adoption, family

The Finish Line

He ours! He’s ours! He is finally our son OFFICIALLY! We made it. We finally made it to adoption.

It took us four years. Four long years. Four years ago we met a 16-year-old that was labeled as “troubled teen.” 3 years since the first time he asked to be adopted. 2-and-a-half years since he walked out and then walked back in again. 2 years since he walked out for good, before we could finalize that adoption. 1 year since he started coming back for weekend visits.

The night before the adoption I was still wondering if he would go through with it. 6 months was the closest we had ever gotten to finalization in the past. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be overjoyed. But instead I was apprehensive. Would he back out? Would he have second thoughts?

It wasn’t until the judge pronounced us a family that I breathed a sigh of relief. That’s when the joy hit. I am not at all embarrassed to admit that I cried the whole time. He has our last name. It cannot be a happy ending because our story isn’t over. He may still pull back at times. But we have made it this far. Whatever happens after this, he has our name.

Our newest “baby” is 20. We finally made it to the finish line. He’s ours

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

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adoption, family

While She is Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

My Son is Not Your “Mexican Taco”


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

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

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

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

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

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

Me: ……?!?!

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

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

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

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

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

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

VP: No

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I. Have. No. Words.

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

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

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

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adoption, family

Dear Teacher…


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

The Talented and Amazing Carl !

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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adoption, family

Cocaine Donut Mom

cooking.Y

I wanted to be the homemade chocolate chip cookie mom. Before the children were placed with us I practiced. I tried all different recipes. I used different ingredients. Organic flour, cake flour, semi-sweet chocolate chips and dark chocolate chips.

I practiced making cookies from scratch like it was my job. Then I brought batches of cookies to my actual job. I let everyone weigh in on the best kind. You see, I believed that having perfect homemade cookie skills was essential to being a good mom.

I wanted to be a cookie-ninja mom. I wanted to welcome my kids home with the smell of fresh cookies baking in the oven. I wanted to mix dough with my children and teach them to measure ingredients. We would wile away the long New England winters in our cozy kitchen, just baking away. Chocolate chip cookies. The ultimate comfort food. I wanted to be THAT mom.

How naive was that? I held on to that cookie dream until the kids came home. Acquiring three/sometimes four children at once is a bit like getting hit by a truck. Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time. She and Sean both woke up screaming from nightmares all night long. Carl raged whenever I was out of his sight. He would scream and throw his food at me during every single dinner. The dinnertime meltdowns cost me many-a-meal. I lost close to 20 pounds in those first months! Carl would hoard croutons in his room to eat later. “I want my REAL mom to make me food,” he’d say.

I never slept. On the off night the house was quiet I would jolt awake terrified something had happened to the kids. I was so used to their nightmares I didn’t know how to sleep without them. Going to the bathroom started meltdowns galore. I couldn’t even pee, let alone utilize my cookie ninja skills.

At some point I gave up. It was a Saturday morning and I was dragging my weary carcass around on autopilot. We must have been out of coffee. With dark circles under my eyes, I shuffled the children into the nearest Dunkin Donuts. I figured everyone could have a donut. It wasn’t homemade comfort food, but it was something.

And then I did the bad thing. I ordered a powdered jelly donut. Gasp. Somewhere a trauma-trigger alarm sounded, unbeknownst to me. Carl looked askance at me and bellowed, “Don’t do it, mom! Don’t eat the cocaine donut! Cocaine makes you crazy!!!”

Record. Scratch. I blinked a few times. Then I glanced around at the shocked patrons all staring at me. I looked down at my disheveled clothes hanging loosely from my skeletal frame. I did indeed look the part. Cocaine Donut Mom. So I ordered a different donut.

And right then and there I gave up the dream. I gave up the fantasy. No, I wasn’t the cookie ninja mom. This definitely was not the parenting journey I expected. It didn’t matter what the white-haired ladies at the corner table thought about me. It mattered to me that Carl felt safe. Thus began my foray into chocolate glazed donuts. Which, by the way, I got to actually eat without anything being thrown at me.

Sitting in the coffee shop, eating my donut in uninterrupted bliss, I found my comfort food. Maybe we didn’t spend hours happily baking together as a family. But we did get eat our donuts (in their entirety!) without a single meltdown. It was something. It was a start. Being the Cocaine Donut Mom wasn’t the worst thing, after all.

Over the years we finally joined together on several family baking endeavors. Some were great, like our Christmas cookies. Some were a blackened mess of would-be snickerdoodles that stuck to the cookie sheet. I never again made the perfect chocolate chip cookie. But we made memories.

Yes, this is a different kind of parenting. It’s different from the path I thought adoption would lead us down. Accepting an alternative parenting journey has made all the difference. Plus, I have great stories to tell, like the time I was a cocaine donut mom!


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

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PTSD

All the Pretty Stars: My Trauma

door

My heart is pounding so fast I think it will explode. My head is throbbing and I’m seeing black spots at the edge of my vision. Rage. I am feeling pure unadulterated rage. As if from somewhere outside my body, I hear my own voice screaming, “F*CK YOU!!! You will NEVER EVER touch me! No more destroying property. Don’t you dare make a fist at dad. You are an ANIMAL Only an animal hits people and attacks them. It’s OVER!!! NEVER AGAIN, DO YOU HEAR ME?!?!

My son is inches from my face, screaming at me, and I’m clutching his shoulders screaming at him. Yeah, not at all productive.

“You’re choking me!” he yells, “You said you’d never hit me no matter what! You LIED.”

I’m not choking him or hitting him. What I am doing is scaring him. This is something unprecedented. I have never done this before. I’m screaming back.

“You think you can hurt ME a grown adult?! You want to scream and yell and try to scare me?! How do you like it?! I deal with this all the f*cking time!” These words are coming out of my mouth.

His words are hurtful (they always are when he rages) and now so are mine. The out-of-body me is shocked and horrified that I am screaming in my son’s face. I can barely breathe for all the pent up fury I am spewing out.

“Do you think it’s OK to hit me because I’m nice and I don’t hurt you? Do you think you can KEEP GOD***N HITTING ME?!?!? F*CK YOU!!!!!THIS IS OVER!!!! I WILL NOT LIVE LIKE THIS!!! You are NOT stronger! You will NEVER F*cking touch me EVER again. You think it feels good to hit people? Too bad! NO MORE! Normal people don’t act like this. I am DONE.”

As if to punctuate my statement I angle myself to lean my weight on something while I take a swing at the door. With my cane. There is a loud crack and a hole appears in the door.  In the 4 years we’ve had our children they have attacked the doors many, many times. The bedroom doors have never broken.

All the closet doors were ripped off years ago. The children have punctured the walls and ripped apart the furniture. They have broken windows, and most of our screens are missing. This house has been under child attack for quite some time. Our bedroom and hallway closets hang on by a rickety rigging system. But the bedroom doors? They bend under assault but they have never, ever broken. Until now.

In that instant I can see that I am broken, too. I shuffle into my room with my cane and shut the door. He wasn’t actually trying to hit me. Carl was trying to punch dad. He didn’t actually come for me he was just screaming obscenities. I gasp for breath and curl up in a ball on the floor.

I don’t want to be the strongest. I don’t want to be the loudest. And I don’t want to try and be a better mom to the very people that want me dead. My 11-year-old son is shouting that he will leave and find another mom. He will never come home from school. A few weeks ago our daughter planned to kill us.

I don’t even care. I just curl up and try to breathe. I am still seeing stars. I don’t even recognize myself anymore. Even Luke is a bit fearful to approach me. He eventually gets Carl into bed and offers a quiet, “You ok?” along with an ice water. I cannot answer because I cannot breathe. All three of us are shocked. Mom never loses it.

I recently started EMDR therapy for myself. It’s supposed to be very effective but its bringing up a lot of triggers in the process. I understand triggers now. I can see it from Carl and Mary’s perspective, at least a bit. I startle when people talk loudly. I hate being touched unawares. I can’t even have the kitties snuggle me for long. Sleep is ever-elusive and my hair has started falling out in clumps. I see my doctor immediately after the incident, and she prescribes Ativan to help me through the panic attacks. She encourages me to continue EMDR.

I am like the bedroom door. I’ve bent for years, accommodating the trauma of my children. Parenting therapeutically. Writing safety plans. Downplaying holidays like Christmas and Mother’s day. Being hypervigilant to signs that they are hungry, having a sensory need, or simply tired. Bobbing and parrying and darting out of the line of attack. I have de-escalated more tantrums in my lifetime than I care to count. And I’ve always named the feeling. Practiced the do-overs. Practiced rephrasing messages. I’ve done it all. There have been improvements over the years. I think Carl is better, even if he can’t always control his rage. I don’t blame him. Apparently neither can I.

Now I have my own trauma. I have trauma that my children inflicted on me because they once experienced it. Mary is getting treatment in RTC now, but I still sleep with the deadbolt locked. It’s not because of some mysterious childhood trauma that’s come up. No, it’s the fact that every rage one of them goes into reminds me of all the years worth of rages. Sort of like Chinese water torture. It doesn’t matter that I’m not being physically hurt anymore. I remember being hurt. Drip, drip, drip. Every insult or obscenity reminds me of another, older one. Drip, drip, drip.

My neurosurgeon tells me I will likely  never be “asymptomatic” again. My ongoing work injury is just another part of the torture. Drip, drip, drip. We will have to wait until a year after surgery to know if the nerve damage is permanent. He avoids my eyes when I ask about the use of my right leg. He won’t answer me if I will ever drive again or walk without a cane. All he says is that we have to wait. Who am I? Who have I become?

When I later sit down with Carl I sincerely and thoroughly apologize. I explain to him that it’s never OK for me to grab him. I should never scream at him especially close to his face. That behavior is verbal abuse, and from now on Daddy will handle the upsetting situations while mom works hard in therapy. And also, I’m really really glad he didn’t just punch me when we were that close. That would have ended differently even a year ago. He was able to maintain more control than I was.

Carl says he thinks I am very strong and has decided not to throw things at me and smash them in my presence. He is sorry he ever hit me (even though its been a long while since) and he hugs me. To him screaming is nothing. It scared him because his typically-quiet mom screamed, but that’s about it. He moves on.

I cannot move on. I cannot be the broken door anymore. I need to live life as mom, not a hostage. Or a monster. So a few days later, I sneak into Carl’s room and gently wake him. I tell him to put on his shoes. His grin is instantaneous. “Where are we going? Is it a surprise?” It is.

This day happens to be summer solstice. My son and I creep outside to watch the sunset at 9:30 PM. We look for fireflies in the forest while waiting for the night stars to appear. This moment is just for us, just mom and kid time. Eventually, the longest day of the year is over. The sky is full black and filled with a sense of magic. I snuggle up with my boy and finally we count all the stars.

 

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

 

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adoption

Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

c.boardgame

Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!

 

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

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