, I admit, he has a rather inflated view of me!)

We need to nurture and treasure this connection. We need to be reminded of how reciprocal relationships work. We need to show our children that fairy tales ain’t got nothin’ on this family!

I can give unconditional love to our little chickens, but for now I will have to receive unconditional love only from my husband. What more could I possibly expect of them after such a relatively short time in a healthy family? 

I can only hope that one day our children will learn to love and be loved the way Luke and I do. I hope we can re-teach them the meaning of “forever.” But until that time? I can see why they wouldn’t believe. I can see why choosing this family may not always seem so permanent. That’s OK for now. Luke and I have enough faith to go around.

** Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 
**If you’ve ever considered foster care or adoption, I encourage you to start your own adventure! 

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adoption, family, fostercare, parenting

We Like Big Butts!: Adventures in Healing for Our Family

littlesfair

Does it get better? Will there be mornings when I stop calling for Sean not to miss his bus? Maybe a morning where I remember he is gone before I start checking that he is ready for school?

This weekend Luke and I took our Littles to the “Big E” along with Seth and Catlyn. We went on rides and played games and ate impossibly unhealthy foods. We laughed and the children caught bead necklaces when the parade went by. We stuffed ourselves full of Kettle corn and zoomed down a slide twice as tall as our house!

Luke grinned and belly laughed with me and kissed me with abandon. Our kids squealed, “Ewww! Gross!” as children are supposed to do.

In short, we had fun.

We did pass by certain rides or food booths that brought up memories from last year. That is when I thought of Sean and I missed him. We saw things Marcus would love and I missed him, too. I wonder of they look back and think about all of the fun we’ve had as a family? Do they miss us as well?

At the same time, we saw our Littles relax and bond. Carl held Mary’s hand to make sure she wouldn’t be afraid. When they went on the little roller coaster together, she got so scared that she screamed for me the  entire ride. The whole time Carl held her hand and told her she wouldn’t die and that he was there and he loves her. That story is beautiful to me. It reinforces that siblings belong together. It lets me know that they are healing.

Yfootballcfootball

The next day was their football game. Luke and I were sure to change our Little’s names on the roster so they would be announced with our family last name over the loudspeakers. After the game Carl was so proud that they announced his name during his many, many tackles. Mary said, “Yeah, they knew who I was, too!” She also commented that while she was cheer leading, she saw me jumping up and down shouting, “That’s my son!” to strangers.

Despite all of the turmoil, I think they are beginning to feel secure. I suspect they are attaching. During in-home therapy the littles were asked if they had any questions as to why Sean and Marcus aren’t living with us. Carl asked, “Why were they so mean?” I did my best to explain that Sean and Marcus were scared to get close to a mom and dad because they had been hurt so much before by a mom and dad. I said they were trying to do things that would push us away so we wouldn’t love them anymore. Carl looked incredulous. “Well it didn’t work!” he exclaimed.

As for Mary? She had a question about the family, too. She asked, “Mommy? Why does Daddy like big butts so much? ‘Cause he Really likes yours!!!” And if THAT is the most pressing question about our family? Well then, I guess we are doing alright! Although maybe Luke should lay off singing Sir Mix-A-Lot to me….but this Mommy’s got back and she cannot lie!!

yarypigs

**Names have been hanged to protect the privacy of those involved.
If you’ve ever thought about fostering or adopting, I encourage you to start your adventure!

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