adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



adoption, family

Recovery: Adventures in Healing from Trauma

Maybe I needed this to happen. I think I needed a major back injury to put things into perspective. I am about 4 weeks post-op from spinal surgery. The more I move around, the more my back hurts. On the plus side, I can now walk and I can feel my right foot again. I was hoping that I would be magically cured by now and back to normal activity. I’m not. I’m still in pain but I am leaps and bounds from where I started.

This seems like the perfect analogy for my childrens’ trauma. Despite all of the hard work and therapy we put in, it is still there. Their trauma responses and attachment are leaps and bounds better from where they started. However, the fear they have is still there. It’s a long process and we are still working on it.

This summer Mary has reverted back a bit in terms of separation anxiety. Mary wants to be with me every second of every day. She hugs me until I cannot breathe. She watches me intently as I eat a sandwich or enjoy a cup of coffee. She proclaims “Oh, Mommy! You’re here!” at least 5 times per day. When I come out of the bathroom and open the door, she falls in because she has been pressed up against it on the other side. Mary cannot get enough of mommy-time. Each morning she exclaims, “I missed you all night! I’m so glad you’re here!”

She has been waking up in the night again. She is having some difficulty separating from us at bedtime. She says, “I just feel like I don’t get any time with you. I want a mommy and girl day where I can love you all day!”

All of her attention is very sweet. She really loves me. A lot. To the point of suffocation. Don’t get me wrong, I am truly grateful and happy to be loved by such an awesome little chicken. I really lucked out as a mom. It’s just that I’d like to be able to carry a conversation with someone else once and awhile. It would be nice to pee in private without someone listening intently on the other side of the door!

She mentioned in therapy last night that she is afraid I will die. (Did I mention that her therapist is back from maternity leave? She came back! Thank goodness!!) Mary has even thought about how I will die. She has imagined or dreamed that:

  1. One of her biological mother’s boyfriends will find us and beat me to death.
  2. I will be in a car accident.
  3. I will get shot.
  4. I will have a heart attack.

Mary told the therapist that she worried her biological parents would find us. She imagined them flying around in a plane and seeing us playing outside. She felt worried and anxious and afraid.

Mary has been working on the difference between thoughts, feelings, and actions. Her therapist helped her tease out the difference between her worries and real-life logic. This is so hard for children with significant trauma history. Mary has a world-view that moms leave or get taken away. Because she thinks I am a “good mom,” and an “appropriate mom,” she knows I won’t leave her. So now she worries that it will happen some other way.

Through all of the healing these kids have done, they still have the underlying fear that all of this could be taken from them. They fear that the trauma of their past may come and reclaim them. It’s getting better, but it’s a long process.

As I got down on the floor today to do my stretches and back exercises, Mary got right down with me. Like a mirror image, she copied me move for move. Together we stretched our back muscles and exercised our core. It’s a long process. The road to recovery isn’t easy but we are getting there. Together.


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


**If you’ve ever considered foster or adoptive care, I encourage you to get started on your own adventure.



adoption, family

Seasons of Trauma

The steady “swish” of the washing machine reminds me that life is cyclical. The seasons change. The sporting events change. Right now we are in Lacrosse season, with both of the Littles playing, and Luke coaching. We also are on the merry-go-round of therapy. Our kids will be stable for a time and then, inevitably, one or the other is in crisis mode and we cycle back in. Right now we are in the season of Carl’s crisis. This is the never-ending circle of parenting children with trauma.

Little Carl is in a partial hospitalization placement right now. They pick him up early from school. He spends 4 hours a day, every weekday, at the center. They have group therapy, art therapy, and individual sessions. They drop him off at 6:30 every night. He is in an intensive placement, but it is still one step down from hospitalization. We get to tuck Carl in each night and have him at home on the weekends. From here, he will drop down into “intensive outpatient” therapy, which will only last for 3 hours a day. He will do this 5 days a week, then 3, then 2 until he is discharged. Then back to TF-CBT again with his normal therapist.

Watching the same clothes swirl around and around again in the washer makes me pause and think. Carl was in crisis last spring. When the days got warm, he became very intense and dis-regulated. He was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit towards the end of the school year. We know that every year, around Christmas, Mary goes into crisis mode. Sean used to blow at the start of the school year and again at Thanksgiving.

Curiosity about the Spring got the better of me. Why Spring? Yes, Carl is in the thick of his trauma work in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. He was stuck in a place where he was able to vocalize all of the truly bad things he suffered at the hands of his biological parents. He just kept insisting that all of the things they did were his own fault somehow. Then, his therapist went on maternity leave. He is very dependent on her. We could see that this would trigger him. But still…the Springtime…it held onto me.

I went back into the files we have from the Department of Children and Families. There it was, staring back at me. May 4th. The day of the drug raid in his bio-home when he and his siblings were separated from their family. Bingo. It may not be much, but it gives me a clue as to why his behavior turns when the weather changes. It explains why he is more and more nervous that I may be “drinking” or “passed out” in my room. Trust me, the only thing I’m drinking is copious amounts of coffee. It has the opposite effect of helping me “pass out!”

There isn’t anything I can do about Spring. It will come every year. It’s not an excuse to be unsafe. I can only hope that, with continued love and therapy, he will heal. Understanding the fears he displays as anger is helpful for me. It helps me to sympathize. It helps me to see the sweet boy underneath all the layers of hurt and rage.

Seasons may come and go, but this forever family will always be just that; forever.


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