family

Hurricane Season

The first sign of bad weather for me is always a dull ache deep down in my bones. My hips creak in complaint when I walk. My lower back joins in with its own throbbing beat. The resounding echo within my body repeats to me, “A storm is coming. A storm is coming.”

Before a rain storm cool winds will often whip through the landscape bringing blessed relief from the hot summer sun. This time, however, the air was thick like a viscous soup. The breeze felt unnatural and wrong somehow. Isaias began with air so full it was pregnant with the promise of destruction.

Destruction is what we got. Tropical storm Isaias swept through our state leaving downed power lines and fallen trees in its wake. We lost power for five days. Luckily, a generator allowed us to run essential power and we could go to my parents’ for a hot meal. This wasn’t nearly as destructive as the first storm of the season.

That’s because right before Isaias we hit Storm Marcus

I’d say we made it through relatively unscathed. At least we were safe and together. That is, Luke, Carl, Mary and I made it through together. Marcus isn’t here anymore.

It began with a few comments here or there. A few lightning flashes of anger over the COVID-19 restrictions. I could see my oldest son growing ever-increasingly restless. Marcus pushed back against our safety precautions a few times. He wanted to attend a July 4th party in another state in the city where he used to live. He wanted to see his friends. He didn’t want to have to wear a mask. Clearly, hurricane season was upon us.

Luke tried in vain to reason with Marcus. As a transplant recipient Luke is extremely vulnerable to diseases and sickness of any kind. He’ll always be high-risk because he’ll likely have to take immunity-suppressant medications forever. Marcus understands this logically but…logic never dictates his behavior.

When it’s time for Marcus to go, it’s time for him to go. He becomes restless and needs to move on. His cycle is ever and always push-then-pull, in-then-out. It did not surprise me when he began to pick petty fights or test the boundaries of our rules. His final blowout fight with Luke was over leaving to hang out in the city all day and coming back with a new car.

Of course he took off. Of course he left in his new car to go and party with his friends. Marcus may understand logically the risks of going into a place with a higher infection rate. That won’t stop him from drinking and smoking with his friends at every party he can go to. It’s like trying to rationally explain to a toddler that too much candy will make them sick.

I understand that he needed to fight with us in order to feel justified in leaving. It’s this way every time. Marcus won’t tell us where he is staying or who he is with. As far as I can tell he is still attending classes for the hybrid model at his school. We are still paying the tuition. If all goes well he will graduate in December as a licensed electrician. I hope he sticks it out until then without sabotaging himself.

Meanwhile, we pick up the debris in our yard after the storm. Once the power was back I was able to vacuum and run the dishwasher again. 5 days was an awfully long time to rely on the generator alone. It feels comforting to sit in a clean house with lights and running water again.

For now, I am content with this. My mother has been in contact with Marcus, thankfully. They text back and forth and he knows his Nana loves him. I’m letting the matter rest. I haven’t put much effort into finding him or reaching out. He knows where we are. He’ll come when he’s ready.

Until then, even Isaias seems less dangerous than the constant risk of infection for Luke. I am not worried now that Marcus will bring the virus home to him. We are in our own bubble of safety here. It’s quiet. It’s calm. I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

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

Standard
family

The Push of Gravity

Maybe I’m not as cut out for this whole thing as I imagined. Years ago I felt like a kind of warrior, fighting against past traumas alongside my kids. These days I am battling my own trauma and trying to make it through as best as I can.

It isn’t as if things are terribly bad or difficult right now. They’re not. At least, not in the way they used to be. Violent meltdowns where I’d get punched, kicked, bitten and shoved down the stairs are long since over. It’s more that traces of those memories hang in the air like so much extra gravity pressing me into the ground. Still, I trudge through each day wondering when this job will get easier.

Luke has been sick. Very, very sick. Some of the awful effects of kidney disease include problems with short term memory. I thought it would be nice having one parent home full time. It seemed like certain things would easy to hand off to the other person. It’s not this way at all.

Prescriptions for Carl’s asthma are never picked up. I’m afraid doctor’s appointments will be missed. Dinner is a bewildering mystery every single night until I get home to solve it all. How do single parents manage this?

Everyone needs something. Carl’s principal calls me throughout the workday to discuss Carl’s bus behavior. I finally got a new in-home clinician for Mary. She’s pretty good. Unfortunately, we also had to swap out the therapeutic mentor. Both clinicians are good but the service contract expires in March. I push to have the kidney transplant take place while Mary still can access these services. I am begging the transplant center to move more quickly.

Because of medication, Mary also needs monthly blood work. Because of kidney disease, so does Luke. Despite a highlighted calendar at home, Luke always forgets until the last day. Then the doctor calls me at work to make sure it all gets done.

My job frowns on personal calls during work hours. You think there’d be a break at lunchtime or during prep period but this is always eaten up with an endless string of mandatory meetings. I love my students but classroom teaching is not my thing. State testing and random new initiatives amount to more work for us and zero gain for students. My last faculty meeting had our principal lecturing us about not leaving the class in the hands of a teacher’s aide to use the bathroom. Apparently only a certified teacher can cover bathroom breaks and there isn’t an extra one so….no bathroom breaks. The abundantly pregnant teacher next to me left that meeting in tears.

After work I rush home to use the bathroom. Before I can do that I have to help Marcus with some math from his course that’s confusing him. Then Carl has to prove he’s begun doing school work since his video games have been taken away. He wants to argue this point every day as I dodge his words and flee to my bathroom. Mary gets home in a flurry of frenetic speech, desperate to hold my attention. Even after I escape to the bathroom I’ve got to bolt downstairs as quickly as possible to meet the clinician for family session while simultaneously shoving something in the oven for dinner.

If I am lucky I can throw in a load of laundry to wash before heading out to Carl’s basketball practice. Luke is usually nodding off on the couch. He’s just…existing. Maybe he’s somewhere else. I really want my husband back.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Murphy’s Law

Sometimes, every single thing that can go wrong will absolutely 100% go wrong. This is the turning point. It’s the beginning of the end of things, or at least this cycle.

Marcus is always in-and-out, push-then-pull, loving-then-running-from family. I’m pretty sure he’s on his way out again. At this point it seems like a matter of time before the volcano erupts, sweeping our family dynamic under mounds of smoking viscous deluge. Let me start at the beginning of this particular ending.

The weekend began with temperatures well below freezing and a snowstorm in the forecast. Luke and I awoke to a frigid morning wrapped in murky gray winter sunlight. There was no cheerful burbling noise from the radiator. We could practically see our breathe…inside the house. Our furnace was out. On a holiday weekend.

After several phone calls where cheerful operators offered to send a technician out to fix the problem AFTER the long weekend, we found someone willing to work a Saturday. At first he thought it was an easy fix, maybe a few hundred dollars. Would we like it fixed today? Yes!

Marcus borrowed the car and left with his girlfriend. Mary, Luke and I made our way to the grocery store for warmth and (as an afterthought) some groceries. Right before snowstorms, a New England market resembles a post-apocalyptic horror film. As we fought our way through panicked shoppers we got the call. The furnace fix was actually more of a replacement-situation. It would probably run over $2,000. Super.

In the parking lot of the grocery store Marcus suddenly appears in a full panic. He is shouting, pacing, and waving his arms in a frantic jerky motion. It’s hard to tell what he’s referring to or when he arrived.

“They f-ing did it, man. Some guys f-ing got me. What the hell?! Why does this sh-t happen to me?!!”

I couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell me as he interspersed his rant with spurts of anger against bystanders. In the grocery store parking lot, patrons driving or walking by were met with Marcus yelling and charging at them.

“What the F–K are YOU LOOKING AT?! I bet you’re f–ing in on it. You like this, A–HOLE?!?!!”

I wedged mysef between the raging Marcus and the bewildered bystanders. Eventually he ushered me over to our SUV and showed me a completely shattered rear glass panel. A disjointed story followed peppered with expletives and semi-delusional statements of paranoia.

It seems some sort of road rage incident ended with 2 men in a pickup truck cutting Marcus off, getting out and smashing one of the SUV windows. Marcus is so full of panic and rage that he’s convinced someone from his ex-girlfriend’s past has hunted him down in our state. Also the local shoppers may be in on it.

He is yelling at me, yelling at passerby, and completely out-of-control raging. Mary begins to sob, both kids are shaking and glass bits continues to fall out of the window as the winter wind blows. Marcus is enraged that he moved out of the city to get away from being jumped and it’s happened in our sleepy town. He is not safe anywhere.

Once we are home I wisely give him an Ativan before the police come to take his statement. There’s nothing they can do except go back to the area to see if the pickup truck returns. Marcus, however, can’t hear this. Even after the officer leaves, Marcus gets progressively drunk on corona and collects a skin cell from the smashed window with my tweezers. He places this in a ziplock bag CSI style, convinced he’s cracked the case.

I try in vain to explain to Marcus that this kind of forensic evidence is too costly and won’t be pursued. He won’t hear me. He is raging and yelling about how he plans to escape the “next time” someone tries to tie him up. He has plans about being stabbed and beaten as well.

At this point it’s been close to 4 hours since the incident. I’ve had a hot shower, the heat is on and everyone is home safe. But Marcus is ranting and yelling and has not stopped for even 5 minutes. He’s calling friends from the city to back him up. He’s threatening to cut off fingers, steal a car, and commit various and sundry crimes to any and all that are “after him.”

This rage lasts a whopping 48 hours. He stays up all night. The next day at 1:30pm he wakes up screaming at his siblings to be quiet because no one should be making noise in the house. Because he is in an irrational place he focuses his anger on Carl. He is mad about things that aren’t actually even happening.

Luke and I keep them apart and contain Marcus as best we can. We do not allow Marcus to drive in this state. Carl is afraid of him and sleeps in the living room. Meanwhile Marcus locks Carl out of the bedroom without his shoes.

By the 3rd day Marcus is calm but depressed. He wants a job. His siblings are spoiled. He can’t understand why I haven’t written him a resume yet (?!) or why we ask him to be quiet in the middle of the night, yet we make noise in the daytime. He’s frustrated he doesn’t have his own room. He wants his own car. According to Marcus he is over the incident and it never bothered him in the first place.

Today Luke is having a talk with him. The truth is that once Marcus’ trauma is triggered he cannot think clearly at all. He can’t hear anything we say. He has little to no concept that he’s just raged out of control for 2 days. He is unaware that his actions affected others. He doesn’t remember most of it.

However, our heat is fixed. The snowstorm is past. Now it’s time for all of us to dig out and keep going. Hopefully, Marcus will stay. However, I see the signs of an awakening volcano in our forecast.

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

Standard
adoption, family

New Beginnings

Sparkling white snow blankets our yard like the heaviest of down comforters. Close to 10 inches of fluffy white has the effect of muffling all sound outside. For once, the forest is silent and still. I could scream and shout but my noise would be swallowed up in winter’s thick insulation. I have always believed that snowflakes start the world anew.

In typical New England fashion the pristine powder will eventually turn brown and grey from cars traveling by. What was once beautiful will become a dirty, muddied slush from use. However, none of that is visible now. I cannot see mud or dirt underneath the powdery blanket. For now, all I can see is the sparkle of a pure white expanse. All is beautiful. All is calm.

Inside my house the fireplace crackles and Christmas lights twinkle. I wrap both of my hands tightly around a steaming cup of peppermint mocha coffee. Meanwhile, Marcus struggles into his uniform shirt for school. I am inexplicably moved to tears. School! My oldest son has started college. Could I have even imagined this six years ago?

I hastily blink away the moisture while he is busy determining how to get his cast through the right sleeve. Marcus broke his wrist punching his bag that we keep in the basement. He was mad. This is behavior I’ve become accustomed to from Marcus. He damages himself to deal with feelings.

Enrolling in a technical school to pursue his goal of becoming an electrician? This is something I wasn’t sure if he would ever do. After the incident where he was terminated from Job Corps due to an anger outburst, he seemed resigned to failure. Somehow he has managed to pick himself up and start over at a technical college. I am overwhelmed with pride that he is actually doing this.

The sound of Marcus driving off is absorbed by all of the snow. The rest of us are off on a snow day today. Alone in the quiet once more I busy myself in preparation. In the kitchen I gather up ingredients to make slime. I’ve selected an art project and a science project to do with Mary today.

This is the day we will have fun together. For the time being I will let her sleep-in while I relish the silence. Today feels full of possibility.

Staring out at the pure white expanse that has become my world, I exhale.

Today is a day for new beginnings.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Breathing in the Frost

Sharp, pointed prickles of cold gather in my throat as I lean out of my door and inhale in the early darkness. The mornings here are covered in a paper thin layer of icey white frost. New England Fall crackles with the cold white promise of winter to come. The world is dark and quiet at 4:00 am.

Startling from my nature induced revelry, I shut the door against the cold. What am I always telling the children? We aren’t paying to heat the front lawn.

I rise at this time every day to study for my Boards. I have a week left before the big test will tell me if I am certified in ABA or not. At this point all of the “solistic mand extensions” and “conditioned motivating operations” bleed together in my thoughts like a load of whites washed with one red sock. How am I going to remember all of this?

At 5:45 Carl gets up for school. Some days he screams and yells. Some days he quietly walks to the bus. I wake Mary at 6:00 so the children don’t come to blows over the bathroom. The more I glance at my note cards, the louder she becomes. The more I engage with Carl, the more desperate for my attention she becomes.

It feels as though Mary is a boa constrictor wrapped around me. When I try to make contact with anything or anyone beyond her she squeezes tighter and tighter. The more I am confined the more I must fight the panicked urge to run outside into the frost bitten morning. I imagine feeling the ice-stiffened blades of grass crackle beneath my bare feet. 6:00 am is too early for a jailbreak in New England.

Meanwhile, Marcus sleeps undisturbed by the noise, ensconced in the living room the couch. We’ve run out of places to put the children, you see. He’s boomeranged home after fighting with his bio sister and becoming homeless. Having him home means we celebrated his 22nd birthday together. How long will he stay this time?

We’ve done this routine before. Luke believes this time Marcus will stay. I think we will repeat this cycle many times until Marcus no longer feels the pressure of his own boa constrictor.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. This one has been fraught with difficulties. For now, I will reread my flash cards. I will continue to breathe in as I watch the winter descend.

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

Standard
family

Strange Days

It’s strange to me how roles are reversed. Five years ago my job was a sanctuary from my home life. The children were new to us and trauma was new to us. I looked forward to my 30 minute lunch where I could nap uninterrupted in my car. It was blissfully quiet.

Now we have Mary home for summer vacation. It all seems strangely reversed. I look forward to walking through my front door. Family evenings are spent in “squishy clothes” (pajamas) playing cards or watching fireflies on the front lawn. It’s relaxing and nourishing for me to be here. I wonder if other people feel this way about coming home?

Ever since my work injury I’ve felt quite a bit of anxiety about work. I feel nervous that the hardware in my spine might get knocked loose. And dealing with my boss always makes my heart race and my palms sweaty. It’s because she didn’t want to get the safety equipment I requested in the first place. Then I got injured. Our working relationship has never been the same.

It is so strange to me that now I crave the calm of home and feel anxious about work. My boss has been frustrated with the multiple back surgeries and slow recovery. I have also been frustrated having to have multiple back surgeries and a long recovery. When I face her on the job my body feels as if it wants to flee home. To flee towards safety. This anxiety about work is strange and different for me.

This week I have been called in to a meeting. It’s summer vacation and the superintendent will meet with me in two days. The fiscal year ends in July so the end of June is a time when teachers are let go. In all likelihood they can no longer offer work within my physical accommodations. It seems that these strange days may be coming to an end.

The phone call to schedule shakes me to my very nerve endings. I find myself breathing shallowly and clutching my hands together. The room spins a little as my mind goes to health insurance, bills, future jobs. I’ve never been fired before. Yikes.

I’m all of this Mary offers me a cup of coffee and a cuddle. I lean into my little girl and find comfort. There isn’t any anxiety here. Things have really changed. Strange days, indeed.

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

Standard
adoption, family

A Twist on the “Terrible” Teen Years

Sometimes I forget just how far we’ve come. It always happens on the Lacrosse field while I’m watching Carl play. I’ll find myself commiserating with the other Lacrosse parents about the difficulties of parenting a teenage boy. We roll our eyes as we recount mysteriously multiplying towers of dirty sports-socks. We cluck knowingly about the constant backtalk and the snide remarks we get. We nod to each other over the angst, the backne and the BO. “Oh yes,” our expressions say, “I feel your pain!”

I revel in these moments. I am one of them now. You know, the parents who worry over grades and manners instead of psychiatric hospitalizations. I embrace the times I can forget just how different we are as a family. I love that it slips my mind how Carl used to be so violent. I catch myself puzzling over patches in our drywall as I try to remember what happened there.

Every Spring since coming home has been difficult for Carl. He acted out, screamed for hours, destroyed property and generally seemed possessed by his trauma. The season used to bring intensive therapy, medication changes and calls to the crisis line. Heck, Springtime meant anti-anxiety medication for me, too. It was a LOT to get through for all of us.

This is the first year where I don’t have to explain why my child sleeps on the floor or eats until vomiting and then stuffs his face some more. I don’t have to explain the broken doors or the air conditioner that’s been thrown out of a window. This is the first year I don’t smile politely at other parents’ “problems” while my eyes well with tears behind over-sized sunglasses. This is the first Spring that we haven’t had a crisis worker in our home. I wonder if they think we’ve moved?

This year I am confident when I sympathize with the bleacher parents. I belong. We are now safely out of the woods of the Springtime drama. So what changed this year? We are still using the same therapeutic parenting techniques. Carl attends the same school. He plays the same sports.

We aren’t taking Carl to therapy anymore except for brief check-ins every few months. We honestly only do that because it’s a requirement for Carl to access the psychiatrist (which he continues to need.)

It’s Carl that is different. He’s grown. He’s matured. He believes in in this family. He believes in Carl. It doesn’t matter how much work as we have poured into our children’s healing. In the end they are the ones who fight their trauma. Truthfully, I am amazed by this shift. I was bracing for the worst.

Out here on the Lacrosse sidelines I join the other parents agonizing over the game. It’s gone into over-time. From the left side of the field, Carl shoots in out of nowhere. He swings his stick with a vengeance, sending the ball diagonally into the net. He’s just done it. Carl has just shot the winning goal from a seemingly-impossible side angle. We won the game in overtime. This team is going to the play-offs!

“Look at them!” another mom laughs amid the cheering, “They are all filthy! This is one mega-laundry load I have tonight!!”

I’m cheering, too, but I nod at her in sympathy. Now I can join the rest of the parents in moaning and groaning over the little things. Parenting a teen in our house is starting to look like…well, like everyone else parenting a teen! I’ve never been happier to complain.

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

Standard
adoption, family

Proven Wrong

I need to spend more time counting my blessings. Yesterday morning I was filled with dread over the impending Mother’s Day drama. I was expecting the pattern of trauma and dysregulation from the last few years to continue.

I have never been happier to say I WAS WRONG!!! Mary got up with me in the morning to go to church with my parents. It was a nice service and I actually found myself relaxed and happy. Mary wasn’t irritable or on edge. She was pleasant and sweet to me. Slowly my own irritability and edginess drained away. I went home to a spotless house that Luke had cleaned.

Later, we had a celebratory lunch at my parents’ house. Typically we go around the table and appreciate one person in the family for something at mealtimes. Carl almost always appreciates us for eating with him or giving him food. This time, I gave appreciation to my mom and sort of waited for things to get weird.

Mary and Carl both appreciated me. Carl appreciated the food (of course) but also the sports I take him to. Mary appreciated her family and adoption. Marcus shocked me the most. This is NOT his thing. He appreciated the holiday because he said he had “never been a ‘mom’ fan” but now he was. It was amazing.

When I drove Mary back to campus she was calm and centered. Only Bio Sister’s comments from the previous evening upset her. Mary teared up a bit and wanted to know why BS called her “chubby” and “sad looking.”

She asked me, “Do I look ok? I’m trying to eat healthy and not be chubby.”

Mary also expressed concern about BS knowing where she went to school. She didn’t want BS to know because she felt BS would judge the school. She felt her sister would blame us for sending her away.

Later on, when Bio Sister (BS) came (almost 2 hours late) to get Marcus, we had a conversation. It’s weird that she didn’t want us to meet her over the state line. It turns out her boyfriend was violating his probation by driving out of state so they had to take someone else’s car.

Luke is very good at this so he firmly but politely set a boundary for her conversations with the kids. He told her that some comments had been hurtful to Mary. I confirmed that Mary is sensitive and felt bad about being called chubby and being told she “didn’t want to go back to that school.”

Of course BS backtracked and claimed she didn’t mean it and that all Puerto Rican’s hate school and call each other fat. She looked at Luke to confirm this and he flatly disagreed. She asked again if Mary had learning disabilities and why she went to private school.

“Why can’t they help her in regular school?”

I explained that Mary has overcome a lot and is doing very well. She is so strong and so amazing. She has a lot going on and if she chooses to share her diagnosis or struggles someday it’s up to her. Until then we will be protective of her.

I gave BS some examples of supportive comments. I told her to be positive and and tell Mary she looks great, IF they were going to talk. BS quickly agreed. We told her regardless of her personal feelings about the school, she shouldn’t share them.

Even Marcus jumped in and said the school was amazing.

BS looked nervous, apologized, and left quickly. I’ll miss Marcus but I’m glad she’s gone.

All in all it was a great day. Victory!!!

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

Standard
adoption, family

That Day

That day is here again. The one I dread with a visceral gut twist every single year. It’s Mother’s Day.

Here is the day where I leave the house and people congratulate me over and over again for being a mother. People ask my kids if they are celebrating me or doing something “nice” for me. Well, first people look at Carl and Marcus with puzzlement before checking that I am, in fact, their mother.

All it does is remind all of us that there was an original mom in this picture who really messed up. Her loss has been my gain and it isn’t comfortable in any way. This day reminds my children of grief.

Being a daughter myself means that I have my own mother to celebrate. I love her dearly but it does prohibit me from hiding in the closet and ignoring the entire thing altogether.

Someone traditionally has a meltdown every year around this day. It’s just too hard. My money is on ME this year. I am pretty sure I’ll be the one to lose it and stomp off.

Today we have to return Marcus to Bio Sister and Mary to campus. We had planned to meet BS at a halfway point. She doesn’t want to do that. Instead she is driving TO MY HOUSE.

Last night Marcus hands his phone to Mary and it’s BS on FaceTime again. Her first words are, “You look sad. Why do you look so sad?” Then she said stuff in Spanish while Mary stared at the screen thoroughly confused. Insert my eye roll here.

Doesn’t Bio Sister have her own kids to worry about? She’s pregnant again.

Please wish me luck as I bravely (reluctantly) embark on That Day again. At the end of it I can snuggle up with Luke and watch the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.

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

Standard
adoption, family

The Prodigal Returns (Again)

Marcus is home. We finally convinced him to come home, at least for a little while. He’s here so that we can take him to get a new driver’s license at the DMV. He can’t get a job without it.

He’s also here because he needed me to help him write his appeal letter to Job Corps. As much as he wanted to leave there previously, he now wants to stay. He’s depressed and mad at himself for the way he reacted to the girl that threatened him.

Marcus is an odd duck this way. He always wants what he doesn’t have. He knows he gets triggered and that his reactions are extreme. He understands it’s not ok to react with rage and violence. At the same time he often feels as though it’s someone else’s fault.

Tonight he’s trying to explain that he’s been thinking of self-harming. He claims to have two separate people inside him that want different things. He wants to do well but a part of him wants to mess everything up. He does honestly believe he has someone else inside of him.

I wish Marcus could see that the thing he is fighting is trauma. To that end I’ve scheduled an emergency appointment with L, our local super-hero trauma therapist. She’s the only one he’ll see anyway. His comments about wishing himself to die or to hurt are something I take seriously.

Hopefully he stays at home for awhile. We can focus on his mental health in a way his sister won’t. He certainly won’t face these issues on his own.

Please stay this time, Marcus. Please put in the work. Trust me, you’re worth it.

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

Standard