family

All the Honors

When our children were still in foster care we began the process with a “disclosure meeting.” In this meeting the social workers gave us all the information they had about our children. Many people put a lot of stock in these meetings. Personally, I don’t. The system won’t know everything about your children. Lots of trauma gets “disclosed” by the children themselves once they have a safe and stable family.

Anyway, we knew Carl received Special Education services. He had an IEP and we got to see it. As a special education teacher I combed through the evaluations for information. I felt that we could surely help him. The IEP was for an emotional disturbance but he lagged in academics. He was ending the second grade at a Kindergarten reading level.

Honestly, this was all quite understandable. His level of trauma was compounded by the grief of being separated from his mother. Add to that the fact that his bio family did not enroll him in Kindergarten until he was 6 years old. In first grade he missed over 80 days of school by Springtime. The kid had a lot to overcome.

In the beginning we were working so hard on our children’s emotional wellbeing, everything else fell to the wayside. Luke and I battled their trauma, soothed their fears and weathered their rages. In between I worked with Carl so that he could learn to read.

He’s come a long way in five years. Today, Carl doesn’t need an IEP anymore. He doesn’t receive any special services. He’s flourishing at his grade level. I can’t tell you how proud he is of himself.

This school year he’s made honor roll every semester. He’s going for high honors in the upcoming term. Every time Carl shows us a test or paper he’s aced, he glows. He’s so proud of himself.

We are proud, too. He gets the honor roll while we get all of the real honor. After all, we get to be his parents!

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

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adoption, family

Dumb Mistake

I made the dumb mistake of attempting to clean out our memory drawer. For the last 5 years I’ve gathered a variety of mementos from my children. One drawer in our dining room buffet is stuffed with old school papers, art projects and letters. It has been bursting with treasures and trash for years.

I’ve been a little more mobile lately and thought I could sit down on the floor and sort through things. Some kind of cleaning bug has gotten into me this past week. I put away the Christmas decorations and now I can’t stop!

It was a dumb mistake. At first I lovingly sorted through birthday cards and letters that the kids made for us. I found some old photos and A+ tests. It was sweet to revisit how far these kiddos have come. My heart warmed when I saw a picture Marcus made for Mary during her first hospitalization in 2014.

Then I pulled out what felt like a deck of cards. It was actually a little book Sean made for me on Mother’s Day. The title is “52 Things I Love About You.” He took an entire deck of cards and glued printed statements on each one. The are connected with rings to make a flip-book.

I should have put it down but I didn’t. I read it. The book has boiler plate things to love such as “your smile” and “your hugs.” It also has some gems that are specific to me. “I love the way you sneeze twice and the second one is serious.” Some of it made me sad because he loved me for reasons like I provided food and bought his clothes.

I put it away but for whatever reason I couldn’t stop with that. There isn’t much of Sean left in this house. I reached behind the books in our bookcase to get the memory box we all made in 2015. I keep it hidden from myself.

Sean’s handwriting stared back at me on little colored scraps of paper. The things he enjoyed the first year home included, “The Worry Wall,” “The Cool-Down Corner,” “tuck-ins at bedtime,” “family dinner” and “being safe with big feelings.”

I crammed the pieces of paper back into the memory box through a haze of fresh tears. Still, I could not stop this car from wildly careening down memory lane. Urgently (and for no good reason) I went upstairs and dug into the filing cabinet until I pulled out Sean’s folder. It was a dumb mistake. Clearly I had no idea how much this would affect me.

There isn’t much there. A few report cards, a journal article he wrote about family titled, “The F Word,” and the report. The last thing I looked at was the meeting summary from his DCF report.

The horrible lies blurred on the paper as I cried. In it he accused me of abusing him physically and described never wanting to see us again. Those vile hurtful words swam in front of my eyes until I felt as if I couldn’t breathe. Had anything ever been real with him? How could the little book of love and those despicable statements have come from the same child?

I promptly ran into the bathroom and vomited the contents of my stomach.

Apparently this still hurts. Perhaps it always will.

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

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adoption, family

Seriously, Please Leave

She drives me crazy. I have no idea why her opinions affect me at all but they do. Every time our children’s older biological sister  M is around, my back teeth ache. Her invasive questioning and snide comments put me over the edge. It takes all that I have not to seriously lash out at her.

Unfortunately, M was the one transporting Marcus to and from school after the holiday. Luke was fresh off of eye surgery and not able to drive. I’m not cleared to drive yet either. It is probably good to give Carl some contact with his older sister. At least that’s what I try to keep telling myself. Foster care took so much from my kids. I never wanted their adoption to mean we were taking more.

It’s odd to me that M gets under my skin this way. My family often makes a spectacle in public and by now I’m fine with it. I think M reminds me a lot of Sean. I can see her calculated moves a mile away. Although she appears sweet there is always the underlying fact that she doesn’t believe we should have adopted her siblings.

From the second she entered my home the other day she began looking through things (bedrooms, photo albums) and digging for information. For whatever reason she selectively remembers what happened in their biological home. She champions her biological mother as a victim. It would seem Luke and I are the villains here (but mostly me.)

I know that Mary and Carl both exhibited rages in their biological home. I know they were both significantly underweight there. I know that Mary didn’t speak and her pediatrician was concerned. He suggested multiple times that she needed to be evaluated for developmental delays.

I know Carl didn’t start Kindergarten until he was 6 years old. I know they missed over 80 days of school that year. After the adoption we ordered copies of all their previous medical and school records. According to M it’s a completely different story.

Just because I know these things doesn’t mean that strangers do. When my kids are panicking in public and begging me not to get drunk I know it’s not about me personally. Past trauma causes my children to be afraid that moms get drunk or violent.

Past trauma also causes my children to fear showers, bedtime, Halloween masks and mothers. All of them share these fears (even Sean) so there is clearly a history there. Because I know about their trauma I don’t really mind when strangers make ignorant comments. They simply don’t know what it’s like.

With M it’s a different story. She absolutely knows what happened. She was there. For whatever reason her denial permeates every conversation. She acts shocked that Mary needs to be in a residential school. M does not believe in therapy.

She demands to know why the service dog didn’t go with Mary to her school. She demands to know why Mary didn’t come home for Christmas. She demands to know Mary’s psychiatric diagnosis which I will not share. It is Mary’s private business for her to share as she wishes. She demands and demands and demands.

I told M firmly that Mary has a very difficult time during the holidays. Therefore we relieve pressure by bringing Christmas to her. M’s face was the portrait of pure shock.

“Really?!?! Why???”

At this point I was done with the prying questions. I was done hearing about how well Sean was doing now that he’s out of our home and about to age out of foster care. I could not take any more of M’s questions.

I told her about how Mary only slept for 45 minutes at a time when she first came home. I told M that Mary was terrified and would wake up screaming for the entire first year. I told her about all of the things we did to help her feel safe.

Then I got a little bit catty. I told her Sean had the same exact problem and I got up with him every night, too. I was sorely tempted to tell her that he also sobbed before every bath at age 15. It was hard not to tell her I sat outside the bathroom while Sean was in the tub to sing him silly songs. Every. Single. Time.

For once M was speechless. She stammered that it must have been hard. I countered back with the fact that it wasn’t (it was) and that we didn’t mind (we did) because it wasn’t their fault. Luke and I would do anything for these chickens.

Undoubtedly she feels that Mary only has these problems because of us and our parenting. She’s basically continued to hint that things used to be fine and she doesn’t understand why Mary needs all this treatment. She doesn’t believe in therapy anyway.

Why do I even care?? I sat through the rest of the visit listening to M talk about how the shelter she stays at is giving her $8,000 and helping her find subsidized housing. She had another baby 6 months ago. The shelter bought both of her children all of their Christmas gifts. Her baby’s dad hasn’t gotten his cell phone back from the police after they took it as evidence in a case against him. Blah blah blah.

It’s really uncharitable for me to have these thoughts. Logically I know it’s good that the shelter is helping her. My angry jealous side is mad that Luke and I put in tons of work and still get blamed for things. No one is chipping in for our kids’ gifts or offering us $8,000.

I should have more grace. She was never adopted. She doesn’t have a family, really. I don’t even know if she’s in contact with bio-mom.

In the end I was happy to hug Marcus good-bye and wave him off in M’s car. By the time her van pulled out of the driveway I was shaking. It was a relief to get her out of the house.

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

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adoption, family

Late Night Texting With the Patchwork Kid

In typical Marcus fashion I got a late-night text message. My phone chirped with the image of a certificate. Clicking on the “Student of the Month” award picture with Marcus’ name on it made the late-hour text worthwhile. This was the first time he’d ever received the accolade. His childhood was spent missing out on, well, being a child.

When our kids were in their biological home they only attended about half of the school days. Even if they went to school there was often no one to get them off of the bus at the end of the day. They were all behind in academic subjects when they entered foster care. Mary wouldn’t speak in school at all. She would sit with her head down, her arms limp at her sides and her eyes averted for most of the day.

Carl and Marcus got into trouble often. They had physical altercations, tantrums and suspensions. Carl once famously (infamously?) told a teacher he couldn’t participate in reading because the “kids were ugly.” Marcus was more likely to get arrested in high school than go to a school dance. In fact, I know the former happened but I’m pretty sure the latter never did.

Carl couldn’t read when he came to us. He was at a Kindergarten level going into third grade. I worked with him all summer before school and he flourished. By the end of that year he was right on track. Now he’s made honor roll for two semesters. This coming semester he’s trying for high honors!

Mary struggles with her behavior in class. She is behind but it’s hard to keep her on track when her mental health prevents it. Now that she is in a great residential school for complex trauma, she’s making progress. Both Mary and Carl have received the “Student of the Month” award a few times.

For Marcus, it’s a huge deal. It took him until he was 21, and in Job Corps, to engage in academics. It’s suddenly very important to him that he does well. Seeing his younger siblings achieve accolades through the school years has been so difficult. Marcus never got the same support in elementary school.

So last night I made a HUGE deal about it. I posted his certificate on Facebook. Luke and Nana praised him. I sent him every celebration emoji in my phone! Go team Marcus!!!

Even though he’s older it  feels like he needs that approval. Marcus still has so many milestones yet to be experienced. His maturity is like a patchwork quilt that is continuously being made. Piece by piece we are filling in the missing patches.

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

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adoption, family

Naked Mom and the Zombie-Pickle Holiday Plumbing

My children really do not get the whole Christmas concept. In the 5 years they’ve been home we’ve never been successful in getting wish lists for gifts. I totally understand where they didn’t get into Santa. I am a bit of a Scrooge about that guy. I mean, where does he get off breaking into our house at night while we’re sleeping? Why is he always watching and judging us?! That guy is a total creep. We fully disclosed that particular myth almost immediately because Mary was so terrified of him.

Over time the kids started to come around to the idea that they would get presents at Christmas time. In foster care one child got presents while another child would got one or two items per year from the Child Services stipend.  Poor Marcus bounced around so much he went without the holiday more often than not.

In fact, every Christmas since he was 16 has been a surprise for Marcus. He’d open one gift in shock saying things like, “Really?? You guys got something for me???”

Yeah, kid. We did. It gets a bit repetitive when he’s still confused after opening the first four packages. Imagine that multiplied by 5 Christmases.

This left Luke and I to explain a lot over the years as we forged our own traditions. Marcus’ first foster home had a custom where they would hide a fake pickle in the tree. We continue this tradition (I think it’s German) and hide a plastic singing pickle. The kids find it and re-hide it over and over until Christmas morning. Whoever finds it then gets a prize.

Luke and I have always had very zombie-themed Christmases. There are zombies in the nativity set and zombie caution tape as garland on our tree. Our living room boasts a happy skeleton with mistletoe in his mouth. Our children acclimated to the zombie theme more easily than the presents portion. They’d get absolutely rabid about trying to find out if they were getting gifts (at all) each year.

Since our children can be masterminds at sniffing out food, presents, and other items in the middle of the night we needed a covert op. If we didn’t hide the evidence all the presents would go missing weeks before the actual holiday.

Luke and I made elaborate stories like, “These packages are for a plumbing project in the attic. We just had to purchase lots of PVC piping. Don’t open them because the parts are very sharp.”

Sadly, the vague and unlikely attic-plumbing made more sense to Carl last year than hidden packages of Christmas gifts. In fact, I ran out of excuses for disappearing into the master bedroom with the door locked to wrap presents. Unfortunately, it’s a big trauma trigger for Carl when he can’t find me.

He’d bang on my bedroom door shouting, “Mom? MOM!!! What are you doing???? WHY ARE YOU LOCKING ME OUT???!!!”

Last year he was 12 and still buying into the whole December home-improvement mystery. I had to come up with an excuse so I’d usually say, “Don’t come in. I’m naked right now!”

This worked like a charm. It worked so well that an exasperated Carl outed me in the middle of a busy CVS holiday crowd.

He burst out with, “You never spend time with me! You’re always upstairs naked in your room!!!”

The stares were priceless.  This kind of thing happens to me a LOT. 

This year he’s 13 and he’s figured it out. He knows we have presents up here but he isn’t confiscating them ahead of time. Marcus is planning to spend Christmas here with his GF and her baby. He actually texted me some things he’d like as gifts. At 21, he is finally able to give me a wish list. Mary knows we will be visiting her on Christmas at her residential school.

This may be the first year that everyone is on board for the holiday process. I no longer need the naked attic-plumbing ruse! Everyone seems ready for a merry zombie-pickle-fully-clothed-mother holiday!!!

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

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adoption, family

Math Lessons in Ramen Noodles

At about 3:00AM my cell phone comes to life with a string of beeps. Who is texting me at 3:00AM?!

“MMMOOOMMM!!!”

“MOM??”

MOOMMM I’M RUNNING LOW ON NOODLES!!!!”

The texts devolve into a series of shocked and presumably dying or close-to-death emojis.

Hi, Marcus.

He’s still at Job Corps. He’s been there for two months and 3 care packages. When he first got to his dorm he didn’t want to bring any of this own things, even toiletries. Years spent in the foster care system taught him some unfortunate lessons.

In typical Marcus fashion he keeps his personal items scattered across several houses with different relatives or friends. He’s always done this. It allows him to move locations frequently and easily. It also guarantees that if he blows out of a home in a rage, he won’t lose the entirety of his belongings. I guess it’s his way of diversifying assets.

Due to this process, he went into his dorm without much. Marcus had honestly never heard the term “care package” until I explained it to him. When I was in college my mom sent me goodies in the mail. It kept me going and made me feel loved. It connected me to the woman who took care of me even when I wasn’t physically with her.

Marcus was flabbergasted. “Srsly?!” He texted me when I explained the concept, “That’s a real thing? Like Nana really did that? Do other people do it???”

Yes, Marcus.

Now here we are at 3:00 AM. He seems to have gotten a good grasp on the care package concept. I’d like to think he’s gotten a handle on the trust concept also. When you need food, go to mom!

However, his math skills are suspect. It was exactly 6 days ago that I Amazon Primed him 48 packages of Ramen noodles. Even if he eats 2 per day it should last him over 3 weeks!

Perhaps the next lesson for Marcus will be a math lesson about the consumption of Ramen noodles.

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

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adoption, family

Paying for His Mistakes?

There is no middle ground when it comes to Marcus. He’s either in or he’s out with his perception about family. He can be up or he can be down with his emotions. He’s either with us in rural Connecticut or on the streets of a city slum in his old neighborhood. Marcus can be in a place where he makes a series of good decisions or a string of bad decisions. He is caught between his biological and his adoptive families. It doesn’t matter how often we try to get him to accept both.

When he came home from Job Corps for Thanksgiving it was great. He helped us with chores around the house.  He spent the weekend replacing light-bulbs and breaking down Carl’s bunk bed to replace it with a stand-alone frame. He hauled up the Christmas decorations from the basement so we could trim the tree and set up our annual zombie nativity scene (yes, really). Acts of service like this are the way Marcus shows us he cares.

Carl pretended to push Marcus off the ladder while he affixed the angel at the top of the tree. We played about 47 games of Phase 10 and Scattergories. Our house was filled with activity and laughter the entire week. It was wonderful.

Now Marcus is back at Job Corps. I’ve sent him a care package of Ramen noodles via Amazon Prime. He has what he needs and he’s in a place that is safe. He passed his return drug test so he’ll be able to go off-grounds for weekends (as opposed to Holidays only) starting this week. His life seems to be progressing in the right direction. I can feel good about the choices he’s making.

Except…except…I’m not confident he’ll continue to make them. When we discussed Christmas break he mentioned going back to the city to stay with a friend. He’ll be back in the thick of the drama that got him jumped in the first place. It’s so easy to slip into old habits in that environment. He’s 21, but when it comes to thinking choices through he’s developmentally around 6.

He sent me a message last night asking if we could cover a court fee for $50. When I pressed him as to why he said it was from driving with a suspended license. He claimed not to remember when or why his license was suspended, only that it was now reinstated. He sent me a pic of the re-reinstatement paperwork. Although he says he’s not able to cover the cost, I think he can. I know Job Corps gives him a little over this amount each month.

Honestly, I don’t want to pay it. When he left home the last time to live in his car and return to less-than-legal employment in the city, he got in trouble. He got stopped while driving an unregistered vehicle. His car insurance lapsed. He popped a tire doing donuts in a parking lot because he lives life like a Fast and the Furious movie.

I just can’t bring myself to feel like this is my problem. Luke and I did have his car towed to bio-dad’s house after it was impounded. He won’t give us the real reason why his license was suspended other than “it was the cop’s fault, man!” These are the natural consequences of his very bad choices. Part of me thinks when he leaves for winter break he will get sucked back into the city and skip out on Job Corps.

I don’t want to pay it. I don’t want to support his bad decisions. What I want to do is say, “I TOLD you so!!” However, I know it will cause a rift in our family. I really just don’t know what the right move is here.

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

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