This is the good stuff

Every older/hurt child adoption text I’ve ever read says that maintaining a sense of humor is the key to navigating this jungle.  Some say, it is the single deciding factor as to whether a family makes it.. It seems if you can laugh at feces purposely smeared on the wall, you can handle anything. I tend to agree.

This is why my Little Guy, maladaptive behaviors and all, is a gift to me. He’s hilarious. At least once a day and often more, he says something that makes me laugh out loud. Feeling like this blog of mine could use a little levity because I’m going to hit you with more heavy stuff I have brewing soon I’d like to share a few of my Little Guy jewels.

While being dragged through Target one evening, he randomly asked me, loudly enough for anyone in the women’s department to hear,

“Mom, are you Jesus?”

Already amused and eager to see where this was going to go, I replied as casually as possible,

“No, honey, I’m not.”

“Then how are you always there for me?” he asked completely straight.

If there had been an older sibling around, I would have accused him or her of coaching him, but this was all Little Guy and his confusion courtesy of vacation bible school, but that’s another post entirely.

A few nights ago, while we were sitting on the back porch eating watermelon when Little Guy suddenly smashed his piece over his head.

“What are you doing?!” I demanded.

He sat quietly for a moment seemingly seriously pondering the question then flatly replied,

“I don’t know.”

Not much you can say in the face of a 5-year-old’s version of a temporary insanity plea.

One night as I was leaving his room after having tucked him in he called to me to wait to tell me,

“Mom, do you know there are coconuts all over the house?”

“Did you just say there are coconuts all over the house?” I asked expecting him to launch an illustrious bedtime stalling attempt.

He simply replied,

“Yes, goodnight Mom.”

Pretty sure that clever little bugger was just messing with me.

Tonight he informed me,010

“I can’t go to bed because I don’t have any humans to sleep with me.”

Apparently Sponge Bob’s charm is fading.

A recent conversation with Big Sister went like this:

Little Guy: I found one cat food.

Big Sister (not really paying attention): Okay.

Little Guy: I’m going to eat it. (throws cat food in mouth)

Big Sister: Did you just eat it?

Little Guy : *crunch* *crunch*

Big Sister: Did you just eat it?!!

Little Guy: I’m not going to die. *swallow* See, I’m not going to die.

He was right.

And finally my current favorite. Number Three Son is a fan of the Daft Punk song “Get Lucky” and was singing along loudly when it came on the radio in the car. The refrain lyrics are “I’m up all night to get some. She’s up all night for good fun. I’m up all night to get lucky”

Later that day, I was treated to Little Guy’s rendition that goes like this:

“I’m up all night for fun. I’m up all night for fun. I’m up all night to get a monkey.”

You kind of adore him now too, don’t ya?

 

What about the first kids?

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riverday3“She doesn’t control how I feel,” explained my 13-year-old daughter when she caught me watching her choosing loving acts. I may have looked a little surprised or perplexed. It had been a very bad week. Old behaviors revived. Hurt feelings.  Anger. Resentment.  We were digging deep and recovering the only way we know how—by creating Joy.

We were spending the day at the river with nothing to do but enjoy each other. I watched my  precious child who at 13 is more emotionally mature than most adults behave in a way that was loving, compassionate, and forgiving toward a little sister who devotes a shocking amount of energy to trying to hurt her and push her away.  Big sister pushed little sister on the swings, she helped her down the hill, she helped her climb a tree, she was every mother’s dream come true.  I was so overwhelmed with pride, I could only touch her beautiful face and smile.

But I was also overwhelmed with guilt.

Shaped by a painful childhood, it was my vow to protect my children from trauma.

I sure fucked that up.

I didn’t just fail to protect them from trauma, I hunted it down, brought it home and invited it in.

Because of my choices my first four children have suffered.

They have experienced loss.

There was the baby who lived with us for a year who we could have adopted and didn’t because her special needs were more than we were willing to commit to. Parenting her would have cost the other children parental resources and limited our freedom to a life full of adventure. It was a price I wasn’t willing to pay.

Although it was amongst the most difficult decisions I have ever made, I believed it was in my other children’s best interest. Ironically if the decision had been theirs to make, I know they would have chosen to make the sacrifice. They loved her and losing her was painful. It was the kind of pain that creeps into your being and never goes away.

There was another baby who went to a kinship placement and more who went home. I suspect for my children, the losses are all heaped into a single ache that resides in their hearts always.

They have experienced fear.

There were the boys from a very rough place with only monsters for role models who behaved like miniature thugs. There was the deeply disturbed 4-year-old who was viciously aggressive. There was the deeply disturbed 11-year-old who threatened our lives.  One by one many have crossed an inflexible line in the sand that led to their removal from our home. We won’t live with predatory behavior. Period. Unfortunately, you don’t know it’s there until they show it to you.

I don’t want this to come off as self-loathing. It’s not. We’ve done a lot of things right. We are damn good parents. They know we cherish them. We speak it often and show it well. We live to support our kids in discovering their passions and polishing their gifts.  Each of them has arenas in which they shine. We did what had to be done to preserve normalcy and seize opportunity.

 If they wanted it and were willing to do the work, we made it happen no matter how many miles, how much juggling, or how difficult it was going to be—we even took turns sleeping in the car last summer when number three son booked a lead role in a feature film with multiple overnight  shoots . In short we have refused to be defined by the choice to add traumatized children to the family.

That said, if I had it to do over, I would do it differently.  I would have waited longer—my youngest was only five when we began this journey and I should have given her well, all of them, more time.  I would have said “no” more often—child placing agencies love to push you outside your limits and accepting the shove rarely ends well. I would have ended more placements more quickly—traumatized children are capable of frightening behavior and I should not have allowed so many second (and third) chances and I would have prepared better—I was pretty naive when we embarked and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.

But I’m sure what I should have done is no consolation to my children and they and  I have to live with what I did do. I have to make peace with the fact that this journey has affected my children.  It has hurt them.

 My choices have hurt my children.

They are not broken. My kids are all bright, funny, compassionate beings with a zest for life who fill me with pride every second of the day. They are fun to be around and liked by most. We did more right than wrong, but I am sure in each of them resides the wish that things had gone a different way and I hope they will forgive me.

What did you say?

I’ve been thinking a lot about words–The ones that hurt, the ones that help, and why. Time and time again the subject of older child adoption comes up and and I find myself starring dumbfounded at someone who has just spoken words that hurt, ignite, or simply surprise me.

A recurring theme is the need to label and define my kids. When people discover that I have adopted a child, they often need to determine whether my other children were adopted, as well. I think a lot about this need and I also think a lot about why it bothers me so. I mean it really freakin’ bothers me.  I think about it so much that I’ve devised lots of clever responses that I never use.

I’ve been asked if my children are “real” “biological” “your own” and a new one recently “natural”  That last one knocked me off balance the first time I heard it not long ago. Funny thing was after never having had someone use that particular term, it came at me twice in a matter of days.

Most of the time, I swallow my irritation and simply answer the question, but when I’m in a last straw kind of moment, I answer that whatever label has just been tossed my way applies to all my children regardless of how they joined the family. This response is never well received and absolutely never works as I intend it to let the interviewer know that I don’t want to take this walk with him or her.

In fact, it generally has quite the opposite effect of spurring the interviewer to delve deeper with a more personal line of questioning about my children’s past and the circumstances that led to them needing to be adopted.  So in all my thinking this is what I’ve concluded. These questions are not malicious. (give me a second while I say that ten times fast so I’ll remember) Some probably come from a very pure place of concern and perhaps even an interest in adoption.

However that genuine concern for kids from rough starts has blurred into a sense of entitlement to private information which leaves me standing face to face with a stranger demanding that I explain my family. I’ve often fantasized about handing out instructions to anyone I notice watching a little too long. It would go something like this:

  1. Don’t ask me anything about my child (yeah even the one that doesn’t look like me) that you wouldn’t want me to ask about your child. Unless you want to be drilled about your drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, don’t ask about my child’s prenatal experience.
  2. Resist the urge to label my kids. They are all mine, natural, biological, and real regardless of how they joined the family. If you simply cannot resist, at least do not question me in front of my children. It is hurtful to them–all of them.
  3. Respect that my child’s past is personal and private. Don’t ask. If I choose to trust you with details, please do not share them without my permission.
  4. Resist judgement. Raising kids with rough starts takes special parenting skills, firm boundaries, and a truckload of patience and persistence. If you think I am not treating all of my children the same way, you are probably right. I am giving each of my children what he or she needs. If you think you can do it better, please become a foster or adoptive parent–thousands of kids are waiting.
  5. Remember that they are MY children and not public property. Do not ever use the word “my” or “our” when you are referring to my kids. They are not yours and such references confuse them, and undermine my authority which they may already be struggling to accept.
  6. Do not give physical affection to my children unless you have that kind of relationship with my entire family and maybe not even then. Most kids from rough starts have poor boundaries and attachment issues. Getting and giving physical affection to strangers or casual acquaintances reinforces a dangerous behavior.
  7. Remember that I am human. I have undertaken a Herculean task for which their is little public understanding or support. Sometimes it wears me down and I’m not at the top of my game. I’ll do better next time.
  8. Trust me. If I share my struggles, believe me. Children with attachment issues can be master manipulators. You may never see the behavior that I describe in my publicly charming and docile child. Don’t make me show you the video.
  9. Don’t gush and fawn over my children. As much as we appreciate that you want to show approval and acceptance of our family, the over enthusiasm makes us uncomfortable (and it’s kinda weird.)
  10. And finally because it’s such a biggie, number 4 bears repeating. Resist judgement. Children from rough starts have some very difficult and even scary behavior. So don’t freak out if I need to vent or am not 100 percent in love with my child at the moment. This is hard work from which I get little reprieve. Obviously, we are committed to our kids and want the best for them, but sometimes they piss us off (don’t yours?)

Fever, rain, and tantrums oh my!

041I’ve been sick for a week. What started as a blah not so unbearable cold type thing progressed into horrible chest congestion, sore throat, and a fever. I plugged along for two days fighting fever with ibuprofen and getting everybody where they needed to go. On the third day, I couldn’t do it anymore and crashed on the couch.

Life being what it is, the rest of my family went about their regular lives, leaving me alone with a fever and two traumatized kids swimming in a big ole pool of terror. And it was raining.

With neither yet able to verbalize  their anxiety or its roots, they showed it to me and it was up to me to figure it out. I can only hypothesize, but here’s my take.

Theory #1: In the world of addiction, “sick” is likely code for other conditions that lead to kids being neglected and abused. Even at the peak of my illness, I continued to supervise, feed, and even read to my kids, but it didn’t matter. I was down and not getting up anytime soon and the trauma alerts began firing.

Theory #2: Perhaps they feared my illness was more serious than it was and they were worried about losing me. I am usually a very active person and NEVER lie around. The trauma alerts began firing.

Theory #3: A combination of Theories #1 and #2. The trauma alerts began firing.

Whatever the reason, they were freaking out and not afraid to show it.

My son expressed his anxiety by compulsively declaring his love for me every couple of minutes, needing constant physical contact, climbing on me, clinging to my appendages with a death grip and rubbing his face all over me.

My daughter took a different approach. She rolled around on the floor kicking the couch I was lying on while loudly complaining about being bored. She pushed the furniture around, she teased and tormented her brother and the animals, she whined, she pulled off my blanket,  she yelled, and then she complained some more.

After lunch, I asked them both to find a quiet activity so that I could rest for awhile so she began slamming books on the floor. When I sent her to her room, she began screaming and didn’t stop until my husband got home two hours later. She turned it off the second he pulled in the driveway. She’s good like that.

That was several days ago and all though I’m feeling much better physically, I haven’t recovered. I’ve gone over that day’s events in my mind over and over again. I know rationally that her behavior was not personal. I know that I am their rock and seeing me weak was scary. I know Mom lying around may have  stirred up lots of resting dark memories of other Moms whose behavior was very different than mine.

I know, I know. I know it all. It still hurt my feelings.

This leaking vessel of a child that I’ve been pouring love into despite her inability to return it kicked me when I was down.

My husband and I have had lengthy discussions with our daughter about her behavior for which she has yet to show any  remorse and probably never will, knowing full well that our words were for our own release and would have no impact on our daughter.

Having taken the following day off,  my husband asked her “Do you know why I stayed home from work yesterday?”

“To take care of me,” was her deadpan response.

She starred at him brow furrowed in disbelief when he explained,

“No, because Mom needed me.”

The concept of someone else’s needs coming ahead of hers is beyond her grasp. This is not new information, but this time it got me. And she knows it.

In the following days, she was smug and delighted, walking around singing and humming to herself as she always does when she knows she’s knocked someone off balance. It’s been a couple of months since she’s been successful and she’s feeling pretty proud of herself.

For me, this is the greatest challenge of parenting a child with Attachment Disorder–the twisted glee they experience when they know they’ve hurt someone.

Despite hundreds of hours of training, 8 years of on the job training, having read every book on the market regarding attachment disorder and developmental trauma, and the full conscious knowledge that her behavior has nothing to do with me, I was wounded.

So now I have to find the strength to get over myself, to get my feet back under me, take back control and carry on choosing loving acts despite it all. I will. I always do.

       

Welcome to my world!

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I’ve been wanting to do this for so long, but couldn’t figure out where to begin. So I’m just going to start where I am and figure out the way as I go. I once backpacked through Europe with this approach and that turned out okay.

The stirrings began about six months ago when we were in a pretty dark spot along this adoptive path, and I wanted to reach out to the universe for help because I wasn’t finding any comfort in my smaller part of the world.  Lots of ideas were taking shape in my mind, but I was afraid to give them voice for fear I would regret them later. That was a smart decision.

Fast forward a few months and things were better so I decided to start writing, but I still didn’t have the guts to put it out there. I’m feeling brave today so here goes.

Because I want to be brutally honest, because we (those of us in this world of older child adoption) have to be if any of us are going to get through this, if our kids are going to heal, if the rest of the world (or at least my small part of it) is ever  going to comprehend this struggle, I want to show how much the climate can change in a matter of weeks. So I’m going to set the stage with two separate posts written several weeks apart.

Begin Blog # 1.

I am a disappointing hero.  Praise and admiration make me uncomfortable. I swear. I drink. I speak the truth even when nobody wants to hear it. I don’t take no for an answer, I’m a bull by the horns type of gal,  and I won’t sugarcoat adoption from foster care.  I’ll be the first to admit that the undertaking is heroic—I’ve been called upon to muster a strength of spirit that I didn’t know I had—but  if you’re looking for a fairy tale, I’m going to let you down.

I’ve been compelled for some time to document this journey, but have struggled with the ethical balance between protecting my children’s privacy (and mine—it is not my nature to broadcast my struggles), and the hope that our story may be just the inspiration another needs to keep plugging.  A wise friend recently tipped the scales in favor of sharing with a single sentence that changed my life-but I’ll talk about that another time.

Feeling vulnerable, but following my own advice to my children to do that which scares me most, here we go. My husband of 20 years and I had four children born to us in the early years of our marriage. Let me say straight up that I despise the term “biological child”. All children are biological, except of course the plastic ones. Can’t say I love “born to us” either but at least it’s factual.  

Semantics aside, we decided we did not want to give birth to any more children and took permanent measures to ensure we wouldn’t.  Adoption at a later date was always the plan—at least it was mine.  The people who love me must often accompany me on my adventures as captives.

Eight years ago my hostages and I became a therapeutic foster family.  I’ll have to flesh this out later as I’m eager to get to today. The short story is that we fostered more than 20 kids and saw the best and worst of humanity.  The experience changed everything from my politics to my views on cosmetic enhancements, but ultimately made me better and stronger. 

Weary of the revolving door and its accompanying heartache we actively sought out an adoptive placement.  I have always been so crazy in love with my first four kids that more could only be better, right?

We are now just weeks away from the year anniversary of our daughter’s placement in our home and I am finally feeling hopeful. That’s a nice word, hopeful.  In her six short years, our daughter had experienced 10 out of home placements and was on a mission to get to number 11 as quickly as possible. She came armed with an arsenal of behavioral weapons that had already caused one adoptive family to surrender and had us afraid that life would never return to normal.

Seven months in, add a tow-headed 4-year-old foster son who I declined placement of twice, ultimately agreed to provide short term emergency respite for  as a desperate favor, who now calls me Mommy and is completely entwined in my heartstrings  to the mix and we had a heaping mess of little girl reeling.

For far too long, we—well I (Mom is the emotional thermostat of the home) allowed her to set the temperature a few degrees shy of Hell.  Then one day, my wise friend sat beside me, listened, no heard me and set me free from my own angry/guilty demons.  Now don’t imagine that it’s all butterflies and cupcakes—my daughter had a screaming tantrum this morning and informed me for the gazillionth time that I’m a terrible mother (she’s wrong—I rock at the Mom thing).

The difference is me. I’ve come to accept my feelings or lack of them in light of the situation and have taken back control of my home’s emotional climate effectively disarming my child and allowing us to begin the journey toward peace.